From blog to brand: Megan Singleton (Blogger at Large)

In a market inundated with sun-shrivelled writers all trying to get readers to notice their stories from the road, Megan Singleton has set herself apart for over 15 years. And in this time, she has combined her two greatest loves – writing and travelling – to establish an online brand called Blogger at Large that various major publications look to as a trusted name in the travel writing industry.

In addition to previously writing for TVNZ, Yahoo! NZ, the New Zealand Herald and USA Today, Singleton is currently listed as an official writer for Expedia and features on Andrew Dickens’ ‘Sunday Café’ on Newstalk ZB. 

And her work in the industry has also been recognised locally and internationally. In 2009 and 2011, she received the US Travel Association Travel Writers Award , and she has also been included in the NZ Herald list of the Top 50 Tweeters to follow.

Interestingly, Singleton doesn’t list any of her writing achievements as her proudest moment, because she says this position is reserved for 1 September 2004 when she helped to co-found Random Acts of Kindness Day in New Zealand.     

How did you start your website?

I started blogging for House of Travel in 2005 writing two posts a day, five days a week for three years. It was great fun and I never ran out of content as it could be a quirky gem to visit or a newsy piece about an airline. The posts were very brief and didn’t haven’t images. When they terminated the blog to build Mix and Match I went out on my own. It was 2009 – the start of the global financial crisis!

How has it changed since the early days?

It’s changed massively. Initially I had a friend build it in WordPress. It was pretty amateurish to be honest and thank God I don’t have any screen shots to show you. My first priority was to populate it with unique content and my second was to attract traffic. After nearly a year, I contracted a designer/programmer and we haven’t looked back. It’s still on WordPress and I can manage much of it myself, but for the real geek work, I use Dan.

How do you go about financing your site? Do you make enough to live off your website?

I finance it in a number of ways. I work with a few travel brands and destinations to write sponsored posts. Usually they are my ideas, like Five Secret Beaches in Thailand, and if I haven’t visited that place recently I’ll interview a few people for their tips. I also sell product. I’m a reseller of Antler luggage. I don’t carry any stock; I just promote it and when someone makes a purchase I get it sent out from the warehouse. I am involved with a few affiliate programmes like 1Cover Insurance and CityPass – but they don’t make much, actually. And lately I’ve been running workshops and seminars. “Blogger Me” is to help newbie bloggers get started and learn how to ultimately monetise their blogs, and this year I’m getting interest from companies outside of the travel industry who want to know all about content marketing and social media, so until I think of a catchier title it’s just called “Content Marketing for Business”.

How do you attract ad revenue to your site? Do you use any content marketing?

I don’t run any ads as such, just the commissioned content as above. I do pay for ads however. I use Facebook promoted posts, sponsored posts and Google ads.

What type of advertising works best for a website?

I’m all about content. When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad while reading a story? Sponsored posts/editorial are the future, written with the right keywords, a clever title, great pics – that’s the model I’ve always reckoned works best, unless of course you have a massive sale on a flight to somewhere, then a couple of words and hero image is all you need.

Has your blog furthered your career in other ways? (Your site says you work for Expedia and you comment on NewsTalk ZB)  

I was a freelance travel writer before I became a blogger (15 years of writing/8 years of blogging) so I’m not sure if it’s the blogging that has brought the extra outlets or my dogged persistence as a freelancer. But yes, I won an online competition a year ago to be one of five bloggers for Expedia Australia/NZ, I speak every Sunday to Andrew Dickens on Newstalk ZB about a destination or a travel tip. Usually, if I’m on location on a Sunday we’ll speak live, but sometimes time zones don’t permit (like next week I’ll be in Singapore) so we pre-record during the week. I also have a weekly Top 5 travel column in the NZ Herald. Oh and right now I’m nominated for a “Bloscar”. No I don’t know what that is either, but it’s run by Skyscanner and is currently in the voting stage.

Has anyone ever offered to buy your site? Would you mind sharing some stories. What is the most you’ve ever been offered?

No, no one’s offered to buy my site. I’m not sure who would at this point as it’s still growing and has a wee way to go before I get APN or Fairfax knocking I’d say. I also love the editorial control, so I’d want to stay on as editor while I bask in my millions.

Have you got any funny anecdotes about running a travel site in NZ?

It’s not funny, but it is an anecdote: when I started Blogger at Large, it was not only the beginning of the GFC but online content was not even on the radar for travel advertisers, so I spent the best part of the last three years trying to educate the industry that keywords and content was the way to go. Finally, this year, I am working with some companies who have ditched nearly all their traditional advertising spend in favour of online. 

What advice would you give to newbies wanting to make it in the online industry?

You can totally do it if you are passionate about your topic and committed to working flippin’ hard for a few years without reaping financial rewards. People say I have the dream job, and it’s true I do, but I don’t own a house and I’m spending everything I have on growing this site and, ultimately, my travel brand. But I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

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