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.

Niche Markets
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.

Site Build-It!
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.


20 thoughts on “Google Adsense – making money from travel content

  1. Good to hear that you are making money online. It always seems a lot harder than people say. We are staring a second site and have plans for many more in the future. thanks for your inspiration!

  2. I am just starting down the blogging route after having started two websites and the above is a real inspiration. Thanks

  3. Hi Mike,
    seems all so easy... but the requirement is to have traffic, that is not easy to have at all :(
    Do you have suggestions for us about how to attract people following a travel blog?


    1. Well, blogs and websites are two different animals, and I don't know about blogs. Jeremy himself, and other regulars here who have successful blogs, are in a better position to answer that.

  4. Hi Mike
    Clearly the way these sites are set up means they rank well for search engines. And of course the content is well written too ;-)
    BUT my issue is the way they look. Compared with the gorgeous free themes now available for wordpress based content sites (like this one which uses a free theme by Woo Themes) they look pretty bad. Add to that the way the ads are served up in such an overt fashion - slap bang in the middle of the content and I'd say the user is not anywhere near as well served as they could be.
    Do you think there's an inevitable compromise here - ie to maximise the earnings, you have to offer a poorer user experience? And do you get feedback from users about the layout and look and feel of the site?

    1. SBI does also let you upload your own code, if you wish, so your site can look like whatever you want it to look like. I use one of their templates because I'm not interested in learning HTML or anything else. It leaves me free to spend more time writing and adding the pages.

      I've never yet had anyone complain about the look of it. In fact, if you look at the two websites mentioned above, by Tom and Durant, they will never win any design awards but they are hugely successful. Readers want easy-to-find information, and that's what brings in the ad revenue (whether it's Google, affiliate ads or anything else).

      As an aside, a month or two back we got an email out of the blue from a presenter with ABC in Los Angeles. She was doing a documentary about PCH, her producer had found our site, and wanted us to be on the show. So we did an interview about two weeks ago, the show broadcast a few days later, and our income took a big jump. So the look of the site doesn't seem to have put off the producer. The work in making the site come out near the top of searches for 'Pacific Coast Highway' is what did it. And SBI does that for us, we just write the content, although I do try to promote the site as much as time allows.

  5. Thanks for sharing this Mike, and for being candid with the figures. What specifics does SBI cover then, is it effectively an online course in running a commercial site? Did you learn enough from it after the first few months of set up or is there any value in retaining the service beyond that?

    1. Part of their service is an online course in how the internet works, how to find a niche, how to build effective content, how to reach the search engines, how to market the site, how to look for the right revenue opportunities, and so on. But that is only a small part of what they do.

      They include the hosting, domain name, page-building, blogs, RSS feeds, graphics libraries, their version of Google Analytics, they submit each page as it's built to the search engines, they submit your sitemaps... the list really goes on and on.

      They also have brilliant forums, where I've learned a hell of a lot about how to do ebooks, from people who are selling thousands of them, which affiliate programs are good and which perform poorly, when affiliate programs open up to applications, how to achieve certain effects on the page, how to use video software - just about anything I've ever needed to know, I've found on the SBI forums.

      The first few months is only the beginning. Three years later I'm just starting to add more affiliate links, as you need a fairly high level of traffic to make those work. So once I started to do that, it was back to the forums to find out who used what, and why, and which services to avoid as there are so many out there.

      And in effect, my subscriptions cost me nothing. SBI operates a commission program (just so you know0, whereby if anyone signs up for their service through my own site, I get a 25% commission out of their fee. In my first year, four people did that, so that was my subscription covered, with no effort from me. And that has happened (and increased) every year since. Not long ago I got an $800+ payment from SBI for accumulated commissions.

      Feel free to make cynical comments about this being the reason I promote them, but even if there was no commission I'd still encourage anyone to consider them as a service. As I said, many services will enable you to build a website and stick ads on it. Far fewer teach you how to promote and market the site, and make it commercially successful.

  6. Interesting that you promote the virtues of Adsense. I echo Jeremy's comments in that I don't want to saturate my readers with Adsense and jeopardise the look and feel. Granted I know two-thirds of bugger all about Adsense, I'd be keen to learn more about how I could leverage. Sponsored links/posts and affiliate programmes alone aren't going to bring in a dependable source of revenue month-on-month.

