How Nina Ragusa’s Four Travel Blogs Generate 6 Figures Per Year Through SEO
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Nina Ragusa Always dreamed of seeing the world. She was eager to start exploring but was hesitant since she didn't have anyone to go with.
Nina took a leap of faith and traveled to Thailand on her own. Initially, she was going to spend a year abroad, but she got so hooked on traveling that she stayed on the road for over a decade.
She created her first site, Where in the World is Nina, to document her travels. She did so well that she decided to replicate her strategy, going on to create three more successful travel sites.
Today she’s living her dream and seeing the world while earning six figures a year from her portfolio of sites.
Keep reading to find out:
- How she started out living abroad
- Why she decided to create other niche sites
- What niches she chose and why
- Where her income comes from
- How her sites performed during the pandemic
- How much traffic her sites get
- Her main marketing strategies
- How she feels about SEO
- How she approaches keyword research and link building
- Her content creation strategy
- How she grows her email lists
- Her favorite resources and tools
- Her biggest challenge
- Her greatest accomplishment
- Her main mistake
- Her advice for other entrepreneurs
- Meet Nina Ragusa
- Why She Created Her Sites
- How Much She’s Earning
- Nina’s Traffic Stats
- Her Main Marketing Strategy
- Her Thoughts on SEO
- Her Content Creation Process
- Her Email Lists
- How Much She Works
- Her Favorite Resources
- Her Go-To Tools
- Her Biggest Challenge
- Her Greatest Accomplishment
- What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
- Her Main Mistake
- Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Meet Nina Ragusa
Hi, I’m Nina, from Florida, USA!
Ever since I was little, I've loved the idea of traveling around the world. I was super into geography class and loved playing "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"
I was fascinated with everything I couldn’t get in my backyard (which is a lot when your backyard is a flat swamp land!)
I used to think you needed a lot of money to see the world, but I didn't want to wait until I was old and retired to start exploring. So, I started looking into how I could travel without waiting forever, and maybe even work while I was at it to keep my pockets topped up.
For the longest time, I didn't want to travel by myself because, that’s scary and crazy, right? I kept hoping to find a friend who was as excited to travel as I was, but after waiting for more than two years and no one showing up, I decided I had enough of waiting.
So, on May 5, 2011, I just went for it and flew to Thailand all on my own. I didn’t even have a hotel reserved for my first night! And what was supposed to be just a year abroad turned into over a decade!
I lived in Southeast Asia for four years by myself, met my partner Garrett in Thailand, and we've been traveling together ever since. I’ve worked and lived on six continents!
When I first moved abroad, I started teaching English in Thailand. I definitely wasn't rich, but teaching English showed me that I didn't need to go back home to make a living. There were plenty of jobs out there for me that could keep me on the road.
And just like that, what started as a one-year adventure turned into a whole new life of me living around the world.
I have now worked 11 travel jobs (it’s kind of my thing that I love to talk about and help people achieve), and I was blogging the whole way, but didn’t realize it could be a real job until about 5 years into doing it! Now, blogging is my full-time job.
Pinch me! I get to help people travel longer and better and help them find out about opportunities to work and live abroad, opportunities they didn’t know existed?! Woo!
Why She Created Her Sites
I created my first blog, a general travel blog, totally by accident. I was simply keeping an online diary starting in 2011 on a now-defunct website. Eventually, I moved over to WordPress once I learned what that was in 2012-ish.
It still took me a few years later to realize blogging could be a job. After “making it” with my general travel site, I decided to start a niche site with my partner in 2019 about the state of Oregon, where he is from.
We love traveling on the West Coast, and niche sites were something I wanted to dabble in since I knew I could recreate the success I had with my first website easily with a more niched-down topic!
It turns out it was not only a great idea because it was an underserved niche, but also great timing to start it in 2019 since we all know what happened in 2020!
After our success with Oregon, we continued expanding with the same strategy into Washington and California.
We invested the profits of our first year with Oregon into a business vehicle to help us create content for the other sites. We purchased an old-school 1974 VW Bus we named Lucy!
This was the beginning of creating multiple revenue streams to strengthen the foundation for our business, and COVID was a good motivator for our niche site push.
Also, we could grab content easily in 1-2 months and have content to publish for the whole year while we traveled internationally.
Our four sites are:
- Where in the World is Nina (Yes, after “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”)
- Oregon is for Adventure
- Washington is for Adventure
- California is for Adventure
We actually have a non-travel-related fifth site I don't talk about much as it’s our first site that we are experimenting with as an affiliate site on higher ticket items in an underserved niche. So far, it’s doing pretty good, considering how little we work on it.
