Will Hatton, founder of thebrokebackpacker.com, shares his remarkable journey and true entrepreneurial spirit with us on the latest episode of the Niche Pursuits podcast.
At 18, he embarked on a journey that started it all, spending two and a half years in India with almost no money. With this unique experience, he began selling items collected during his travels back home in England.
He initially started The Broke Backpacker as an email list, later evolving it into a site in 2013 focusing on budget travel information.
Will’s travel experiences in less touristy countries like Iran and Pakistan led to unique content that, when combined with his outreach efforts, attracted media attention and high-profile backlinks.
He began earning income from sponsored posts and later ventured into small group tours, providing a cash injection that used to go all in scaling his website and team.
The gamble paid off and the site gained immense popularity, reaching 1.5 million unique users a month before COVID caused a significant setback.
But despite some struggles and his carefree demeanor, Will Hatton proves to be a wizard in his entrepreneurial pursuits.
He discusses his strategies for brand building, systematizing his content needs for maximum results, and following through to reach his goals.
He covers the importance of building real relationships with affiliates, perfecting the team and content creation process, updating old content, and addressing the impact of Google updates on their approach to content creation.
Will also shares his plans for the future, including focusing on the backpacker lifestyle, launching a podcast, and expanding his coworking hostel brand in Bali.
If you’re interested in hearing from a truly memorable entrepreneur with great energy, interesting stories, and helpful insights – this one’s for you!
Watch The Interview
Topics Will Hatton Covers
How he got started online
Building a brand
Pitching editors for amazing backlinks
Reinvesting into his business
Types of affiliates that worked best
His content strategy
Benefits of befriending affiliates
His awesome team structure
Issues with ChatGPT
Google’s above-the-fold issues
And a whole lot more…
Links & Resources
Jared: All right. Welcome back to the niche pursuits podcast. My name is Jared Bauman. And today we are joined by Will Hatton with thebrokebackpacker. com. Will, welcome on board.
Will: Oh, Jared. Thank you very much for having
Jared: me. Hey, I like the energy. I like the energy you bring. You are, you are coming to us with a full swath of energy.
Now you mentioned it’s pretty early in the morning. Is it early in the morning where you are recording? I mean, getting this time zones work. That was pretty rough.
Will: Yeah, it’s 5am right now, so I’m still kind of waking up a little bit, but I got up at 4. 30, so it’s not too bad.
Jared: Man, you get a gold medal, I tell ya.
Whenever I have to record in your part of the world, somebody is either up really late or up really early. Looks like you took one for the team today. Yeah, I did. Alright, well, we’ll make sure it’s worth your while today. And technically you’re going to be the one providing all the value though. So, um, Hey, you’ve got a really cool, not only website that we’ll dive into, but just a story about how you wandered into this and so many other things along the way.
Before we get into more details on the broke backpacker, why don’t you fill us in, like catch us up, try to give us a little backstory on yourself. Yeah, for
Will: sure. I’ll try and give you the abridged shorter version. Um, when I was like 18, 19, I wanted to go into the army. I then had an injury, which meant that was no longer possible.
So I found myself in India and I spent two and a half years in India with almost no money on a budget of about 10 a day. I was hitchhiking. I was couch surfing. I was living in train stations. I was working on fields. I started like packing my backpack with like shiny bits and pieces. I thought I could sell back home on the street or at festivals.
Um, and that was kind of how my entrepreneurial spirit sort of started. And for a while I was carting backpacks backwards and forwards between India and England and selling stuff and funding my travels that way. The Broke Backpacker started during that time. Originally it’s like a email list to like. It was very small, very humble.
And then the site itself started in 2013. So nearly 11 years ago now, cause it’s in January. Um, and at first it was just these huge blocks of text and it was aimed at like informing people like me who, you know, wanted to go traveling, but hadn’t really been able to find any information on traveling cheap.
Um, all of the info I had found. Seem to indicate that travels to people with quite a lot of disposable income. And I was more interested in traveling. In the style of, you know, the hippies of the sixties and seventies, because that was the style of travel that I could afford. So I was really keen to try and open that up and to share with people like the how’s the, what’s the wise of traveling in that way.
Uh, and over time that site just. Absolutely exploded. There was a few crucial moments, and we probably get get into some of those. Um, some other businesses were founded along the way, which kind of helped me with cash injections to scale the main site. But, um, at its peak, the site was at 1. 5 million unique users a month.
Um, that was like in our heyday, right before COVID now we’re at more like 800, 000 because Google’s just changed the way it’s displaying info. And you know, COVID was horrible. I was doing like so many things and I was crushing it in almost all of it. Um, and then COVID came along and like, just, just wiped me out overnight and left me with like.
20 employees to pay and like just no income. It was horrible, but, uh, I’m sure we’ll get into that as well. But yeah, my kind of journey was really, um, finding myself and finding a lot of value out of traveling to more far flung countries like Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, and in these kinds of places.
There is less of a tourism industry, but it just gives you the opportunity to really make incredible connections of local people that you wouldn’t necessarily make otherwise. And also, these places are just so remote, so incredibly beautiful from, like, I’m a mountain guy, so I pretty much just follow mountains around.
I’ve been all up and down the Himalayas, all along my whole spine. Pakistan’s my favorite part. And, um Yeah, I just got a lot of value out of going to these more far flung countries and writing about it. And, um, at the time, most of these countries had no coverage. So this was a very important part of my journey because as I was putting out content on, you know, backpacking Pakistan, even though it was just blocks of texts, no images, no SEO knowledge whatsoever, it would brank because Google had no information on that topic.
So that was an important part of the, of the early success of the site.
Jared: I absolutely have become a bit in so two sides to what I’ll say the first is just reading your site like it’s so intriguing and it’s so interesting, um, to read through and see your stories. I’m glad you pointed out like, you know, like we all I backpack through New Zealand and Australia in my early twenties.
