Six Big Changes in Blogging on our Sixth Anniversary
Our six year blogging anniversary came and went quietly this year (Nov 21). It wasn’t because we don’t want to celebrate — we certainly do and did. After all it’s a time to review our just completed year, celebrate our wins, and look forward with you, Dear Reader, to what may lie ahead.
BUT! This year, for our 6th anniversary post, instead of talking about what we’ve learned in just the last year, I thought I would chat a little bit about the 6 big changes we’ve noticed since we started in 2010. These shifts in the world of blogging will unavoidably impact how we blog in order to remain relevant. Adapt or die, right?
Now, just in case you’re thinking that a different anniversary post is a sign that we don’t have much from the year to celebrate, allow me to indulge for a paragraph or two and say that it was an exceptional year! We started off with a double bang with nominations in TWO categories for BlogPaws and won one!
We implemented a few changes too. We put a lot of energy into finding new ways to write about with-pet-travel that isn’t quite so location specific — not so guide-bookish — and found great success there. We also started the new (and popular) series of interviews with wonderful like-minded people who travel all over the globe with their pets. It was nice to show that we aren’t the only ones on this journey of journeys, and plan to continue that series this year. We also climbed on the Instagram bandwagon and met some wonderful new fans that way.
And of course there was the huge and happy announcement: the bipeds are engaged! And the EPIC proposal that made its way around the internet and was featured in In Style, the Huffington Post, Travel and Leisure, and many other magazines and sites. Yes, it’s been a fun year!
It’s also been a year of evolution. It should come as no surprise really since one thing you can count on in the world of blogging is that it will change. Continuously. Perpetually. And all that change … well … I will not lie to you, Dear Reader, there have been times when we’ve felt a bit of blogger’s fatigue this year. It’s the fatigue of trying to follow the changes that keep coming at us at neck-breaking speed, forcing us to perpetually adapt. It’s exciting, and fun, and challenging, and whew … it IS exhausting.
1) The pressure to monetize the blog and why we haven’t … yet.
This will ruffle some feathers …. but here goes. For many bloggers, success = $. But blogging started as a stage for people who love words and writing. It was a place to meet like-minded people and share a passion. Those who wrote well gained the best followings and created wonderful online communities. Those bloggers were funny, engaging, creative, and compelling. But in the last two to three years, we have stopped following many of our favourite bloggers, for one reason and one reason alone:
They stopped writing and started advertising.
To me it feels like they sold out. Call me old-fashioned, Dear Reader, but I am not a fan of product reviews or sponsored posts. I’m not a fan of linkbacks and advertising banners and more. It annoys me. It’s just like watching your favourite TV show when suddenly, the characters are talking about the new features of the named brand car they are driving. Sure, they try to make it sound natural and just part of the script, but we see what they did and we are annoyed. It’s enough to make me stop watching. It makes me cringe. Do it enough and … well, just like we stopped getting cable because of the constant string of adverts, well … I unfollow.
If a blogger we enjoy is featuring a product, we want it to be because it’s something they really love and have used for a long time. That is my biggest pet peeve with most product placement-type posts and advertisements: they are not sharing with me a product that has REALLY stood the test of time. And, frankly, as minimalists, it’s the only thing that matters to us. I don’t really care what the flavour du jour is. I want to know if I am likely to still be using the item five years from now. A paid review will not provide that context. And don’t get me started on this whole “influencer” thing … sigh. I don’t want to sell things to you; I want to help you, Dear Reader. That is us coming to you from a very different head space, don’t you think? And because we feel that way about other blogs, well, we really don’t want to go down that path with our own blog. How long will we hold out do you think?
