By Alex Gaggioli
Why Work with Travel Bloggers?
So you want to cast a wider net with your marketing efforts, getting your hotel or resort in front of as many engaged and interested potential customers as possible. You’ve checked all the boxes for the usual marketing channels, and you’re looking for something a little more social, more digital, more 21st century. Sounds like it may be time for your hotel to jump onto the travel blogging train.
As a property owner or operator, you’ve probably received messages from various travel bloggers over time asking to work with you. Or, maybe you’ve seen other hotels getting links and exposure on various private travel blogs. Well, it’s for good reason – travel bloggers can be massively influential in sending future business your way. It’s called “Influencer Marketing” for a reason. The best way to influence people to check your hotel or destination out is to meet them where they are, with a friendly voice they recognize and trust, and with Great Content (big buzzword these days) that educates, intrigues, and delights!
To risk overstating the obvious, good travel bloggers have a large built-in audience of people who are already interested in travel, and are at least at the aspirational phase of their travel research if they’re not actively looking for hotel or resort information on their already-decided destination. Additionally, these readers regularly check in with their favorite influential travel bloggers because they appreciate their unique voice and trust their opinions.
If you can get your business represented on one of these blogs with some genuinely valuable content to back it up, you will automatically be piggybacking on that very same appreciation and trust, with people who are already actively interested in travel. This is a deeply targeted marketing channel that you simply can’t afford to overlook anymore.
Oh, and anecdotally, travel bloggers tend to be some of the most business-friendly, approachable, and professional people we’ve worked with, which is just a nice little cherry on top of what is already a pretty appealing marketing sundae. If you’re ready to start working with influential travel bloggers to get your hotel even more recognition, first you’ll need to find the right bloggers to reach out to.
Finding the Right Bloggers for Your Business
You can find travel bloggers in a number of places. Obviously, a quick Google search for something like “travel blogs” or “best travel bloggers 2016” should yield copious starting points. But while starting a business relationship via email is totally doable (not to mention common), you might consider meeting them in person at blogger expos or travel conferences. If you can make friends with some influential bloggers in real life, then obviously it’ll be that much easier for them to see the value of working with your property. Making a real human connection with them is a great way to start a professional relationship that has real staying power, providing returns for you over and over.
Colm Hanratty says on Trekksoft (full article linked at the end of this article): “There are lots of places to meet travel bloggers. These range from travel blogging conferences like TBEX, to travel trade shows like ITB Berlin.” While those are some great places to start, try looking online for others that may be closer to you.
Now, going to a conference or expo is obviously not feasible for every business. Another place to meet travel bloggers that feels more sociable and familiar than email is through social media. People are automatically a little warmer in a Twitter conversation or Facebook back and forth, since it’s so much less formal than email, and you can definitely build some great blogger relationships here. Says Hanratty: “Travel Twitter chats are another good place to meet [bloggers]. When you’ve figured out why you want to engage them, you’re going to need to meet them.” Some great Twitter chats include #RTWChat (Round the World Chat), #TTOT (Travel Talk on Twitter), and #LPChat (Lonely Planet Chat – yes, that Lonely Planet).
But as Hanratty mentions, before you go out to meet them, either over social media or in person, you’re going to want to figure out why you want to engage with them in the first place.
What to Look for in a Blogger
When you’re sizing up the value of a potential travel blogger to your business, you’ll want to make both quantitative as well as qualitative assessments. While they each have their own merits, and many marketers will probably be more familiar with one over the other, you’ll need both to truly get the most bang for your buck (or time, etc.).
- Number of social media followers – this is a huge one, if your end goal is less “ranking in search engines” and more “getting new people to come visit my site.” Social media can be a powerful marketing machine in the right hands. An influential blogger who is active on social media and is willing not only to blog about you, but then to SHARE that post with his or her many followers, is a golden goose. The more real social media followers your blogger has, the better. I say “real” because it’s easy to fake this number; further explained in the section below.
- Average monthly traffic – Obviously, the more people who come and read a blog, the more eyeballs you may potentially have on your shiny new marketing material. And if the blog has decent engagement, you can expect a certain percentage of that traffic number to actually click through to your blog – the ultimate goal of a good marketing campaign!
- Domain authority score – “Domain authority” is a sort of quality score given to a website based on a number of factors including backlinks, the inbound anchor text of those links, the domain and IP variety of those links, and some other SEO factors. “Domain Authority” (capital “A”) is a metric provided by SEOMoz and to this day is sort of an industry standard, but other backlink tools will have their own variations, often called “URL authority” or some variation therein. Google has their own metric, called “Page Rank,” though this has been fairly defunct for some time now. All domain authority scores are subjective and correlative and should not be mistaken for a direct one-to-one metric of value.
