The (Honest) State of Travel and Dots Blogs

I’ve been blogging full-time for over 14 years (the blog’s 14th anniversary was last week, but I’m not a fan of birthdays, so…). A lot has changed in the landscape of travel and dot blogs in this time, especially over the past two years with the coronavirus. I thought it would be an interesting time to reflect on the general state of this “industry,” if you will.

I imagine many other freelance bloggers will have similar takes, and I would welcome their thoughts as well. Part of the purpose of this article is to explain the overall makeup of the content you can find on the blogs you frequent.

Some information on the beginnings of OMAAT

For some background, I started this blog as a hobby while I was in college, and for a long time I didn’t make any money from it. I never planned on making a career out of it, and besides, I never really had a business plan for the blog, and I have no desire to sell this site (which, for me , it’s weird that selling a blog is even a thing, but…).

The travel and points industry is my passion, pure and simple, and I wake up every day seeking it as an escape. Although I am lucky that this is also my career, the reality is that my daily life is not really focused on trading. I couldn’t tell you what the blog’s revenue was last month or how many readers there were, because frankly I don’t care.

The reason I can write this blog every day of my life and be happy about it is because it’s my passion and not my job. With that out of the way…

Lufthansa First Class Terminal dodges, just because

The Complicated Landscape of Travel and Dots Blogging

Back when I started blogging 14 years ago, it wasn’t a very crowded space. There was Wing view, and not many others (at least not many that still exist today). Over the years, countless freelance blogs have sprung up, and it’s fantastic.

Some didn’t last long (not realizing that it takes hard work and consistent effort to be successful), while others are still around today, usually because they have perseverance and a single angle. I am very supportive of anyone who wants to try their hand at blogging.

For most freelance bloggers, I think the biggest challenge is all the “corporate” sites that have entered this space. This came in different forms:

  • We’ve seen several travel blogs sold, including to huge media companies, venture capitalists, and more.
  • We’ve seen mainstream media news sites enter the space of travelogues and credit card rewards
  • We’ve seen all kinds of sites pop up that are so clearly SEO-only, with a very obvious business plan to build in a few years when the price is right.

Let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things. This is how a market economy works — people see opportunities and seize them. However, this poses a challenge for independent sites:

  • You can’t really compete for SEO with the major news sites that now review credit card benefits and other travel features.
  • Many of those websites sold don’t have to be profitable, but just have to continue to show growth (as is the case with much of our economy these days); that’s easy to do when you’re spending millions and millions of dollars a year on social media ads, because it easily masks a much lower “core” readership of loyal readers
  • As the internet has become more saturated, margins have narrowed significantly
Are you even a points blogger if you haven’t stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris?!

Why Freelance Travel and Spot Blogs Have the Content They Do

Let me be brutally transparent here. I’m sure this is something other bloggers can relate to, and it might explain the overall mix of content you see on dots and travel blogs.

If you look at the comments section of the blogs, you will see comments like “this is not the content I come here for”, regardless of the topic. It’s quite fair. I mean, it could very well be, and so is the internet. But I think it’s important to understand and consider how people make a living.

Earlier, I committed to focusing more on trip reporting, and that’s something I will maintain. I think it’s also important to expand on that, though – travel reviewers don’t directly foot the bills, and I think any blogger in this space can attest to that. They’re hard to monetize, they’re a huge time investment (in terms of travel and writing), and they don’t get as much traffic as some other types of posts. So where is the value in them?

  • Many of us are huge airline and hotel product geeks, and find writing these reviews enjoyable whether the math works or not; you don’t understand how dizzy I get when I fly with a new airline, no matter how bad
  • Many bloggers realize how much readers value travel reports and see them as a good overall investment in getting people to read and support the blog.
  • It is useful to be familiar with the offers of airlines and hotels. after all, this knowledge is what distinguishes people’s ideas
Nothing excites me more than trying a new airline!

Beyond the trip reports, you have what you might consider “monetized” posts, about the products. There’s money to be made there, but it’s probably not as lucrative as you think, or at least it takes a lot more effort than expected. As I mentioned above, it’s hard to compete on SEO with the major news sites, and you have other sites spending endless money on ads related to these products. As far as readership goes, well, if you’ve written about a product often enough, chances are they already have.

This ties in with my point above about trip reports. You hope people enjoy the content of a blog and will support you the next time they want to buy one of these products.

Then you have what some people consider to be clickbait stories. Some blogs publish them almost exclusively, and they come in different forms. A few things to understand about them:

  • These can get an absolutely incredible amount of traffic, especially for smaller sites, which don’t have a very high base level of traffic; these types of posts can easily generate 100 times more traffic than your average post, or in some cases even much more than that
  • These really aren’t aimed at the actual audience of a blog, as they’re aimed at driving traffic from elsewhere.
  • These are often the easiest to write, as they are not a huge time investment.

Do I post these stories sometimes? Yes, of course, but as a percentage of content, not as much as some other sites. Do I like writing these messages? It depends. Sometimes the topics are really interesting, and while they’re not particularly deep or insightful, they’re stories I’d love to read elsewhere as well.

I’m lucky that my blog gets a lot of traffic to start with, but for many smaller sites it’s extremely common for a single clickbait post to get as much traffic as the entire site in a month, even six. month. This is the primary means by which many sites can be monetized – some will write content hoping a post breaks through and goes viral. It’s not just about the direct monetization of that traffic, however – many readers who find a viral post can bookmark a site and become readers for years to come.

None of this is to say that sites should or shouldn’t have clickbait, or that it’s a great idea, or anything. Rather, I’m saying that it’s hard to make money on the internet, especially if you don’t want to put things behind a paywall. And unfortunately, often the stories that take the least effort get the most traffic, and for many blogs, it’s the articles that pay the bills.

Everyone is of course welcome to speak however they wish, and I think almost all blogs appreciate genuine reader feedback. I just think it’s also important to remember that those who write freelance blogs are also trying to make a living. I guarantee that in the vast majority of cases, when you see your favorite travel blog posting what you interpret as a “clickbait” story, you are not the intended audience.

Posts about the American “turkey” sandwich are not clickbait though!

At the end of the line

The travel and points blog space has evolved a lot over the years, for better and for worse. Making money running a freelance blog isn’t easy, although I hope the above provides at least some context as to why you may see the mix of content you see on various sites.

In closing, I just want to express my gratitude to those who have read OMAAT over the years. I feel blessed beyond words to be able to get up every day and just play my favorite “hobby” and make it my career as well. I recognize that not everyone will always be happy, and also that the content will not always be so good (we have our good days and our bad days, or maybe even good years and bad years).

At the end of the day, what makes blogs the most rewarding are those who read and interact with, and genuinely enjoy the content, recognizing that no one who puts himself forward will still not succeed.

As always, I appreciate feedback, and of course, I’d also love to hear from other bloggers about how their experiences differ.

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