I started the Discovering Belgium blog in November 2010. The story behind the blog starts a few years earlier, when I was invited to write a regular column in the Brussels-based weekly magazine The Bulletin. The articles went under the general heading “Nature Walk”. When this initiative came to an end after almost 40 articles, I wanted to continue writing about the flora and fauna of Belgium. And so I started the Discovering Belgium blog.
Over the years the blog has expanded its subject areas. Short nature walks expanded into longer hikes and cycle rides. I began to write more on the history and culture of Belgium. I visited castles and museums, breweries and world war memorials. I included some city trips, and further expanded the blog to incorporate book reviews, product reviews and quizzes on Belgium.
The blog’s growth
It has taken me nearly 12 years to reach one million views. Here is an overview of the blog’s views per month since its creation:
Every blogger remembers those first apprehensive days and weeks of a new blog. Would anyone read it? Would it grow? But visitors and subscribers quickly picked up and I was soon getting thousands of monthly views, and then tens of thousands. I’m not sure the peak of 39,100 views in November 2020 will ever be reached again though.
Here is an overview of the number of posts, views, visitors and comments since the blog’s creation:
437 posts: that’s a lot of words. How many? I knew you’d ask:
This is the approximately the same number of words as in George Eliot’s hefty tome Middlemarch. (And George and I come from the same town in the UK, although there the similarity ends!).
The most popular posts
From all these 437 posts, some are obviously more popular than others. Here are the top 12 posts:
- How to identify farm crops on a country walk (64,500 views)
- The Poppies of Flanders Fields (43,700)
- How to spend a day in Gent (25,300)
- A Guide to Children’s Outdoor Activities in Belgium (23,200)
- The Belgian Draft Horse (15,700)
- The Bluebells of Belgium’s Blue Forest (15,200)
- The See-Through Church of Borgloon (11,900)
- 5 ideas for a winter walk in the Ardennes (11,200)
- The first Quiz on Belgium (10,400)
- Bizarre Belgium: Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau (10,300)
- One day in Bruges: The “In Bruges” movie walk (9,800)
- How to walk or cycle the Promenade Verte in Brussels (9,200)
That’s quite a variety; it’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions. I never expected there to be so much interest in Belgian draft horses or bluebells, and I’m amazed at how popular my quizzes have been. I’m not so surprised at the popularity of Flanders Fields, Bruges and Gent. Ironically, the top post is not specifically related to Belgium, but has a global interest, hence its popularity.
The most popular walks
For a long time, country walks were at the heart of the Discovering Belgium blog. As you may know, I also put all my (183) walks on RouteYou. This allows me to make nice downloadable maps for the blog, and readers can easily download the GPX coordinates. Here is a list of the blog’s top most popular walks. The numbers indicate the views of each walk on the RouteYou site:
- The Valley of the Hoëgne (15,749 views)
- Esneux – La roche aux faucons (7,577)
- GR571 Stage 5: Vielsalm to Gouvy (3,602)
- GR571 Stage 4: Trois-Ponts to Vielsalm (3,085)
- Walking the Battlefield of Waterloo (3,060)
- Walking around Viroinval (3,059)
- Walking around Lavaux-Sainte-Anne (2,452)
- Walking around the megaliths of Weris 6 km (2,303)
- The 2-memorial Sonian Forest Walk (2,231)
- In the woods around Outrelouxhe (2,169)
Unsurprisingly, as it’s such a beautiful area to hike, nine of these 10 walks are in Wallonia, with seven being deep in the Ardennes.
Where do my readers come from?
