Keep Calm and Travel Blog by Clelia Mattana

Clelia Mattana is an Italian Globetrotter and Blogger at the popular Travel website Keepcalmandtravel.com. She’s been featured on Cosmopolitan, Tripadvisor and Lifehack amongst many other online sites. Her blog is in the top 50 most popular Travel websites in terms of traffic and social media impact. Her motto: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Keep Calm and Travel - Author Pic

Please tell us something about yourself? Is travel blogging your profession or just a hobby?

I like to think of myself as a traveler rather than a travel blogger. I opened my website as a hobby in 2012 to document my upcoming long-term trip, and it has become my full time job only 1 year ago.
Traveling and writing are my biggest passions and I couldn’t be happier with my choice!

When did you get an idea to launch your own blog and how important is it for you to be online?

As already mentioned in my previous answer, I launched my blog almost by accident. When I started I didn’t consider making money out of it or creating a business. It happened naturally overtime.
Being online is obviously one of the most important factors that contributed to the success of my blog. Even my approach to the social media has changed drastically: now I use them more to connect with my audience rather than simply playing around with them. After all, I couldn’t run my blog if I wasn’t constantly online!

Did you have someone help you make your blog or did you do it by yourself?

Unfortunately I have to deal with all the aspects of my blog by myself for now. I had a friend helping me out for a few months, but blogging is not as easy as many people would think, so we both decided to end the cooperation. When you are a blogger and you are not really passionate about your job, it’s very difficult to keep the motivation to carry on. Sometimes even sacrificing your personal life and many other things in order for your business to grow.
I know that this is my passion and what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’m now thinking about hiring a virtual assistant or an intern, as the amount of work I have to deal with is huge, and there are moments when I’m seriously burned out and need a break.

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The right domain name is important. How long did it take you to come up with the domain name for your blog?

This is an interesting question. Since my website started as a hobby, I didn’t really give the right importance to the domain name when I had to choose, so I decided to call it “Keep Calm And Travel” for 2 main reasons:

  1. The keep calm and “whatever” was quite popular in Europe in 2012 (it still is now actually), and I thought that maybe someone could be interested in buying the domain one day. Side note: Now, after all the hard work I put in it, I wouldn’t sell it at any price (well, maybe 1 million dollars would make me seriously think about it, but you get my point!).
  2. I suffered from panic attacks since age 17. For many people this is a very invalidating issue and traveling with this condition most of the times it’s not easy. I liked the idea to use “keep calm” as a “mantra” and remind myself that I can overcome my fears, no matter what. This is also a message for all those people who face the same problems as mine. You can travel, even with extreme anxiety or panic attacks. Anything is possible.

What kind of Theme do you use on your blog and what are the “must have” plugins for a blog?

After a research that lasted for over 6 months I finally found the perfect Theme for my website. It’s called X theme and I LOVE it.
I’ve chosen it as it is highly customizable and I wanted to create something unique with my blog. Lately I’ve seen many websites (travel related or not) with very similar layouts: a modern feel, very cool and clean. They are very nice indeed, but it seems to me it’s like getting a Tattoo just because it’s trendy. I didn’t want mine to resemble any of them, even if most of them look way more professional than mine.
I wanted to give my blog a clean layout, that at the same time represented quite well who I am, and so far I’m very satisfied with the results. A few months after the switch, my home pages’ bounce rate went down from 75% to 45/55%. Not bad!
Another plus of the theme I’ve chosen is that if I ever get tired of it, I can still change it with one of the many ready to use home pages already available. Just perfect!

Regarding the plugins, I try to avoid using too many, and I always prioritize the ones that take care of my website’s security and performance.
I use Askimet and Captcha to avoid spammers, W3 Total Cache for better speed/performance, Yoast to take care of the SEO part, LoginLockDown , I-theme security and Sucuri to avoid hacker attacks, plus a few other ones for social shares, and lastly WP Edit to add a few features when I’m writing a blog post or creating a page.

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What CMS (Content Management System) do you use on your blog? How hard is it to navigate within your CMS (making a new post, inserting images, moderating comments, etc.)?

I use WordPress, and considering that I didn’t even know what a Plugin or Widget were when I first launched my website, I find it very easy to navigate and to use.
There is a debate on whether WordPress is more vulnerable in terms of security than other CMS. It probably is, but we have the instruments to avoid this, and most of them are free.
After 2 failed attempts of having my website hacked, I’m now extra careful and I regularly update my plugins and my theme, and I back up my database on a monthly bases.

How much time do you spend blogging?

