How to monetize travel websites: A user story of Burgen.de

Our customer Veith Schörgenhummer from Germany is an experienced publisher and Advanced Ads user. Over the years, he has specialized in the topic of castles and has built an extensive website about it.

In this interview, we discuss strategies and talk about the aspects of monetizing a travel and destination site.

Hello Veith, we hope you are coping well with the Corona pandemic and its aftermath that has been going on for two years. Could you please briefly introduce yourself and your most important online project?

Hi 🙂 My name is Veith. I’m the owner of burgen.de, a German time-travel magazine about castles & heritage sites as travelers’ points of interest. Right now, we are in a very exciting growing phase (between micropublisher and publisher, see “Crossing the chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore).

How long has burgen.de been around, and what kind of content are visitors looking for on your site?

We launched it over 20 years ago, with a serious relaunch in 2016. Our readers are looking for travel and tourist information and inspiration for family and leisure trips.

Burgen.de Website
Website Burgen.de

How many visitors or views does your website get per month? Can you make a living from burgen.de, and is this your primary source of income?

During the season (April – September), we reach 65.000 readers/month, with 80% mobile users. Right now, burgen.de sustains 1 full-time editorial person from a mixture of affiliates, sponsors, and campaigning for tourist destinations.

“We decided to go for our own solution based on Advanced Ads”

I notice that you don’t use ads from AdSense, one of the biggest ad networks on the market. Why not?

We tested AdSense for several months with pretty mixed results. We want to present products and services related to our editorial content. But the filter mechanics offered by AdSense didn’t give us enough control over the displayed ads, so we decided to go for our own solution based on Advanced Ads.

How do you monetize this website instead? Which ad networks do you embed?

We work with affiliate networks (AWIN, Webgains & Tradedoubler) as well as direct partners (destination marketing, tour operators). Besides, we offer advertorials for the travel industry and listings for hotels.

What types of advertising media, e.g., banners or text links, do you mainly use?

Standard banner formats, embedded (text) links, custom HTML banners, advertorials & special content formats like raffles, questionnaires, etc. for lead generation.

Monetization with hotel links
Example of seamless integration of Booking.com.

Have you integrated your ads with Advanced Ads from the beginning? If not, what were your reasons for trying Advanced Ads? 

In the early days, we integrated ads via simple WordPress mechanics (custom post types > tags, categories). With the ads becoming more complex (more complex rules, responsive targeting, etc.), we started vetting “ad frameworks” and ultimately decided to use Advanced Ads.

For what purposes or integrations do you mainly use Advanced Ads today?

All above, plus promoting content specials across the whole site.

“It’s a one-stop shop with a very clean code. The support is awesome”

Which Advanced Ads features simplify your workflow or are essential tools when creating an ad setup?

We love the whole package. My personal favorites are the logic for context control and the Responsive add-on, which are super useful for us.

Regarding the context control, do you refer to the concept of display and visitor conditions in general or to a specific condition like the Post content condition for keyword targeting?

We use both due to our currently inconsistent data structure. Where possible, we use content conditions. Otherwise, we use display conditions as a fallback option.

Why would you recommend Advanced Ads to other publishers looking for an ad plugin?

It’s a one-stop shop with a very clean code. With 50+ plugins in play, this is crucial for us. And—in case we need it—the support is awesome.

You also sell listings directly on your website. How do you go about this, and what would you recommend to publishers who want to start selling ads, memberships, or paid listings directly?

You need a clear value proposition and offer added value. Speak your target group’s language and prepare a good media kit—it helps to avoid the usual “eyeball” competition when the emphasis is on your niche.

Burgen.de memberships
The different memberships are called baroness, countess, or duke here, matching the website’s theme

In recent years, traffic has shifted from desktop to mobile devices. Do you see an impact on the performance of your ads?

Yes, CTR is much higher when using responsive ads.

You are using Google Analytics on your website. Did you connect the tracking with Analytics, or are you using one of the local tracking methods?

We integrated with GA and are currently switching to another solution (less prone to GDPR/privacy issues). We consolidated all into one analysis solution: Email, website, social media, and campaigning.

“Don’t rely solely on AdSense. Try to find a good mixture”

What mistake would you not repeat regarding the monetization of your website? Are there typical pitfalls to avoid as a beginner?

Don’t rely solely on AdSense—wrong banner content can ruin your efforts.

Don’t rely solely on simple standard banners. Today’s CTR is very low, you need an immense reach to live from that alone.

Try to find a good mixture of ads, paid content, listings & sponsorships.

How do you think affiliate marketing has evolved in recent years? Is it still a good form of monetization in the years ahead?

It’s not easy money anymore. Tickets are small, reach is declining (especially without decent SEO). But: If you offer added value to your own content (for example, ticketing services for travel), users will love to start with your site.

Have there been any changes to your ad traffic and performance due to Corona? If so, what adjustments have you made to respond to the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic?

With the pandemic, the travel industry went into hibernation mode. We switched to promoting castle & knight-related products like Lego®, games, etc. It worked pretty well, but we are happy for the now living new travel season 🙂 

Monetization Lego
Example of how to promote related products on a travel site that have nothing to do with traveling

What’s next for burgen.de? Where will your website be in five years?

New design, an App offering offline services, an English version of the site, ongoing SEO, more new content types—the list is long.

Finally, do you have any good advice for people who want to start with the monetization of their websites that you wish you had received yourself when you began your business?

  1. Start with a concept. Not an idea, a concept. That’s a lot of work, but it will help you in finding the niche where you can live long and prosper 🙂
  2. Offer the best and most comprehensive content with a unique angle (e.g., personal, being 10× better than the rest). And offer ads/affiliate fitting to your content.
  3. Don’t put all eggs into one basket: Try different monetization types & combine them.

The products from Advanced Ads are available as individual add-ons or as a versatile All Access bundle.


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