Keynote talk at TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite) Conference in Rotterdam looking at what travellers are looking for in travel blogs - versus what travel bloggers think they want. Based on research I conducted for the TBU event exclusively
This is about “Creating Content for Travellers”It is not going to be about how to tell better stories, how to write better or where to place your content.It is going to be about how you create content that travellers really want.Something that travel blogs may not be doing today, as I will explain in the session.Hopefully you will find it interesting, provocative and make you think. It does not matter if you agree with what I will have to say – in fact hopefully you will not as it is about making us challenge and think about the role of travel blogs in the very cluttered travel content space.But before that, a bit about me
I was born in Zimbabwe of British parents. I did all my schooling there, but from a very young age was fascinated by travel and “escaping” to what I saw as the much more exciting world of London and Europe. I moved to London in 1987.For over 30 years I have been in marketing. Working on building global brands at companies like Unilever and Johnson & Johnson. I was a Global Vice President of Marketing traveling the world.For the last 20+ years I have been travelling every month of every year, spending up to 2 or 3 weeks away from home. I am now “semi-retired” doing some consulting for brands around the world and focusing on my travels and blogging.Launched Tips for Travellers in 2005. http://www.tipsfortravellers.comI started podcasting and posting videos about my travels in 2005, followed soon by blogging. I was doing lots of research before visiting anywhere, and decided to share what I was collecting.I have over 25 million views of my videos on YouTube. Over 600,000 downloads of my podcasts and around 80,000 visitors to the blog last year.Launched Travel Bloggers Podcast in January 2013 http://www.travelbloggerspodcast.comI felt there was a gap to share what I was learning about blogging and to provide on-going free resource for bloggers. The podcast is designed help travel bloggers to become a more professional and valued resource for travellers – and the travel partners looking to reach their audience
Through my 30 years of marketing, and almost 8 years of blogging, podcasting and making travel videos, I learnt that there are really only 2 rules to success. Whether you are trying to build a massive global brand at Johnson & Johnson or build a popular blog, all you have to do is the following:Give people what THEY want. Not what you want. Not what you think they want. But what they absolutely want. If you want to create something that other people buy or use then they will only do it if they want it. Sounds simple, but often something that everyone from big companies to bloggers forget.If you want to create a personal travel journal that people may perhaps read, then you can ignore this rule. But I am assuming that you are here because you want to do more than that.You need to go out and find out what your target audience wants.(2) Do it better than the alternatives available to themOnce you have found out what your target audience really wants then you have to figure out how you will give them what they want in a way that is better than the many alternatives they can chose from.Competition everywhere is fierce. People have choices. Giving them what they want probably gets you on their “consideration list”, so you need to do it better than others so you are the one they choose to use.Think about that toothpaste you used this morning. Why did you use that particular brand? It gave you what you wanted (clean teeth/ fresh breath / whiter teeth etc.) and you felt it does it better than others (cleaner / fresher/ whiter etc.). This is why you chose what you use!
What exactly are travellers doing, thinking and needing when it comes to travel content?As I got more involved and engaged with the Travel Blogging Community, and started attending Blogger Conferences and events, something struck me more than anything else: How the Traveller was being left out of most of the events.I saw and listened to a lot of discussions and talks about how to blog, how to write better stories, take better pictures, do better SEO and so on. But what I was missing, based on my marketing background, was the deep understanding and insights about the audience it is all for: Travellers.In marketing you are taught to always start with the consumer. Before you do anything you invest time, resources and money into getting to know what your target consumer audience does, thinks and needs. So I proposed to Oliver Gradwell of TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite) that we partner on this topic and I would conduct some research into travellers and bloggers. The aim was to see if I could uncover some new learning and data into what travellers really are doing, thinking and need.The idea was to look at content through the eyes of travellers, and not through the eyes of us as bloggers. It is based on actual data and some insights that I got from that process.I did a series of studies to get the data:Travellers. 275 travellers who are active online researching, booking and using the internet to help with planning their travels. The sample was recruited by Survey Monkey at random and statistically representative of the population.Bloggers. 180 bloggers of all experience levels which responded to a request to do a survey posted through various forums and blogger groups.For a report and more detailed report on the results: http://www.tipsfortravellers.com/TBU
