Today I want to talk about the issue of branding a travel blog as I think it is an important concept that can help bloggers focus their content and increase their readership. First things first, what does branding a blog mean? Many people think of branding as applying only to cattle and commercial products; however, the concept of branding can be very important to bloggers. Here are a couple of definitions of brand from dictionary.com: “a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product” and “kind, grade, or make, as indicated by a stamp, trademark, or the like”. Essentially, I think branding, as it applies to blogs, comes down to two main things:
1) The core message, values, and goals conveyed by your blog
2) The visual “stamp”, design, and logo of your blog
While you may not be trying to make money from your blog or be concerned with building a huge readership, many of the principles behind branding are very important to focusing your blog and attracting an interested audience. The idea of branding a travel blog focuses on having a consistent message, setting core values and a purpose, and building a recognizable image. It can not only help you better focus on your blog and its purpose, but it can help you target and attract your ideal audience and keep them coming back.
Branding A Travel Blog in Six Steps: Evaluating Your Own Blog
If you are reading this, chances are you have already set up your travel blog. If you haven’t you might want to start with this post first on setting up a travel blog and then apply these branding principles as you move forward. Ideally, this is what we all did, but if you are like most bloggers, you only started thinking about branding after picking your domain name, designing your blog, and releasing content into the world. So the following will focus more on evaluating an existing travel blog for branding rather than engaging in branding as you set up your blog. We’ll discuss six steps related to branding a travel blog, evaluate our own blog as an illustrative example at each step, and provide a set of questions that you can use to evaluate your own travel blog.
Step 1: What is your Travel Blog’s Focus, Purpose, and Goals?
When starting out as a blogger, it can be difficult to stick with a specific topic or focus as we all try out different things to see what works when we first start out. Life changes can also change our focus so maybe you started out blogging about fashion in college, then sharing your gap year travel adventures, but now are focused on parenthood and relationship issues. However, to maintain an audience, eventually a blog needs to have a focus and purpose. Is it to share funny travel anecdotes to make readers laugh, educate readers in eco-friendly travel spots, help readers choose the best cruise, help readers save money when traveling in Europe? Even if you label yourself as a lifestyle blog, your blog should still convey a message to readers and have an overall purpose. Many bloggers who have discrepant areas of focus either find a way to combine them (a travel blog about traveling with kids) or start a separate blog (one focused on parenthood and one focused on travel).
Our Example: This is one of the areas that Ethan and I spent a lot of time thinking about prior to starting the blog, and we actually outlined three goals of the blog in our very first blog post. These goals included using the blog as a writing outlet, sharing travel advice, and connecting with other travelers. We’ve firmly established our blog as a travel blog and our ideal readers are independent travelers looking for travel advice. Throughout our blog, we do make promises (explicitly and implicitly) to our readers related to providing helpful in-depth travel advice and tips, sharing our travel experiences, being honest in travel reviews, and keeping our content related to travel. We also try to set ourselves apart from other travel blogs by being quite detailed and also by mixing in some travel history and research posts which is content that is fairly unique to our blog.
What is your blog’s focus and purpose? Questions to ask yourself:
What category would you use to describe your blog if you were forced to give it one categorical label?
What is the main goal of your blog in one sentence?
What three attributes would you want to be used to describe your blog?
Why do you blog?
What type of audience are you trying to reach? What do you want them to know?
What promises, if any, have you made to your readers? Are you keeping them?
How is your blog different from other blogs within the same niche?
Step 2: Evaluating Your Blog Title and Tagline
Once you know the focus and message you want to convey with your travel blog, it is time to think about your blog’s title. Does your blog title reflect the purpose of your blog and the message you want to convey? For many blogs, readers will have an idea of what kind of blog it is from the title. For instance, many travel blogs use titles that include words related to travel (e.g., travel, trip, nomad, wanderlust, tourist, journey). However, a great number of blogs have an ambiguous title and this is when the subtitle or tagline becomes more important. For example, a blog called “The Lost Kiwis” could be about almost anything but if you then saw the tagline “A family of New Zealanders travel across Asia” you’d instantly have a good idea that this is a travel blog focused on family travel in Asia written from a New Zealander’s viewpoint. A lot can be conveyed with only a few words. If readers have to scroll through your posts and About Us page to figure out what your blog is about, chances are most won’t stick around long enough to figure it out.
