We’ve been following Matt and his writing for a while now so we’re really happy he took time out to chat with us in between a recent jaunt to Taiwan.
Matt is an adventure travel writer and photographer who runs the super informative personal blog Matt-Gibson.org. Aside from his home on the web you can also find Matt’s writing all over the web, including sites like Best Hikes and Treks. He definitely knows a thing or two about building a travel blog audience!
1. Hi Matt! Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your why you wanted to write a travel blog?
I’m a thirty-something travel writer and photographer, originally from British Columbia, Canada. I have a column on Transitions Abroad, blog on the Huffington Post, and I freelance for various other print and online travel publications. I write about all sorts of travel- and expat-related topics, but my main focus is on adventure travel. When I first started blogging, my blog was just an online portfolio where editors could find links to my writing. Later on, I did a series of interviews with travel bloggers for Transitions Abroad and learned that good travel bloggers actually made money. I had already built a bit of a following with my blog, so so I started taking it more seriously. Now it’s one of my main writing outlets.
2. Who were/are your major influences when decided to create your own blog?
I didn’t have any major influences when I started blogging because I didn’t read travel blogs. Like most ‘professional’ writers, I was pretty snobby about writing. I thought that most blogs were crap and would offend my finely-tuned writing palette. Then I started reading travel blogs. The more blogs I read, the more I became convinced that I was right. Most travel blogs suck.
Of course, that’s true of most things in life. Just like beer, artists, and golfers, the majority of travel blogs are bad, a few are good, and a small minority are great.
Over time I discovered several blogs that I liked, and a few blogs that I always enjoyed reading. Tony and Thomas over at Contemporary Nomad definitely have my respect and Wes Nations (Johnny Vagabond) is one of the most talented storytellers around. I also recently discovered The Everywhereist. She’s pretty awesome too.
3. How would you describe your writing style? How does it differ?
My writing style varies depending on who I’m writing for. Transitions Abroad requires a casual informative style, the Huffington Post tends more towards opinionated posts, and other magazines that I write for have their own requirements. My blog is pretty light and fun with a mixture of unique angles on interesting stories as well as sound travel and adventure advice. Lately I’ve been writing a lot of short opinion posts about quirky news, like the 76 year-old woman who just climbed Everest, and the hiker who survived 300 killer bee stings.
4. How would you describe your travel blog audience? Are they hardcore? Do they just come the once? What do you like about having an audience like yours?
Like most (or probably all) bloggers, the majority of my readers arrive at my blog through a search engine while looking for information. Those readers don’t usually stick around for long or come back. My biggest traffic sources after Google, however, are Facebook and Twitter and most of the readers who come from those are people who know my blog and have seen in before.
I don’t want a Google-powered blog. Recently my efforts have been focussed on growing a dedicated audience who keep coming back to my blog because they enjoy it. It is important to me that my blog is more to people than just a source of information, so I’ve been putting more personal content on both my blog and my Facebook page. I’ve also been working on some giveaways for my dedicated readers.
5. What is the best way to get a readers attention? How have you managed to stoke your readers interest so frequently?
The best way to grab a reader’s interest is, of course, a strong lead. This is my favorite. It’s from my Adventures in Malaysian Borneo series.
“Don’t drive at night.” The rental agent told me.
It was 4pm. I was in the capital renting a motorcycle that I planned to drive around the perimeter of the state and I was already a day behind schedule. The first thing I planned to do was drive at night. Telling the agent that, however, was not going to get me on the road any faster.
6. How do you interact with your audience? What tools work best?
Facebook is by far the best tool for interacting with your audience in a personal way. I used to post interesting adventure travel news and stories and cool photos that I found on the web on my Facebook page, but people seldom responded. Recently I’ve been putting up more personal stuff: photos of my new camera gear, my girlfriend and I hanging out in the hotel lobby, stuff like that. The response has improved dramatically. People are interested in getting to know the person behind the blog. It makes the experience more personal and authentic.
7. What are your thoughts on networking with other bloggers to grow your audience? Can this help?
Yes, networking with bloggers definitely helps. They’re an easy audience for new bloggers to reel in because they’re one of the few identifiable groups of people who read travel blogs for fun. Bloggers also tend to have larger than average social media followings and are eager to share articles they like, so they can help bring new readers to your blog. Gary Ardnt often notes, however, that a lot of travel bloggers only promote themselves in the travel blog community. “The echo chamber,” he calls it. After a certain point promoting your travel blog to other travel bloggers has diminishing returns and your time would be better spent consciously promoting yourself outside of that community. If your audience is only limited to the people who have or read a lot of travel blogs, it’s never going to get that big. You want to start engaging ‘normal’ people who don’t necessarily read travel blogs. If you can capture the interest of people who don’t normally read about travel, then your potential for growth is unlimited.
8. What is the best thing about having a wide audience? What do you get from people sharing in your travels?
Social media and blogs have changed travel writing. Not long ago you had to have a certain amount of skill and professional knowledge to publish travel writing for others to read. Now, with the advent of social media, anyone can publish travel stories. Travel writing now exists on a variety of publishing platforms, and those platforms range from small and participatory to large and one-way. You can travel and publish notes and photos on your Facebook profile for your friends to comment on. That is at the participatory end of the spectrum, because in that forum the small number of people who read your writing are comfortable responding. At the other end of the spectrum is one-way travel writing, such as that in magazines, where the article will reach a lot more readers than a Facebook note, but readers are only able to consume, and can not respond to, the article. Blogs are in the middle. They reach a wider audience than social media accounts, but receive less interaction. Generally speaking, blogs receive less traffic than formal publications, but are more interactive. So, in the end, blogging enables me to communicate with an audience of travellers and readers that I wouldn’t be able to reach through other forms of media. The point of writing is, after all, to communicate.
9. Tell us about your most popular post.
I have two. The first was the post that I wrote for the Huffington Post about the Stanley Cup Riots in Vancouver: My Experience During the Vancouver Riots. It’s probably the single most-read article I’ve written. The Huffington Post later used it as an example of one of their best posts in an email campaign. In the email the my post was placed between one by David Suzuki and another by the leader of Canada’s Green Party. It was very flattering.
The most read story on my blog is probably the first part of my Adventures in Malaysian Borneo series: Driving at Night with No Lights. It’s the one I quoted the lead from earlier. Part IV: A Mountain of Bat Guano, and Part V: The Eye of the Elephant were also very popular. I want to rework parts II and III to make the series into a good long read.
10. And lastly, what would be your top 3 tips to a new blogger trying to build an audience?
1. Read a bunch of travel blogs. Think of something that you can do that they don’t.
2. Do that. Check your titles. If you write a title that could be found on another travel blog (e.g. The Top Ten Street Foods in Thailand) figure out how to make it into something that is unmistakably yours.
3. Do it regularly. Publishing consistently is more important than publishing frequently. If you’re reliable, original, and interesting, people will keep coming back.
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