In this episode, I talk to Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere (not the UK mobile phone network); a popular travel blogger, 3 times Travel Photographer of the Year in the US and a podcaster.
Gary has shared his story about he decided to go travelling in 2007 after working for many years. He decided to things differently by going to places that are not as known as others, teaching himself to be a travel photographer and recently releasing the Travel Photography Academy to help those who wants to get he most out of their photos when travelling.
Along the way, Gary has explained how he used WordPress to make it the hub of everything that he does to grow his branding there and also gave advice about anyone else who start or grow as a travel blogger.
Here are just a few things we talk about:
- how to stand out as a travel blogger in a competitive market
- the importance of making the most out of your photographs when travelling
- why always recommend other bloggers to use WordPress
- why one of the best decision that he has done for his site is to use a managed WordPress hosting
- a really and cost-effective way to offload your large, high-resolution image hosting on an external 3rd party site
- Gary’s branding clash with the “other” Everything Everywhere, the mobile network company in UK
“At the end of the day, you are better off doing something you’re interested in. And try to get other people to get interested in it rather than just trying to do what would be popular. Because in the long run, you are going to get burnt out and bored just trying to please people. ” – Gary Arndt
- Main website: http://everything-everywhere.com/
- Personal site: http://gary.arndt.com/
- Travel Photography Academy: http://everything-everywhere.com/course/
- Gary’s managed WordPress host provider: http://websynthesis.com/
- Blog post about Managed WordPress Hosting
Ahmed: And here we go! This is the IgniteRock podcast and this is episode 16 and this is where I talk to awesome individuals who are doing awesome stuff using WordPress. Welcome everyone! Really ecstatic, really, really happy that you are here today and I’m so, so happy that I’m going to be talking to you guys as well. Thank you for your time.
This is going to be a really good episode but today I’m going to be talking to Gary Arndt who is a travel blogger who is a self-taught travel photographer with a podcast. He’s done a heck of a lot of stuff and he’s a really, really cool guy to listen to. It’s going to be a good one.
Make sure you tune in and show notes are available on Igniterock.com/episode16. In the meantime, let’s get stuck into the interview with Gary Arndt.
Here we go everyone. It’s going to be an exciting one today. I have Gary Arndt on the line who has done quite a lot of things and rather me explain it all, I’d rather Gary explain everything about what he does.Click Here to Show Transcript
So Gary, thanks for coming on to the show. I really appreciate your time and I guess I want to start off with tell me a bit about yourself. Who you are, where you’re from and how did you get to where you are today?
Gary: Thanks for having me. My background is I actually started a very early internet company back in 1994. We did really early web data base integration back when everyone was just doing static HTML pages. My company did custom web application design and now everything is pretty much run off a database but at the time it was kinda novel and it was kind of expensive. I don’t know if you’ve heard of a product called ColdFusion?
Ahmed: It sounds familiar.
Gary: Yeah it’s on my Adobe now but at the time it was one of the first tools that let you integrate databases to the web. You have to remember, this is before PHP, this is before WordPress, this is before really even Linux became a thing. Web servers were running on usually high end Sun workstations. Windows NT was just becoming a thing, it was a lower cost alternative.
My college roommate wrote this app that allowed you to easily hook up databases to the web and you could do it on Windows and you could do it in a very low cost manner that what you’d otherwise do. I started a company that did that and four years later I had 50 people working for me and I sold the firm.
My college roommate wrote this app that allowed you to easily hook up databases to the web and you could do it on Windows and you could do it in a very low cost manner that what you’d otherwise do. I started a company that did that and four years later I had 50 people working for me and I sold the firm.
Long story short I ended up travelling around the world in 2007 and I started a website to document my travels and that’s kinda what I do today.
Ahmed: It’s pretty interesting because there’s a lot of things that you do. You’re a travel blogger, you do podcasts and you’re a self taught travel photographer and then you launch a travel photography academy course online as well. You were named travel photographer of the year. You’ve done a lot of things. Have I missed anything, I’m not sure? You’ve done quite a lot of stuff. You’re a busy guy. How do you manage to do all that stuff?
