I’ve been blogging full time for over 14 years (the blog’s 14th anniversary was last week, but I’m not big into anniversaries, so…). A lot has changed in the travel & points blogging landscape in that time, especially in the past couple of years with coronavirus. I thought this would be an interesting time to reflect on the overall state of this “industry,” if you will.
I imagine many other independent bloggers will have similar takes, and I’d welcome their thoughts as well. Part of the purpose of this post is to explain the overall content mix you may find on the blogs that you frequent.
Some background on how OMAAT started
For some background, I started this blog as a hobby while in college, and for a long time I didn’t make any money on it. I never planned on making it a career, and for that matter I’ve never really had a business plan for the blog, and have zero desire to sell this site (which, it’s weird to me that selling a blog is even a thing, but…).
The travel & points industry is my passion, plain and simple, and I wake up every day looking to this as an escape. While I’m fortunate that this is also my career, the reality is that my day-to-day really isn’t very commercially focused. I couldn’t tell you what the blog’s revenue was last month or how many readers there were, because frankly I don’t really care.
The reason I can write this blog every single day of my life and be happy with it is because it’s my passion and not my job. With that out of the way…
The complicated travel & points blog landscape
Back when I started blogging 14 years ago this wasn’t a very crowded space. There was View from the Wing, and not many others (at least not many that are still around today). Over the years a countless number of independent blogs popped up, and that’s fantastic.
Some didn’t last for long (not realizing it takes a lot of work and consistent effort to be successful), while others are still around today, typically because they have persistence and a unique angle. I’m very supportive of anyone who wants to try their hand at blogging.
For most independent bloggers, I think the biggest challenge is all the “corporate” sites that have gotten into this space. This has come in different forms:
- We’ve seen multiple travel blogs sold, including to huge media companies, venture capital companies, etc.
- We’ve seen mainstream media news sites get into the travel story and credit card rewards space
- We’ve seen all kinds of sites pop up that are so clearly exclusively about SEO, with a very obvious business plan to be spun off in a few years when the price is right
Let me be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things. That’s how a free market economy works — people see opportunities and seize them. However, that does pose a challenge for independent sites:
- You can’t really compete when it comes to SEO with major news sites that now review credit card benefits and other travel features
- Many of these websites that are sold don’t actually have to be profitable, but rather just have to continue to show growth (as is the case with so much of our economy nowadays); that’s easy to do when you’re spending millions and millions of dollars per year on social media ads, as that easily masks a much lower “base” readership of loyal readers
- As the internet has gotten more saturated, margins have largely gotten thinner
Why independent travel & points blogs have the content that they do
Let me be brutally transparent here. I’m sure this is something that other bloggers can relate to, and it might explain the overall mix of content you see on points & travel blogs.
If you look at the comments section of blogs, you’ll see comments along the lines of “this isn’t the content I come here for,” no matter what the topic is. That’s totally fair enough. I mean, that may very well be the case, and it’s also the internet. But I think it’s important to understand and consider how people make a living.
Earlier I committed to focusing more on trip reports, and that’s something I’ll stand by. I think it’s also important to expand on that, though — travel reviews don’t directly pay the bills, and I think any blogger in this space can attest to that. They’re hard to monetize, they’re a massive time investment (in terms of traveling and writing) and they don’t get nearly as much traffic as some other types of posts. So where’s the value in them?
- Many of us are huge huge airline and hotel product geeks, and find writing these reviews to be enjoyable, regardless of whether or not the math works out; you don’t understand how giddy I get when I get to fly a new airline, no matter how bad it may be
- Many bloggers realize how much readers enjoy trip reports, and view it as an overall good investment in getting people to read and support the blog
- It’s useful to be well versed in what airlines and hotels are offering; after all, that knowledge is what sets peoples’ insights apart
Beyond trip reports, you have what you might consider to be “monetized” posts, about products. There’s money to be made there, but it’s probably not as lucrative as you’d think, or at least it takes a lot more effort than you’d expect. Like I mentioned above, it’s hard to compete on SEO with major news sites, and you have other sites spending endless money on ads related to these products. As far as a readership base goes, well, if you’ve written about a product often enough, odds are that they already have it.
This gets at my above point about trip reports. You hope that people enjoy some content on a blog, and will then support you the next time they want to pick up one of these products.
Then you have what some people consider to be clickbait stories. There are some blogs that almost exclusively post these, and they come in varying forms. A few things to understand about those:
- These can get an absolutely unbelievable amount of traffic, especially for smaller sites, that don’t have a very high base level of traffic; these kinds of posts can easily get 100x more traffic than your average post, or in some cases even significantly more than that
- These really aren’t intended for the actual audience of a blog, because these are all about generating traffic from elsewhere
- These are often the easiest to write, because they’re not a huge time investment
Do I post these stories sometimes? Yes, of course, though as a percentage of content not nearly as much as some other sites. Do I enjoy writing these posts? It depends. Sometimes the topics are genuinely interesting, and while they might not be particularly deep or insightful, they’re stories I would enjoy reading elsewhere as well.
I’m fortunate that my blog gets a lot of traffic to begin with, but for many smaller sites, it’s extremely common that a single “clickbait” post gets as much traffic as the entire site otherwise gets in a month, or maybe even six months. This is the primary way that many sites can be monetized — some will write content hoping that one post breaks through and goes viral. It’s not only about the direct monetization of that traffic, though — many readers who find a viral post may bookmark a site and become readers for years to come.
None of that is to say that sites should or shouldn’t have clickbait, or that it’s a great idea, or anything. Rather I’m just saying that making money on the internet is hard, especially if you don’t want to put stuff behind a paywall. And unfortunately often the stories that require the least effort generate the most traffic, and for many blogs these are the posts that pay the bills.
Everyone is of course welcome to sound off how they’d like, and I think almost all blogs value genuine reader feedback. I just think it’s also important to remember that those writing independent blogs are trying to make a living too. I guarantee you that in a vast majority of cases when you see your favorite travel blog post what you interpret to be a “clickbait” story, you’re not the intended audience.
The travel & points blog space has evolved a lot over the years, for better and worse. Making money running an independent blog isn’t easy, though I hope the above at least provides some context on why you may see the content mix that you see on various sites.
In closing I just want to express my gratitude to those who have been reading OMAAT over the years. I feel blessed beyond words to be able to get up every day and just play around with my favorite “hobby” and have it also be my career. I recognize not everyone is always going to be happy, and also that content won’t always be equally good (we have our good days and bad days, or perhaps even good years and bad years).
At the end of the day what makes blogging most rewarding is those who read and interact, and genuinely enjoy the content, recognizing that no one who puts themselves out there is always going to get things right.
As always, I welcome feedback, and of course would also love to hear from other bloggers about how their experiences differ.