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The search engine Google is fairly adept at indexing most travel blogs whether they are search-engine optimized (SEO) or not. You can however help the Google bot along so that it discovers new content you post quickly, which is especially important when publishing articles that are time-sensitive.

ticking clock

Having A Clear Code Road

Much of Google’s indexing is based on link-jumping, that is to say that the Google bot follows the path of links on your site to new content. The higher the Pagerank of a given site, the more value Google places on following links from it. If your new posts appear on your homepage, which likely will have some Pagerank after a few months, that’s a vote of confidence.

  • Having A Ranked Blog Or Category Page Can Help – Now, let’s say your new posts pop up on a ranked “blog” page as well, for example, http://yoursite.com/blog, then you’ve got two votes which can result in speedier indexing.

steel linksThe theme you’re running is also very important to how quickly your site is indexed. Google favors Blogspot users of course, but if you’re self-hosted on WordPress, look for themes that were designed with SEO in mind (e.g. Thesis). Your travel blog may look pretty to humans, but it’s the code that Google cares about.

Links are the road map to your travel blog and what Google uses to navigate your site. Sometimes though you might want to give Google a nudge, especially if it seems to be particularly neglecting your newer posts.

  • Google XML Sitemaps – One of 13 recommended WordPress plugins, it, and those like it can create easily search-engine digestible sitemaps and automatically submit them to Google. Sitemaps can also be manually generated and submitted using this plugin, which can help speed up the indexing process and notify Google of a new post.

Finally, to find out if Google has already indexed a particular page on your site, just Google your site in this format: “site:yoursite.com” or “site:yoursite.com/blog”.

google lego logoHave Links Ready

Although increasing Pagerank, site age, and good code will help improve how fast your travel blog is indexed over time, you can give particular help to time-sensitive posts by pre-linking to them. Incoming external links (i.e. links from other websites) to a particular post cue Google to how quickly it should index a given post.

  • Ask Blogging Buddies – Get in touch with other travel bloggers you have a rapport with and see if they might be interested in linking to that particular post of yours. Don’t forget to return the favor!
  • Link Out – When your posts seem to be a bit stale or slow in Google’s eyes, you might need to link out to external sites more. Only linking inward can ding your reputation with the giant search engine.
  • Watch The Keywords – Be sure that you’re not stuffing your posts (or image alt tags) with an over-abundant amount of keywords.
  • Increase Crawl RateGoogle’s Webmaster Tools is extremely versatile and gives you a number of Google-centric options, including increasing the frequency at which your site is crawled.

Using the Google Webmaster Tools, you can also create a “www” preference for your links. When possible, it’s good practice to be consistent when interlinking and to let Google know if you’re a with-www linker (e.g. http://www.yoursite.com) or not (e.g. http://yoursite.com).

No Guarantee, Only Guidance

Unfortunately, you can only build the path for Google but not take them down the road. Crawl time and indexing are based primarily on automated algorithms and while it helps to provide a good map, ultimately it’s up to Google as to when they’ll decide to take a look. Try posting articles that are time-sensitive (around holidays for example) a few hours earlier than you might otherwise, stay within Google’s guidelines, and occasionally check your site for crawl errors to get under the clock.

[photos by: delphaber (ticking clock), gsbrown99 (steel links), rustybrick (Google Lego logo)]

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Compared with your 2010 travel blogging goals, this year your focus seems to be balancing work, travel, and play. Many of you were able to accomplish your goals to varying degrees and often in unforeseen ways.

new year resolution coaster

A Look Back At Your 2010 Accomplishments

  • Andrea (Inspiring Travellers): Because we’re travelers/expats who have been stuck in one place for too long, this year was about creating the blog and getting some solid posts under our belts ahead of our next round of long-term travel. It’s difficult to fix bugs and work out kinks while you’re traveling full-time – we thought best to work those out ahead of time. I think we probably exceeded our expectations this year.
  • Heather Cowper (My Blogging Journey): I did hope that I would have achieved more in monetizing my blog and although I’ve made some good steps in that direction, I still have some way to go before my blog can provide any meaningful financial return for all the hours I put in.
  • Nora (The Professional Hobo): My goal for 2010 was to reduce my working hours without reducing my income accordingly. It worked! I now work between 14-28 hours per week on average, and my income has actually gone up!