Gary: Well I mean that’s all done over a period of years. The website is just kinda there, that’s the hub for everything.
I’ve been doing a podcast called This Week In Travel for nine years now and as we like to say it’s this week in travel, it’s not every week in travel. We don’t do it as much as we want anymore. I had another podcast that I did for a while. There are worse jobs to have.
Ahmed: I can understand that. If we focus on the whole travel blogging side of things, it’s such a competitive market out there. If you want to be a travel blogger you’re really fighting against or competing against hundreds, thousands, millions of other travel bloggers as well. How do you differentiate yourself from everyone else?
Gary: I’ve been doing it a really long time so that’s one of the things. I’ve been to more places. I’ve been to a lot of I think more interesting and extreme … you know a lot of people they go to Thailand or something or they go to Italy. They’re fine places. I’ve been there. I’ll return there but I’ve also been to places like Tuvalu, some places up in the High Arctic and the Antarctic.
And the other I think is the quality of the photography, that I’ve really worked hard to become a top level photographer and I think that’s reflected in the quality of the content I put out.
Ahmed: I have noticed…we talked about your travel photography academy that you have launched. You’re kind of really trying to help other people to document their travel in the best way possible. Is that the best way to describe the course?
Gary: Yeah so I mean I met so many people travelling that had expensive cameras and they were travelling on expensive trips and they didn’t know how to use their camera. They weren’t taking good photos. That’s a huge investment to spend all this money travelling and on photo equipment and then not to know what you’re doing.
I felt that by putting together a course it would be very easy for people to improve the quality of their photography and get a better return on their time and their investment in their equipment.
Ahmed: It makes sense. I will put the link to obviously your website in the show notes and everything so people can have access and see where they can learn about that. You said yourself, the website it’s a hub of everything which is something that I kinda strongly believe in.
You use WordPress, we all love WordPress over here. I’m interested to know what your first experience with WordPress was like and how did you come across it and why did you choose WordPress in the first place?
Gary: I had a personal website and I still have it. If you go to Gary.Arndt.com I don’t update it very much but I’ve had that website for almost 20 years now. When it first started it was just a static HTML page. Every time I did a blog post I would literally just update the HTML and that was how I did it.
Then eventually I think moved to MoveableType and this was kind of in the early 2000s and it was okay but it just wasn’t that robust and eventually I moved to WordPress which I like because there’s … the nice part about WordPress is that there’s a community around it. You have all these developers developing plug ins, not to mention it’s open source and free, which doesn’t hurt either. When I started my travel website it was kind of a no brainer.
I give advice to a lot of bloggers and occasionally I come across someone that’s thinking about hosting it on some other sort of platform and I just say, “You’re insane. There’s no reason to not use WordPress unless you’re a super big commerce website or something like that, I can see why you might not want to use it but for any individual that’s creating a website I think you’re crazy not to use WordPress.
Ahmed: That’s interesting that you say this is advice that you give to a lot of people. I understand what you’re staying because there are other CMS options out there and people would say to me, “I don’t know which to choose.” I’m going to be biassed and say WordPress but then you know it depends on their situation which you’re right. If you are a huge company you might prefer other things.
Having said that, WordPress can still work for you because anybody can use it. I can understand what you’re saying that a lot of people come up to you and say, “I don’t know what to use.” I say WordPress straight away because the control that you have, the flexibility that you have, the option to grow with it as well is such a key selling point for me and I’m sure it is for yourself as well.
Gary: Yeah and the biggest thing is the community I think and the fact that there’s so many people which means you can always find someone if you’re not technical to help you out or there’s a plugin, I mean there’s thousands and thousands of plug ins and themes that are available and when someone is thinking about not using WordPress what usually ends up happening is that they aren’t very tech savvy and they go to someone to help them build a web page and then they will suggest something that will lock them in to having to go back to them all the time, right?
They’ll pick a much more complicated platform or more expensive platform that they really don’t need basically because it suits the needs of the developer not the customer.
