Making Money Travel Blogging?

Like moths to a flame or magpies to shiny things, people are drawn to claims of money-making.

Especially when it involves something they already have a passion for, isn’t that everyone’s dream?

Treating it like a business

Travel blogging is no different. It seems that people are scrambling to make money and treat travel blogging like a business.

These ideas that have a canny resemblance of the claims that originally sprouted from money-making blogs, but is it all just a mirage?

Many successful money making blogs are eventually self fulfilling in that those that claim to be making stupid amounts of money eventually gain lots of dedicated followers based on the claim, whether or not it was true in the first place.

How do you make money?

Sadly these days it often seems like the first question people ask you at travel blogging events, “how do you make money?”, “do you do this full-time?”. The truth is, I don’t do it full-time and I don’t do it for the money. I do it for the passion for travel and technology, that is why I’ll still be doing it in some form in anothrt 10 years time. If you are one of those looking to make money, choose something that you have real expertise in and that you have niche knowledge of, travel isn’t it, travel has zero barriers to entry.

Dreaded back links argument

I’m not going to talk about the ethics of buying or selling back links but more about why these practices aren’t a good idea if, like many have stated, you are going to treat your blog as a business. The practice violates search engines rules and although it’s not illegal or necessarily unethical it can be potentially damaging to your website.

Recently I’ve noticed many travel bloggers looking to make money from links in sidebars, homepages as they attempt to “monitise” their blogs to make money and live the dream life of blogging for a living.

If travel bloggers should be treating their blogs as a business then surely selling SEO back links is a very poor long-term business strategy? Yes you many make some money, but in the process you degrade your website not just for users but in terms of search.

Selling back links is a vulnerable revenue stream and as search engines evolve you could see the revenue from these links disappear over night. Especially if Google and other search engines devalue back links and rely on other signal more such as social. Those reliant on the back link trade will be left with no areas revenue.

Google’s 2007 pagerank update

Lets look back at the basis for this argument. Back in 2007 Google released an update that targeted sites that were selling links, many sites were hit, including some major publishers. Although website owners had previously been warned many continued to sell links, whether or not they didn’t believe the warnings or perhaps the revenue stream was just too tempting to shut down. Either way their revenue was hit hard.

Over optimisation warning

Fast forward 5 years and there’s a warning from Google’s  Matt Cutts (head of Google’s Webspam team) about “over optimising” your site.

Here’s a snippet from Rob Snell’s transcription of the entire session:

“normally we don’t sort of pre-announce changes, but there is something that we’ve been working on in the last few months. And hopefully, in the next couple months or so, in the coming weeks, we hope to release it.

And the idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.”

Whether or not Google will target those buying or even selling links is anyone’s guess but there’s no doubt that they could be a potential target.

There has also been some chatter in the travel blogging community recently about link buyers pulling paid links and in some cases asking website owners to apply “nofollow” tags to the links to ensure they don’t pass page-rank or look like links for the purpose of boosting rankings. Is this an emerging pattern? Has something spooked these link builders? Was it the over optimisation warning and echos of the 2007 update? Or maybe just a coincidence?

Either way it highlights that you aren’t actually treating you blog as a business by solely relying on selling links.

Creating real value

Most savvy established bloggers have moved beyond simply selling paid links to sell a product from their site. Whether it’s selling ebooks, a subscription product, app, magazine or even publishing your own book, if you want to create real long-term revenue streams as a travel blogger you have to think beyond selling links.


Interesting Resources

How Dare You Tell Me To NoFollow My Sponsored Links

Google’s stance on paid links


Photo by 401K

Paul Dow

Hello! I'm Paul, an award winning travel blogger who focuses on solo adventure travel and has a passion for using new technology. I write, take photos and produce videos about travel, food, craft beer, coffee and adventure.

  • Lissie

    I’m quite bemused as to how openly many travel bloggers sell do-follow links. I even wonder if some actually realise just how far outside of Google’s guidelines this is? Of course it happens in every commercial niche online – but to actually have advertising pages saying you do it? That’s amazing

    On the other hand most travel bloggers appear to rank for very little in terms of organic search – so what does it matter if they do sell links. All G can do to affect them is to discount their Page Rank – which oddly they don’t seem to be doing.

  • Sojourner

    Well said. I’m trying to navigate the world of travel blogging and it is at times confusing. I definitely question the selling of links and the promise many companies make that they will be able to drive thousands of viewers to a site daily. My inbox is hit weekly with solicitations from various companies requesting money in exchange for links and traffic. I have yet to drink the kool-aid. I have not discovered the secret to making money with my blog, but it will not be based on selling links I know. On the sites that I most admire, authors have in some way created a brand for themselves and usually have books, e-books, audio-books, lectures or something tangible to offer.

  • Dave

    “If you are one of those looking to make money, choose something that you have real expertise in and that you have niche knowledge of, travel isn’t it, travel has zero barriers to entry.”

