Why I Won’t Write For Free For Travel Search Engine Sites

Anyone who has been in the blogging business probably knows the drill by now. Writing  for other web sites in your blog niche is a positive move for a number of reasons. A guest appearance on a popular blog in your niche is a great way to expose your writing to a new audience. You gain visibility in your field and hopefully, new readers.

On the flip side, it takes time to put together a blog post, and if you’re blogging for someone else, it means less content for your own web site.

When I have the time, I don’t mind writing guest posts for friends within my blogging community. However, this post is not about the friends I’ve blogged for. This is about how blogging for a travel search engine site failed and why I’ve decided not to write for commercial web sites for free ever again. Here are a few of the things that I didn’t take into consideration when I was approached by Cheapoair to write for their company blog.

Do you know who you are writing for? Are you asking the right questions before you give your content away?

Find out how a little foray into the world of guest blogging for a travel search engine site went sour for me.

This is how it begins:

At the beginning of August, I was contacted by a man who wanted me to guest post for Cheapoair.  I don’t know him. He isn’t in any of my social networking circles, and I’ve never seen his name mentioned in the travel community.

This is a clip from his first email to me:

I am looking for key websites and blogs to affiliate with. After reviewing your web site, I would like to offer you a guestblog on our blog. If you would be interested in being included in these posts please feel free to contact me, so we can discuss our potential exciting affiliation.

My response to his request at this time was no. I didn’t have the time to put something together for him. I received another email from him to this effect early this fall, and then he contacted me again last month to ask if I had time to write for him. His pushy attitude worked; I felt guilty about not giving him something earlier. He obviously REALLY wanted me to contribute to his site, my husband and I have used their services in the past, so I finally agreed to put something together for him to get him off my back. I mailed my guest article to him on the 5th of December. By the 7th, he had hit me up on all my other web sites for guest posts and this is what he had to say:

Thanks for providing the content.  You’ve placed in our queue to go on our travel blog.  I’m not sure if I mentioned but we’ll be linking back to your site as well, and we do kindly ask for a link in return. Please use the following HTML code when linking back to —-. <a href=”xxxxx”>Cheap Flights</a> Thanks again Carrie and please let me know when the link goes up and live.

I tell you, I saw red when I opened his email. He was never interested in having me link back to Cheapoair blog. The site he wanted a back link for is Cheapoair.com and he wanted that link to help his company rank higher in the search engines for the search term ‘cheap flights’.

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Now, I don’t have a problem linking back his blog. Providing a courtesy link back to the site  you are writing for is common courtesy and I had already intended to do so. But I do have a HUGE problem with someone who asks me for FREE content for their site and then implies that publishing my content depends on whether I will give him a back link of his choice.

He didn’t reveal what he was angling for until I had already submitted the content. Had I known what he was after, I would have said no immediately.

I took a good look at this blog and noticed that he has suckered loads of people into advertising for this travel search engine for free. This is a major travel search engine, guys. He should be paying you, not getting free content and free back links to the company he works for as well as the company blog. Both of his sites win. What’s in it for you?

When I asked him about all of this, he apologized and told me he was still going to put up the post and…I never heard back from him. Ten days later, my post still hadn’t been published. I ended up pulling the article.

So, I guess my whole point with this is to share a lesson learned. I didn’t ask the right questions and I should have taken a better look at what I was being asked to contribute to.

On the other hand, I’ve learned exactly who I want to write guest posts for. After all this, I will NEVER consider writing for a travel search engine EVER again – unless they’re paying me, that is.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/.

41 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Write For Free For Travel Search Engine Sites


    (December 20, 2009 - 2:19 pm)

    Carrie, I’ve been getting these kinds of requests too. It seems as though my inbox is getting more crowded with pushy emails from (usually) company travel sites or blogs. I’ve been guilted into doing a guest post and posting one too and I’ve decided to simply decline all of those requests. What really annoys me is that they make it seem like they are doing you all the favor (while asking for an SEO link back). While guests posts do benefit the writer too, they take a time – time away from other blogger/work that needs to get done.

