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Niche Travel Blogging Demystified

This guest post is by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.

If you look at all the travel blogs out there, you’ll notice many common themes. People tend to write a blog that falls into an overarching category like cruises, backpacking, solo travel, or digital nomad travel. They don’t refine their offerings any further. What readers are left with is thousands of blogs about the same thing, and a crowded field where no one really dominates. There are no leaders, no experts, and the bloggers’ voices get lost in the crowd.

For some bloggers, that’s fine. They simply blog because they like blogging. They want to interact with others and have no intention of ever making their blog into a business. If they make three hundred dollars selling an ad, they’re probably ecstatic; if they never make any money, they’re probably not fussed.

Yet there are a lot of bloggers out there who do want to make money. Some of them want to make a living, and most would just love for their blog to pay for their travels. In a sea of sameness, though, it’s hard to get the traction you need to become an expert, distinguish yourself, and gain traffic. And as we all know, it’s only then that you can make money from your blog.

The worst mistake

A few weeks ago, a travel blogger I read said that we travel bloggers should look to companies like Lonely Planet and be like them. “Copy the big companies,” he said.

I think this is the worst mistake you can make. You can’t be Lonely Planet, Boots n All, Orbitz, or the like. These companies have decades of experience and money that you don’t have, as well as huge budgets that allow them to stay ahead of the game.

Moreover, there’s no way you’ll be able to get ahead of their brands. Google didn’t wake up saying they want to be Microsoft. They said, “we want to be a new tech company.” That’s what you should aim for. You should aim to be something new. Don’t follow. Lead.

Leading a niche

To be a leader, you need to be niche. That word is thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean?

In simple terms, being niche means that you focus on a narrow topic. For the purpose of this article, I am going to talk a lot about backpacking as a niche. If you look at most travel blogs, you’ll notice that they all focus on backpacking or long-term travel. It seems to be a trend. How do you make yourself different when everyone is writing about the same thing?

Recently, I gave some advice to another travel blogger. He had just come back from a long-term trip to Central and South America, and he wanted to make his website bigger and earn some money from it, so what did he do? He followed the conventional line of thinking and turned his site into a general backpacking blog, and in the process he made his blog just the same as all the other blogs out there. They offered the same tips, advice, and stories that everyone on the Internet does.

I asked him, “How many sites do you see about backpacking in Central and South America?” That made him stop and think. He couldn’t think of any blogs that covered these regions, and he had just spent two years living, learning, and traveling that region of the world.

I told him that he is an expert on that area, and I asked him why he’s trying to cover the whole world. “Cover the area you know about!” I said. “When people ask other travelers where they look for information on a specific region, you want your name to come up first. Be the backpacking site for your area of expertise.”

Your niche matters

One of the greatest things the Internet has done is that it has made all niches marketable. With millions of people on the ‘net at any second of the day, even the smallest hobby or niche has an audience. You may think you are the only one with a passion for photos of horses doing stupid things, but with the Internet, you’ll find that you aren’t. You can bring all sorts of people together with your niche site.

The same is true in travel. No niche is too small. There are blogs covering RV travel, consumer issues, cruises, seniors’ cruises, gay cruises, gay seniors’ cruises, backpacking, long term travel, couples travel, and Asia travel—you can always find interested followers within your area of expertise.

Look at the “top travel blogs.” Out of the top 20 blogs, the majority deal with backpacking, independent travel, or families. Everyone is talking about the same thing.

When you looked at the numbers of those sites, did you notice something? There are a few with really high numbers, but the most are simply in the same area. They are talking about the same general topic, and thus they all share the same traffic.

Now take a look at the site Travel Fish. This is a destination-based site. It’s not really a blog, but it focuses on one thing: Southeast Asia. What kind of traffic does it get? It has an Alexa rank of 33,000 and a Compete rank of 144,000, which averages 88,500. That puts the site at #5 on the list of blogs.

Why does being niche help?

