How to launch an online guide
September 20, 2017Comments (5)
This article is a translation of a post from our Russian-language blog from affiliate Victor Pashinsky. In the article, Victor throws light on the process of launching an online travel guide about Georgia — from scratch to the first significant revenue.
Is it worth it? Express method for assessing prospects and earning opportunities
Before launching an online guide (and in general any website), you need to first of all evaluate the demand. If you are not planning to sell your own services (author’s tours, making routes, renting out your cars/bikes/yachts, etc.), then you should follow the rule by Oleg Lazhechnikov:
“There is no point making travel guides for unpopular locations if you are to do them by yourself. Such can be ordered from outside”.
Here, it does not matter whether a lot has already been written about the country or whether many websites/forums and paper books have already been published. Again, I quote Oleg:
“Rewritten or not rewritten does not matter at all. Runet is young, resources are few even in those areas that are competitive. And one should focus not on rewritten/not rewritten, but on where independent travelers are going, that is on trends”.
Next, try to identify some of the most popular resources (or sections on large websites) for your country and analyze them. See which articles are popular, which traffic is on the site (open counters or similarweb.com), and especially study the comments carefully.
At this stage, it is very important to answer the following questions:
- What kind of tourist goes to this country? Independent traveler or package tour?
- What services are sold in this country? Are there any effective affiliate programs (international and local) on car rentals, excursions, transfers, insurance?
- What questions do tourists ask? Are they looking for ways to save as much as possible by asking 10 stupid questions in the comments or asking how to buy/book something?
Answers to these questions will help you to better understand whether the direction is perspective at all. For example, we will analyze Bulgaria. Even a cursory search will lead you to my site about this country. A cursory analysis of the comments shows that:
- Tourists are mostly from package tours. Independent travelers go mainly to friends and acquaintances or to their homes.
- Among local affiliate programs, there is only a car rental that works but it is far from being perfect. The interface of their personal account speaks for itself. The widget is slow (by the way, it fetches good income). You will not be able to sell group tours, which are in good demand. The range of individual tours is extremely small.
- Travelers are actively looking for ways to save money by asking questions about how to look for accommodation on the spot and get a visa without a hotel voucher, where food is cheaper, whether they will find an apartment by the sea for $250 per month in August, etc.
As a conclusion, Bulgaria is far from the most promising direction for earning. If I were to choose a new country to create a travel guide for, I would immediately reject Bulgaria. Just as I recently rejected India – I don’t know of anyone that would make good money from it.
Now let’s evaluate Georgia. Despite the fact that I see Georgia as a budget vacation, when I read the comments, it is immediately evident that there is both a super-economical audience and a very wealthy audience. In fact I saw in the country a bunch of people with cameras from $2000. Both the rich and the poor mostly go to Georgia on their own. There are almost no local affiliate programs, but you can make good money on international affiliate programs – hotels and individual excursions.
Summary: Two out of three. In addition, if you dig more carefully, it turns out that local affiliate programs are about to appear. This will be discussed at the end of the article.
Life hack: in every country there are ultra-budget travelers who want to relax as cheaply as possible. They do this basically at the expense of your personal time, asking dozens of the most unimaginable questions and consulting for hours even about what is described on your site. After all, it’s easier to ask, than to read a long article. Such people bring traffic but not revenue.
I try to eliminate them by the very style of writing my articles. For example, if you will need two transfers to reach an attraction site, I will immediately write that it is not convenient to go there by public transport (instead of describing the route) and I will advise travellers to use a transfer/taxi.
How to collect materials and photos: share our own know-how
When you have finally chosen a country, you then need to gather materials. I have already written on how to write high-quality articles for the site, and the way the structure, SEO, etc. should be. But nothing yet has been said of how the material is going to be collected.
First, you need to decide which part of the country you want to write about (if the country is large, and you have little time). It would be much better to describe only Tbilisi and its neighborhoods in details, than to release several dozen loosely linked articles about different regions of Georgia. Focus mostly on popular resorts and the most-visited attractions. A deeper study of the semantic kernel is needed only if the guide literally flies to top positions in search result pages. It’s better you visit unpopular regions last — to create demand, educate and discover unexplored corners of interest, but not commercially profitable.
For example, we chose only the neighborhoods of Batumi and Tbilisi for travel, sacrificing Svaneti, Borjomi, Kakheti, the surroundings of Gori, Tushetia and a huge number of other interesting corners of the country.
Here, you don’t have to permanently live in “expensive” resorts. For example, “Batumi sights” are much easier and cheaper to visit from Kutaisi, while Vardzia, Borjomi and Rabat are more convenient to see, having settled for 1-2 days in a very cheap Akhaltsikhe. This will allow you to save a little and see more for the same money.
How to collect materials about a place. A few tips
It is important for you to bring as much impressions, photos and videos as possible from the travel. I strongly advise to constantly carry a notepad and write down what is on the photo. For example, like this:
August 13, 14:00 confluence of the Çoruh and Adjaristsqali rivers
Then at home, it’s very easy to find out what exactly you photographed by date/time of the file.
Also in the second half of your notepad, it is worth writing down what prices are in the country, what interesting things you noticed, what was the name of the dish you liked, etc. At the end of the day, it’s better to briefly describe your impressions. At first, it would seem to you that you would remember everything and such records are just a waste of time, but in a few months, when you start to write an article, this will be a huge problem.
Many bloggers record everything in a voice on a dictaphone, but I don’t really like this method. You will have to search for a particular record among several hours of audio files for long time.
