Making Money from Travel Websites by Mike Henry - HTML preview

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By Mike Henry

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Table of Contents

Travel the world making money from the Internet................................................1
Introduction...........................................................................................................4
My story.................................................................................................................6
Why create a travel based site.............................................................................7
Instant price comparison................................................................................10
Targeted traffic................................................................................................10
Evergreen Content.........................................................................................12
Getting Started....................................................................................................13
Computer .......................................................................................................13
Digital camera.................................................................................................13
Basic setup costs............................................................................................14
Sound recording.............................................................................................14
Basic computing skills....................................................................................15
Writing ability..................................................................................................15
Eye for detail...................................................................................................16
Organizational skills........................................................................................16
Defining your target market............................................................................16
Registering a domain......................................................................................17
Hosting................................................................................................................19
Reliability........................................................................................................19
Support...........................................................................................................19
Location..........................................................................................................20
Price................................................................................................................20
Services..........................................................................................................20
Windows/Unix based......................................................................................20
Structuring your site............................................................................................22
Content Management Systems......................................................................22
Blogs...............................................................................................................23
Writing an ebook.............................................................................................23
Creating Content.................................................................................................25
Hiring Writers..................................................................................................25
User generated content..................................................................................25
Public Domain.................................................................................................27
Interviews........................................................................................................27
Free articles....................................................................................................28
Promoting your website......................................................................................29
Traffic – getting visitors to your website.........................................................29
Getting your site indexed................................................................................30
It’s all about links............................................................................................30
Get to top of the search engines with anchor text..........................................32
Getting initial visitors to your website.............................................................32
Forums............................................................................................................33
Social networking sites...................................................................................33
Blog Carnvials.................................................................................................34
Traffic from Search Engines...........................................................................34
Monetizing your website.....................................................................................37
Pay per click advertising.................................................................................37
Affiliate programs............................................................................................39
Affiliate Networks............................................................................................41
Selling links.....................................................................................................41
Directly selling advertising..............................................................................42
Selling to Sell..................................................................................................42
Interviews............................................................................................................45
Interview with owner of Durant Imboden Europe for Visitors.........................45
Resources and Further Reading.........................................................................50
Webmaster forums.........................................................................................50
Press Releases...............................................................................................50
Professional blogging.....................................................................................50
Photography...................................................................................................50

Thank you for downloading my ebook. I would love to hear any feedback on what you think about it, either positive or negative. Please also send me suggestions on how I might be able to improve this guide and I will happily you give you acknowledgment in the next updated version.

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Introduction

Travel and making money – the two activities may seem mutually exclusive, but I would like to show you how you can make money from tourism and travel using the internet. This guide is not a ‘get rich scheme’. At worst, you could make some money to help fund your travel or provide an additional stream of income, at best it could lead to becoming a full-time business where you can work and travel at your leisure.

More people are turning to the internet to both research travel destinations and make online bookings. You can profit from both. Guidebooks are often written by one person as they travel around a city or country. By the time the text is written up, edited and published, it can be more than a year before it is published. Places can change very quickly in a year.

When people think normally of careers which allow them to travel full-time, most people think of travel writing or travel photography. Travel writers will be the first to admit, that their profession does not pay much. I am going to guide you through how you can make money with travel by using the internet. Not just one time payments like what you would get if you submitted an article to a travel magazine, but ongoing passive income, even when you have stopped traveling.

I am going to show you how I was able to build a city travel and tourist guide, which now generates me enough money to live off full-time. Please understand, however it does take a lot of work and time before you actually start making money.

If you are interested in travel and making money, this ebook is for you.

My story

I started my first websites while I was living in Japan in 2005. My first online ventures was trading on Ebay. I bought Japanese antiques at local markets and online and sold them to people in the U.S. I had a lot of fun doing it was a good way to learn about doing business on the internet.

I loved researching products to trade and seeing one of my auctions go into a bidding war. When you start dealing in antiques and collectibles a whole new world opens up. I couldn't believe what some people would pay for certain things.

What I hated though was doing the packaging and going back and forth to the post office. I was selling around US$2000 a month and had dreams of becoming a power seller. Summer came around and eventually just couldn't be bothered going to the post office anymore.

I spent a great deal of time on the internet and I can't remember exactly how I came across it, but I found out about “affiliate programs”. I couldn't believe it how I could make money by selling other people's products and services. I started a website on Tokyo and had a lot of fun researching and writing for the website.

I researched various affiliate programs and put up links on my websites. I think then I still wasn't so sure I would make money from it. I will never forget when I got my first cheque in the mail. I think that was the point where I could see the potential of affiliate marketing. I had to put in time to research and put up the website, but once it was done I could keep making money from it.

My life literally changed when I discovered the website
www.webmasterworld.com
I had access to the internet at my work, so in my free time I spent reading everything on that site. I had always wanted to run my own business and like many people I had millions of different ideas but wasn't willing to risk my savings on starting a business. The beauty of the internet was that I could start a website for practically nothing and the only risk was my time.

If it is so easy to make money online why isn't everyone doing it, I hear you ask. If you go to any webmaster forum you will find thousands of people who are making money online, but still it is only a small fraction of the population. My friends and family still have a great difficulty understanding exactly how I make money.

I have convinced a couple of people to start their own sites and some of them have even gone to the trouble of registering a domain. I have gone back and checked how their site is going a few months later and it is still a blank page.

I suppose the problem for most people it takes time and effort. It is probably easier for them to show up to a job Monday to Friday and live off their paycheck. When I started out I worked on my websites when I got home from work and on the weekends. I enjoyed it so much it never actually felt like work. If you do something you have a passion for you won't have to work a day in your life. If typing on a computer, taking pictures, marketing your websites and traveling to exotic places sounds boring and hard work, you can stop reading here!

Why create a travel based site

I have several different websites on different topics, but my main focus and source of income is from travel websites.

One of the first sites I created was Tokyo Essentials which I started when I was living in Tokyo. There are many different ways to make money on the internet, travel guides is just one of them. If you are reading this, you are probably also interested in travel, but a lot of the information in this book can easily be applied to help you to create websites on other topics.

