Our small corner of the internet is nearly two years old.
Its beginnings were not particularly glamorous. It was an uncomfortably hot Thursday lunchtime in July and we had a few moments before returning to work. Bored and restless, we impulsively set up an Instagram account, decided on the catchy (yet on reflection, grammatically incorrect) name ‘Twins That Travel’, loaded up a photograph and headed back to the office.
Et voila: Twins That Travel was born.
Almost two years on and quite unexpectedly, TTT has become a central feature of our lives. What began as nothing more than a bored decision to set up a social media account, has become a source of growing opportunities, adventures and experiences. A little like suddenly deciding to go on a night out (when you’d really planned to stay in and nap), and then having one of the best nights of your life, our blog received little planning, but turned out to be something quite brilliant.
In this time, we’ve learnt a few lessons about the ‘travel blogging world’. Navigating this fickle and often competitive industry has been exciting, frustrating, often confusing, but always fun. Last Friday we found ourselves in some television studios, being filmed for ITV. Sitting under intensely hot studio lights, whilst being rubbed down by a lady clutching a greasy chicken breast (we’ll reserve an air of mystery about this incident), we realised that our blog meant that life would, at least, never be boring.
And so in the spirit of nearly reaching the grand old age of two, we decided to compile a number of lessons we’ve learnt along the way, in the hope that anyone with a blog or wishing to start a blog, will find it useful.
1. Anyone can be a (travel) blogger
A funny thing has happened within the blogger sphere. Once upon a time, everyone had a blog. Building on generation MySpace, people were happily blogging away without a care in the world. SEO, analytics, themes, social media counters, figures and collaborations, all meant very little. Instead, blogging was simply about enjoying the art of writing writing; having a ‘dear diary’ moment and telling your story.
These days, blogging has become incredibly competitive. With the rise of ‘super’ bloggers, blogs have moved away from the private musings of angst-ridden teenagers (I must find and delete my first ever blog), and have instead become big brands. A hierarchy has been established and a gulf exists between those incredibly successful bloggers and well, the rest of us.
Yet don’t be put off by this. If you travel, enjoy travel or just want to write about previous trips, then do it. You are just as much a travel blogger than anyone else. We began our travel blog over a sad, warm sandwich in Milton Keynes and we work full time. But does this make us any less a blogger? Nah. Blogging is about writing and sharing content: nothing more, nothing less. So get going!
It’s been said a hundred times over: content is King. This is something we read time and time again when beginning the blog and it holds much truth. The more content you can get out there, the more people are likely to read your blog. It’s the law of attraction.
This is something we experience firsthand. With busy day jobs outside of the blog, there can be a few weeks where our blog languishes all alone in the World Wide Web. We haven’t enough time to be posting regularly and our traffic reflects that. During this time, perhaps just one lone soul will browse our blog (Mum, is that you?), before drifting off again to some other content-crammed and fun blog. Sigh.
However, one thing we have learnt is that whilst content is King, that does not necessarily mean you must cram your blog full of mindless content fillers. This might be where other bloggers disagree, but we are careful to ensure that any content we do post is a) genuinely useful b) vaguely interesting and c) relevant. Like a good magazine, your readers want one that is interesting and enjoyable to read, not one full of junk mail and rehashed articles.
Top of all content fillers is perhaps every bloggers’ favourite: the ‘list’. From your top 50 travel essentials, to top 10 things to see in Paris, there is a list for everything. Whilst these can be genuinely useful, often they can also be superficial; gleaned from a Google search and not very helpful to readers. We’ve compiled a few lists in our time, but try to avoid throwing too many out there. Nobody cares what my favourite 5 pairs of socks are, sadly.
Creating great content is a delicate balance between ensuring your blog remains interesting and relevant, and also making sure that what you do post is interesting and distinctive. So before you begin scheduling your next ten posts on travel essentials, stop and consider whether a) it has been done before (yes) and b) if so, how you might make it a little different.
