Why I Won’t Use Blogsherpa

A few months ago, Lonely Planet came out with a way to try to engage bloggers called “Blogsherpa.” You tag your blog post with blogsherpa, the LP bot picks it up, and it ends up on their site like so: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travelblogs/6/631/Exploring+Edinburgh?destId=360630. It’s exactly as it appears on your own blog. When I thought I could have my stuff on Lonely Planet, I thought “cool! I’ll probably get tons of traffic and valuable backlinks!!!!”

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve tested it, the more I’ve realized it’s a raw deal for me (and other bloggers). While I think the guy who runs it, Matt C, has really good intentions, I don’t believe the bigwigs above him do or are really looking to connect with bloggers. This has just turned into a way to get free content. So Ive decided to no longer going to contribute. Here’s why:

  • Something for nothing. You are giving LP your full RSS feed so they get your whole article. Free content for them, nothing for you. Google adsense is placed next to your feeds but I’ve found that your click through rate is TINY and you don’t get much money from it. Also, if you use adsense normally, this will lower your CTR and thus your payments. Moreover, most of these pages don’t even get cached by Google unless they are really old. Since they aren’t in the Google index, you don’t even get the benefit of a backlink from lonely planet. Then when they do get cached, since the Lonely Planet brand is better than yours, they will out rank you FOR YOUR OWN CONTENT! That’s not a problem if you put some work into building backlinks to page- you’ll get above them but your doing double the work to beat the article you wrote? That’s sort of crappy.
  • No Traffic.  If people are able to read your full feed, why would they bother to click over to your site? I’ve found my Lonely Planet traffic is about 3-5 people per day. Considering I have over 25 posts on “blogsherpa” and usually 1/2 the traffic I get comes from the forum I post in, the traffic value of Blogsherpa is crap. I bet most people aren’t getting anything. In fact, I get a much better conversion from their cluttered forum than I do from Blogsherpa and I don’t have to fight myself in the Google search results.
  • Quality Control.  Let’s be honest- some people are just better writers than others. In the beginning, there was a small group of people who were part of this. But lately everyone is allowed to do it. There is a video that tells you how the program works and let’s you know that as long as you can write a sentence, you get in. Not exactly the highest standards in the world. I’m sure some blogs get denied but I have noticed a large, large number of new sites in the system.  Now, as a branding thing, I think it’s awful for LP because it sullies their brand but that is my business mind at work. But for a blogger, it’s awful for two reasons: First, you get crowded out. With so many blogs out there, unless you are blogging about some unknown destination no one goes to, your blog is going to be just one blog out of many. One popular destination pages like Thailand, there’s a million blog posts there. If your work isn’t at the top, you aren’t going to get much traffic.  Secondly, not all bloggers treat their website with “journalistic integrity.” Many bloggers considered themselves online journalists (I do) and really go out of their way to produce quality work. However, a lot of people write about their trip and it’s mostly “hey mom, look! I’m in Italy”. I love to read those blogs and follow abut 50 in my RSS and, while they do find some cool stuff, in terms of planning my trip, I wouldn’t exactly call these people experts and wouldn’t want to use them for trip planning.

    So while it may sound elitist, I work very hard on my site and my brand. I don’t want to be lumped in with “hey mom” travel blogs on Lonely Planet. Having those style blogs on Lp takes away from the public perception of the value of the all blogs there. If people think some of the sites aren’t quality travel planning sites, they will think all of the sites aren’t. I work too hard on my brand to have it perceived as just another “hey mom I’m in italy” type of blog. When I’m traveling, I put a lot of work into finding budget deals and getting information. And while I’m not 100% there yet, I like to feel my site is more than simple travel blog so to potentially be perceived otherwise doesn’t sound good to me.

I think the idea of reaching out to travel bloggers is great and I’m glad there is an effort on the part of LP to do so but I think how this program is run right now gives lonely planet a bunch of free content and you a bunch of nothing. Most people are going to be enamored with the idea of having content on Lonely Planet but if you really think about it, you aren’t getting anything out of it.  Could this be a great traffic generator? It sure could. LP mentioned me in their community blog and I saw 200 new visitors to my website. Blogsherpa could have the same effect but it requires substantial changes to their program and I think a much broader commitment than the big shots at Lonely Planet probably want to make right now. If there were some changes to the problem and I bit more visibility for the blogger on the LP website, this would be great. But as it stands now, you get the short end of the stick.