If you are already interested in travel, it can make sense to create a travel based site. Of course there are many different niches within travel. Many people will tell you the importance of creating a website in an area that you have knowledge, an interest in or even a passion for. It is easy to spot websites where the operators have a true passion for what they are doing. However, I would also like to cover why I believe creating a travel based website is an excellent sector to make money in.

The online travel industry is one of the fastest growing areas on the internet. Check out these statistics from tia.org (2004 figures which are a little out of date now, but the figures should only increase).

“The Internet and online services are very popular with travelers. Travelers tend to be quite computer savvy, with two thirds (65%) of the 98.3 million travelers who are online-63.8 million-using the Internet to make travel plans in 2004. Among online frequent travelers, 70 percent use the Internet for travel planning. Use of the Internet to actually book travel continues to increase, with 45 percent of all travelers now online having made travel reservations on the Internet during the past year. That translates to 44.6 million online travel bookers, up six percent over 2003. The majority (83%) of online bookers are using the Internet to do at least half of all their travel booking. The number of online bookers doing all of their travel booking online continues to grow, with 40 percent now doing so, versus 29 percent in 2003. Interestingly, 82 percent of online travel bookers say they bought airline tickets for a trip taken in the past year, 67 percent booked overnight lodging accommodations, and 40 percent made rental car reservations.”

Before the internet people mostly used newspapers, guide books, magazines, information from friends and of course travel agents.
Travel articles in printed material are usually a single author’s experience at a particular time. Travel articles in print publications tend to also be part informative and partly entertaining. What you are often left with is a fairly rosy version of a particular place, with just enough detail to whet your appetite.

Travel agents work almost entirely from commission. The places they recommend are often where they receive the highest commissions. Their traveling is often limited to places to resorts which they receive generous discounts to, but you will have to pay the full price.

Guide books are generally a good source of information, but the information contained in them can get out of date very quickly. They are generally researched for anywhere up to a year, written and later published. It is not surprising that conditions of a particular place can change dramatically – prices go up and down, restaurants change chefs and hotels can fall out of favor.

The internet offers travel information to be edited and updated in a real-time basis. Errors in a guidebook have to be fixed in a subsequent edition. The internet also gives the ability for people to offer their own opinions and to seek advice. I will cover this later in the book as to how you can benefit from this with your own website, but it is important to understand that people want to hear from other people who have experienced what they are seeking, rather than a journalist on a free junket.

One of the reasons that Amazon has been successful is with its review system. People are able to give their own opinion as to what they thought of a book. In the past, we could only read a single review for example in a newspaper or magazine. Now we can read potentially hundreds of reviews.

I would recommend reading a book “ The Wisdom of the Crowds”, by James Surowiecki. The main premise of the book is that when large numbers of ordinary people give their opinion regarding a future event, the majority thought is fairly consistent with the final outcome of the event and generally more accurate than those of experts in the field.

There are already a few popular hotel review sites, but it is possible to create your own niche site. User review sites could work with restaurants, cruises, golf courses, diving spots, beach resorts and so on. I will cover later why user generated sites can work successfully and how you can make money from them.

Instant price comparison

The other advantage the internet has with regards to travel is price comparison websites. Trying to find the cheapest airline and seat availability using travel agents can be a time consuming process. With airline booking sites you just have to enter your destination, dates and instantly you can find the cheapest price from a range of airlines. You can do similar price comparisons with hotels.

It is beyond the scope of this book to describe how you would create your own price comparison website. Although it is worth noting, that even if you do not have the technical skills, it is possible to outsource the development.

Of course, you do not necessarily have to create your own price comparison engine to make money. Most of the popular websites have affiliate programs which you can make money for visitors you refer. We will be covering affiliate programs later in the book.

Targeted traffic

People use the internet for a number of reasons, sometimes they are doing research and sometimes they are just looking for entertainment. Popular entertainment sites can receive huge amounts of traffic, but since people are just looking to be entertained they are usually not looking to spend money. These sites often use flash banners or similar advertising. It is fairly commonly known that the click through rates on these banners is extremely low. These kinds of websites usually charge advertisers by the number of times a particular advertisement is viewed. Click through rates are low and sales even lower.

If you can compare this to someone looking for the best credit card rate, they are actively seeking information which if they find the kind of deal they are looking for; they are then prepared to make an application for the card. If it is an affiliate website they will receive a commission from the credit card company for the referral.

Finance and credit websites, are very profitable, but the area is very competitive. With regards to travel, people are generally seeking information on:
- the destination
- how to get to there
- what and where to eat
- where to go out at night
- travel scams and warnings
- how to get around the destination: taxis, public transport, car rental
- regulations, like visas
- costs, money and insurance
- what to do at the destination: tours, sites, activities
- where to stay

By providing information on any of the above, you can basically make money. For example with hotels you can provide a list of places to that are attached to an affiliate program. For example, someone looking for a place to stay in London, finds your site, likes the information that you have provided on the hotel and then decides to book the hotel through your affiliate link, which you then receive a percentage of the hotel booking.
The same can be done with tours, car rentals, flights and insurance. It might seem like that there are already thousands of different travel websites on the internet, but there are still unlimited niches that can be filled, on thousands of different places, in any number of languages.

With a travel website, your traffic is highly targeted. You do not have to necessarily get a huge amount of traffic to make money, like you would for example with a website which is created purely for entertainment.

Evergreen Content

‘Evergreen content’ refers to information that stays current with the passage of time. Travel information is often regarded as evergreen content. Of course details will sometimes need to be updated or refreshed a little, but once a single article is written, it will generally produce income literally forever.

You do not necessarily have to be a travel writer but if you are, having your own website can generate a great deal more income in the long run, than having your articles published in a magazine or newspaper. The hardest part is actually starting, as typically it can take more than a year or two to start producing a decent living.

Getting Started

To start an internet travel business, you do not need a great deal of money, but you will need some tools. With regards to equipment, at the minimum you will need: a computer, internet connection, digital camera and possibly a video camera. For the personal skills, you will need basic computer skills and some writing ability. An eye for detail and the ability to organize information can also help. Being creative will definitely be a big help. If you think you won't be able to come up with any good ideas, it is probably only because you have never tried. I guarantee when you start thinking about possible niches for a website you won't be able to stop.

I did a university course on marketing many years ago. The internet has completely changed how companies do sales and marketing Companies that were slow to get online are probably now bankrupt or have been bought out by web based companies.