- Average time on site and page views per session – These metrics are a great way to assess the “quality” of a site’s content. A high average time on site means that readers are sticking around to view and engage with much of the site’s content, and a high average page views count means that users are interested enough in a site’s material to explore more of it, after consuming whatever content got them on the site in the first place. Both of these numbers may represent high quality content and an engaged reader base.
- The “Voice” or tone of the site – this is one of the most important qualitative considerations. As Frederic Gonzalo (link to his excellent article below) says, “If the blogger specializes in off-the-beaten-path adventure travel, should you really invite him over for a family-themed trip in a big city?” NOPE! This may be obvious to some of you, but sometimes – especially if you hire a digital marketing team outside your company – link builders and content marketers will get so hung up on quantitative metrics that they’ll overlook something as simple as “is my product or brand a good fit for this travel blog?” If the answer is no, you may get a link, but you won’t get great traffic to your site, and the blogger won’t see any new subscribers to his blog either. A lose-lose situation. You want to find those win-wins to guarantee a powerfully effective campaign and a great lasting professional relationship!
- Appearance of the site – a sleek, professional looking site will obviously look sleek and professional to its readers – and by extension, it will make you look sleek and professional too. A lot of this blog’s readers will be hearing of your business for the very first time, and you know what they say about first impressions. Make sure your first impression is a beautiful one. Of course, if a blog looks a little dated but features fantastic content and gets regular interaction from its large reader base, you should be willing to sacrifice a little gloss for real engagement value. Speaking of which:
- Reader engagement – Interaction and engagement on a blog means that when your post goes live, it is more likely to get real readers who actually click on your link and visit your site; this goes beyond mere “SEO,” and gets into the territory of actually making conversions – the end goal of any hotel or resort. Look at a sampling of posts on the blog. Do these posts regularly get a handful of comments from real people (i.e. not spammy robots begging you to click their link to the newest blue pill or gambling site)? Do the authors respond to these comments and engage their readers? Do the site owners or managers regularly interact with their readers on social media as well? Beyond Facebook and Twitter, valuable social marketing platforms include Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest. According to Drew BinskyHungry Partier, “I have a large following on Snapchat and that is where most of my audience is engaged.” Experiment with different platforms!
- Content variety – does the blog feature a lot of “sponsored posts” that link out to other businesses, or is there a fair mix of original editorial content as well? Do they feature interviews, destination reviews, how-to guides, opinion pieces, and more? A great variety of content points to a blog that is not only more likely to pull engaged viewers, but is also less likely to look like a “red flag” to any spam-hunting search engines out there. If a blog is nothing but sponsored posts and advertisements linking out to specific destinations, you may want to steer clear.
As you can see, both qualitative and quantitative assessments are important. A great looking blog with decent engagement, variety, and consistent target demo and voice but not a lot of traffic is unlikely to send you many valuable customers. But a blog with tons of facebook followers and traffic won’t either, if it doesn’t have great user engagement or your brand doesn’t jibe with the readership.
3 All Too Common Pitfalls
- Big numbers are sometimes just “vanity” numbers. Given the choice between the two, take user engagement and affinity with your brand offerings over a blog with tons of visitors and followers but not much engagement or brand sympathy.
- Be wary of “influencers” who aren’t well connected to other influencers. The travel blogging community is a fairly tight one. It’s very rare to encounter a decent travel blogger who isn’t connected to a few dozen other travel bloggers, probably sharing guest posts and social media chats with one another. Travel bloggers are not lone-wolf journalists but community freelancers who are passionate about their topic.
- Finally, beware of “fake followers.” It’s so easy today to game quantitative metrics like “follower count” on social media: a five-minute search on Fiverr.com will prove it. You can buy hundreds, even thousands of “followers” or “likes” for just five bucks. But you’ll notice these fake followers never leave a comment or a share or interact in any way with the blog, they’ll just leave their one “like” and then disappear into the ether. Check the social media page, get a sense of how many people like and comment on posts (or even better, share posts!), and look for patterns in certain real users who comment or like more than once.
4 Key Expectations to Manage
When working with travel bloggers, keep in mind you will be working with writers who tend to move around for a living. Also, they are probably getting pitches and making deals with other hotels, resorts, travel destinations, tour guides, and travel gear manufacturers or retailers. Obviously, they are extremely busy. Setting and managing expectations – both yours and theirs – is therefore extremely important. Here’s how you do that.
- Transparency is key Be very clear about what you want and expect, not just with regards to content, but also communication with the influencer, as well as any extra perks you may want such as social media mentions. Discuss “Goals and Objectives” for both sides before coming to a deal! So, if you want a link on their blog strictly for SEO purposes, don’t be shy, just ask for it. Trust us, they’ve heard it all before. They may not give it to you but at least there’ll be transparency and perhaps a mutually-beneficial deal can be reached. If you want a more engaged campaign that may require something beyond just publishing content on their blog, make sure this is understood and agreed upon beforehand – nobody wants to be saddled with extra work once they’re nearly done with a project.
