Quality Content, Dream Jobs, and the BlogHouse

Lately, I’ve been thinking about content creation, content creators, and what I want to do with my life. I started thinking seriously about these topics earlier this month at TBEX, and, more importantly, at the BlogHouse.

You probably remember me talking about TBEX — the largest travel blogging conference in the world, which bills itself as “the future of new media” — and Navigate Media Group‘s BlogHouse — an opportunity for up-and-coming junior bloggers (like me!) to live with established senior bloggers for three days of intensive group workshops and one-on-one mentoring.

If you don’t remember me talking about TBEX and the BlogHouse, you clearly don’t follow me on twitter, but maybe this photo I used in a previous post will jog your memory:


We lived and worked in a castle for three days.

A beautiful, labyrinthine, castle! In downtown Toronto! Next door to a Catholic school, so sometimes there were priests in the kitchen when I went to make myself a cup of tea! So quirky and charming! Many thanks to our sponsor, Flipkey, for providing us with this home away from home.

Over the course of the BlogHouse, we talked about blogging as an industry — from big topics like how bloggers monetize to small details like their favorite social media plugins. Each of the senior bloggers brought different skills and opinions (so. many. opinions.) to the table, which made for an intense and informative couple of days.

Lisa Lubin (of LL World Tour) and Cailin O’Neil (of Travel Yourself) led a session about making videos, Sherry Ott (of Otts World) and Pete Heck (of Hecktic Travels) taught us how to take and edit our photos better. I want to especially thank Sherry for showing me how to use the DSLR camera I was borrowing from a friend after Hawai’i killed my point and shoot, but that’s a different story.

Michael Tieso (of Art of Backpacking) spoke about using wordpress effectively, and Rob Ross from Flight Network (another Bloghouse sponsor) gave us a crash course in SEO. Michael Hodson (of Go, See, Write) gave the newbies some valuable advice about our branding, site designs, media kits, etc. And, let’s not forget Stephanie Yoder (of Twenty-Something Travel) who, along with the aforementioned Cailin O’Neil, organized the entire BlogHouse.

This experience was extremely helpful to me, and I’d recommend it to other travel bloggers who are starting out and looking for a supportive network of people to point, prod, and push them in the right direction.

If I’m being entirely honest, though, I found parts of the BlogHouse discouraging, disappointing, and disillusioning.

This lion statue outside the BlogHouse understands how I was feeling
This lion statue outside the BlogHouse understands my feelings

Firstly, the talk about monetization laid out all of the seedy ways in which people make money on websites, and I’m sorry to call link sales “seedy” because I know “everyone” does them, and I’m trying not to judge how people make a living. If link sales are the way you make money so that you have time to produce content you care about for your readers, then you should keep doing what you’re doing.

However, I am young, and idealistic, so… I don’t want to join you.

Secondly, the talk about SEO lasted two hours, and everyone else at the BlogHouse seemed to love it. No offense to Rob Ross because he was an engaging speaker, but it’s not a topic I’m interested in. I needed the Sparknotes version — 30 minutes tops.

Because… I’m a writer.

And before anyone gets annoyed with me and says that they’re also writers and they care about SEO, let me explain. Bloggers should have at it with SEO keywords, and there was a great quote at TBEX about how “SEO gets people to your website and storytelling keeps them there.”

But my dream job is not to write SEO-worthy headlines.

My dream job is to write personal essays, creative nonfiction, and travel stories.

And I’m 23, so I’m allowed, and even encouraged, to go after my dreams.

My other dream job is to travel the world filming a webseries with this guy:

I just learned how to make gifs and I'm pretty excited about it. This is my boyfriend, but the way, in case you haven't memorized what all of my friends and family look like yet.
I just learned how to make gifs and I’m pretty excited about it. This is my boyfriend, by the way, in case you haven’t memorized what all of my friends and family look like yet.

So, BlogHouse taught me what I don’t want to be doing with my blog, but it also inspired me to take chances and go after what I do want.