And like, there’s a lot of places we all check the box on if you’re going to go out and do the backpacking. But I don’t think Iran and And some of these other places, Venezuela, get as much traction and much credit. It’s fun reading some of the stuff you have on your website about that on more of the SEO side.
I mean, you just over the course of this 11 year journey, you just inherited links from so many amazing places. I’m looking down your, your list of prominent backlinks. We’ve got the guardian, we’ve got harvard. edu, Huffington post USA today, the telegraph, I mean, I could just go on and on. And so it’s clear that you’ve kind of really struck a chord with what you’re.
What you’re writing about, let me take you back to that beginning. The humble beginnings. What, what do you think drove you to turn what was just like an email list that you were documenting through the early two thousands into a website? You know, like what in 2013 changed for you to want to make a website out of this?
Will: I think because it was just proving, uh, quite frustrating to put, I didn’t even, when I was traveling, I didn’t have a laptop. I didn’t have a phone. I had an iPod touch. And that’s why I was writing everything on in these train stations. And you know, it was, it was, it was a part of the journey for sure. Uh, but it was just proving very ineffective to try and get the information I wanted to get out there to like this very small email list.
And I was like, okay, I need to have some, some way to direct the people who I’m meeting in real life. Actually read my stuff because I was meeting a lot of cool other people on the road and I had like little business cards I spent like 20 500 of them and I would give these out to people wouldn’t had a picture of me like Riding an ostrich that I rode probably not very ethically.
That’s a much younger man in Vietnam And I was trying to direct people physically towards something. So that was kind of when I made that switch I found that as I was going to these more far flung places, um, it was blowing up on Snapchat. So I was quite early on Snapchat as well. And I want to say that I was the first person creating like backpacker Snapchat content for Iran or Pakistan.
I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I was definitely like one of the earliest people into, into Iran and Pakistan. I like showing it on social media platforms. Um. So that was, I was, I was very successful at that. I was able to like do really well, but like make no money. So I need somewhere to direct that Snapchat following towards.
And that, that was kind of why the blog first started.
Jared: What, um, yeah, I’ll echo your story because, uh, I was, I traveled back, packed a little bit in the early two thousands. And these are the days where you had, uh, you didn’t have cell phones and you didn’t have laptops. And so you’d pop into an internet cafe every.
7 to 10 days. I remember one time I popped into an internet cafe and checked my email. My dad had emailed six days earlier and was like, uh, Hey Jared, your car was impounded, uh, cause the car alarm wouldn’t go off. And, uh, we kind of need, uh, the title to the car to be able to get it out of impound. So every day we don’t hear from you, you’re just racking up an impound bill.
Jared: tell that story to people nowadays. I’m like, why didn’t you just call your dad? I’m like, that’s just not really how it worked back then. But, um, the like, what did you start with on the blog that first caught success? I mean, you talked about these blocks of text, but from an actual. Standpoint in terms of ranking, like, was it the fact that you were publishing content in areas of the world that really there was no content on?
Or was it that you developed a loyal following on there? Like take us through the first early couple of years on that. And what kind of caught or what kept you going with it?
Will: Yeah, definitely. The fact that I was traveling to places where there wasn’t much content, um, was important. Um, I also was able to generate, um, a pretty loyal engaged following because the type of writing that I was putting out there, like hitchhiking across Iran or like.
Doing a load of drugs in Pakistan at a random house party, or I married this girl that I met in Iran, and I would just write about it. I would just put it out there, like, with no filter. Like, I knew that I didn’t want to have, like, I knew I didn’t really want to work for anybody else, so I’m covered in tattoos anyway.
So, like, I figured that it didn’t matter if I was just, like, very, uh, raw and honest with what I was experiencing. The good, the bad, the ugly, the crippling loneliness. The entrepreneurial journey. Am I going to be able to make this? I’ve got no money in my bank account. I’m I’m all in on my website. Like, like what, where’s that going to lead me?
And I just shared all of it. And I think that that definitely helped me generate a very loyal following. But also because I was. Putting out this kind of adventure content, which at the time was new, it kept getting picked up by media publications. I know there’s some of the links that you referenced there earlier.
I was also very aggressive at pitching media publications, and I was pitching them all the time. And I was like, Hey, here’s five. Like pretty interesting, unique things that I’ve done. Here are three different ways that I can write each one of those stories. Please take a story, pay me something. If you like, that’d be great.
Some of them did, but give me the link. And I don’t know if that would work now. Um, I feel like at the time what I was doing was very unique and cutting edge, but with the advent of social media and with travel blogging being the most, um, the most visible. Digital nomad career out there, even though it’s not the easiest, it’s, it’s not the best.
Um, it is the most visible. There’s a lot of competition now. So there’s a lot of people who are trying to do what I have done. And I think that, uh, most of the media publications out there are less interested in, in this kind of content now.
Jared: Talk about that strategy because you’re, you’re right. backlinks you had in prep, in preparation, like some of them look very.
And some of them also looked very, I’ll just say almost like you collaborated almost like what maybe a hero style link would look now, except you were the only one in there. And so it sounds like there was some strategy behind that, where the way that you presented it to them, like maybe even if it isn’t as relevant anymore, I’d love to hear more about how you built some of these.
Just crazy high profile links, uh, through that strategy.
Will: Yeah, honestly, I’m quite good at writing pitching emails and I, I just, um, I have my Filipino VA and before I was just doing it myself, just make this massive spreadsheet of all of these, um, different editors, um, who are working on different publications and I would just hit them up every six weeks from a different email address.
Until they specifically told me to leave them alone or until they published something that I was working on. Um, I mean, I had a few stories like two or three that went just totally viral where a story that I wrote with, um, a publication called news. com. au that got picked up and republished across like 30 platforms.
