By Simon Willmore
This weekend saw the launch of Traverse, a new travel blogging conference designed for people that don’t have an entire week to spare for TBEX or TBU. Founded by Michael Ball and Paul Dow, along with a team including Dylan Lowe, its aim was to connect bloggers, PRs, tourist boards and travel companies in a two-day event at the Clarendon Centre, Brighton.
The event was slick and yet casual, with a huge amount of information on offer – almost too much, as delegates had to choose one of three talks at any one time. However, this allowed the presentations to be held on just one day, with the rest of the weekend for networking. The atmosphere was relaxed with a couple of great social events and bloggers from all over the world. For an inaugural conference, the weekend was a resounding success.
Here’s my pick of the weekend’s talks (although others that I missed looked great, too).
Creative Travel Photography with Tom Robinson
Tom Robinson, who has had photography published in magazines including Lonely Planet Traveller and CN Traveller, says the most critical part of his job is “capturing the light”, which is easier at the beginning or the end of the day. Morning light tends to be bluer while evening night is more yellow, so bear this in mind when composing the shot in your mind.
Tom splits types of photos into three genres:
Landscape, that reflects in the location of the subject but also needs a focal point in the foreground.
Portrait, which may be a head and shoulders shot or an environmental portrait which explains who the person is. This may not necessarily need to focus on their face. It could be their basket of fish, for example.
Detail, which may be a cup of coffee or something specific to the region
He mentions the importance of symmetry in an image and the need to keep a “consistent tonal range of light” – if necessary, use a white t-shirt as a reflector to improve the lighting.
The well-known Rule of Thirds is well-explained by Tom’s more commonplace phrasing: either shoot “a lot of sky and a bit of land” or “a lot of sky and a bit of land”, choosing whichever is the most dynamic as the majority of the image. The horizon should always be straight and you need to keep the edges of your frame “clean” – that is, either keep a focal point (be it a person or an item) fully inside the image or leave it out.
For lighting effects, Tom recommends Adobe Lightroom and says the Vibrance effect is a great way to improve the interest of an image, which he always “shoots raw” (which creates an uncompressed data file on your camera and needs special software to be viewed).
For an instant improvement to a portrait shot, “put anyone next to a window” says Tom. If it means asking them to move, so be it, but be humble – and ready. By that, Tom offers great advice about approaching people he wants to shoot:
Point your camera to the ground so they know that you haven’t started shooting yet. Be direct and point to the camera to indicate you want to take a picture, but be friendly. Already have the setting at f4 or f4.5 (the lower the number, the less of the complete image is in focus so landscape should have high settings like f11) so you don’t have to play with the camera when they say yes. As you shoot, move your face back and forth from behind the camera so they can see you, and you’ll probably have a maximum of five shots to take before they become awkward – and it’s usually the first one or second image that will be the best.
Tom Robinson is a London based location and portrait photographer
Tips for Digital Storytelling on the Road with Liz Scarff
Liz Scarff from Fieldcraft, a communications consultancy, has worked on projects for international NGOs including Save the Children UK and has helped to raise awareness for an under-reported food crisis in West Africa as well as raising funds raised for vaccine programmes. With a need to always be active online, she offers a couple of handy hints:
* Pack a four-bar power adapter so that, even if your accommodation only has one socket you can charge all your devices.
* Buy a local SIM card to avoid roaming costs – if the signal is especially weak where you are, it may be worth having a couple of SIM cards on different providers so you can swap networks and see if the reception is stronger.
* Set up SMS updates for Twitter so you can still post even if there is no mobile internet.
Liz also mentions that it’s necessary to bear in mind the time differences between your location and your audience’s. There’s no point posting great content if nobody is awake to read it.
Liz Scarff is the award-winning head of Fieldcraft, a communications consultancy
Kirsten Alana’s Top Tips for Mobile Photography
During one of the ‘Pro Bar’ one-on-one meetings, I asked Kirsten Alana, a photographer, writer and TV host, her top five tips on mobile photography.
* Treat your smartphone as a camera. Now smartphone cameras are no longer ‘point and shoot’ devices, with changeable exposure settings and editing software, “take it seriously and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.”
* Traditional photography methods should still be observed. The Rule of Thirds and negative space should still be considered; just because your smartphone is not a ‘proper’ camera, proper photography rules still apply.
* Know when to use a smartphone and when to use a DSLR. Kirsten Alana is so passionate about iPhoneography that she actually no longer owns a camera and simply rents one if she thinks she needs it – this includes when she’s on safari and knows that the subject matter will be far away. You need an actual zoom lens rather than just a digital zoom function.
* Much as photographers use lenses, iPhoneographers should use apps to achieve different results. Kitcam is great for editing as you shoot, use VSCO for filters, and Piction for text-over-image editing.
* For photo-blogging, collages are really effective. The Diptic app lets you put up to 10 images together in a collage, then you can sync across your devices with DropBox, ready to post straight away.
