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Bloggers Evolving Not Navel Gazing

 
By Paul Dow
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A weapon in a blogger's armory - Twitter

Bloggers are constantly evolving, learning new skills, adapting in order to survive online. This gives them skills that you can only really learn by trial and error. It takes hard work, dedication and not much time for naval gazing.

Multi-Skilled

To be a great blogger you need to be multi-skilled in a number of different areas such as writing, web editing, networking, SEO and marketing just to name a few. One useful outlet for any blogger is social media. It provides a key channel to distribute content and engage with your audience and peers online. It hasn’t always been around in the same fast paced environment we are used to today and many travel bloggers who have been blogging for a while are all too familiar with evolving, adapting and learning new skills to survive.

Social Media is fundamental to online publishing

Social media is a fundamental channel in online publishing. It serves as a perfect place to distribute good quality content as it floats to the top of the pile by way of sharing, liking, plus one’ing etc. It’s become such an important aspect for gauging how good a piece of content is that even Google are seemingly desperate to add a human element to their search algorithm. Social media sharing is a great indicator of quality content and one that is much harder to “game” unlike obtaining back links from external websites.

For any online writer it is crucial to be active and engaged in these channels in order for their content to have an audience. Writers ignoring such channels could be left behind as others will have developed authority and audiences that are key to success online. Content is moving to the cloud, social media outlets will form the distribution channels and systems to identify quality content by way of voting. Online writers should be embracing these new channels as part of their tool set for reaching and engaging with audiences.

Criticism of bloggers – quality content

Recently there has been some criticism of travel bloggers for navel gazing and generally about the poor quality of their content. I disagree that this is the case. I’ve seen bloggers content improve vastly in the six years I’ve been blogging. Not only has their content improved but their web design and complete offering has taken a much more professional turn.

On the other hand I was amazed to learn recently that on many journalism courses, blogging, social media and online publishing isn’t taught. Surely it should be a basic requirement to have a blog and twitter account at least? Where is the social media element of the course? Where’s the study of online quality content? Where are they being taught to deal with writing for an online audience? Search engine basics? Analysing website statistics to see what users are really engaged by?

It’s often cited that quality content will shine through. This is true but not entirely, quality content is only one small aspect of the whole armory of publishing online. What is also usually left undefined is the question of what is quality content online? For me quality content online can be vastly different to that of print media yet many still believe that writing in the same style is indeed quality content.

Many bloggers are becoming skilled in analysing website statistics, seeing what content works and what doesn’t and by trial and error these bloggers are gaining skills that aren’t even seemingly brushed upon on today’s journalism courses.

What is Quality Content?

Time and time again I read that quality content will win the day but what is quality content? I think there is a misconception amongst some that quality content is a gauge of how good your writing is. Of course quality content is subjective and dependant upon your audience. I’ve heard it stated in annoyance towards travel bloggers that travel writing is not about “me” but about “the place”. I’d actually disagree and say that online travel writing is in fact not about “the place” not about “me” but about “the user”. To survive online you have to give the user what they want, bloggers tend to learn this by trying new content types/topics and adapting.

The user, your audience is often not another journalist or blogger. Do they really want an in-depth article all about what you did in the blogger style of “I went here, I did this”? Equally, do they want a whimsical ten page piece about “the place”? It’s something that should be considered by any online writer, what content types work for your audience. Analytics should be studied to see what works and what doesn’t. These content types and topics are where you will find your quality content. Your traffic to time on page ratio are also clear indicators of how well your piece works online. It’s great to get a viral, shareable article but if users aren’t engaged by it then you have only won half the battle. Get both engagement and a viral element and you are producing quality online content.

However, I do believe travel bloggers should be careful not to focus too much on one area such of networking and marketing without supporting it with quality in terms of website design and quality content. Perhaps this is what most people are referring to when they say that those who produce quality will be successful when the bubble bursts. It’s not good enough to be great at marketing yourself and knowing the right people if your product is not up to scratch, in the long term the product with stand the test of time.

Online vs Print Content

There’s been much research into users attention spans online and it’s often argued that readers will scan an article before reading or even bookmarking. This is one reason why it’s important to give a general overview of what your article talks about in the first hundred words. Not only so that users can get a good idea of what the article is about but also so that the likes of Google, Bing etc get an understanding that your page title , heading and first paragraphs are talking about a relevant topic.

Say for example you have a heading and page title of “My Favourite Pizza” but your first 100 words are a metaphor talking about monkey’s in a zoo, search engines and users are going to have a hard time figuring out what the overall article covers. The outcome being that the user may leave (page will have a high bounce rate) and the search engine is less likely to rank your article for anything to do with “favourite pizza”. The rules for writing online are different and universities, colleges and courses should be evolving with these changes.