Ahmed: I can definitely appreciate it. Then WordPress, people used to think it was for bloggers only but obviously it’s much more than that. You create a lot of content. You got your blog and your photography and your text and all these things, do you have a routine when you come to blogging and how do you come up with topic ideas and your system? How is your routine when it comes to blogging?
Gary: For running a travel website it’s always easy to come up with ideas. I mean there’s an infinite number basically based on where you travel. For example, I just got back from two weeks in Sweden and the initial purpose of my visit was I visit UNESCO world heritage sites all over the world.
I’ve been to 334 of them and while I was in Sweden I visited seven. Okay so that’s seven blog posts, I always do one with that but then there’s a whole host of other things that I did while I was there, which are probably worth of blog posts. I visited this town called Engelsburg which is about an hour, hour and a half northwest of Stockholm and they had the world’s first oil refinery.
Gary: That’s something most people don’t think about.
Ahmed: No, I’ve never thought about it.
Gary: Exactly. It was put on this island and at first I thought, “Whoa okay they did oil drilling or something.” No, there’s no oil in Sweden. They would import oil from the United States to this island in the middle of a lake and there they had … it was on an island for safety reasons and whatnot. There they would convert it into kerosene, gasoline, paraffin, all other sort of petroleum byproducts. This was in the 19th century and seeing how they did it and the working conditions, you could still smell oil everywhere even though given how old it is.
Anyways, that’s I think just one of those interesting things that people may not think about. There’s always those sorts of things and then there’s just opinion pieces you can write, complaining about airlines and hotels is a popular pastime. Then you always get to look and compare different places you’ve been.
Gary: It’s not just you go to three places and you learn three things. You also can compare A to B, B to C and C to A so that’s six things. As you travel more that can expand almost exponentially.
Ahmed: Okay so kind of endless really from what you’re saying. That’s really cool actually. Wow, Sweden I never thought they have that kind of stuff.
Gary: I went to a copper mine there and they produced I think it was two-thirds of the world’s copper at one point out of this single mine in a single city. The whole city was devoted to this copper mine and they cut down every tree within miles. A lot of this industrial thing.
Even in the UK where you’re from, what town in Scotland are you in?
Gary: Okay I think it’s just outside of Glasgow there’s a place called New Lanark which was this … there were several attempts like this. There was a 19th century textile mill that the guy that owned it was kind of this progressive thinker and he wanted to create this Utopian community so he gave people good housing and they had schools and Kindergartens and all this stuff.
You can go there and you can just take a bus there from Glasgow and most people don’t even think of visiting places like that when they travel though.
Ahmed: I definitely have to admit that. Here’s the thing, I’ve heard of the location but I’ve never knew that and even though it’s maybe 50 miles from here from where I am, I never thought about that.
I’ve never really thought about going to these places, which are so unique and special, which obviously makes your website unique. It makes your content unique. It makes everything about you more unique than other people who have been to I don’t know the Eiffel Tower or whatever. Everyone’s done that kind of thing.
Gary: Yeah and I mean I tell bloggers this that all that stuff’s been done to death. So many bloggers are trying to think of what can I do that people will like. I understand that.
That’s a natural thing but at the end of the day I think you’re better off doing something you’re interested in and trying to get other people interested in it rather than just trying to do what will be popular.
Gary: In the long run I think you’ll get burned out and bored just trying to please people.
Ahmed: Okay, no I can understand that. It’s a definite challenge anyway if you want to stand out from everyone else. You kinda have to work and grind at it. For anyone who has trouble with WordPress and using WordPress to start creating your online hub or even to grow with it, what advice do you have for anyone who’s having trouble with that?
Gary: There’s all sorts of cheap web hosts out there and I’m sure you’re familiar, I think it’s the same company that owns most of them like HostGator, whatever, these are like the five dollar a month type hosting things. Just do that. Get a domain, set up WordPress, most of these places have it such that it’s like a one click setup and you’re up and running.