I was lucky enough to sit down one-on-one with Dalene Heck (also of Hecktic Travels, you didn’t think I was just going to mention Pete, did you?), and enjoy one of the most inspiring conversations I had BlogHouse. Dalene told me I’m a good storyteller (a welcome ego boost), and, more importantly, she told me there is room for good storytelling in blogging. There is room for quality content. And we can stand out as bloggers by providing it.

This was a theme, which was echoed at TBEX in Mike Sowden‘s talk on storytelling, and in Jodi Ettenberg and Annemarie Dooling‘s talk on turning your readership into a community. I know some bloggers (I’m looking at you, Michael Hodson) are sick of hearing about “storytelling” and “quality content” because they’re starting to become meaningless buzzwords.

But those meaningless buzzwords?

They’re what I left Toronto feeling super excited about!

Storytelling! Content creation! Travel videos! Taking the time to stop and think and brainstorm! It’s fun, and frustrating, and exciting, and an interesting exercise to try to come up with new ideas. Or different applications of old ideas or new ways to make money on the internet and not “sell out” that no one’s ever thought of before!

Try to think of one new idea right now.

It’s hard.

I have no answers yet, but damn, you guys, it’s fun trying.

Toronto Skyline. Did I mention I learned how to make gifs?
Toronto Skyline (Did I mention I learned how to make gifs?!)

Most of the people who were at the BlogHouse have been writing wrap-up posts about this experience. And, in these posts, the junior bloggers have graciously been providing links to one another’s websites. (Community building and networking in action!)

So, because I love all my new BlogHouse friends (#bloghousebabes), I’m following suit, and leaving you with some recommended reading.

meganotravels — Check out Megan Smith’s blog for foodie Fridays, tips to stay stylish on the road, and (my favorite) heartfelt tales of transformative travel.

The Kay Days — If you’re a student hoping to travel while you’re still in college, you should bookmark Kay Rodriguez’s blog immediately.

The Mother of All Trips — Read Mara Gorman’s blog if you want to travel with your family, but aren’t sure where to start, especially if you’re interested in outdoor adventures.

Points and Travel — Cindy Maloney’s aptly-named blog is for anyone looking to break into the world of collecting points and frequent flyer miles to help subsidize their travels.

The Traveluster — If you want to read about travel from the perspective of an anthropologist obsessed with international conflict resolution, Lindsay Lewis’s blog is for you.

Paper Planes — Alana Morgan is a 20-something and former expat whose thoughtful blog I’d recommend to every young woman trying to make her way in the world.

Walking on Travels — Looking for tips on traveling with an infant and a toddler? Keryn Means reminds readers that you can be a mom and keep traveling too.

Somewhere or Bust — Noah Lederman is a surfer, teacher, and father-to-be; read his blog if you’re looking for honeymoon inspiration, adventurous travel… or both?

A Nerd at Large — If you’re a history, literature, or sci-fi nerd hoping to visit places you’ve only read about, you need to start reading Stephanie Spencer’s “geektastic travel blog.”

Traveler Ahoy — Check out Alouise Dittrick’s blog if you’re a theater buff who likes lists and Canadian road trips. Intrigued? You should be.

Suitcase and Heels — Melissa Hogan’s blog is for the fashion-forward, value-conscious traveler. Plus, she’s a web designer and programmer so her site is always beautiful.


Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


  • Megan Allene Smith (@meganotravels)

    I’m gonna be honest–I couldn’t stop watching that gif of your boyfriend like something else was going to happen and I didn’t want to miss it!

    On a bloggery note–I agree that one of the biggest things I walked away from Toronto with was a desire to write more personal narrative and stories, rather than “here are the 5 things you should see in xxx”. I think there’s still room for that, because I think that’s what some people want to read, but honestly, I’ve had more positive reception to and feedback from my more personal/storytelling posts.. So I think for some, a healthy mix of both works.

    • opportunemma

      I agree that a healthy mix of both works, and I think there’s room for different styles of blogging. I’ve definitely written “here are 5 things you should see in xxx” posts and I’ll probably write them again, but I left Toronto feeling excited for the challenge of finding angles to my stories and personal narratives in them, so I hope my writing will continue to skew that way.

      I’m glad you liked the gif and I’m sorry there are only two frames, so nothing more excited happens. I said I learned how to make gifs, not that I’m any good at it yet, haha.

