Why Going Niche is Good for SEO

 

Most of us have probably had the experience of seeing either glazed, uncomprehending stares or looks of outright contempt when we mentioned the word “SEO.” As today’s guest post author Shannon O’Donnell explains, not only is SEO not a bad word, there’s a very important component of SEO that has nothing to do with manipulating search results and everything to do with content.


Introducing myself to new people in a business context is often tricky, because I never know which of my many hats to start with when someone asks me what I do for a living. Like many who attend TBEX, I am a travel blogger/writer/photographer but those are just single aspects of what I do … and they’re not even the most lucrative. I wrote a book. Again though, that’s not where I make the money that allows me to travel. No, the thing I hesitate to say is that I am an SEO and marketing consultant.

It’s not that I am ashamed of my work; I work hard and my clients all come away from a consult with dozens of ideas on how to make their sites better. The reason I hesitate is because of that one flash of incredulity that sparks in someone’s eyes when they hear the word SEO. Years ago, the word SEO equated in most cases to spammy link building, keyword stuffing, and poor quality sites. In the past several years, however, I think SEO has become a much more positive term, but it’s still not where it should be.

I’d like to start by noting that SEO is not a dirty word. In fact, without hesitation I can say that every single site on the internet benefits from someone at the ground level on the site having either natural SEO knowledge (which comes from those with a good head for marketing and a solid web designer), or having hired an SEO person to make sure the site is best optimized for its topic.

In our world, we all have the same topic: travel. That makes it tough to easily see how we are different from our peers and the other travel bloggers. Each blog is different, however, and within the broad travel topic are niches. And it’s within the niches that I want to focus, because this is where I see the most growth potential for both new and established travel bloggers. All bloggers should look to their specialized knowledge and then run with that niche knowledge.

At TBEX Europe this year in Girona, Spain, the SEO talk focused on a broad overview of each of the major SEO aspects. My co-presenter, Matt Kepnes, covered how to build strong backlinks and on-site optimization like having your headers, titles, and the meta data correctly optimized—these are all essential parts of taking care of your site in the long-term. This is the core basics of good SEO and many aspects are easy fixes, use your SEO plugin, and build natural backlinks. Beyond that though, let’s talk about an area people only vaguely connect to good SEO: great content. Content that makes your brand and your site shine for your unique specialized knowledge and that narrowly points to the topics and keywords you naturally talk about on your site.

What’s Your Niche, Specialized Knowledge?

As the travel blogger space crowds with more bloggers, more personalities, and more noise, it’s those bloggers who have differentiated themselves who are beyond the competition in many ways. If every travel blogger out there was looking to place first for the keyword “travel blog,” it would be a long and fruitless race … and everyone would be missing one of the core points of SEO:

SEO is not about choosing the most popular keywords, it’s about choosing the keywords that best describe what your site offers.

We’re not all alike, and many of our sites offer a specialized version of travel—this is where we as bloggers are able to really allow our sites to shine, and if they’re shining then there is a good chance Google and the search engines are paying attention, too. What about your style of travel, of photography, or even your travel philosophy makes you stand out from others? Are you a hula hooping travel blogger, connecting to the hula hoop communities all over the world? Or perhaps you’re a BMX biker and you travel with your bike in and out of countries and to festivals, events, and races all over the world. Your blog is different! You have specialized knowledge in both of these instances that someone else might need, even if they are not duplicating your trip.

This is what I mean by niche: what are you doing, thinking, learning about travel for which you can become a go-to source on the internet? Why would another blogger recommend your site and not their own? How is your information and story different?

How Can You Showcase Specialized Knowledge?

Your niche is important, because it then translates into what you should be writing about. If you have figured out some problem or obstacle to travel, or researched a certain topic or destination in a way you think others might enjoy, write about it. But then, take it a step further and build yourself cornerstone content around your niche.

Cornerstone content is one part of SEO every new and established blogger should have on their site. If you’re not sure what I mean by this term, Chris Garrett has a really great free e-book on the topic called Killer Flagship Content and I recommend you start right there with your brainstorming session.

The main idea behind cornerstone content is something that will last, something that is thorough, well researched, and very specific. Become the “go-to” person in the travel industry for your knowledge. In my earlier example, if you are the BMX biker, this could mean creating a page on your site that details out every single piece of knowledge you need to travel with a bike—carry-on requirements, whether you can bring your bike into every country, what the major BMX bike festivals are, and whether there bike laws in other countries a traveler should know about, etc. The idea is, if you had to do the research chances are someone else will too, and if they are searching in Google “how to travel with a bike” you want to make sure Google knows that you are an expert on that topic.

And how does Google know? Because you have an entire page full of resources and so full of information it’s a piece cornerstone of your site—you’re the guy who travels with a bike. If you as a site are that identifiable in the community, there is a good chance that you the search engines will notice it too.

It’s worth noting that none of this required search engine manipulation. Instead it’s using your knowledge to create cornerstone resources on your site, pages that become pillars of information on that topic. If you have a niche page like that, then you likely have it full of valuable keywords too. And that is good SEO. When you have pages about your niche, content and information about your specialized topic, then you are telling Google and the search engines “hey, this is what my site is about, so if you’d please send some people my way, that’d be great.”

And if it’s a strong resource, and on a good topic, then it will help people and Google will send people to it. Once you have those resource pages up, there are more SEO ways to support it (linking to it in your author bios in guest posts is the easiest way), but that is the start. That gets you on your way toward having a specific site, in a specific travel niche keyword.

