Last Updated on March 30, 2022 by Jeremy
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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
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.
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 (update: this site has since closed but has been replaced with another site that is doing much better solely focusing on press release re-writes).
- 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, all-around focusing on things to see, do, eat, and experience in Pittsburgh with the overall goal of doing it all.
So, how has it all been working out for us since then?
Well, we found the above data when we first started our city blog in 2015, and, naturally, thought this post was due for an update. By our four year anniversary in 2019 we were receiving 150,000+ page views a month on our local blog and receiving approximately $3,500 to $4,000 per month in revenue from the city blog alone. Couple that with income from this site (a site where we have yet to break 100,000 page views in a month in 11 years of blogging), and it was enough for me to quit my day job right around the 3 1/2 year mark after launching the local blog.
Even better? We thought we would run out of things to cover within two years, but were absolutely blown away by the wealth of things to write about in the city. As such, we look at 150,000 page views a month as a stepping stone to a likely plateau in the realm of 500,000 to 1,000,000 page views monthly.
Not bad at all for a city like Pittsburgh.
Why Focused Travel Blogs are Better Than General Travel Blogs
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:
- They're reading us just for fun.
- They're planning what-if travel scenarios and may or may not actually commit on a trip any time soon.
- 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 on Discover the Burgh were 75% from within Pittsburgh and the surrounding regions that we would consider within driving distance (~4 hours). 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 hundreds of 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.
This presents a coherent picture in building our story of what is Pittsburgh, and works seamlessly with our social media marketing and SEO efforts in order to rapidly increase traffic.
Likewise, this hyper-focused marketing effort, tied with a geographic location, also allows us to command a significantly higher income stream than with comparable traffic on this global blog- to the tune of about 35-50% higher revenue on a CPM basis.
More money, easier growth due to less compentiton, and a better story overall for readers? City blogs really are the way to go.
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About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.
12 thoughts on “Travel Blogging Niches – Are City Blogs the Next Big Thing?”
Hi and thank you so much for writing this post! I have an existing blog and am thinking about starting another one about my town, Portland, OR. This post was SO HELPFUL.
I do have a question… how to you optimize Pinterest for a city blog? With niches like books you can do all the various genres or sub genres as pin boards but I’m not sure how I would go about that tactic with a city blog?
Thanks again for this post, looking forward to your insight. 🙂
I think Pinterest performance may depend on the city, but so far my best performers are only larger guides. City guides, weekend guides, restaurant guides, popular neighborhood guides, etc. over the more granular single restaurant or museum review. I’ve scaled back my Pinterest effort a fair bit because there may only be a few broad terms people on that platform use to ‘search’ for content (as Pinterest is very much a search engine now). I’d recommend testing all the things, but do not be surprised if only the broadest guides perform there.
This post convinced to push my plan on building a city based travel blog. From all the posts I read about starting destination based blogs, yours stood out because it pretty much answered all the questions that were stopping me to push through. Thank you so much!
Ow i am really happy to have found your website. Since a few months i am living in Bilbao, Spain, but almost every blog talks about the same things to do over and over again. It feels to me like they dont know what else there is to do in the city.
Your post has convinced me to start my own blog, and since last week we are live.
Many thanks to you and keep it up. I also love your site discovertheburgh.
That is awesome. Best of luck getting your local site going. Can’t wait to hear more!
Hey great article
I run an urban website myself and came to the same conclusion as you. Every time I search Google I never find many urban living websites. The competition is low so that can be either a good or bad thing. Also, fashion websites seem to get the most traffic and revenue, but so do blogs that discuss how to make money online. I believe that blogs that show your personality and are unique get the most traffic and growth.
Thanks for bringing up such an interesting topic.
Hello Jeremy, as a city blogger since 2006 I cannot but feel refreshed by your will power and determination. You seem to have your plan well prepared so you are on the road to success as only the strong minded subsist in this daily war that is staying on top in SERPS.
As a blogger with a certain experience in portraying my own city I congratulate you and wish you the best. I used to earn some good money with Barcelona Photoblog (the name of my blog) but Google decided to favor big shots like TripAdvisor or local agencies acting as tourist guides but selling accommodation. In fact their advertising money is much more attractive to Google than ours, the modest bloggers. And so there came the infamous algorrythm updates that ruined our business.
It is very disappointing to fight to stay alive in a sea of predators favored by the wrong doings of big brother Google.
Nevertheless there is always light and hope at the end of the tunnel and good content will prevail so I encourage you to keep doing your best to write such good posts. Thanks!
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!
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
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!
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.
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.