So there was a couple that just like really, really helped me. But I think, um, the main part of it was just putting together these great pitches and having this unique content and being willing to. Uh, to write about, you know, the, the good, the bad and the ugly that I was experiencing whilst hitchhiking across the world whilst like living very, very broke.
Um, I mean, I did a few pieces as well, more on like the entrepreneurship journey, like a little bit later as I’d like cut my teeth on a few things, had a few businesses in different areas of the travel space. Um, I think that my timing was good. And I think that my, my pitch style was good. I don’t know if it would work today unless you had something really unique.
I haven’t, I do sometimes get pretty organic interviews now cause I’m a certain size. Um, we’ve done a little bit of Harrow over the last couple of years, but, um, it’s, it’s not the same as, as what I was building before.
Jared: I mean, you kind of spoke about it, like to some degree being on the front end of a new.
Thing, you know, first traveler through Iran and that sort of fashion for like, you’re just, there’s a, it’s, it’s, it’s in every industry, right? Like if you’re the first or one of the first to do it or one of the first to, uh, you know, kind of proliferate it, you’re going to end up with a significantly easier share of, of kind of media coverage and press.
So, well, it certainly has, has, has done well for you on your backlink profile. Let’s go back to kind of the first couple of years. Like when did the site start? Earning money and what was it that started giving you a regular paycheck from this website?
Will: Yeah. So that’s quite an interesting story, actually.
So we were making between like a thousand and 2, 500 a month, all from sponsored posts, which obviously not sustainable, not the way that I wanted to build a business. Um, that was after about a year, 18 months, I was making that kind of income. I then went through Pakistan. Filmed it all on Snapchat was like, Hey, who, who loves this?
Does anybody want to come see it? Here’s a PayPal link. If you want to come see Pakistan with me, I’m going to bring a group here next year. And, um, priced at 1750 us, um, 12 slots. It’s sold out in like 24 hours, which meant I suddenly had like 20 grand in my pocket, which was more money than I had ever seen in my life.
And I was like, okay, wow. So what I did was I took that, I hired a couple of writers. I hired a Filipino VA and I built a system for scaling content. I actually spent all of the money that I needed to use for the tour like eight months later, but I was able to make it back through affiliate marketing in that time.
And we had some, honestly, some pretty crazy success on the affiliate side of things. So I initially got that cash injection from the tour company that I started. And I was doing tours around Pakistan and Iran for like three years before COVID made it really, really hard. And I kind of just let it die, let it die in the vine after that, cause it was just too much work.
Um, but that was an important part of what I was originally doing. And when I do talk to. New trial bloggers who are struggling to, um, to make an income from their blog. I normally say to them, Hey, listen, go for small group tours because if you’ve got like a hundred engaged actual people who are following your journey and are invested in what you’re doing.
Just just sell them the opportunity to come travel with you because you can make good money on that. Yeah, you have to really be switched on for a couple of weeks, but if you get it right, you can leave with like 10 grand profit in your pocket, which for a lot of online entrepreneurs is like a lot of money for me at that time, it was a crazy amount of money to have to invest in my business.
And, you know, as the old adage goes, it’s hard to make money. Without any money to spend. Right. And before I had this cash injection, I was just doing everything by myself. It was like, I was trying to build the website. I was trying to figure out what SEO even stood for. I had no idea, you know, I was trying to scale content.
I was trying to write. The stories that I wanted to write, but which I couldn’t see any obvious way to monetize them. I was doing these horrible sponsored posts that were like sucking my soul out of my body as I was like trying to get a link into like a gambling house in Hong Kong, you know, not, not in line with what I wanted to do at all.
So, um, yeah, having that cash injection and enabling us to scale. That was a really important step. We then started to make good money from the affiliate side of things and. It really like doubled month for month until it reached like some pretty crazy figures, honestly, directly before COVID. Um, a part of that was because we were scaling series of content and I just got quite good at hiring people, scaling my team up and down as needed.
I had a very fortunate position in that the Brokeback Packet, it’s a cool website. People want to work for the site. So I would get. Uh, people reaching out to me all the time searching for job opportunities, which meant I never had any issue. And I’ve never had to hire via Upwork or Fiverr. Um, everybody that works on the site is someone I’ve met whilst traveling or someone that has reached out to me, which is like a real killer pitch.
And I’ve been like, yes, you need to come work for me.
Jared: It’s worth mentioning. I mean, it’s, it’s laced in all the threads of what you’ve talked about so far, and I’ve got to imagine it will continue to be a part of what you talk about in the rest of the interview. Like you really built a brand before you built a website, and sure, the brand has grown since then, and the website has contributed to that, but everything you’re talking about is almost the anti with the way a lot of people build it.
Um, websites these days and you know, a lot of people who are building websites are thinking, man, I’d love to hear how will build his team. Like where do you find all these people? How do you scale it out? Well, what do you know? He already had a following and they are, they were begging to work for him. Hey, well, how’d you get your newsletter subscribed?
I mean, how’d you get your, uh, your tour subscribers and your tour people when you didn’t even really have a website that was ranking very much? Well, go figure. You’d already built a community of people that were following you. And then so. It’s a good, it’s a good reminder to all of us, like building a, an audience of true believers, of people who, you know, kind of like minded are kind of joining you in your journey and cultivating that.
I just, I keep hearing you kind of under, underhandedly almost reference that every single thing you say.
Will: Yeah. I mean, yeah, yeah. You’ve put that into better words than I could have done. So thank you. I’m going to use that again at some point, but no, you’re right. Um, and the Broke Backpacker, the Wilhatton brand as this like adventurer who like doesn’t really know when to shut up and we’ll just say what’s going on.
Um, that, that was what I was doing. Uh, people resonated with it. People were interested in the kind of journeys I was having. You know, I, I would be like filming stuff and like putting it online, like no, no editing whatsoever. It was all super raw. Just like, hey, this is me hitchhiking on top of the bus and here’s a funny joke I have today.