This is the easy beginnings of strong SEO for your travel blog and hopefully it’s not even painful to write, but instead a bit of fun to create such a useful piece of pillar content for your site.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”Now it’s your turn!”]What’s your specialized knowledge? And if you have a cornerstone page, leave it in the comments so we can all have a look at the page![/stextbox]


Author Bio: Shannon O’Donnell is a travel writer, speaker, and SEO marketing consultant who lives mostly on the road, and occasionally in Florida. Her travel stories and photography are recorded on her travel blog A Little Adrift, she published her first book, The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook in October 2012, and she can be found on Twitter @ShannonRTW

Passports with Purpose 2012: Jaw-Droppingly Amazing Prizes (& Clean Water to Boot)

 

Passports with Purpose is now in its fifth year, and TBEX is proud to be a sponsor of this fundraising effort driven totally by travel bloggers. The 2012 beneficiary is Water.org, and the goal is to raise $100,000 to build two community wells in rural Haiti. At first glance, that number is astounding – especially given PwP’s youth – but we all believe it’s possible. Just last year PwP raised $90,000 so that Room to Read could build two libraries in Zambia, right? So, yeah – $100,000 for clean water is totally do-able, and what a worthy cause.

photos courtesy of Water.org

Of course, Passports with Purpose isn’t just about the great causes – it’s also about the exceptionally cool prizes that travel bloggers manage to procure every year so PwP can raise money for those causes. As the fundraising goals get bigger every year, so does the list of awesome prizes – and this year is no different. As soon as this year’s list of prizes went up on Tuesday night, I started drooling over the options. It’s truly a testament to the strong connections travel bloggers can establish with the travel industry that such great travel prize packages are donated to PwP each year.

Oh, and if you wanted a visual representation of the prizes – and who doesn’t? – the clever PwP folks have a Pinterest board dedicated to all the prizes available this year. It’s a feast for the eyes, I tellya.

Here’s a selection of some of the most jaw-dropping prizes up for grabs in the 2012 Passports with Purpose.

 

    • 26-Day Silk Road Tour (value $4300) – Okay, hold the phone. Wandermom and Intrepid Travel teamed up to offer a 26-day tour through Central Asia. Talk about upping the ante! What a phenomenal prize – and one lucky person will win it with a $10 donation. Fantastic.

 

    • 21-Day Photo Trek in Nepal (value $3900) – Oh, those Seattle bloggers know how to bring the good prizes. Peter Carey is offering a spot on his photo trek in Nepal scheduled for next September/October, which includes all lodging, meals, transportation, guides, porters, and photo instruction for 21 days (you just have to get yourself there).

 

    • Exclusive Atlanta Experience at Omni CNN Center (includes a swim with Whale Sharks!) (value $1700) – Yep, you read that right. Not only do you get two nights at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta with this package from Field Trips with Sue, you get a $200 spa credit at the hotel spa, two tickets to the World of Coca-Cola, two VIP tour tickets at CNN Global Headquarters, and – yes – a chance to swim with whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium.

 

    • Amazon River Cruise (value $3898) – So, who’s up for spending eight nights on the Amazon? Yeah, I thought so. What a cool prize from Green Global Travel – a cabin on the Amazon Voyage for eight nights, including guided tours and most meals.

 

    • 7-Night Vacation at an Inspirato Luxury Penthouse in Mexico (value $4550) – The words “luxury” and “penthouse” go together so nicely, don’t they? Especially when they’re combined in a prize package from Ciao Bambino! that lets you stay in the aforementioned luxury penthouse in Mexico for a full week. Oh, and this place sleeps six – so bring the family!

 

    • A Glorious Week in Provence (value $4700) – Is there any other kind of week in Provence than a “glorious” one? Maybe not, but this package from The Provence Post will help make sure your week is blissful. You’ll get a week’s stay in a villa, private guided tours, meals in top restaurants, and even relaxing massages – and you’re surrounded by Provence for the whole thing. If that doesn’t sound glorious, I don’t know what does.

 

 

    • Revealed Rome’s Perfect Trip to Rome (value $1435) – All your Rome needs are met with this package, which includes two nights in a 5-star hotel, a pizza-making class, a guided tour of the Vatican, and travel planning assistance from Revealed Rome.

 

    • Two Nights in Paradise (value $1160) – This package from No Vacation Required will give one lucky winner the chance to spend two nights at the oceanfront Makena Beach and Golf Resort in Maui, including breakfast at their lush buffet, plus an authentic Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe experience and a snorkeling excursion.

 

    • Three-night stay at Jicaro Island Ecolodge in Nicaragua (value $1500) – Participating in PwP makes us all feel good, right? Well, you can carry that feel-good mentality with you whenever you travel by selecting green accommodation like the ecolodge in this prize from Ever the Nomad. Your stay includes three meals a day and non-alcoholic beverages for two people.

 

    • European Tour with Busabout and Haggis Adventures (value $950) – One of the things I love about this package from A Dangerous Business is its flexibility. The 6-stop Busabout pass means you can spend as long as you like in each place, so you could use this package on a two-week trip or a two-month trip. When you’ve used up your last Busabout day, then you can top off your trip with a 5-day Highland Fling tour of Scotland from Haggis Adventures.

 

    • 2 Nights in New Orleans at Hotel Monteleone (value $750) – I’ll admit, I’m biased about this one… Because I won this prize from A Traveler’s Library two years ago in PwP! My stay at the Hotel Monteleone was fabulous (it’s right in the heart of the French Quarter), and the city of New Orleans never disappoints.

 

    • 2013 Kahumoku Ohana Music and Lifestyle Workshop (value $1450) – By now we’re all well aware of PwP co-founder Pam Mandel’s affinity for the uke, but she’s not the only travel blogger who loves the diminuitive instrument. The winner of this prize from Live Ukulele will get a week’s worth of tuition to this ukulele workshop on the Big Island, including three meals a day during the workshop. After that week, Pam might just be begging you to join her uke band. (And y’know what? If you don’t already have a uke, Pam’s got you covered with her PwP prize this year – a Kamoa Concert Ukulele.)

