This is a different type of post and may not be for everyone. It’s not about the sexy world of travel, or the international allure of conflict resolution. It’s not even about getting drunk in the woods, drinking horrible local liquor and dancing to Balkan music until 2 am (which did happen just last weekend). As you may have noticed there have been quite a few changes to the design and layout of Todd’s Wanderings over the past month. Some are cosmetic,while others took place under the hood.

These changes have coincided with recent requests for advice on how to develop a travel blog, how to find a niche, developments in the travel blogging world, how much effort it takes to maintain a site like mine, and how do I find the time to travel, work, blog and sleep. Interestingly enough, there is a thriving market for social media and blog consultants which it seems I am now qualified to be a part of.

While I’m not looking to build a social media and blog consulting business, I AM interested in making Todd’s Wanderings an awesome site and delivering top notch content. This involves, artful writing, jaw dropping photography, a large community of willing/helpless followers, a splash of humor, a dash of sarcastic commentary, and a willingness to keep writing for a large audience even when only your Mom is reading…after several reminders. Most advice you get when starting a travel/lifestyle design blog is to have good content. Seriously. That’s the advice. Have good content. Thankfully, people aren’t getting paid too much to offer such advice.

The truth is there is SO much more to a successful travel blog (however you measure success). Just one of the key factors is the website design. It doesn’t matter how good the content is, if a site’s design makes my head hurt I’m not going to stick around long, let alone return for another round of vertigo. Since I have been undergoing design changes I have  decided to update you all on where I am, my excuses for the changes and where I’m going.  A huge thanks to Dave and Deb from the Planetd who shared their own changes recently and inspired me to do the same.

Reasons for the Changes

Before I get into the mechanics of the changes, there is the why change question. I changed the structure of Todd’s Wandering at the beginning of this year to appeal to a larger audience. It is no longer just about updating my friends and family about my travels but also connecting with and inspiring others to live a more free lifestyle, and building up my business as a travel writer and blogger.

Yes, this is a business. I’m not trying to get rich out of travel writing and blogging, although I wouldn’t complain if it happened either. I am hoping that my little corner of the Internet will help support my life of freedom (or at least contribute to it). I believe I have a unique advantage here as I’m not explain how I’m going to travel the world, work, and love my jobs. I have already achieved it, I’m doing it right now, have been for over 10 years and my readers get to not only come along for the ride but also see how I did it. I’m also using my website as a key pillar in my platform as an author. My goal is to put my words and ideas in front of as many eyes as possible while loving what I’m doing the whole time, and hopefully entertaining and inspiring along the way. Here is the shameless plug part of the post.

If you like Todd’s Wanderings please share it with your friends, subscribe to updates through RSS, and/or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

I get energized by the number of people reading my posts, interacting through comments, and connecting with me on social media. It is such positive reinforcement in a world of writing that is solitary by nature. The more people who come to Todd’s Wanderings the better we can make site together! There are a lot of working parts to driving traffic to a website and the following changes are part of them. Most of them are design related as I love an attractive, functional and clean design. The clean lines and uncluttered designs in Japan resonated deeply with my personality and my blog should reflect this.

Enough rationalizing, give me the Changes!

Ok, so here is what has changed on Todd’s Wanderings over the last two months. Much of this is based on a good friend’s advice (he happens to be a creative director for marketing agency and a graphic designer…so I listened carefully).

1) Background color. I changed the background to white from a solid green. Hopefully this makes the blog look more open and spacious. I also made sure the post and side bar background colors match (white in this case) to help everything stay consistent and get rid of the boxy feel that many blogs have.

2) I have a Logo! You can see it below, and in my new header (more on that in a second). I felt the logo was important for branding. The bonus is that TW is also my initials so I can use it for my authors website that I will be creating soon.

Todd's Wanderings Logo

Mahayana Statue at Gangarama Temple Sri Lanka

See, pretty picture, captivating caption.

3) Header and general color scheme. I have moved the main navigation into the header and made it black to stand out and contrast with the white theme. This gives me more room to content below the header image and makes the header area more functional. These changes were way beyond my own coding skills so I hired someone here in Kosovo to help. He also helped me to hack in to the caption section below each picture to match the black background with white text to my main navigation colors. I wa advised to only have 5 tabs in the navigation bar. I have six, hopefully it does not overwhelm you!