Achieving My Personal Goals In Unexpected Ways

Taking a look back on what I set out to accomplish I learned that less can be more and though a bit late, came through on a special goal I had set my sights on.

man looking through binoculars

  • Continue my blogging schedule (a good failure) – Although I had thought about maintaining my foXnoMad schedule of 5 posts a week, when I asked, most of you wanted less. This change significantly boosted my subscriber numbers and the new schedule gave me more time to edit and expand upon my ideas. As for my other sites, including this one, the once per week for Travel Blog Advice and the Tech Guide For Travel, and once a month for How To Travel With Pets has been mostly consistent. Despite this, I’m still looking to rearrange the schedule so I have some weeks with a reduced writing load.
  • the ultimate tech guide for travelersWrite another eBook – I wanted to create another eBook, but this time one that was alive and more than the sum of its pages. The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers not only comes with 6 months of free personal tech support from yours truly, but a year of free updates that will make it worth much more than the price. Comment on this post before January 5th, 2011 and I’ll give you 35% off the price to see for yourself.
  • The usual suspects – As I mentioned last year, I’m very superstitious about announcing my specific metric goals but happy to say all of them were met much earlier in the year than I expected, forcing me to set much higher goals over the summer.

Goals Forward And Back

As important as setting goals is, looking back and evaluating the ones you’ve set previously is equally as valuable. It not only helps you gauge where to set your sights on for the future, but can give you a sense of accomplishment in a medium where it can be hard to find.

[photos by: BaazarBizarreSF (New Year’s resolution coaster), CarbonNYC (man looking through binoculars)]

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The end of the year has a way of slowing things down for many travel blogs, not to mention the travel bloggers behind them. With all of the holidays, New Year, and distractions that follow, you might be wondering if it’s worth posting anything to your travel blog during the last few weeks of the year. The keys to figuring out whether or not to take a break require determining what you’re trying to accomplish and what value you’ll save with the time off.

rubber ducky with glasses

Putting Worth In A Post

When trying to decide whether a posting is “worth it” you should define how you view that worth. For most, it’s a matter of traffic, so not posting is thought to maximize the publication of a new article when your readers are likely to be online. Useful posts tend to have a good shelf life though and exactly when they’re posted isn’t as important as the content itself. Whether or not to hold off on hitting publish depends on your readers more than anything.

feet on work deskWhere Is Your Primary Audience?

Using Alexa, you can get a rough idea of which countries your travel blog is most popular in. Combined with Google Analytics, you can gather information about trends around holidays in those particular places.

For example, American audiences tend to be very active right before (but not on) major holidays and Swedes celebrate Christmas on the 24th. Those small details about your specific audience can help you time your posts just when people are looking to read (or waste time at work as it were) without leaving them a cluttered inbox of RSS feed after an offline break.

Don’t Post For Posting’s Sake

While the holidays do have special peak moments for many travel blogs; don’t simply post something just for the sake of having new content up. If you’re really struggling to come up with something (holiday-related material works well) perhaps you can direct your readers to something older you’ve written. That gives new life to your older posts that are still a good read rather than giving a wide-eyed audience lackluster content.

Have Posts Reflect Your Moods

Around the end of the year (or whenever holiday time happens to be for you), things can get personally hectic – having you look for a bit of light entertainment for a breath of fresh air. A good segment of your audience is likely to be feeling the same way and by easing up for a bit, you might be doing them and yourself a favor.

[photos by: Jessica Bee (rubber ducky with glasses), Peter Baer (feet on work desk)]

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Have You Accomplished Your 2010 Travel Blogging Goals?

doll thinkingLast year about this time I asked you – what are your travel blog goals for 2010 – and many of you responded with aims at monetization, maintaining a blog around hectic travels, and I even chimed in with a few of my own. Now that a full year as gone by, before we start looking at 2011, I’d like to find out how far you’ve come.

  • Whether you replied to the original post or not, tell us, did you accomplish your travel blogging goals for 2011?

Let me know how things went across the board if you were successful, fell short in a few places, or had some unexpected accomplishments. I’ll round up your responses as well as my own in an upcoming post before looking at the year ahead.