Travel bloggers see travel blogs as being fundamental and important to travel. In the blogger study I did 77% of travel bloggers said they used travel blogs in the last year to help plant their travel.It was the source of travel content they used more than any other sourceHowever, this is not the case in the world of travellers.For every 100 travellers active online using the internet to plan and book their travels, only 40% said that they had ever read a travel blog!But shocking and concerning for me was that the study suggested that only 10% of travellers said they used a travel blog in the last year to plan their travels. This means that only 1 in 4 people that ever read a travel blog use them actively. The good news is that there is a huge growth opportunity for travel blogsas 60% of travellers active online using the internet to plan and book travel have not yet read a blog.But there is a problem that we as bloggers need to solve We need to fix it before we go out and try and attract those people – we must figure out why so few travellers who ever read a blog do not stick with them.This session will:First look at possible reasons why the drop off use of blogs is so large. And what travel bloggers could be doing to change that.Secondly look at how blogs can appeal more to the 60% of online travellers that have not yet used blogs
I think the biggest hint on why travellers may not be getting what they want from travel blogs comes from how Travellers and Bloggers answered the question about why travellers read blogs and what they were looking for:70% of Travellers said: “Real life” first hand advice and tipsWhile 64% of bloggers said: “Personal anecdotes and stories of places, versus regular tips and advice”The emphasis of travellers is on getting “advice and tips”, while the emphasis of bloggers is on “anecdotes and stories”. I think this is a really important issue. Travellers want advice and tips, though they want them based on real life and first hand experiences – so they are honest, unbiased and not marketing sell. But this is the heart of what they want – not stories as such.A lot of emphasis in the blogging community is about being a better writer and telling good stories. I don’t think that this means that bloggers should not provide engaging and interesting content, but I think it means that the anecdotes and stories are the “HOW” you provide tips and advice – and are not the reason people want to use blogs.I am sure that this will probably be the biggest point of debate about the findings. But I do personally believe that the thing that blogs can and should bring to travellers is incredible first hand based advice and tips. Not stories.Let’s look a bit deeper at the findings as there were some other findings that I think help explain why only 1 in 4 online travellers that have ever read a travel blog used them in the last year to help plan their travels
I asked Travellers who have ever read blogs what specific content they found most helpful on blogs. I gave them a list of content and they could chose. I also asked bloggers what content they thought their readers found most helpful, using the same list.Question: “what content do you find most helpful on the travel blogs you read?”Travellers said the 3 most helpful content was:54% said: Money saving tips (e.g. how to get the best deals, saving money while traveling, frequent traveler miles etc.)52% said: Hotel, hostel and guest house reviews48% said: General travel tips, advice and “how tos” (e.g. safety in hotels, what to pack etc.)Bloggers did not see these items of content as being valued by bloggers:Only 13% said Money Saving Tips was helpful for blog readersOnly 17% said hotel, hostel and guest house reviews were helpful for blog readersOnly 36% said General Travel Tips were helpful for blog readersThere seems to be, based on the study, a real difference between what travellers are looking for and find helpful and what bloggers think they want and are looking for. The lack of the content that travellers really want could explain why only 1 in 4 online travellers that have read a travel blog used in the last year.It is really important to know what your audience values – and not what you speculate what they value (based more on what you personally value perhaps)
This chart shows the top 5 most helpful content and compares what Travellers said versus bloggers.With the exception of “destination reviews and tips”, bloggers seem to undervalue what content travellers are really looking for and seeking. By asking and understanding what travellers overall and your specific audience want blogs are more likely to deliver what travellers really want – and make them more loyal to blogs in total – and your own blog in particular.For information, the top 3 things bloggers thought that travellers wanted in content were:64% - Personal anecdotes and stories (40% of travellers value – in 6th place in their list)45% - Destination reviews and tips (46% of travellers value in 4th place in their list)44% - Photo or video tours of destinations, attractions and places (35% of travellers value – in 6th place on their listAnecdotes and stories are not what travellers want in content, they want more specific tips and advice. Though told in a real, first hand and engaging way. The story is the mechanism not the destination!