 

No matter which PwP prizes you have your eye on this year, the important thing is that you donate to Passports with Purpose and help them get closer to their lofty $100,000 goal to build community wells in Haiti. The donations page is open now, and will be open until December 11, 2012 at 11:59pm (EST). Each entry for a prize you’d like to win will cost you $10, and that handy page will tally your total at the bottom as you go.

Go on, support a worthy cause this holiday season, and simultaneously give the world another reason to think travel bloggers are pretty incredible people!

iRig Review: Options for Portable Podcasting

 

We’ve heard repeatedly that things like audo (and video) components are increasingly important to a blog’s success these days. For bloggers who are put off by the need to buy or carry extra equipment, however, getting started with podcasting may seem a little daunting. If that sounds like you, or even if you’re already an avid podcaster who wants to make your show more mobile, this guest post by Chris Christensen about a new bit of portable recording gear may be of interest.


Starting with the early days of podcasting back in 2004 there has been a desire to take the whole show on the road, or even into the air. Adam Curry, the “Podfather”, is also an airplane pilot and would take a portable recorder up in his plane to record episodes of his show “The Daily Source Code”. Other early podcasters would also take a recorder out into the streets to create what became known as a “soundseeing” tours. Of course, this is not anything that radio had not done decades earlier, but podcasting was putting the tool of portable audio in the hands of of thousands of new audio creators.

The portable recorder of choice back in 2004 might have been an iRiver MP3 player or an Edirol portable recorder. Later devices like the Zoom H2 would also become popular. All had two things in common – awkward user interfaces and the need to carry yet another gadget.

With the ubiquitous nature of smartphones like the iPhone, these specialty recorders are being eclipsed by solutions built around the gadget that many of us are already carrying. iRig has released a series of 3 microphones that work with an app on your iPhone to create a portable recording studio. IK Multimedia was kind enough to send me these three solutions to review.

iRig portable recording gear – photo by Chris Christensen

The smallest of these microphones is the iRig Mic Cast ($39.99). This small microphone plus into the mic jack on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad and provides a better microphone than the built-in microphone for recording sound. The iRig Mic Cast is a definite improvement over the built-in microphone but the differences are not as obvious as one of the other two solutions. But what this solution may lack in audio quality it makes up for in its small size. This is a microphone that is small enough to always have with you. It is small enough to fit in the change pocket of a pair of blue jeans. The big problem you could have with this mic is remembering where you put it. The iRig Mic Cast also comes with a simple stand so that you could use it to record a class, and interview or a recital. You can plug in your earbuds into the Mic Cast to monitor the recording levels.

The big brother, and possibly my favorite of the iRig products, is the iRig Mic ($59.99). Like the iRig Mic Cast, the iRig Mic will record audio from an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad and it also provides the ability to plug in your ear buds so that you can monitor the sound levels. But the iRig Mic looks like a standard studio microphone. Add a microphone flag with the name of your podcast and you are ready to hit the streets doing “man on the street” interviews. Combine it with the video capabilities of an iPhone and you are ready to make that a video report. Like the iRig Mic Cast it plugs into the mini jack at the top of your old iPhone or the bottom of your iPhone 5. It provides a fuller, richer sound to its little brother, but this is a microphone that you will have to throw in your backpack or briefcase. It is not pocket sized.

For serious audiophiles, the 3rd solution from iRig is the iRig Pre ($39.99) which is not a microphone but a pre-amp that let’s you plug in an industry standard XLR microphone into an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. I see this as a better option for the budding musical performer who wants to record that new song on the tour bus. The iRig Pre can provide 48V of phantom power for condenser microphones and is powered by a 9V battery. The manufacturer promises 30 hours of life off one battery, or only 10 hours if you are using it to provide phantom power. (If you think phantom power is something that you only get around Halloween, then this is not the right solution for you.) I have not had a chance to compare the sound quality of this solution as I don’t have an XLR microphone lying around.

With all 3 microphone solutions, IK Multimedia provides free recording applications like iRig Recorder and this is the only part of the solution that I thought needed some work. The user interface of the application looked like something designed by a hardware engineer rather than a UI designer. I also ran into some problems getting the iRig Mic to work reliably with the built-in app, but did not seem to have the same problems with some of my favorite audio recording apps like Audioboo or Voice Memos. So while the hardware is one of the better audio solutions I have seen for the iPhone, for now I would recommend looking around at other software solutions.

The only danger I see with the iRig is that I may spend time sitting in my room talking (or singing) to my iPhone just like I did when someone made the mistake of giving me a tape recorder as a child. Perhaps that’s all part of the journey of becoming a podcaster.


Author bio: Chris Christensen is the host of the Amateur Traveler, a popular online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations. It includes a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog. By day he works at PayNearMe.com where they create products to help people without credit or debit cards pay for things. Chris was formerly the Director of Engineering for TripAdvisor’s New Initiatives group, the EVP Engineering at LiveWorld which runs online communities like those for eBay, HBO, and American Express, and a Software Manager at Apple, Momenta (pen computing) and HP.

Is there room under the travel blogging umbrella for calendars and calendar haters?

 

Earlier this month, there was a bit of a kerfuffle over a travel blogging calendar. The fact that there were facets of the travel blogging world that didn’t embrace and applaud the calendar isn’t the interesting part, that was to be expected. Rather, what was interesting was that the sentiments of both the calendar’s detractors and its champions, taken together, did a fine job of demonstrating how all-encompassing the travel blogging world has the potential to be.

But let me back up a bit.

Travel bloggers posing for calendars isn’t new – just ask Diamond PR about their “Men of TBEX” calendar from Vancouver. Unlike that effort, however, the impetus for this new calendar of travel bloggers has come from the bloggers themselves – and this time there are separate calendars for men and women. Twenty-four bloggers agreed to submit photographs of themselves, and two charities were selected to receive “the entirety of the profits” from the sale of the calendars.