As you would have thought, for such a geographically specific, almost niche blog, visitors from Belgium predominate. I am always surprised to see so many visitors from the USA, Canada and Australia:
- Belgium (483,700)
- United States (156,100)
- United Kingdom (122,400)
- Canada (26,700)
- The Netherlands (24,700)
- Germany (17,200)
- Australia (17,100)
- France (13,000)
- India (8,700)
- Ireland (6,800)
One of the fun aspects of running a blog is getting comments from readers. You may have seen above that the blog has had over 7,200 comments. Over half of these are from me, but this still leaves a lot of comments from readers. Twelve fellow bloggers in particular have faithfully followed my blog over the years and provided a wealth of interesting comments. Feel free to drop in and visit their own blogs:
- Carol from The Eternal Traveller (519 comments)
- Robert from Waterloo Seneca (203)
- Pat from E-Quips (201)
- Sharon from Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s Ink Flare (137)
- Guido from Guidowke’s Wandelblog (119)
- Rosaliene from Three Worlds One Vision (110)
- Becky from Becky in Portugal (104)
- Sue from Dreamwalker’s Sanctuary (92)
- Jo from Still RestlessJo (83)
- Fraggle from Fragglerocking (68)
- Henry from My Quest (67)
- Judy from New England Garden (65)
So thank you Carol, Robert, Pat, Sharon, Guido, Rosaliene, Becky, Sue, Jo, Fraggle, Henry and Judy. But there are many more of you who have each posted between 15 and 60 comments, such as Sel, Miriam, Liesbet, Bridgid, Carrie, Jacques, CadyLuck, Hans, Traci, Paul, Audrey, Timothy, Andrea, Joke, Mark, Lisa, Suzanne, Sherry, Eliza, Theresa and Annabel. In fact I would like to thank anyone who has commented on the blog – even just once. Your feedback, suggestions and remarks are always greatly appreciated.
There is one person who I haven’t mentioned. My wife has commented more on my blog than anyone else – but just verbally. She has given me many good suggestions, as well as the encouragement to keep going when I’ve felt like giving up. Thanks Liz!
In April 2020 I decided to move the blog away from wordpress.com to become self-hosted. Aside from a few teething problems, the switch went well. There were two main reasons for this move. I wanted to have more control over the blog’s Search Engine Optimization by writing my own keyphrases, meta descriptions etc. It may sound dorky, but it’s been great fun, and has led to impressive results. The graph below shows the number of views and visitors over the last nine years. You can see the huge jump in 2020.
COVID also played a role as more people were looking for country walks to escape the lockdowns. But the jump was over 200%, from 88,000 views in 2019 to 207,000 in 2020. This was mainly due, I am sure, to improved SEO to make the blog more attractive to Google’s algorithms. The second reason to self-host is to use plugins, such as ones for SEO and quizzes.
how do readers find the discovering belgium blog?
Proving that my SEO efforts are working, the majority of my traffic (432,000 views) comes from search engines. In other words it’s from people typing in “the poppies of Flanders Fields”, “how to identify farm crops”, “how to spend a day in Gent” etc. etc. into Google and other search engines. Also interesting is that over 20,000 views originate from Google image search. Again, this is because I take care to name and describe (and alt text) my photographs, making them easy to find.
Over the years I have been active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and it’s worth seeing which of these channels have led to the most click-throughs to my blog. The answer is clear: Facebook:
- Facebook: 95,317 referrals
- Twitter: 5,355
- Pinterest: 2,694
- Instagram: 349
Most of the Facebook traffic is through the Discovering Belgium Facebook page (which now has 4,300 followers), but also various Facebook groups such as Walking, Hiking and Trekking in Belgium; Life in Belgium; What’s happening in Belgium; and others. For me, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are not worth pursuing.
This concerns the lack of interest that national, regional and local tourist agencies in Belgium have shown in the Discovering Belgium blog. Exceptions are Tourism Hainaut, Tourism Leiestreek, and Tourism Vilvoorde. I frequently get comments from readers along the lines of “you are doing a great job promoting Belgium; the tourist offices must love what you are doing.” Apparently not.
A great example of good cooperation
This is the kind of cooperation I was looking for from tourist offices and never got. In March 2021 I did a pleasant walk in Brabant Wallon that passed the Dongelberg Quarry. I noticed that the quarry housed a diving school. While writing up the post, I saw some super photos of the quarry on the diving center’s website. I emailed Guy, the owner, and asked if I could use them. He was delighted in my interest in the center, agreed that I could use the photos, and said he would put my walk on the front page of the Dongelberg Diving Center’s website. Since then, 419 people have clicked on the link and visited my blog post about the Dongelberg walk in just 18 months. And hopefully Guy benefits from the publicity that I give him via the blog post. It’s a win-win and value-sharing partnership that Guy picked up on, and which tourist offices haven’t. Thanks Guy!
Onwards to 2 million?
Why not? In the future I may focus more on my main interests of nature and history, and write fewer posts to promote the Belgian travel and tourism sector. I have some ideas for more quizzes, and some more Remarkable Belgians to cover.
What would you, dear and valued reader, like to see more of in the Discovering Belgium blog? Let me know in the comments below or by contacting me.
Finally, thanks to anyone and everyone who has read one or more of my posts. I greatly appreciate your interest.
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