Taking a break from books, after having posted reviews of Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson, we would like to turn our attention to the web. We spent the weekend checking out a couple of the web’s more popular travel publications—World Hum (WH) and Brave New Traveler (BNT).
Our goal here was to analyze and observe how the sites operated, hoping to pick up tips to help shape our own blogging strategy. Of course, we were not looking at replicating every aspect of these publications, but hoped to uncover some ideas, strategies and tips.
It should be stated at the outset that we’re not long-term readers of either publication. And although we’ve spent a good deal of time reading and reviewing over a few days, this article is comprised of what amounts to first impressions.
BNT describes itself as a daily travel magazine that incorporates “original content and previously published articles from guest authors”. Moreover, BNT avoids “destination-specific” narratives and instead focuses on topics like philosophy, health, politics and culture. WH, a subsidiary of the Travel Channel, focuses on travel journalism and caters to travel aficionados around the globe. It exists to serve the “travel addicted”.
Overall, both sites do not focus on destination-specific narratives, instead choosing to highlight travel in the broadest sense of the word. Perhaps the editorial teams at both publications feel that focusing on such narratives reduces their appeal to their respective ‘casual’ readership, or perhaps they feel destination-specific stories are better left to blogs documenting journeys of a more personal nature.
Instead, both publications tend to (for the most part) forego the travel story and focus on the philosophy of wanderlust, and the topics of culture and politics through the lens of travel. Of the two, BNT is the ‘hipper’ blog—WH is more staid both in the overall tone of their articles and in their site design, employing subtler hues and smaller thumbnails. At the time of this review, however, both sites had strangely coincident stories on Japanese love hotels . Not that that’s a bad thing—just odd. (Check them out—here and here.)
Both publish regularly, WH at the pace of about a ‘featured’ article per day; meanwhile, drawing from a larger community and a greater number of contributors, BNT tends to publish several features per day, although the articles are not as long or detailed as those in WH. BNT, however, tends to respond to news, breaking or otherwise, a little faster, whereas WH tends to be more of a ‘feature’ publication. Moreover, BNT’s articles are more idiosyncratic and unexpected while WH tends to be a little more staid and introspective.
As far as reader engagement goes, BNT is the clear innovator. In January 2008, they joined forces with Matador—a social network of like-minded travelers. This partnership provided BNT with a network of quality travel blogs from which to draw, and extended its borders to draw in and engage readers from the community at MatadorTravel.com. All of BNT’s articles are enhanced because of the dialogue engendered by this partnership.
As a result of its community, the style of post that seems to best connect with readers at BNT is the ubiquitous ‘list’ article. At the time of writing, list posts dominated the front page, ie:
- The 5 Deadliest Travel Fears (And How To Defeat Them)
- Top 10 Places for Teaching English Abroad
- 25 Ways To Earn Money When You’re Broke On The Road
Of course, these articles are popular because lists are scannable, succint and tend to go viral, encouraging discussion and word-of-mouth. Hence, they are a natural fit for the folks at Matador. Converesely, the feature-length pieces at WH tend to dig a little deeper and offer a greater amount of introspection. Reader engagement at WH, however, tends to be a little more unilateral. Take for instance its popular ‘Ask Rolf Potts’ segment, wherein everybody’s favourite vagabonder fields questions from readers in the space of a blog post. Rolf Potts does, sometimes, engage readers in the comment stream, but it’s generally the exception rather than the rule. On the other hand, authors at BNT tend to engage their readership at a much higher rate. Let’s be fair, however—the talent pool from which WH draws is much less extensive and tends to boast longer bylines than those at BNT. We certainly don’t expect seasoned writers to engage their readers to the same degree as less well-known, less experienced authors.
Design & usage
From a design and usage standpoint, both sites are similarly organized, but BNT serves up a little more eye-candy. We especially like the ‘called-out’ features along the top of their home page, each with thumbnail. In terms of navigation, both sites are similarly organized. Built on WordPress, BNT has a more traditional blog-style layout, ie it has a very busy sidebar. WH’s design is a little more muted in this respect, but to its advantage. WH tag and category-based structure is a little more intuitive, ie each section on the homepage—Top Story, Features, From the Archives, etc—is assembled through tag- and category-based relationships. The end result is that WH’s organization is much cleaner and easier to use.
In terms of traffic, according to Alexa WH ranks an impressive 44,629, with 759 sites linking in, compared with BNT’s ranking of 55,558 with 512 sites linking in. Compete.com, another web service similar to Alexa, reported 75,937 unique visitors for WH in the June period, compared with 42,473 for BNT.
Although services that measure metrics on the web provide information that should be regarded as dubious at best, they do serve to provide points of comparison. The bottom line is that WH enjoys a little bit more exposure than BNT owing to its Travel Channel pedigree. At the same time, however, BNT leverages the Matador community to remain competitive.
BNT has embraced twitter with more gusto, and provides subscription options (RSS and Email) right from the front page. The link to WH’s Feedburner feed is displayed with much less prominence. No surprise here, as the former publication appears to embrace the more ‘social’ aspect of publishing on the web. To be fair, WH provides the same services, but delivers them with less panache. WH is on Twitter, too, but reveals the fact in tiny text at the bottom of its index’s sidebar.
While both publications deserve a spot among the feeds in your RSS reader, we find ourselves returning more often to BNT. Although the writing at WH is top-notch—better even in some respects to that at BNT—the social aspect of BNT is the draw. It’s just full of personality because it’s filled with personalities.
This posting was inspired by Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog—a downloadable e-book designed to help you revitalize your blog by giving you 31 tasks that will all help to improve! Darren’s book essentially provides one action or activity to do per day for a 31 day period—and a lesson around why it should be done. Today’s ‘list post’ was the second activity from the work book, the first was our post on building a better travel blog. We’ve been working through the activities that Darren has suggested and will include a note whenever a post is inspired by his program. For anyone who hasn’t checked out Darren Rowse’s eBook already, we highly recommend it. In addition to providing substantive recommendations on how to improve your blog, there is an excellent community built around his methods.Highly recommended—check it out here.