And then came the questions. Questions like, “How close to nude can we go?” from one calendar participant, to “Really??!?” from one skeptic, to “Who’s going to buy these calendars, anyway?” from a few people, both in public and private.

These calendars were never going to be just another travel blogging initiative – something the organizers knew going in (if for no other reason than the fact that the earlier “Men of TBEX” calendar brought up questions, too). They were going to generate some raised eyebrows and (yes) some questions. The success of a project like this has to be based on getting the word out. If even a portion of that is accomplished by said project being of a slightly prurient interest, then that makes the promotional effort easier. Raising eyebrows (or questions) is fine, since “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” right?

Evidently not everyone who’s a fan of the calendar agrees with that old chestnut, and some were unprepared to deal with any questions that weren’t along the lines of “how can I be in it next year?” or “where can I buy one?” When the purpose and motivation of the calendar effort was questioned, the conversation quickly went off the rails.

What I love about this calendar is that it’s something different. Who knows how much money they’ll raise – I genuinely hope it’s a good sum, and that they share their progress – but at least they’re thinking creatively. The calendar is an effort to drive money toward a charity, but it also showcases the ability of travel bloggers to think creatively and work together – skills that are in demand as more people flood the already saturated travel blogging market. Additionally, turning this from a “spur-of-a-moment idea” into an actual, physical thing in a short span of time highlights how adaptable travel bloggers can be – the world moves quickly, and we must move quickly with it or get left behind. All of these traits are specific and marketable skills – we’re talking resume-quality language here – and that deserves applause. We need more of that kind of forward thinking. The calendar’s organizers and participants get major points for showing creativity, adaptability, and the benefits of collaboration.

But what the array of reactions to the calendar has demonstrated is something that I love even more – that there’s room under this enormous umbrella of travel blogging both for the people who adore this calendar idea and want to buy it every year and for the people who roll their eyes at it before going back to whatever section of the travel blogging world suits them best.

There is no brush broad enough to paint all travel bloggers at once, nor should there be. Travelers are exceptionally diverse, why shouldn’t travel bloggers be, too? We travel differently, we blog differently – we think differently. If we all produced the same ideas, what an awfully boring community this would be! There are enough niches under this gigantic umbrella that everyone will find something they love and others who have similar affections. The travel industry is even bigger than our umbrella, trying as it is to appeal to the whims of every traveler on earth, so it’s big enough to support a wide variety of travel bloggers, too.

Not everyone will cheer every new idea. It makes sense, right? There are critics in every industry. Some will quietly scoff and go about their own business, some will openly mock, and others will ask questions. We need to be prepared to deal with every kind of critic – whether simply accepting that not everyone is a fan, ignoring the detractors who offer nothing more than vitriol (don’t feed the trolls!), or explaning what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – in a thoughtful and reasonable manner. Critics should be expected to ask pointed questions about things they find confusing or about which they just want more information. Asking “who’s the target audience for this calendar?” isn’t an attack, and it certainly shouldn’t generate threats of physical violence. (Update: the Twitter post with the threat has apparently been removed, but here’s a screenshot of it.)

Whether the loudest (so far as I can tell) skeptic of the calendar had simply asked pointed questions or “took a hard(ish) line on” the topic, this kind of lighthearted retort seems the better place to start. Really, the first – and only – response could even have been, “Sorry you don’t like it, man, and I’mma let you finish, but we’re gonna be over here raising money for charity, mmkay?” before dropping the mic and walking offstage.

Yes, I’m being flippant, but the point is we have to know that not everyone will love what we do. If we fail to respond appropriately to our critics we run the risk of looking foolish or, even worse, looking like we haven’t even thought about our actions as much as our critics have.

Asking pointed questions helps us refine our bold ideas and prepares us for when businesses (rather than other bloggers) are asking the hard questions. We need to ask ourselves pointed questions, so we’re ready when others ask them. We need to answer thoughtfully, so we don’t appear poised for attack (even if we think it’s a defensive move). When we do all of this, it doesn’t matter one iota whether someone else under this umbrella doesn’t totally love our idea. There’s plenty of room for all of our well-considered (if sometimes quirky) ideas. Not everyone needs to follow the same path or even like every available path, as long as we agree to disagree as professionals.

As for the question posed at the beginning – is there room under this travel blogging umbrella for both the calendar lovers and the calendar haters? – I’d like to believe the answer is a resounding yes. The incredible and sometimes bizarre diversity of people I’ve met in this community – a community drawn together by a love of traveling – never ceases to amaze. I’d also like to believe that the umbrella is limitless, and that we all (at the very least) share the willingness to defend one another’s right to push boundaries, throw spaghetti at the wall, and ask questions.

If we can’t do that – support creative discourse and a little spaghetti throwing – then we’ll fracture our community instead of growing and sustaining it. I think the growth option is better for all of us, even if it comes with a few hard questions along the way.


We’re interested in publishing editorial content on the TBEX blog that represents a wide array of opinions on all things travel, blogging, and anything else that the TBEX audience might find interesting. And as it turns out, TBEX staff have opinions, too. This opinion piece may not represent the opinions of everyone working at TBEX or New Media Expo. Do you have a counter-point to this editorial? Do you have something else you’d like to get off your chest? We’d love to hear from you.

4 Social Media Sins (and How You Can Find Absolution)

 

When you’re up to your eyeballs in social media all day, it’s tempting to think everyone is on the same page. Not only is that far from true, there are plenty of people who are using social media on a daily basis who – in my opinion – are doin’ in wrong. I’m a staunch supporter of the notion that there are many ways to utilize social media, but I do think there are some things you shouldn’t do no matter how you’re using it.

There are, in other words, social media sins.