4) Drop down tabs in the Main Navigation. These are usually not a good idea for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as google has a hard time indexing the content. On the other hand they are much more functional for visitors. For me the experience of visitors is more important for a general blog where I want people to find old articles and new information easily.

5) I added a top navigation menu (also in black). These contain the more technical aspects to the blog beyond general enjoyment (advertising and contact  info, terms of use etc).

6) Cleaning up the Side Bar area. I admit there is still work to be done here, but I am resizing all pictures to fit fully in their boxes, I got rid of some of the “I love Todd’s Wanderings” badges (painful at first) and I’m added advertising to products I like. Currently you can purchase The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl’s Guide to Women Traveling Solo (more to come soon, but only products that I believe in and think are valuable to you).  I also got rid of the blog directory widgets:

I wasn’t sure about this at first but I took the plunge on the advice of Dave and Deb from Plantd. Let’s face it, they are ugly and apparently they are not helping drive traffic to my site any longer. They “may” have helped getting Todd’s Wanderings indexed with Google and the other search engines at first. But now they are just taking up space. If I drop off the Internet you will now know why!

7) Video. I have started adding video to help you get to know me better and the places I visit. The most obvious place is on my Welcome to Todd’s Wanderings video up top on the right. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know the wind is blowing…it was shot on a mountain top in the wilds between Kosovo and Macedonia so give me a break :)

I know it doesn’t sound like a lot has changed, but as you can see the effect is quite different. It took about 1 month to put all of this together and a website coder to institute the changes. Simple is not always easy.

Further Changes

I’m still not satisfied with where my blog is at the moment (not sure if I ever will be!). But I’m a firm believer in setting goals and then setting new goals. My current goals include earning an average of $1,000 from my website each month and having an average daily visitor count of 1,000 people. Yes, that’s a 1000, 1000 Challenge, care to join in? I’m getting close but I’m not there yet. I have an average of between 150-200 visitors per day and over the past 6 months since I reoriented my blog I’ve earned an average of $225 per month. Compared with 5 visitors a day and an average of 3 cents per month during my first 2 years of blogging this is a huge change. I think I’m doing something right. Of course a large part of that included winning a writing contest for one of my blog articles (No, Thank You Laos).

These are ONLY my current blog goals. I have other loftier goals, including getting my Shikoku, Japan book published, actually finishing my Shikoku, Japan book, and world peace. Here is what you can expect from Todd’s Wanderings over the next month or two. Trust me this is a lot of work and I still have a full time job trying to make my little corner of the globe a better place to live.

1) Redesign my RSS and follow me section in my side bar. I want to include a newsletter option, start a newsletter, and have a consistent design theme in subscribe box.

2) Reduce the resolution of my pictures. I love having big, beautiful, colorful pictures on my site. But I have been saving them at too high a resolution and it is causing my site to load slowly and probably hurting my ranking in google. The sizes will stay the same but I will use Photoshop to “save for the web.” which will reduce the resolution and size of the files. I should have been doing this all along.

3) Increase the number of advertisers on the site. I am currently taking a great course called Affiliate Marketing for Begginners. It lays out how to recommend good products in an ETHICAL manner in order to increase the revenue from your own website. I really like the idea of connecting my readers to useful products. I also think affiliate sales has greater earning potential than Adsense or other pay for click advertising. I do hate the pressure tactics and sleazy feel of many affiliate sites. This program is different and shows you how to do it ethically from the ground up, including building an affiliate site together. I’m only halfway through the course but I would already recommend it! (of course if you buy it, I also get a commission)

4) A Free Lonely Planet ebook available for subscribers to Todd’s Wanderings. The ebook is taking shape as we speak and will feature 40 prominent travel bloggers, including me. The project was started in Lonely Planet’s Blogsherpa Program and we are really excited to be working with them. The tentative title is “Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers” and its a photo journey around the world through the eyes and words of full time travel bloggers.Yes, I will soon be a Lonely Planet Author, and you will get a FREE ebook. Awesome for both of us.