    I try to be nice but have simply just blown off a few requests that get harsher with each reply. Sorry to take up so much commenting space but I’ve been through something like this too and it irritates me just thinking about it!


    (December 20, 2009 - 2:35 pm)

    I get not wanting to tell to much, but I think that you should let people know the website that you are talking about. Even if they were helpful, if their method of getting people to their site is shady then people should have a warning not to go through them. You’ve got enough of a following that you could get them to think about, if not fully change, the way they are working and who is running their sales. Word of mouth is too important, and if they are trying to cheat people for stories then we shouldn’t be heading to that website at all….


      (December 21, 2009 - 1:41 am)

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The problem isn’t just with one website. As Anil has already confirmed, these kinds of requests come through from different travel companies all the time. In all honesty, I’m not trying to point fingers here. My intent with this post it to tell my story and hopefully make people aware of why they shouldn’t contribute to commercial travel sites.


    (December 20, 2009 - 3:13 pm)


    I’m really glad to hear that I am not the only person who thinks these guys are off base. What initially ticked me off about his first email was his opening about reviewing my site and finding it acceptable. Gee, thanks, buddy. I write all my own content. Do you?

    I get stuff like this all the time and that’s why I finally decided to write about it. This is a perfect example of things to look out for we are contacted by sites like this. My rule from now on? Blogging for friends and aqua when acquaintances or blogging for money. I’m keeping it plain and simple from now on. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    Shannon OD

    (December 20, 2009 - 6:38 pm)

    Wow, I am so glad you wrote this – I got this email (and others like it) and I do usually feel guilty once they get pushy. But I like your take on it and it’s just right on; it’s a little ridiculous that they ask for the SEO link back and yet it takes so much of our time to write these blogs and the benefit is much less for the blogger. You very well might have just motivated me to not be a pushover any more.
    .-= Shannon OD´s last blog ..A Little Route…My RTW Travel Route 2008-2009 (Part 2) =-.


      (December 21, 2009 - 8:01 am)

      Hi Shannon,

      Thanks. I’m glad I could help. After delving a little deeper into his site over the weekend, I realized that blogging for this guy probably wouldn’t drive much traffic to my site. His site isn’t really well-known, he doesn’t participate in travel discussions, and he isn’t in our social networking groups. The only thing that helps his site gain recognition is the company he works for. What I find a little strange about all of this is that his colleague is on Twitter and Facebook, and he actively promotes travel bloggers on both sites. This guy does nothing to promote his content or his contributors.


    (December 20, 2009 - 6:54 pm)


    Good to know about this Carrie for rookies like us. We were asked recently to write for a blog and we did it for free and they did what they say they would do. Though we did not get as much traffic to our blog as we originally thought we would. But we have heard similar from other travel writers/bloggers about this kind of issue as well.

    Good for you for speaking out about it. thanks.
    .-= GotPassport´s last blog ..A Gift That Keeps Giving =-.


      (December 21, 2009 - 8:14 am)


      I’m glad you were able to take something away from my post. In all honesty, I don’t do it for the traffic because I never really get a lot of traffic from writing guest posts. I’m okay with that. I write for others to put my name out there and to help friends out when they are in need. Thanks for stopping by!


    (December 20, 2009 - 7:41 pm)

    Hey Carrie ~

    I’ve also gotten a few of these emails and while they sound like I good idea, I agree with you and Anil. What looks good on the surface isn’t always that great of an idea once all the blood, sweat, tears and time are poured into the posts. I, also, will write as a guest blogger every now and again for people and sites that I know and trust, but all of us in the travel community have got to stand up to these companies that are just looking for free links and content. If even a few people agree to write for them, we’re all stung with the consequences.

    Thanks for the post and bringing this issue to light.

    .-= JoAnna´s last blog ..Reading: Imagine: A Vagabond Story =-.


      (December 21, 2009 - 8:17 am)

      Hi Joanna,

      You’re right. I wish more people would stand up to these companies.