[photo by: betsyjean79 (doll thinking)]

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One of 13 recommended WordPress plugins, the All In One SEO Pack is a powerful tool that can help your blog and individual posts become much more visible to search engines. Its power, and conversely weakness, is in All In One SEO Pack’s complexity. Many people who first install the plugin focus on adding descriptions to individual posts when you can more efficiently harness the SEO effectiveness on the general configuration page.

magnifying glass

Setting Up All In One SEO Pack From Scratch

Installation of All In One SEO goes much like most other WordPress plugins and is a realtively straightforward affair. Once you’ve uploaded the plugin (download here) and activate it, the first order of business is to head over to the “Options” page. All In One SEO Pack is kind enough to direct you there when you first activate the plugin, otherwise in your WordPress backend head to Settings > All In One SEO.

all in one seo config

The rest of these default settings are fine for most travel blogs. I wouldn’t recommend changing them unless you want your post title and blog title to appear differently at the top of a browser window.

all in one seo settings

Settings To Consider Deviating From The Default – Meta Keywords

Meta keywords are a elements of HTML that were originally designed to provide other computers (and search engines) with information about a given web page. The importance of meta keywords has significantly diminished in recent years and their effectiveness is often disputed. You can however use All In One SEO to convert your travel blog categories (e.g. time management) into meta tags.

  • This is a good setting to consider in the first 3 months of your travel blog when you don’t have many ‘post tags’ yet established.

After that, you should check the “Use Tags For Meta Keywords” instead; but not both. (This assumes you are adding post tags to your individual blog posts.) Checking both could earn you a small penalty from the search engines; they typically don’t like when you have too many similar ‘follow’ links on a given page. While meta keywords might have negligible SEO benefits, ignoring them won’t gain you anything.

The Misunderstood Dynamically Generate Keywords Setting

If you’ve set your WordPress blog to appear on a page other than the homepage (e.g. http://foxnomad.com/blog vs. http://foxnomad.com), then checking this setting tells All In One SEO pack to use the keywords you’ve set for posts on that [blog] page to act as the keywords for the entire page. The alternative is to set the keywords for a given page specifically, using the All In One SEO Pack configuration box at the bottom of the page-edit screen.

all in one seo keywords

This configuration box can be used to define specific keywords and descriptions for any and all of your travel blog’s posts and pages. If you don’t set them individually or won’t on a regular basis, you can have All In One SEO do it for you by checking the “Autogenerate Descriptions”. All In One SEO will then use the first 160 characters of a given post to automatically create the description field for it.

Using Noindex

all in one seo noindezAll In One SEO Pack will, by default, “noindex” your category, tag, and archive links. Those “noindex” links are the equivalent of “no-follow” links which tell search engines to ignore them. Again, to avoid duplicate links and content from being indexed (and subsequently penalized by the search engines), choose only one of these to un-check. Those of you who are diligent about tagging your posts with keywords can enable indexing of tags, while very new blogs or small static sites can enable indexing on categories to expand the number of overall pages being read by Google and other search engines.

It’s important however not to un-check more than one of these boxes in general so as not to have duplicate links being indexed more than once.

question markThat Configuration Box Below Each Post – Do I Need To Fill It In Every Time?

At the bottom of every one of your post and page drafts is a small All In One SEO configuration box. You can fill in keywords, specific descriptions, and modify your post titles just for the search engines. Most people don’t bother filling these in or lose enthusiasm for doing so after time. Filling each configuration box out can really help you focus your travel blog on a few specific keywords but the truth of the matter is most travel blogs aren’t keyword-oriented.

  • Most of the large (and SEO-oriented) travel blogs optimize their homepages and individual travel blog pages (using All In One SEO) and leave the posts up to the automatic functions of the plugin.

You can see what others are targeting by checking out the “Page Source” using your web browser. Look for what’s between the lines “<!– All in One SEO Pack” and “<!– /all in one seo pack –>” and you’ll see the description and specific keywords being targeted on a given page.

Expanding Your SEO-Reach

All In One SEO is a vital organization tool for your travel blog and does a lot of the SEO dirty work for you. In addition to the All In One SEO Pack you should change your permalink settings and use the alt attribute so your photos can be indexed as well. The search engines rely on boring text to sort through and map out your travel blog and All In One SEO gives them much more to read and feed on.

