Written By: Tom Ogg, Co-Owner – Travel Professional NEWS
Hosting Your Website
Server space has become so inexpensive that it just doesn’t make any sense not to buy the best that you can buy. There are basically three platforms that you can choose from: UNIX, Linux and Windows. While I have always used UNIX and been very happy with the performance, I now have one site on a Linux server and am equally satisfied. I have tried Windows servers and just don’t care for the way they interface, but that is just my opinion. When you do purchase server space, look for VPS (Virtual Private Server) space You can currently purchase 240 Gb of VPS server space for under $40 per month at HostGator.com and you can host an unlimited (well, seemingly) amount of websites on the server.
Most servers come with an intuitive dashboard, or C-Panel for managing the server, creating sub-directories, e-mail accounts and so on.
Content, Content, Content
More than anything, content is how you will make tons of money. The world of travel has so many unique opportunities to generate keyword driven content that it is difficult to even imagine an end to keywords and topics. Building lots of keyword-rich content is one of the necessary functions to cash in on affiliate marketing opportunities and one that is most important. Having page after page of keyword optimized quality content will allow search engines to locate your web pages based on the specific keyword search string that someone would use to find information about the topic of the keywords. Each content page within your web offers another chance for search engines to deliver traffic specific to the content on that page.
Of course, on the other side of the coin, when someone is conducting a search using the specific keywords for which your page is optimized, it will undoubtedly deliver an affiliate opportunity based on the same keywords. This will dramatically increase your click-through rate and generate an excellent income. Contextual advertising affiliate programs will also deliver advertisements based on the optimized keywords on the page thus offering another opportunity for increasing your click-through rate. All in all, affiliate marketing is all about evolving great content. Search engines want to offer quality content and consumers want to find it. As a publisher, you want to offer it to both.
What is “Quality Content”?
When folks use specific search words, terms and/or phrases, they are looking for thorough, complete and informative content. As an example, if someone uses the search term “surfing around Puerto Vallarta”, they are probably looking for definitive information about where the surf spots are located and what the surf breaks are like. They would like to find as much information as possible as they may be planning a surf trip to Puerto Vallarta. If one visits the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Bureau’s website and clicks on “Things to Do” and then on “Surfing”, they find a page with one paragraph of generic text that doesn’t really say anything other than there is surfing around Puerto Vallarta. This has wasted the viewer’s time and is a prime example of a website not providing the quality content the viewer needs. However, if you had a website about visiting Puerto Vallarta with a specific content page about surfing, you would want it to include as much information as possible. It should provide authoritative information about the surf spots, locations, break descriptions, maps, pictures and anything else of relevance to the topic. Your goal should be to become the most accurate, definitive site on the web for information on surfing around Puerto Vallarta. By adding to the content as your site grows, it will become even that much more valuable to the users and the search engines. Eventually, with enough quality content, your “Surfing Puerto Vallarta” page could gain the first position in the search engines based on those keywords. Quality content is the key to driving traffic to your site.
When consumers think of quality content, they think of complete and thorough information on the keywords of their search. They have little tolerance for anything else at this point. They do not want to have to register, pay, disclose information or otherwise lose their anonymity to access the information. They also do not want to be bombarded by banner ads, pop-ups, page redirections or other tactics that interfere with their quest for information. However, links to pages that contain information regarding the specific keywords for which they are searching are very welcome. In fact, visitors will return to pages that have critical links for them to follow. Imagine that you are looking for information about surfing in Punta Mita; and you find a page that not only has complete and thorough content, but it also has 12 relevant links to information pertinent to the keywords. The visitors will probably bookmark the page and then return to follow each link.