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26 Comments on “Why I Won’t Use Blogsherpa”

  1. Kelly Says:

    I’m glad to read your two cents on this. I’ll be honest I was totally skeptical when they launched this (and any of their online forays), what’s in it for the independent blogger? I think all of us need to watch out for the big guys, it seems appealing for traffic boosts but the bottom line is that they’re looking to cheap, easy content and promising as little as they can in return. Damn the man, save the empire.

  2. nomadicmatt Says:

    Kelly, for referencing Empire Records in a comment, you just became the coolest person on earth!

    LP has had many good ideas into the online foray but they haven’t panned out (I won’t even go into the issues I had with the blog awards). I think they could interact well but I don’t think they really want to interact well.

  3. Richard Says:

    Great article on Lonely Planet’s blogsherpa, Matt. Many excellent points. Thanks for the detailed info and honest opinion.


  4. Interesting post — would be interested to hear what you had actually hoped the programme would deliver.

  5. Mark B Says:

    I’ll forward on your criticisms.
    Thank you.
    regards,
    mark broadhead

  6. Quickroute Says:

    Can you change your rss feed to partial and then have people link thru to read the rest or would this against the TOS?

  7. nomadicmatt Says:

    @stuart: I had hoped it would bring me in traffic but that did not happen and with the current structure of the program, i don’t believe it can bring in traffic.

    @quick: it’s all full feeds.

  8. Shane Says:

    I agree with you on many points but especially the “content for nothing” and the quality of blogs that are permitted into the program.

    Also, the communication from the people running the program lets you know exactly where you stand in the pecking order…pretty low!

    I recently received an email from one of their editors (not Matt) asking to tag my “great” post for inclusion so that it could be featured on the front page of LP. I complied and sent and email back where I also raised questions and concerns about the program only to get no response and of course the post never got featured on the front page…

    I applaud you speaking out about this Matt as I too think that the program has/had great potential but right now that potential is certainly not being realized. It really does appear to be all about LP getting more content that they aren’t paying for or even vetting that content from a quality control standpoint.

  9. Stevo Says:

    I agree, to a point, Matt. It is a beta test, is it not? (or has it started in earnest?) Have you forwarded these concerns to LP? Was there a response?

    Some changes do need to be made, it’s a question of if they will be made. If not, I would side with you that it’s a content grab.

  10. Sherry Ott Says:

    Thanks for your honest opinion. I too have noticed that many, many bloggers are being let into the program and I question the future quality. However on the idea that you are simply giving away free content – I personally think that it’s the same as anyone asking you to ‘guest post’ or travel businesses that want to trade links – I constantly feel like people are asking for something for nothing. It’s one of the things that I really dislike about this industry. I’m sure if I better understood SEO, there is value in exchanging links…but I’m no SEO or IT whiz so it doesn’t feel like there is value when some car rental tries to sell me on the benefits of adding their link to my site for free. Or when Cheapo air gives me the ‘opportunitiy’ to write a guest post for them. I feel like I’m completely giving out my skills/knowledge for very little in return. So I try to choose carefully.
    What I do know is that the Blog Sherpa program has actually brought me a little AdSense revenue that no one else has been able to do. I try to produce unique content for other sites for free in exchange for adsense and get absolutely nothing.

    So – I’m on the fence – I totally understand your point and you make some very good ones about branding – but you are much bigger than the average blogger out there. Most of us are just struggling along trying to understand the ins and outs of SEO, google rank, SU, and Twitter!

    Sherry

  11. nomadicmatt Says:

    @stevo: i fwded this article to them.

    @sherry: size doesn’t matter. Small or big, you are giving LP content for free and not getting any traffic in return which should be what happens!

