Hello! Today, I have a great story to share from Isabel Leong. She will be talking about how she made the transition to become a full-time travel blogger. Enjoy!
I’m Isabel, digital nomad and full-time travel blogger at Bel Around The World. Since its inception as a hobby blog when I was in university in 2015 until now, I’ve earned over $79,000 from it.
This is excluding sponsored 5-star experiences such as skydiving and going up on ice glaciers in New Zealand, doing white shark cave diving, paragliding and going on luxury safaris in South Africa, flying over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, glamping in Australia, visiting overwater villas in the Maldives and more.
At its peak, the site fetches a monthly average of over 55,000 page views monthly. Thanks to the quality, consistent, passive traffic and income, my dream of travelling full-time is now possible through this travel blog.
It was not always like that…
Growing up in Singapore, life was.. monochrome, to describe it at best. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to downplay my country. It’s just that having been born and bred here all my life, the country to me was congested with skyscrapers, man-made gardens, and the highest natural point in this city-state is a hill that’s only as high as 164m.
There was so much more I wanted to see, more lands to explore, national parks to get lost in, world wonders to lose myself in and people I haven’t met outside of this country.
I never imagined how my life would be so intertwined with travel until one fateful trip when I bought a one-way ticket to a continent I had not yet visited before in my life.
Who knew this would forever alter the trajectory of my life?
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It was meant to be a semester-long study abroad program, where I would spend up to 6 months in Europe. To prepare for this big trip, I remember packing an enormous suitcase – almost up to my waist – as if I was leaving home for good, and getting a DSLR for my 21st birthday in preparation for this big trip. It was a big deal, getting a proper camera for the first time. It was my first big investment in my life as a 21-year-old, a prelude to a life where photographing would become so indispensable in my life now.
Throughout my budget student travel around Central and West Europe, I feverishly snapped photos, spent my time researching destinations to visit, experimented with the cheapest ways to travel more and created itineraries for ease of travel.
Throughout it all, I created a blog to document all my travel tips and tricks so that others after me may have an easier time travelling.
It was some time in that study-travel lifestyle amidst my poring on travel blogs that I discovered that dream lives do come true – travel bloggers can actually travel and blog full-time! Doesn’t it sound too good to be true?
Since then, this fantasy idea that one day I may lead a life of full-time travel too lingered at the back of my mind, while balancing the realities of my own circumstance – that I’m a fresh uni graduate with no work experience and connections to speak of…
I returned from my 6 month Europe trip with 16 countries on my belt, of which I visited 55 cities and learned how to say “hello” in 11 different languages.
As with everyone else who graduated from university, getting a job was the next transition. There was no room for anything else. Such is life, I thought. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I sucked it up and put in my best effort.
I got my first job as a graduate in part due to the work I’ve done on my travel blog and social media; a role in a social media agency complemented my experience being a travel blogger.
I’ve worked and interned during my schooling days, and I never really thought I fit into the corporate culture. I thought being in a boutique creative agency with most of my colleagues from Spain might help.
No surprises; it didn’t.
A year after graduation, I decided corporate life was not for me. Rather than working to appease people and slogging hard for someone else’s dream, I decided to make my own dreams a reality.
Having always wanted to live and work abroad to experience a different environment, I left everything and mustered the courage to take a plunge and do a 6-month working holiday in New Zealand.
Coming from the city, I found myself falling in love with the simplicity of a rural village after living in a small town in New Zealand, Fox Glacier. During that stint, I helped tourists witness some of nature’s finest natural glaciers.
If anything, meeting people in Europe during my semester abroad who were engaged in work they love and doing a working holiday in New Zealand where you can earn a living even working on a farm reassured me that the definition of work does not always have to default to being in a closed space 55 storeys up, surrounded by other smartly-dressed-yet-deadpan-faces questioning their meaning in life.
At that point, my travel blog still existed as a hobby bringing in a coffee fund income, in no way close to working a full-time office job.
It took immense courage and calculated risk to do what I did next.
I took a wager on my travel blog and went on to live in the mountains of Japan, where I dedicated full-time hours to make my blog generate a decent income.
3 months in, I was more in love with nature, connecting with cultures and places I’ve never been more than ever. I was also hitting my monthly income goals, earning at least the equivalent of what I would’ve earned back home in a full-time job.
The only difference is, I’m loving what I do, and I’m loving where I am. Imagine waking up to freshly fallen snow on the mountains of Japan. I remember how I was blinded by the whiteness of everything when I woke up, the soft, powdery taste of snow shavings in my mouth and the crunch of ice as I made baby footprints on the fluffy fallen snow on the ground. I never wanted to be anywhere else.