Computer

Laptops or notebook computers are more expensive than desktops, but if you can afford one, they can be great to take on the road. Free wireless internet networks are spreading around the globe, so wireless capability is a definite advantage as you can create your website on the fly.

A high end computer is also not necessary, unless you are planning to do edit video. There is also a chance taking a laptop on a trip that it could go missing, or be damaged, so it is probably not worth spending a fortune on.

Digital camera

You also do not have to spend a lot of money on a digital camera, unless of course your site is about travel photography. Websites are not like print magazines which require high resolution pictures. You will probably end up cropping and reducing the size anyway, so unless you are creating a photography website a basic digital camera is fine.

Basic setup costs

Hosting is where you basically rent space on a computer server to run your website. Shared hosting is where you share the same server with many other sites. Unless your site becomes immensely popular shared hosting is usually adequate, at least at the beginning and costs around $5-$8 a month.

A domain name is the address which users type into the address bar to get to your site. A new domain costs around $10 a year to register. Disk space and bandwidth is getting cheaper and cheaper, so these costs will eventually be miniscule if you can have success with your site. If you compare these costs to a regular bricks-and-mortar business, like a travel agency in a shopping mall, you will quickly see how cheap it is to run an internet website.

Some things which would be nice to have:

 

Video camera

With the success of video sharing sites like YouTube, it will be no surprise that video on websites is becoming more popular. Search engines like Google still rely on text to return search results and as yet it is difficult to monetize video, so I think you should concentrate on building a text based site with some pictures before you move into video.

Sound recording

 

Some people may prefer to first record their content and then later transcribe it. A recording device could also be useful for doing interviews.

 

With regards to personal requirements, you will need:

 

Basic computing skills

You don’t need to be a computer genius to create a website. There are a large number of tools currently available to simplify the process. If you have money to invest in your website it can also be possible outsource the technical aspects of your website. It is a good idea however, to try and get a basic understanding of the various technical aspects of a website.

You can probably think of it the same as learning about cars. The more knowledge you have about cars, the easier it will be to at least speak to your mechanic. Not learning the basics will end up costing you more in the long run.

Some of the technologies which you should try to start learning include:
- FTP
- HTML
- RSS
- Digital image manipulation

If you are thinking about doing this long term, it is a good idea to at least learn some HTML and how to upload files to your web server using an FTP program. Software that automatically creates HTML often does not do a good job of creating ‘clean’ code. So it can be extremely helpful to at least understand basic HTML tags. To make something bold for example, all you need to do is to place the following tags around a word.

For example, this word is <b>bold</b>.

 

Writing ability

You do not need to be a professional writer to create a travel website. The ability to write clear and concise text is more important. People reading from a computer screen also tend to skim, so lists and bullet points work well. I will also show you later how you can get other people to help write for your website.

Eye for detail

It helps to have an eye for detail when creating a travel website. When providing directions or including important details like a telephone number, your site will quickly loose credibility if you make mistakes with these important details. Fortunately, people are quick to let you know your information is incorrect and unlike a travel guide book, the information can be updated immediately.

Organizational skills

One of the most important factors in creating a successful website is usability. When you are researching your site, you will have articles, maps, hotel reviews and photographs all of which need to be organized in a logical and consistent manner. No matter how great your information is, if people can’t find it on your site, it will be practically worthless. Website design is also an important factor, but at the heart of this is how you organize the information.

Visit your favorite websites and see how they organize their information. People who visit your site and are unable to find what they are looking for quickly will not hesitate to move on to another website.

Defining your target market

Like any business you need to research and define your target market. It will help a great deal if you have an interest and some knowledge in the area of the site you are creating.
The internet is huge, so it is important to try and focus on a particular niche. People creating a website for the first time either try to cover too much or cover an area that is not popular. Historical ruins in Thailand, is an example of a niche that is potentially too narrow and unprofitable.

Also you should consider the expected wealth of your target market. If you focus only on backpacking in Asia, you may not make as much money as say a site focusing on luxury resorts. Of course your priority should be to do what you are most interested in, but it should be something to keep in mind.

Remember that once you have created one website, you can then create another one in a different niche to your original site.

Some examples of niches include the following:
- an activity: cruises, diving, skiing, golf
- a city or a country: New York, Paris, Kenya
- for a particular age group: singles, traveling with kids, seniors, honeymooners
- travel related businesses: flights, travel insurance, hotels, camping grounds

Another consideration is “search volume”. A higher number of searches on a set of keywords, can possibly result in more traffic. Of course, higher volume often results in higher competition. The key is to find topics that large numbers of people are searching for, that has few quality websites on the topic.

Wordtracker is a useful tool for doing keyword research (free and paid versions available.

 

Registering a domain

Once you have decided on your niche, you should start thinking about your domain name. A .com is generally best, followed by .net and .org. If your target visitors are from a particular country, you could consider registering a domain for that country, like .co.uk for people from the UK. Since the internet is global it is probably better to target a global audience. For a travel guide, only information like insurance and visas need to be aimed at people from a particular country.

It helps to have at least one keyword of your niche in the domain. One of your goals with a domain name is that it should be memorable and fairly easy to type in. Try to imagine having to tell people your domain name over the telephone. You will probably also create email addresses using the domain, so again it is important to be able to easily tell people.

Avoid having hyphens in the domain if you can, or at least not to use more than one. If you are serious about your site, it is a good idea to register all possible combinations.

Register your domain at a large registrar like Moniker Godaddy.com or Namecheap.com. Registration should cost around $8-$10 a year. Again, if you are serious about the business and have the money, register the domain for ten years. Search engines do place weight on this to distinguish quality sites. You can also do this at a later time, once your site is developed.

Be sure to set the renewal to automatic and to keep your payment details up to date. You don’t want to let your domain name expire.

Another point to make with domains is that if you are targeting a global audience you should be careful with differences in spelling between American and British English. For example: traveler and traveller. If possible, create a domain that is spelt the same in both American and British English.

Hosting

Once you have your domain registered, you will need a place to host your site. This is where you upload your files, so they can be viewed on the internet. There are thousands of companies to choose from, all offering varied but pretty similar services.