Keys to Building Content
It Must Be Factual and Complete: While this seems like a given, one would be shocked at how many well-known sites offer faulty content. This often results when the information is done from research rather than personal knowledge. There are so many Internet “legends” that have been created by faulty research it is amazing. On a recent trip to Rio, one of the agents was adamant that Sugarloaf was on Corcovado. Having been to Rio several times, I knew that it wasn’t and that they are two separate attractions. At dinner one night, she challenged me on my statement regarding Sugarloaf and then produced a report that she had printed in the Internet Café on the ship. The report was from one of the most respected providers of travel content on the Internet, and, sure enough, it reported that Sugarloaf was on Corcovado. Only after visiting the two sites while ported in Rio, did the lady finally relinquish her belief. Make sure that your facts are accurate by having them double and triple checked.
It Must Be Current: Nothing will turn visitors off faster than out-of-date content. As an example, if your site provided content regarding Cozumel, Mexico, it would need to have been up-dated immediately after the hurricane of a few years ago. Otherwise, you risked rapidly losing visitors quickly looking for current (and complete) information about what was open and what remained closed. Information on your webs should be updated frequently and represent the most current content of the subject.
It Must Be Accessible: No content should ever be more than three clicks away from visitor access. Having a broad site is much more preferable to having a deep one. Think of how to bypass unnecessary pages and have a clearly defined navigational structure. On one of my main sites, I used to have links to the major cruise line subdirectories on the home page and then send visitors to a secondary page for the balance of the cruise information. My thinking, at the time, was that it offered a second chance to get them to click on an ad. This is a mistake many Internet content publicists make.
One day, I decided to stick links to every subdirectory in the web complex “above the fold”. My home page simply became links to all of the information in the complex of webs. Then, the content that had originally resided above the links I now placed below the links. Again, my original thinking was to have them read the information before presenting the links. The result? I had a 30% increase in traffic overnight as an immediate result of making this change. I got the message loud and clear. Don’t make the same mistake I made in my initial design. Make your content available as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It Must Allow Visitors to Take Action: The reason that a visitor is exploring your content is to find answers. Once they have processed your content and evaluated your value proposition, they are ready to take action. They may want to keep looking for more information, they may be ready to commit or they may decide to eliminate the option. If they want to keep looking, your exit strategy should be to offer them the most viable alternatives to your value proposition. Why? Since the visitor has clearly decided not to buy now, by enabling them with the best alternative opportunities they will surely click on the advertisement that most attracts them. They will also leave thinking better of you than when they arrived at your site in the first place. While you did not make a sale based on your value proposition, you did make money via your exit strategy. Giving your visitors the best action conduits will enhance your value proposition, while at the same time, drive up your affiliate revenues. Since quality content is the key to making tons of money in affiliate marketing, the next question is how can it be developed?
Creating Your Web Content
Write it Yourself. Obviously, this would be the first choice to consider. Let’s say you are an expert on golfing in Western Europe and have played several of the primary golf courses. Although this task may seem overwhelming at first, by taking one step at a time your website will grow exponentially. Begin the process by selecting one golf course and write a comprehensive review. The article should include as much information on that particular course as possible, as well as information on related ancillary data. In addition to your own first-hand experience, begin to compile information from outside sources. Contact the golf course directly and explain that you are featuring the course in your new website. Ask them to provide pictures, course information, maps and any other information that they have that would allow potential clients to select them on their next trip to Western Europe. Contact the Tourist Bureau in the country where the course is located and have them supply you tons of information regarding the area around the golf course. Contact the hotels that one might stay to play the course and ask for the same information about their property. I am sure you can see the process taking shape. By the time you have finished your article and review, you will have formidable content to offer folks looking for information about the specific golf course, and your expert opinion and advice will bring them back to explore all of the information.
Of course, you have contextual advertising on each keyword page in the report. As an example, if the client is looking at a specific hotel’s page, ads are being served about that specific hotel. I am sure you can see how this works. Once done with the first article and review, you move onto the second course and then the third and so on.
Never lose sight that the tourist industry worldwide exists to help you promote tourism to their country. Every hotel, resort, attraction, cruise line, tour operator, sightseeing company and more offer substantial tourism development tools that might consist of text, pictures, maps and graphics. Coordinate the use of this content along with your personalization and quality content is widely available.