Trainee journalists should be embracing the blogging world and those that do are likely to be much better equipped for where the industry is heading in the future. Those that ignore it and cite their quality writing as the one thing that will make them successful are burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the skills that will help them in the future.

It’s easy to criticize bloggers but it’s important to remember that most of these people work extremely hard to: adapt, learn, evolve and build an audience of their own. Not only that, but they are very self motivated. If travel bloggers didn’t have these traits they wouldn’t survive.  Savvy trainee journalists that embrace social media and all the elements that are a bi-product of blogging will be better equipped for the future online publishing world.

Photo by west.m

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Paul Dow is the Editor of TravMonkey.com and has travelled solo for 2 years through Asia, Oceania, New Zealand and South America. Now based in London whilst exploring parts of Europe and further a field when given half a chance.
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14 Comments, have your say...
  1. Hey Paul – good piece.

    I suspect the “navel gaze” thing will follow me around for many years :)

    Great to see some really constructive an valuable stuff in here, rather than whining about the battles with journos/PRs blah blah blah, things elsewhere which motivated me to write the original piece!

    See you at a TravelMassive soon.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks, I think when people are writing pieces such as your own that there’s a reason for it and people can take some points on board.

      I do also think there is room for bloggers to be more balanced with their blogging skills as some do seem to be heavily marketing orientated, especially new bloggers. I myself have often been guilty of this, my networking skills weren’t being used for a long time!

      Thanks for commenting, see you at the next TravelMassive!

  2. We’ve just started a travel blog about or rtw trip that we’re on now. We’d like more people to follow us on our journey. Can you give any tips or advice of where we can get listed drive traffic to our website http://flashpackatforty.com/ really interesting article. Much thanks.

  3. Good piece. The problem that most of the people critical of travel bloggers miss is that we are publishers, not just travel writers. Things like participating in twitter chats, being active on various forums, giving away content to other sites, effectively using photography and video and visually appealing layouts on our sites, using methods like stumbleupon and reddit to drive new readers, etc… those are all publishing concerns that the “real travel writer” that is commissioned to write a piece for a magazine or newspaper doesn’t have to worry about at all. They are similar professions, but less similar than some that are critical are willing to recognize.

    • Thanks for your comment Michael, agree with your points!

      I do think that some “real travel writer’s” are embracing blogging and understand that those skills may well be extremely important for their career in the future. No doubt there are also others who won’t see the importance until they are playing a game of catch-up.

    • I enjoyed this article and, Michael, think your comment is also spot-on. I prefer calling myself a publisher more than anything else….

      • Thanks for your comment Adam!

        It definitely takes a overall skill set to be successful online… I don’t think people should undermine how valuable and useful these skills are. It’s easy to dismiss, usually done by saying the quality of writing isn’t good enough. We’re living in a real-time online world where the pace of information and writing has sped up… things are changing.

    • Another nice post, Paul! And Michael, you sum up some good points too.

  4. Nice article! I agree with Michael. To blog is much more than just writing a few really good articles. OK, there will also be bloggers who just do that, but they won’t get enough readers to make a living of it.

    But exactly this is also the interesting part. You never stop learning and a blogger’s job is very diversified and you need quite a few skills.

    • Thanks Melvin, lots of agreement here.

      Bloggers need a range of skills and a balanced approach to succeed. Interesting times ahead.

  5. Great piece here. I can honestly say I’ve learned more in the development of my blog over the last year and a half than I did while earning a Masters in Journalism. Granted, I went to an arts school for journalism (woops) but still — its amazing how much your skill set evolves when you’re forced to run every aspect of an online publication yourself.

    • Hi Britany,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to hear this from your perspective, I know a few other people studying journalism who say there’s a lack of online being taught.

      I think the best thing you can do to learn and stay in touch with tech is to start a blog and experiment online.

  6. I think the difference between journalism courses and the travel blogging world is similar to the difference between TV broadcasting and YouTube.

    Travel bloggers and YouTubers can start to push on with an innovation the day the idea pops into their head, but journalists have bosses and red tape to go through. A lot of the time TV innovation has to wait for technology innovations before they can do anything.

    A lot of the current lecturers on broadcasting work and journalism just won’t have honed their skills making awesome short clips on YT or compelling blog posts, they can’t teach it if they have not done it. In the future we may see some lecturers who have become experts through doing the online thing though. Some current lecturers might go through a 40-year career without touching wordpress.

    • Hi Slice,

      Good points, do you think you’ll see the total erosion of traditional media in say 10 years time?

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