Well, happy birthday Birdgehls. This blog is officially three years old, which makes me feel a range of emotions.
The overriding emotion is admittedly confusion. This year has been the most successful one I’ve had whilst blogging by far. This is something I largely owe to this post about finding your niche. In a pissy mood earlier this year about this whole blogging thing, I sat down and dealt with my feelings through writing an outpouring of emotions into WordPress. This has turned out to be a most effective strategy funnily enough, which has led to some of this blog’s best performing posts this year.
Yet, the overriding question I have asked myself is – after three years, after 36 months of dedicating time to working on this blog pretty much every single week – should I keep at it, or throw in the towel? The hours spent on writing, editing photos, social media promotion and the like… is it all really worth it?
A Marathon, Not a Sprint
When I first started blogging in 2014 (after thinking about starting one for several years), I admittedly had no idea of the windows of opportunity that could be opened by having a dedicate space online.
I had just moved to London and was bored, unemployed and truth be told, going through a bit of a life crisis of sorts (typical “I’ve just turned 25, what am I doing with my life” type-rubbish). Needing a distraction, I thought “Oh, remember that time when you thought running a blog might be fun? Maybe now is a good time to start doing something about that.”
So, Birdgehls was born. And by golly, did I have a damn good time running this site in those early days, writing about whatever I wished and sending it out into the world. I remember my excitement when I received my first “stranger” comment, from when people started signing up to my newsletter and when a post got over 100 views in a day. It was a good time to be blogging.
Yet, how I wish I knew then what I know now… and had the time to implement this knowledge (something that I still struggle with to this day). If you want to blog and do “well” (whatever that means) you have to be in it for the long haul. Unless you’re very lucky (or super tech savvy and a social media maven) it might take you years to reach whatever your blogging goal may be – hitting a certain amount of views, monetising your site, partnering up with tourism boards to create killer content – whatever.
And knowing what your end goal is is often half the struggle. At least for me, the lack of clarity has been a hindrance in more ways than one.
On Blogging While Not Travelling
It’s been a bit of a head spin to go from travelling every few weeks (as was the norm in 2014-2016) to largely staying put in one place for the majority of this year. Not only because slowing down abruptly is a bit of a difficult thing to do – it’s weird when your life goes from being this whirlwind of travelling to new places, meeting new people, trying new foods etc, to a scenario that feels more… familiar. And sometimes as the saying goes – familiarity can breed contempt.
I love living in Melbourne and I’m happy to be home, but I do often wonder – is my life exciting enough, to warrant writing about what I’m doing (as blogging is generally a personal thing)?
I worry about running out of things to blog about, or being dismissed as a travel blog because I’ve chosen to stay put in Australia for now. At the very least, it’s given me an opportunity to write more content about the country I know and love best, but the need for new stimulation is often in the back of my mind.
Blogging and Melbourne
The obvious solution would be to write about this new city I’m living in, my own backyard as I had planned to do at the start of this year. Yet, I have developed a weird mental block when it comes to writing content about Melbourne.
This is largely because I want to come at the city from a fresh angle – I don’t really fancy writing about the “top cafés and bars”, “free things to do” here or the suburb of St Kilda at all, because they are the articles that I see time and time again.
Some places are incredibly easy to write about, some need time to soak in. Melbourne has been like that for me – it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to live for a long time (years, I tell you!) and it’s a city that has become very special to me.
We’ve had a few months of getting to know each other, to see how our relationship would pan out but now that I know I’m in love, I want to scream it from the rooftops. It’s time.
Most popular posts
It’s interesting, seeing what does well on the interwebz. Honestly there are posts you’ll write in like two point five seconds and fling out into the universe, which will go off the hook. Others you’ll essentially pour your bloody life force into and publish to the sound of crickets.
- What NOT to Do When Visiting Australia – I love this post and am as pleased as punch that it consistently pulls in readers. Not to toot my own horn or anything (ha), but I think it does contain valuable information about visiting Australia that doesn’t always get a mention. And probably some useless facts that everyone can do without.
- Longjohns and Longyearbyen: 14 Facts About Svalbard’s Capital – are you as fascinated with the world’s northernmost city as I am? Longyearbyen is a weird place and here’s a few reasons why.
- 13 Reasons Why You Should Never Become an Expat – so the click-baity (click-worthy?) title of this post drew my first hate comments ever (dunno why, when I was writing about a personal experience!). I think it’s good to examine both sides of the coin in every situation, so here are a few reasons why expat life mightn’t be for everyone.
- Local and Hidden Gems of Newcastle, Australia – the city of Newcastle (my adoptive “hometown”) is one of the most underrated places to visit in Australia. Here’s why.
- One Month, Water Only Hair Washing and Why I Don’t Use Lush Shampoo Bars Whilst Travelling – one month’s round up of this year’s biggest eco-experiment – I ended up avoiding shampoo for four months.
My favourite posts/posts I wish people would read
- Which is Harder: Moving Abroad or Coming Home? – this post was also quite popular and resonated with a lot of people it seems, so yay for that! It made its place onto this list as it was one of my favourites to write this year.
