Hi! My name is Michael, a digital entrepreneur and recovering workaholic.
I leased a villa in Bali a few years ago after coming to a crossroads in my life, and like many people decided I wanted to spend more time living the life I wanted, and less time working insane hours for years on end without a break.
When my family and friends would come to visit – the attraction of a luxury 3 bedroom villa in Seminyak may have been a strong drawcard – they peppered me with questions. Was it safe to use ATMs in Bali? how do you exchange cash for Indonesian Rupiah at a money changer and what scams to watch for?
So I started writing emails, and then I would cut and paste them rather than writing from scratch every time. The emails got longer and longer with each iteration, and soon they could have filled a book.
Which is what my family and friends suggested I do – write a book with all the local knowledge I had accumulated.
But I’ve been coding the web since 1995, so it seemed to me that knocking up a website was a far better (and easier) option. That way I could update posts and just send people the link, rather than making the huge effort to write, format and publish a book that perhaps nobody really wanted, let alone keeping it updated.
The posts are usually written in a single, stream-of-consciousness binge with the idea it’s better to publish early and get feedback than spend hours polishing prose that no-one wants to read.
I also had guests staying in my villa asking me even more detailed questions. Where are the best waterfalls in Bali, and what was the best way of getting there? Where were the best Balinese temples to visit and what was the etiquette for visiting them?
So I wrote some more posts, including tips for arriving at Bali Airport and how to get from Denpasar Airport to Seminyak. After allowing people to comment on these posts I realised that what people really wanted was long-form articles that covered a specific topic in-depth, rather than the commonly found superficial post written by an intern who had clearly never been to Bali before and the copy and paste keys at the ready.
There were three scathing comments about my right to hold forth on local knowledge from people who had holidayed here themselves a long time ago, but 99.6% of comments have been very positive and more often than not people are asking me questions in the comments as if this were a full-blown travel agency (which it most certainly isn’t).
The most useful, up to date, practical and unaffiliated information
Thanks for this email and for your awesome website. Of all the Bali websites that I have looked at, it has the most useful, up to date, practical and unaffiliated information, which I have referred to and used many times over during and whilst planning my trips to Bali. Thank you so much.
Most of the information about Bali that I discovered in my own research was light on detail and heavy on sponsored content and affiliated sales pitches.
So after beefing up the posts with as much detail as I could reasonably write considering this isn’t my day job, something big happened. Google’s algorithms decided that one of my posts was the most authoritative on the subject and ranked it number one for the search term ATMs in Bali.
Traffic soared, and so I started taking a data-driven approach to rewriting my original posts, and more of my articles started ranking on Google’s first page for a number of frequently searched terms. Website traffic is now
15,000 25,000 30,000 35,000 unique visitors a month and continues to grow at a steady rate.
I already knew that mobile usage was going to be big, so I coded the website using a mobile-first methodology so it looks great and loads fast on any device, particularly smart-phones.
I put some newsletter sign-up forms on the website to see if anyone would be interested in joining a mailing list – and that worked too. I placed some valuable content within a content locker, which shaded out the content until people registered for free, and then they can see the content immediately – and that worked too!
Looking at website traffic by weekly visits smooths out the vagaries of daily activity and more clearly illustrates the trend. Looks like things keep going up, so I must be doing something right.
The most significant thing, in my opinion, is that audience numbers continue to grow without any real social media activity at all. One, I simply don’t have time to meaningfully feed social media accounts, and two – it proves that growth in audience numbers from quality website content plus short, simple email newsletters really does work.
I’ve been asked a lot about how I built Bali Holiday Secrets, the tools I use and how to deploy them, along with my techniques for getting posts ranked o the first page of Google search results – but that’s a whole other subject destined for a future post some other time.
The downward kinks that you see are when I send an email to the subscriber list, which predictably results in a bunch of unsubscribes.
I make it easy to unsubscribe with a single clicked link at the bottom of every email. It’s more important that only people who want to hear from me get my email newsletters.
As of 27 November, there are over 1,500 email subscribers, and I’m slowly sending out the occasional newsletter to see what people like and what they don’t.
I’m proud to have demystified some of the issues people worry about when travelling to Bali, and while some say tourism is over-cooked, I’m of the view that better-informed tourists make better customers, so this is my way of saying thank-you to all the wonderful, beautiful, generous and kind-spirited people of Bali that I have been so fortunate to meet over the years.
My view is that this website is a positive force for Balinese tourism, and so while I am sometimes blunt about the drawbacks of some aspects of Balinese tourism my intention is to balance that with helping people navigate their holiday with less risk, lower their concerns and help them enjoy everything that Bali has to offer.
A growing number of people were asking for my driver’s contact numbers so they could hire them for a day tour. So I got together with some drivers that I frequently used for my friends, family and guests, and asked them what they wanted most. The answer was for the website to take bookings directly, rather than having random people calling and texting without any context.
So I made a simple Day Tour with Private Driver booking form connecting customers with drivers and linked to it from the post on Expert Tips for Hiring a Private Driver in Bali. The bookings started coming in immediately, and one of the things I am most proud of is the positive change in the quality of life for my driver friends. It has made a huge difference in their lives, especially those with young families.
Inspired by the effect these bookings had, I started creating a few more for speciality transport, like transfers from Bali Airport, and a day tour that starts with an airport pick-up. These started generating bookings too, so I’m writing a few more speciality tours and itineraries when I get the time.
I don’t live here full-time and I travel frequently, so I write all the articles and tours when I’m outside of Bali, to remind myself what it’s like to be a tourist again. It’s an Australian based and registered business, even though it’s really just a hobby for me. It helps me keep my tools sharp when developing websites, trying out different applications, techniques and responding to people’s comments.
So here we are with 30k visitors a month and 1,500 email subscribers and increasing daily. I’m considering writing more because there are a ton of insider tips for the perfect Bali holiday that I haven’t had the time to write, and possibly publishing them all in an easily downloadable book, or making a premium membership section for some of my personally recommended itineraries for a few dollars.
Maybe people will pay for a book, or pay for a subscription to access secret insider tips, or maybe not.
If you have an opinion on what people would pay for, or how much, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
Just never forget the most important thing – Bali is always a good idea!