Posted on 19 May 2012.
Today on TraveLinkSites we’re chatting with the lovely Leah, winner of the recent Go With Oh blogging competition and formidable partner in crime with Miss Lola DiMarco (who she’s set to go travel Europe with).
Leah’s about to impart lots of super advice on how to build an audience for your travel blog having built quite the large following for her own blog over at Leah Travels. Let’s see what she has to say!
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and why you wanted to write a travel blog?
Hey, y’all. I’m Leah Walker, a former English teacher, current technical writer, and want-to-be full-time travel writer. I stared my blog, Leah Travels, in September of 2011 as an outlet for my creative side. Writing oil and gas software manuals just doesn’t provide that for me.
2. Who were/are your major influences when decided to create your own blog?
I studied blogs, blogging, SEO, and social media for a good three to four months before I launched my site. I found a list of the top 100 travel blogs according to Alexa ranking and poured over each one of them. I made notes of the things that I thought would work for me. I also was able to develop a strong idea of what I wanted, and more importantly, what I didn’t want. Matt Long’s site, LandLopers, was a great source.
3. How would you describe your writing style? How does it differ?
I’m a storyteller, so my blogs are written in a narrative manner. I weave facts and travel tips into my stories so my readers are both entertained and learn something. You’re not going to find straight-up posts about the five best ways to find a car rental deal. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not my style.
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?
I have my regular readers, just like most bloggers, but I do get people who find my site for one reason or another and become regulars. I often discover that when I’m writing about a particular city/region/country that I attract fans of those places. My goal is to create quality content that will keep those new readers coming back.
5. What is the best way to get a reader’s attention? How have you managed to stoke your readers’ interest so frequently?
I’ve found that some of my most-viewed posts are ones that are deeply personal to me. Take for instance my very first post, “Why I travel: A Dedication.” I write about my mother’s battle with ovarian cancer and how it led me to embrace life and travel more. It continues to strike a chord with readers, and I think it’s because it’s written from the heart.
Titles are also a great way to grab a reader’s attention. I knew my recent post, “I Hate Cruises” would stir the pot, and boy did it. I also did a guest post on Mrs. O Around the World on my tour of H. Stern Jewelry in Rio de Janiero. I entitled it, “Getting Stoned in Rio.” It really turned some heads! Don’t underestimate the power of a title. Often it takes me longer to come up a title than to actually write the entry.
6. How do you interact with your audience? What tools work best?
I make it a point to respond to every single reply, Facebook comment, email, and tweet I receive. I think it’s important to engage and answer everyone. After all, people are giving me their most precious commodity: time. It’s the least I can do. I also make sure to visit and comment on other people’s blogs. There are certain ones that I look at on a regular basis, but I also try to visit new ones. As a blogger, you want people to come to your blog, so you need to reciprocate. I think it’s selfish not to.
7. What are your thoughts on networking with other bloggers to grow your audience? How do you do it and how does this help?
I think networking with other bloggers is not only beneficial, but absolutely necessary. I’ve learned so much from other bloggers and made wonderful friends in the process. I’ve participated in Tweetups in Austin and Chicago this year. Some might think it crazy to visit people you’ve never met before, but I’ve been rewarded with like-minded friends. I’m also attending the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference in Keystone, Colorado in June. I plan on not only meeting a host of travel bloggers and industry leaders, but also learning more in the lectures. Networking is definitely key to being a successful blogger.
8. What is the best thing about having a wide audience? What do you get personally from people sharing in your travels?
I’m still trying to build my audience; it’s an ongoing process. I toyed with the idea of just blogging about Texas travel since I saw a void there. Ultimately, I elected not to, at least for now. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as the Texas blogger. Just like with my stocks, I feel it is important to diversify. I could easily write ten posts about New Zealand in a row, but I might lose a certain percentage of my audience, those not interested in New Zealand travel. I try to mix it up as not to bore anyone. I want to keep it fresh. I’ll probably still be blogging about Ireland six months from now, even though my trip was in April.
Sometimes I think travel blogging is a very vain thing to do. What makes me think others want to read about my adventures? However, I think it depends on how one approaches blogging. I’ve tried to use my voice to inspire others to get out of their comfort zone and do more, even if it doesn’t involve travel. Sometimes it’s hard not to come off as braggadocios when writing about your travels. I might be guilty of that on occasion, but I make an effort not to.
A writer I admire, Frank DiCesare, recently told me that he likes the approach I take towards my blog, that it is as if I have a mission statement. I’m glad he noticed, because in creating Leah Travels, I thought of it as if I was creating a small business. I hope to monetize it and make the site a source of income soon. But more than that, I love to write. I take pride in the words and photographs I put on my Website, and take it as the highest form of flattery when someone reads and comments on the posts. To know that others read what I have to say and are genuinely interested, makes all the time spent worthwhile.
9. Tell us about your most popular post.
I love American college football, and in the fall of 2011, I had a series featuring the best places to experience college football games. On eight Fridays, I featured a different university. Not only did I write about the game day experiences, but also the places to eat, drink, sleep, and visit within the cities. I loved the series, and I feel like I was very thorough and presented excellent resources for those looking to visit the places I featured. All of the posts got a lot of traffic, but one in particular just blew up. In a span of just 17 hours, I received almost 3,000 hits on my Texas Tech University feature. For a site only one month old, I think that’s a huge number. I’m extra proud of this post since I’m a Texas Tech graduate. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I think it had more to do with how I marketed it. I’m going to keep that secret for myself.
10. And lastly, what would be your top 3 tips to a new blogger trying to build an audience?
1. Provide great content: That’s probably the most obvious thing. Proofread your stuff several times. Reread it even after it’s published. With fresh eyes, you’re sure to see something you’ve missed. Great content extends past just the words on the page. Don’t forget to have great images and a visually-appealing layout. If you’re not the best photographer, search the Creative Commons in Flickr for beautiful photos. Just make sure you adhere to the accompanying license and give credit. One of my pet peeves is people using something that’s not theirs and not acknowledging where it came from. Perhaps that’s the former English teacher coming out in me. Plagiarism is wrong and illegal!
2. Don’t stop learning and improving: Rarely does one start something new and immediately become the best. I go back often and reread old posts, not just for proofreading, but to see what I like and ways to improve each one. I try to look at them objectively. I read travel blogs of people I respect and pull strategies from them. There’s nothing new under the sun, folks, but being a copycat isn’t going to get you anywhere. I put my own twist on ideas.
Also, to be a great writer, one must practice. Even though I taught writing for a decade, I forget some of my own lessons. I’m guilty of telling and not showing with descriptive words, using too many to be verbs and not enough action verbs, and misplacing commas. Brush up on your syntax and remember what your English teachers used to preach: show, don’t just tell.
3. Don’t get too big for your britches: I haven’t yet achieved the level of success that makes this a danger for me, but nothing puts me off of someone more than when they’ve forgotten where they started. Nobody begins at the top in the travel blogging world. As I’ve already mentioned, I think it is very important to interact with your readers. A simple “thank you” is the least one should do. The same goes for Twitter and Facebook. Acknowledge a retweet or a Facebook share or comment. It’s not that difficult and is the polite thing to do. I really value those more established bloggers that lent and continue to lend me a hand, and I feel it only appropriate to do the same for others just getting started. I think it’s important to give back and keep that ego in check.
Thanks to Leah. Quite the born storyteller, she left no stone unturned in this interview!
Make sure you click over to Leah Travels and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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