Here are what I consider to be the worst social media sins – and I’m eager to hear what you think are the worst, too, so I hope you’ll leave them in the comments!

Auto-DMs

Creative Commons photo by That Hartford Guy on Flickr

This should not be something that still needs to be said, but since I’m still getting auto-DMs every so often when I follow new people on Twitter, obviously the message hasn’t yet reached everyone.

If you’re not yet a Twitter addict, a DM is a “direct message,” and they’re private missives between two users. In order to DM someone, they must actually be following you, so when Twitter users set up services to automatically send a DM to every new follower it’s an instantaneous abuse of a new (and as-yet-untested) relationship. Most auto-DMs are some variation of “thanks for following!” Sometimes they go so far as to say, as @videozee puts it, “Thanks for following. Follow me here and here and here, too,” begging new Twitter followers to like your Facebook page or subscribe to your newsletter or whatnot.

No matter the text, auto-DMs are unwelcome. As @HeyJerGo says, “I follow you then you immediately spam me?!?” They do not make users feel special. It’s obvious that they’re automatically generated, like so much spam – and how special does receiving spam make you feel? We’ve already chosen to follow you on Twitter, so don’t make us regret that decision by coming on like an over-anxious used car salesman. Let your followers make their own sophisticated decisions to look at your blog or Facebook page or whatever else you’re promoting based on what you put on Twitter, since that’s where they’ve chosen to engage with you.

Bottom line? If you’re currently using an auto-DM service, turn it off. Seriously. And if you’re new to Twitter, don’t sign up for an auto-DM service to begin with.

Hashtag Overuse

While hashtags became popularized on Twitter, they’re now used on lots of social media platforms – including Google+ and Instagram – to help categorize the content of a post. There are plenty of fabulous reasons to hashtag your social media updates. Attendees at a conference can live-tweet sessions with a common hashtag, letting people who want to follow along do so easily – and those who don’t care about the conference can just block that hashtag temporarily. On a grander scale, using a common hashtag for a major event like Superstorm Sandy made it easy for people all over the world to stay on top of what was happening – we got updates faster that way than by watching the TV news.

But some people abuse hashtags to such a degree that it’s irritating to look at anything they post. Ironically, although hashtags really got going first on Twitter, because of the 140-character limit I feel like most Twitterers use a bit more restraint when hashtagging a tweet. The worst offenders tend to be on Instagram, where people leave comments on their own images in order to add even more hashtags.

The Instagram post on the left is acceptable. A few relevant hashtags to identify both the location of the photo and the conference alluded to. But the one on the right? That’s ridiculous. And that’s not even the worst hashtag overuse I’ve seen.

If you make people wade through several lines of hashtagged nonsense to find out what the heck you’re talking about, why are they going to want to stick around?

Before you think I’m going to let hashtag-addicts on Twitter off the hook, let me say this: not every single one of your blog posts needs to be hashtagged with #TBEX. Or #TTOT. Or #travel. Or, really, any one thing. You know the story of the boy who cried wolf, right? The social media version is the blogger who tagged every bloody one of their tweets – especially if it was a link to their site – with #TBEX or #TTOT or some such thing. Just as the villagers eventually ignored the boy when the wolf finally did come, when you post something to your blog that’s really great, something I’ll want to read and re-post from the TBEX accounts, I’m much more likely to ignore it because it’s just another post in a sea of your hashtagged posts.

Be judicious with your hashtags, you guys. This is another case where less is more.

Broadcasting

Creative Commons photo by garryknight on Flickr

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Bloggers, we are not CNN or the BBC, so there’s absolutely no reason we should treat social media like a one-way megaphone.

News outlets can get away with broadcasting their links and nothing else because they’re an information service – it’s exactly what people expect when they check CNN’s Twitter feed. We don’t expect to get a reply from the CNN account if we ask a question. Bloggers, on the other hand, are accessible to their readers. People contact us via any one of a number of different avenues, and they aren’t shocked when we reply. That’s why I find it so disheartening when some bloggers do nothing but broadcast on social media.

I actually heard someone recently say, “Oh, I don’t follow anyone on Pinterest. I just post things from my site there.” I’m glad that person wants to share their site with the Pinterest community, but how much value are they actually adding? I’d argue that they’re not adding very much at all.

Social media works best when it’s a two-way street, when your usage includes regular interaction with other people in that community as well as contributions of new content. And that new content shouldn’t all be to your URL, either, or you’re the guy at the party who can only talk about himself. I don’t know about you, but I try to get away from that dude as quickly as possible.

If all you’re doing is posting links to your own stuff and you’re rarely interacting with anyone, I think it’s safe to assume you don’t actually want to engage with the community – and that’s going to give me no reason to want to engage with you, either. Real community is only built with real, two-way engagement. So if you want to keep broadcasting, at least be aware that you’ll only get out of social media what you’re willing to put into it.

Buying Followers

Creative Commons photo by Jeremy Weate on Flickr

I may hate auto-DMs on Twitter, but there’s something I hate even more – buying followers or fans.

Lately people are equating buying promoted posts on Facebook with buying fans, but I don’t think they’re even close to the same. The former is essentially buying ad space, and there’s nothing wrong with advertising. The latter is simply lying.

There is no excuse for buying Twitter followers or Facebook fans or the like. None. It’s never okay. I don’t care who told you it was or what you’ve read, it’s a stupid, money-wasting idea. Yes, I’m calling it stupid, and I don’t think highly of anyone who considers it a sound decision. It’s akin to withdrawing your credit card limit and depositing it into your bank account to make it look like you’re rolling in savings. They’re fake numbers, and yet you’re paying real money for them. That has consequences beyond just emptying your wallet. It’s a shady proposition that can sully your reputation, and anyone who says otherwise is selling snake oil.

Social media is about community, and you don’t buy community – you earn community. Period.

Is there absolution?