We are taking in around $300-$500/month in affiliate revenue with that site. Since the products are for higher-ticket items, loads of traffic and purchases are not really needed. All we need is a few good sales per month to make it worth it.
How Much She’s Earning
As they say, the first one is always the hardest!
It took me years to make decent money with my main travel site, around 6-ish years or so (remember, it took me ages to realize it could even be a real job! Doh!).
That being said, 2019 was my best year as I made around $85k just on my main travel website! I was over the moon watching $5000, $7000, and $9000 roll in each month!
I started the Oregon site and was again over the moon with the progress despite the 2020 pandemic. It actually worked in our favor since we made it on Mediavine in February 2020 (what luck!), and since nobody could travel, they were in their backyards.
The Oregon site exploded while my main travel blog faltered. I have had my main travel blog on the back burner since 2020. I put most effort into our West Coast blogs, and unfortunately, my main site hasn’t come close to its pre-pandemic numbers.
Hopefully, I can make it back in 2024 since I’m finally prioritizing it after neglecting it for about 4 years.
We make anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000/year with our blogs and services. We mostly make our money from Mediavine ads, affiliates, and services.
We have only had one long-term client since 2018 that gives us around $25,000 to 45,000/year for our services (YouTube videos and blog content mostly, and my partner is the one who manages it).
We had a big client that needed travel content in 2022 and that boosted us over $100,000 alone that year, which was awesome (but a ton of work).
Most of our affiliate income is from accommodation bookings (Stay 22) and a few other specific affiliates in the travel niche.
Nina’s Traffic Stats
Pre-pandemic, I was getting around 150k/monthly views on my main site. That’s down to less than 50k/month now. I’ve recently started working on it again, though, so I can’t be too mad since I let it sit for so long.
The one unfortunate thing about our PNW blogs is that they are very seasonal. Nobody visits in winter! But in summer, they do pop off quite well.
We get around 70k-100k/month each on Washington and Oregon in the summers and down to around 40k/month each in the winters.
Her Main Marketing Strategy
I was finally getting on the email strategy when the pandemic took my main site out, so I had to shift. Email works better when you actually have traffic and I wasn’t getting much!
During those hard 2020-2021 years, I shifted and went all in on TikTok, and it was the only thing that kept me from wanting to spiral into a deep blogging depression!
TikTok was great during those years (it’s waned for me lately, but I also haven't been putting in the work as much either). It helped me reel in traffic that wasn’t from Google, which was all I was getting before.
People don’t realize that people do like going to your website from TikTok; in fact, I’ve had a lot of days where my traffic shot up because I went semi-viral on TikTok and gained hundreds of email subscribers and thousands of views.
My main drivers from social media are people reading about how they can live and work abroad, digital nomad jobs, how to work online without experience, and my free guides that guide them to my ebook.
My main strategy is still SEO, but as we know, things have gotten harder over the years.
In 2024, I’m going to work harder on email marketing and pick back up my TikTok game a bit more, too.
Her Thoughts on SEO
Since I learned about SEO and it “clicked” for me, I became obsessed with it. I love nerding out on SEO research and finding fun and awesome keywords I want to write about. It’s very important for my business and the main way I am even a full-time blogger.
Being a blogger without SEO and actually making money from it…? I’m not sure if it's possible?!
One of my best strategies is “baby posts,” which I don’t know if I can claim this name, but it’s what I’ve been calling what I do for many years, but I essentially love writing baby posts. These are shorter posts on a very small topic.
For example, a blog post on a specific hike in a state park, or a certain beach. This is a whole blog post on just this one tiny topic, a baby post, if you will. These might not bring in the hordes of readers many bloggers want, but a lot of these baby posts add up to a decent chunk of views, plus they hammer in my authority for the larger topic.
Again, let’s take the example of a hike. I’ll write a baby post on XYZ hike - the specific hike only, and what you need to know about it. I might even write another baby post on another hike called the ABC hike.
And these two hiking posts are part of my bigger “best hikes in 123 National Park.” I then write the “best things to do in 123 National Park” and include those two hikes, plus link to my “best hikes” article, thus growing my knowledge and authority on this national park.
I simply write what I want to write about, but I make sure there’s a decent keyword that goes along with the topic I want!
While I don’t 100% write for SEO, it is mostly what I do write about, but I guess I’m lucky in the fact that it usually lines up with my interests.
