Ali Garland runs Travel Made Simple, where she helps people plan their vacation and travel smarter. Find out how she has been able to grow it to $6,500/mo.
Revenue of $6,500/mo
Email list size of 1,200
Founded in 2012
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
Hi, I’m Ali Garland, and I’m originally from the US. I’ve been living in Germany for almost 7 years now, in Berlin for the last 3 years. I’ve been blogging since late 2009, and I started Travel Made Simple in 2012.
After blogging for fun for a few years, I decided I wanted a site specifically aimed at helping new travelers plan their trips. My readers are mostly people who take traditional vacations (not long term travelers) and people who don’t have much travel experience. I often get questions that start with “this is my first international trip…”
These days I’m earning an average of about $6,500 per month from my blog. It took me several years to get here, but at this rate, I should earn more this year than I did at my last office job!
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
When I lived in the US, I worked in aviation insurance, which I didn’t really like much. I started blogging as an outlet and a way to enjoy travel when I couldn’t actually get on a plane. A few years later, when I started Travel Made Simple, I wanted it to be more informative and helpful, and not so personal since my other site, Ali’s Adventures, is a much more personal travel blog.
In 2012 when I started the site, I was taking an intense German course 20 hours a week, and my husband was supporting both of us since I was on a spouse visa that didn’t yet allow me to work. I wanted to eventually make money with my blog, but I didn’t have a clue how.
Eventually I started making some money from freelance writing, but the blog was only earning about $50 a month for the first few years. In 2015, I also started doing VA (virtual assistant) work for other blogs. By then, my site was earning around $500 a month, but still not enough to live on, and I still didn’t think it was possible for me to earn a full time income from my blog.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
My site earns money from a mix of advertising and affiliate marketing. But a few years ago, I didn’t think it was possible because it seemed like only the really big sites were earning money that way, and most of the successful travel bloggers I knew were making money from PR trips and tourism board campaigns. I hated those kinds of trips, so I assumed I’d go on making a little bit of money from ads and affiliates, but that I’d have to earn most of my income from freelance writing and VA work.
At some point, a few posts started gaining more traction, and my income went up with them. I started focusing more on testing things to see what worked best, and over time, the things that worked really started to work. I mostly focused on figuring out how to get more clicks and conversions on my affiliate links, as well as improving SEO.
Another big thing for me was ditching Adsense and signing on with AdThrive, an ad network that only takes sites with at least 100,000 monthly pageviews. Their rates are so much better than Adsense that I immediately started earning more than double. Now I earn 8-10 times what I used to earn with Adsense.
Last year I finally switched from a basic hosting plan to a premium web host, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I should have switched much earlier because basic hosting can’t handle larger amounts of traffic, but better late than never. Simply switching gave me a big bump in traffic, plus they were able to make a lot of improvements to my site to increase speed.
My traffic has really improved over the past 6 months, and now I’m reaching 250,000 to 330,000 pageviews a month, and I’m averaging about $6,500 a month. About 60-70% is from advertising, and the rest is affiliate marketing. Most of my affiliate income is from Amazon, but I do earn $100-500 a month from other affiliates such as hotels, tours, and a few other things.
My best advice is to find out what works for you. Don’t blindly follow what everyone else is doing. I’m not a very social person, so doing campaigns with tourism boards or brands where I’d have to be very active on social media all the time isn’t my thing. Even if I could figure out how to make money that way, I’d be miserable. There are tons of different ways to make money from a blog, but it takes some trial and error to figure out what you feel comfortable with.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
The internet changes a lot, and quickly, so what worked a few years ago might not work today. In the early days of my blog, I was able to get a decent amount of traffic from Twitter, but that hasn’t worked for me in quite some time, so I don’t bother with it much anymore. Social media is still important though, so you have to publicize your posts on as many different channels as possible, and then monitor the results to see where it’s worth spending your time.
