Travel Blogging Niches – Are City Blogs the Next Big Thing?

Posted By Jeremy in Blog Your Trip


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Since returning home from our long-term trip, we've been brainstorming a number of business ideas that we could pursue from home. As much as we love sharing our international travel stories here, which we plan on doing for a long time to come, we needed to do more in order to meet our income goals and achieve financial independence.

One of the ideas we had was launching a new travel blog focusing on a specific city. After researching the idea further we realized that the potential for these style of websites in the travel niche is far greater than anything we could do with this global travel blog, and Discover the Burgh was born.

Like general travel blogging, running a city blog does have its pitfalls. You have to be active in the city. A lot

This means frequently going out to restaurants, trying every attraction there is, and spending a lot of money before you may bring that back in. It may sound a little daunting, but this one came easy to us.

We were going to do that anyway.

So other than enjoying the city you live in, why should you consider launching a city blog and why did we do it in Pittsburgh?  These are the questions truly worth answering.

Why We Really Launched a City Blog

Pittsburgh Skyline

When we get into something, we really get into it. Those who have read Living the Dream know about this when we planned our two long-term trips around the world. Naturally, when we're at home and living in a city that we love, we do something very similar as we seek out the best of the city.

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Then it dawned on us, why wouldn't people read about that?  There are already many successful city bloggers out there, with our friends Dave from Medellin Living and Jim from Uncovering PA being great inspirations for us.  In knowing that people are actively looking for information on specific destinations, and the love we had for a city that we'd already lived in for several years, we decided to look into it further and found some pretty incredible facts about the city we call home:

  • Pittsburgh's city population was around 300,000 in 2013.
  • Pittsburgh's metropolitan area population was around 2.3 million in 2012.
  • Annual visitors to Pittsburgh exceeds 11,000,000 (source: Visit Pittsburgh- PDF has since been removed).
  • Annual revenue into the city via tourism is over $5 billion.

Naturally, I would like to inject myself into that kind of revenue.

After establishing the market potential, which is huge for a city like Pittsburgh, we had to determine what the competition would be like.  Upon researching what is out there for Pittsburgh (plus several other cities we were also considering living in) we noticed a trend that this type of blog simply just does not exist- at least in cities the size of Pittsburgh (now New York City may be another story…).  Continuing the research, we found the following:

  • The largest city magazine's online website receives over 600,000 page views per month and charges a $5 CPM ad rate (that's roughly $40,000 per year for one sidebar ad).
  • The official tourist board's website receives over 200,000 page views per month.
  • We found one general city website that appears to do quite well, but is more news / events based.
  • One general city website that is written in the style of Buzzfeed lists only.
  • One food-oriented website that also does well, but is focused on just one topic.
  • No good reviews based websites that put a focus on the personality of the blogger as well as the city as a travel destination.

With a need in mind that we could fulfill, a few other websites to establish the viability through similar outlets, and no direct competition (we don't view the others as competitors but rather complimenting resources), it was enough to take the leap and run with it.

Why Focused Travel Blogs are Better Than General Travel Blogs

Downtown Pittsburgh

A question I often ask myself is how many travelers I actually help in planning their trips.  There are ways to monitor this, of course. The numbers of comments we receive, social media engagement, overall traffic, and tracking our reader's outbound links are great ways to approximate it. But at the end of the day seeing someone in South Africa reading our stories from Vietnam, Bolivia, and Dominica in one sitting could mean one of three things:

  1. They're reading us just for fun.
  2. They're planning what-if travel scenarios and may or may not actually commit on a trip any time soon.
  3. They're planning an amazing trip just like we did and will hit one or all of the destinations.

Unfortunately, unless I hear from them personally, I cannot say for sure which category they will fall into.

To make matters worse, it may be weeks, months, or years before they book a trip and our ability to monetize our content through affiliate sales may not capture that purchase thanks to affiliate cookies only lasting a brief period of time.  I'm convinced we help inspire people where to visit, what to see, where to stay, and so on, but our ability to directly capture this is limited by the inherent nature of our site (and we make no money from it).

A city blog, on the other hand, is a lot more focused when it comes to blog traffic and topics. Our visitors last month on Discover the Burgh were 95% from within Pittsburgh proper and the surrounding regions that we would consider within driving distance. That is a lot of readers who could easily spend money in the city at any time after reading our article.  They don't have to wait weeks or months to try out an experience, it is within hours if they are so inclined.

When it comes to quoting numbers for a general travel blog, I'm simply not as confident when sharing figures like that.

Going even further, there is also the question of content volume.  We have over 1,000 articles here on Living the Dream, but they're split up over hundreds of cities in over 70 countries. If we have more than one article per region, we're doing pretty good. Any given visitor to any given region may find, at most, a dozen articles from the specific destination that are helpful- plus our vast assortment of general travel articles if they're into those too.  We are going to help our readers, but at the same time it is likely they are not returning day after day for more advice from one specific region- or if they are, it is mainly for entertainment purposes.