Best hikes? Best beaches? How did I get a working holiday visa in Australia? Digital nomad stuff? Cheap countries to live in? Travel jobs? Woo! I love these topics, and they are often awesome keywords to go for.
Even if the volume isn’t much (500ish/month, let’s say), I like the topic, I know it benefits my readers, and it’s going to mesh well with the content on my blog anyway, so I go for it.
I love having clusters and having tons of blog posts about a certain area or topic. This is why I think my niche sites are actually more fun than my travel blog. I love growing more about a surrounding topic; it’s a lot more rewarding.
So, like I mentioned above, I’ll write tons of baby posts to support my bigger articles. I rarely will write a “things to do___” post without having at least 3 “baby posts” stemming from it. Even this is not ideal enough for me, but sometimes it is what it is for my main travel blog.
My niche sites? I usually have a hoard of baby posts to link to, and I think this is one of my best keyword strategies. I’ll find a “bigger” keyword like “best waterfall hikes in ___” and I’ll have a baby post for almost every single waterfall hike I mention. I usually try to aim for keywords that offer the most opportunity for me to stem off a bunch of baby posts! I love baby posts, can you tell!?
The bigger my cluster, the better. So, when keyword researching, I look out for these mega clusters that I can really get into.
I’d say link building is pretty important. I took my new California site from a DA0 to a DA16 in just a few months. All I did was participate in a few link building threads, did a couple of guest posts, and did 1 or 2 HARO call-outs in the period of a few months.
I use a few link building strategies, one being a link building group that I use occasionally on Facebook. I do guest posting, but I need to improve my frequency here. I do some blog collaboration articles (these are the easiest! You can find these groups on Facebook, too), and of course, HARO.
HARO is certainly hit or miss, and it’s, more often than not, a miss. But when it’s a hit? It’s a good hit! You’ll usually get a link back from a high authority website with a high DA and maybe even get mentioned in a top online website, even Forbes!
My biggest HARO win was back in 2016 or so when Business Insider somehow liked me enough to do a feature on me, and it kind of went viral!
I even got another follow-up article written by me, and this, to date, was one of my best blogging wins on HARO. I wish I could get another one like this that falls in my lap this easily!
And lastly, I use Link Whisper for internal linking! The day I signed up and paid for it, I knocked out so many missed link opportunities! I was shocked and embarrassed at how many blog posts I failed to link back to.
I used to pay my VA to do this once every month, and now, with a few clicks, it gets done so much faster.
Her Content Creation Process
I have 526 published blog posts on my main travel site (which used to be closer to 650, but I recently did a big culling). And my three other niche sites have a combined 286.
My flow goes something along the lines of:
- Keyword research
- *do the thing I’m writing about and take extensive voice notes*
- Outline blog
- Review article
- Complete media
- Format article
I should add a flow for promotion, but my current strategy is *talk about the new post when you remember to.* Oops!
Her Email Lists
I definitely use email. The Grow Spotlight has made all the difference. I offer a few freebies and entice sign-ups that way. The Grow Spotlight makes it pretty and highlights the email box more than other plugins to encourage sign-ups. I send an email twice monthly.
Aside from Google traffic and “natural” email sign-ups this way, every time I have a semi-viral post on Reels or TikTok, I get a few hundred new email subscribers.
I point them to my free guides that they have to sign up for. These guides also link to my product, which is an ebook!
How Much She Works
I work around 5 “real” hours per day or so. My partner and I value our slow mornings with coffee and convos, and our brains turn to mush after hammering away for five hours.
We used to grind all day every day, but have slowed down a lot. We know we could make more money if we chipped away harder, but we don’t care! We don’t want to get burnt out (been there, done that!)
Since we travel a lot, we always take a few weeks off here or a month off there. And I’m essentially useless in December since that’s when I visit my family, and I get very little done.
When we do our road trips for our niche sites, we barely even touch our computers. We are just van-living around and exploring, and those trips are usually 6-8 weeks long.
Her Favorite Resources
I’ve gone through SO many resources, and I kind of got out of it for a while, if I’m being honest.
After picking myself up a bit and slowly getting back into using resources, I have to say, Nina’s SEO group for travel bloggers (not me, another Nina!) on Facebook is a great resource. She is really awesome at explaining things and making things make sense in the confusing world of SEO.
And I’ve been a long-time listener of Brandon’s Blogging Millionaire podcast. He’s been doing this for a long time, and his podcasts are really helpful and to the point.
I know it’s still controversial in our space, but if you're writing off AI, you’re missing out. Many people think it’s a terrible tool, but they haven’t tried using it correctly. I won’t get into too much here, but for bloggers, it’s an immensely helpful tool when used correctly!