Uh, people liked it. I don’t do it anymore because I decided that social media was like, just basically destroying my mental health and destroying my, um, my travel experience. So I quit social media a few years ago. Um, but it was a very important part of building that initial audience. up and then we were able to, to build that audience further.
Once the site got more organized and once I got some help from some people who were just as passionate as I were and who had a different skill set to what I have.
Jared: And that kind of transitions nicely. Like the great thing about building a brand is you have this low following. The great thing about having a low following is you don’t necessarily.
Have to nail everything perfectly when it comes to say the SEO of your website. But in the early days when you didn’t really know what you were doing, like what type of content was hitting, what was doing well, where did you have these breakthroughs in your website and maybe what was the, what was the reasoning behind that?
Will: I would say, um, two types of content that was doing well was like very unique. Um, from the road style dispatches. So like when I met this lady in Iran and we got married and like hitchhiked all over, we were together for four years, it was a whole thing. Um, I also got this like multicolored rickshaw and drove it all across India, which was like so difficult.
Um, it would go like 32 kilometers an hour. It was so loud. Uh, if you had to stop. It would, it would just cut out and it could only be pushed started. It was, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Uh, my audience likes that. I also went and got a tattoo from this lady in the jungle. She’s, I think she’s 102 now, and she’s the last of this line of mum barber talks, which is like master tattoo artists in the Philippines.
It does all these Kalinga tribal tattoos. A few people have been to see her now. Uh, if I wasn’t the first, I was definitely one of the first and that kind of content really helped go viral. It wasn’t that I was specifically looking for viral content. Um, but I found myself in parts of the world where I was just coming across it.
I was like, which is so. Crazy interesting. How do people not know about this? Just filming it. Filming my reaction at how crazy interesting I think it is. And people loved it. Um, I also went to Venezuela and Venezuela has, um, had some really crazy inflation and there was one photo I took there of me exchanging 100 for like The Venezuelan equivalent, it’s stacks of money on the table that photo went crazy viral.
Um, and definitely helped generate some backlinks and some new influx of audience members as well. He
Jared: talked about how affiliates started to work really well for you. Took that 20, 000 you made off tours and kind of. Bad on the house. And I was like, you know, you came up, um, you came up, you came up. Well, what type of affiliate content worked well?
Like what were you getting conversions on?
Will: Yeah. So our big pieces of content were all like backpacking mega guides. Like this is our backpacking guide to India. And within that, we’d have a few different affiliate scatters amongst them. Like, Hey, look, if you want to do it on a cheap. Kind of helps to have a tent.
This is the tent that I’ve been using for a long time. This is the backpack that I’ve been using for a long time. Recommend you take a head torch, recommend you buy travel insurance. If you’re going to start your journey in Delhi, here’s a hostel I like. So it was gear, it was travel insurance, and it was accommodation.
The gear was at first like the biggest part of it, but the accommodation quickly became like. The lion’s share by far, um, and we found that we could scale various series of content of content around different locations. So we started out of like our backpacking guides, and then we went from there into more like, uh, backpacker accommodation guides.
We break down different types of hostel. We’d recommend like, Oh, look, if you want to find a hostel where you can work as a digital nomad in India. Don’t go to India because none exist, but um, here’s a great one for couples or a great one for people who want to like be more social and We quickly were able to grow the accommodation side of things and then a couple of interesting things happened So one I’ve renegotiated all of my commission structures and cookie durations with almost all of my affiliate partners and some of the Some of the renegotiations that I was able to achieve to achieve are like quite ridiculous.
Honestly, I had a couple of my partners, um, changed them during COVID. the major player kept it the same. And I actually get more commission than they do from a sale, which is pretty crazy. It was all based on like a sliding bulk, but they were like, if you can get to 10, 000 conversions, we will honor. This, and they obviously didn’t think I would get to 10, 000 conversions.
And I was like, well, look, nothing else like financially on the site. Nothing else matters. All that matters is that we get to 10, 000 conversions and we were able to achieve that. And that was kind of a game changing moment for us. So yeah, our affiliates have traditionally been like gear, accommodation, and a little bit of insurance.
And then the tour companies, whilst I was doing it, I also did do some of my own physical products, but that’s a story for another day. I mean, that was going like. It was going okay, and it could have gone great. But then COVID came along and increased shipping costs by like 350 percent, which just took out all the margin.
And then Amazon released their own Amazon Basics version for the products I was selling. And that was kind of the end of it, really. Um, But yeah, all along the way, I had this idea that I wanted to do my own hostel specifically for entrepreneurs, digital nomads, people who need like a co working space. So that was kind of in the back of my mind the whole time.
And I’ll talk about that later because I’ve done that now. Um, and a lot of the content that I was creating. I was creating in mind to support that project in the future. I didn’t want to be relying on affiliate forever. I was excited to do my own range of products. And then when that fell through, I was like, okay.
You need to open your own place, man. You need to, like, have a brick and mortar situation so you can learn about, I mean, everything that I’d done prior to working online had been, like, minimum wage jobs, like, you know, moving bricks around or, like, moving bread around. Moving things from A to B. That had been my career up until then.
So, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn about a different side of making money. Let’s,
Jared: um, cause I want to, I want to make sure we have enough time to talk about what you have today and kind of where things are at today and what’s working today, maybe walk us through COVID. Cause I’ve heard you say enough, I don’t really need to, uh, have a crystal ball to know.
Cause we’ve had travel bloggers and websites, um, on the podcast prior to this coming out of COVID they’ve shared their stories during COVID of. Waking up and I mean, seeing their income going down to 5 percent of what it was, you know, I mean, walk us through COVID and maybe where things were and then what changes had to happen and how you kind of came out of it.