You Can Use One of the Article Writing Tools: Let’s say that you are not much of a writer, but have a substantial number of articles in mind. There are several tools that will research the web and offer articles based on keywords that you identify for the article. Once the raw article is created, you simply file off the rough edges, add an opening and a closing and make it yours. These tools are sophisticated, and creating articles and small e-book formats is a breeze. However, be aware that this type of content doesn’t carry the same level of user satisfaction simply because it is not written from personal experience. I have provided a list of a few you may wish to consider.
InstantArticleGhostWriter.com: This is a great tool if you want to create a substantial number of articles. You could actually hire a high school or college student to start the process. Provide the various keywords for which you would like to create articles, then edit them when they have been created and generate hundreds of keyword driven articles. While not inexpensive, InstantArticleGhostWriter.com is quite effective.
InstantArticleWizard.com: Here is another tool that can create articles from keywords. It works by searching the Internet’s various sites that use the keywords that are entered. It will compile sentences from the various sites and create an article that one can then make their own by modifying the text, adding an opening and closing sentence or paragraph and publishing. Once again, the quality of the finished product is not the same as one written from personal experience and many readers will depart with a feeling of doubt regarding the authenticity of the content because of the syntax and layout. But, the 4.0 version of this product has really stepped up the quality of the content it creates and will also convert the article into an audio file as well as a video presentation for your YouTube channel.
While there are dozens more of similar tools, I think you get the idea. Just remember, quality is everything, and by using some of these tools, you may get quantity rather than quality. It is essentially up to you to hone these articles to make them yours and add the necessary quality.
Hiring People to Write Articles: Another viable way to get a volume of keyword specific content for your websites is to hire people to write your articles. While the cost is going to be higher than writing them yourself, you can hire a number of people at the same time to create a large volume of content in a short order of time. The travel industry is laden with travel writers who will generally work for a nominal amount of money. While the quality of their work is very professional, the opportunity to travel rather than monetary gain is often their primary motivator. Their writing income is used to offset the cost of travel and to create a business for which they can write-off these costs.
A simple Google search using the keywords “Travel Writers” and “Travel Writer Associations” will disclose numerous resources for contacting travel writers to engage them. In addition to the forementioned sources, here are some additional resources for content that you might consider.
TheKiti.com: Formerly MediaKitty, this is a great site to contact travel writers worldwide. You can join TheKiti.com for free and distribute requests for articles to be written.
CraigsList.org: I am sure everyone is familiar with CraigsList.org, but by using its Writing/Editing/Translation classified ads under the heading of “Services” you can post free requests for bids on articles that you want written.
Fiverr.com: This site offers a wealth of people that write travel articles and many are quite professional at generating SEO friendly, keyword travel article for a reasonable price.
Problogger.com: This is a great site to locate writers with a special skill set in travel.
International Freelance Sites: Today you can reach talent worldwide by using sites that specialize in reaching creative types around the world. UpWork.com, GetaFreelancer.com, FreeLanceWriting.com, and Guru.com are all excellent choices for finding reasonably priced freelance writers.
There are dozens of sites all with their own uniwue value proposition. Just Google “Sites like UpWork.com” to find them.
Using Other People’s Content
Writing your own content or paying someone else to do it for you require time and money. Fortunately, there are several options in addition to those listed above. One of the ways folks market themselves is by writing articles for syndication. Many writers just want to have their articles published and read and are happy to let you publish their travel articles for free. Of course, the trick is finding the writers that want their articles published. But then, that is why you purchased this book.
There are tons of syndication sites that match writers ith publishers. The best thing is that they do not charge anything for the service. You can access and publish thousands of high-quality articles by the simple task of registering at the various websites. Be aware that the author’s by-line is always included in return for using the article. The by-line usually includes the author’s name, a small bit of information about him or her and a link back to their primary website.