If you think using AI is literally asking ChatGPT to “write a blog post on the top 10 things to do in Rome,” copying and pasting it into WordPress, and hitting publish, you’d be correct: AI is freaking awful!
But when used correctly, actually prompting it, pasting in your voice notes from your visit, and then editing it as a real live human, you are saving so much time and effort.
I just wrote three blog posts in one day because I used AI. I would have been lucky to have written one without using AI. And yes, I edited them all in great detail, and you would never know I used AI if I didn't tell you. I’m not sure I could live without it now! It makes me a machine.
Oh, I even used ChatGPT to help me edit this interview here, so my proofreading time went from over an hour to a matter of minutes!
Her Go-To Tools
Aside from my ChatGPT mentioned above…
My life would be in chaos and shambles without Asana, telling me what to do and what assignments need doing every day. I can keep tabs on the team easier and on myself!
Affilimate helps me keep track of what my affiliates are doing, which is something I looked to increase last year, and in that year, I more than tripled my income from affiliates.
The tool itself doesn’t necessarily help me increase my income, but the data and progress in a single, convenient platform (rather than logging into the 1000 affiliate platforms) help me better track and understand it! Even using their affiliate deep linking tool helps cut my time/my VA's time down by a lot!
This might be a weird one, but YouTube is another “tool” I can’t live without. We don’t just use it to learn; we love GrowingAnnanas workouts to get us up from our desks! Seriously, blogging at a desk for hours gets painful, yes, for real! I have a “cracking” shoulder that makes me feel ancient, and I was borderline getting carpal tunnel for a minute there!
I let it go for a while, but her at-home workouts have me making myself a priority again!
Her Biggest Challenge
The changes! I’m always up for a challenge, but sometimes in the blogging game, just when you think, “You got it,” another major change happens…
Whether that’s a Google update, a new revolutionary tool, or a freaking pandemic. Change is inevitable, and I’m not afraid of it. I just wish I could enjoy the ride for more than a second before being thrown a new wrench to use.
Her Greatest Accomplishment
Simply *being an entrepreneur.*
I never would have thought I would become one. 2011 Nina thought she was going to teach English in Thailand for a year and then get stuck behind a desk at a soul-sucking job for the next 30 to 40 years.
This was never my goal. This was never my dream. This was never something I thought I could do. I couldn't have fathomed this life before. And yet, here I am!
I've grown a business where I can take charge and oversee rather than do grunt work for a capped income.
I’ve created a business where I can spend over a month with my family and help them, and barely log in online and know I’m still generating income.
I’ve developed a business that gives me ultimate freedom and flexibility in my life—something I truly didn’t know existed for a while and something I thought would take me forever to achieve.
I’ve got a business I’m proud of and love doing, which provides me with a great life. Seriously—pinch me!
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
I wish I had known about the importance of analyzing and testing.
I’m great at implementing, but I could be better at trialing, testing, and understanding if things are working! I’ve recently started to get better at this, like using heat maps and actually looking back on analytics and graphs, etc., to see if what I’m doing is working.
I got used to just doing and letting it ride, in whatever direction it went in and didn’t actually see what was working or not!
I’m improving at analyzing everything and seeing what's working and not working. It may seem a bit silly, but back in the day, blogging seemed to be a bit easier, and whatever you did, it kind of worked.
Nowadays, it’s not flying! You need to analyze your data and stop spinning your wheels by doing things that aren’t working. I threw spaghetti on the wall and let it stick or fall, but finding out how and why it was sticking and the best way to make it stick is making more of a difference now.
Her Main Mistake
Grinding in circles… I worked so hard in my beginning years, but I was going in circles listening to everything everyone was saying in Facebook groups, on YouTube, etc… I needed to just go hard on learning the most important thing—SEO.
Once I started grinding in one direction, I started going somewhere! I was trying to learn and apply 27935403 different things, plus trying to go hard on Instagram (when I didn’t want to be an influencer anyway! Just a blogger!)
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Don’t wait too long to hire help. The second I hired a VA and writers, I started making more money.
Yes, it will cost you, but you can’t do everything. You’ll burn out and stagnate quickly because there’s only so much a singular person can do.
Being stubborn and not being someone who gives up easily are good traits to have. I wanted this so badly, and even though it took me a while to get here, I made it!
And it’s awesome to look back at all the times you wanted to throw in the towel and see all your hard work (read: stubbornness) actually worked out!
But the path will be bumpy until you make it over the hill!
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