Will: Yeah. So I mean, COVID was tough. COVID was tough for everybody. Um, unless you were Jeff Bezos, most people really, really struggled. Right. Um, the problem for me specifically was I built my team up to this massive beast. It’s like 20 people and my running costs were like 40, 000 a month. Which we were making great money.
I could afford that. It was fine. And then suddenly incomes cut to like 15 and then 10 percent of what it should be, which meant that we were spending like 30 grand a month at a loss out of my savings, which I’d saved over like this one awesome successful year and I wanted to keep everybody on, so I chose to double down on content.
We redesigned the whole site cause it was kind of like this. Frankenstein monster of plugins because I’d built the original version myself and I’d done a terrible job. So we had to get someone to come in and fix it. And that took like six months. So we use for time quite well, but. It was financially, like, awful, um, even the money that we were making, a lot of our affiliate partners weren’t paying us, they wouldn’t give it to us, they’d give it to us like three or four months later, you know, or they’d be like, Oh, well, you know, you sold 100 hotel bookings, but 90 percent of the guests didn’t turn up.
So we’re not going to give you the money. And I was like, so a lot of different challenges that everybody encountered. It was a hard time for everybody. Um, For me with the physical products that it was, it was the death of that with the tours, it was the death of that. I had a little guest house in Pakistan that is still going, but I’m no longer involved.
Um, and it was just very, very tough to go from, you know, pulling in six figures a month to having like a five figure loss every month. It was a, a real, um, a real one, one 80 for sure.
Jared: It took a while for people to start traveling again, at least to the magnitude of what they were. And then there seemed to be again, just pulling from different conversations.
I’ve had 2022 seemed to be a bit of a rebirth or a bit of a swing back to the direction. A lot of maybe pent up emotion or pent up desire to travel. Like, is that the way your site and your earnings? Went or did it go differently for you? Yeah. I
Will: mean, 2022 is definitely a bit of a rebirth. Um, but nowhere near how things have been before COVID.
And in the meantime, as well, you know, Google had rolled out a whole bunch of changes. There was a lot more stuff above the fold. Now Google has their own map. site integrated with, um, with booking platforms that Google is an affiliate for, um, Google’s rolled out Google flights and they’re just trying to take a bigger and bigger chunk of the pie.
So it’s definitely gotten harder. I don’t know if my site is likely to recover to where it was at. Uh, before COVID, um, we just have to see at this point, I’m pretty happy with the strategy. I’m pretty happy with the movement that we are achieving. But, um, yeah, it was, it was a really, really tough time.
Jared: What’s working nowadays? You know, I mean, you talk about how it’s not the same, but you know, is it working? It’s generated 800, 000 pages a month. There’s still nothing to sneeze at. Um, what are you focusing on now? What’s working right now?
Will: Yeah, definitely. A hundred percent is working right now. I’m making good money.
I’m able to continue to expand the other things that I’m doing. Uh, we’ll be opening a second hostel in Indonesia soon. So that’s really exciting. Um, I’ve, you know, achieved a lot of my goals. I’ve been able to help my parents out financially. I own my house. Like, um, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve achieved, I’ve achieved like my shortlist.
So I’m pretty, pretty happy with that. Um, what is working now is continuing to put out content and audience can really resonate with, uh, from one of two paths. The first is, Hey, this is really, this is a unique way to travel. We can give you the tools. We can give you the tips. We can show you how to travel 10 a day.
If that’s what you’ve got accessible to you, you should just do it. Don’t be scared. is an amazing experience is amazing for your personal development. You become more horrible, you become like more resilient, you learn valuable life skills. So it’s putting out the actual. Info for people so they can follow in the steps of what myself and people on my team have done.
And then the second part of it is pivoting a bit more towards if you want to travel long term, you will eventually need to have some kind of online income is, I mean, there’s a couple of there’s a couple of exceptions. You can work on boats or you can be a scuba instructor. There’s a couple of other good options out there.
You know, if you can figure out how to make two grand a month passive. Um, whilst working online, then really the world is your oyster. So I didn’t want to get into the space of charging my audience to that info. Everything on the site is free. I’m not trying to like get anyone to join any kind of course or.
You know, like by blue host, by blue host, by blue host is this, none of that. Um, it’s just me sort of sharing some info that I’ve gathered along the way. Um, and that is also quite well received, but both those two things are what generates. Uh, readerships loyalty, but neither of those things make any money.
So the thing, the thing that continues to make the money is people who are searching in queries that are buying keywords specifically like best backpack for hiking or best tent for traveling the world, or where should I stay when backpacking Bangkok and. That’s where we make our money is from people putting those search queries into Google coming onto a piece of content that we put that very clearly, beautifully answers those questions and clicking on the big red button,
Jared: best travel backpack for women, best cheap hotels, where to stay in Costa Rica, hotels in Maui, best places to stay in Ireland, Barcelona beaches.
Yep, I’m seeing it.
Will: So that’s like, the thing is that’s content. That’s, you know, it’s good content. It’s well done. There’s a lot of content like that on the internet. I would say the Oz is. In the top 10%, um, from a quality point of view, it’s not really content that makes my heart sing. Um, but it is what funds the whole thing.
So by having this stuff out there and focusing my link building efforts on that and focusing on continuing to find new, uh, new wins for us to expand into where we can create money content, like that’s what funds the whole thing, but really I’m way more into like the raw travel stories or the like, Hey, this is how you could investigate.
Um, a life of online entrepreneurship,
Jared: I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least ask you one or two questions about how you are creating this style of content, because I’m fascinated by the stories you have and the virality and a lot of what you’ve done, but I can’t ignore the fact you said that this is the stuff that’s paying the bills.
So like talk me through an article like best places to stay in Ireland. What are you doing? To make yours special, unique, different, better. Why is it ranking in your opinion? Like, what is it about the way you’re producing this style of content that maybe sets it apart?
Will: There’s a few things as to why it’s ranking and what I think makes it different and special.
