By Michael Lanza
I recently asked you, my readers of The Big Outside, to tell me what you think of my blog—and you answered resoundingly. Not only was the response rate double what I expected, but scores of specific suggestions I received were excellent and will guide me as I plan upcoming stories, new e-guides, and other content. Here’s what you can expect to see.
First of all, I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all of you who took the time to respond to my survey. The volume of responses, and the thought that many people put in them, demonstrated to me that my readers are passionate about backpacking, hiking, and other forms of outdoor recreation—and they value an online resource that provides accurate, reliable, expert advice, trip reports, and gear reviews.
I’m glad you all feel that way.
Also, congratulations to Richard Hayward for winning my giveaway of a free, three-month subscription to The Big Outside for completing the survey. Richard’s an enthusiast, and I hope that having full access to all of my blog’s stories gives him information and inspiration for getting out on great adventures.
The most personally gratifying result of my reader survey was the overwhelmingly high ratings from readers. The vast majority of you love my blog as much as I love working on it (well, maybe almost as much): 92% gave it 4 or 5 stars (58% gave 5 stars), and 89% are likely or very likely to recommend The Big Outside to others.
Thanks to all of you for that.
A Sampling of Reader Comments
Many readers echoed this comment from reader Mary C.: “I love your blog, Michael! You are doing a great job, and are a very engaging writer.”
Brad S. wrote: “Keep up the fantastic work! It’s a rare combination of outdoor expertise and excellent writing. Love the blog and regularly use it to plan my adventures.”
Reader Michael G., who subscribes for full access to all stories at The Big Outside, wrote: “I have used several of your articles and e-guides to plan my own extended backpacking trips. My wife and I vacation to a different National Park once or twice a year and I know if you’ve written a trip report or guide, that it will be a good use of our time… I appreciate that I can trust what you recommend and know it will be great.”
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Jason W. chimed in: “Keep doing what you’re doing. Also love how you generally respond to comments pretty quickly. That is always very helpful.”
Alex B. wrote: “Keep up the great work, Michael. Many of us can only dream of getting out into the beautiful and inspiring places that you highlight, but with your tips and guidance, some of us can turn those dreams into reality.”
New readers also responded. Ezra P. wrote: “I had never heard of you until a few weeks ago. Just got back from an amazing 5-day trip to Titcomb Basin (which I had never heard of) based on your article (that) I happened across online. Also bought some gear you recommended that I never would have thought of. And loved it. So color me impressed.”
And the Survey Shows…
I’ve made some immediate changes at The Big Outside and I’m planning new content based on survey feedback; I’ve already begun building a list of how-to story topics that will teach you the tricks and skills I’ve learned that make my backpacking trips better.
Here’s what you can find now and expect to see in the future.
- Many of you said you missed having a menu page listing all feature stories about trips at my blog. So the main menu now shows an All Trips List, with links to every trip-related story; that page also includes links to menus of all national park trips, family adventures, and international trips. I may make further improvements to that menu to make it easier for you to find stories at my blog.
- Many of you also said that you would prefer paying for individual stories in lieu of a paid subscription. As a result, I will be creating downloads of stories that are now behind the paywall, available for a la carte purchase. Although regular readers will still find it less expensive to purchase a subscription, non-subscribers who prefer to pay on demand for stories will increasingly be able to do that—beginning with my downloadable e-guide versions of my popular “10 Tricks for Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier,” and my blog story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.”
- While the number one story topic of interest was backpacking (86% of respondents), national parks (74%), gear reviews (71%), dayhiking (64%), and skills tips (54%) also drew strong interest. You will see more new stories focused on those topics.
- Many readers want more e-guides to the best backpacking trips (63%) and dayhikes (50%) in the U.S., various backpacking skills (72%), and national parks (61%). Watch for those as well as other instructional e-guides.