For the past two years, I have been using Dreamhost. They do occasionally have problems, but the service is fantastic for the price. Even more expensive hosts will run into problems at some stage. Dreamhost's interface is fairly simple to navigate and you can install things like Joomla and Wordpress with just one click. The thing which I like most however, is that you can host an unlimited number of sites with them – perfect for building your online empire!

Many domain registration companies offer hosting, but you do not necessarily have to host your site with the same company. Separating the two is in fact a good idea, as there will probably be a time where you will need to change hosts for whatever reason.

Some important factors in selecting a hosting company include the following:

 

Reliability

All hosting companies will promise anything from 95 to 100 per cent uptime. The reality is that, all companies will have some kind of problem at some stage. The main thing with regards to reliability is whether the company provides adequate notification on the problems they are having.

Support

This is the most critical factor in choosing a hosting company. You need to look at the average response time for phone and email support. From time to time, you will run into problems or have questions, no matter what your experience level is. You need to also look at the hours of support the company offers, especially if your hosting company is in a different time zone.

Location

Search engines can detect where the site is located or hosted in. Search engines generally rank local sites higher, so it is important to host your site in your target market.

Price
Price is important, but shouldn’t be the main factor in selecting a hosting company. The old adage that you ‘get what you pay for’ also applies to hosting. There are companies however that charge less than $10 a month.

Services

 

With regards to service, you need to compare what the hosting company offers. Some things to consider include:

- Bandwidth allowance – how much traffic they allow to your site
- File storage allowance – how much data you can save on your site
- Windows/Unix based
- Software install scripts. Some companies have one click installs which you

can install popular software with just one click.
- Site management utilities
- File backup and restore services. Some companies will charge extra to

restore files.

 

Windows/Unix based

Unix based hosting is generally cheaper than Windows. For a basic site, with just HTML files, it doesn’t matter too much, but eventually you may decide to install a script like a forum or blog on your site. Most of the popular free tools available use MYSQL for the database and programmed using PHP run on UNIX based hosting.

It doesn’t matter too much if you don’t understand this completely at the moment, but I recommend choosing UNIX based hosting. When I created my first website, I choose Windows based hosting, only later did I realize that it was more expensive to run, and even more of a pain to transfer the site.

Structuring your site

Most people starting out on the Internet start creating their site with a web page builder, like Microsoft’s Frontpage or Dreamweaver. This software is helpful for creating your site, without having any knowledge of HTML. A free tool which you can download is NVU. These sites generate the HTML for you and are useful for getting your site set up quickly.

HTML however is not too difficult to learn, even for the most technically challenged. Just knowing a few of the popular tags, like how to insert a link into a web page can be extremely helpful.

Setting up a HTML based site is the fastest way to get online. The main drawback to this however is that you end up with hundreds of individual web pages and if you need to make a change on all our pages it can be incredibly time consuming. There are some tricks however, like using “include” files for menus and footers. This is where you have all of your menu links in a single file. So if you need to add menu options to your website, you only have to edit a single file.

Content Management Systems

Another option is to use a Content Management System or CMS. This is where all of your text and images are saved in a database. When someone clicks on a link on your site the data is then retrieved from the database and automatically displayed on your site. Most large websites use some kind of CMS. It takes more work to get your site up and running initially, but you will save a lot of time in the long run. Changes to the design of your site can be done at the click of a button and they help to give your site a consistent feel. It is also easier for nontechnical people to make updates to the content.

A couple of popular and free CMS’s include Joomla and Drupal. Personally, I like using Joomla on my websites. There is a bit of learning curve initially, but is no more difficult than learning any particular software package.

One advantage of using Joomla is that there are hundreds of different free and commercial add on components that you can use to help add functionality to your site. Some include a photo gallery, user generated reviews and even a component where you can take bookings for hotels.

Blogs

The blog style format is becoming popular for websites. Many people think of blogs as personal journals, but they can also just be a way to organize your information. The popular open source blogging software, Word Press, is becoming more like a CMS in itself. It is also possible to have your whole site as a blog or just a separate folder on your site.

Blogs are an easy way to update new information to your site, which is one reason why they perform very well in search engines.

 

Blogmastermind is an excellent (paid) course you can take on becoming a “professinal blogger”.

 

Writing an ebook

Another option is package all of your content and sell it as an ebook. You will then to spend more time and money on marketing it and it would be difficult to get people to link to your website. A better option might be to have most of the content on your website freely available and to create an ebook on a complementary subject. Travelfish successfully provide excellent free content combined with inexpensive guides to destinations in South East Asia. See the interview section at the end for an interview with the owner.
A good place to start when researching the ebook market is Clickbank. You can browse through the different information products available. You can also see which products are selling best. You can also sign up to become an affiliate and sell other people’s products on your site.

Creating Content

Having useful and interesting content is the main way you will get visitors to your site. You do not necessarily have to be a fantastic writer, what matters more is to be able to write clear and concise text. People reading on a computer tend to skim the text on a screen. Pages shouldn’t be much longer than around 300-400 words. Including pictures with your text will help to make your pages visually appealing.

Hiring Writers

Some people might prefer to pay people to write articles for their site. There are a couple of freelance websites, like rent-a-coder that you can find people willing to write articles. Rates are fairly in line with quality. It is also important to make sure that the articles haven’t just been lifted from another source.

Also look to your friends and family. You can sometimes find people who have free time and looking to earn some extra cash.

 

User generated content

One of the great advantages of the internet is that you do not necessarily have to create the content yourself. There is only a limited amount of content that a single person can create. By creating the content yourself, your web site will typically grow in a linear fashion, by creating a way that people visiting your site help to generate the content your site has the potential to grow exponentially.

Why is this important? On the internet size is important. If you have just a single web page, you only have a limited chance of anyone finding it by using a search engine. By increasing the pages of your site with useful information, you will increase the chances of people being able to find your website. By creating a way people can submit information to your site, you will give people another reason to keep coming back to your site.

People love to share their opinions. The internet gives people a place to be uncertified experts, often anonymously on a topic they have an interest in. People often don’t even realize, or even care that they are helping to build your website.

