Creating and monetizing a travel website
July 18, 2017Comments (7)
We continue our topic “Case From Partners”. This is a case from Viktor Pashinsky published in our Russian blog and translated into English. Victor tells us how to create a useful travel site and generate money from it. We found this article quite useful for all geos and languages. Hope you’ll like it.
All the cases from the Travelpayouts blog (* Russian version) are somehow devoted exclusively to sites with cheap flight tickets, hotels and tours. Yes, information about discounts and promotions is useful, but when I entered the travel industry, I didn’t want to do the same.
Whenever my wife and I are preparing to visit a new country, we always review information about the country on the Internet. In most cases, we aren’t able to find something substantially useful. In order to somehow correct the situation, I’ll today tell you all the secrets of developing a travel website, life hacks and mistakes, which are worth avoiding.
How to create a network of tourist sites with 10,000 views per day within a year and half at free time and earn on it
Let me first demonstrate a couple of my favorite projects:
- Montenegro (http://montenegro.in-facts.info/) — the site is a year and half old. An average of 6000 views per day, growth.
- Bulgaria (http://bulgaria.in-facts.info/) — the site is six months old. An average of 3000 views per day and rapid growth.
Step 1: Deciding which kind of sites we would like to create: a blog, portal or a partner site?
In my opinion, there are three main groups of travel sites.
A travel blog is a site with a permanent audience, who are interested in the author’s personality and life.
- A large number of comments and discussions.
- Constant loyal audience.
- You can meet other interesting travelers.
- There are no strict limits — you can mix travel with other hobbies (esoteric, personal development , books, photos).
- You can collect a database of subscribers (e-mail, social network, RSS).
- The author will have a personal brand in the future — you can sell consultations, individual tours, etc.
- Very intense competition.
- Articles need to be posted regularly. Once you stop writing for just 2-3 months, you’ll lose the most of your audience.
- Due to attractive headings and a peculiar presentation of the material, it is rather difficult to attract traffic from search engines.
- People are not ready to buy something from blogs. The conversion rate is usually lower than in portals or partner sites.
For your information: In most travel blogs the audience consists of bloggers and independent travelers. They have their own sort of click. You may think that you have a large audience, but these people won’t buy anything. They have their own blogs where they make purchases.
A travel portal or content project is a site that focuses primarily on providing information about a particular city, country or countries.
- The easiest way of attracting visitors is from search engines.
- Most of the articles are evergreen — they are always relevant even after a year or 5 years. Once the site has been created, it lives for at least 5 years without significant updates.
- There could be conditional effective monetization via affiliate programs and contextual advertising.
- Comments and discussions will be at minimum level.
- There is no permanent audience.
- The site is limited by very clear frameworks. I don’t even have a place to post the article.
- There is no way to collect a subscriber base. Social networks and e-mails for such sites are not particularly effective; it’s easier to create another site.
Partner site that sells flight tickets, hotels, tours — it’s all clear here. I would only say that developing such a site would require huge investment on money and time.
What type of travel sites did I choose and why?
All my sites mostly resemble travel portals, with a very small admixture of blogs — the site contains our (my wife and me) impressions, opinions and photos.
The websites created by me are dedicated to specific countries and describe the countries as detailed as possible. The articles feature very dense interlinking, referring people to the places or articles mentioned. As the clicks map in metrics shows — these links work very well.
The sites attract traffic from search engines — simply because the sites contain very detailed information on countries being looked for online by people.
Mistakes committed at the stage of selecting the website structure
- I want to create a website about all countries. Your websites should focus on one particular city, region or country and give the most detailed information. It is ineffective to concentrate even on two countries. A website about everything is the same as a website about nothing.
- I know nothing about the country I’m writing about. To make your site soar, you need to collect the most detailed information about the places being described. Rewriting won’t work.
- I don’t understand from where traffic comes. For blogs and affiliate websites, never expect much traffic from search engines. It won’t be there at least at the initial stage.
- I don’t know how to write articles. Moreover, quality content is expensive. Are you really sure that the industry of information websites is the best place for you?
Stage 2: Website creation — what, when and how much?
Website design is actually a fairly simple but expensive process. Money will be needed to buy a domain, hosting server and themes for the selected CMS.
I recommend using WordPress with a paid theme purchased on Themeforest — they are ideal for beginners. There are hundreds, if not thousands of instructions on the Internet on how to create a website with WordPress. Everything can be done within a day or two.
Free themes can be used, but only if their performance speed, design and functionality are 100% up to the requirements. I came across normal options but only for blogs.
How much money you need: about $100, if you do everything yourself, and about $300-400 if you hire the services of an understanding person.