    I disagree. Who are you to say whether someone does or doesn’t have the expertise in travel to build a business? Of course it takes more than travel experience alone to become a travel writer or build a business, but why discourage people who want to try?

    There are plenty of bloggers looking for creative ways (beyond selling links and sponsored content) to turn their travel expertise into a sustainable (online) business. They’re writing ebooks, building membership sites, consulting.

    Where there is a will, there is a way. Based on my experience building a blog for Medellin, Colombia I’m confident there are tons of opportunities for those with deep knowledge of a particular city or region.

    I only wish I had enough energy, and years in my life, to live in a dozen cities long enough to create authoritative sites about them.

  • TravMonkey

    Hi Dave,

    I’m not saying they shouldn’t specialise in travel. I’m just trying to say that they would find it easier or have more traction if they focused on something that is a niche skill or talent. In a way you have highlighted this in saying that focusing your knowledge on Colombia and particular cities and regions is actually a lot more fruitful.

    There are many people who are unaware of the link buying/selling issue that potentially are looking at the offers of cash without knowing the full picture. They should be more cautious if indeed they are to treat their blog as business.

    Thanks for commenting and keep up the good work on your sites!

  • TravMonkey

    Hi Sojourner,

    Thanks for commenting and good to hear from you again!

    The article was kind of in response to a lot of chatter from people around making money from selling links. I just wanted to highlight the dangers involved that I don’t think everyone is aware of.

    Some people have moved beyond selling links, it’s a wise decision and they deserve a lot of credit for that creativity.

  • TravMonkey

    I agree Lissie, you make a very good point about ranking for very little and not being worried about losing traffic.

    Google usually come up with a big update once in a while… it might be on it’s way.

  • Dave

    Yes, I mentioned my niche site on purpose. But, it generates far, far less income than my larger, more general travel site.

    I’ve learned it’s one thing to become an authority on a particular location or travel topic through your blog, and it’s another ball game altogether if you want to make enough money to support yourself from that site (and any related products you put out).

  • TravMonkey

    I totally agree Dave with your last point.

    But I do think if you have specialised knowledge in something (something technical for example) you’ll find that it is harder for other people to produce and you have a more valuable niche.

  • Nate @yomadic

    Interesting article, but, I also disagree with the choosing your niche of expertise advice. If I listened to advice like that, I never would have done half the things I have been successfully and happily doing in my life. My current career, I had zero experience in. I threw myself in, at the deep end, and two years later, I have risen to the top (not an online career).

    In any case, it’s important to note what has happened in the past, but more important to realise the next few years will be nothing like the last few. 2012/13 will be game-changing years for travel bloggers.

  • TravMonkey

    Hey Nate,

    I think we are agreeing in some way!? Surely you became knowledgeable over time? I’m just saying that it would be easier to pick something your already know about and it’s a difficult area to learn.

    Everyone finds their own way of doing things and reaching their goals!

    In what ways do you think Travel Blogging will change in the next two year? Just interested! :)

  • Nate

    Yes, you become knowledgable over time. However, that shouldn’t stop you from jumping into an area where one has no knowledge, only burning desire. We do agree – it would be easier to pick an area you already have experience in, but why limit yourself?

    Travel blogging, over the next year or two? Bigger dollars. More revenue. More opportunities.

    The last few years will pale in comparison, it’s the tip of the iceberg.

  • TravMonkey

    I hope you’re right Nate, I am sure there is exciting times ahead!

  • Neil Barnes (@packsandbunks)

    This might be a stupid question, but here’s goes anyway …

    Is there any difference between a text link and an image link on a homepage? I see lots of blogs (mainly tech related) with little 50x50px advertisements, or at least 50x50px spaces saying ‘advertise here’.

    I hang my head and admit I’ve sold the odd text link, but to be honest I didnt quite realise how bad ‘a practice it was. As much as I want a decent google ranking, I get very little traffic through google so I can sort of understand people selling links. Bit of a catch 22 I guess.

    The extra money is great and I make sure I only spend it on more travel to fuel my blog. Not sure I could afford so much travel without a bit of extra blog money coming in.

  • TravMonkey

    Hi Neil,

    Text links are often used to manipulate search engine rankings as exact anchor text can be used. Links have been a way for search engines to find out what content is popular and referenced around the web. Unfortunately the system can be manipulated by buying and selling text links. This is why (along with many other metrics) Google is looking to social media to track engagement with content as a more reliable metric.

    Image advertisements aren’t usually used for SEO purposes as text links have been much more powerful. We are however starting to see an erosion of the power of those links as Google seems to be making efforts to devalue them.

    It is a catch 22. We all want to make money from our sites and often text links are the easiest and quickest way.

    But long terms and especially right now, it’s not a great idea IMO.

  • Solo Female Nomad

    Interesting article! I certainly don’t see me earning a fortune from my blog anytime soon; however, I do it mainly for my love of travel – and if the money follows then that is just an extra benefit!!

  • TravMonkey


    I think having a passion for what you do is the main thing! That will keep you going in the long run, not striving for cash.