The articles we have published on Discover the Burgh are all from the same region, and any visitor to our site can find usefulness every article to a certain degree.  Tomorrow we'll publish another article from the region, a few days later another, and so on and so on.   For those looking to visit our city, it is pretty good incentive for them to keep coming back.

How That Translates to Money

Exploring Pittsburgh

If you've thought about this concept before, you may see where we're going with this. General travel blogs don't make very good money. There are many bloggers who do make money, but it is for their skills that are illustrated on the blog- not the blog itself.

As of now, two of the most popular ways destination blogs make money (and we mean the blog specifically) are through sponsored advertising and through affiliate marketing.  Let's take a quick look at both to illustrate their earning potentials:

  • Sponsored Advertising: Ignoring those who sell their site for SEO gain, advertising rates tend to be targeted on a CPM basis (cost per 1,000 impressions).  From conversations I've had with blogging friends, if you're able to get over $1 CPM on a general blog ad, you're doing alright, and rates only go up when you can join traffic networks after having huge (half-million-plus) monthly traffic.  For a city blog, on the other hand, common rates for the same sized ad frequently start at $5 CPM- meaning we can make the same exact amount of money with 1/5th the traffic.  Best of all?  Nearly 100% of our readers could be interested in the topic thanks to the regional nature of the site.  So not only do we get to charge more money, we provide better value for our partners too as the content will match the interests of our readers.
    • I like to use Facebook as a great reference when figuring out CPM rates as they are often the cheapest on the block.  The CPM rate for ads we've posted in Pittsburgh have ran as high as $7.50 per 1,000 impressions.  On that note, $5 CPM on a specialized site with an equally defined audience is a steal- which is why some local bloggers charge much higher than this.
  • Affiliate Marketing:  As alluded to in previous sections, the odds of getting a reader to commit on a general travel blog is what really kills your revenue potential.  The further you get from the decision to make a purchase, the odds of you capturing the revenue goes down.  This is why fashion bloggers can make millions and travel bloggers can barely buy their next meal.  By creating a local blog you target people who live in a destination and others who are actively planning a visit- and they are far more likely to spend money which you can get a cut from.  It still isn't fashion blogger level, but it'll do.

To give an example of this, in the past seven years of running Living the Dream the best income we made from straight CPM advertising was around $10 per month ($0.40 CPM).  In regards to affiliate marketing, we do a little better and our best month was closer to $200- but was from just one or two major purchases out of over 30,000 visitors.  Not very good at all.

What do you think would happen when we put more targeted ads in front of the audience from Discover the Burgh?

We're going to find out very, very soon.

Are you planning on launching a travel blog in the future? Be sure to check out our Blog Your Trip series where we share our tips and lessons learned from our many years of blogging! Or, if you just want to see how we're doing on our quest for financial independence, check out our Lifestyle Design series!

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5 Comments

  1. This is an amazing post and I’m so glad I stumbled onto it! I have been wanting to start a travel blog for quite a while now, but I kept stumbling on what you mentioned: How does a general travel blog actually help people, and how can you monetize it?

    I already run one tightly niched blog (blogging/online business niche) and I can’t believe I didn’t think of doing the same for a travel blog! You have inspired me to start a Paris-focused travel blog and I am so excited to see the results!

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  2. Jeremy, thanks a lot for this post. I have recently moved to Bordeaux in France, which is an amazing city and when I was searching for things to do (other than the obvious touristic stuff) I realized there is almost no information in English. So I decided to create a blog where I cover all the cool things to do that I discover in the city. I invest tons of time in it and in the last few weeks I started to wonder if there is an actual way to monetize it. So you post gave me a lot of encouragement. Thanks for that!! Currently however, most of my readers are from the expat community in Bordeaux and I was wondering if you have any tips on how to reach the tourists that are looking for information about the city. It’s maybe a basic question, but I’m very new to the blogging world 🙂

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    • Work on SEO to try and get indexed in search engines. I’d focus on building your social media popularity around the expats who you can reach through advertising, and then let that help with your effort to rank higher in search for outside visitors. Good luck!

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  3. The ideas contained in this post and how you implemented them on your city site I find very inspiring as I recently started a city blog. I particularly like your post about 156 things to do in Pittsburg. The fact that you used an odd number like 156 I think will attract alot of attention.

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  4. I agree with you Jeremy. City based blog can be also called a city niche blog. More and more blogger have travel blogs which covers whole world. So, it’s a great inspiration for part time blogger like me to focus on city blog. It is easy for me not to travel far. Just take a bike and explore more about the city.

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