- An Eco-Friendly Packing List for Travellers – no joke, this post took me about 20 hours to put together, because I thought it would be “fun” to illustrate it. Well, the final product was pleasing, at least!
- 13 Reasons Why Sydney is a Better City Than Melbourne – I live for tongue in cheek posts and this was a great one to write. Of course, there is no clear winner in the race between Melbourne and Sydney – but I’ll happily throw my support behind my place of origin!
- Death, Text Messages and Life, Interrupted – a good friend and mentor died earlier this year. I wrote this in homage to him and order to deal with my sad feelings.
- 17 Highlights and Oddities From a Tasmanian Road Trip – Tasmania is equal parts awesome and strange. Here are a few reasons why.
A Few Things I’ve Learnt This Year
Have a plan
Whether or not you hope to turn your blog into a business one day, you have to have a plan. This can range from a detailed, five year business plan to keeping a consistent schedule where you post at a certain time, every day of the week (like how I post every Monday at 9am UK time and definitely never fail to meet that deadline, cough, cough).
The things you can conceive of being “boring” and “icky” do matter
I know I’ve largely shied away from the technical side of blogging – I never realised the importance of things like SEO and site-speed until recently.
And it has been to my detriment. I know that my blog would be crunching bigger numbers if I invested the time into these factors earlier on. Blast and damnation. I may be playing catch ups now, but I’m making it count.
Keep your finger on the pulse
Things are always rapidly changing in the online world, faster than our puny primitive human brains can often handle. This time last year, social media was the way to get your blog seen and Instagram was king. With the changing platforms, now the focus is on longevity, through SEO. Things change all the time and you gotta keep yourself abreast of them (if you’re a blogger, there are some wonderful Facebook groups which can help with this, like Digital Nomad Wannabe).
You have to have a brand
Consistency is key. I know I’ve been all over the place with my branding over the years – churning through themes, fonts and colours like they’re going out of fashion. There are some blogs that have mastered this – like Christina of Happy to Wander, who has a consistent aesthetic to her blog as well as the way she writes, with her personality literally bursting off the page and smacking you in the face, or Ellie of Soul Travel who blogs passionately about sustainable tourism – plus I always immediately recognise her pins on Pinterest.
Have a network
This is the year when I’ve started to make pals online, like people I would dearly love to hang with IRL (living on the opposite side of the world to most of them largely gets in the way of this). Not only are they truly awesome people, but they’re often there to lend a hand when things seem confusing or need to be patiently spelled out (a particularly big shout out to Allison of Eternal Arrival who I pester, from time to time. I owe you like, twenty).
Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read! And fact-check!
It can be hard to edit your own work, but it’s necessary. I’ve read over posts three or four times before publishing, only to go back and find obvious grammatical mistakes later. Sigh.
And fact-check! If you don’t get the facts straight, someone will straighten them out for you. You’d think someone who has worked in the media for the last ten years would know this, but there you go.
Thicken up your skin
People are going to disagree with your points and even your own experiences (somehow) – it’s human nature for some weird reason. This has probably been the hardest lesson of the year, to just let things go.
It particularly pisses me off when I see other bloggers being patronising, either to myself or others. But I try to remind myself that that’s their beef and just try my best to not be an insufferable know-it-all when interacting with others in the industry.
Do you and do it well
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt this year – just be yourself. My favourite blogs are those where the personality of the writer shines through – those written with honesty, from the heart.
There’s no point trying to emulate what anyone else is doing. However would you stand out? The travel blogging world is definitely over-saturated, so find your schtick and stick to it! Some bloggers who do this well are Alyse from the Invisible Tourist who writes about the experience of travelling whilst literally refusing to put herself in the picture, or Rhiannon of Wales to Wherever, who has one of the strongest and most distinctive (and amusing) voices in blogging of all the ones I regularly read.
Notes on the Future
Ultimately, as I enter my fourth year of blogging (!), I finally have a pretty clear idea of where I want to take Birdgehls.
First she needs a bit of sprucing up – a new look, a new theme. I also have to dedicate the time to going through all of my old posts to give them a breath of new life (there’s almost three hundred to sort through, Lord help me).
I’m dropping back to publishing one new post a week, apart from the odd extra here and there – while I love writing and long to do so prolifically, realistically it’s hard to find them time around a 40 hour work week and there’s only so much time I can spend sitting at a computer before my hips seize up and head explodes, neither of which would be particularly pleasant.
And, it looks like Australia (and hopefully Melbourne) will continue to be home for the next few months. The year of backyard travel continues into two (along with a bit of overseas travel – I really need to get to New Zealand and Southeast Asia at some point in my life).
To cap off this epic navel-gaze of a rant, thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my posts over the last year(s) and comment on them. Ultimately, my blogging goal has remained the same since 2014 – I wanted to connect with likeminded people and have a few laughs along the way. This is a goal that continues to get met with gusto and thank goodness for that.
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