By going super-niche, your blog gains a single purpose. Everything you do focuses around one central theme. It helps focus your content, your marketing, and your audience. Don’t be everything to everyone. Be the best at one thing to some people. You want people to reference your name when people ask where they need to go for help. Travelfish’s single-minded nature allows that site to be the expert, and dominate one field. The owner doesn’t compete with anyone. People compete with him.

There are many travel websites out there. If you don’t go niche, you won’t be able to create a name for yourself. If you really want to make a stellar travel blog, monetize it, and be successful, you must pick one small genre of travel or location in the world, and be the expert on that. Otherwise, you’ll never break out of the crowd.

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.

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Comments

  1. Brian says:

    Great advice Matt

    How would you say your own site has evolved over the past few years?

  2. I have to agree. Authenticity counts. Create your own brand without copying anyone else’s and you will attract great following. It’s funny this post came out around the same time Google accused Microsoft Bing of copying results. Shows that you shouldn’t copy anyone, you should create your own success.

    Thanks.

    • dotCOMreport says:

      I wonder why a lot of blogs don’t get this. Every blog about blogging wants to be problogger.net; every blog about copywriting wants to be copyblogger.com… and now with travel blogs! The idea is to be authentic. Yes, authenticity does count.

  3. corey says:

    You’re right, why would we want to copy the big companies. I like the appeal of smaller mom and pop (niche) types of ventures. I feel they are more focused and deliver a better value.
    Find what interests you, then narrow it down even further. The web can easily feel over saturated, and I feel the more people that bring their niches to the web will also bring more value to the web in the process.

  4. Nicolas says:

    Sorry for being a wise ass Matt, but in the first paragraph you say that among backpacking blogs there are no leaders or experts, but further you say that few travel bloggers have really high numbers and the others have average. Aren’t those with the high numbers the experts?

    To continue about travel blogs, I think it is necessary to make the difference between blogs with location information and personal blogs.
    I had a quick look at Travel Fish, and you are totally right that for this type of information it is important to go for a narrow niche instead of a general one. the blog posts and the different pages consist of pure informative writing, something like guidebook.

    But then you have the personal bloggers, of which you are one of the most famous, I presume, and I don’t know if for them it’s a good idea to go for a narrow niche. first of all, they like to write about their travels, so they constantly need to be aware that the subject fits within the niche. For these bloggers, I think it’s much more important to build a name or brand and to have creative writing.
    It’s a bit comparable to writers like Louis Theroux or Bill Bryson, even though you do learn a thing or two by reading their books, that’s not the reason why you buy them. It’s because you like their writing style.

  5. You make a great point that is not only true in your niche, but in all niches. It is one thing to follow a general “outline” for success., but that can never be done with specifics.

    What I mean is that the writing of a certain blogger can inspire you. You can want to be “like” that person in a general sense, but you really need to define your own area and style and niche.

    It might be OK to be the “Stephen King” of Techno-Thrillers perhaps, but it would never be good to be the “stephen king of horror, because in fact there allready is one. better to use the format for success and develop your own original ideas and become the “You” of “your thing”

  6. I enjoyed your article, Matt, thanks for writing it. I think you make some important points, and I would like to add one.

    I am a niche blogger — I blog about India and what I call “transformational travel” on Breathedreamgo.com and my soon-to-be-launched e-newsletter, which is called Travel That Changes You.

    I did not arrive at this niche through strategy — though according to you, it is sound strategy. I arrived at it through passion. I initially went to India to recover from a lengthy depression brought on by grief; and while traveling for six months, I regained my enthusiasm for life, found my vocation (travel writing), met my boyfriend, gained an enormous amount of perspective and much more. That six-month trip was transformational in almost every sens of the word — and my experience gave rise to my desire to write, communicate and connect with others.

    So my advice to others would be to discover what you are passionate about and build your niche around that. You will stand out because there is only one you.

    Cheers.