- Anisa H. gave me an idea that I’m seriously considering. She suggested that I “open up your site for guest author submissions, with the authors being your readers (not necessarily professionals). You could focus on different topics each month, such as learning from mistakes, different types of groups (families with teens, young adults, seniors), connecting with your kids, overcoming obstacles. I respect what you have created and really hope that it is successful for you.”
I’m intrigued by Anisa’s proposal. I will announce if I intend to start accepting story ideas (not full stories—just brief proposals—and please don’t send any unsolicited stories or proposals until I announce that I’m seeking them). But I can say now that I will be very selective and only publish stories from regular readers—probably limiting it to paying subscribers, partly because I will need to put a control on the number of submissions.
Does anyone have an opinion on Anisa’s suggestion? Please comment at the bottom of this blog post about it (or anything else you’ve read in this post).
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A very large percentage of readers are interested in stories about family adventures. Reader Kevin M. wrote: “I have young children so I like to see the logistics of getting a family out backpacking.”
Michael F. was among those who commented: “I really enjoyed your book, which was one of the things that inspired me to get out more with my kids and try some backpacking trips that I otherwise would not have tried (like backpacking across the Grand Canyon with my kids).”
Alex S. added: “You have encouraged me to take my family up the Narrows in Zion, paddling the Everglades, and elsewhere. We are rafting Lodore this month partly based on your blog. Thank you. It’s difficult to know how much the kids might be able to do, so the encouragement is very appreciated.”
Expect more stories about adventuring with a family.
Reader Philip K. wrote: “Gear reviews are also always welcome—I haven’t had a dud yet in any of your recommendations I followed!”
Michael G. offered: “As a fit, intermediate backpacker, I appreciate ideas for pretty intense, long-distance options. For example, I think your 80-mile trip in the North Cascades is a great itinerary and would love to see more trip ideas like that or longer. The well-known long-distance trails aren’t of as much interest to me as a recommendation on a custom route by yourself. In general, I really like the blog and wish you the best. Keep it up!”
Want my help planning any trip you read about at my blog? Click here for expert advice you won’t get anywhere else.
How to Get the Most From The Big Outside
Although The Big Outside began as a sideline, it has grown into my business and livelihood. I work full-time on it now.
I offer a number of stories for free, but I put my blog’s most-valuable content—like my many stories about trips, and some of my expert skills tips—behind a subscription paywall. That’s a primary source of revenue. Without that, I couldn’t do this work.
My survey showed me that a significant percentage of readers do not fully understand the benefits of a paid subscription and other services and products at The Big Outside.
Here, in a nutshell, is an explanation of how my subscription and paywall system works. It’s simplest to look at it as four tiers of products and services:
- Some stories, including gear reviews, are free for all to read. My gear reviews include links to my affiliate partners, and I hope you will consider clicking those links to make your gear purchase, because it earns me a commission (at no cost to you—in fact, you will often find the best prices on gear at those links).
- Many stories, including stories about trips and many of my expert tips, require a paid subscription to read. For as little as $5, you can read about and see photos from many trips. The expert tips and planning details in those stories will help experienced backpackers and others plan it on their own.
- My e-guides provide much greater detail on how to plan and execute a specific trip, like the very best time of year to do a hike, when to hit certain sections, the best strategy for avoiding crowds on popular hikes, the tricks I’ve learned for obtaining a popular backcountry permit, and planning an itinerary that hits the highlights and is appropriate for everyone involved.
- By using my Custom Trip Planning service, you get my personal, customized help planning your trip, which covers your questions about season and weather, required permits, logistics, and gear, as well as how to execute your trip on the ground in the safest and most enjoyable way—saving your valuable time and avoiding problems. I’ll answer the questions you didn’t know to ask.
Once again, thanks to all who completed my survey—and to all of you, my readers. You make producing The Big Outside the best job I’ve ever had.
Do you want to support my work on The Big Outside, but not sure you’re ready to buy a subscription? I would appreciate a tip in any amount, which you can make by clicking here.
And thanks for doing that.