Um, a post like where to stay in Ireland, like firstly, we’ll, we’ll definitely try and include. More information about like why you’d want to go to Ireland or a bit of the history of our, a bit of the culture of our, um, secondly, we only have people who have actually visited Ireland, right? A piece like that.
That is part of why my team is so big because I need people who have actually been to these countries and who are able to, um, put in photos of themselves in the country, which I think. That, that is one of the reasons that posts like this are ranking. Our photos are not always the best, the vast majority of our photos on the site.
And within six months, when I’ve completed a project I’m working on, all of the photos on the site will be have taped, be being taken by people on my team. Maybe it’s blurry, maybe it’s on the phone, but it’s an original photo. It’s not a stock image. And like, I don’t know, but I feel, I feel that Google likes that.
So I feel like that is part of the reason this content is ranking. Um, and then we’ve got different processes and different like formats that we follow for like making our introductions, you know, engaging using a certain style of lingo on the site, um, tries like. Expand the audience’s fun vocabulary, so to speak, to improve engagement on the page.
Um, we have like a couple of other bits and pieces in there that are unique to us. Like we’re at the moment in the process of rolling out, um, hand drawn maps that we’ve been doing, uh, where we just. We’d look at, for example, Bali, and then we’ve got like a piece of map software. Somebody will draw, draw their own version of that and we’ll put our own highlights on the map that we think are worth highlighting to people.
And Google again seems to like that it is a Individual thing rather than a stock image or something just like grabbed from Google and repurposed. So I think just having as many markers as you can to be like, this is a unique piece of content. Chat GPT has not been used to create this content and we don’t, we don’t use any chat GPT on the site because I’m convinced that at some point, um, there’ll be an algorithm update that will just like wipe out with those sites.
I’m kind of, I’m kind of hoping that’s going to happen. I’ve chosen my side. And we’re, we’re non chat GPT. So, um, yeah, I think having those factors on there that enable us to leverage people’s personal experiences in these countries and to put in a little bit more of a unique twist that shows Google we have actually been there.
I think that’s what makes the difference.
Jared: The these are your moneymaker pages. So I guess my second question would be what work have you done to maximize the earnings on these pages? Um, I don’t notice any ads, by the way. Maybe I’m missing them, but I don’t see any ads like an ad network. I see what looks to be affiliate links and a lot of other things that you’re promoting.
Um, the ultimate backpacker Bible, you’ve got your newsletter, but like talk through what you’ve done to maximize the monetization on these, on these pages.
Will: Yeah. So there are some ads on the site, but ad income is pretty low because I haven’t got ads at all on any money pages. Uh, ads are also not really on any of the like inspiration, uh, pieces that I’m particularly proud of.
But then we’ve got like some middle ground posts. There was a whole series of content, uh, things to do, places to visit, itinerary for X, which I was experimenting with over the last couple of years. And I was like, cool. We can monetize this through, um, activity providers, like get your guide and Viator.
It’s horrible. I don’t recommend anybody that does bill tries to build anything around activity affiliates is so difficult. Um, so a kind of half measure to get some value out of that content of which there is a lot of it on the site is to put ads on that content as for how we made more money specifically.
Out of our money pages. I think re re, um, negotiating commission structures is the big one. Honestly, renegotiating cookies. Um, we’ve got a couple of our biggest affiliates who we also sell them like pretty nice, um, annual packages of exposure on the site where we’re like, Hey, so we could put a plug recommending your product or service.
One of them, for example, is an international SIM card. Um, across pretty much every post and we can also put you in the sidebar and we can also give you a mail blast and it’s going to be X and people go for that more often than not. And I think that just trying to build more of a actual real relationship with your affiliates is something that I don’t see many people doing, um, and.
Here’s the thing. They’ve got the ability to change your cookie. They’ve got the ability to change your commission structure. They’ve usually got an advertising budget to spend. And crucially, they’ve got all of the data. So if you can make friends with them and ask them a question in a certain way, I’ve had some of the most ridiculous data dumps that you would not believe over the years.
So I think make friends with your affiliates. It’s not always easy. Some of them don’t want to talk to you. I’m an affiliate for Airbnb and they just won’t speak to me for some reason. Um, but you know, um, it is well worth trying to build that relationship for sure.
Jared: So there’s some good tips. Yeah, I can, I can imagine that, you know, because at the end of the day, it’s humans interacting with humans.
And so, you know, some humans show up for work and they want to get their job done and move on with their day. And other humans are looking to connect and craft conversations and open the doors up. So that’s, um, it’s good advice. Um, You know, in terms of, uh, how you have built your team, like, I’m guessing that you haven’t produced all the content, the site, you talk about your writers, you talk about your team, um, how have you managed that sort of structure?
Like you come across as a. Super laid back, like go with the flow kind of guy. And yet the more we talk, you seem like, you know, the boss CEO, who’s got all your systems dialed in place and is running this really well organized team of, of people. I’m just like, you’ve got a lot going on on this website.
What are some of the ways you’ve managed to organize and grow your team in an efficient way?
Will: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot going on. I mean, I have. I have a management team of four people under me who have people under them. Um, and that definitely helps in that I’m able to split the responsibility.
We’re organized on Asana, we’re organized on Trello. I would say we’re more organized than some of my competitors. We have a really huge Filipino VA team, which runs with just one point of contact. So that enables us to do things very cost effectively. Obviously, we don’t write any content, but all of the buttons, all of the tables, a lot of the images, a lot of the time when I find something that’s broken on the side to fix it quickly across 3000 pages, that’s when the VA team is just worth their weight in gold.
I spent a lot of time. Training them up and getting them to the level of proficiency that they’re at now. And that was one of the best investments that I made. Um, when it comes to like my team and keeping things organized, that we’ve really got a couple of different ways that we structure content, but like a lot of the time, if we were doing a money post on where to stay in Ireland, for example, I’d have one of my.