There is another aspect to creating content that travellers value, seek out and are loyal to. So far I have spoken about how the surveys seems to shows that travellers value content that is under-estimated by bloggers.Travellers are seeking real life, first hand advice and tips and value content that is around money saving, general travel tips and places to stay.However, another possible reason that only 1 in 4 online travellers that have read a blog used in the last year could be because the environment that they find the content in is not one they value or enjoy using. So I asked travellers who have ever read blogs about things they did not like about blogs.Question: Which content do you find least helpful on travel blogs you read?There were 3 things that really stood out:72% of blog readers said: Pop-ups, such as those asking you to sign up for a newsletter60% of blog readers said: Articles with poor spelling and grammar57% of blog readers said: advertisingThe results showed that travellers are looking for content to be delivered in a user friendly and respectful environment. They expect it to be well written and not too intrusive.It is not unusual for “advertising” to be quite high, the same is true in any media. However, in the case of blogs this also refers to things like sponsored guest posts and links which are a popular source of revenue for many blogs – but if off topic and not meeting the needs of travellers then it can risk and may be a major cause of lack of loyalty to blogs.
So far I have looked at the very specific content likes, and dislikes, of travellers. I now want to step back and look at the whole area of creating content – and what insight I got from the surveys that can help bloggers to find a real position in the total travel content space. And to help guide the direction of content creation beyond just specific content topics.There was one thing that really stood out to me, and I was not sure why I had not thought of it before. I believe it has a major impact on how we should approach and think about creating content on blogs.This was the realization that, in fact, travellers do not really travel much!80% of travellers that read blogs travel less than 6 weeks a year. Almost 40% only travel 1 – 2 weeks a year (one major annual holiday probably)70% of bloggers travel over 6 weeks a year. Only 28% claim to travel under 6 weeks a year.Travel bloggers tend to travel a great deal. We think, live and breath travel. For us travel is what we aim to do as often as we possible can. However, in the “real world” most people see travel as a once or twice a year chance to take a break from work. This has a massive impact on what we seek and want travel content to do for usI believe we should think about the needs as being the following:Travellers, as they do not travel that much, are looking for help to reduce their risk. They have limited time to travel. They want to make sure that they spend their money wisely. The risk of getting it wrong is so huge – as they only travel once or maybe twice a year they need to ensure it is the best it can be.Bloggers, on the other hand, travel much more. They are constantly looking for new experiences and places to try and explore. The risk for them is that they are not doing something different. For them they want content that will inspire.
I think the survey confirms my hypothesis that everyday travellers are really looking for content that will help them to reduce risk when making travel choices.In response to the question “Below are some reasons other people say they read travel blogs. Which of these best reflect why you read travel blogs?”: 58% said: I like to hear the opinions of others about places they visit.48% said: I am looking for unbiased and honest reviews and opinions.47% said: I like to read about the real life experiences of travellersOnly 34% said: I am always on the look out for new travel ideas and inspirationI believe that this insight about helping real world travellers to reduce the risk in travel decisions is something that bloggers could capitalize on when creating content – and help to differentiate and distinguish from other sources. Travel brands are trying to sell their destination, resort etc. and so will be focusing on the positives and the upsides.Sites like LonelyPlanet, Frommeretc tend to focus on what to do and how to do it.Blogs can focus more on helping travellers to make up their minds and reduce risk in the short times that they are able to travelThere is another piece of data from the study that I think helps to make this case even stronger
I think there is more data in the survey that shows that blogs should and can play a distinctive role in travel content by focusing on creating content that helps travellers to reduce the risk in making travel choices and plans.In response to the question: Which of these has a travel blog made you do?Only 22% said None of these. I read them to entertain me or inform me.35% - Made me change my mind or decision I had made about an existing travel plan.47% - Inspired me to visit a specific destination, stay in a particular place, or travel with a specific company.55% - helped to reinforceor confirm a decision I had made about a travel plan.This not only shows that travel blogs can be very influential, it does show (though) that in general blogs are used to help validate and confirm decisions than be used for just inspiration.It does not mean that blogs cannot inspire – it does mean though (in my view) that there is a real opportunity for bloggers to focus on creating content that travellers can use and refer to when they want to confirm, validate and help them make choices.