    Family on Bikes

    (December 21, 2009 - 2:29 am)

    I heard from the exact same person! He wrote and asked if I would be interested in doing a guest post and I happened to have something already written that would more or less work so I sent it to him. He then wrote back and gave me that link and said to let him know when the link was up and he would publish my post! Needless to say, I didn’t put up the link – I mean, why would a family biking site have a link about cheap flights?



      (December 21, 2009 - 8:18 am)

      Hi Nancy,

      It’s really interesting to see that so many people here automatically know who I’m talking about. I’m glad that you stood up to him. Did he end up posting your article in the end?


    (December 21, 2009 - 2:29 am)

    Nice, Carrie. You make me proud.

    The “travel” blog niche has gotten nearly as bad as the “make money online” niche for hucksters and dirty tricks. I’m glad you published this.

    A tip to all: Reply to emails like this with a request for financial compensations. You will never hear from the sender again.


    (December 21, 2009 - 2:43 am)

    Yes I’d say you have to vet these people that request a guest post. Even if one receives payment for content as you are placing your reputation at risk.

    tobie openshaw

    (December 21, 2009 - 3:09 am)

    Don’t get me started on people who want free photographs. Print publications, who pay their designer, their editor, and their printer, tell me I’ll get “great exposure”, and “you’ll be famous”. That’s when I get really snarky and tell them that (1) I’m already frikkin’ famous and it still hasn’t put any money in my pocket, and (b) the day their printer does the job for free because he will get “great exposure” I might buy that argument, but in the meantime do the right thing and pay for the CONTENT that actually keeps that designer, editor and printer in business. And then there’s the online guys (whom I usually give stuff for free although I’m beginning to reconsider that) that link my betelnut-girl pictures – which try hard to reverse popular prejudices – under links like “prostitution_in_Taiwan”. My ‘favorite’ so far has been the Chinese porn site that stole a bunch of my photos, stuck their own watermark on them, and posted them under a heading “Taiwanese Street Whores”! AARrGhHh!!


    (December 21, 2009 - 3:24 am)

    Hi Carrie,

    Glad you wrote about this, as we all seem to be experiencing the same thing. I’ve received a few of these emails as well.

    In the past, I’d politely decline or ignore them. Then I realized that if people are taking the time to reach out to me, they see some value in my site, time, or working with me. I started responding with information about my advertising options. More often then I expected, they responded with curiosity and follow-up questions. I’ve closed sales with several of them since this change in approach.

    You have a little advertising/affiliate stuff on your site, so maybe this approach would interest you, or not. But it doesn’t hurt to ask, and you’d be in total control.

    Turn one of these random e-mails into extra income, and they won’t seem so annoying.
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center (is small) =-.


    (December 21, 2009 - 4:36 am)

    Thanks for posting this information. I’m new on the scene and haven’t received any emails like this, but I’ll be keeping my eyes open for any such schemes from now on.

    Thanks again,
    .-= Keith´s last blog ..Choose Your Own Adventure =-.

    Nomadic Matt

    (December 21, 2009 - 6:44 am)

    oooooooo i know the company!!!! they tried to do that to me. I told them if they want to advertiser, here is my rate. That ended that email!
    .-= Nomadic Matt´s last blog ..The Saturday City: Rotorua, New Zealand =-.

    MJ Klein

    (December 21, 2009 - 6:50 am)

    even though we’re well traveled ourselves, now you know why we’ve resisted the travel blog niche. it’s got a bad rep.
    .-= MJ Klein´s last blog ..Today’s Ride 091212 =-.


    (December 21, 2009 - 12:14 pm)

    Glad I’m not the only one…I’ve received similar emails, in addition to food related ones and never really knew how to respond. Now I’ll ignore those little pangs of guilt and give them my advertising rates. Then I’m sure I won’t hear from them again! 🙂
    Great post! I’m re-tweeting it right now.
    .-= Loulou´s last blog ..Sunday Links =-.