Sometimes, the company providing the link will also want a link back to their site. This is a small price to pay for what could generate a huge amount of revenue for you. Below you will find a list of many of these syndication sites that offer tens of thousands of articles for your use.
Sites that Offer Travel Articles for Free
EzineArticles.com: This site has thousands of current articles on travel and leisure including tons of cruise specific articles. The catch with this site is that they limit the number of articles that can be used on each site to 25.
Leonardo.com: This is an extremely interesting site. While it is much more than an article library, Leonardo’s function is travel content management. The content providers are hotel chains worldwide, cruise lines, tourist bureaus and the like. It is completely free to register and download its content. Articles, pictures, video clips, maps and more are available for free use.
ArticleCity.com: This site offers thousands of travel articles on all topics that can be used liberally. However, the author’s bio and link must remain with the article.
TravelContentCollective.com: Great site offering well over 5,000 travel articles.
Hire a Professional Writer to Evolve Content:
In today’s global economy writers and other creatives are not bound to an office or location. They may choose to live and work anywhere in the world that draws their interest. I personally have friends that have chosen to live in Mexico, Bali and other Indonesian locations, Spain, France, Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil and many other locations. They have made these choices mostly for surfing, but also for the culture and cost of living. We currently have three creatives that live in the Phillippines that work for us full time.
Because they live in a place where the cost of living is minimal compared to the United States, they do not rrquire the same remuneration as their counterpart in the U.S. would.
It is quite easy to write an ad seeking a journalist to write travel articles for your blog or website and to find someone highly qualified to make it happen. Consider placing the ad in the Manila Craigslist site and watch the response that you will get from high quality degreed journalists.
The Power of Community
While we explored some sources for evolving content, now will deal with the most wonderful opportunity that exists for website entrepreneurs today. To sum up the opportunity in two words: “User Content”. User content refers to content that is created or submitted by those who use a site and is usually shared with the user “community”.
One of the most important events to take place on the web is the evolution of peer-to-peer networks. Peer-to-Peer networks allow folks from around the world to converge to discuss and research topics of nterest and generally become a part of an online community that promotes genuine relationships. Many community members derive a real feeling of belonging and acceptance. I, personally, have made life-long friends in online communities. Some I have never actually met face-to-face but still consider them close friends. Such is the online community world. What is important is for you to understand is the way that online communities can affect your online business and how you can manage them to make tons of money.
The Need to Connect
One of the obvious realities about mankind is the need to connect. Throughout history every culture has had their “community connection” where people became part of a larger whole. It didn’t matter if it was a camp fire, a church, a village lodge, a town hall, a capital or even a corporation, people need to connect with other like-minded people socially, professionally, romantically, educationally and in untold other ways. The Internet has ushered the oncept of global community into existence in an almost bizarre way. Today, people from all points of the world share experiences, beliefs, opinions, knowledge, insights and every agenda known to man in online social media, forums and discussion groups. So strong are the devotions to online communities, some people have made them their primary social, professional and entertainment connection venues.
Providing the opportunity for people to connect with other like minds and souls is one of the more challenging tasks of a web entrepreneur. Finding the right format to attract the groups of people that you want is as critical to a successful community as is the operation of the community itself. With well over thirty years of managing online communities, I am going to share what I have learned (usually the hard way) so that you can approach this opportunity well armed.
The very first thing that you need to consider is the scope of the community that you want to create. As an example, if you are going to organize a community for college students, you will certainly want to be completely familiar with social media like YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram and others that Gen Z loves to use. Focus on a specific niche using the same technology. On the other hand,
if you are focusing on seniors that cruise, you will want to focus on technology that immediately empowers the individual without an invasion of their private information. In this instance, a locaql social media application may be the best choice.
Following are types of communities that you will want to investigate: Let’s start with the most popular group hosting platform that there is….FaceBook.