    1. There is a compromise, as Jeremy also mentioned above. But that's up to the individual. If you want your site to be a dependable source of revenue, month after month, it has to be commercial and carry ads of some kind. The more aggressive the ads, the more income they generate, and Google work with you so you know how best to do the ads.

      You don't have to carry ads at all, of course, if you feel they interfere with the look of the page. Or you can make them far subtler than I do (which is how I started off with the layout.) But I want our sites to bring in the revenue that I've been losing from print writing. If they don't, I might have to get a proper job, and that would never do.

      I also want them to be financially viable so I can be independent, and not have to persuade an editor that something is a good story. I can increasingly do stuff that I want to do. Not all your website needs to be saturated in ads. You can still write the stories.

      1. 'Might have to get a proper job and that would never do' LOL. Yes. Let's face it. I am jealous. ;-)

  7. Thanks for the mention Jeremy - None of the bloggers I interviewed for my podcasts looked on Google ads as a major revenue earner and there are a lot of reservations about the way it makes you site look, especially if you put it slap bang in the middle of a post to maximise the clicks. The sites that are mentioned here shout 'niche site' to me - ie a site that's main purpose is revenue earning rather than great content. However I think a lot of people are running these kinds of sites as a sideline - it's worth giving it a try and maybe keeping a less commercial style on your main blog.

    By the way I took Google ads off my site long ago in favour of monthly paid banner ads, although I still run a few in my feed. After 3 years I recently reached the threshhold and got my first payment!

    1. "The sites that are mentioned here shout 'niche site' to me - ie a site that's main purpose is revenue earning rather than great content."

      I'm offended by that remark. Google has just shown in Panda that it rewards great content, and our visitor numbers and revenue have both increased post-Panda. Your comment may apply to other sites, but it certainly doesn't apply to ours. And far from being a sideline, it is heading towards making a living for us in the next year or two, if the growth continues.

  8. Great debate as always!

    That's why I was really into the idea of getting Mike to write the post - I too felt Adsense just didn't work. My experience suggested it would never earn me these sums of money... So much so that I decided to make Travelblather an ad-free zone for now at least.

    Mike - does SBI then offer themes like the ones you can get for WordPress? That's what I love about WordPress. It is SEO friendly - particularly with the right plug-ins, but it can also look lovely too.

  9. By the way - just a reminder - There's a follow up post from Mike to come too which discusses some of these other revenue opportunities... it's not ALL about Adsense. ;-)

  10. I can concur with Mike to a certain extent. I run two sites on the sly - http://www.australiaflightbargains.com and the even more shameless http://www.bestflightsales.com.

    They're ugly as sin, but a steady trickle of people arrive at them and click on ads. People want information, not necessarily sparkling content. Australiaflightbargains, at least, is genuinely useful for anyone wanting to fly to Australia - even if it's a complete dog's dinner to look at.

    Adsense income between them (bearing in mind I upload about four new pages a month max) is around £400. Throw in an extra £200 to £300 for affiliate revenue.

    I've bought a whole host of domain names for similar niche topics that - when I finally get the time - I intend to do the same with. Some of them will require a week or so's research, writing and uploading to cover the basics of the topic in enough detail. If they then make £1,000 over the course of a year, then I'd regard that as a fair return on investment. If they make more than that, then excellent.

    It's not 'gaming' Google to have lots of ads and cover what may be seen as a boring niche in detail. It's simple entrepreneurialism - find a problem that needs solving, and solve it in a profitable way.

    Think of it like this. If you spend one month 'doing' a site, and that site makes you £300 a month, then over the course of a year, it's £3,600pa for a month's work. Do a different site on the same basis the next month, and you end up with 12 different sites making £3,600 a month between them.

    Find a suitable topic (and they're almost infinite) - preferably one that will require minimal updating once the info is up there - do the donkey work and try it. It's almost exactly the same as you'd do for a guidebook - so why not test it out?

    1. Thanks, David. I agree. If you can afford not to make money from your blogs or websites then you're lucky. Some travel writers seem to have private incomes or partners who support them financially. I don't have that luxury as my wife is also a travel writer, so we have to do things that are profitable as well as enjoyable.

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