My recent post about the travel content website Simonseeks and the problems it's been facing monetizing its content despite large amounts of investment set off a flurry of brilliant comments about how to make money from writing about travel on-line. Here's the first of two follow up guest posts from Mike Gerrard - who is doing just that. Making money from travel content. Thanks for your insights Mike!
In December 2007 I earned my first money from Google AdSense for my first travel content website, www.Pacific-Coast-Highway-Travel.com. It was a massive $1.47. I was very slow building up the site because it’s something I do when I have some spare time. It still only has 151 pages indexed on Google, and that includes housekeeping and other pages which carry no adverts. Even so, the income has steadily grown. In January 2011 it was over $500 for the first time. In February it was over $600, in March over $700 and in April over $800 (so the Google Panda change did us no harm at all).
When I began the site I heard a lot of cynical comments. Some people said no-one could make money from a travel site because they had a blog and it earned peanuts. Others said they didn’t click on ads so didn’t believe a site that relied on ad-clicks could make money. One travel writer I know, who I encouraged to start his own site, said ‘come back and tell me when it’s making money’. I never did go back and tell him, but that same person is now building his own site, though now I’m two sites ahead of him, as I’m working on two more: www.Greece-Travel-secrets.com and www.Beyond-London-Travel.com.
As for the person who doesn’t click on ads - well, neither do I, normally. But that doesn’t matter. Out of every 100 visitors you get, anywhere from 3-8% will click on an ad on any given day.
People do click on ads, whether Google’s or someone else’s.
Another travel writer told me that it was OK for me because I was writing mainly about California, a lucrative market. But she lived in Berlin, how could she compete? I did some checking on one of Google’s many useful tools and discovered that ad rates for Berlin hotels, for one example, are just as high as for Los Angeles hotels. I do sometimes feel that people look for excuses not to have a go, that some people have already made their minds up that it won’t or can’t work. Well, their loss.
I wasn’t cynical because I knew two people who were making considerable money from their travel content websites. They were my heroes and gurus: Tom Brosnahan of www.Turkeytravelplanner.com, and Durant Imboden of www.EuropeForVisitors.com. Both sites have several thousand pages now, and while I don’t know how much they earn, a combination of rumour and mathematics suggests comfortable 6-figure incomes.
There are other cynics who say that the web is overloaded with travel sites, and you can’t compete with the likes of TripAdvisor. Well no, you can’t. So you don’t. There are plenty of travel niches waiting to be explored, and ever travel writer is an expert in something, and usually several somethings. It was my wife’s idea to try doing the Pacific Coast Highway, as she’d written three stories about PCH for her SW USA travel pages on Suite101. Month after month, those three pieces were her three most visited pages, by a long way. There was no decent PCH site around, although there were several very good sites about Route 66. So we decided that should be our niche. We’d give it a go, and if it failed, it failed. But we had to do something, as print markets including our regular guidebook work were shrinking.
There are many ways to build a website but we had, at that point, luckily stumbled upon a service called Site Build-It! (SBI). I’ve already written about it, so won’t repeat what you can read here.
Why do we pay them $299 a year for each site, when you can use many other cheaper and even free services? The difference is that most services only allow you to build a website. Anyone can do that. SBI teaches you how to build a commercially successful website, and the initial $299 investment with them was the best chance we ever took.
I actually signed up with them with the intention of building a crime writing website, crime writing being another of my passions. But SBI asks you to come up with three ideas for potential websites, and crunch some numbers to see which of them is the most commercially viable. I did my crime writing idea, an idea for a travel site about London, and my wife’s PCH idea. The numbers crunched far more profitably for PCH than the other two. SBI taught us how to look for niches that were neither too big (meaning more competition, less profit) nor too small (less competition, but smaller advertising rates). No matter what area of travel you write about, somewhere there’s a sweet-spot for a website. And no, it isn’t too late. It’s never too late.
AdSense provides about 2/3 of our income at the moment, and currently brings in just under £500 a month. It’s far from being a living wage yet, but the growth in the last two years has been so huge that this might well happen before too long. AdSense is easy to implement, and once the ads are up there you can just ignore them and be happy to know that you’re earning money 365 days a year, and even when you’re asleep. It’s nice to go off on a trip and come back to find you’ve earned a few hundred pounds, even though you’ve not lifted a finger.
But there's lots more to it than just AdSense. In my next post I’ll be covering some of them – in particular ebooks, affiliate income, book reviews and direct advertising.
What's been your experience of monetizing your travel website? Do you use AdSense?
Be sure to read Mike's follow up post which covers more ways to make money from travel content.