Matt Kepnes (a.k.a. Nomadic Matt) Interview
Bostonian Matt Kepnes, widely known as Nomadic Matt, is the quintessential blogging success story. In March 2008, equipped with an MBA, an online travel writing course from Matador University, and 18 months of travel experience, he started his blog, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site. Now Kepnes is probably the second best known solo travel blogger on the Web (next to Gary Arndt). A cursory examination of his work shows a great mind for business; he makes more than enough money from his blog to travel indefinitely while still saving money and, these days, he says that he only needs to spend 10-15 hours a week maintaining his blog, leaving him free to enjoy his travels and work on other self-publishing projects. He even has an intern working for him. Certainly a good setup.
Transitions Abroad columnist Matt Gibson spoke with Kepnes via email in Bangkok--where he was preparing to return to Europe--to find out exactly how he achieved such enviable blogging success.
Matt Gibson: You only created Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site about two years ago. Since then you have become arguably the best-known name in travel blogging. To what do you attribute your blogging success?
Nomadic Matt: I wouldn’t say I am the best known but thank you for the flattery. My success came from luck, persistence, lots and lots and lots of networking (a must in this industry), and having the advantage of starting a travel blog when there were few travel blogs out there.
MG: What were your goals when you first started Nomadic Matt’s? Have they changed over time?
NM: My goals were to first create a platform to showcase my writing and become a guidebook author. Now, I just want to create the ultimate backpacking/budget travel website on the Internet.
MG: Can you recall a time that you were surprised by a large unexpected increase in traffic to your blog? What happened?
NM: The Internet is like a snowball- traffic builds up overtime. You get big spikes and then you move up but overall, it builds slowly over time as long as you put effort in it. That being said when I get mentions in the New York Times or StumbleUpon traffic spikes, I see big temporary increases.
MG: What is the single most effective strategy that a blogger can use to bring traffic to a blog?
NM: Networking. If you don’t network with other bloggers, then you’ll never bring in the social traffic needed to get the ball going on your website.
MG: Social networking is a great tool for increasing blog traffic, but many people don’t know how to use it. For example. I have 6,000 followers on Twitter. You have more than 54,000. How on earth did you get so many?
NM: Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t even think that is a lot when I see how many other people have. I also follow a lot of people so that helps. I’m not sure how or why people follow me.
MG: You have said before that you make about $3000 per month with www.NomadicMatt.com. This appears to be more than other travel bloggers who receive similar traffic. Why do you make more?
NM: I make a lot more actually. I just say $3,000 because I don’t want to create false expectations and that is how much I was making when I created the eBook. I don’t know other blogs that receive my traffic levels. Some come close but only Gary beats me. In terms of monetization, I actively network with advertisers and that helps a lot.
MG: What tools do you use to monetize your blog? Which works best for you?
NM: EBook sales www.nomadicmatt.com/make-money-blogging-v2/ and private ads are where most of my money comes from. Ebooks are the best source of passive income but also the hardest to really push. Getting people to pay for ads on your site is hard but pays the most money.
MG: About how much, on average, do you spend in a month on the road? Does your blog cover your expenses?
NM: I won’t go into my money expenses but my blog covers all my expenses and still allows me to save money.
MG: When did you first start publishing guest bloggers? How do you feel that move has changed your blog?
NM: I do it because it gives me a break from blogging. It hasn’t changed my blog at all because I only publish guest posts I feel line up to the theme of my website.
MG: What non-monetary benefits, professional or personal, do you get from blogging?
NM: I make a lot of friends through the website and that in itself is the most amazing part of what I do.
MG: What’s the most popular post on Nomadic Matt’s? Why do you think that is?
NM: Why Americans Don’t Travel Overseas, because it is controversial.
MG: Do you think that blogging has improved your writing, your perception, your photography, or any other skill? If so, was creating the blog in part a conscious way to develop these skills?
NM: Blogging has definitely made me look at destinations in a certain way. I go places now I look for story angles, get information, visit lots of hostels- I take a more journalistic approach now so that I can make sure I have the best and most accurate information in my articles.
MG: Is there competition between bloggers out there, given that new blogs keep springing up with often similar themes (and occasional downright rip-offs)? Or do you think that many are driven more by the need to express their own passions.
NM: They say nothing new is invented anymore just rehashed. There are lots of blogs out there with similar themes. I compete with my friends all the time but there is plenty on the Internet for us all to share.
MG: How much time are you “plugged in” to your computer, smart phone, or other devices during the course of your travels?
NM: I probably spend about half my life on a computer or iPhone. That makes it hard to unplug even when I want to because you become so used to always being connected, even when you aren’t doing work. I have to make conscience efforts to turn everything off and enjoy life.
MG: Which travel blogs, if any, do you read?
NM: I read them all. My RSS reader has about 250 blogs on it.
MG: Who, in your opinion, is the most successful travel blogger (from a business perspective)? Why do you think that is?
NM: Gary from Everything-Everywhere. He gets the most traffic and has the biggest name brand recognition.
MG: Who are your favorite travel writers? What are your favorite books?
NM: Bill Bryson, Chuck Thompson, and Rolf Potts. are three of my favorite travel authors.