After you’ve been doing it a while, so in the course of my hosting for my website, I made the decision I think it was a little over two years ago, maybe two and a half years ago now, where I went to a dedicated WordPress host and that was the best thing I’ve ever done because that’s all they do is WordPress. I used Web Synthesis and I know there’s WP Engine and some other sites. They just focus on WordPress hosting and the stability and the performance and everything else has just gone up. I’ve had no significant down time in over two years. The performance of the website has been very good. Just across the board that’s always what I recommend to people.
Once you’ve reached that point where you want to take it to the next level find a dedicated WordPress host. I’m not going to get in to comparing one versus another because I haven’t done that much research but I do think just having that dedicated host makes all the difference.
One thing that I do that most bloggers don’t is because my site is so photo heavy, all of the photos from my website are not hosted on WordPress. They’re hosted on SmugMug. What that does is it offloads all of the iage storage so the bandwidth, the storage and then all of the processor time that’s taken up by doing HTTP requests for the images, and you got to remember there’s probably more images on a page than there is … there’s one HTML page but then there might be multiple images.
All of that gets put off to SmugMug. They have unlimited photo hosting, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited storage and they have content delivery networks around the world. There’s like three of them that they use that I know of.
They can serve up images better than anyone else is going to. They can do it with HTTPS which makes it that much faster as well because they’re using HTTP 2. On my WordPress site itself I have the basic WordPress instal, my theme, plug ins, the database and that’s it. No images.
Ahmed: That’s really cool actually. I mean there are two really, really good points. First of all you said try it out the cheap hosting just to give it a shot, five dollars, five pounds a month just to try it, just to start building and expand with it. You’re so right about using a managed WordPress hosting.
I use WP Engine. They are above the average cost of a host because you pay $5.00 per month for one thing but then WP Engine could be $15, $20, $25 and above depending on your site size. I totally agree with you that when you go with managed WordPress hosting it’s stability, the performance, it’s speed, you can’t compare and the support as well. When you get support and you talk to someone who knows WordPress and they know what they’re talking about. It makes such a big difference compared to going to a genetic host provider where someone might know a little bit about WordPress and it’s not the same really, that level of depth and knowledge.
I totally agree with you on that and what you said about hosting on SmugMug, which is actually such a really good idea. I never really thought about them because I always imagined photographers when they upload images on websites they tend to be raw files, they are however number of megabytes in file size and revolution, which obviously will slow down your site and then it affects user experience and so on and so forth. It’s a great idea.
I never really thought of off loading that to SmugMug just to make your site that much quicker. It’s a very good idea.
Gary: If you think about it a simple, cheap way to do load balancing. Instead of doing it by Round Robin or something, you’re just doing it by file type. You’re just off loading all of the images and other content and most people would do that anyhow if they had video. They’re probably not hosting their own video. That’s going to be on YouTube or Vimeo or something else.
The same is true with photos. Even if you’re thinking well my host says I have unlimited storage, no you don’t. Nobody has truly unlimited anything. There’s limits to everything and when you hit those limits they often tend to throttle you or in some cases I’ve heard of people even getting kicked off their server. You can’t do a five dollar a month service forever.
SmugMug I think I’m saving more money because Web Synthesis has different tiers based on the amount of bandwidth you use. By putting all of my images, which takes up most of your bandwidth, on a different service the amount of money I’m spending on SmugMug annually, which is not much, it’s like $30, $40 a year, is drastically saving me on the web hosting because it’s keeping me in a much lower tier and I’m probably saving what I spend in SmugMug a year every month on web hosting.
Ahmed: Very true. That’s very true. That’s a very good idea, clever idea. I think eventually … I don’t know. If I ever have high resolution photographs on my site then I want to offload that instead of having it all in one place. It’s a really, really good idea.
The other question I’ve got is about the whole travel blogging area. It’s such a competitive industry. For those who want to be a travel blogger what advice would you give to those people?
Gary: I would say if you’re interested in travel do it. I think the mistake a lot of people make is they get into this thinking that I’m going to start a blog and then all my trips are going to be sponsored. No it’s not because as you mentioned there is a lot of competition and until you’ve actually done something and it’s gonna take a couple years to build up a decent resume, you have to be prepared to basically just do this as a labour of love more than a business.
