Blog  Past, present and future

Past, present and future

The site has been around for almost two years now. In this post I reflect on how the site has evolved, share insights I've gained running it and set goals for 2020.

Almost two years have passed since I launched roadtripster.net in April 2018. It’s about time to take a look at how the site has evolved and to set goals for the future.

I had no clue how the website would be received when I started it. Early on, I didn’t care much about attracting visitors to the site. I was busy writing posts to have something to publish.

After a while I realized it would be fun if someone read the posts I put effort into writing. Two obvious questions arose.

  • How shall people find the site?
  • Why shall people read my travel articles?

To continue working on the project, I needed answers to these questions.

How shall people find the site?

Common ways to build an audience are through social media, advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). I’m not interested in social media, I have an Instagram account, but I rarely post. Social media was not an option.

Advertising? Hmm, I don’t think so.

The only way forward was to get the pages ranked by the search engines. I learned everything about SEO and implemented the most important features. And it works. It’s hard to claim the top spot, but you can make it to the first page of search results for some keywords even with a new website.

SEO is interesting and boring at the same time. It’s distracting when you want to focus on content creation, but it’s necessary to master if you shall have a chance of being noticed among thousands of similar sites. There is no shortage of travel blogs now in the golden age of so-called influencers. Everyone wants their share of the cake.

Internet has an abundance of sources on how to get traffic to your website, but much of the information is not applicable when you are just starting out. Advice on guest posting and whatnot to get backlinks will not work when you struggle with English grammar and the only readers to your latest post are your mother and yourself.

Why shall people read my travel articles?

With the wealth of travel information available online, why would anyone take their time to read my posts? I keep it simple. My only goal when I write about a destination is to help people interested in visiting that place. The post shall contain all you need to know about a location. How to travel there and how you get the most out of the place. If I can make the life of a traveler easier, I’m happy with that.

At least that’s why I read travel blogs, I want detailed information.

Providing value for your readers is a great start, an important part of SEO is to publish quality content. For a new website, there is no way around it. Your posts must be well written and useful for your intended readers.

The top ranking pages for a keyword are not necessarily the “best”, however you quantify that. Ranking high is about the publishing domain’s authority, and a well implemented SEO strategy. It’s hard to compete as a new website, but it can be done!

Hit by reality

I knew what I had to do, but it wasn’t easy doing it. Around the time I launched the site, I also started a small business which required all my energy. I didn’t have time to turn the site into what I wanted it to be. I never gave up on it though, and now when my business is up and running, I have more time to work on the website.

Insights

I’ve made quite a few insights during the two first years of running the website. Insights about what it takes to write material for a public audience. Insights about how to host a website and how to make people find it. I knew nothing about this before, and while I’m still learning, I’ve gained valuable knowledge already.

Insights about producing content

I underestimated how much work it takes to produce content for a travel website. I underestimated it by far. It’s not only about writing a text. You have to be a writer, photographer and videographer to produce the raw material for a post. Then you have to edit the text, photos and videos before publishing. All this takes a lot of time.

I thought I could write posts about my old trips to destinations that change little with time. It turned out I couldn’t. I don’t remember the details from many of my trips. Without details, it’s difficult to write a text someone finds useful.

The next thing I discovered was that my photos and videos from older trips had either gone missing or were of poor quality. For years, I traveled around the world with low resolution point-and-shoot cameras and clicked thousands of photos. Sadly, most of them are crap. The photos are good memories, but nothing I want to publish in an article supposed to inspire and guide other travelers.

To top it all, I accidentally threw away some old hard drives with photos from trips to about 20 countries so those photos I couldn’t use even if I wanted to.

"... people from more than 130 countries have visited the site."

Past, present and future

From this, I learned to document the trips better. I started taking notes during road trips, but it was too tiring to do it well after a long day on the road. I switched to record voice memos on my phone instead. That works much better because it’s faster than writing and I can do it right away during the activities I plan to write about.

I’m spending more time taking photos and shooting videos now than I did before. I have a lot to learn about technique, composition and editing, but it’s fun. Everyone can become a decent travel photographer.

One thing is clear, it’s so much easier to write a post when you have good photos. The text almost writes itself. The saying a picture is worth a thousand words might be a cliche, but it’s true.

There’s more to say about travel writing and photography, and I plan to do a few blog posts about these topics.

Audience insights

I’m using Google Analytics to collect anonymized and GDPR compliant data about how people use the site. This is something most websites do to measure things like the number of visitors, page popularity and to see how people arrive at the site.

I’m not focusing on the number of visitors or page views at this stage. I’m satisfied with the numbers considering I didn’t promote the site and that I post less than one time per month on average. The number of visitors is increasing and every time I publish a few posts, I see a bump up in the visitor count.