4. Find your voice
At the heart of every blog is your voice. It comes through in your writing; what you choose to write about; your use of grammar; your opinions and even your photography.
When I first began reading travel blogs, I was surprised by how similar the tone was amongst many of them. Many seemed to be ‘voiceless’ lists, offering deadpan recaps of where they visited and in what order. Whilst they were useful, they weren’t necessarily interesting; making me laugh or conjuring up imagery of the beautiful places they had visited.
What I was searching for, and have indeed found in many of my favourite bloggers, is instead a real, distinctive voice: a character behind the flashy website. This can make all the difference between a good and bad blog.
Of course, this isn’t something you want to force – making yourself write like Michael Palin or a Lonely Planet author isn’t going to seem particularly authentic. So, just be yourself. I’ve always loved writing (I don’t want to boast, but I won a lot of story writing competitions in primary school) and writing is part of my ‘real life’ job. I’ve therefore always written in a particular style and will probably continue to do so. Sure, it can be a bit flowery, definitely a bit waffly, and always too long, but it’s me.
As Christina Aguilera said (in a breathy voice): ‘trust the voice within’.
5. Mix it up
Whilst we claim to be travel bloggers, we also ensure that every now and again, we go a little off-piste and write about something else. Whilst any good brand ambassador will rightly tell you – ‘stick to your brand’ – there have been a number of interesting articles on just how important it is to mix up your content.
The reason behind this? Making your blog personable.
Whilst it is lovely to read about peoples’ endless adventures, luxury hotels, suggested itineraries and experience of flying first class with Emirates, (jealous), it’s also reassuring to know that behind it all is a real person. My favourite magazine when I was growing up (shout out to ‘Heat’), often used to run a feature based solely on pictures of celebrities with spots. As a teenager with all-out acne, this feature made me feel sadly happier. These celebrities were real people who needed to use industrial strength Clearasil, just like me. Yay!
Likewise, it’s always nice to know that behind the Mediterranean adventures, bloggers are real and relatable people. Some of our most popular blog posts have been on breakups, anxiety and the realities of being twin sisters (whilst my literary masterpiece on the Isle of Skye has gone largely unnoticed).
6. Fake it till you make it
As I began this now lengthy post: anyone can be a blogger. If you’re writing content and people are reading it, then you should consider yourself a success! However, to take it that little bit further, for example working with brands, tourism boards or PR agencies, you need to be a little braver. Something that we learnt is that when you’re starting out, the worst thing you can do is to sit anxiously waiting for that first email, inviting you on a press trip. It’s unlikely to happen (we spent a frustrating six months doing just this).
Instead, bite the bullet and get in contact with people. And don’t worry – what’s the worst that can happen? Provided you have a blog with high-quality content, that is well written and read by others, you have everything going for you.
We began by simply putting together an introductory email, that provided an overview of who we were; what are aims were as travel bloggers; our audience; our demographics and of course, those great buzzwords: our social media following. We then sent that out to everyone we could ever think of. Honestly. Nobody in the tourism industry was safe.
And you know what? People responded, positively.
So, be confident of who you are, what you represent and get in touch with that hotel or tourism board!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what we have learnt over the last year or so. We needn’t stress the importance of using social media to sign-post people to your blog (or, as is becoming increasingly common, using your blog to sign-post people to your social media platforms). Without Instagram and the following we have cultivated on there, we are certain our blog wouldn’t have been half as successful (relatively speaking!) Likewise, the importance of attending travel blogger related events cannot be underestimated. ‘People do business with people’, and so being able to meet people face-to-face is not only important, but will undoubtedly open more doors (for example, definitely try to attend events such as The World Travel Market or Traverse). Also, why not put yourself forward for blogging awards? We did with the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards and were lucky enough to scoop a prize!
Remember: blogging is all about ensuring you are connecting with people in a way that they find interesting and of course, that they enjoy. If you can get that right, then you’re set. Forget for a moment the pressure to be working with brands, or PR companies, and instead focus on your relationship with your followers.
Everything else will follow.