5) Change my homepage to a E-magazine design. This will be a major change so that the landing page to Todd’s Wanderings highlights the various articles and sections available on the website. I think this will make it easier for visitors to find content and explore the site. The latest posts will still be available on the “blog” section. Hopefully it will also lead to more pages with a higher Google ranking, giving me more advertising space and options.

6) It’s time to define my book further. You’ll get an overview of the book (my 900 mile walking Buddhist Pilgrimage in Japan) and its major themes (sacrad vs the profane, F$&^#* up Japan, and figuring out what I want to be when I grow up).

7) I will rearrange the Main Navigation tabs. My thought is to insert a Blog tab, take out the Shikoku Pilgrimage and move it to the sidebar area where I can add more resources.

That’s it. Sounds simple enough, but like I said blogging can be a full time job!

I would love to hear your thoughts, advice and experiences. And if you want to join my 1000, 1000 Challange let’s do it together and share our experiences.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

36 Responses to “Blog Design: Building a Better Travel Blog”

  1. Hey Toddy, I totally missed that you replied to my post! Sorry, so busy this end I over looked it. I will make sure I come back to you with some ideas and input on your navigation system. Kelly

  2. AmandaNo Gravatar says:

    Hey! Thanks very much for this post. Great food for thought for a first-time blogger.
    Amanda´s recent [type] ..Whoa…I Wanna Do That! My Top 7

  3. DawnNo Gravatar says:

    Love your new look and no, I don’t think that 6 tabs in the top nav bar is too many. We need to have a bit of a clear out every now and then. Blogs can be a little like an old store cupboard – you put things there and years later they’re still there even though the reason for them being has long gone.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Dawn,

      Thanks. I love a clean blog as much as I love a packed up apartment and only a few packed suitcases left. Agreed that we have to clean them out every now and then.

  4. AndreaNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Todd,

    Really appreciate you sharing this. I’m currently thinking about design so that I can switch from blogger to my own site. Your tip about photos is great, I always load massive photos.

    I’m also thinking about doing the writer’s course at MatadorU and notice your smiling face there, any inside info you can share? Is it worth doing?

    A little P.S. for David. At blogger I use Simple template by Josh Peterson. I like it, it’s white and clean but not too bland.


    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Andrea, I switched from blogger just earlier this year and it has made a huge difference. There is a lot to learn, but that is also the fun part :)

      I am not a part of MatadorU and intrigued that you have seen my face there! Could you let me know where I’m showing up on their site? I’m a part of Matador Network and I do get the U email newsletter but never took the course (although I have thought about it).

      Cheers, Todd
      Todd Wassel´s recent [type] ..“Jersey Shore” Hits Japan as the “Macaroni Rascals”…seriously

  5. Jools StoneNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Todd, thanks for sharing your progress so openly with us all. Maybe I’ll give your challenge a whirl too, though monetisation may be a bridge too far for me yet. My next experiment is a bit of video blogging with my new flip video.

    I love the point about the uber-obvious ‘have good content’ tip which gets trotted out everywhere like it’s some precious secret!

    I enjoy the clean look and feel of your blog and am looking forward to digging into your Balkan posts especially. If you can recommend any other good bloggers active in or on that part of the world recently that would be great too, as I’m off inter railing next month through Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and possibly Bulgaria. I know of you, Travel Moments, 501 places and Mary Novakovich so far.

    Jools Stone´s recent [type] ..Blogging engines rev up for first Flightster sortie

  6. Hi Todd, thanks so much for this post, it’s really interesting. I am starting off from scratch really with a view to blog in the same way. I am a web designer and a lot of your points are things I’ve come across over the years. 6 tabs will do fine tho, you sometimes can’t limit them!. Someone like you is very inspiring for my writing. I love your new logo, really clever. You know you can develop tabbed navigation that IS search engine friendly? Alternatively add another navigation to the bottom and make sure you link to pages throughout your site in the content.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Kelly, as a web designer you are already well ahead of me :) I’m looking forward to exploring your blog and your writings. If you could let us all know, how do you make tabbed navigation that is SE Optimized? I’m more concerned with ease of navigation but am always happy to throw a bit more SEO into the mix

