Can you really earn money from travel blogging?

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I’m pretty sure that you have seen many advertisements of successful bloggers and influencers sharing about how you can make a living via blogging and live the lifestyle of a travel nomad. Well, it is definitely not an impossible feat, but I’m pretty sure it only happens to a very small percentage of people who work very hard for it. For me, this full-time travel blogger dream has been thrown out of my reality box many years ago and I am just happy to even break even on my $300 hosting and domain fee, to keep this website running.

Since I have a lot of time right now (unemployed due to COV-19), let me share on how I monetize my blog/website and the meagre earnings I have been earning across the 6 years of my paid website. The cyberspace is highly competetive and everchanging. You can succeed but are you prepared to put in the required monetary investment and time?

Alright, here we go.

What are my revenue streams?

I categorize my revenue streams into two sections – monthly recurring (Google Ads, Affiliate Marketing) vs one-time (Paid articles, Linkback, Referrals).

Note: All $ value are in SGD currency unless stated otherwise.

Google Ads

This is the easiest advertising platform to setup in your website. All it takes is a few signups (or perhaps just linking of your existing google accounts), download a few plugins (on wordpress), enter some tracking ID and your website will be auto-fed with advertisements in no time. For me, I have selected the ‘auto’ feature which means that I allow Google Ads to place Ads in my website according to their alglorithms, which is hopefully optimized to gain more views and clicks. I have also disallowed full screen ‘Vignette’ ads as I personally find it very annoying as a user.

Alright, so how much have I earned all these years from Google Ads (amount includes my YouTube revenue which contributes less than 5%)?

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020*
$20.27 $25.36 $104.40 $376.01 $244.89 $225.40 $106.48

*2020 data is based on extrapolated date from Jan-Mar. I wanted to add in 2020’s data as I wanted to highlight the impact of COV-19 has on people in the travel industry.

In a good year (2017), you could earn up to $30/month whereas in an average year (2018-19), the revenue wouldn’t even hit $20/month.

For the layman who don’t know anything about Google Ads, we are only paid well if the clickthrough can result in an actual purchase (without any other disruptions from other affiliate partners). If you saw an ad on my blog for a pair of shoes, you click on it because you are interested but you ended up fulfilling your puchase in a shop or via another affiliate partner, I will not get credited much for your click; maybe I’ll get a quarter of a cent.

I’m not sure about the country that you are from but in Asia, we tend to be very skeptical about Ads (because there are too many scammy ads around), and I usually do not like to click ‘sponsored’ listings. My audience is 70% from Asia so.. I guess that’s why I don’t earn a lot in this category.

Affilliate Marketing

Unlike Google Ads, which is a free-for-all platform, where you do not have to sign an agreement with every single brand that is advertised on your blog, affiliate marketing is kind of like a more exclusive relationship between the website owner and the affiliate platform. The good thing about signing up with affiliates is that you have more access to the data (e.g. how many click-through on which links and which products your customer ends up buying) but the bad thing is that you don’t get paid for clicks (not even a quarter of a cent), but only for successful sale.

I have more than 8 affiliates partnership but only 2 have generate slightly decent earnings for me – booking.com and a Japan wifi-device brand.

Booking.com has brought in about 260 Euros across 4 years while the wifi brand has brought in about 141,000 yen across 5 years. Definitely sounds pretty good, especially during my peak in 2017 but it has gone down to almost 0 for 2020 as no one should be traveling in 2020.

I also have affiliate programmes with Klook, HotelsCombined, Trazy but sadly, I have not been able to achieve their cashout requirement of $100. And now, here’s a random pointer – I actually got kicked out of Amazon’s affiliate programme because I generated 0 sales in 18 months. I have concluded that Amazon is not a shopping platform that resonates with my audience so that’s one less revenue stream but such is life.

To be honest, I expect my affiliate marketing revenue to continue falling with the increasing popularity of cashback websites like ShopBack and eBates. These websites create a platform to share the affiliate revenue back with their users, after keeping a portion for themselves, and as a blogger, I want the best for my readers which is why I wrote a post about the benefits of ShopBack, but it also mean that I say goodbye to my potential revenue stream.

We are in a big fish eat small fish world, and the competition only gets tougher and tougher.