  • PointsandTravel ✈ (@Pointsandtravel)

    I love the honesty of this post and quite frankly, I also enjoy storytelling more than “top 10 lists” or like Megan said “here are the 5 things you should see in xxx”. Just keep building the dream Emma. And as far as bloghouse, take what you can use and leave the rest, we can only take the advice that makes sense to ourselves.

    • opportunemma

      Thank you, Cindy. I agree that we can only take the advice that makes sense to us, and I think the senior bloggers wanted us to pick and choose what we took to heart. Sometimes it’s hard for me because I feel so inexperienced and I’m so young, and it’s easy to be swayed or discouraged. But! I left Toronto feeling positive and I’m excited to try to put new, awesome ideas into the world!

  • pickledwings

    That sounds like a great event to attend. I’ve been thinking a lot lately of taking one or both of my blogs to the .com level and maybe monetizing on them, but I’m really not sure where to start.

    The financial, particularly taxation end of things really has me wondering how I would go about accounting for a blog on taxes.

    • opportunemma

      It was a great event! If you decide to take Beyond Prague to the “next level” you should think about attending TBEX Dublin this October. You could even apply to be a part of the next BlogHouse.

      I’m sure taxes would be particularly confusing as an expat, but it might be worth looking into. Right now, I’m just planning to file my taxes next year as a freelance writer. I haven’t done anything yet to incorporate my blog, but I know that’s something many people recommend.

  • Dalene & Pete Heck (@HeckticTravels)

    (Okay, I think I finally figured out how to leave a comment here. FTW.)

    I was so looking forward to our one-on-one time at BlogHouse because I was excited to tell you all of that – you are a GREAT story-teller and there is always room for greatness. And, besides that, you have to love what you put forth….if you don’t, it won’t take long for you to burn out and end up hating and resenting this little piece of web real estate. I believe you can take this far and do what you want with it, and I’m happy if I can even be a wee part of helping you make that happen.

    But, eat your SEO cheerios lady! You will never get a boatload of traffic from SEO because of the nature of your blog, but it is still important. Don’t plug your posts or titles with keywords, but don’t ignore it either. I like to pretend I am a storyteller, but realize that I also need all the help I can get in order to woo people in. 🙂

    Thanks for being so honest with this post. Continue to “share the shit”. 🙂

    • opportunemma

      Aw, thanks Dalene. You have already been more than a wee part of helping me make this happen. Let’s just hope “this” turns into something. And when I say “let’s hope,” what I actually mean is “I’m going to work very hard” to turn this into something. If part of that is eating my SEO cheerios, then I will start eating my SEO cheerios, but maybe not for every breakfast.

  • Steph

    I’m so glad we had you there! And you know, I zoned out on most of the SEO session too. Like you, I just don’t really care about it that much even though I know I should. I got in to blogging to write before anything else. Most of the rest of that is just trying to supplement the business so that I can afford to do that.
    One thing that I’m not sure we emphasized enough, and that I don’t think TBEX really emphasies enough, is that there is NO wrong way to blog. We’re all so new at this and the industry is so new and everyone is still figuring it out as they go. Which is scary but also really exciting because that means that anyone can forge their own way on their own terms.
    Being a really good writer helps. Which you are, so I think you’ll go far.

    • opportunemma

      It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one who zoned out a little! And thank you for saying you think I’ll go far. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing that especially from people whose opinions I respect.

      You guys definitely mentioned that there’s no wrong way to blog, but I think it’s hard to emphasize that point enough because everyone is looking for tips and tricks to become successful. As much as we should be forging our own ways, we want to know what worked for other people, so we have a jumping off point. It’s just if the jumping off point becomes the only way people think they can be a professional travel blogger, then it’s a problem.

  • Noah @ Somewhere Or Bust

    I agree with Dalene. Eat your SEO cheerios. But, if you think about it, SEO is often a very straight-forward title, like using the phrases “Quality Content” and “Blog House” in your title. I just typed in “quality content and blog house” in Google and you came up number 1. (It’s a lie, but if I had done so, you probably would have.) Anyway, after meeting you, when you stood up for your introduction while the rest of us sat, I knew you’d be an intriguing read. Keep going after those dreams and embarrassing your boyfriend with visual manipulations.