Ahmed: Yeah I think that applies to a lot of things doesn’t it? If you want to start anything you have to do it because you love it and not because of money at the end of the day. If you do it for the love then gradually, hopefully things will start falling into place as well. That’s a really good point. What’s your biggest strength?
Gary: My biggest strength?
Ahmed Khalifa: Yeah.
Gary: Probably my photography. I also tend to be rather opinionated, which is a very good way to get media mentions and things like that. I have a lot of incoming links from a lot of real high quality sources like the New York Times, the Washington Post and places like that.
Ahmed: Because of the quality photographs or the quality content and all that stuff. It helps to get you the natural backlinks which is kind of cool.
Gary: Yeah. People always talk about quality content or make epic content or things like that. I think a lot of that is often a [inaudible 00:22:01]. It’s like coaching track and field and just telling people to run fast. Well of course you should make epic content.
The question is I think it’s more a function of developing a reputation of creating good content. That’s what’s going to help you in the long time and in the long run. A lot of people think well if I wrote something and it was popular or it went viral that, therefore, it was good. That’s not necessarily true. Just because you did it once doesn’t mean that you can do it on a consistent basis.
One of the things I like is that when I go to a conference now like a blogging conference, it used to be that people would introduce themselves and then say, “Wow you’re a real inspiration. You have this great following, blah, blah, blah.”
Now when people meet me they say, “Oh I really love your photos.” I really prefer that because it means that I’ve developed a reputation for creating something of quality and I think if you have that, then everything else will kind of fall into place.
Ahmed: Yeah it makes sense. I think too many times people … I’ve heard it myself. People ask me, “I want my content to go viral.” Viral is such a rare thing to happen that people don’t understand that, only a small number of content goes viral anyway and second of all why do you want to go viral? It’s not exactly a must have.
Gary: Well the thing with viral content and I’ll give you a good example, several years ago when StumbleUpon was a much bigger deal I was getting half a million visits to my website from StumbleUpon. Right? I’d post something and almost every day I would get a lot of visits from it. The problem is almost none of that traffic converted, like zero. When they changed their algorithm and this big spike in traffic went away I had nothing to show for it.
The same is true for a lot of these really empty click bait type things. Yeah you can get a lot of traffic for your photo of a cat playing the piano or something but then what? You get the traffic, it’s gone and then what do you have to show for it? Do you have followers? Were there a group of people that discovered you and said, “Wow this person’s neat. I want to hear more from them in the future.” Probably not.
Yeah if something goes viral that’s great but I don’t think you should plan on it and I don’t think you should necessarily aim for it. What you should try to do is just simply keep accreting and gathering a group of loyal followers and every so often maybe something does go viral and that’s fine. It should not be what you structure and plan around.
Ahmed: Yeah, no, I agree with that. I definitely agree with that. I think you can get distracted and side tracked if you get focused only on I must be viral on this, this and this and stuff like that. Definitely I agree with that. We talked about your biggest strength so then what would be your biggest weakness and how do you go around it? How do you overcome it?
Gary: Efficiency, productivity because I travel so much it’s very hard to keep on a regular schedule. It’s very hard to get work done and I have these periods where a lot of things will pile up. I’ll have thousands … I had a period once where I had three years’ worth of photos that I had to edit. What I ended up doing was just sat down for several weeks and did nothing but edit photos and eat and sleep.
Gary: Right now I have a bunch of blog posts that I have to write. That’s always the biggest problem with me is doing that and I used to post every single day on my website. I’d post a photo every day and I did that for a little over eight years. One of the reasons I did that was to help with my photography. I believe if you make your work public it will force you to get better, right? No one wants to embarrass themselves by putting up bad work.
I thought I had achieved that so I kinda stopped doing the daily photo thing and I also thought it was hurting me a little bit with Google because Google was viewing it as thin content because I was just posting a photo and a caption, it wasn’t really writing a whole lot. I need to get back in to a routine of maybe writing longer, more lengthy pieces and not just relying on the photography.