If we do review a product, it’s because we have used it and liked it, and continue to use it — a lot. So far, none of our reviews are paid or sponsored in any way. Why? Because no one will pay you for a shitty review. And we basically say to those who ask if we would do a review, “We will review it, but we will be 100% honest. If we hate it, that is what we will say. And WE WILL post no matter what, there is no opt out if we don’t like the product.” And they back off. AND that, right there, happens multiple times a week, so it makes me question every single paid review I see online. Where is the honesty in this? If I am looking to someone as an expert in something, I want to know what product the person truly loves and hates. Both! What does the expert enjoy and return to over and over again, and what product stopped being something they liked and why. That is what I want to know.
For us, the products we would love to see advertised on our site are things like our airline-approved carrier, or my sling bag, which I’ve used non-stop for over 6 years, or Flytographer, whom we fell in love with over 2 years ago and we can truly see ourselves using for years to come. So, if you do one day see an ad on our blog, you can rest assured it’s not there just to make $. It’s there because we have a LONG history with the product; it has stood the TEST.OF.TIME. And so far, six years in, there are still no ads or paid product reviews on our blog, social media, or videos.
2) Overwhelming social media platforms.
News flash — our blog is NOT how people find us! I know, crazy right? Now, you could blame bad search engine optimization (SEO), but I have it on good authority that we aren’t actually doing that badly on that front. Nope. The truth is, people look for content where they are. And that means, where its convenient. So that means that bloggers now have to spend an enormous amount of time finding out where their niche market is hanging out. Are they on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Vimeo? YouTube? Amazon? Some new platform we haven’t yet heard of? Early adoption of these social media platforms is key. Come in too late and you’ve nearly lost your chance to go viral within that platform. Having to be everywhere, all at once, and all the time is exciting. It can feed an obsessive-like compulsion to be online, all the time. And it’s exhausting.
Managing multiple social media platforms may be fine if your blog is your job. Those of us on passion projects or who are hobbyist bloggers can’t keep up. The result is a two-tiered system. And that is truly unfortunate. Some of the best blogs out there are not by professional bloggers but by those pouring their hearts and souls into their content. Multiple social media platforms may provide a chance to reach more people, but it’s a catch–22: you have to be creative, not just in writing your post, but also in spreading that content on multiple platforms … which drains your energy for writing the blog in the first place. Sometimes, I really wish we could afford to pay someone to do this for us.
3) Photos are “Queen” but video is “King.”
For those of us who love words and language, the greatest and biggest change to blogging is, by far, the need for visual impact. This is such a huge shift that it has even launched V-blogs. Video Blogs. No more words; just video. For many, this has meant the end of their blogs. We followed several bloggers who were incredible writers but had no skill in photography or video. Some just didn’t have a talent for it or weren’t engaged with it; some were just too shy — introverts who liked to hide behind their beautifully written words and had no desire to be in the limelight.
I’ll be honest, Dear Reader: I do think that to some degree, this change is a double-edged sword.
When we started in 2010, we were ahead of the curve because we didn’t use stock photography. We were creating our own. We’d embed small photos in our posts. Not the big ones you see today, but small ones, like doodles on the page. Now, that’s not even enough anymore. People expect a polished online magazine-like level of professionalism from their bloggers. Although that has meant a fun new challenge for us, we’ve also seen some beloved bloggers disappear under that pressure to conform. Not everyone can take Condé Nast or National Geographic-like travel photos, but these bloggers still have vast knowledge and fantastic story-telling capabilities. But the world of blogging has kicked them out — made them feel like there is no room for them. Today, top blogs are polished web magazines rather than online diaries. People want the infographics, the slideshares, fancy quotes, videos … as well as great content. Luckily, we enjoy video and photo-taking but we do wonder, where will this end? Ultimately, I think blogging has become more polished and professional as it has evolved into a viable platform for businesses. But the thing is, not all of us are looking for a business platform.
4) The paradox between content and short reader-attention span.