***

Moving on.. to the one-time revenue streams.

Sponsored Articles

I don’t get many of such opportunities and when they do come by (usually via email), I have to reject some of them as I don’t agree with the topic or perhaps the information that I have to write or feature does not resonate with my blog audience. The remuneration ranges between 2 to 3 digits (Yes, I accepted 2-digits payout when I just started because I wasn’t too sure of my website’s value) and the number of paid articles I have written/posted over the past 6 years is less than 5. Pathetic, I know, but bear in mind I do not accept anything and everything; or at least I’m not that strapped for cash yet (or for the past 6 years but no one knows about my uncertain future..)

The rest of my written sponsored articles comes from barter trades where I attend media trips and food tasting invitations (which I can count on one hand).

Another thing that I have not done, despite receiving many emails about it, is to do guest posting or allow people to write for my blog, so that I can keep my blog active and perhaps maintain my engagement eventhough I have not much time to write. I mean I do know the advantages of guest posts, especially on SEO ranking and stuff but I just don’t see the point in publishing something that is not written by myself because.. does it bring any value to the reader? I don’t know why I had been so stubborn about this over the years but I do know that this has limited me on a couple more opportunities, but as long as I still have the financial capacity, I would like to maintain full control of my website and its unique identity.

Linkbacks

Link building helps Search Engine Optimization, SEO (article if you are keen), and with a higher SEO, your website has a higher chance of ranking higher when someone searches for a particular relevant keyword on Google. This means that if you’re an up and coming website and you would want to appear higher on search engines organically, apart from practicing good SEO techniques, building links with reputable or longstanding sites like mine would help to boost your ranking. On the contrary, if you do too much of it and Google finds that it was done through not-so-honest means, they might blacklist you and the damage is pretty bad.

Anyway, over the years, I have accepted a few paid linkbacks (only if it is relevant) and majority from my friends and their websites (which is relevant) to my website’s profile. I don’t even think I’ve made more than $100 with this linkbacks functionality but I thought it is worth mentioning as I don’t have much revenue streams anyway.

Referrals

I kind of got lucky in this area as it wasn’t exactly a direct revenue stream for a website but I guess people read my recommendations and reviews for budding startups and decide to take action.

My top earner for referrals would be for ShopBack, the cashback website which also canibalized my affiliate earnings. As I was an early adopter and reviewer of shopback, my blog post ranks quite high on search engines and people often read my review and use my referral code (which has no limit on how much I can earn), I have earned $5 x 84ppl from this referral scheme since 2015.

Another of my top earner which is pretty useless because they give vouchers instead of cash would be Klook. Across the years, I’ve successfully referred more than 20 people to be a new users but a tiny portion of these people contributed to my affiliate sales for multiple reasons including the canibalization of cashback sites.

I can only continue to game this referral game if there are more aggressive start-ups with huge signup and referral bonus. The last one I profited was from YouTrip, but they capped the referral benefits to just $10 x 10 ppl and some other startups like mileslife just faded away into the history books.

How much is my website worth?

According to www.worthofweb.com (I have no idea on its credibility), my website is worth $17,388 and it is estimated that I can bring in $55 revenue per day and $19,800/annum.

This is based on my website’s alexa ranking, currently 468,887 (which means that I’m part of the top half a million websites in the world).

Well, the truth of it all is that my real website worth, is only $59.70/month; and this was calculated as an average across 69 months.

Parting Thoughts

If you’re thinking of creating a website/blog with the sole purpose of earning money, I’m telling you right now that it might not be worth the effort.

Blogging and maintaining this website has somehow became a hobby of mine and it is a very useful testbed for me to learn how Google Analytics, Adsense and SEO works. While you lie in your bed watching excessive Netflix, I am spending time writing, enhancing and learning about my website and it is very time consuming. Furthermore, if you get hacked (I did, twice), it is very mental to restore your website back again and I hope it will never happen again.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how the digital nomads make a living from blogging, the truth is most of them don’t do it from blogging alone. A lot of them actually earn bulk of their income from being ghostwriters for bigger brands, doing up SEO analysis and branding campaigns. Just managing a website alone will not pay the bills. It can probably just pay off a few glasses of beer a month.

*cling*

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