Well paid English speaking editors come in and they would like write the introduction and write like the main points. Then it would come to a junior editor who would like fluff it up a little bit. And then it would go to the VA team who would do a lot of the visual stuff. And that way it means I I’m, I’m paying some people like a lot of money.
But that way it becomes cost effective to use those really skilled writers, um, on a big project because I know they’re only going to spend like one hour on this post, and then it’s going to go to a junior editor, then it goes to a VA, then it comes back to them for like 15 minutes, and it becomes effective.
Jared: Uh, I I’m just fascinated by the process you set up. It seems to maximize your resources quite well, actually, because you’re utilizing the right person for the right job at the pay rate. That makes the most sense for how to maximize that, but still getting max value because you are involving experts at certain spots.
Will: Yeah, a hundred percent. I mean, I think as well, like, so there are some posts which, uh, like the, the mega backpacking guides, 10 people have touched those. You know, like, um, 15, 000 word posts on everything you need to know about backpacking around Thailand. So a lot of love, a lot of care has gone into them.
Um, but I think you again summarized it better than I did, um, in utilizing the right skill level at the right pay point for the right amount of time in the process. That’s why it works.
Jared: That’s why it works. Yeah. Um, let me ask you what is off the touchy subject when I ask other people and I’m looking, uh, you know, just according to age rest while I have it up, you got about 4, 000 pages and we know that content updating is important to the likes of Google.
I’m guessing the best, um, you know, travel backpacks, they change over time. Right. I’m guessing the best hostels in Maui, it changes over time. Like how are you handling keeping this content fresh and up to date?
Will: Yeah, so at the moment, um, that’s most, mostly what we’re doing. So in December, I think we published 20 new posts.
Um, back in the day, it was more like 50 to 80 in a month. So we’ve really cut down the. Uh, I’m out of new content that we’re doing. Most of my team is focused on updating old content. Uh, that’s why we’re doing this big project at the moment to put new photos, new personal photos across the whole site. Um, we’ve got some tracking software so we can tell.
When, uh, products, um, with our main gear providers have gone offline and getting quickly switched out. Um, our audience tends to tell us if something is wrong, I’ll have quite a few emails every morning where we’re like, Hey, this hostel isn’t open anymore, whatever, and we just go through and correct that, um.
I’ve got, my team are all over the world, like they’re everywhere, and as people are moving around, part of what they do is they’ll have their in country assignments, just to check that stuff is still cut. If you’re going through London, we’ve got this one really good money London post, go to that hostel, take some photos, check everything is correct.
And just make sure it’s all good. So that’s something we do as well. Um, but yeah, a huge part of what we are doing at the moment is updating all content.
Jared: So it’s less about like adding new value necessarily, but mainly, Hey, let’s go in and let’s make sure everything is accurate and then update anything to its current.
Offering its current, you know, whatever, whatever it is about that recommendation that needs to be updated.
Will: Yeah. So a lot of the new content that we are doing at the moment focuses more on the backpacker lifestyle side of things, um, which is something that I’m, I like writing about, I write a few of those myself still.
Um, and I think that’s the kind of thing that builds our brand awareness, builds our brand loyalty. People can get excited about it. Um. Every now and again, I’ll find something I found, uh, Christmas cabins a couple of months ago and we hadn’t done that, uh, and we did it and it quickly like made really good money.
Um, but you know, after Christmas, it won’t. So that’s why I’m happy telling you about it now, three weeks before Christmas. Uh, but, um. Every now and again, we’ll find something valuable, but mostly all of the really valuable ones, we’ve done them. And it’s just a case of then trying to get them to do the Google Shuffle and to move up the rankings, you know?
Jared: Hey, so speaking of the Google shuffle, uh, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask someone who’s, you know, building a content website at scale these days, um, about a lot of the changes that have happened in Google, certainly, you know, probably towards the tail end, well, really throughout 2023, but on the, obviously the tail end of 2023 with things like the helpful content update and, you know, multiple updates going on at one time.
I mean, you know, with whatever you’re comfortable sharing, like, How has that changed, if at all, any of the approach you guys are taking into content and into the website going forward?
Will: I think the main, the main thing that I’ve had to look out for is people being dishonest with how they are doing their work and trying to do everything through chat GPT.
Uh, and I’ve explained very clearly to my team now, and I fired a couple of people, which was good because it kind of set the tone, um, I’ve explained very clearly now that, um. It’s fine for you to use ChatGPT during the planning stage of your work. It’s an amazing planning tool. You can ask it questions and it will spit out answers.
You might think, Oh, I’ve got seven reasons that you should go to Rajasthan, but I’ll just ask ChatGPT if it can think of a few more. Fine. But as soon as you start copying and pasting that and putting it and submitting it as your work, that’s where things get really complicated. Cause I don’t feel like, you know, if I’m paying you 20 an hour, I don’t feel like I’m getting value from you at all.
If you were just copying and pasting something and slapping on the site and pretending it’s yours. So I think that that is a major change and a major challenge for a lot of web masters that have teams working under them, there was always. The challenge of our people being honest with their hours, which is hard to know when you’re fully remote, but now you’ve also got people who are dishonest with like what they’re actually writing.
I mean, every now and again, you had issues with someone like trying to submit. Work that they had outsourced themselves to someone else that happened, but like not to this kind of scale that I’ve seen. Um, so I think that is definitely a big challenge. Um, and then, yeah, as I mentioned previously, uh, Google’s just put a lot more stuff above the fold so you can be in the first position now.
And if you were in the first position two years ago, that post might have been worth 1, 000 a month. And now that post is worth like 250 because it’s just. It’s just not in the same place. You’ve got to scroll so much further to get to it. So I think that’s made a big difference for sure.
Jared: In terms of what you’re going to be doing in 2024 and beyond, like what types of content are you going to be focusing on?