There are a few forms people can generate content for your site. Some possible ideas include:

- forums
- blogs
- photo galleries
- product/service reviews. For example, hotel reviews.
- classifieds

The hardest thing with creating a new user generated content site is getting people to start contributing. People won’t usually contribute unless they see other people contributing. The initial phase can a bit a bit of a catch-22 situation. You may need to ask for the help of friends to make some initial posts. Although once the site becomes popular, growth tends to have a snowball effect.

Just putting up a forum however is unlikely to be successful. Your site needs to be getting some traffic first. People want to feel like the content they are spending the time creating will be around for a while. You may need to offer some kind of incentive to get people to register and start contributing. This could include a competition of some sort.

User generated content sites do take some time to manage. Spam is one of the biggest problems. Fortunately there are some good tools available to control spam. You also need to consider the degree to which you will allow people to promote their own site. At the same time, you don’t want to place too many restrictions on what people can and can’t do. Once your site becomes really popular, it is sometimes possible to find people who will moderate the content on your site. People who really like your site are often willing to do it for free.

Public Domain

For books where copyright has expired, it is possible to use this content on your website. There is a good chance that the text is completely out of date, but some webmasters have been able to use public domain material successfully. Copyright laws vary from country to country, so it would be wise to consult professional legal advice, should you want to go down this path.

You can find out what material is copyright or not by researching: United States Copyright Office. You can then find second hand books on Alibris and Abebooks. You need to check the site often as the inventory changes all of the time. You will never know when a gem will appear and vanish. Once you have some material, it is just a matter of scanning it and putting the material on your website.

Interviews

Interviews are a fantastic way to create content for your website, particularly if you are not an expert in the field you would like to produce information on. Experts in a field are usually more than happy to talk about their own area of knowledge and it may even only take 30 minutes or an hour of their time. You also do not necessarily even have to be in the same physical location as the interviewee as it can be fairly easy to do over the telephone, or by using an internet service like Skype.

You can record the interview and upload it to your website for people to download. You can also transcribe the interview, which is an easy way to create content for your website.

Some ideas for possible subjects to interview could include:
- local tourism representative of a town or city
- tour guide
- dive master
- fellow travelers

Free articles

In an effort to build links, people write articles and submit them to free article directories, which you can then use on your site for free, as long as you keep the author’s details and links in tact. They can be used to provide additional content to your site, but since other people will also be using the articles on their site, search engines do not give any weighting to the duplicate content. Only original content gets indexed. In general using these articles on your site should be avoided.

Although submitting articles which you have written to these directories is one way to build links to your site. The importance of this will be explained in subsequent chapters.

Some popular free article sites include: EzineArticles.com
GoArticles.com
ArticleCity.com

Promoting your website

Traffic – getting visitors to your website

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your website is and how great all of the articles and pretty the pictures are on your website, without any visitors to it will make it very difficult to monetize your website, or even feel motivated to keep working on it. Even if people find a way to reach your site, you need to give them a reason to stay on the site and keep them coming back. Traffic is truly the key, and before you can even think of trying to make money from your website, you need to create a strategy for building traffic.

The hardest thing for new web sites is to get traffic, the good news however; if you keep growing your website traffic tends to expand exponentially. Especially in the beginning you need to work hard and be patient. Many people give up fairly quickly, which in a way works in the favor of people who are patient and prepared to put in the hard work.

You need to consider how people will find your website:

- Direct navigation. By typing the domain name or URL of your website or from a bookmark they have saved on their computer
- By following a link from another website or an email
- By doing a keyword search in a search engine like Google or Yahoo.

It is important to devote time to each of the above methods for getting people to your site. Focusing solely on trying to get traffic from search engines for example, by focusing only on highly searched keywords, could lead to good short term profits, but you may find yourself always having to play the SEO game, possibly having a detrimental effect on the quality of your website.

Getting your site indexed

One of the most obvious ways to get traffic to your site, is from them coming from a search engine like Google or Yahoo. You first need to make sure that your site gets indexed by the search engines. Most search engines have a place where you can request your site to be indexed. For Google this can be done here.

If you get a site that is already indexed to link to your site, this can also help. Search engines have crawlers or spiders that scour the internet looking for new content to index. They do this by following links on a site, and if they find something new they will add it to their index.

It’s all about links

The first search engines calculated what results to show, based on the number of keywords that appeared on a particular site. So if someone was searching for “hotels in Cancun”, the top results were sites which had the highest number of those keywords. Webmasters caught onto this and filled their sites with these keywords, and even included the phrases as the same color as the background text, so they were invisible to people viewing the site, but not to the search engines. This is now called “keyword spamming” and carrying out similar practices will likely see your site to be banned from search engines.

The Google founders saw that the available search engines at the time did not work well. They came up with an algorithm by basing a site’s value on the number of incoming links the site had. They based it on how citations worked in the academic world. If an academic paper had more citations, it was generally deemed to have more value.

Google have also changed their algorithm so that the value of an incoming link is different. They place much greater value on a link from a larger, authority site than a small site with no visitors. The algorithm’s formula is known as “PageRank” and Google even assigns a value from 0 to 10 to all websites on the internet.

You can see your site’s PageRank by installing the Google toolbar. It is displayed as a little green bar in your web browser. All new sites start at zero. Google says that it is updating PageRank all of the time, but you only see changes made every three months or so. A higher PageRank, generally means a higher number of quality links to the site. Webmasters wait in anticipation at every update to see if their site has increased its PageRank.

It is important not to try and stress about what your site’s PageRank is. Over time, if you build an informative, content rich and useful site, your PageRank will increase. The only time your PageRank really matters is when you try to sell advertising, especially links on your website. Several companies which you can use to make money on your site use PageRank as one of the factors to judge the value of your site.

Getting links to your site takes time and a far bit of work. Initially you will be doing everything you can to get new links. Begging for a link from another webmaster is one way. Most webmasters get dozens of emails a day with link requests, so you have to get a bit more creative than this.

Over time, if people find your site or a particular article interesting, they will link to it, especially if they find that it will be interesting for their readers. It’s all about creating value. You have to keep asking yourself, is what I am doing creating value for people. If you can write a few great articles on particular topic, people will naturally link to them. These are the kind of links which search engines, give greater weight to than just having your site appear on a generic links page.