Guest posts and interviews are a great way to get in front of more people. I did a lot of this in my first few years of blogging, and it helped bring in a few more readers each time. Plus getting backlinks from those guest posts and interviews helped build my credibility in Google’s eyes.
Eventually I focused most of my efforts on SEO. Social media can be fickle, and I don’t like spending lots of time on social media, so finding ways to get good search traffic really appealed to me. I started writing longer, detailed posts, trying to be as helpful as possible with the information I was putting into the posts.
I also wrote several posts around related topics to show my readers and Google that I really know about that topic. I looked at what kinds of things people were searching for that fit into my niche, and I wrote posts that answered their questions. Over time I learned more and more about SEO and keywords, and I started tweaking old posts to improve them.
These days I don’t worry about continually publishing new content. This is the exact opposite of what many other bloggers do (and I wouldn’t recommend it as a new blogger) but now that my site is established, I focus more on improving what’s already there. My traffic keeps going up, and while I do have ideas for more posts I want to write, I’m very conscious of keeping the focus of my site narrow.
If you’re new, I think it’s important to figure out your goals and the type of site you want, and that will partly dictate how you focus on building traffic. Some goals depend more on building a loyal readership and following, and you’ll probably want to publish more regularly and be more active on social media. But as I have discovered, not every blog has to work that way.
How have you grown the email list?
My email list is probably one of my weakest points. I’ve had one for years, and so many people rave about how their newsletter is their best way of earning money, but I have struggled to figure out how to capitalize on mine. I have a little over 1,200 subscribers, which feels pretty small considering I started my newsletter about 4 years ago.
I have a small free ebook that I giveaway as an incentive for people to sign up for my list, but it’s probably not good enough. I should have several different ones to attract people with different interests, but I haven’t made this a priority yet.
I also have an email series that new subscribers get in the first few weeks after they sign up, but beyond that, I don’t send out newsletters regularly. I struggle with figuring out what to write in my newsletter, and it’s definitely an area I need to put more time into one of these days.
My best advice is to start your list as early as possible, even if you don’t know what to do with it. It’s the one regret I see many bloggers mention often, that they didn’t start collecting newsletter subscribers earlier.
How do you write great content that performs well?
When I write content for my site, I focus on a few different things to help it perform well. I try to give as much detail as possible so the person reading my post can get the answers to all their questions on that topic. I’m always thinking, how can this be more helpful? I also research the keywords that relate to the topic. Besides being good for SEO purposes, it also means I’m finding out the actual things people are searching for, which means I can be sure to include the information they want.
As I’ve mentioned, I put a lot of focus on SEO. Like most things, it’s always changing, so I periodically go back to old posts and update the information. Sometimes that means certain keywords are more or less popular, and I can rework my post with that in mind.
This helps my post show up higher in search results, which means more traffic. But I only go after keywords that truly fit the post and work with my own knowledge and the audience I’m going after. I wouldn’t optimize a post to go after a “traveling with kids” type of keyword because I know nothing about traveling with kids and those aren’t the readers I’m going after.
I also write my posts in a way that is easy to read. I try to stick with short paragraphs and clear, useful headings. Again, the purpose is to make it as helpful as possible, and a huge wall of text isn’t helpful to most people. Pictures are great too, especially for a travel blog since people want to see the places they’re reading about and visualize themselves on the trip.
I choose my topics based on a combination of my own experiences, what people are searching for, and what fits well on my site. Since I mostly aim at newer or less experienced travelers, I have a lot of tips posts that might seem like common sense to a veteran traveler, but these are questions my readers really need answers to.
As for destinations, I stick to places newer travelers might be interested. Someone who has never left the US before is unlikely to go to Kosovo as their first international trip, so I would write about something like that on my other site, but not on Travel Made Simple.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
The biggest mistake I made with my blog was not treating it like a business right from the start. I created a second site specifically because I wanted it to be more serious, more business-like, and because I wanted to make money with it. But I didn’t have a clue how to make that happen, and I didn’t take the time to figure it out. I just wrote blog posts and hoped that some day the big money-making secret would just fall in my lap. It doesn’t work that way!