Creative Commons photo by emilio labrador on Flickr

Social media isn’t exactly the wild west, but it’s still a brave new world for many of us. Not only that, the landscape seems to change every few weeks. So, yes, it’s hard to keep up sometimes. I’ll give you that. And maybe you started committing one of the above-mentioned social media sins long before you knew any better. The good news is that you can change your behaviors for the better right now and begin to rebuild a social reputation. Positive changes can take a little bit longer to stick than negative ones, but since everything on the interwebz moves at just shy of the speed of light, it’s still pretty doggone fast.

Sadly, we don’t really have a system in the travel blogging world for buying indulgences like the Catholic church used to, but I’ll make you a deal. Next time you see me, buy me a drink and confess. I’ll hear your sins, and – as long as you promise never to re-offend – we’ll consider it a wash.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”Your turn on the soapbox!”]What are the social media sins that irritate you most? Share in the comments below![/stextbox]

Toronto & Dublin: A Snapshot of Our 2013 Host Cities

 

Now that we know our 2013 conference agenda, with Toronto coming up in June and Dublin just announced for October, we thought it would be nice to get a snapshot overview of our two host cities.

When was it founded?

  • Toronto sits on land purchased by the British from the Mississauga tribe in 1787, although the original city on this spot was called York. In 1834, the city was renamed Toronto and incorporated.
  • Dublin’s roots date back to the 9th century when the Vikings first established a settlement here, and it’s been Ireland’s main city since the 12th century. For a little while in the 18th century, Dublin was one of the largest cities in Europe.
Downtown Toronto

What’s the population?

  • The population of the city of Toronto is just over 2.6 million, according to the 2011 Census. The whole urban area is more than 5.1 million.
  • The population of the city of Dublin is a little more than 525,000, according to the 2011 Census. The whole urban area is more than 1.1 million.

What are the local languages?

  • English is the dominant language in Toronto, but you’ll also hear French (Canada’s second official language), as well as Chinese and Italian (owing to their large populations in the city).
  • English is spoken and understood widely in Dublin, but you’ll also hear plenty of the Irish language, too – it’s the first official language in Ireland.
Dublin city center

What’s the best airport to use?

  • Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) is Canada’s biggest and busiest airport, and Air Canada’s main hub. Toronto also has a smaller airport, Billy Bishop City Airport (YTZ), with limited passenger flights. It’s actually located on the Toronto Islands right near the city center.
  • Dublin Airport (DUB) is Ireland’s busiest airport and the main hub for Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Aer Arann, and CityJet.

What’s the best way to get around?

  • In Toronto, there’s a subway and RT (rapid transit), as well as a network of buses and streetcars.
  • In Dublin, there’s a light-rail line called Luas, as well as an intricate network of buses.

What do they look like from space?

Weirdly similar, actually.

Fun facts about Toronto & Dublin

  • The name “Toronto” comes from the name “Taronto,” which was the name of a nearby waterway. This was an adaptation of the Mohawk word “tkaronto,” meaning “where there are trees standing in water.” The name “Dublin” comes from “Dubhlinn” in Irish, which means “black pool.”
  • Both cities are on bodies of water – Toronto on Lake Ontario, and Dublin at the mouth of the River Liffey.
  • Both Toronto and Dublin are financial centers for their respective countries.
  • Toronto has long been a publishing powerhouse of a city in Canada, while more recently new media companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft have established European headquarters or major regional bases in Dublin.
  • One of Toronto’s sister cities is Chicago (site of the first TBEX in 2009), and one of Dublin’s sister cities is Barcelona (in the Catalonia region, host of TBEX Europe in 2012).

Now it’s your turn!

Have you been to Toronto or Dublin? Or both? Tell us what you know – historic trivia, tourist tips, fun facts, or some combination thereof – in the comments below.

Creative Commons photos: Toronto by detsang on Flickr, Dublin by Ian Wilson on Flickr, Toronto satellite photo by NASA, Dublin satellite photo by Cnes – Spot Image

Talking Social Engagement at PhoCus Wright

 

Hot on the heels of our news that TBEX CEO Rick Calvert will be speaking at WTM this year, we’re pleased to announced that  TBEX Conference Director Mary Jo Manzanares will be speaking at the 2012 PhoCusWright Conference in Arizona.

PhoCusWright is a travel industry research authority that fosters smart strategic planning and tactical decision-making by delivering research on the evolving dynamics that influence travel, tourism and hospitality distribution.  You may have read one of its many white papers on the industry.  PhoCus Wright also offers an annual conference that brings together executives and thought leaders in the travel industry along with travel technology start ups and exhibitors.

Mary Jo will represent TBEX on a panel called “The New Rules of Social Engagement.” Here’s the official description:

Want to build buzz? Connect with bloggers? Drive trial and awareness? Traditional marketing has reached its own “Pivot Point” where the key to driving traffic and hitting milestones is about building and engaging in meaningful conversations with your followers, influencers and the travel blogger community. Join this executive-level discussion on how you should be thinking about your social media investments and PR strategy and help your team efficiently navigate the pitfalls and opportunities in social media to build measurable campaigns that grow your business.

Also on the panel will be Anne Taylor Hartzell of Hip Travel Mama and Spencer Spellman of The Traveling Philosopher, with moderator Joe Megibow of Expedia.  The session will start at 11:30 am on Wednesday, November 14. The full PhoCusWright program is here

Now, we realize that PhoCusWright is beyond the budget of most travel bloggers – honestly, it’s beyond the budget of many travel companies – but don’t worry, Mary Jo will bring back all kinds of great information and contacts that will benefit TBEXers in the future.  And if you’ll  be at PhoCusWright, be sure to contact Mary Jo and schedule a good time to meet up.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”What do you think?”]What do you hope Mary Jo and the others discuss on their social engagement panel at PhoCusWright? Share in the comments below![/stextbox]

How to Make a Living Helping Others Travel

 

If you could live in the country you love the most, work on a flexible schedule, and make a living talking about the place you adore, would that be appealing? As today’s guest post author Madeline Jhawar of Italy Beyond the Obvious tells us, if that sounds good to you then you might consider a future as a travel consultant.