    (December 21, 2009 - 10:22 pm)

    I’ve been extremely cautious about “offers” coming my way these days. Most of the time, folks seem to want something for nothing, and either disappear or act surprised if you start asking questions.
    Thanks for posting this. It always helps to know what some of these “offers” really entail.
    .-= Dominique´s last blog ..Photo Friday: Chicago’s Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows =-.

    Keith Jenkins

    (December 22, 2009 - 1:23 am)

    Thanks for this post Carrie. I’ve been receiving similar emails as well. I always check among blogger friends if they’ve received similar requests. Based on my research, I either decide to send them my rate card or a request for more info. If they’re not interested, they won’t reply.
    .-= Keith Jenkins´s last blog ..The faces of Pompeii =-.


    (December 22, 2009 - 2:13 am)

    I’m pretty sure I got the same exact email from the same person/company. I was thinking a lot about my laziness compared to the potential good exposure I could get from doing a guest blog post. Thanks to this I’m definitely going to ignore him. Shamelessly taking advantage of bloggers is downright unconscionable.

    Thanks Carrie.

    Donna Hull

    (December 22, 2009 - 1:32 pm)

    Great blog post, Carrie.

    I’ve received these same emails and have declined them. In response, I inform the website owner that I write for a living and to please consider me once his or her site becomes a paying one. Then, like Keith, I send along my advertising rates.

    It’s hard saying no, especially when the email starts with a blog complement or two. Carrie, I’m glad that you are saying “no.”
    .-= Donna Hull´s last blog ..Stranded in an Airport? 12 Good Choices. =-.


    (December 23, 2009 - 12:05 am)

    What perfect timing on this post! I just got an e-mail asking for exactly what you mentioned. I am glad you provided some insight into this — you have made it a lot easier to decline this offer.
    Please keep up your good work and thank you for sharing this with the community!
    .-= DTravelsRound´s last blog ..A BRIEF intermission: The New Face of Sosauce.com =-.

    Jason of Two Backpackers

    (December 23, 2009 - 2:10 am)

    Being a new travel blogger I have never received any emails like this, but as GotPassport said, it’s good to know for when or if it ever happens. Thanks for sharing the blogging advice Carrie.
    .-= Jason of Two Backpackers´s last blog ..Monteverde, Costa Rica =-.


    (December 29, 2009 - 3:22 pm)

    Thanks for sharing this Carrie. I was asked several times…I accepted it only once for a company. But all other requested were very tricky !!…What I have experienced is next to the “free content request” is the request for a back link from your website, for which they offer you 4-5 backlinks on other websites which in the end proved to be fake!
    So beware of any of these requests.


      (January 2, 2010 - 5:16 am)


      I haven’t heard of that scam. Thanks for bringing my attention to it.


    (December 29, 2009 - 3:25 pm)

    Ahhh… yes, THAT site. Just responded “no” to him today, after diligently ignoring his first 3 emails. But as others have pointed out already, this is not the only offender out there.
    One angry fella (different company) when I told him “no” actually had the balls to tell me that I was a nobody anyway, should be grateful for any opportunity to promote my site, and should be paying THEM for a chance to be read and seen. I really needed a good laugh that day and was glad he came through to provide it. LOL!
    .-= AnnaI´s last blog ..Dreaming of Antigua part 2 =-.

    Unexpected Traveller

    (December 29, 2009 - 4:27 pm)

    As someone who is new to this blogging malarky, this is a real eye opener. I’ve considered guest-blogging but haven’t actually done it (yet) and will approach this with your advice in mind – Thanks!

    The Unexpected Traveller
    .-= Unexpected Traveller´s last blog ..Lost in Translation Goes Forth =-.


    (December 29, 2009 - 11:10 pm)

    Hi Carrie, just saw this link through Facebook (I’m loving the “Become a Fan” option these days).

    It’s a real pain to get stuff like this, but in the end we all have to accept it’s going to happen. Except for the smallest of hobby bloggers, we’re all after a bit of the search engine pie to drive more visitors, improve our brand recognition and revenue. This is true for bloggers and for corporates too, but I really think you’re right. I take Matt’s approach and send back advertising rates to companies that I have no relationship with.