That also taught me an important lesson: if you never take your blog seriously and invest time and effort into it, it’ll never advance beyond a hobby blog.
Since I’m in the travel field, I’ve been able to live 5-star experiences such as skydiving and going up on ice glaciers in New Zealand, do white shark cave diving, paraglide and go on luxury safaris in South Africa, flying over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, take my family glamping in Australia, and visit overwater villas in the Maldives, among others.
I even had the opportunity to do out-of-the-world experiences like living on a boat in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia that I normally wouldn’t sign myself up for.
That’s what living a life of mini-retirements is like, where I’d work hard in between periods of playing hard. I didn’t want to slog my prime years away, only to become too jaded with life and feel like I’m too old to do anything fun.
The travel blog opened up a world of possibilities I’d never envisioned myself doing before.
Because I wasn’t tied down to a physical job in a physical location, I had the freedom to work from anywhere and live in countries I love like Japan and Hawaii.
From travelling across continents in Europe, Asia and Oceania, I’ve learned that there’s more to life than chasing the corporate race.
It’s about experiencing the world and taking life lessons from the people we meet of different cultures and perspectives. It’s about trusting yourself and pursuing what you love despite facing external oppositions – which explains how I’m living my dream of working on my own brand spreading the word of travel and helping other bloggers achieve the same dream of work independence today.
As I type this from a cafe on a beach in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, where I’ve been on the road for the last 7 months since the pandemic hit, life then has never been the same.
If you’d asked me 5 years ago, I wouldn’t even have dared imagine myself leaving the comforts of my home with nothing but my blog to my name to rely on for income. I would’ve thought such a life was reserved for the C-Suites who have spent decades working their way up MNCs and have hundreds of employees managing the company while they sip margaritas by the beach.
While I may not have wealth to my name, at least I’ve lived a life the way I wanted, a life of no regrets.
I’ve learned to love the challenge of the unknown, to face my fears, to embrace uncertainty, to trust in serendipity.
Because life is more rewarding that way.
My story is a testament that a life of work freedom, whether that means working for yourself or working remotely, and mini-retirements can happen at any age. I made it happen at the age of 25, and you can too, anytime you set your mind on making what you love work for you.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW BEFORE
More than attributing my work-life freedom to my travel blog, there are certain universal lessons you can take away from it, especially if you’re a blogger.
From being a hobby travel blogger to one who blogs full-time, there were a few things I wished I’d strategized better so that I could half the time I take to turn my blog into a money-making business.
And that is…
To start focusing on SEO from the very beginning.
If I did, I would have written SEO-optimised articles from the get-go, instead of having to dedicate extra hours to backtrack to the tens of articles I’d haphazardly wrote when I first started blogging to re-optimize or delete them.
If I did, my aged posts would have stood a better chance at ranking on Google earlier instead of competing with the many websites today.
If I did, I could have shaved off half the time I spent trying to make my other social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) work in driving traffic to my blog.
You see, I’ve learned (the long way) that the best way to drive traffic to your website is when user intent matches what your articles are about. That’s achieved when users search on Google what they’re looking for and your article answers their question. As for social media, they exist primarily as an inspirational platform, thus click-through rates are more often than not less than optimal.
WHAT IS SEO
But first, let’s talk about SEO and what the big deal about it is.
If you see pages ranking on the first few positions when you key in a certain search term on Google, that’s the result of SEO being done right.
SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, is all about optimizing your site for search engines to help them recognize what your content is about and rank them on Google for certain keywords.
Think of SEO as a bridge that links what you’re sharing with your target audience. You can have a million articles, but without SEO, all those articles and the valuable knowledge you’re sharing will just be buried in the millions of web pages online.
WHY IS SEO SO IMPORTANT FOR YOUR BLOG
One study analyzed over 80 million keywords and billions of search results to understand how users engage with SERPs.
The study showed that the first result that you see in Google Search has an average click-through rate of 28.5%. The second result has half the CTR, at 15.7%.
From the third result and below, the CTR decreases exponentially.
Thus, if you’re not ranking on the first, second or third result, the chances of having your page clicked on are virtually zero.
In summary, the higher your article is ranking on Google, the greater your visibility, and the more people will click to your website.
It’s all thanks to increasing my traffic and readers to my site through appearing at the top of search engine result pages that I was able to earn a passive income from blogging, all without selling a single product or service on my travel blog!
WHY NOT JUST RUN ADS?
In this internet age, what users want now is to be informed. They want to know if they’re making the right shopping choice. Between choosing between Adidas, Nike or Asics shoes, how will you decide which is good for running long distance? Do you look at who advertises better?
No. You Google reviews about them.
We as users are now primed to ignore ads. People can be guarded if they think that they are being sold to. Advertisements are no longer as effective.