With over 620-million individual groups, Facebook would seem to be the perfect place to launch your niche community. But, run the other way! There is no way to monetize your Facebook group short of selling subscriptions or training courses. You may not advertise nor use affiliate links in your FB group. In short, Facebook Groups make a ton of money for Zuckerberg who serves ads to your group and makes money from your efforts.
While there are a lot of reasons to start a FB group, there are also a lot of reasons not to.
Search engines do not rank FB groups and they do not show up in a Google search..
You have no control over the ads that appear on your FB group.
Every member must be moderated which takes time and effort
You do not own the content posted by the group members.
Alternatives to FaceBook Groups
There are many alternative sites that compete favorably with FaceBook groups. Here are some to consider and there are a lot more than these. Understand that these alternatives offer the social media platform which you can control the look and feel to create your own brand. They all charge a monthly fee (usually paid annually) and while you have full access to the content, if you stop paying, the content will be shut down. Most will allow you to both advertise and use affiliate links.
Ning.com: Ning was one of the original social media platforms that was made available to everyone for a very moderate cost at its outset. They now offer Ning 2.0 which is what we use to run the TravelProfessionalCommunity. Ning works well, but I would give them a D for customer support.
Kajabi.com: Kajabi offers a robust social media platform that includes video hosting, a website builder, a course hosting platform and an email marketing tool and so much more. If you are looking to create a large, robust and professional social media presence, be sure to check this out.
Slack.com: Slack offers a very affordable platform that ties everyone together in discussion forums. This is a great community tool but does not allow for monetization or personal branding.
In all of the above examples of Facebook Group alternatives you still do not own the content that has been created on the site. which is a very distressing thing if your community becomes quite successful.
Social Media Solutions That You Own
If you see community as a large part of your overall affiliate marketing effort, then owning and operating your own social media platform makes a ton of sense. First, you own the software and the platform and more importantly, you own the content that has been created on your platform.
SocialEngine.com: This open source software allows you to create your own unique social media platfoorm. With hundreds of plugins socialengine is robust and a formidable tool.
There are several more social media platforms that are available, but take a close look at SocialEngine and if that doesn’t work for you simply Google “Software like SocialEngine.com”.
Before launching your new social media platform, you should already have the nucleus of a community that can start using it. Nothing is worse than to launch a forum with no active posts. A visitor will mmediately move on if they see no activity or even worse, stale activity. Also, avoid the mistake just about everyone makes. Do not open your forum with a ton of sub-forums thinking that the more forums you offer, the more likely people will be to post. Actually, just the opposite occurs. A visitor seeing numerous forums with little or no activity will not stick around either.
You are much better off having just one forum that has multiple daily posts than having 40-forums with occasional entries. Especially critical is making sure that every post gets a response. When a visitor first arrives at your community, they try to discern the personality of the forums which they base on user interaction. When every post receives at least one response, they perceive the community to be viable and active and will be less fearful of posting. forums are a great choice for websites that focus on one aspect of travel, as the ensuing conversations will further refine the information that resides on your site.
How to Manage Your Community
Now that you have your social media site, how do you manage it? This is one of the places where your investment in this book is going to pay off. Following are not recommendations but hard and fast rules that you need to live by when operating an online community:
Rule #1: When You Think Something is Wrong, It Is: No one can see the future, but when you think something doesn’t makes sense to you, then take action immediately. The member posting the off-kilter messages may well have an agenda that is not in your best interest.
Rule #2: Set Community Standards and Enforce Them: Define exactly the purpose for the community and set specific standards. As an example, No flaming other members, no use of vulgar language, no soliciting, etc. When someone violates the community standards, they are sanctioned. If they continue to violate the community standards, they are banned without warning.
Rule #3: Never, Never, Never Lose Your Temper: No matter how outrageous someone’s posts become, always handle yourself in a professional manner. Remember, you are operating a community to make money and any breach in your professionalism will cost you dearly. Also remember, as the Administrator you set the tempo for the entire community. One outburst from you sends a clear message to the community that it is OK to lose tempers.