Over the past four years working as an Italy trip planner, I’ve created hundreds of travel days for clients, with a 90% “delighted” client track record. I also get pretty regular requests from people asking about becoming a travel consultant, because they want to do it, too.

My advice? Go for it! It’s a lot of fun, there is plenty of work for everyone, and it’s the most flexible job ever: it doesn’t matter what time zone you’re in, just that you are available to your clients; and once you get rolling, you can accept as many or as few clients as you want. I always ramp up to accommodate spring and autumn trips, and I’ve taken months off at a time: last year we took our kids to India for the month of November; the year before that, we sold a house and moved 3,000 miles, my full-time project for about 8 weeks.

The people I’ve coached about becoming a travel consultant are usually thinking about a significant career change, one that would affect their income and their families. They want to know:

  • Can I make a living?
  • How can I be successful?

I am happy to share what has worked for me.

Can I make a living as a travel consultant?

You can make a living, if you approach this as a business and not as a hobby.

I have a business background and worked in corporate operations for almost a decade before starting Italy Beyond the Obvious (my travel consulting business), but I’d been planning trips to Italy for family and friends for years for free – and the hobby-to-business mental transition was challenging. People knew me as the go-to person they could ask for free Italy information, since I’d been enthusiastically giving it out for years, and I had to start explaining that I was now charging for time and expertise in this area. These days, if anyone asks my advice about Italy that would take me time to research and reply, my standard response is that I would love to help and then I ask whether I should put together a proposal for consulting services.

Apart from the mental shift, treating it like a business means you need to give several things careful consideration:

  • Think about who, specifically, your customers are, and how you are going to find them. You need to start thinking about this right away, and keep it at the front of your mind while you’re thinking about your products and your pricing. Are your clients going to be budget travelers? Honeymooners? High-end luxury travelers? Gay 40-60-something couples? Brainstorm points that describe your clients and another page with ideas on how to reach them. This is not an if-you-build-it-they-will-come type of job.

 

  • Define your product. For example, you could: give overall itinerary advice via email or phone/Skype; sell/recommend day trips or classes; book hotels, guides and restaurants; create a written itinerary; provide on-trip support; and more – including any combination of those things. I have three products – Coaching, Gold Itinerary Planning, and Platinum Itinerary Planning. The high-end Platinum Itinerary Planning is soup-to-nuts, with bells and whistles, and was created to serve a type of client I know very well from my days as a Butterfield & Robinson guide (here’s a sample of a Platinum Itinerary). The Coaching is my fun, quick, lower-end service I can offer to people who just want good tips and then can take it from there. And the Gold Itinerary Planning is my in-between. Start thinking about what you are going to offer, what it includes, and what it doesn’t include. Then…

 

  • Figure out how long it takes you to create your product. You need to include all time spent here, starting with the amount of time it takes to answer a potential client’s first email all the way through creating their final invoice. You’ll likely end up with an average time rather than an absolute time it takes you to create your product, and that’s fine.

 

  • Decide how you are going to make money, AKA your business model. You could charge your clients very little or nothing, and make money from commissions you earn from booking hotels and tours (if that’s your product). You could book everything for your clients (with or without commissions) and send them one final invoice that includes everything on the trip, which you mark up 15%. You could charge for your time per-hour, as a consultant. You could charge for your product, which you might create once and sell once, or you might create once and sell many times. There are travel consultants who earn money each of these ways. I chose to charge by product (my coaching service and itineraries), for several reasons: I didn’t want to keep track of my hours and I didn’t want to work from commissions – I want to tell my clients I’m recommending the best solution for them, not the best solution based only upon my portfolio of commission-earning options.

 

  • Decide what to charge. Here you need to do the math. You could, of course, start with a market analysis, look at what the competition is charging, and spend a lot of time deciding what the “right” price is. I didn’t do very much of that, but I asked myself one question: how much do I need to charge in order for this to be worth my time?

So, if you figure out how much you can charge and how many customers you can handle, you can figure out how much you’ll earn. Now subtract expenses. Can you make a living? If not, maybe you need to think about a different business model, or figure out a way to work more efficiently so you can create more products in the time you have.

But wait, there’s more, so keep reading…

Continue reading How to Make a Living Helping Others Travel

Sorting the Bloggers from the Blaggers at WTM

 

The “EX” in TBEX covers many bases – an exchange of ideas, knowledge, and (when we get together at conferences) business cards.  Increasingly that exchange is growing to include exchanges with destinations and  travel industry representatives. And that latter exchange is something we want to keep improving upon.

Next month, TBEX’s CEO, Rick Calvert, is headed to London for the World Travel Market trade show where, among other activities, he’ll be speaking on a panel at the WTM Social Travel Market on the topic of  “How to sort the bloggers from the blaggers.” This session is geared toward travel companies and PR representatives who want to work with travel bloggers, but who might not know how to tell whether they’ve got the best bloggers for their particular clients.

As we heard during a session at TBEX in Girona, quantifying the “value” of a blogger is tricky (if not impossible), so what is the travel industry to do? Rick and his co-panelist, Ayngelina Brogan (of Bacon is Magic), will attempt to sort some of this out for WTM attendees, giving suggestions and recommendations for how to find the right blogger for the right project.