[photos by: jackbouma (magnifying glass), crystaljingsr (question mark)]

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I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my next ebook to be released very soon, called The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers, which will also be available on the two predominant e-Readers – Amazon’s Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Getting any ebooks you may have written or coming up on either platform is fairly easy, with a few caveats.

ereaders

While you won’t make quite as much from a given sale (Amazon takes 30% and B&N 40%) you’ll have access to a much broader audience who can potentially find what you’ve written. Both Amazon and B&N let you post ebooks for free, here’s how.

Hard Copy Or Not

booksPublishing ebooks only, that is without a hard copy option, is free and a much more straightforward process than selling physical books. Those of you looking to have hard copy editions of your ebooks available as well can do that using a host of online publishers like Lulu. You’ll also need to purchase an ISBN number (for sale in the US) at a minimum to publish on either Amazon or B&N; that costs around $100 and distribution is done by the publisher for a fee (~$75).

Selling ebooks on Amazon or B&N (and you should really publish to both instead of just one) doesn’t require an ISBN or any other addition to a standard PDF of your ebook.

amazon kindleHow To Publish eBooks To Amazon’s Kindle

You can self-publish your ebooks to Amazon using their Digital Text Platform. You’ll have to certify that the ebook is your original work and create a description that will be displayed on your Amazon page (which will look like this). All you need is a standard Amazon account to get started or to create a free one.

  • You’ll be asked if you want to use Digital Right Management (DRM) protection for your ebook. That will prevent it from being able to be viewed on other devices or computers and may cut down on illegal sharing; I’d recommend it.
  • Also be prepared with a fairly large image for your ebook that will be displayed on your Amazon page.
  • Amazon is particular about the format of your ebook – make sure it’s aligned vertically and mostly text; fancy graphics don’t do well on the Kindle and might be a reason your ebook is rejected from the store.

Once your ebooks are approved after a 2-3 business day period, you can begin working on improving their search ranking.

Begin Improving Your ebook’s Amazon Search Ranking

Even before your ebook has been approved by Amazon you can begin working on making it easier to find for potential customers. A good description outlining what you ebook is about, as well as 5 descriptive keyword tags make your ebook much more visible to Amazon’s internal search. Have your friends and family (those with Amazon accounts) add reviews and ratings as well.

  • I would be happy to return the favor if you’ve read and would be willing to do a review of Overcoming The 7 Major Obstacles To Traveling The World on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Amazon will automatically create a sample version of your ebook Kindle users can use to preview it before purchasing.

barnes and noble nookHow To Publish eBooks To Barnes & Noble Nook

Much like the process for Amazon’s Kindle, ebooks are easily submitted to the Barnes & Noble Nook store. Using their PubIt service you can upload you ebook file for consideration and approval, which usually takes about 3-5 business days. Barnes & Noble is a little more flexible about the format of your ebook although it’s still wise to give a mostly-text and graphic free version for the Nook.

  • Tweaking your Barnes & Noble ebook page for better rankings in their search is almost identical to Amazon, except B&N is a bit more integrated with Facebook (another place where many “likes” will go far).

Barnes & Noble will also make your ebook part of their “LendMe” program, which lets Nook users lend out the ebook to others for 14 days (although during that time the ebook isn’t available to the lender).

Why Publish To Both Stores

Neither Amazon or Barnes & Noble have any restrictions to publishing to other stores and it can only benefit you to use both since the Kindle and Nook represent a combined 70% of the market share. Ebooks are also now 15% of all books sold so put your ebooks in the two stores where people are buying them – of course in addition to your own sites as well.

[photos by: libraryman (eReaders), Patrick Gage (books), cubicgarden (Amazon Kindle), AMagill (Barnes & Noble Nook)]

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Contests are a great way to generate interest from new readers to your blog and encourage interaction but can have a completely opposite effect if they fail to get off the ground. Most people put the bulk of their effort into coming up with a prize and leave the contest details as an afterthought. A good contest is built like a well paved road, swiftly and smoothly guiding potential contestants to your prize.

walking on road

Focus On The Contest First

It’s more important to have an intriguing purpose for your contest than a great prize. Ultimately people are working toward winning the prize but it’s not enough motivation to push the average person over the ‘entry’ edge. Give them a reason to enter by making the entry a prize in itself. Whether you appeal to their talents (e.g. travel videos); or relieve them from a moment of boredom at work with a simple entry (e.g. blog comment), a reward upfront encourages people to get involved.

  • The Prize Is The final Step Of A Contest – Most aren’t looking down that far on long road between “now”, entering, and potentially winning.
  • Define Your Own Success – Set up goals and specific personal metrics to measure your contest’s achievements.