Rule #4: Never, Never, Never Get Into an Argument Online: Once again, unless you want a community where everyone is arguing, never break this rule. If you have a conflict with someone, take it offline and in private.
Rule #5: Be Fair to a Fault, but When it Comes Time To Take Action, Be Swift and Decisive. When someone steps over the line, give him or her another chance, but explain what the community expects. If he or she does it again, ban them immediately and don’t look back. Once you have made your decision, stick to it without further discussion.
I hope these rules help you succeed with your own community. While they seem obvious, you will be amazed at how convoluted situations can become.
Many times problem makers are very adept at arguing their point and may be able to twist things to make it sound as if you are the one that is off-kilter. Just pull out these five rules and abide by them, and you will be amazed at how effectively you can resolve conflict successfully.
A moderator is a community member that helps with one or more forums. They engage community members that post messages and comments and generally respond to many of the conversations. In part, their function is to stimulate conversation, but a large part of the moderators’ role is to enforce community standards. If your community is successful, there is no way that you can be aware of all posts and conversations. However, forum moderators are generally involved with their forum(s) at a level where they are aware. By giving your moderators the power to edit, delete and ban users, they can effectively keep the forum(s) on track.
The best way to recruit moderators is by following members that post frequently and finding the ones that have leadership qualities. They are knowledgeable about the forum topic(s), they are well liked by other community members, they present themselves well in a written format, and they are never involved in confrontations, flaming, arguments or otherwise violating any of the five rules.
Once you have identified a person you would like to approach to be a moderator, do so with complete respect. Let them know that you truly value their contribution to the community, and you would like to elevate them to the position of forum leader. When approached like this, virtually everyone you solicit will accept. Since they are already active in a community forum, their role really doesn’t change other than they are now recognized as a forum leader. Their additional powers of editing, deleting and banning posts and members gives them the ability to really fine tune the forum and they will take a great amount of pride in their efforts. Never offer payment for a forum moderator. Sites that pay their moderators lose the feeling of openness and honesty. The moderators become clear operatives of the community, and their objectivity becomes askew to a point where they become less effective, rather than more valuable.
Other Kinds of Community Content
While discussion groups make up the bulk of community content, there are several other ways to evolve content from your community.
Community Groups: Virtually all social media platforms allow members to create their own groups and these can become extremely valuable content.
Community Archives: If you have a successful discussion group that is churning out hundreds of posts a day on various travel topics, you can easily mine past threads and develop a thorough synopsis of each thread and present the information in a searchable or hierarchal database. You can create thousands of pages in your community archives that are keyword optimized and that also feature keyword affiliate messages. Community archives are wonderful tools for compiling a huge amount of content in short order.
Community Review Sites: If your community is discussing any aspect of travel, you can easily start a review site where community members can submit reviews of their own experiences. I built a cruise review site that turned into thousand and thousands of keyword-optimized pages that served Google AdSense ads and generated a 5-figures monthly income from Google AdSense alone. People want to share, and others want to read about the ship, hotel, port, restaurant, sightseeing event and so on. These peer-to-peer review sites are becoming the town halls of tomorrow and are a natural adjunct to discussion groups. As with discussion groups, one needs to clearly define the specific objective of the review site and set specific standards. As one can imagine, the standards for a luxury cruise site would be quite standards for a luxury cruise site would be quite different than the standards for a European youth hostel review site. Be sure to match your standards with the community members that will be submitting reviews.
Community Projects: Have your community contribute content to a monthly e-zine, e-book, dictionary, and library of articles or any other means of compiling content for use either inside or outside of the community. By using Wiki technology, one can establish a community purpose and allow for a collaborative community effort to effect results. The bottom line is a community effort can create a substantial amount of content that can all be imbedded with affiliate advertising.
As you can see, user generated content is the best possible solution for creating a lot of valuable keyword-optimized content that can spin-off thousands of dollars in affiliate revenue monthly.