Creating lists and “how to” articles tend to get linked more than say a descriptive travel writing piece. Some examples include, “how to get to Tokyo, Narita airport” or “top 10 places to visit in New York”.
For people who have money to spend you can also purchase links from companies like Text-Link-Ads.

Get to top of the search engines with anchor text

 

Anchor text is the name given to how a link is labeled, for example if someone links to my website, in the following way:

 

All about <a href=”http://www.tokyoessentials.com/shopping.html”>shopping in Tokyo</a>

This tells the search engines that the page is about shopping in Tokyo. Of course, search engines can see the page is about shopping in Tokyo, but by having someone else, kind of vouching for your site, you are building a level of trust with the search engines. In turn, search engines may give you a higher ranking for those keywords. The bigger and more authoritive the site which links to you, the greater weighting search engines will give to the link.

Getting initial visitors to your website

Again, it doesn’t matter how great your information is, if people do not know about your site, no-one will be linking to it. If you have the money to spend, there are a number of ways to promote your website. Where and how to spend your advertising budget in the most effective manner is going to take some experimentation.

Some ideas to consider include:
- buying links
- pay per click advertising (Google Adwords)
- buying a review through a service such as reviewme
- press releases
- offline advertising – bumper stickers, t-shirts, notice boards

Warning: Buying links to increase your rankings in the search engines has come under closer scrutiny by Google and there is a chance that your site can be de-indexed from Google.

If you don’t have the money to spend, it is possible still to spend time promoting your site, in a sense for free. The following are some ideas to promote your site without spending money.

Forums

Most forums allow you to include a link to your site in your signature. By making informative and relevant posts, people may click through to your site. Straight out self promotion or spamming could see your posts deleted or you could get yourself banned from the forum.

Some popular travel forums include:

- Lonely Planet
- Travelfish for south east Asia
- www.thetravelforum.com
-

Social networking sites

The internet has seen a dramatic rise in the popularity of social networking sites in the last couple of years. Social networks are online virtual groups where people come together to connect with people who share similar interests. If you can build credibility within the group by providing useful information, you will have a chance to promote your website.
Some social networking sites which you should consider joining and becoming an active member include:

- del.icio.us
- myspace
- StumbledUpon
- Facebook
- LinkedIn

Blog Carnvials

Blog carnivals are mainly for blogs, but could still be used even if your website is not a blog. People submit their articles to be included in a “carnival” which is held usually around once a week. A single blogger hosts the carnival and they link to the articles which have been submitted and fit with the theme of the carnival. On BlogCarnival.com they have several categories for travel related blogs. Blog carnivals are an easy way to find new readers and get links to your site.

Traffic from Search Engines

For many people, their search for information, a product or service starts by going to a search engine, like Google and typing in what they are looking for. Not surprisingly it is often the most sought after traffic by webmasters. If people are searching for ‘bangkok hotels’ for example, they are looking for a place to stay and will probably make a booking if they find a hotel which suits them.

Obviously being in at least the top five positions, the higher chance you are going to have people clicking through to your site. It sounds simple, but the problem is that for popular search terms, you could be competing with several hundred million websites. Some companies will spend a great deal of money on getting these top positions. They do this in a number of ways, including buying links and optimizing their site.

This process of optimizing your site for search engines is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO and has become a whole industry in itself. It is possible to get a company to optimize your website, but it can be expensive and the longterm results questionable.

Many people would like you to believe that SEO is difficult, but fortunately there are few basic things which you can follow which can great improve the search engine effectiveness of your site. If you would like to read more on SEO, I can strongly recommend Aaron Wall’s excellent SEO book.

Keywords in the URL: This is where you create a webpage with relevant keywords in the filename. For example: Melbourne-shopping-guide.html. If you are using a CMS, it might be a little more difficult to do this, but there are usually some add-ons which can help create keyword URLs.

Title Tags: Proper, relevant title tags are very important. This is the information that appears in the top bar of your browser. Title tags can be created using the following HTML:

<title>Put the relevant page title here </title>

 

Heading tags: Use heading tags for your main and sub headings.

 

<h1>Put your main heading of the page here</h1>. <h2> is used for sub headings and so on with <h3>, <h4>.

Pictures and graphics: Search engines cannot “see” what your picture is about, so it is important to give your pictures relevant filenames and make sure you use the alt tags in the html. It can also help by placing the files in a folder named “images”.
<img src=”images/tokyo-beer-gardens.jpg” alt=”Tokyo Beer Gardens” width=”400” height=”300”>

Internal links: Search engines have bots or spiders which scour the internet finding new pages to index. They do this by following the links on websites. You can help them by linking to other relevant web pages on your website. It is important not to get too carried away with this, but having a few links on a page that link to relevant content within your site, should be enough. Linking to other relevant external websites, using appropriate anchor text can also help your website.

Sitemaps: It is important for your site to include all of the pages of your website in a site map. Google even has tools which you can upload your sitemap to, which makes it even easier for Google to index every page of your site.

If you have questions on SEO, take a look at WebmasterWorld and the forums at DigitalPoint. The two websites are actually great for any questions you might have on creating and monetizing websites. SEOBook is probably one of the best resources for people wanting to learn more about SEO.

Monetizing your website

Once you have gotten some content up on your site, the next step is to start thinking about how you are going to make money with it. Monetizing a website is a skill in itself. It does take a while to find ways to make money, just because one site is able to make money with a particular program, doesn’t mean you will have the same success. The important thing is that you need to be patient and to test everything you can, especially if it is your first website.

One of the most important factors is traffic. No traffic equals, no income. If you have no-one visiting your store, you won’t be able to make any sales. You need to both get people into your store and importantly sell them products or services that they are interested in buying. There is no point stocking your store with sporting goods, if your customers are looking for kitchenware.

It may seem obvious, but many sites try to sell everything and anything they can on their website. You need to think more like a specialty store, than a department store. Department stores sell almost every item imaginable, but they also rely on huge advertising and marketing campaigns to get people to their store. They also get of people just browsing.

Specialty stores, supply items in a a particular niche. Customers visit the store because they are looking for that particular item, and have a fairly high chance of buying that item if that was what they were looking for. Stores also do well by selling similar items to what people are looking for. A shoe store might also sell socks for example. This works the same way with websites. If you have information on hotels, you could also sell tours in the same locations.

