In the next couple of posts I’m going to break down my editorial strategy for the new magazine. I’m coming at this from a few different directions and I feel like each area deserves a post of it’s own.

SEO? Isn’t that keywords?

There’s a lingering belief that SEO is about how you format your blog or the keywords you use. That is what I’d call SEO-hacking. And it’s largely died a quiet death since Google clamped down on it a few years ago. You can no longer see the keywords people use to reach your site, so you are working blind. And Google has created rules that penalize sites that try any of the traditional SEO-hacking techniques (like writing a post with the same keyword like, “best beaches” over and over again). In short, if it involves doing anything other than writing content, stay far away.

However, as a publisher, I want to make sure that I exhaust every avenue and reach all potential readers, no matter what platform or context they are finding me. Search traffic is always about finding answers. That’s why we search! No one types, “personal essays that will move me to tears” into google. SEO is really easy to figure out, YEAH! Local specialists say: just write for humans who have questions.

For my personal blog, I let that happen naturally during the course of my blogging and individual posts did really well on google. But for the magazine – where I have designs on hiring writers, staff, sales people, and creating a small publishing house – then I wanted to think bigger.

For the new site I know I needed a large, static, resource section that would be extremely useful.

Despite years of being in the travel niche, and months of thinking through the different options, I came around to writing a travel guide. I know. It’s been done.

For some niches, it might be this simple, just think of a topic and start writing. But for travel, the guide space is completely over-saturated. I am not going to complete for “Things to do in Mexico” no matter how brilliantly I approach the topic.

Nuanced Guides Work

What I’ve learned is that more nuanced and focused I make my resource pages, the higher I rank. For example, I do well for “How to have a baby in Mexico” and “Travel while Pregnant and Zika”. No one is writing about these topics!

I’m also allergic to writing boring copy to get clicks. I simply can not do it. So the topic has to get me excited, it has to answer rare but important questions and it has to be something that I’m well suited to write about.

I started making a list of things that would be insanely cool to have, but I can never find when I’m researching my own trips. I’m going to share my unfinished notes here, so you get an idea of how I map it out.

Almost Fearless Guides Concept Notes

Tone: light, friendly, occassional edge but never snarky
Audience: 30+, active, maybe kids, like cultural travel, food, and the outdoors

Potential sections:

1. Maps of the area for people with kids. If it’s Puerto Escondito, I’d love a map of the coastline that shows where the big massive surfing waves are located. I want to know where the toddler friendly hidden coves are and how many steps down I’m going to have to go. When I book a hotel, I don’t want to be in the prime real estate, paying a premium, only to find that my children can’t handle the undertow and we have to take a cab to a beach across town.

Or I want a map of the neighborhoods. If it’s Oaxaca, Mexico, I would like a neighborhood map so I can sort out where a hotel is located if they say “Centro” or if they say “San Felipe”. I’d like to have a key that briefly gives a rundown of what to expect – is it a party zone or residential?

2. Cultural activities. The traditional guidebook stuff, but better curated. In the interest of completeness, a lot of resources list everything. I’d rather have a curated list by an expert I trust, with a point of view I understand, and that is 100% consistent so I can use that list as a guide. Lonely Planet does this, but they are aiming at budget and young travelers (sorry they are) and I’d like something aimed at 30+.

3. Market maps. This is the hardest thing to find. I feel like I could make a fortune on just doing market maps for major cities. Where is the Sunday market? What about the Friday one? What do they sell there?

4. Notable Restaurants. For just two categories: deeply authentic and world-class bucket list. The rest I can find online, but if I’m going to Oaxaca, that I should check out the mole at the market or that Mexico Top Chef’s restaurant Origen is in town.

5. Outdoor activities. When will outdoor writing finally merge with travel? They seem completely siloed even though there is so much overlap. Where do I go hiking in Oaxaca? Where can I get a SUP lesson in Puerto Vallarta? Where is the best surfing in Sayulita? How can I swim in a ceynote in the Yucatan? (Can you tell I have Mexico on the brain? It will be our first published guide).

6. Drinking with kids. Okay hold up. 80% of us will have one child or more by the time we’re 40. Kids are a part of life. But I didn’t stop wanting a glass of wine just because I made some more tiny humans. Family travel websites seem to skirt this taboo, but it’s not that big of a deal. Tell me which restaurants are kid friendly (outside, playground, on a plaza – somewhere they can run around) and I can get a drink. Or if that doesn’t exist, tell me the drinking culture there… can I break open a beer in the park on a Friday night? In Europe, there are mini- cafes in the children’s playgrounds that consist of a booth, several tables with chairs and a waiter who will bring you alcohol. It’s amazing. I want a section of my guidebook to list these places.

7. Festivities. With Photos. This information never seems to be organized well in the places I find it. If I search for holidays/festivals/celebrations for a certain place, I’m likely to get a laundry list of every, single holiday out there. Most are not noteworthy. If you search the opposite way and look for fantastic holidays/festivals/celebrations, it’s often listed by country (not region) and it’s hard to get a simple chronological list of upcoming events. I think I can solve that.

8. Where to stay. Extremely tightly curated places with budget and large groups in mind. Self-catered apartments in a fantastic location for a decent price? Yes!

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Note: thanks in advance for not holding me to the exact structure I’ve listed here when I finally publish the first guide in April. These are working notes!

What I hope this shows is I’m trying to think about what already exists, what pain points exist for me, how I can respond to that with my expertise. For example, I know some people love historical notes on travel but that’s just not my style. I’d rather read a full book than some travel guide writer’s summary of modern history for an entire country. It feels like reading Wikipedia to me. If I’m interested in that, I go to primary sources, not guidebooks.

So how will this help in search?

Some of the quirky areas are likely to garner search traffic for what they call “long tail search” which is a fancy way of saying “sentences people search for” – I might get results for best SUP in Puerto Vallarta for kids. I won’t rank for everything, but ranking isn’t the only goal. Real humans will read this! I want to delight and thrill my readers. I hope this quirky collection of information will inspire them and provide useful resources. I’m thinking about SEO but I’m not cynically designing my content with only SEO in mind.

More to come. I’m also working on my web content strategy (blog posts) and print magazine content – and how I’ll manage paid writers plus allow for community contributions.

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This post is in a series about my process going from a narrative blog to a magazine publisher. I’m calling it #maglife. Want to receive updates just when there’s a new post in this series? Subscribe here.