    Mariellen

    • Lisa Chiodo says:

      Great advice Mariellen, I already get a sense of who you are and why I would want to read your blog. I started blogging in November and find it easy to become overwhelmed by “the correct way to blog” rather that just being myself and sharing my passion. Our niche is renovating an Italian village (heading back to Italy in June). You are so right there is only one me!!! Thanks for the reminder
      ciao for now
      Lisa

  7. I like the idea “No niche is too small” . We write for our reader ,not for Search engine , I see many auto blog everyday . There’s no blogger’s opinion,review or rating ,just copy and paste content from a source .Of course ,I never visit them again . Visitors just come back if we can give them an unique and interesting post

    • rosemary says:

      I see alot of these where they copy and paste photos from catalogs/magazines and they have a zillion followers! My photos are original, my own and it takes time to edit them and prepare the post plus do research on what I am writing about and I am trying to get to 200 followers. That is a bit off-putting but I will continue because I think in the end, originality is the winner.

  8. I know you mention that you need to find a niche, but by looking at your site (and the About Us) section, it seems that you cover a broad travel area (…This website is not only a chronicle of my travels but also a way for people to find inspiration, travel tips, destination advice, travel news, and beautiful photos…). There are hundreds of travel blogs just like yours out there. Do you feel that market is completely saturated as it’s a bit tough for others in that travel blog niche to compete against others, such as yourself, Matador, etc…?

    I know you’ve branched out a bit with offering new eBooks and working on travel guides, but don’t you worry that the travel guides offered by bigger companies such as Lonely Planet, Fodors, etc might already have years of local experience?

    Keep up the good work though, great to see how your blog has grown.

  9. Morgan says:

    Fantastic! I love that you’ve gone over this concept. I had a comment on my blog the other day that said, “well, I like blogging about tulips but I doubt just blogging about tulips will bring in much traffic.”

    I quickly replied with, “No way! It’ll bring in MORE traffic!” Because instead of people having to search through hundreds of pages from one website that is broad about flowers, they can go directly to that website that focuses solely on tulips.

    Thanks for this!

  10. Dominique says:

    I love Morgan’s tulip argument :)

    I always wanted to write about travel in the Midwest U.S. (even before there really was such a thing as blogging!). There are plenty of destinations and topics within that niche to keep anyone busy for years.
    Midwest Guest has a lot of posts about quick road trips, with an emphasis on arts, architecture, historic topics, odd roadside attractions and outdoor activities like weekend hiking. Writing this way has helped me place pretty well in terms of searches, which account for the overwhelming percentage of incoming traffic for me, and the largest percentages of my traffic come in from states like Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois (my top three “regions” for incoming unique visitors this month according to my stats).
    I wanted to position Midwest Guest as a resource to others interested in the Midwest (primarily the Great Lakes states at this point), and being that resource has informed a lot of my writing and social media activity.

  11. I have my niche and all systems are go and have been for 2 years. I love my readers and I love their enthusiasm for Caribbean Travel and Lifestyle. Join the Castaways!

    Cheers,
    Ryan

  12. Anthony says:

    I remember reading this in Matt’s ebook and it does make perfect sense, however choosing a niche is very difficult. I’m booking a one-way ticket to either S America or S East Asia next month so I guess I’ll have a better idea then.

  13. Absolutely agree with you on this one Matt. How does a blogger expect to develop a community/following and stand out from the crowd if they don’t differentiate themselves? You need to find a particular corner of your industry (e.g. travel, for us) that you’re passionate and authoritative about and go hammer and tongs on it. Become the absolute go-to resource on it and forge a path.

  14. Matt, I also like your comment that “no niche is too small.” Matter of fact, that is my stock in trade. I do a blog that focuses on local travel in the Eastern United States. I spent the past four months building some content; I plan to spend the next eight weeks revising the platform but I do believe there is a market for this type of super-niche. Stay tuned.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  15. OzSoapbox says:

    Uh, so I went and had a look at Travelfish and it turns out it’s just a parked domain with spam ads.

    How is that a succesful blog model?

  16. Belize says:

    I wrote a detailed reply pointing out some holes in the story – guess Darren’s mods go mainly for touchy feely feedback……

  17. I’m convinced that there is only one way to make money through travel blogs… sell money making systems to other travel bloggers that want to make money.