Kirsten Alana is a photographer, writer and TV host
Advanced SEO with Adrian Land
Recently, SEO has gained a bad name, says Adrian Land, Head of Inbound Marketing at My Destination. However, it’s an essential part of the marketing process, because, ultimately, a higher ranking in search engines means more visits to your website – and more press trips and so more work for bloggers. He presents his rules of thumb for “Wholesome SEO”:
Firstly, it’s crucial to realise the difference between SEO and CRO (conversion rate optimisation). The aim of SEO is to rank highly in search engines, ie. ‘be on page one of Google’, and the goal of CRO is to then maximise the number of visitors that are converted into customers. (In the sense of a travel blogger, this would most likely be to click on advertising on your site.)
SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) are becoming more and more personalised, depending on your location and previous web use – this is one of the reasons mobile web is becoming so much more important, because it can use your GPS to optimise the search even further. That is, if you were to simply type in ‘pizza’ while in Brighton, you would get a list of Italian restaurants near you.
There are three types of relevance to consider when “trying to understand a searcher’s motives”: brand or navigational, which is related to your company’s name or website; transactional, linked to actions like purchases; and informational, for example “stag do in Magaluf”.
The Panda, Penguin, Venice and EMD (Exact Match Domain) updates have all affected SEO recently. The first two have served to downgrade sites with poor quality content, like those featuring keyword stuffing (adding out-of-context keywords into copy) and unnecessary anchor text (the visible text in a hyperlink). The Venice update has helped to optimise search for location, again thanks to mobile internet, and the EMD edit has taken away the benefit of just having a relevant domain name with no quality content.
Page Rank, and so website quality, is defined by the frequency you appear and ‘depth of crawl’, so web designers should make easily accessible, clean-looking sites that are easy for the Google systems to navigate. Having a strong and relevant ‘snippet’ (the title and short description that features on your Google listing) is paramount and you need to update regularly.
In terms of social media and driving traffic to your site, Facebook doesn’t help significantly with optimisation but it does help to build a community around your brand so you can create positive reviews and link building – ‘organic’ link building, in the sense of customers referencing your company. Twitter and Google+ help to broadcast your presence, but the key sites to remember are StumbleUpon and Reddit, which are, according to Adrian, hugely overlooked.
Finally, always be sure to do your keyword research. This includes interesting examples, like spelling Mallorca ‘incorrectly’ as Majorca for a British market as this spelling is more popular here. Also, for affluent New Yorkers, you may be wise to reference ‘holidays’ instead of ‘vacations’ as for the rest of America as this word is now use more often.
Adrian Land is Head of Inbound Marketing at My Destination
Pitching to PRs with Ruth Haffenden
Social media is really difficult to place in the marketing / PR world, begins Ruth. Nowadays, content can be defined as ‘paid, owned or earned’, but social media can overlap – think of the difference between a guest post that you create for their website and a tweet that mentions them but is your own content.
To pitch smartly and effectively – don’t use vague phrasing such as ‘I would love to work with you in the future” – create a page on your site and downloadable file that mentions:
* Your brand: what you stand for, how and what you write
* Stats: unique visitors, page views, site subscribers, social media following (for only the channels that are significant)
* Readership: demographic, social profile, income, interest – if you don’t know this, ask your audience
* Verification: endorsements, awards, testimonials, syndications or associations you belong to
Strong examples are Wild Junket, Velvet Escape and Travels of Adam. Think of your Media Pack as your CV and your email to the PR agent as a cover letter, and tailor the pitch to each destination / hotel. Consider who the PR agency wants to represent and their objectives, plus verify that your customer bases overlap. Offer case studies and always follow up: if you have something else about the PR’s client published at a later date, let them know as it will help to strengthen your relationship.
Ruth Haffenden is a social media specialist at Four Communications
Five Minutes with a Lady in London and a Legal Nomad
I spoke briefly with Julie Falconer, better known as A Lady in London, about the best use of each social media channel:
1. Facebook: use this for community building and encouraging people to engage with your brand; learn from friends and tell stories
2. Twitter: post links and pictures to amplify your branding message and drive traffic
3. Google+: interact with communities with similar interests and share content in order to assist your SEO goal
4. Pinterest / Instagram / Flickr: post different images than on your other channels, for example pictures of products to keep visual content varied
5. LinkedIn: work on partnerships, career advancement and practice networking
Ultimately, Julie says each platform deserves its own approach, even if the overall strategy is the same, and reminds us that “social media is a dialogue, not just about pushing information out”.
Jodi Ettenberg from Legal Nomads builds on this by telling us to use social media streams as a way to engage and build relationships, also mentioning Skype as channel. You should be able to show your true personality and export qualities that let people see you as a valuable voice with interesting tastes.
Julie Falconer is a London-based travel writer, consultant and blogger.
For more reports and comments about Traverse, follow the Twitter hashtag #traverse13
About our writer
Simon Willmore’s travel writing has been published in ABTA Magazine, the National Geographic Traveller blog, and TNT. He has a degree in Civil Engineering and has written a book about his experiences living in Grenoble, and is currently in talks with publishing houses. Follow him on Twitter.