I have written frequently about the importance of diversifying your income and having multiple facets to your travel writing and blogging business. In this time when the need for that is more apparent than ever, I'm sharing tips from Nick Wharton of Goats on the Road. (See our past interview about their business here.) Take it away Nick!
There has perhaps never been a time in the world of blogging where it has been more important to diversify. Amidst a global pandemic, we've seen ad revenue plummet, sales drop, affiliates like Amazon slash their commission rates and traffic to travel websites flatline.
It's been a difficult time, but one thing has become extremely evident. Those who have diversified the most will be the ones who will be able to weather the storm and blog another day.
Together with my spouse, I run the travel blog Goats On The Road, and I've seen massive shifts in our travel content and sales and traffic has not been doing well.
That site is what would be considered a relatively "large" travel blog, and yet it is still seeing some struggles. The only thing that's saving us right now is the fact that our income is diversified into dozens of different streams.
I'm not saying that we're in the clear and we did everything right to avoid financial loss. Far from it. What I'm saying is that our efforts with that one site have always been focused on diversifying the income as much as possible.
But is that enough? Is one website enough? Is one business enough? Will we survive financially?
In this post, I'm going to answer these questions and tell you what we're doing to further diversify our income during this pandemic and hopefully, through our experiences, you can gain some insight into what might help your business get through this.
First, Don't Panic.
One thing I've learned is that panic doesn't help anything. While COVID was definitely the single biggest blow to our business since we started it in 2012, there have been other hurdles along the way.
Late last year we were hit by an unexpected Google Algorithm Update that seemed to broadly affect travel and recipe websites the most.
At that time, we did panic a bit. We made huge changes to the website and, while I'm happy that the traffic did somewhat recover, it wasn't likely from the changes we made.
SEO experts will always tell you not to panic. When something goes wrong and you lose traffic, don't go and immediately renovate your entire blog. There have been times in the past when Google rolls back erroneous algorithm updates and you risk doing more harm than good if you go changing everything.
This pandemic is similar. This is not a time to go and change everything you've ever done with your website.
Particularly, if you're in travel, I wouldn't recommend completely pivoting your niche and trying to go after keywords and posts that don't match your brand.
Instead, use this extra time wisely. Do a little bit of spring clean-up in the backend of your website.
Some things you may want to try:
Check posts with high position and low CTR in Google Search Console. Then edit their meta and title (not the URL) to try to increase CTR through search results.
Add videos and infographics for your top pages to try to increase dwell-time. Dwell-time is the length of time someone spends reading your post after clicking over from Google. Yes, Google tracks that too (I know... creepy), and yes, it is a ranking factor.
Locate thin posts and beef them up or delete and redirect them. I like to use the Admin Columns plugin for WordPress to add a "word count" column to my list of posts in my dashboard. I then go through and look for posts with lower word count than 1,000 and decide if I should beef them up, or delete and redirect them.
Build out landing pages to replace category/archive pages. WordPress archives are inherently not the best pages on your site for SEO and because they are auto-generated as you write more and more articles, WordPress websites often have a 30% or higher archive page ratio, which dilutes your quality content pages in Google's Eyes. Create large guides to be Pillar Posts instead, and make sure that post links to every article in that category.
Build Up Your E-A-T. One of the best ways to do this after on-page optimization like Schema and updating your author's pages and about page is to guest post on high authority sites and link back to your blog from an author's bio that gives social proof to you as a writer. If you write about finance and Google sees that you were featured on Business Insider with words like "finance expert" and "financial advisor" in your author's bio, it's going to help your E-A-T massively (E-A-T is Google's acronym for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness and is an extremely important ranking factor in 2020 and beyond)
Second, Don't Have Just One Website
Tim Leffel, the owner of this blog, has been living this truth for years, and yet, it wasn't until recently that I followed in his footsteps.
Having multiple websites is the best way to diversify your online income streams in my opinion.
Because it mitigates risk on many fronts.
Sometimes Google Algorithm Updates target specific niches (like the 2019 YMYL and Medic Updates). By having multiple websites in different niches, you won't have so many of your eggs in your current blog niche's basket.
For example, I'm a travel lover, but I'm also into fly fishing, diving, hiking, dogs, cooking, and many other topics. If I had already had another blog running on any of those topics, my bottom line wouldn't likely have been hit as bad by the pandemic as it was with only travel websites.
But what's the one thing you have more of right now than you've probably ever had before? Time.