Our Example: Our blog title, Independent Travel Cats, identifies it as a travel blog and our tagline “savvy travel advice” makes it even clearer to readers that we share our travel advice. However, our blog title still leave some ambiguity as it is unclear what the “cats” part is all about. Some people think our blog is specifically about pet travel or is focused on our travels with our cats (sorry to those folks!). Ethan and I originally made a list of a lot of possible blog titles and we were hesitant about this one as it is a bit quirky and many people giggle when we share our blog title. However, we’ve found that people remember the “travel cats” part of our title fairly easily, which is important to getting readers to return to our blog. The title also reflects our love for our cats and reveals a bit of our personality, so we’ve grown to really love our blog title.
Is your blog title and subtitle consistent with your blog message? Questions to ask yourself:
If someone only saw your blog title, would they have a good idea of the type of content they’d likely find on your blog?
What information does your title convey about your blog?
Do you have a subtitle or tagline? If not, would adding a tagline help potential readers better understand your blog’s focus and message?
Do you find that people remember your blog title?
Step 3: Evaluating Your Header and Logo Images
The first thing that most new readers will see is your blog’s header image and title. The images and design elements on your blog should be directly related to your blog’s focus and message as well as your blog’s title. Your blog’s header should reinforce your blog title. Many bloggers choose to just use their blog title as their header and while the color, typeface, and spacing of a title can indeed convey a lot about a blog, I would argue that nothing beats an actual image. The old saying that “a picture is worth a 1,000 words” make sense here as people are more likely to remember a unique image than your full blog title. Think of some of the most popular product brands in the world (e.g., Pepsi, Starbucks, Shell, Walmart, Apple, Ferrari, Ford, McDonald’s , Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft). If you see these brand logos, you don’t need to see the brand name written out to know the company’s name. Instantly you know the brand name and know what kind of product or service to expect as you’ve come to associate the name with the image. Your choice of images should reinforce your blog title in a readers’ mind, increasing the likelihood that they will remember your blog name. Also, when you are posting on social media sites and commenting on other blogs, if you have an image associated with your blog, this makes a great avatar or social media image.
Our Example: So we literally used our blog title to come up with our header image that includes two cats examining a globe. Not particularly creative, but it serves as a very good reinforcement of our blog’s name and focus on travel. I chose a handwriting font to convey the writing aspect of us as writers, but I wanted a typeface that was not difficult to read. Outside the blog, we use some variation of this header image on EVERYTHING that pertains to our blog (eg., ads, avatars, media sheets).
Does Your Travel Blog’s Header Reflect your Blog’s Focus and Message? Questions to ask yourself?
Does your blog title typeface and color reflect the tone of your blog?
Does your header image or logo reinforce your blog’s title and message?
If you don’t have a header image, would adding one help increase reader recognition of your blog?
When representing your blog in other places on the web, do you use the same blog typeface and images to help with reader recognition?
Step 4: Evaluating your Blog Design for a Consistent Message
In addition to your blog’s header design, you also have to convey the purpose and message of your blog throughout your blog design. A lot of these elements (color, typeface, shapes, images) can and probably should flow directly from your header image or logo. If you say that your blog is going to help me become a better packer and organize my travel plans, but you have a messy sidebar with a dozen colors and typefaces, I may not have as much faith in your organizational skills. You also want to put a lot of thought in the images you choose to represent yourself on your sidebar and any “About Us” sections of your blog. For instance, do you want to be seen as professional, quirky, down-to-earth, eco-friendly, budget-friendly, adventurous, experts in luxury travel? All these choices should be based on your blog goals, message, and purpose. While you can hire someone to help you with all the design elements, you still have to provide direction and make sure the final design is true to our blog message.
Our Example: I have minimal blog design knowledge, and our blog is currently in the process of getting a new look from a blog designer who knows much more about website design than I. I am admittedly not always consistent with typeface and colors in my posts (the typeface used in the first image of this post is a good example). However, everything on the rest of the blog flows directly from our blog purpose, title, and header images. We incorporate cat and travel related images as the creative elements (e.g., cat paw prints are used for our favicon and social media icon) throughout the blog. For representative photos, we include snapshots of Ethan and I traveling along with pictures of our two kitties (Dash and Dodger) on our “About Us” page. Given that our message to readers is that they should visit us for travel advice, we strive (although not always successfully) for simplicity and try to keep the design uncluttered and ensure information is easy to find on our blog.
Is the design of your blog and use of images consistent with your travel blog’s purpose and message? Questions to ask yourself:
Is my blog design related to my header image or logo?
What does my blog design convey (e.g., colorful, clean, fun, professional, cluttered)? Is this consistent with my blog’s message?
Am I consistent in using the same design elements throughout my blog (e.g., color scheme, page and post layouts, typefaces)?
Are the included photos on my sidebar and “About Us” section representative of me and my blog’s message?