    • Dave says:

      I don’t think that’s the case. I make the majority of my income from advertising — text links, banners, sponsored posts, and a video ad. While I did launch a “how to build a travel blog” membership site last year, it only accounted for 15% of my earnings in 2010.

  18. Matt or Darren,

    Must be an error in the url for TravelFish or the site has been taken down.

    Travel blogs that take on the personality of the blogger can be successful in attracting traffic. Variety of stories is good. Focus is also good. Interacting with others is the most important.

    Time and talking to people everywhere makes the initial connections.

    Eileen

  19. Stuart says:

    Correct URL for Travelfish is http://www.travelfish.org/ thanks for the mention Matt.

  20. @ Matthew

    I think your website is bit crowded and when I land on your page I was not able to decide where to go and where to see.

    You welcome us with the Travel books. We were there to read your post and want to see your travel photos.

    So if you do not mind, consider these points.

  21. fabio says:

    Yes, the niche is fundamental for a travel blog but for other blog sectores too. I run a Puglia travel blog in italian language (Puglia is an italian region), I work in a niche in the name itself, just to communicate that my blog is about a region. But, it’s not simple, I think that the most difficult part of running a niche travel blog is finding your own point of view about the topic, that’s the point. Everybody can post something about “vacation in”, “tips for you holidays in”, … but not everybody can be original. I think that a travel blogger has to focus on this aspet: be original, be different, find another point of view. Than, I think, you will be the leader and travellers will start to ask you for information, tips, addresses, …

  22. rosemary says:

    My blog is about NYC but I also do areas near like Philadelphia. It is just over a year old and I have about 150 followers and almost 200 subscribers which I think is pretty good. I try to show different places in NYC and actually have some locals who follow who say I show them new things. That is the highest compliment. I think travel blogs should be different because with a city like New York, you could have 10 blogs posting about 10 different events going on. I try to post the blog on travel sites like trip advisor to help promote and I have been attending events as press in the city for the blog which I think will help it grow. I am always looking for ideas to make it better, I think it’s on the way. My followers seem to like the posts where I show them different areas, with my own photography, like they are walking in the village with me. I am aiming for more of those types of posts in the future. Interesting post. I just had an email this week about where in the city to buy a cannoli cake and it was a local person. Guess that is a good sign !! Thank you.

  23. What you say is so true. There are so many travel sites (slash blogs) that churn out the same generic content (probably googled) that is not much use to anyone. You can tell that most of them haven’t even be to place x but are using it to sell ads/affiliates for cruises, flights or rubber chickens (great travel companions those).
    If you have been to a place (or even better if you are there now), blog about it, but with specific details, not generic crap.

  24. Nice points Matt and you are spot on about no niche being too small. But, while I also think the travel blog arena is crowded I think there is still plenty of space for those who want to be general, BUT they need to find a hook and a story that brings all their travel posts together. There is also a difference between informational blogging and personality based blogging. I think the latter is much more difficult to build an audience around, but that audience is a lot more loyal. It all depends on your business model. I go for the personality travel blog, but my goal is to market me as my brand. I better be likable, or “hatable”, otherwise I won’t get much traction.

    I’m also not sure if it’s true that no one is blogging about backpacking in South America. If you look close enough I’m sure the market is saturated. The question is more ” is anyway writing about backpacking in South America well?” At first look there is not that many people blogging about Japan, but if you look closer you find that it is very very full.

    Most people I have ever met have never even considered becoming a fan of a travel blog. That means there is a HUGE number of people let to market to if you are smart enough.

  25. Michael says:

    But how niche can you really get? How do you determine whether it’s a viable niche? You say every niche is marketable, but is it really?
    Also, going regional won’t really be the answer I think. I blog about Bangkok, but there are so many websites and blogs about Bangkok out there.
    Now, I could blog about Bangkok for history buffs and culture lovers – but I really doubt whether that would be marketable. What do you want to market for example when you’re writing a long entry on the relationship King Rama IV had to his third wive?
    Obviously, you know a lot more about successful niche travel blogging, Matt – I’ve followed your blog and love it. Hope you can help me to understand this better and help me to turn my blog profitable faster. Thanks for sharing, Matt!