Worth mentioning is that people from more than 130 countries have visited the site. And that’s real people, not bots scanning the internet. It’s a wider reach than I could have hoped for. The top three countries are:

  1. Montenegro
  2. United States
  3. Faroe Islands

It’s not surprising that United States is one of the three, but Montenegro and the Faroe Islands? That’s because more than half of the destination posts are about places in those two countries.

Travelers visiting Montenegro and the Faroe Islands are researching local sights while on the road. I didn’t expect that, because I make my research at home before going on a trip. I bring notes about places and use them to travel around exploring the country.

Nowadays, with cheap and reliable internet available almost everywhere, it’s easier to look up things as you go. I guess I’m old school and prefer spending as little time as possible looking at a screen while I’m traveling.

Most readers view the site on their phones, but 40% are still on desktop devices like laptops. Tablets contribute with only 5% to the total traffic.

Device types

This is about what I expected. I know I have to improve the site design to look better on mobile devices. So far, I focused on page speed, but the next step is to fix the look and feel. Chrome and Safari are the most popular browsers:

Browsers

I’m using Firefox myself, I think it’s superior to the other browsers on desktop devices. The site looks best in Firefox, but I should use Chrome for testing to see the site as most of the users experience it.

Behavior insights

I’ve written about destinations with tourist seasons running roughly from April to October. During this period the site gets a good number of visitors. From November to March, the reduction in traffic is significant. To maintain steady traffic throughout the year, I must write about countries with different peak seasons.

The most popular posts are:

  1. Hiking Mt Ćurevac
  2. Drangarnir hike
  3. Lake Sørvágsvatn

The top spot goes to Hiking Mt Ćurevac, a post about a short hike in Durmitor National Park in Montenegro. That’s one of the first posts I published, and it’s still attracting many readers.

What’s interesting is that the search engine rankings fluctuate quite a lot for these posts. For example, there have been days when Lake Sørvágsvatn was top-ranked for certain keywords. When it happens, the page gets 5-10 times the number of views it usually has.

Unfortunately it doesn’t maintain the top ranking so either the article isn’t useful enough for the readers or I’m doing something wrong with the SEO. This is something I need to investigate and understand.

Acquisition insights

For the acquisition category, how readers are arriving at the site, organic search dominates with 86% of the traffic. A whopping 96% of the search traffic comes through Google. Bing is at a distant second place with 3%. The smaller search engines like Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and Ecosia contribute with the last 1%.

Acquisition

This is as it should be, I put all my acquisition efforts into search engine optimization. I’m not sure where all the direct traffic comes from, that’s another thing to investigate. Part of the direct traffic are people saving bookmarks to the pages or typing in the page address in the browser. But what’s the rest?

Referrals from social media are rare, but as I’m only (in)active on Instagram, it comes as no surprise. I’m not looking forward to it, but I will have to work on my social media presence.

Style of writing

Regarding post quality, I’m working on my style of writing. English isn’t my native language, and that’s holding me back when writing posts. My vocabulary and feel for the language is improving, but not as fast as I want it to.

I want the destination posts to cover all important information about a place. You shouldn’t need any other sources of information to visit a location. This means long posts and people get tired reading them. Fact-intensive posts also suffer the risk of getting outdated, and it’s time consuming to update old posts every year.

On the other hand, search engines favor long articles. This is obvious when you read SEO blogs, the posts are long. Thousands of words with little information, it’s possible to say the same things in half the word count.

I’m looking for a balance between long posts packed with information and shorter posts focusing on inspiration and mood. Currently I go for the facts more than inspiration, but I want to capture the best of both worlds.

Monetizing

I don’t get any revenue from the website. Until now that’s okay, because I’m using a cost-effective hosting solution so the expenses are negligible. As much as I would like to keep the website ad-free and avoid cluttering it with affiliate links, I realize it will be difficult in the long run. I will need some income from the site as I put more hours into it.

I have several options of how to monetize the site, but it’s too early yet. The first step is to publish more posts to increase the daily traffic.

Goals for 2020

I’m making a real effort this year to improve all aspects of the website. The most important goals for 2020 are:

  • Provide better value to the travel community by producing content of higher quality than I’m doing today.
  • Post regularly. The goal is 3-4 full length posts per month.
  • Write about at least five countries I didn’t cover already.
  • Start publishing posts no later than one month after returning home from a trip.
  • Improve the site design, especially for mobile devices.
  • Increase the traffic to the website. I don’t set a specific percentage goal, but I expect a substantial increase.
  • Continue working on SEO, I still have important actions left to implement.
  • Become a better travel photographer.
  • Become a better travel videographer.
  • Start monetizing, the site shall generate the first revenue during 2020.
  • And the most important … travel more! Last year I traveled less than in many years, that’s not the way to go when running a travel website.

Evaluation in April 2021

I will give the site another year before I decide to keep it going or to retire it. Making the site is an inspiring challenge and I want to see how far I can take with a focused effort. I will make the final judgement in April 2021.

Thanks for reading!

– Chris