- Don’t be afraid to set deadlines and stick to them. But make sure your deadlines respect their time. You are not “the boss” here, both parties stand to gain or lose based on how this deal plays out. But if you are on a timeline, make sure it’s discussed before you settle! Refer to the first point above: transparency is key.
- Make sure you and your influencer agree on what topics to address – and what to focus on. Obviously, if they’re just writing an honest review of your business, this does not apply. But if they’re writing a sponsored piece on your hotel, and you have specific features or topics you want to see addressed, make these clear. Again, see point 1.
- Follow up and keep tabs on the progress of your project! Part of your “expectations” should involve setting expectations for your own marketing team, to keep up with this campaign and address any inconsistencies you see before they become a problem. Check in with your influencer. After all, this is ideally going to be a fruitful marketing relationship, not just a one-off; and good relationships require patience, attention, and communication!
What Kind of Content Should we Create?
Ah, now to the content part of this content marketing campaign guide. First, you should know this is just as much your responsibility as the travel blogger’s – in fact, even moreso! While they may be the “content producer” in this equation, you’re still going to want to direct the content as much as you can. Certain types of content require less direction on your part – for example, a simple review of your business. But if you want to create a helpful and informative post or something that highlights a specific element of your destination, you’ll want to conduct the content a little more than usual to make sure all your main concerns are addressed.
Make sure the content you and the blogger agree upon is “evergreen,” meaning it will have value beyond the days or weeks after it’s posted. Evergreen content is far more likely to be seen by readers well into the future, hopefully netting you consistent traffic over time. As an example, if you want to attract potential customers to the amazing local food in or around your hotel, the article “The Ten Tastiest Entrees to Try in [Locality]” would be better than “Restaurant A is Offering 10% Off their Entrees for Labor Day Weekend!” The former article will likely be just as relevant two months from now as it is today, while the latter isn’t much good to a reader after a clearly-defined point in time – though it may pull in more traffic within that restricted period, it won’t win out in the long run and will become functionally useless to your business.
You may want to consider “out-of-the-box” marketing options. Again, Colm Hanratty says: “Having a blogger write about your product is great, but it’s been done before thousands of times. Have a quick brainstorm with the blogger and see are there other ways you can collaborate. Maybe they could take control of your Instagram account for a day or maybe you could do a live Google Hangout with them? Whatever way you work with each other, try to think outside of the box.”
Or, look to bloggers like Drew Binsky, who is one of the many travel bloggers who are really blazing a trail – and finding success with – niche social platforms like Snapchat.
Making the Deal
Now that you’ve done your research, started a conversation, and decided on a campaign scope, you and the travel blogger will need to settle on the sometimes unpleasant business of “cost.” But with a little care and knowledge, you should be able to come to a totally fair deal for both parties with minimal effort. So, what should you give and get in return for some great influential blog coverage?
Generally, this type of campaign comes down to two major archetypes: Press Trips and straight-up Advertising. “Press trips” are fairly unique to the travel sector, and entail your resort inviting an influential travel writer to enjoy a complimentary stay at your location in exchange for a review and some press. You are no doubt already familiar with this type of exchange. Straight-up advertising can be a little more convoluted though.
The first big tip here is you should NOT mention “buying” links right away, however you can talk somewhere down the road about how some travel bloggers do want “paid compensation” for their time, work, and opinion and you would be happy to oblige. Typically though, it’s a much better idea to allow the travel blogger to bring up whether or not payment is expected. Who knows, if you pitch an interesting enough idea, they may even give you some coverage for free.
As a general guideline, you can safely expect to pay for coverage if you are dictating what the influencer can or cannot say and what specifically to focus on. Additionally, you can expect to pay if you ask the blogger to do anything above and beyond standard write-up and posting (e.g., managing your Instagram account for a week or producing a video when the blogger typically just writes).
If you are offering the influencer a complimentary press visit to your business though, you may or may not need to pay; this depends entirely on the blogger, and then it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the extra cost. It often is, if you’re working with an influential blogger with a target demographic and tone that suits your destination. Many bloggers will cover your hotel for free, just for the opportunity to visit and provide some interesting and unique or exclusive content for their audience. Have something cool and new and exciting to offer, that you haven’t yet made available to the public? Pitch a market influencer on it and see if they’ll cover you!
- After the deal has been made and the content is live on their site, make sure you track, track, track! Analyze your metrics. Did you get a bump in social or referral traffic from the post? Did you make more conversions with a special coupon code you let your blogger advertise? Make sure your money was well spent! And if it was, consider working with them again!
- Don’t let your new relationship falter. Keep up a good relationship with your blogging partners – you never know when you might want their help again!
Drew Binsky – @drewbinsky on Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. Also on DrewBinsky.com