Personal Stories

Valerie and Valise Turns 4 – What A Year

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It’s party time!

It’s hard to believe that today, October 21st, is my fourth blogiversary. Four years ago (in 2013), this little blog burst into the world. Valerie & Valise was born… but it was called Valise Magazine at the time.

Every year to celebrate my ‘blogiversary,’ I like to write a series of posts: about my “year of travel,” what I’ve learned blogging that year, and to giveaway some cool prizes for my loyal followers. Instead of doing a series of posts this year, I’ve rolled it all into one. Get ready to travel through time with me to celebrate that my blog has made it through another year – and it was my best year yet! Let’s get to it!

My Travels This Year

  • Countries Visited: 9 – France, Czech Republic, Austria, United States, Aruba, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica
  • States Visited: 13 – Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Minnesota, Washington, California, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Alaska, Illinois Oregon
  • Plane Trips Taken: 20 across 8 time zones

My year of blogging began in Paris, France, in the final leg of my trip through Europe with Mr. Valise. From there, we moved to Prague, Czech Republic. While there, I took a flight back to the U.S. for a speaking engagement in Grand Rapids, Michigan… I spent five days in the States before jumping back across the pond to finish up our European trip. Two more weeks in Prague plus ten days in Vienna, Austria, and we were back in the U.S. again!

Over the winter holidays, Mr. V and I moved from New York down the East Coast through Philadelphia and Washington D.C. We flew to Minnesota to see my family for Christmas, and back to Seattle to see his. We settled back into life in Seattle, in what felt like both a continuation of the life we left behind to travel – and a new chapter.

As the page turned on the new year  I spent most of 2017 traveling a lot! Many of these trips were for work to Berkeley, where my now-employer Go Overseas is based.  A few other destinations included Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for this year’s Women in Travel Summit and Chicago for a friend’s wedding celebrations.

For my blog, the primary trips I took were of the nautical variety: a Princess Cruise in the Caribbean, including ports in Aruba, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Jamaica, and an UnCruise trip to Southeast Alaska.

Mr. Valise and I also spent a long weekend in Alaska, I spent a few days in Houston for a #NASASocial event, and took a trip to Oregon for the solar eclipse. Like I said – it was a surprisingly busy year!

Now, we have turned the page and moved to the Bay Area. I start my fifth year of blogging, my life is in a different place, literally and figuratively!

My Blog This Year: Posts, Traffic, Google, oh my!

Blog Post Stats

Looking at my blog in Year 4 compared with Year 3 is an interesting prospect. In late 2016, I started ‘archiving’ old posts (read: deleting crappy old posts) and culled my total number of posts from around 350 to around 200. Every 3-6 months, I go back through my posts again and archive a few more, such that my total number of posts is 195. Over the last year, I’ve also begun republishing posts (read: updating not-so-crappy old posts) too.

In total, I’ve published/republished 84 posts since my blogiversary in late October last year. That’s 1-2 per week, which is my goal!

The quality of my posts is also significantly better – if you haven’t noticed. This is all part of a larger strategy.

Traffic Stats

Additionally, despite (or perhaps because) I culled a lot of bad content from my domain and published new, high-quality posts, my traffic is growing at a healthy rate for the first time in a few years:

It’s hard to tell from the chart above, but if you look back historically, I’m at an all-time traffic high. Additionally, the big bump in November/December 2016 is from one of my posts getting a ton of Google traffic. I’ve worked hard this year to try and create more posts that do that all year long, and it’s definitely working.

I had a big spike of search traffic at the end of 2016 (as my Six Reasons You Should Visit Prague in January post peaked in traffic). More interestingly, the growth from May to September is strong and steady. Google likes me! Google really likes me!

Overall, my traffic is still really low for a blog my age in the travel blog industry. I’m going to break 10,000 unique visitors this winter as Prague in January peaks again, which is teeny compared to most of the big bloggers in the industry. Nevertheless, this search traffic growth has sustained my passion and energy to keep blogging, when there have been many, many times I’ve considered quitting in the past 18 months.