Step 5: Evaluating Your Blog’s Written Content
Of course, content is king in blogging and good content is a must. However, in addition to just writing good content, you should also be conveying your blog’s message and fulfilling your promises to readers in each post. If you advertise yourself as a travel blog, but only 50% of your recent content is travel related, you may want to rethink either your blog focus or your future blog content. If you promise in-depth information on travel destinations, but most of your posts are under 500 words, you are likely not providing very in-depth information. On the other head if your goal is to write fun, easy-breezy posts with lots of pictures, but end up writing 3,000 word posts (like this one!), you’re not being consistent with the purpose of your blog. Remember, this not only applies to your regular blog posts, but also to guest posts, product reviews, giveaways, link-ups, affiliate links, and any content linked to your blog. For instance, if your blog purpose is to show readers how to travel on a tight budget, you probably don’t want to allow someone to guest post about their $400/night stay at a luxury hotel or on how to crochet Christmas teapot cozies. While faithful readers will stick around if you veer off topic occasionally, if you do this a lot you’ll not only begin to lose your audience but you’ll also lose rank in Internet search engines in your area of focus.
Our Example: Almost 100% of our content is related to travel and almost all posts include information on how someone else could essentially replicate our travel experiences with a focus on tips and advice. Currently, we have chosen to not include guest posts on our blog and regularly turn down any requests to include affiliate links, paid posts, or advertisements. We do accept product and service reviews, sponsorships, and press trips, but only when they are travel-related, involve something we have actually done, and are something we honestly endorse. It takes money and a lot of time to maintain a blog, so turning down paid guest posts, advertisements, affiliate links, and product reviews has been the hardest things for us. Ethan and I have disagreed on issues related to what should and should not be allowed on our blog a few times and we’ve turned down hundreds of dollars to stick to our blog goals. We hope it will be worth it in the future, but in the short-term it is hard to turn down easy money that could be going to pay our server, domain, and advertising fees.
Is your written content consistent with your blog’s focus and message? Questions to ask yourself:
What percentage of my blog posts are consistent with my blog’s focus, stated purpose, and goals?
Are my blog posts consistent with my promise to my readers?
Are the guest posts, affiliate links, advertisements, etc. on my blog consistent with my promise to my readers and my blog focus?
How much thought do I put into accepting sponsors, paid content, advertisements, product reviews, and affiliate links on my blog?
Is there content on my blog that is not congruent with my blog focus?
Step 6 : Remembering your Travel Blog Branding Even Off Your Blog
As bloggers, we regularly interact through social media channels, comment on other websites, guest post on other blogs, do interviews, go to blogger events, etc. Your blog branding should not stop on your blog, but extend to your social media profiles, guest posts, interviews, business cards, e-mail messages, ad banners, and avatars. If you are a blogger focused on telling funny off-beat travel stories, an informative but non-humorous guest post on packing for a cruise isn’t a good way to advertise your blog. Be consistent as possible with usernames, avatars, and images you use. Being creative is great, but repetition is going to be the key to developing a brand and blog recognition. Would a blue siren image make you think Starbucks? Would a green M make you think McDonald’s? Changing colors, images, or typeface can really make a big difference.
Our Example: We only do guest posts and interviews that are travel related; however, I am not sure if we do a super great job at conveying our blog message in all of these and should probably spend more time on this aspect of our branding. We also have advertised on several blogs that are not focused on travel. I think it is good to get the word out to a wider audience but perhaps we are not always reaching our target audience when we advertise. All of our travel blog materials, both online and offline, contain some variation of our blog header image. We never adjust the colors or typeface. While this may seem boring as all of our blog advertisement banners all have our header image on them, they are instantly recognizable and branded. Similarly, all of our blog-related usernames are some variation on our blog title. Unfortunately, our title is on the long side so it doesn’t always fit as a username, so for instance we are @TravelCatsBlog on Twitter.
Is your off-blog presence sending the same consistent message about your blog? Questions to ask yourself:
How do I represent my blog outside of my blog?
Are my guest posts, e-mail messages, interviews, and publicity appearances consistent with my blog’s goals and purpose?
Would someone be able to easily locate my social media accounts in an online search if they only knew my blog title?
When I comment on other blogs or engage in social media exchanges, are my usernames and avatars related to my blog?
When I advertise, are the ad images and typefaces consistent with my blog?
If you have printed materials related to your blog, do you still stay true to your blog’s message and “brand”?
So there are our six steps to branding a travel blog. Do you think branding is important to your blog? What features of branding do you find the most difficult to achieve? Other tips for branding? We’d love to hear your thoughts on branding!