Pay per click advertising

Pay per click advertising is where you get paid a small amount of money everytime someone clicks on an advertisement on your website. Google is currently dominating this market with its Adsense program. Yahoo also runs a similar program, but is currently only available to US publishers.

Once you have your site up and running, you can apply to join the program by clicking here. It is important to thoroughly read the Terms of Service of the program. Google are very harsh to webmasters who breach the terms of service and are typically banned for life from the program. Google periodically updates the rules, so it is important to pay attention to any emails you may receive from them.

Some of the golden rules include:

- don't click on your own ads
don't get other people to click on your ads don't modify the code

Once you have signed up and received approval, you can log into your account to get the code which you then need to place on your website. Google uses the surrounding text to place relevant ads on your site. For example, if you have an article on hotels in a particular city you will see ads for hotels and hotel networks in that city or country.

There are a variety of ad blocks to suit your site and you can also modify the colors to blend in with your site. Generally people get best results by:

creating ads that have the same color combination as their website placing ads in the body of the text
placing ads towards the top of the page
removing the borders from the ads

Adsense is a great income source for website publishers. It is one of the easiest ways of making money online, as Google provides you with access to thousands of potential advertisers. One of the problems however, is that people are clicking away from your website and sometimes you may only make a few cents from that visitor. One your site becomes more developed you should be able to make more money from affiliate programs and selling ads directly on your website.

Affiliate programs

 

If you don’t intend on selling any of your own products, you will probably be looking to sell other company’s services or products via an affiliate program.

An affiliate program is basically something which you join. After being accepted, you place a piece of code on your website for a product and if a visitor purchases that product through your website, you receive a commission for that sale.

Affiliate programs are a win-win-win situation for everyone involved: the company selling the item, the visitor because they find what they want and for you because you make money. More and more companies are starting to offer affiliate programs, and if they don’t they are losing out on a potentially large number of sales.

If you are a company, imagine having hundreds or thousands of people promoting your products, which you don’t have to spend a dime on advertising and you only pay someone if they make a sale. In fact some companies have been so successful with their affiliate programs, that they have been able to greatly reduce their marketing budget.

By displaying products that directly relate to your content, you are providing extra value for your visitors. You can make it appear that your website is offering a particular product, when in fact it is being supplied by another company. Depending on the affiliate program, it is often possible to blend your site with the affiliate site so the transaction flows seamlessly and the visitor never has to leave your site. As I have said a few times, if you are providing an item which your visitor is interested in, most people won’t even care.

Sometimes I have difficulty explaining to people how I make money on the internet. It is sometimes difficult for people to comprehend. One example I often use is hotels. I create content related to a particular travel destination. On that same page I have listings of hotels in that area. Perhaps people are looking for information on that area, or they want to read about what that particular destination is like, either way they are intending to visit that particular area, so when they see information on hotels they click through and if they are interested in that hotel they make a booking.

Hotel affiliate programs typically pay around 5 per cent. In expensive cities, where rooms can be $200-$300 a night and they book a room for two weeks, you have made a nice chunk of money. Think what the hotel has to provide to get their income, versus what you have had to provide. Real-estate in big cites is very expensive and hotel running costs do not come cheap either. Now, think of the costs that you have spent getting your website up and you will quickly see economic advantages of running an internet business.

One of the hardest things about using affiliate programs is finding a program that converts well on your site, has good reporting and pays your money in a timely manner. You also need to consider what payment methods the company uses to pay you. Some of the payment formats include: Paypal, cheque, direct debit etc.

Most companies with e-commerce websites will run an affiliate program. Go to the site directly and usually somewhere down the bottom of the page they have a link labeled: Affiliate, Business Partners or Webmasters. Never pay any upfront fees to join a program, as it is likely to be a scam.
One way of finding suitable affiliates is by looking at similar websites to your own and finding what affiliate programs they are using. Some affiliate programs even offer you a percentage of the sales of each webmaster you refer. Even though you may not have your own affiliate program on your website, it can be a good idea to create a page labelled “Affiliates” or “Webmasters” and include links to affiliates which pay for referrals.

Some affiliate programs I use include: Viator.com – online tour bookings HotelsCentral.com – hotels
WorldNomads.com
– travel insurance Book hostels – hostels and budget hotels

Affiliate Networks

Rather than creating their own affiliate program some companies prefer to join an affiliate network and allow them to run their program. Affiliate networks have thousands of different products and services which you can sell on your website. Commissions are sometimes lower as the affiliate network also makes a commission on every sale. Most affiliate networks have pretty good reporting tools where you can see which products and services are selling best.

Some of the popular affiliate networks include:

Commission Junction Clixgalore
Shareasale
Linkshare

Selling links

I have already discussed the importance of getting links to your website, companies are prepared to pay to get links to their sites. Websites buy links to get traffic, but often more importantly to increase their ranking in the search engines.

You can of course, try to sell links yourself, but you will probably have better chance of making money by joining a link sales company. Text-Link-Ads and Linkworth are two companies that act as marketplace for websites to buy and sell links.

Update: Google has started to penalize people from buying and selling links and doing paid reviews. You have to weigh the risk of getting penalized with making money from selling links. You shouldn't get banned from Google, but you could lose PageRank and your site might appear lower in the search engines.

Directly selling advertising

Perhaps one of the most profitable methods of monetizing a website is to deal with companies directly to sell advertising on your site. To convince a company to advertise on your site you will need to have a decent amount of traffic.

Setting fees can be difficult for people just starting out. You don't want to set your prices too high otherwise it will only discourage the company from doing business with you, or too low where you might make less money than from alternative sources. Once you have a decent amount of traffic and site becomes more well known, you will likely inquiries from companies wanting to advertise on your site. Make sure you put up a page that has some information on it as to how companies can advertise on your site.

Selling to Sell

People just starting out with affiliate marketing, put up some web pages. Then join an affiliate program and place some banners on their site and then sit back and wait for the checks to start coming in. If your site has a large volume of traffic, you might get a few sales. Banner advertisements typically have the lowest conversion rates. What performs best is when you can work an advertisement or an affiliate link into the main body of your website.

Also an honest review of a product or service is a good way to increase your conversion rates. If you can build credibility with your audience, people will trust your opinions, which is why it is important to be honest with your reviews.