My Goals for Year 5

Moving into year 5, I’m feeling much more positive than I have in the past several years. The goals I’m setting are meant to be difficult but possible.

  1. Continue to work on my Google Search Traffic. Right now, Google accounts for ~40% of my total traffic, and I’d like to hold it there. I want to see the raw number of people finding V&V by Google to go up, which means…
  2. Improve my Pinterest strategy. I have spent a year fighting with Pinterest with little success. In year 5 I would like to increase Pinterest traffic such that Pinterest accounts for 20+% of my total traffic (it’s been ~15% for the last six months) but is also significantly higher.
  3. Earn 2 backlinks per month. Backlinks (and referral traffic) are an important (and neglected) part of my traffic strategy for Year 5. I plan to work with fellow content creators to earn organic backlinks and do some guest posts/interviews too.
  4. Produce 1-2 blog posts per week on average. These can continue to be a mix of older posts and new ones; as Year 5 progresses, you will likely see an increasing number of new posts.
  5. Break 20,000 Visitors and 15,000 Unique Visitors (UVMs) in at least 2 months. This is a tricky one – it requires every other goal else coming together and increasing my momentum simultaneously. This is the BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal) for Year 5. Successfully achieving this would also bring me to a more competitive level as a travel blogger in the industry, even if it’s still a small number.

What I’ve Learned as a Travel Blogger

One of the most beloved parts of my yearly check-ins – at least according to the comments you all leave – is where I share my lessons from the year of blogging. Here they are for this year!

1. Travel Blogging is a Marathon – Not a Sprint

Nobody tells you this. Everyone on the internet – including people and companies I’ve worked closely with –, would have you believe that all you need to do is register a domain, write a few pretty-good posts and voila! Hotels will want to host you! Brands will give you free stuff! Airlines will think your Insta is the coolest and fly you errywhere for free!

Don’t believe that for a second.

Travel blogging is hard work and it takes a long time to be successful.

Every blogger you follow has worked their tail off. They may have been more or less efficient with their energy or time than other bloggers (omg, this blogger is only on their 2nd blogiversary and they already have more traffic than me, says my brain), but nobody wins overnight.

Starting my fifth year blogging, I’m actually energized by this fact. The longer I work, the smarter I am, the harder I hustle, and the more likely I will be successful when other bloggers looking for the easy route drop off even if they actually achieve success.

2. Google is a Blogger’s Best Friend

Everyone says “SEO is important to travel blogging,” but I don’t think this sunk in until this year for me.

I look at bloggers who write posts like “here’s what I did in X awesome destination” and I think: great, who cares what your vacation was like?

Instead, I try and write posts that follow this formula: “here’s how YOU can plan a trip to X awesome destination with some of Valerie’s sass sprinkled throughout.” It’s not about me, it’s about you, dear reader. Google knows this, and Google rewards this.

“Searcher intent” is a huge part of what top SEO companies think matters to ranking well in search engines. This means that despite the fact that I travel to X awesome destination before you when I sit down to write the post, it’s about helping you figure out whatever you need to know to have a great trip too. If I help answer your questions and plan your trip, Google will rank me better, and in the end, everyone will be happy: you’ll have a great trip, and I’ll reach more readers and inspire more travel.

Google’s where it’s at for other bloggers too: if you use a tool like SimilarWeb for a big travel blogger, you’ll see that many of them have HUGE traffic coming from Google as a portion of their total traffic. Get on the Google train or get the heck out! (Note: SimilarWeb is not super accurate, but it can give you a good sense of things.)

3. Pinterest Still Makes Zero Sense to Me 

Dammit, Pinterest: why do you hate me?

Every blogger I know seems to be killin’ it on Pinterest, and I’m stuck. I’ve tried everything I can think of to no avail, and I don’t know what else I can do. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Nevertheless, Pinterest still is an important part of any blogging strategy, because like with Google, you can meet reader’s needs through visual search (instead of textual like on Google). If you take great pictures, you can reach new readers.

Get on it.

Good Luck! Here’s to Year 5…

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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