Moral of the story?
Education is the new marketing.
Your audience don’t like being sold to. They like being taught, guided and advised.
Now that we’ve established that content is important for your business, what if you’ve written hundreds of articles but none of them are seen by anyone, except for the limited few that you push out to on your own social platforms?
This is where SEO comes into play.
HOW YOU CAN GET RANKED ON GOOGLE FASTER/ HOW TO SET YOUR BLOG UP FOR SEO SUCCESS
There are a couple of factors that come into play when it comes to ranking your pages on search engines, but before we go on to the complexities of it, you should always keep these in mind whenever you want to write articles that rank:
- Your article should solve a question
- Your page should provide a good user experience
- Your website should have backlinks (other websites linking to you)
- Your article should be as trustworthy as possible
1. Your article should solve a question
What I mean by answering a question is that your articles should be something your target audience is Googling about.
So how do you find out what your audience is Googling?
The easiest and free way is to go to Google search, type a generic search term.
Google auto-populates longer-tail keywords that are 3 to 5 words long. This will give you an idea on what other keywords your audience are searching about that revolves around your core keyword.
Secondly, when you enter the search results page, there are sometimes Featured Snippets where it shows questions that “People also ask”. You can use these questions to answer your audience and show your expert knowledge of the topic.
Of course, if you want to go more in-depth with keyword research, I highly recommend investing in a paid keyword research tool.
I use Keysearch which is great for beginner bloggers. There are of course more professional tools such as Ahrefs and SEMrush that you can also tap on. Of the two that I’ve used, I find Ahrefs much more user-friendly.
2. Your website should provide a good user experience
This 2021, Google is treating user experience seriously. This includes the page load speed, time until the first user interaction, mobile-friendliness, safe browsing and the use of HTTPS. To show you the extent of how it impacts your page, let’s take the effect of page load time on bounce rates.
If page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, bounce rate increases by 32%
If page load time increases from 1 second to 6 seconds, bounce rate increases by 106%
Some examples of good page experience include:
- Making sure your ads are not intrusive
- Your paragraphs are short enough for easy reading especially on mobile
- Your font text should be large enough so that readers have an easy time skimming through
- Having a table of contents so your readers know how to navigate through your posts
- A clean blog interface where you don’t have buttons overlapping each other
- A mobile-friendly site
- Removing any broken pages on your site
3. Your website should have backlinks
Firstly, what are backlinks and why is it important?
Backlinks are links from an external website to your site.
According to Rivalmind, “Backlinks are important for SEO because they signal to Google that another resource finds your content valuable enough to link to it within their own content. As a website earns additional backlinks, search engines infer that the website possesses valuable content worth ranking well on the SERPs.”
They’re important because they connect pages, creating a map for bots to find related content and rank them according to what their content is about.
That means, the more backlinks you have from different websites, the more it tells Google that your site is an authoritative property in your subject matter since you’re being trusted by all these different websites that are linking to you. The more Google sees you as authoritative, the higher the likelihood Google is going to prioritize your content over the others and rank you at the top of search engines.
While the general rule of thumb is that the more backlinks you can create for your site, the better, it’s worth noting that not all backlinks are created the same way. In fact, some might be detrimental to your site’s health.
Strive for do-follow backlinks as no-follow backlinks will not pass on link juice to your site no matter how often it gets linked.
Backlinks from authoritative sites are worth more than low authority, spammy sites. They are the ones that signal to Google that your site is credible.
Having relevant anchor texts also play a part. Anchor texts are texts that are being hyperlinked to your site. Instead of hyperlinking the word “here“, the link would count much more if you were to use relevant texts to describe the link. For instance, if you’re linking to budget travel, then the anchor text should be “budget travel“.
There are many ways you can create backlinks to your site, but most importantly, the most natural way of getting backlinks is to craft factual, informative, resourceful, data-driven, well-researched article pieces. After all, articles that are useful for readers are the ones that get shared the most, not short, irrelevant content.
4. Your article should be as trustworthy as possible
Adding authoritative and trustworthy links on your post signals to search engines that article is backed up by reliable sources, thus improving your post’s credibility.
Some examples of authoritative links include expert quotes, studies, data-backed research, thought pieces from KOLs etc, that you can include in your article.
If you’re feeling lost and confused about SEO, I’m here to reduce the barrier to learning! To help you get started on SEO, I’ve created a bite-sized SEO course delivered via email. You can download my free SEO course here.
Author bio: Full-time travel blogger and SEO coach roaming the world at whim, I draw energy from being outdoors. An explorer at heart, the world is my playground. I help aspiring bloggers and brands achieve traffic goals and financial freedom with online content and expose millennial travellers to experiences beyond their imaginations.
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