    Companies selling services and products, especially the big boys, can afford to pay for writing if that’s what they want. Let’s not destroy a fledgling industry (travel blogging) by doing for free something that traditionally has been paid for. We all have bills to pay, whether they’re hosting and domain registration or plane tickets and food. And if we don’t get paid, we can never pay anyone else — like buying rights to some of Tobie’s photos.

    As bloggers our personality is key to our site’s image and what people perceive. Any time you guest post, you’re giving something of your personality and mana to that site. In return, you’re getting a deep link or two back and your name in front of a new audience … a great deal when you’re working with the right people. At other times, filthy lucre is a fine currency to deal in.


    (January 1, 2010 - 12:54 am)

    I’m coming late to this too & yes, I was approached by this person as well. Between my kid, writing our book & one left arm writing, I can’t even keep up with email, let alone write for someone else, so I never answered them.

    But, I’m so glad that you wrote about this to give us all more information and the comments have been helpful too!

    .-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Happy New Year, Nochevieja from Spain! =-.

    Boring Life Rob

    (January 4, 2010 - 6:46 am)

    haha, classic.

    The irony about these types of schemes is that SOONER or LATER google will notice what is going on and penalize everyone involved. It’s not IF it is WHEN, seriously.

    Good update. I’m Rob also from Ottawa and traveling the world.

    Have a great 2010.
    .-= Boring Life Rob´s last blog ..Yogyakarta to Jakarta by Night Train =-.


      (January 11, 2010 - 12:35 am)


      Nice to meet you! Yes, we are Twitter friends, in fact, you were one of my first friends because of the O-Town connection. I’ve been reading up on your travels and I’m glad you finally made it to Asia!

    Boring Life Rob

    (January 4, 2010 - 6:50 am)

    P.S Didn’t realize this was you. We chat on twitter sometime but didn’t make the connection that this was your blog, ha.

    All the best,
    .-= Boring Life Rob´s last blog ..Yogyakarta to Jakarta by Night Train =-.

    Nora - The Professional Hobo

    (January 5, 2010 - 4:09 am)

    Awesome post, Carrie! I too, have been emailed, suckered, burned, and angered – probably by the same people! But at least I’ve learned the value of my writing and my web site in the process, and like many others above, I’m happy to entertain advertising options when I get these requests from now on.
    There is a fine line between writing for free to boost your web site popularity and personal portfolio, and writing for free to dilute the industry and the value of your own work. As writers, we need to tread very carefully.


      (January 12, 2010 - 12:30 am)

      Thanks for your comments, Nora.


    (January 10, 2010 - 5:48 pm)

    Hi Carrie,

    Sorry to hear about your experience. Lesson definitely learned though! I’m pretty sure I know what company you’re referring to because I received a similar request last year.

    Contributing to other travel blogs can be a great thing. We just gotta think about WHAT kind of sites we contribute to.
    .-= Erica ´s last blog ..Why I Love Winter =-.

    Mark H

    (January 16, 2010 - 1:09 am)

    I also receive these emails and they annoy me. Undoubtedly are some are fair minded but I suspect that most are not. I try to make a judgement on each one but it is nearly always NO along with an email regarding my advertising rates. Like others who have commented, that seems to end the exchange. Saying that guest posting on other blogs is a good thing to do and I like to receive guest posts that adds variety to my blog.
    .-= Mark H´s last blog ..The Salmon Capital of the World (Ketchikan, USA) =-.


    (February 1, 2010 - 9:56 am)

    Hi Carrie, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. In my opinion these commercial websites should be paying writers for content. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but there should be somethings. As far as only publishing your article if there is a link, well……..
    Thanks for the great article.
    .-= Ladyexpat´s last blog ..Cooking it Up Bali Style =-.


      (February 4, 2010 - 3:38 am)

      Hi Nancie,

      Yes, I agree. Sites like these should be giving more incentive than just a link or two.

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