  12. Some comments Says:

    I don’t mean to make this personal, but you’re the one that mentioned that low quality blogs are “in the mix” so to speak, and did it occur to you that perhaps one of the reasons you didn’t get much traffic is because you’re not a particularly accomplished travel writer/blogger? (yes, yes I know you’re all over the blogosphere, SU and Twitter blah blah, but a lot of noise a quality writer does not make). Take the Edinburgh piece you referenced above — it’s hardly earth-shattering, but even a cursory spell-check brings up errors — if the writer isn’t even going to bother checking the spelling in their work, how much care did they take with the rest of the piece?

    But that aside, given you’ve written an e-book on SEO it should have been blatantly obvious the risks you were taking licensing your full feed across to a site that has a better “brand” than you, so assuming you do know anything about SEO (I’ve not bothered with your e-book — hearing that you advocate selling links was enough for me LOL) it seems a little disingenuous to bleat about that now.

    It’s my understanding you got in to the BlogSherpa early in the piece and as others have noted it is still in beta — I would have thought a more professional approach would have been to contact LP with your concerns and, if they were not able to act on your criticisms in a way that improved the result for you, then withdraw from the program. Instead, you post, and repost on Twitter why you’re getting out, leaving LP hanging out to dry — in my experience, that’s not how an “online journalist” works — at least not one with much integrity.

    I’m not saying you’re not raising some valid points — you are. I agree the bar is probably too low, the posts tend to be buried and perhaps LP could do a better job keeping bloggers managing blogger expectations. But I think there were far better ways you could have approached this.

    Regards

  13. Sherry Ott Says:

    Matt – ok – size doesn’t matter – but what matters is traffic OR revenue…right? Unlike many of the other programs that I get asked to participate in, at least this program brings in a tiny, tiny bit of revenue via Ad Sense. I can only hope that they will work out the rest of the issues you bring up as they are valid issues, but in the meantime, it brings me some adsense revenue that no one else can seem to do.

  14. nomadicmatt Says:

    Hey info, I like how you don’t want to leave your name. That’s cool.

    As for your pot shot about my low quality blog- sorry you don’t like it but I’m not going to take criticism from someone who won’t even write there name.

    The reposting is a fault of twitterfeed.

    And I believe in transparency. Lots of people ask me questions and I brought it up. Why sugarcoat it? I’m not leaving LP out to dry- they will be fine, especially since i’m such a shitty blogger.

    As for the seo value, I was informed otherwise.

  15. nomadicmatt Says:

    @sherry then I would keep it!


  16. Hey all,

    First off – Matt – thanks very much for your comments. BlogSherpa is still in beta, and feedback like yours helps us to improve. Your points are well thought through and valid; I’d like to try to briefly address some of them.

    Something for nothing:

    We really hope not. As you would be aware, it takes time to establish a following and it is early days for BlogSherpa. Overtime, we hope Blogsherpa cultivates a similar community of like-minded and well-respected travel bloggers as our Thorntree community, where people consider collective voices expressed via Lonely Planet.com to be the first and last source of information to inspire and share their travel experiences. At the moment BlogSherpa displays blogs on our most visited pages – our destination pages – but they’re currently linked to below the fold. The design is still being refined to encourage clicks and better surfacing of content. We know we don’t have it quite right yet, but hope you’ll bear with us.

    What we are working on :

    We are working on a bunch of stuff to drive traffic to blogs we like, which will become more evident once we’ve completed beta testing. For example, you may notice more blogs are appearing on our homepage. When this happens, people see a significant increase in traffic to their blogs (we always include a direct link to your blog) but ultimately we also link to your post as displayed on lonelyplanet.com.

    Once established, BlogSherpa should increase traffic to your site, improve SEO because of those links, and increase advertising revenue. Initially, revenue may not be massive, but we hope it becomes more than you’d receive on your own. If some of the aspects of this program do not meet your expectations, I just ask you to work with us during the beta to improve them. If you believe some of those things are detrimental to what you’re trying to achieve, then we understand BlogSherpa may not be for you .

    It’s true, lonelyplanet.com does sometimes appear above your own blog on Google search results. The aim is to provide you with greater visibility – links where you’d otherwise not appear in more searches and at a higher placing, and more clicks to your content via Lonely Planet. Google indexes and caches the BlogSherpa pages. Again with such a young beta, we’re working those things out.