Interviews

The following section includes some interviews with leading travel website publishers. Please contact me, if you run an internet travel business and would like to be included in this section.

Interview with owner of Durant Imboden Europe for Visitors

When did start your website?
Europeforvisitors.com was launched in October, 2001 with about 1,825 pages of
editorial content that my wife and I had written (and held the copyright for) as "guides" at About.com from spring, 1997 through September of 2001. The site actually traces its roots back to a site called "The Baby Boomer's Venice" that I created while writing a Micosoft FrontPage software review for BOARDWATCH Magazine back in 1996.

Why did you start your own travel website?

 

It's the ideal author-publisher's medium: Low production and distribution costs, instant gratification, and easy updating.

 

What do you think are the main factors for creating a good travel website?

 

Knowledge, patience, and publishing skills (not just writing skills). Can you please share some ideas as to how you get traffic to your website?

Don't worry too much about revenue at first: Concentrate on creating a great editorial product that other sites will link to, and traffic should come eventually. What advice would you give to people just starting out?

Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a successful Web site (whether it's about Rome, Italy or Rome, New York).
The following is an interview with Stuart McDonald, co-founder of Travelfish.org a travel portal to Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. He has lived in SE Asia for the last decade and is currently based in Bali, Indonesia wher he lives with his wife, Samantha and daughter Lyla.

When did start your website?

 

Travelfish was founded in 2003. Once we gathered sufficient content, we "launched" it in July 2004.

 

Why did you start your own travel website?

I'd been involved in travel writing long before Travelfish went online -- I'd authored guidebooks to Vietnam (1994) and Thailand (1995) and had returned to Asia after the Thailand book to do a Laos book. That title never got off the ground but I decided to stay in Bangkok and spent the next few years working through a range of jobs. My work became increasingly web-orientated and during a break on Ko Maak, my partner and I drew up the outline for what eventually became Travelfish.

There were two "whys" to it. Firstly, I wanted to work for myself. The idea of doing something I love -- travel, while using something I'd become pretty apt at
-- programming websites -- seemed like a great idea. Secondly, we thought the legacy guidebooks were doing a poor job adapting to the web, and there was a niche there for us to step into.

What do you think are the main factors for creating a good travel website?

Prose, people, passion and planning. Good, useful, and unique content is vital. Travelfish provides a unique service -there's no other site online (to my knowledge) that has paid researchers out gathering original content to the level of detail we are -- we list over 3,500 places to stay in the region -- the majority of which you won't read about on any other website. We're distinct from the sea of user-generated sites, and that differentiation has helped to make a unique, very useful website.

Secondly, having the right people. Our researchers are travellers first, writers second. With a seven-month old, I do a lot less travel now than I used to, but we've got a team of people who are on the road delivering new content for the site. It's vital that these people travel with a similar outlook and deliver quality work.

Thirdly, having a passion for the topic really helps. It comes across in the content and your readers will understand that your "site knows what it is talking about". The web landscape is so cluttered with affiliate templates and MFA sites which bring nothing new whatsoever to the table. If you build a site that you have an active interest in, I believe you'll have a better chance of standing out from the crowd.

Fourth, having a plan for what you want to do, how and when. We fell down in this regard and wallowed a bit between 2005 and 2006. We were making it up as we went and that cost us. We've now got a far more comprehensive plan of where we want to be in 12, 24 and 48 months time and that gives us specific goals to aim for.

Can you please share some ideas as to how you get traffic to your website?

If you've got good content, the people will come. Perhaps not as quickly as you hope, but they will come.
Unless you have something to sell, I think using a tool like Adwords to drive traffic is a mistake and a waste of money. I spent upwards of US$10,000 on Adwords driving traffic to the site, then I discovered SEOBook and for under $100 learnt enough to drive far more traffic to the site via the SERPS than I ever got through adwords -- and it's free!

The search engines matter, but readers matter more. Write and design your site for people -- not search engines.

I think link exchanges are not as valuable as they once were -- again it comes back to the content -- if it's good people will link to you without you needing to ask.

We place some content with StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us and Netscape -StumbleUpon is by far the best performer and I'd encourage people to use it to attract targetted readers.

Footer postings on targetted messageboards can be useful for driving good traffic to your site, but never spam, and always abide by forum rules.

 

Start a blog to accompany the site -- this is very fresh content, it's indexed well by Google and gives another route into the main site.

 

What advice would you give to people just starting out?

 

Think about what you're considering building and ask yourself "Am I really bringing anything new to the table?".

If you're considering licensing content from a large publisher like Frommers, LP or Rough Guides, then i'd say reappraise the idea.
Do your research thoroughly. Look at who you perceive to be the competition and decide exactly how you plan not only to be different, but also to be better.

Bounce your ideas off others -- see if they think your idea really is original and/or better.

Look for a niche where the content can be evergreen. Having a website with 3,500 guesthouses that need to be updated regularly is an expensive undertaking -- believe me!

Don't try and do everything yourself, rather hook up with like minded souls and brainstorm -- more heads equals more ideas and often better results. What do you do best? Are you a writer/programmer/designer? Tap your skills and pull in other skilled individuals to look after the rest -- if your idea is a good one, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding talent.

Spend time researching online for ideas, tactics and methods. I learnt a lot early on from Problogger for broad strokes (though I read it rarely now as it's a different beast), Webmasterworld for technical advice, SEOBook for, well SEO.

Limit how long you spend online "researching" it san become a blackhole of time wasting and procrastination. Use an RSS reader (eg Bloglines) to protect yourself from getting sucked into a blog vortex.

Lastly I would say BE REALISTIC -- Don't go into it with unreal expectations. Go easy on the adverts, heavy on the original content, keep your expenses under control and, if after 12 months you're still itching to post more, then you're probably on the road to a winning site.

Resources and Further Reading

Webmaster forums

http://www.webmasterworld.com Digital Point
http://www.workingnomad.com/

Hosting

 

Dreamhost

 

Affiliate programs

 

http://www.hostels.com Text-Link-Ads

 

Press Releases

 

http://www.prweb.com/

 

Professional blogging

 

Blog Mastermind
http://www.problogger.net

Photography
Profitable Photography
http://www.digital-photography-school.com/

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