Um, and any, you know, adjustments to your monetization strategy, or are you going to be focusing on a new channel? Maybe, uh, you know, uh, I know you said you’re, you’re off social media, but would you ever have your team go on social media? How’s your email newsletter going? You know, I’m just curious about where you’re going with
Will: all this.
Yeah, some good some good points there. Email newsletter is going really well. I am currently working on a new lead mag, which is this big book that I’ve been working on for a while. I’m excited to get that out there. My team are running social media and doing a really good job with it. So it’s actually being run by two Two girls who are friends and they’ve both, they’re both young, the next generation of backpackers.
They’ve been hitchhiking all over Central America. One of them’s a diving instructor. The other one’s this like badass skateboarder and they’re just perfect. They’re just, they’re just perfect. You know, they’re millennials. They know, they know, they know what they’re doing and they’re very on brand with the kind of message that I want to share.
So I’m excited to see where that goes to. Um, I’m working on a podcast in the background. I’ll launch that when I’ve got 20 episodes, which I do not have 20 episodes yet. Um, so that, that’ll be an interesting way to kind of get my face out there a bit more practice, my speaking, um, and, and see what that generates.
I’m not really looking at that from a moneymaking point of view. I’m more looking at that from a. One, it will be fun to do, I hope. And two, it will just generate more awareness of what we are doing. Um, other bits and pieces that we are working on. Well, so I’ve got my coworking hostel in Bali, which we built from the ground up over three years, specifically for like digital nomads, online entrepreneurs.
It’s full all the time. Um, we are the only specially built coworking hostel in Southeast Asia that I’m aware of. Um, and we will shortly be building a second one. So I am focusing more of my attention towards that at the moment and serving the, um, online entrepreneurship community. And that way I really want to like scale that 10 units, build out events, build out a really great community.
And so far, very proud of what we’ve done, but we’re at one unit. So nine more to go. Um, and that is kind of my focus for the next few years.
Jared: Well, if I were to sum it up, a lot of the conversations we’ve been having here in follow up to that question of mine, Hey, where are you taking your website in 2024 and beyond with all the things that are happening with AI and Google and these things?
Well, Kind of answered it. You’re, you’re building, continuing to build that brand of yours, you know, you’re relying on a whole variety of channels and you’re launching new ones as we speak. I mean, um, cheers on the podcast. Uh, it’s not as hard as it looks. Don’t, don’t worry about it. You get used to it.
Will: I feel like if you’ve got a podcast and if you’ve got a mailing list, I feel like you’re probably safe.
That’s a marketer, right? And I neglected my mailing list for a really long time. Um, but I’ve, you know, I know that I don’t personally want to do social media. Cause I just don’t want to be that accessible to people. Um, I don’t, I don’t want to have like a hundred. I already have a hundred emails every morning.
I don’t want to have a hundred DMS every morning. It’s just too much. Um, but yeah, I think you’re right. Just continuing to like. Follow the passion, find, find parts of your job that you can be excited about. I think nurturing that passion, nurturing that spark is really important. Cause as soon as you start like hating it, it’s very difficult.
To actually like be boss man, cause boss being, being boss, man, sometimes really sucks. So it’s, it’s important to try and nurture that passion to nurture your why. And whilst during COVID, I struggled with that a little bit. I, you know, I, I love what I do. I love it. It’s great. Um, there’s a lot of perks. I get to meet a lot of cool people.
I get to like write about what I want. I get to speak about what I want and I get to hopefully arm some people with some actually useful information. So I think that’s kind of my last tip is to try and to try and stay passionate about what you’re doing.
Jared: Well, well, we got a lot of listeners here who are digital nomads, so hopefully a few of them will pop by your hostel in Bali and say hi from the Niche Pursuits audience and say that they enjoyed the podcast episode.
Will: Please do. It’s called Tribal, and if anybody beats me at a game of coffee or chess, a game of pool or chess, which you might, you get a free coffee. That’s kind of like our promo deal.
Jared: I like it. I like it. I, um, I would lose to you in pool, but I might harken back to my chess days. I took a chess lesson one time in high school.
It was very enjoyable.
Will: Give it a go. I’m pretty obsessed with chess. So yeah, that’s maybe
Jared: not that. Okay. My nephew beats me. That puts it in perspective. I don’t know why not do well. Hey, well, thanks for stopping by. Where can people follow along with what you got going? Obviously we got thebrokebackpacker.
com, but are there any other channels that you’re active on that people can
Will: follow on? So my Instagram is willhatton underscore underscore. I don’t post loads on there, but whenever I do something. I want to share that’s where it goes. So I recently went and did a 12 day ayahuasca retreat in Peru, which I can tell you was a life changing experience.
It was absolutely wild living in this heart in a jungle with no power for 12 days, meeting these shamans every day, drinking this. Crazy black medicine that just sends you on these very interesting spirit quests. And I wrote about that and I published that on social media. So that’s the kind of content that I do put out from my Instagram, which is Wilhatton underscore underscore.
And then I’m at the hostel, which is tribal barley. You can also find that on Instagram. Uh, and I’m, I’m there pretty often. So come say hi. Great.
Jared: Hey, well, thanks so much. This hour flew by. Um, it’s funny, we could have just heard stories, heard really cool stories, all interview, all hour long. And I believe me, it crossed my mind, but I’m so glad we kind of doubled down on a lot of the ways that you succeeded and that you’ve kind of overcome different things along the way and how you’ve made, um, really quite the backpacking empire, if you will.
So thanks for sharing so much with us here.
Will: Yeah. Thanks for the great questions. You honestly, you, you explained some things better than I have ever. So thanks a lot.
Jared: Oh, you’re too kind. Well, we’ll talk to you. We’ll catch up with you again soon. Thanks again.
Will: Looking forward to it. Thanks.