Paradoxically, despite the early emphasis on words, the average blog post in 2010 was about 200–300 words. Short and sweet was the way to go. Now, with a shift to more visual content, the average post has grown and hovers around 800–1000 words. We’ve had a lot of trouble understanding the shift. But what we do know is that Google favours content. Lots of it. Want to be found near the top of internet search results? Pump out that content. And make it quality content. That means longer and well written posts! My guess is that great photos on Pinterest or Instagram will grab someone’s attention, but if a fan is going to take the time to click and find your blog post, then they actually want information. In a world geared toward Twitter-sized news bites, I truly believe that this paradox is a sign that readers are secretly craving something they can chew on.
So although all the peripherals will help you get noticed in the enormous sea of social media shouting, a well written blog, with thoughtful and complete, well researched posts, will give you street cred. That’s what keeps people on your page and has them coming back. It also helps engagement go beyond a quick share and an easy like to leaving comments and gasp sending an email! That is how a community is built, Dear Reader.
5) The dark and painful path to understanding SEO and why I’ll never be an expert!
Seriously? On this, I have no idea what to tell you, Dear Reader. The level of frustration that comes from trying to be noticed at all by Google or any other search engine is exasperating. I am convinced that even those who do this for a living don’t fully understand what is really going on. I bet it’s like finding those hotspots in New York City. Half of it is luck! We’ve spoken to some experts and we still have a very thin grasp on this element. And it’s likely why we aren’t more popular, why we don’t have a gazillion followers and have never gone viral.
This year, we finally learned to be okay with that. “We may not be big, but we’re small” — and being small means we get to remain personal and intimate. We CAN answer your questions, Dear Reader. Your voice isn’t lost in a sea of comments. Ironic, isn’t it, how that goes both ways: Would we love to be internet famous? Sure, who wouldn’t. But that would happen at the cost of those who keep us on the internet — You! Dear Reader!
6) The Yuck of Content Promotion.
I’ve never really believed in that adage, “Build it and they will come.” I don’t think that has ever been true. There has always been some sort of marketing out there. Sure, content marketing has become easier in many ways thanks to social media, but unfortunately, the sheer volume of stuff being tossed onto the web means you are hard pressed to be seen at all anymore. Standing out has become a game of luck to some degree. One great viral hit and off you go, riding that wave for a while. But the sad thing is that a viral hit isn’t always going to the most deserving. And that can be heartbreaking.
As we have seen time and time again, folks who aren’t even walking the talk have written about with-pet-travel. We’ve seen everything from incorrect information being shared, to people just telling others not to bother, undermining years of effort from those of us trying to get pets included in holiday plans. As an example, humans would never ask their family doctor for travel advice, and yet we regularly see vets being asked to talk about with-pet-travel. Or a travel blogger who has no pet of their own but does have a huge following, will write about with-pet-travel, reinventing what they read in blog posts like ours. And, wham! They are the #1 resource for search engines. It’s a tad irritating.
Lucky Number 7
So what does that mean for the future of Montecristo Travels as we face our seventh year on the internet? Well, it means that we are aware that we are facing a lot of challenges and changes in our future. But we also firmly believe that there will always be room for our blog, and so long as there’s room, we will continue to provide great content. All this change (and ongoing, continuous change) means that we can never get comfortable and complacent. And that is good for you, Dear reader. It means we are always having to shake things up and keep things interesting for you.
It also means that our voice is no longer just on this blog, and maybe that is all for the better. You can follow us in real time now as we travel by hooking up with us on Facebook and Instagram, for example. Ask us questions while we are still on location and can find the answers! The internet is constantly expanding and offering new outlets to people who want to communicate and connect. Do these changes mean we have to do every new thing that comes our way? No. But it does mean that technology and increasingly savvy online readers (YOU!) are giving us new ways to express ourselves, along with the ability to change that expression when we see fit.
So, we look into the eyes of this upcoming seventh year with excitement and some trepidation. What will be the biggest change? What losses will we feel? What gains will be made? We shall see, Dear Reader! The one thing I do know is this: we are thankful. Thank you, Dear Reader, for your presence and engagement. Thank you especially to those who have been with us from the start. Thank you to those who take the time to be a part of a community here on the blog and on our social media platforms. Thank you. Without you there really is no us.