  7. Dave and DebNo Gravatar says:

    Awesome changes Todd. You are doing great! We have been going through the same sort of changes the past two months and it is overwhelming. We too still aren’t satisfied either, but slowly getting there. I love these kinds of posts because we can all learn from each other.
    We ended up getting rid of our drop down menus as we had many people tell us that they were awkward. Instead we changed the drop menus to a page. When you click on a category, you go to a page with headings. We have noticed that people are finally clicking on our categories. Just a thought.
    I love the video, we have been doing the same thing too! A friend told us that they aren’t seeing our personalities shine in the blog and we need to put up videos. I really like getting to know you better through your videos.
    Also, we are happy getting rid of those blog directory widgets. It actually sped up our site.
    Can’t wait to follow along and see how things go for you.
    Dave and Deb´s recent [type] ..How To Take A Green Vacation – A Review

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Dave and Deb, yes the drop down menus are a challenge. I guess it is always a challenge to find a good website navigation plan that gets readers to all corners of a blog. At the moment I find that people are hitting my categories well with my current navigation system. But I do want to build nicer looking landing pages in the future. Can’t wait to see more of your personalities though video, and hopefully actually meet you in person sometime soon as well.

  8. Todd, there must be some amazing synchronicity going on between us. As I write this, I, too, am rolling out a new and improved design that has been in the works for a couple of months. I like your new design – clean and easy to read. So many of the things you wrote about are changes I am also implementing – smaller file size for photos without lowering the quality, a drop-down nav bar that actually works, etc. I love what I do as a writer/photographer but as you say, this is a business and we have to stay on top of all the technical minutiae as well. Never knew I was going to have to become an SEO expert or manage my own advertising. Congrats on a lovely new design and keep up the good work.

    One other thing your readers should know. You are obviously too humble to tel them, so I will. Todd told you that: “The project was started in Lonely Planet’s Blogsherpa Program and we are really excited to be working with them..” What he didn’t say was that he has been INSTRUMENTAL in getting this project off the ground and bringing it to conclusion. It simply would not have happened without him. He is a wonder. Thank you, Todd!

  9. LivNo Gravatar says:

    Hi, Todd! I’m Liv – I write I Eat My Pigeon. I found your site through StumbleUpon. I’d say “good luck” to you but I don’t believe in luck in situations like this; hard work, skill, and know how. It sounds like you’ve got all the bases covered. Three cheers for your 1000 1000 challenge!
    Liv´s recent [type] ..Hungry Will Stand on Ridiculously Long Line for Seafood

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Liv, thanks for stopping by! I now your site and read it often :) I agree, blogging takes a lot of dedication, and a willingness to learn. The nice thing is that you can just start and see progress with each article and picture posted.

      I’m happy people are liking the 1000/1000 Challenge :) It’s can be tough to get real numbers from people at times and this is a great way to build transparency and a body of best practices we can share with each other.

  10. Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

    One more design change that I made was changing the default “mystery man” picture in the comment section. Now if a commenter does not have a Gravitar the Todd’s Wanderings Logo will show up instead. I think this makes the space look cleaner and more personal to the site.

  11. Hey Todd, love the new layout, look and feel! I have to agree with you on a lot of things you mentioned above as I faced many of the problems. In fact, I have been looking for a new cleaner template for my site for the last 4 months with no success. Maybe someone can help me here? (I’m on blogger platform so no WP templates)

    David @ Malaysia Asia´s recent [type] ..5 Things to do in Kota Kinabalu Sabah

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey David. Thanks. Sorry to say I can’t help with platform advice. I made the move from blogger to wordpress at the beginning of this year. It was a tough, painful process but in the end I think it was best. It forced me to throw out a lot of junk ;)

      Hopefully someone can chime in with a good Blogger suggestion.

  12. I like your new look Todd, and your challenge. I’m still working to find my place in the blogsphere. Maybe in a couple of months I’ll be thinking about 1000 followers a day.
    Nancie (Ladyexpat)´s recent [type] ..Wanderfood Wednesday &8212 Delicious Ramen in Fukuoka

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Nancie. We will see how long it takes to get to 1,000 visitors a day. I have a feeling that the money part will be easier. It took me a while to find my place as well…actually I’m not sure if I have or not yet as it seems to constantly be in motion.