Now's the perfect time to start a new website in a different niche than what you're in currently and start trying to build it up to earn money. I know that's what I'm doing.
Third, Diversify Your Current Blog Income
If you only have one website currently, then you should do your best to diversify the income streams that are currently on that site.
For example, if you've been relying on Mediavine or Adthrive banner ads, you may have noticed that your RPMs (amount of money you earn per 1000 visitors) have dropped dramatically.
For many people who rely solely on ads to put food on the table, this has been devastating.
But it should also be a wake-up call to not rely so heavily on ads.
Some "influencers" made 80-100% of their income directly from destination or brand sponsorships on social media, with very little traffic coming to read what's on their blog. Now those sources have dried up since nobody is traveling and most destinations have halted all marketing spend. With no business diversification, they're in big trouble.
Other income streams to consider include:
Affiliate Marketing: Link to products and services you use and trust and get a commission when your readers buy.
Digital Product Sales: Ebooks, online courses, classes, and training sessions. Build a digital product and sell it.
Product Sales (online store): Create your own branded t-shirts, backpacks, bags, or beauty products and sell them from a web store on your site.
Drop Shipping: You can also sell products through your web store, but use a third-party drop shipping company to warehouse and ship products directly to your customers. Or you can do it through Amazon as a seller.
Ads Management Services: Know how to run Facebook ads? Run them for other companies at a fee.
Pinterest Management Services: Know how to run Pinterest and get traffic? Run Pinterest for other companies at a fee.
Content Creation Services: You already know how to write blog posts. Why not create them for other companies? Offering SEO focused content for companies with blogs can be lucrative for you and massively beneficial for them.
Direct Advertising: Instead of relying on ad partners to bring you revenue, contact highly-relevant partners directly and get paid to place ad space on your site manually.
Brand Ambassadorships: Get paid a monthly fee to continuously promote a brand or destination.
Press Trips: Get hired to promote a destination, hotel or service by visiting, then creating content around it (when travel is safe again, of course).
Keynote Speaking: Share your expertise with others in your niche by attending conferences and getting paid to be a keynote speaker.
Memberships: One-time purchases are great, but utilize an ongoing monthly subscription-based model to see recurring revenue. You can set it up yourself with Teachable or WordPress membership plugins like MemberMouse, or you can utilize pre-built options like what's available on Patreon.
YouTube Ads: Don't have a YouTube channel yet? Get one going. Video is taking over web search and it's best to be ahead of the curve. The top YouTuber is an 8-year-old boy who makes over $26 million in ad revenue. I'm not saying "if an 8-year-old can do it, so can you", but there's definitely money to be made on YouTube once you pass 1,000 subscribers.
There are plenty more ways to monetize a blog as well, but if you're not utilizing at least 50% of the above methods, then you should consider adding to your arsenal to be diversifying your writing income.
Lastly, Learn New Skills & Don't Give Up
If there's one thing we've learned from our eight years of online business is that you can't give up. Tim will contest to the fact that the online business world is always one of peaks and valleys and you never know what the next curveball will be.
This year we have faced Google algorithm updates, slashed affiliate commissions, and plummeting ad spend caused by a global pandemic. While I'm hopeful that this will be the worst year financially and otherwise in our lifetime, there's no telling what next year or the year after that will bring in terms of setbacks.
You should always be learning new skills and finding new ways to diversify your businesses. Never have just one niche. Never have just one blog and always consider what might happen in the future.
There are plenty of online courses and skill-sharing platforms available these days, so don't let this extra time go to waste. Teach yourself a new skill, build yourself a new business, and start diversifying the one you already have.
The best thing you can do during all of this uncertainty is to stay safe, stay healthy, and stay productive... but never stay still.
Nick Wharton is an expert fly fisherman and full-time traveler. He’s been fly fishing since he could walk and traveling the world full-time since 2008. He runs the popular travel website Goats On The Road as well as Your Irish Adventure and Into Fly Fishing. His goal with his websites has always been to inspire people to get out, enjoy the outdoors, respect nature, and see the world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or his YouTube Channel.
Tim is the author of Travel Writing 2.0 as well as several other successful books. His work has been recognized by SATW, NATJA, and the Solas Awards. He has contributed to more than 50 publications as a freelancer and is the editor of five websites and blogs, including the "Best online travel magazine" and the popular Cheapest Destinations Blog, established in 2003.