Mistakes at the site creation stage
- I don’t have any money for the website. Without investing at this stage, it’s most likely that you won’t be able to start earning at all.
- I found a paid theme on the Internet for free. There is 99% possibility that your theme contains hidden links or even backdoors — such sites can be easily hacked. Warez themes wouldn’t attract traffic for you.
- I will first take a free domain / hosting / theme, then when I start earning. With this approach, it’s most likely that you won’t be able to earn at all. With free hosting or domain, you won’t get traffic, and switching from a free theme to a paid one is a big piece of extra work.
Stage 3: SEO, website promotion and once again SEO
There is no magic button, site code, link structure, uinterlinking, descriptions, etc., that would help your site gain a noticeable advantage in a search engine results page. 95% of the time spent reading SEO blogs is simply wasted. Buying links isn’t necessary and without experience, it would rather hurt than help. Everything you need to know about SEO can be described literally in a couple of sentences.
- Make websites for people. Pictures (and alt attributes), headings and texts are written for people. All indicators of keyword frequency, the semantic kernel, URL structure, reference mass in the tourism niche practically are ineffective.
- Article titles (H1) are of course for people, but here one needs to understand the context. If you have a blog, then a good title would be: “How we spent our holiday in Nesebar for just $15”. If it’s an information site, then the title could be: “Nesebar: main attractions, photos and beaches”. If it’s an affilaite site — “Cheap tickets and hotels in Nesebar”. This is so because the title of an article in a blog will be seen by people in a newsletter or newsline, the title of an article for an information site will be seen in search engines, while the title in an affiliate site — in contextual advertising. The motivation to click is different in each of the three cases.
- It doesn’t make much sense to check for requests by Adwords Planning Tool, etc.
- Perfectly described main vacation resorts, attractions, sea, beaches make up the best semantic kernel. You know what really is worth writing about.
- The bounce rate is a key indicator of the quality of a web page. Up to 15% bounce rate is normal, 10% is good. My projects usually have up to 5%.
- Page loading speed is an important but not a critical indicator. If a site is rendered in 2-3 seconds, this is enough. Accelerating my sites by 5 times didn’t increase traffic at all.
- Uploading own photos provides a major competitive advantage for young sites. If there are no author’s photos, upload more of downloaded/purchased photos. Pictures should increase in size when clicked upon. It would be nice to add a map, video, panorama — it’s not difficult, but would separate you from a crowd of dull content projects with a content of $2 per 1000 characters.
Your repeated mistakes
It’s high time you leave all these SEO blogs and get busy!
Stage 4: A couple of words about writing articles — what and how do you write?
At the initial stage of a website development project, the most popular articles would not be descriptions of resorts or attractions — such content is like a bottomless pit in the search engine results page and competition on it would be very high.
Such articles as “How much does food cost in Budva” would be popular. This article still fetches me a significant part of traffic till today.
Ideas for articles
What can people look for when they are visiting a country for the first time:
- How much does food cost in a supermarket/shop/restaurant?
- What are the prices for souvenirs/shopping/tours in the country?
- How is the public transport arranged and how much does it cost?
- Do the locals there speak English?
- What sea/resort is in this country (water temperature, clean beaches, etc)?
- How much money to take/how much does it cost to go to…?
I usually write long and detailed articles. From 1000 to 3000 words. You don’t need to be too zealous. My experiments with articles of 6000+ words did not justify themselves — people don’t read them to the end, and search engines don’t rank them very well.
Articles should have a lot of photos, tips, ideas and links to the mentioned attractions, resorts, places, and other articles.
No one is particularly interested in historical information or in the coordinates of hotels and attractions. Instead, you should put a map in place of them.
In your article, it’s nice to point out your personal opinion: liked/didn’t like and why. After reading your article, a person should understand whether he wants to go to the place described or not.
Affiliates and advertising work better for me inside articles, or even much better inside articles specially written for monetization. They are also very effective inside information sites. For example, write about how to get from the airport — enumerate all possible options, such as bus, hitchhiking (if it is customary to give tourists free lifts in that country), taxi at the airport (which is usually expensive), and private transfer affiliate offer.
At the end of the articles, you give useful links. You put the links manually and try to select what might be of interest to the person who just read your article. For example, if a person visits a page to read the article “Prices in /city/”, offer him to read about food in this city, about the cost of tours, about ways to save money, about hotels and attractions, about how to get to this city from the airport, etc.
Main mistakes in promoting a travel site
Articles consisting of historical information about attractions and template phrases with small photos that do not enlarge when clicked.
Step 5: Launching the site — how to fill the site with useful articles
I usually create a site and immediately close it with a password so that only me can see it. Then I create at least 40 articles that describe everything I can tell about this country as much as possible: resorts, attractions, life hacks, prices, public transport, beaches, leisure options, tourist questions, souvenirs, etc.