It depends on what you mean by “blogging”.
If you are referring to writing content, I don’t spend as much time as people would think. I can work 16 hours straight on my website, and out of those 16 hours, sometimes only 1-3 hours are dedicated to writing content (blog posts or creating new pages).
I use the rest of the time doing “back-office” work: Replying to the emails and comments from my readers in detail, dealing with possible advertisers (most of the times just spammers), schedule and reply to interviews, deal with social media, and edit images and videos.
Not to mention that I also have to study marketing and copywriting to improve my writing skills and my business strategies.
I also need to learn how to use new programs, keep track of my finances and analyze the trends on my website in terms of traffic and conversion, revise my short and long term goals regularly and so on.
There is so much to do behind maintaining a website and let it grow as a business, that it would take me the whole day to write everything down.
Usually when I have to create an article I can spend as much as 10 hours per day writing. I learned English from scratch when I was 30 and it takes me much longer to write a piece compared to my colleagues who write in their native language, but it’s OK.

How do you promote your blog? Do you use social media channels to attract more visitors to your blog?

I use a mix of social media and SEO to promote my blog. Obviously I try to be as active as possible on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and now I’m also starting with Instagram, but I don’t want to rely solely on these platforms to attract visitors to my website.
It’s very time consuming, unless you’re aiming to get some big sponsors willing to pay for your social media numbers. If you want to make serious money out of your website without sponsors, usually the social media doesn’t convert as well as Google or a good mailing list (at least not in my case).
I’m not saying that social media platforms are not important, they are very important to be recognized as a brand, to create a strong community around your business, whatever it might be. Not to mention that the readers coming from social media usually stay on the site longer than the ones coming from Google.
Again, I’d like to say that this is my personal experience, but I read many marketing websites (Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout is one of my favorites) and they tend to agree with this statement.
Another aspect to consider – which is sometimes underestimated- is the power of the mailing list to keep your readers coming back for more. I realized its potential only lately and I’m working hard on this as well.
Last but not least: SEO. Almost 80% of the traffic coming to my website is organic, and it’s quite a relief for me as my blogging schedule is not more than 1/2 posts per month. Thanks to my efforts on the SEO part, my traffic keeps growing even when I don’t publish a new article for months.
This is NOT something I’d suggest obviously. Fresh and quality content is always good, but it is quite reassuring to know that if, for whatever reason, you can’t follow your editing schedule, your traffic won’t resent it too much, and it could actually even grow!
I know of many people who object with the fact that using this strategy, you are at the mercy of Google, which can be quite unnerving, as we all know that a single Google Update can sweep off years of hard work. That’s why I am trying to implement other strategies together with the SEO (Newsletter, creating my own products and services AND using social media).
That said, I still put most of my energy and effort into creating quality content which is SEO Optimized. Every single time I write a post, a page or simply update an older article, I keep this in mind.
I’d rather write less but more in-depth posts than many short ones, as I noticed that the longest are loved by Google AND, most importantly, by the readers.

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Is there a way to monetize (make money) through a blog?

No, there are actually many ways to make money with a website, but there is one thing I’m 100% sure about, and I’m also 100% sure that my colleagues would agree with me: It won’t happen overnight.
I wrote a quite comprehensive post on how I make money online on my website, if you read it, I basically reply to all of the questions regarding monetizing a blog.
The article is almost one year old now, but the main message still remains the same: It takes a clear plan, a lot of hard work, a bit of luck, but most of all PATIENCE.
Some blogs might start earning money sooner than others and there are many reasons to explain that, but I don’t know anyone who started a website and woke up one week later earning a decent “salary”.
The good news is, it’s still possible. No matter how crowded your niche is. I started making money as soon as I put my first affiliate link, and yes, it happened overnight. But you have to consider that since launching my website, to putting my first affiliate link, my blog was already 1 year and 7 months old.
I don’t count the first year as I barely wrote anything and my approach was totally unprofessional, but the remaining 7 months were dedicated to working day and night on my blog. Some weeks even 19 hours per day.
Sounds a bit scary, right? Well don’t get discouraged too soon. After all, you need to consider that I started my blog without a plan. I didn’t take it seriously for the first year, and even writing in a language which is not mine. Not a good start! So read my article to get a better idea on how I made it possible, despite all the difficulties I had to overcome.

Would you encourage other people to make their own blogs?

Given my previous answer, people might think that I’m discouraging others to open their own blog, but I’m not.
If you have a passion and you are patient enough to see the results, by all means, open your own blog.
Another piece of advice for who’s just starting out: Have a clear idea on what you want to achieve from your website before even buying the domain name.
If you want to write as a hobby you can just open it on free platforms like wordpress.com, but if you want to take it to the next level, I strongly suggest you to buy your domain name. Find a good and reliable webhosting from the beginning and pay for a nice, user-friendly theme.
It will save you tons of time and headaches in the future, trust me on this one!

Please give us some advice for new bloggers and for people who are still not sure if they need a blog of their own?

I think I already gave some good advice on my previous answer, if I have to add another piece of advice it would be: make a plan, write down your goals, both short and long term ones.
It will help you big time to speed up the whole process, and act as a professional blogger from the start (learn from my mistakes!).

Photos ©: Keep Calm and Travel

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