I think there is more evidence and insights from the survey that shows that my hypothesis that regular travellers are more interested in content to help them to reduce risk in their more limited travels. While bloggers are looking for content to inspire them to find new experiences for their more extensive travel times.I asked both travellers and bloggers which travel content sources of all the ones they used, they trusted more than the others.Question: Thinking about the different types of travel information you use, what are the ones that you trust more than the othersTravellers had a very strong point of view!66% said they trusted friends & family/ word of mouth more than any other source. This was the most trusted by a long way.The 2nd most trusted source (with 36% saying) was Tripadvisor and other review sites.It shows how much they rely on real life experiences from sources they trust as being close to them, and understanding them.Bloggers on the other hand had a very different point of views (again I think it reflects their interest in finding inspiration):56% said travel blogs were their most trusted source40% then said travel books and destination guides (with friends and family just 1% behind)The results again show the difference in the key needs of travellers versus bloggers
The reasons why travellers trust Friends & Family and Tripadvisor more than other content sources though give me great source of optimism for the potential for travel blogs.60% of online travellers say they have never read a travel blog. There is a huge potential. Only 1 in 4 online travellers who have ever read a travel blog used them in the last year. We have a way to go.But if we look at the 4 reasons they trust Friends & family and Tripadvisor today more than any others, these are all things that I believe travel blogs can do if we focus on creating the right content with their needs in mind – and deliver it in a user friendly environment.The 4 reasons travellers say they trust Friends & family and review sites like Tripadvisor are:48% - familiarity. I know them, comfortable using them and proved reliable in the past.37% - Honest, and does not gloss over the negatives36% - Not driven by commercial considerations30% - from experts and well informedAll things a blog should be able to deliver
To summarize what I learnt from looking at creating content by looking at it through the eyes of regular travellers is:Understand your audience needsDo not assume you know, you need to go out and speak and survey them. If you really want to appeal to and build a loyal audience you have to focus on what they want – not what you want to give them (you could – of course – just keep a personal travel journal and be happy with that)Give content they want, this is likely to be:Advice & Tips (real life, first hand) – this is their main interest. Not storiesHelp make most of limited travel by reducing risk. They do not travel that much versus you as a blogger, and need help to ensure they are making good decisions when planning their travels“Getting the most out of travels” content is likely to be what they really need. An important difference to “inspiring them” – which may be better suited to high travel bloggersBe like a trusted friend. Travellers trust friends and family more than anyone else. So the more you can act and be like a trusted friend the greater success you will haveHonest, unbiased and independent are all things you can do to helpRight environment – deliver your content in a user friendly environment that respects them. They are there for what they can get, not what they can give to you!No intrusive pop ups, good writing etc. In my workshop session, I will be looking at how you go about actually creating content and ensuring that your blog and all the content is unique, compelling and differeniated
You can find out and follow me on the followingFor copies of the deck and moreTipsfortravellers.com/TBU
Creating Content For Travellers: TBU Rotterdam Keynote
Give people what they want2 rules to successDo it better than alternatives#1#2
Looking at content…Source: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)Through eyes of travellers, not blogger eyes.Understanding & giving travellers content they want.Using data and insights
OnlineEverLast YearSource: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)OpportunityProblem
Giving travellers what they wantMost helpful content?“Real life, first handadvice & tips”70%“Personal anecdotes &stories of places, versusregular tips & advice”64%Source: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)
Giving travellers what they wantTop 3 most helpful content?54% 52% 48%13% 17% 36%Source: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)Getting the most out of travels
Top 5 content: Travellers vs. BloggersMoney SaveTips Accom TipsGeneral TipsDestinationReviews & Tips AttractionReviews545248463913 16354521Blog Readers Bloggers
Giving travellers what they wantTop 3 dislikes?72% 60% 57%Source: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)Deliver content in user friendly environment
Create better content for travellers:Travel habits influences content needsRisk Reduction? Inspiration?Source: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)BloggersOver 6 weeks a year71%TravellersUnder 6 weeks / year80%
Unbiased & Honest 48%Main reason read blogs?Opinions of Others 58%Real Life Experiences 47%New Ideas/ Inspiration 34%Source: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)RiskInspire
88% say blogs influence travelEntertain OnlyChanged MindDrove Specific ChoiceReinforced or Confirmed22354755Source: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey – Gary Bembridge / Travel Bloggers Unite. 276 respondents.
Most used & trusted travel contentSource: Survey Monkey Study March 2013: Travel Content Usage Survey (276 Internet User Travellers. 176 Bloggers)
Create better content for travellers:Why travellers trust them more than others?Well InformedNot driven by commercialconsiderationsHonest, not gloss overnegativesFamiliarity. Knowthem, comfortableusing, proven reliable30363748
Creating content for travellers• Understand your audience needs• Give content they want– Advice & Tips (real life, first hand)– Help make most of limited travel by reducing risk– “Getting the most out of travels” content• Be like a trusted friend– Honest, unbiased and independent• Right environment– No intrusive pop ups, good writing etc.• Attract the 60% never read• Keep 40% “ever read” using