|Do you know who I am?
I am about to leave San Diego. The last day has not been fun at all as I have been dealing with, I think, food poisoning! I did go see Pat Benatar last night, she can still rock. I left after four songs to get back to my hotel, Advil & went to bed at 10 pm!
Ok, here we go with the guest post I had promised. I should catch up with all blog posts sometime on Sunday.
Thank you for reading!
An Insider’s View Of Travel Blogging
When I first discovered Travel Blogger Buzz, I thought “Oh great, a travel blog about travel blogs.” So there is no new information here, just reviews of other people’s blogs? Clearly, I didn’t get it.
read skim about a dozen travel blogs a day out of hundreds in the point and mile sphere, so a blog has to be very good to grab my attention. But after a while, I realized that George was reading even more than I was, and cluing me in on some of the best posts out there. Eventually I understood that this blog is more than just a meta-blog; George is trying to be an ombudsman for the travel hacking world. And perhaps they need one.
George has a irrepressible desire to critique the bloggers, but he and his readers seems to also have an intense curiosity about how this world works. So as one of the few freelance bloggers out there, I thought that I could share my perspective.
How blogs work
Imagine a movie production. Even a modest film requires writers, producers, directors, editors, cameramen, and actors. A blog is the same way. In addition to writing, someone must design, host, and edit the blog (not to mention monetize, but I’ll get to that later). Some bloggers choose to undertake all of these tasks themselves, and end up with results comparable to a home movie. Most have to outsource at least some of these disparate functions, which is the role of umbrella sites like The Boarding Area or Upgrd.com. The larger blogs even have full-time staff members that can include editors, developers, and contributors.
This is where I come in as a freelance writer. It turns out that producing quality content is very time consuming, especially if you are managing all of these other tasks. It also benefits the blog to offer multiple perspectives.
How blogs make money
Last year I was able to attend both the FinCon financial blogger’s conference and the TBex travel blogger’s conference, and I learned quite a bit about this business. As George and so many others have learned, the best source of income in the travel blogging field are affiliate links, especially to credit cards.
Think of it this way; when you apply for a new credit card, you are offered a sign-up bonus. Similarly, any third-party web site that provided the link is getting a bonus as well. These commissions can range from $15 for some basic student card to over $100 for a high end travel rewards card. In fact, one affiliate marketing company was offering a $250 commission for the Ink Bold and Plus cards at the end of last year. Note how many bloggers were writing reviews and other link-laden insights about the Ink cards at that time.
Why you and I don’t have a money making travel blog
So with up to $250 for a sign up bonus for other people’s credit cards, why doesn’t everyone start a blog? Or better yet, why don’t I have my own money making blog? (my wife asks me this all the time).
Well first, you have to love writing. Think of your favorite sites and how often they are updated. No one is going to read your blog regularly if you don’t offer new content at least five times a week. It is so much work that one financial blogger I know told me that writing was his least favorite part of blogging.
Fortunately, I love writing, and thankfully, I think that I have something new to say. Sadly, many bloggers don’t seem to. My problem is that I don’t have the time, skill, and patience to set up and monetize my own blog.
How hard could that be? Leaving aside the task of developing a quality site, the hardest part seems to be dealing with the affiliate marketing companies. You and I can’t just get some credit card links and start raking in the cash. First you have to apply to one of these companies. Then, you have to be approved, which is not automatic. Usually, they want to see a history of successful conversions (sales). Of course, you then have a “chicken and the egg” paradox.
But let’s say you solve that problem somehow. Even then, you are essentially on probation forever. At any time, the banks can and will ask the affiliate companies to pull you off their programs. The reason can be poor sales, or more likely, poor compliance. Compliance issues can be ones such as writing about credit cards using inaccurate numbers or even terminology that the banks disapprove of. And considering how fluid the credit card market is, it can be a huge task to stay in compliance with all of their rules.
For example, I once had a major bank come to me objecting that I referred to their bank’s proprietary, fixed value, non-airline loyalty program’s currency as “cash back” rather than “miles”. Other times, I have heard of affiliate programs just cutting off large web sites with little explanation or recourse. It’s just not fair out there.
And even when you have links and are in compliance, Google can change their algorithms, which kills your search engine traffic and slashes your income overnight. Look up the terms Penguin and Panda if you don’t know what I am talking about.
Who can you trust?
While it is indisputable that the need to earn a living can influence the choice of cards that bloggers write about, it doesn’t mean they are all credit card whores. Good bloggers will cite both the positive and negative aspects of the cards they like, and will slam the cards that they don’t. Writers build credibility with their readers that way, and this site will keep them honest when they don’t.
But in my case, I offer another perspective. I write about credit cards without receiving any commissions. I offer my honest opinion as a journalist who has researched and written thousands articles about credit cards and travel. And thankfully, I have never received any pushback from my editors when my analysis contradicted their interest in receiving credit card affiliate revenue. Actually, I kind of expected to some day, but so far it hasn’t ever happened. So until I get around to creating my own monetized site, you can trust what I write to be uncorrupted by affiliate revenue.
My business model is simple: I write, and the site pays me. When I write guests posts such as this, I am compensated by a third party site that I link back to. Hopefully, those links help sites to keep Google’s Penguins and Pandas at bay.
What do we owe you?
Bloggers who write about points and miles perform an invaluable service. By employing the travel tricks they write about, you can earn nearly unlimited free travel in business and first class. At the same time, those who own these blogs, and a few freelancers like me, can make money off of the largess of the credit card issuers we write about.
But the odd thing about the hard core point and mile blogs, as opposed to other travel and personal finance sites that I contribute to, is that their readers feel like we are indebted to them for some reason. Although I am happy to receive this site’s constructive criticism, I often sustain vicious comments when people object to my opinions or when I write about a good deal, even after it was dead.
Never forget that travel bloggers offer their knowledge and experience to their readers for free. You are then welcome to read their blog or not. If you like their work, you can support their site by using their links. It’s that simple.
Travel blogs are fun to write, valuable to read, and profitable to produce. By understanding how these sites work, you can properly weigh their advice and recommendations.
Jason Steele is a full time freelance blogger who focuses on credit cards and travel. He is a regular contributor to many of the top personal finance and travel blogs including SmartBalanceTransfers.com, which is definitely being compensated when you use their links to apply for, and receive a new credit card.