Ahmed: There’s a lot of big emphasis now on long content, 1500 plus words content. It seems to be a trend right now but end of the day if you write until you make your point, if you hit 1500, 2000, 3000 words fine. You should never aim for just saying, “I have to write x amount of words before I post” but at the same time you’re creating a blog post which has one image and it’s quite difficult for that to get that organic traffic if you’re really focusing on that.
You can get other forms of traffic like socially shared and so on and so forth if you view the picture elsewhere. That pretty interesting as well.
If we go all sentimental and everything, what are you most proud about it in your business, your blog, your brand? What is it you’re most proud about?
Gary: I think being named Travel Photographer of the Year three times in North America because it’s not a best blog award, it’s a competition that puts me straight up against mainstream travel photographers that work for major magazines, National Geographic, things like that. I was the first blogger to ever do that and a lot of the motivation behind trying to do that was so I could prove to the rest of the world that people that are publishing online are capable of creating great content and doing great images and being able to do that it was kind of a feather in my cap.
I’m hoping some other … I believe that there are other web based photographers who are good enough to do that and I hope they’re recognised for their work in the future.
Ahmed: Okay that’s amazing, congratulations, really cool that you get recognised for all your hard work for years and years of putting yourself out there and creating content and photographs and travelling. It’s really, really cool.
It’s been … I think we can go on for a long, long time because you’ve done so much, clearly you know a lot of stuff, you’re a clever guy and you’ve got a lot to share. We can on forever but we can kind of wrap it up and just to thank you for your time again. Just before we say goodbye if you want to share where can people connect with you that would be great.
Gary: My primary website is everything-everywhere.com. If you’re a listener in the UK the name of my website happens to coincide with a mobile company and I just want to tell everyone I had the name before they did. It was in 2010 that they announced that they were coming out with the name Everything Everywhere for their phone company. I got a hundred emails that day from people saying, “Oh you’re gonna make so much money. You should sue them, blah, blah.” Well that never happened and they stopped using the name.
Just do a search for everything everywhere. In the UK I’ll probably come up second not number one but in the U.S. I’ll probably come up number one.
Ahmed: You know what just out of curiosity I’m going to Google it right now and see what comes up in the UK for Everything Everywhere and I can confirm obviously number one is EE, number two is EE, three EE, four Wikipedia and number five we have your travel blog.
Gary: I still got some work to do. The weird thing is though it actually in some ways has helped me because the number of people doing Google searches for Everything Everywhere increased dramatically.
Ahmed: I’m sure.
Gary: I’ve gotten some very high profile links from publications that linked to me by mistake when they were trying to link to them.
Gary: I got things from Bloomberg, The Telegraph, and there was a couple big ones where they accidentally linked to me. It actually kinda helped.
Ahmed: I mean you’re right, you were there first. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t really do anything wrong. It’s a mistake. Number five and using my search behaviour and stuff like that so obviously that would have a big of an influence into it as well.
There you go. I think everyone will know don’t go to EE Mobile Network, the other EE is what you want. Gary thanks again for your time and I appreciate it, thank you.
Gary: Thanks for having me.
Ahmed Khalifa: And that is it. Thank you Gary again for coming on to this show. I definitely really appreciate having a chat with you. It’s been really, really cool and I’m sure there’s a lot of things that you listeners have picked up from him.
One thing I picked up is that regardless of your industry and your field, and I’m not just talking about travel blogging, when things are competitive you have to stand out and do something that is different to everyone else.
I’ve talked about this in previous episodes that you need to stand out amongst the noise instead of being yet another travel blogger or another food blogger or yet another restaurant in High Street. Why you? What’s different about you and of course is it interesting to everyone else as well as yourself?
I hope that makes sense because it’s something that everyone should take on board. Once again the show notes is on Igniterock.com/episode16 and could you do me one favour and could you leave a review on iTunes because that would really, really make a difference to me and I would really appreciate it.
Thank you for your time and of course let’s rock with WordPress.