Then the writing begins. When you write an article, be sure to place a link to the other articles you’ve already written. If you see that it would be useful to add another article, then do so. At the end, the first written article would contain a huge number of links to other articles, which are still only in the planning stage. At the same stage, neatly joining with the text, add affiliate materials from Travelpayouts Travel Affiliate Program.
When all 40-60 main articles are written on your site, you can then open it for search engines.
How much time everything takes: my wife and I usually go on vacations in summer. We write articles before the middle or end of winter, at leisure and in the right mood. The site is launched usually at the end of winter. The first more or less adequate traffic (from 500 visitors per day) is expected in 2-3 months. On average, I have up to 100 articles on websites.
After launching the site, it is useful to continue to add useful articles from time to time. About twice a year, I review old articles, add cross-references to new ones in them and update the information.
It will be a good idea to track specific articles on Analytics. If you see that an article has an over 15% bounce rate, then it is most likely that the article requires a major review.
Step 6: Monetization and first earnings from the travel site
You shouldn’t hurry when it comes to monetizing a site. You can’t place contextual advertising until you get at least 2000-3000 views per day. Otherwise, the site will grow slower. I even notice serious sag in traffic from Yandex (*Russian search engine) after installing AdSense on my sites. There are several ways to make money from a travel related webiste:
Contextual advertising secures fast and stable earnings. Affiliate programs generate big but seasonal earnings.
Affiliate programs are good in the sense that they can be put right at the stage of writing articles. But they start generating high income as the travel season begins.
Another interesting observation is the deferred revenue (referral commission) from affiliate programs. That is, if you have established partnerships today, you will be earning only after 2-3 months. People book a lot ahead, and the campaign (*3rd party offers) statistics in the Travelpayouts interface is not very encouraging (*it’s already improved a little but and will be launched to all affiliates within a month or two).
I don’t know how to sell hotels or flight tickets. They are a kind of booked but the commission paid is comparable to my salary at my main place of work — I lecture at the university, by the way a PhD holder in science.
Offers are another matter. Airbnb worked very well for me until they “left” (*Airbnb was exclusively in Travelpayouts for CIS geos until they closed their program). Today, transfers, insurance and car rental sell very well. Car rental pays a good commission, but insurance with transfers are sold much more often.
Since the season in the countries described by me begins in summer, and a year ago I haven’t used an affiliate program yet, I can’t say anything specific for now. I would only say that in April, I earned 5-10 times more from only Travelpayouts campaigns than from hotels and flight tickets – I cooperate directly with some of the offers.
Stage 7: Different articles generate different amount of money
The key principle of earning on any site is to understand how exactly should a particular article be monetized.
For example, articles about specific tourist attractions are difficult to monetize. Contextual advertising on them is cheap, clickability is weak, and an affiliate program would be out of step.
Why is that so? But who actually would start looking for an article about abandoned temples lost in a jungle? It’s either a tourist who has already purchased a tour package or an independent traveler who already knows where to buy tickets or book hotels, etc.
How to monetize? I monetize such articles by placing links to other articles. A person reads about a tourist site. It contains the section “How to get there”, and there you now have the options: a link to the tour to this tourist attraction (group or even individual tour), a variant with car rental, a story about public transport (you can also implement a bus ticket buying system here). As a result, people switch to articles where contextual advertising is more expensive, affiliate programs look appropriate and conversion rate is better.
It’s clear that articles about resorts can be monetized through hotels, flight tickets, transfer, etc.
Problem arises with articles written for affiliate programs. It’s difficult to generate traffic from search engines to such articles, but very many people visit via links from your other articles. Let’s consider the classic example of “car rental”. I have something like about 1000 views for each country — the traffic for both commercial request is very huge.
I always remove contextual advertising in articles written for affiliate programs. The cost per click is about few cents. The average commission for one booking is $35-50. You can count by yourself that one booking ~ 200 clicks on advertising. Even with a conversion rate of 1%, it will be very unprofitable to put advertising on affiliate articles.
As it becomes clear from the above, affiliate programs themselves do not work. They require you to write individual articles that are unrealistic to promote in search engines. We generate traffic to these articles from other pages of the site, which are promoted easily and simply in search results.
Creation of a site according to my scheme is a rather labor-intensive and complicated process. But at the same time, you get a kind of a self-contained asset — a site that doesn’t need a constant update with articles and attention, but at the same time continues to grow and generate money.
P.S. Do you also want to tell about yourself and get a higher commission for 3 months — 90% of Travelpayouts income? You can still send a message to email@example.com with the subject “case in the blog”.