Now I realize that if I had taken things more seriously and done the research from the beginning, I’m sure I would’ve started making money from my site much earlier. So if you’re new to blogging and you want to make money from it, you have to treat it like a business and really put the effort into it.'The biggest mistake I made with my blog was not treating it like a business right from the start.'Click To Tweet
I’ve learned that there’s a lot to learn. Blogging is not a quick way to make money, and you can’t expect things to fall in your lap. I had to read tons of articles on different topics, like SEO and Pinterest, to learn techniques to improve my blog. I had to test different things to see what works and what doesn’t. And realizing that what works for one person might not work for another is huge.
If I could go back in time, I’d learn whatever I could about SEO from the very beginning. I’d research ways to make money from a blog and evaluate which ones might work for me. I’d make short and long term plans for how I was going to make money with my blog. In general, I’d be more proactive in my approach to blogging instead of waiting and hoping for things to work out.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In some ways, it was really helpful for me to block out what other bloggers were doing. A few years ago, I didn’t think I was really ever going to make more than a few hundred dollars from my blog anyway, so I stopped paying attention to what other bloggers were doing, and I just did my own thing.
Focusing on myself and my own site meant I could figure out what worked for me, not what might’ve been working for other people. I wasn’t so distracted by all that other noise. My blog kept improving, and eventually I realized I really could make some decent money from my site.
On the other hand, one of the most helpful things to me has been getting involved with a few blogging-related Facebook groups. I know that really conflicts with what I just said, but I think what I really needed was the ability to separate comparing myself to others from learning from others.
Being in these Facebook groups has connected me to other great bloggers who can help me with things I might struggle with (and I get to help them too, which I actually quite enjoy) and together we can help each other succeed. I just have to recognize when it starts feeling noisy to me again and take a break.
Another thing that was really helpful to me was a course on affiliate marketing that Michelle Schroeder-Gardner teaches. I was already making decent money from affiliate marketing, but her course really helped me fine tune a few things and learn a few techniques I didn’t know before. My Amazon affiliate income is now 2-4 times what it was before I took her course. For a beginner, I imagine it would’ve been even more helpful.
I also think timing played a part in my success. I have several posts on my site that are about topics I couldn’t find a lot on years ago, which is why I wrote them, and those posts do really well for me now. Getting ahead was a huge advantage for me, even if I didn’t think I was doing anything ground-breaking at the time.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
If you’re just starting out with blogging, one of the most important questions to ask yourself is, why do you want to blog? And I don’t think “to make money” should be your number one answer. It seriously helps to enjoy blogging and to have an interest in the topic you’re going after.
Blogging isn’t a get rich quick scheme, and if the topic you choose bores you, you won’t be able to stick with it for very long. So while I think it’s great to know that you want to earn money from your blog, you should also figure out what your why is aside from money.
Once you know you do want to make money from your blog, figure out how you want to make money. Some methods will fit well with your personality, but others won’t. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t enjoy being on social media all the time, so I don’t pursue income streams that would require me to do a lot of that. I also value my flexibility, so anything that would require me to be on someone else’s schedule is unappealing.
But maybe you love interacting with people all the time, so offering consulting services or leading your own tours or going on sponsored trips would be a great fit for you. Bottom line, don’t pursue things that will make you miserable.'Blogging isn't a get rich quick scheme, and if the topic you choose bores you, you won't be able to stick with it for very long.'Click To Tweet
Don’t expect to be making lots of money or getting tons of free things right away with your blog. I see so many new travel bloggers expecting to get free hotel stays or free tours after only a couple months of blogging and with only a thousand pageviews a month.
When you’re new, you don’t have much of an audience, so you don’t really have much to offer a hotel or tour company. They want to know what’s in it for them, what kind of value you can offer in exchange for that freebie. Be patient and focus on building your audience first.
Where can we go to learn more?