      The advice from my creative director friend was “find what makes you different and push on it, hard”

      Sound advice. Cheers.
      Todd Wassel´s recent [type] ..Use Travel to Make You Happy

  13. MelissaNo Gravatar says:

    Your white blog looks great. This probably helped your traffic too – I read recently that white backgrounds hold people’s attention longer then any other blog color. As for those ugly badges, why don’t you just move them onto a page you don’t link to from your home page? This way you can keep track of your counts without having to clutter your sidebar. Just an idea.
    Melissa´s recent [type] ..Burning Man- Practical Tips for Rolling into Reno

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Melissa, thanks. I had no idea about the power of a white background but it makes sense as it does not distract the reader. I’m not really concerned with my counts on the blog directory. I checked and they rarely send me visitors and they only count page hits to the where they are placed. I don’t think many people would visit my “ugly widget page” :) The only one that I think helps me is my Alexa widget as it’s a pretty low score and that’s always nice to promote.

      I really like you blog by the way. Cheers, Todd

  14. NorbertNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Todd, Loving the revamp of your blog. It looks really clean and the logo looks great! Looking forward for those future changes… I also love your 1000/1000 challenge. It will be fun to see the progress on your challenge.

    I’m actually, in the process of redesigning mine too. I will upload the new design next week (hopefully). My biggest debate so far is if I want to leave the width as it is right now (940px) or make it wider (maybe 980px)… it’s just the though of having to rescale every picture… ugh. Btw, got some ideas from your post. :)

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Norbert,thanks and I’m glad you found some of the ideas useful. I went with a 1030 px width. I may scale it down a bit to make my widget area an even 300, but so far most everyone has been able to use the site easily. I have to admit that I left all of my old photos (from before i migrated over to wordpress) the same size. I suppose I need to go back and make everything as nice as recent posts too.

      I’ll post a 1000/1000 Challenge update page soon so that people can comment and update on their own progress as well (unless they are already well ahead of me :) .
      Todd Wassel´s recent [type] ..Use Travel to Make You Happy

  15. Change is as good as a holiday. We are now beginning to think about how to do ours and a logo is a definite. I love how yours is your initial as well. That is awesome for branding purposes. I really like some of your ideas for changes and these are things I’m also considering. Organizing sidebars are a headache!!
    btw: I’m super stoked that you won the writing contest on your Laos piece. I really enjoyed that and voted for you.
    Caz Makepeace´s recent [type] ..Why I Don’t Want to Be a Freelance Writer

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Caz. I can’t wait to see your changes as well. Side bars are the most exhausting things, especially getting all your content in and making it look balanced. Thanks for the vote as well! I won the May content but not the overall one. But I’m happy with winning a month :)

  16. EarlNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Todd – This is a great look, especially with the video at the top of the sidebar. The logo fits well, the colors are easy to look at and overall it’s a catchy layout. Excellent work so far! Did you create the logo yourself?

    I also like the idea of the 1000 / $1000 challenge! Seems like you’re not too far from that goal at all, although we both know that still requires plenty of hard work ahead!
    Earl´s recent [type] ..The Food Stall On The Street Corner

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Earl. yes, the 1000/ 1000 Challenge still requires a lot of work :) But fun work! I wish I could claim the logo but my skills with design and photoshop are not up to speed. It was actually created by my best friend Mike who is a designer and who has visited me just about everywhere I have ever lived. It’s great to keep a link back to home and share my travels with someone at the same time.

  17. LaurenceNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Todd, great post. The only slight issue I have with your site design, and trust me, I’m not an expert on this, is the way the twitter follow me icon floats down the left hand side and obscures parts of the article i’m trying to read. And this comment box. Could be because i’m reading on a small screen (netbook standard 1024*600), or in google chrome. Anyhow, just my tuppence! Cheers!
    Laurence´s recent [type] ..A travel bloggers travel bloggers list

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Laurence. I’ve heard this issue before from people on smaller screens. I think you have put the numbers over the top enough for me to take the twitter icon out. Actually you are only the 2nd person but that’s enough for me. I wish I could know how often it was used, oh well. There are plenty of other twitter icons on the site.

  18. AndiNo Gravatar says:

    Change is always good!!! Sounds like you have some awesome ideas. :)
    Andi´s recent [type] ..Guest Post- My Greatest Travel Goal — Machu Picchu

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