    • opportunemma

      I just googled it, and it comes up as long as “BlogHouse” is one word, so, I will try to eat my SEO cheerios. I appreciate your words of encouragement, and I’m glad standing up to introduce myself made an intriguing first impression. Also, my boyfriend is difficult to embarrass. His comment regarding the gif of his face was, “I like that picture of me.”

  • anerdatlarge

    Firstly, why didn’t we start using “bloghousebabes sooner? Secondly, I demand to know when the session on animated GIFs was because I need to know this stuff and it would have made my weekend!

    Thirdly, hooray for storytelling! I will never tell you to curtail that or be realistic and write about the practical information that people are searching for. I think our blogs are very similar in that no one is really searching for the stuff we write about because they don’t know they want it until the find it. SEO is somewhat less relevant to us because people need to discover our content rather than search for it. However, I believe it is important for every blogger to understand the rudiments of how SEO works and make a conscious choice not to utilize certain tactics (or all of them for that matter.) I am most definitely on the side of Team Human and I have one of the most un-SEOed blogs around, but I’m also glad of the fact that my professional experience has given me a solid understanding of SEO and the skills to create content that performs well in search. So, although SEO might not be the most inspiring, uplifting of subjects, I predict that you will find the knowledge useful in the long run. People act like there are two camps, but I view SEO more like a continuum, and I would much rather that individual bloggers make an informed choice and find the spot on it where they are comfortable rather than dismissing either quality content or SEO outright.

    In conclusion, you remind me of a younger, awesomer version of myself so I will tell you what I would tell her if I could. Dream big and don’t compromise.

    • opportunemma

      Firstly, I expect #bloghousebabes to be used constantly in Dublin. Secondly, I’m making gifs with gimp and it’s pretty easy, so I’d be happy to run a brief session on the topic next time we see each other.

      And thirdly, thank you for your thoughts on storytelling and SEO. I love what you said about how no one is searching for the stuff we write because they don’t know they want it until they find it. I almost added a paragraph to this post about how people googling something and looking for an answer probably aren’t coming to my blog in the right mindset to enjoy gardening puns or a story about drinking tea with a little old lady in France. I didn’t include that paragraph because I don’t know those posts couldn’t benefit from SEO, and so I do need to try using it and see what sticks. Knowing how SEO works and choosing when to implement it sounds to me like how I think about art. Artists should know the “rules” of how to paint or draw or sculpt, and then choose to break those rules to create different styles of art. I hope I didn’t make it sound like I believe in two camps for the world of SEO because I agree that a continuum makes a lot of sense. I think two camps are a bad system for pretty much anything and everything (gender and sexuality come to mind immediately).

      Finally, thanks for the advice. I will try to dream big and not compromise, and I’m flattered that I remind you of yourself.

  • Alouise

    Emma as a writer I totally understand the dislike for SEO. I kind of view it like Dalene said, something to help people find your blog, and really if you get a good SEO plugin it’s not that hard or painful to use.

    Being a blogger is fun, but scary (especially for anyone who wants to earn a living from it). There are a lot of unknowns, but I guess that means the future and the possibilities are wide open.

    It was lovely to have met you at BlogHouse. Hopefully our paths will cross again.

  • Trips By Lance

    Just found this post. It was good briefly meeting you and several of the blog house ladies Sunday night at TBEX. Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m in late 30s and am not driven by a lot of the monetizing stuff. I will say basic SEO is good. But I don’t spend more than two minutes when posting doing a couple of SEO things. And thanks for the blogs to follow on here. It’s a good list.

    • opportunemma

      It was nice meeting you too! I’m impressed by everyone who doesn’t care much about monetization. I want writing and to a lesser extent blogging to be my job, but my predicament is that I haven’t found a way to make money that feels good to me yet. I think only spending a few minutes on SEO is probably a good goal for me. I should do it, but I shouldn’t get hung up on it. And I’m glad the list of bloghouse participants is helpful! They are an excellent group of people and they blog about a variety of topics!

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