    Quality control:

    It has always been our plan to have BlogSherpa as an open platform, open to bloggers who produce relevant and high quality content that adds value to our travel community. At the same time, Lonely Planet maintains high editorial standards that also apply to how we curate content. So, even though we’ve opened up the BlogSherpa application to more people, we still have strict editorial processes to select blogs that bring something useful to the traveller and showcase what we think are the best travel blogs out there. That often means saying no to people, but it does mean saying yes to more people than we did in the initial closed beta. We don’t want BlogSherpa to be a small and exclusive club of bloggers who appeal to a small segment of the travel community, but rather embrace creative travel bloggers out there who have diverse appeal. At the moment, we’re rejecting about 50% of applications.

    We understand some bloggers are going to find BlogSherpa helpful to what they want to achieve, and for some, not so much. We’re still in beta and with the recent opening of the beta to general application, we expect to identify plenty of challenges and fine-tuning opportunities. Feel free to contact me directly so we can work together to make BlogSherpa something special.

    m


  17. Matt, I think that’s a well thought through and argued article. I’ve been with Blogsherpa from the beginning and I’ll be sticking with it for now for the following reasons;

    – I’m not so worried about the adsense revenue for now – I was barely getting anything for adsense on my blog anyway so little change there

    – I’m pleased with the traffic I get from my articles on Lonely Planet – as a smaller blog I find every little helps, and because I have a link to my home page and to related articles on every post, readers have every opportunity to find my other posts

    – My association with Lonely Planet gives me extra credibility as a blogger – I’ve had people I’ve written a post about get quite excited because they found themselves on the Lonely Planet site

    – I’m not so worried if it outranks me on Google because readers can still have every opportunity to find my other posts and home page, and hopefully a few will stick with me.

    – At least Lonely Planet is playing fair by having links back to my blog – I feel that my free content is a fair exchange for extra exposure for my blog

    – As I focus on destination information, the Lonely Planet format suits my content. If you’re posting about less visited places, you should get some traffic from it.

    – The best thing is I don’t have to do a thing except put a tag on my posts, so for minimal work I get some extra exposure and credibility around the internet

    But do take your point that if the numbers of bloggers are increasing and maybe not as high quality as one would hope, the attractions may begin to fade.

  18. Carrie Says:

    Interesting points on all sides. I am really interested in the BlogSherpa program, but I decided to take a pass until things even out. In the meantime, everyone here has given me a lot to consider. Thanks for posting, Matt!@

  19. christinegilbert Says:

    Hmm, I have used a similar program in the past that distributes your content out to newspapers. BUT it is never indexed on that third party site… maybe that’s something LP should consider. I’m not an SEO expert, but if they are getting ranked for your content, does that make your site flag as “duplicate content” and could you get dinged for this?

    That would be my concern…


  20. Some great comments on this post. When I first saw blogsherpa I thought it looked cool. I’m a very small time blogger who writs about loads of stuff not just travel so I was quite interested in the idea of having the tag pull just my travel posts across.

    I think the SEO down sides you mention are probably quite valid and I can’t honestly say I expected to get anything from the adsense anyway.

    I just think there must be some benefits from LP brand association and also having a much wider number of people potentially reading the content.

    Anyway as Matthew says its only a beta so I’ll wait to see how things pan out.

    Could be all academic because I might get rejected as being a “hey mom look at me I’m in Italy” type person anyway!

  21. aaron Says:

    Its interesting to hear everyones opinion on this but I must say I’m all for LP on this one. I also weighed up the cons involved with giving LP my content for nothing and decided to test the water with some older posts, some of them were 6 months old but each time I have posted on LP I have received an extra 300+ site visits a day, doubled my RSS subscriptions and connected with many new people. For me it’s a superb way to hammer old but still relevant content to whole new variety of people. nuff said


  22. Great thread. For years, I posted my materials to a site that recently closed shop. With much of material no longer live and a full year of freelance writing for other sites, I knew I needed to launch my personal blog…So when I noticed this program I thought – great way to build awareness. But I never really though thru all the pros and cons….great analysis. Thanks for it. Happy Travels.

    stay adventurous,
    Craig


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