Upon arrival, we usually arrange the photos in folders. For example, here are the contents of the “Batumi” and “Tbilisi” folders:
This usually takes several days, but it becomes very convenient later to search for a specific photo among 100 GB (about 10 thousand photos and video) that we brought.
After all, you can photograph the same landmark in the evening on the first day, in the daytime in the middle of the holiday and in the morning on the last day.
We also shot tiny pieces of video for 5-10 seconds, which were then joined to come small maximally informative 10-minute videos. You can see on our channel what we managed to create.
We like this approach more than the popular YouTube format with a person speaking in a camera and a shaking camera. But take into account that installation and voice recording of one such video takes 1-3 days.
Where can one buy excursions and hire a car?
I highly recommend using those services, which you will then recommend to readers. For example, during a trip, we agreed on excursions with local guides. And now, on the site, you can see such beautiful blocks freely giving out the phone number of the tour guide.
It would be much smarter to initially buy excursions on Tripster (albeit much more expensive), and then immediately recommend (of course with affiliate links) where to buy this particular tour from a specific guide.
Site structure and semantics: we’re planning a small portal
I’m not going to provide detailed description of the process of developing the site structure but I’ll briefly highlight the main points. First, I come up with basic categories and headings under which it is easier to lay out the main part of the articles. Here’s how it looks in practice:
Try to ensure that in each category there are at least 5 articles, and that the number of categories is minimal. This rule is violated in the screenshot. It so happened because there are many more articles lined up, which have not yet been written.
Then I come up with the names of all the articles that I would like to write. We select some of them (50-100) to the main kernel, which is written first of all, and the rest will be added gradually after launching the site. When writing an article, we insert links to all the details associated with it. For example, when describing a tour, you can put links to the attractions visited during it, other excursions from this city, etc.
We have slightly extended the functionality of WordPress, allowing to insert links to articles that have not yet been written. When you open any page, the engine checks all the links to it and if the referenced article is not yet written, it removes the link, so that there won’t be any 404 error. As a result, after posting the next article, links to it appear immediately in all old articles. In most cases this is very convenient, but sometimes leads to small errors, for example, like here:
The row highlighted by the red rectangle is just a text and not a link – you can’t click on it.
The mistakes we do when working out the structure and planning the articles
The main mistake we do at the stage of working out the website structure is maximalism. We have selected over 100 basic articles for ourselves. It is not possible to write such a volume within a reasonable time frame. Starting with 50 articles is not an option because in the end the most important articles are often not ready. Would anyone open a guide without articles about Batumi or Tbilisi? So the launching was delayed for 3-4 months, which resulted in the loss of 1,000 people per day during the peak season.
As a result, I would recommend starting a site with 50-60 articles and add others whenever possible.
Starting the site and the first traffic
After the bulk of the articles are ready, you can launch the site. The process here is standard — we remove the entry password, add the site into search engines, submit the URL of the main articles in the Yandex and Google webmasters.
Next, I usually don’t carry out any promotion. After a couple of weeks after the launch (when the site is already fully indexed), I can publish information about this launching on my personal wall and in a couple of thematic groups, but no more. I don’t buy links at all.
Let’s look at the traffic that we managed to get. The site was open to visitors at the very end of April. Here is a breakdown (by days) of the traffic from the first of May to the present day (3 months):
The result is not that so impressive, but quite OK.
I’ve never been a strong proponent of keyword promotion, but to demonstrate that even with a new site without links, you can safely occupy top spots in search result pages on certain search keywords. The positions are not that high but after about a year they will rise considerably — the site will grow.
Monetization, affiliate programs and first incomes
I usually install affiliate programs immediately when writing articles. But contextual advertising is added only when stable traffic reaches 1000 people per day. Given that for several weeks, it has become possible to show ads in AdSense for free and as a result, my income strongly collapsed for 1000 ad impressions, I don’t plan to put it on the Georgia guide at all.
I don’t like disclosing my income, therefore permit me to answer evasively. Within these 3 months, the site fetched me more than I earn as a teacher as my basic work, but much less than other guides. Excursions from Tripster and insurance sell better. There are a few hotel and flight bookings. All the rest is just one-off in nature.
In the future, we need to first expand the number of affiliate articles on the site. To begin with, I would concentrate on installing widgets from:
- Georgia4travel — a local affiliate program selling excursions. Differs from Tripster with its good choice of excursions from Batumi and Kobuleti, as well as availability of cheap group excursions.
- MyRentacar.me — an affiliate program by Kirill Antoshin, with whom we have been effectively collaborating in Montenegro.
- Tourex.me — sightseeing tours to Georgia. I am in favor of individual trips, but after interacting with the management of the service, I became convinced that they have a very good demand for such trips specifically for Georgia. It is necessary to put and test.
I promised all the above services to install their widgets and affiliates on the site, but for personal reasons, I haven’t recently had any time to do it. Thank God I didn’t give any specific deadline when I do it. This has made me lose income and I really feel bad before them.
I also need to write planned articles, of which there are over 50 in number. To me, the most interesting thing seems to be an article containing a calculator of vacation costs. I developed the calculator myself a month ago, but I couldn’t write an article on it until now — I had no time at all. The idea is for the user to calculate the cost of his vacation by himself, and along the way receive useful tips and affiliate links. It looks like this:
And the next window:
If Georgia continues to become more and more interesting direction in terms of earning, I may visit it more than once to, for example, describe the beauties of Svaneti and Kakheti. I generally like to travel to countries for which there are already guides. It is interesting to meet with partners and get interesting exclusive offers from local travel services and companies.