Here’s the official session description:

By now, every PR and travel company has its own list of favoured bloggers. But there is no centralised list, no directory of the good – and the poor – bloggers. There was a stab at Tbex in Girona recently to quantify the value of a blogger – and semantic algorithms are on their way. Meanwhile, it’s the Wild West out there, so enter two speakers to help clarify things. Ayngelina is part of a team who have created the Professional Travel Bloggers Association, while Rick runs Blogworld out of North America and, a year ago, bought The Travel Bloggers’ Exchange (TBEX). They’ll tell you what it takes, and what 2013 holds in terms of sorting the blaggers from the bloggers.

This is, of course, a much bigger discussion than just an hour-long chat at WTM.

Some of you may remember discussions about an independent vetting process for bloggers and a sort of blogger code of conduct at previous editions of TBEX, and the subsequent creation of TBEX Connect.

It seems like there’s a desire to have a quick-fix directory where connections can be made based on quantifiable criteria as well as qualitative research.  But has that concept reached critical mass yet? Does a directory run the risk of short cutting the due diligence that needs to be done by both sides?  Or is it maybe that the perfect system hasn’t yet been put forward?

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”What do you think?”]What do you want to hear Rick and Ayngelina address during their WTM panel? Share in the comments below![/stextbox]

If you’ll be attending the WTM Social Travel Market, Rick and Ayngelina’s session, “How to sort the bloggers from the blaggers,” is in the South Gallery, Rooms 23-26 from 2:30-3:30 on Wednesday, November 7. The discussion will be moderated by Steve Keenan.

With Honors: Graduating from My First TBEX

 

When today’s guest blogger, Atreyee Gupta of Bespoke Traveler, first offered the “TBEX is like school” analogy, we were intrigued. Was that a good thing? A bad thing? As it turns out, Atreyee found her first TBEX experience in Keystone to be a little of both – although the biggest lesson didn’t occur to her until after she’d returned home.


When I first began blogging about my immersive travel experiences, I was not aware there was such a profession as a travel blogger. While sharing personal stories of discovering art, architecture, and history abroad, I found fellow adventurers writing their own fascinating travel accounts which compelled me to chat with these digital nomads.

When I heard about the Travel Blogger Exchange (TBEX) Conference from one of them, I was excited about the opportunity to meet some of my fellow virtual travel companions face to face, make new friends, and spend a weekend discussing our mutual passion for travel. I was just as excited for my first visit to Keystone, Colorado where the conference would be assembled.

However, upon arriving at the meeting site, I found myself suddenly whipped back into high school with 800 other students all writing about similar experiences, all climbing the same ladder, all hoping for the same goal. I felt like the new transfer kid who had registered into a “Fame” school for travel aficionados and who had forgotten to tie her shoelaces on the first day.

Even though I had communicated with quite a few bloggers online, I did not recognize any of these faces, and I was overcome by the thought of my current “sink-or-swim” situation. How could I possibly survive the next four days, never mind graduate with the rest of the class?

How TBEX was like my school days


Just like the first day of school, the TBEX conference began with formal registration and a prescribed schedule of classes. To teach the classes there was a roster of talented speakers who fulfilled the role of lecturing professors. The student body consisted of a diverse collection of bloggers, writers, photographers, and tourism professionals who by their personalities and behaviors satisfied every school attendance list.

Besides classes, there were a suite of extracurricular activities to participate in from approved icebreakers to evening parties. My next few days in Keystone continually reminded me of school days: hurrying down corridors hunting for the next class, furious note taking while staring at slide presentations, and a hectic schedule of events.

Between the pressure of capturing information during sessions and socializing with everyone afterwards, I had my plate full. Although there weren’t any homework assignments, pop quizzes, or final exams at TBEX, the responsibilities of attending seminars and quickly developing relationships with both lecturers and fellow bloggers at the TBEX conference felt just as overwhelming as successfully passing classes and making friends at school.

How TBEX was NOT like my school days


Choosing which classes to attend at TBEX Keystone turned out to be extremely important. Unlike my school experience, this was the only time teachers were educating me about real world applications. A course on turning a hobby into a business offered insights into various methods for making a profit for my company. In several seminars, I was fortunate enough to hear personal stories of the speakers’ battles to obtain sponsors and project funding. One lecturer’s insights into the statistics of current social media sites helped me understand how to use these sites to better interact with customers.

While learning algebra theory and the history of nineteenth century writers in school had provided me with information, there were never real life applications to which I could apply these classroom lessons. At the TBEX conference, however, practical guidance was being offered not only by the lecturers but also by my fellow bloggers. With years of experience as travelers, writers, and photographers, TBEX attendees were providing me with vocational advice, technical expertise, and practical know-how. My only regret was that there wasn’t two of me so that I could attend every session.

The Most Important Lesson I Learned


There was one lesson from TBEX that I learned not in the classroom, but only once I returned home. While reminiscing about all the events I attended, the many different people I met, and the overwhelming support I received, I was left to evaluate the entire weekend with the strictness of hindsight.

Attending TBEX didn’t exponentially grow my readers or customer base and didn’t provide me with instant access to a sponsor. Instead, it filled me with ideas, concepts, and goals I might never have thought of on my own. This was something my long years in school had never helped me to do.

Through the conference I connected genuinely with a handful of fellow writers, bloggers, and travel professionals who I fostered new plans and expanded my experimental ideas. Learning from the speakers and conversing with fellow attendees stimulated me.

Ever since attending my first TBEX event, I feel more energized about my passion, more enthusiastic about my direction, and more…inspired! Inspiration is what every school should provide its pupils, and it’s the best lesson I could have learned as a TBEX alumni.

all photos by Dave Cynkin


Author bio: Atreyee Gupta is cofounder of Bespoke Traveler, a curated travel publication which produces digital books and journals to inspire travelers to cultivate relationships with their destinations. As managing editor of the Bespoke Traveler website and journals, Atreyee plans, develops, and edits the company’s online content as well as its product offerings. Atreyee’s travel stories can be found through Bespoke Traveler’s e-books and blog.