Last Updated on July 29, 2020 by Jeremy
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For a long time, I've thought that blogging is a modern-day gold rush. A digital gold rush, if you will. An explosive new industry, with a lot of revenue potential, easy to get started, and a good risk/reward proposition checks all of the boxes.
But, like most gold rushes, that one has to end at some point in time. For blogging, this is coming sooner rather than later as niches fill up and competition becomes stronger and stronger. This has been something I've seen coming for quite some time now, but for travel blogging in particular I see that the day is quickly approaching (if it isn't here already).
Today, I want to dive down into why I think that is with some stark predictions for the future.
Search Engines are Filling Up… Fast
Google traffic is the holy grail of blogging. There are over one trillion searches every year, which equates to about 30,000 per second. That is a lot of traffic!
Going further, it is consistent traffic that has been around for two decades. Search is not a flavor of the day social network, it is the internet, and it isn't going anywhere.
We, as bloggers, work to tap into this search traffic by writing our articles in such a way to get ranked on terms that are actually being used (and in enough volume to matter). The science of SEO is developed to the point that we can research keywords, their volumes, and find potential rankings based on arbitrary difficulty scores.
Find a keyword with high volume and low scores? We have a chance of getting on the first page. Find one with a high volume and high scores? No way- more authoritative sites own it.
But what happens when you get tens of thousands (or, more likely, hundreds of thousands) of content writers doing this? The low hanging fruit goes away.
This is exactly what is happening, and as travel blogging is an inherently limited niche due to the number of destinations available, the rising number of bloggers are snapping up the easy-to-rank-for terms like candy.
Our prediction? Easy to rank for terms with appreciable volume will vanish within the next 1-3 years. This will make things harder for new bloggers to get search traffic while leaving most terms available only to those with the most authoritative sites (the top 100-250 or so).
More Bad Travel Bloggers to Compete With
With over a billion blogs out there, would you be surprised to learn that they're all terrible?
I don't know the exact figure for the number of travel blogs out there, but I would not be surprised if those trying to make a go of it exceeded five figures. That is tens of thousands of people (likely multiple times over) trying to explore the world and make a career out of writing about the best things to do in Bangkok, or Paris on a budget, or Iceland's waterfalls.
Just writing that sentence makes me feel dirty, and I've published articles on some of those very same topics myself!
Much like how search engines are filling up with competitive keywords, we're simply running out of unique story ideas that people actively want to read.
Look, I get it. Travel writing is fun, and if you can make a career of it, amazing.
But what I don't like is how the industry has become bloggers hitting a well-trodden destination for three days, on tips from other bloggers who only visited for three days, on tips from another blogger who spent a week there, and somehow expect to build a business from it.
It's only getting worse, but will hopefully become white noise in the not-so-distant future.
Our prediction? Bad bloggers will become even more prevalent across social media, but will end up being phased out of search engines due to the increasing difficulty in ranking. There will always be room for quality content in search (being big to rank doesn't mean you produce good content, mind you), but it is becoming more of a catch-22 scenario overall.
Local Blogs are Becoming a Thing
Our bread and butter is not this 10+ year old travel blog, but is instead our Pittsburgh blog that we founded in 2015.
We could see the rise of local blogs coming a mile away thanks to a few friends who were pioneers in this niche industry (that we would call a subset of travel blogging). As such, we knew that whatever city we lived in permanently we'd start a city blog to cover it.
It turns out we ended up in Pittsburgh, a city we lived in previously, and there was no one else doing what we wanted to do at the time. Knowing what to do and being the first to do it? The rest of the story writes itself.
But why is this so important for travel blogging? Our blog now owns almost every Pittsburgh keyword that matters, despite the fact that our site is less of an authority per regularly viewed SEO metrics. Yes, we beat out even the largest travel blogs that have visited our beautiful city.
But there is an even more important point to highlight- established bloggers are starting blogs in cities, states/regions, and countries all over the world in order to tap into this new field.
I think this is a perfect storm that is going to upset the balance of the travel blogging world very, very soon.
What we currently have are thousands of generalists trying to make their points heard on destinations, but at the end of the day most travel bloggers spend anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks or months in a spot and are barely an expert at all.
What happens when someone does the exact same thing but spends years there, and lives, breathes, and bleeds their city or region? What happens to the general travel blog when more people take this dive and blogs start to become saturated on a city or country specialist level?
It won't be pretty. I'm just happy to have a head start on this one for a change!
Our prediction? Search engines will deem these sites as greater authorities than general travel blogs, and begin to displace them in rankings even if they are less authoritative by commonly known metrics. In the next 3-5 years, there will be sites in every major city, region, and country which will then displace even the top 100 travel bloggers on popular terms.
Influencers Aren't Going to Go Away
Virtually everyone loves to make fun of influencers, and bloggers are no different. In fact, bloggers make fun of them the most.
The thing bloggers get when it comes to influencers is that we've been there. Five years ago everyone called themselves a blogger, there was a stigma from those who tried to get comps purely by follower count (sound familiar?), and it was easy to make fun of us.
But now blogging is a defined (and in many cases, legitimized) industry, and influencer marketing, well, isn't. Why write blog posts no one reads when you can have an Instagram account no one sees? It certainly is much less work.
But, short of a complete collapse of social media, I have to say that, sadly, influencers are not going anywhere.
Influencer marketing is a stupid buzzword that has become synonymous with a race to the bottom of who will do the most work for less, and no matter the industry, someone will always work for nothing more than a $5 comp from a multi-billion dollar company.
But with a $5 investment comes $5 results, and I think this is going to become apparent sooner rather than later.
Our prediction? Marketing campaigns will continue to shift towards wannabe influencers in the near-term, but, after a few years, bloggers and other established media will continue to educate PR firms about why influencer marketing is garbage. (Or, to quote a few friends, a likely recession may also happen that will cause PR firms to re-evaluate poor campaign choices as well.)
I don't think it would ever fully go away, but I suspect there will be more multi-level campaigns rather than the race to the bottom we are seeing right now. Meanwhile, the top travel bloggers are all moving to passive income (ads/affiliates) in order to not have to bother with this kind of marketing altogether.
Only the Top Few Will Survive
I say the word survive as being very tongue-in-cheek because there are a number of ways to maintain a successful travel blog. Search traffic as mentioned above is only one possible outlet, even if it is the largest (and in my opinion, most important).
But the reality is that travel blogging is already saturated and will become over-saturated in the next few years.
Those at the top keep growing and own the industry from being the most authoritative.
Those in the middle are struggling to keep up, despite maintaining some degree of success. Some will continue and thrive. Others have thrown in the towel and moved on to other successful ventures with the skills they learned along the way (a notable example is my friend Michael from Art of Adventuring who now runs a Yerba Mate site, Matero, and a Bologna blog, Bologna Living).
But those at the bottom are being left behind with fewer and fewer options as the months go by.
The momentum of travel blogging has been set. We bloggers set it. And we bloggers killed it for everyone else. I'd say sorry for this, but in the inherently limited field of travel writing, I have to say, I'm not sorry.
You're just too late to the game.
This disparity is only going to grow, and those at the top will be the ones that benefit the most. As a self-described mid-level travel blogger, I am only just a little worried- but I also have a local blog to help balance out all the things as well.
I saw the end of this gold rush coming from miles away.
What predictions do you see for the future of travel blogging and blogging as a whole? Comment below to share!
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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.