Think of it like a weight loss program – it’s easier to remain on track when you see yourself lose a kilo every other week as opposed to envisioning when all 20 are gone 12 months from when you started.

Make Your Entry Straightforward

easy buttonIf you can’t explain what it takes to enter your contest in one or two lines, chances are not many people are going to enter. You want to reward people for entering – not punish them by reading 10 different things they have to do. When a new person comes to your contest post you’ve got a few precious seconds of their attention they’ll split between scanning the post and considering entering. (Another good reason to reduce page loading time.) Straightforward entry requirements help shift the percentage of attention time from “figuring out contest” to “maybe I should enter”.

Tangible Prizes

Although it’s not always the case, generally prizes that are tangible tend to peak more interest as opposed to those like gift cards or similar.

  • Recall those precious few seconds of attention you have with your readers? Well, if they have to spend a moment or two thinking about what they’d actually buy with a gift card you might lose them to one of the many distractions (aka. Twitter) online.

Having tangible prizes also has several other advantages as well. You can save on more expensive gifts, work on getting sponsorship for a particular product, and save time coordinating and sending out the prize.

microscopeBe Very Specific With Entry Rules And Deadlines

Anything you don’t define in your contest details is likely to be misinterpreted somehow by someone. Come up with very specific rules and restrictions along with solid deadlines.

  • Make these deadlines very clear in the contest post and consider mentioning the entry deadline twice.

While we’re on the topic it also helps to have a relatively short period of entry for a given contest. 1-2 weeks tends to be a sweet spot for most; giving people the slight pressure of a deadline with enough to time not to be discouraged altogether.

A Few More Important Contest Points

Don’t fall into the habit of thinking your contest prize is so great that people will do anything to get at it. Be enthusiastic but remember pace of the medium you’re working in – promote and develop your contest for an Internet audience.

  • Create An Ad – Put up a banner somewhere “above the fold” on your travel blog promoting your contest so it’s visible on each page.
  • Use Social Media Effectively – Facebook, Twitter, and the rest are good outlets to let your audience know about your contest. Be thoughtful about when and how you post while making sure not to overdo it. Use your newsletter (if you have one) to pre-promote, and Facebook and Twitter at launch and a day or two before the deadline.

By keeping things simple, fun, and having a great prize you’re setting yourself up to have a good contest and with a little guidance, bring your readers with you.

[photos by: Piclsa (walking road), spackletoe (easy button), Juan Eduardo Donoso (microscope)]

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Basic Ways To Reduce Your Travel Blog’s Loading Time

Page loading time is an important metric used not only by search engines but extremely important to your readership. While we know you love your travel blog enough to wait 10 minutes for it to load, most people won’t stick around for more than a second or two before it’s on to the next thing. It’s difficult to build a successful travel blog, make money with one, or generate discussion without people ever making it to your site.

roadrunner

Keep in mind that there are some aspects of page loading time that aren’t easily changed, like your hosting provider, database setup, and theme – I’ll touch upon those for a bit and delve in deeper in the coming weeks. These changes below are meant to have a much more immediate effect but first you have to see how your site is doing in the first place.

Find Out How Fast (Or Slow) Your Travel Blog Is

pingdomThere are a number of good tools you can use to gauge how slow your site is loading and where there may be bottlenecks. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to run these tools and capture a screenshot so you can compare before and after results.

  • Is My Blog Working? – The simplest interface to use, you’ll get a warning if your site is slower than average.
  • Pingdom – Tells you how many seconds it takes to load a page, breaking down the results into individual components.
  • Website Optimization – Not as pretty of an interface as Pingdom but good for detailed results.
  • UpTrends – Lets you see how fast your travel blog loads from different places around the world.

For the most accurate picture of how zippy your travel blog is, run these tests at three different times of the day. Morning (local to your travel blog’s audience), during high-traffic times, and right after you publish a post or put a link up on Twitter.

wall of photosResize Your Images

Pictures are larger files than text and take longer to load. While you might not have the patience to go back and edit all of your pictures, any of those hosted on your site should be resized before uploading.

  • This might not be ideal for sites hosting high definition images but is advisable for most travel blogs.

Convert them to JPEG (if they’re not already) and reduce them to the maximum size of your blog page. For example, if your blog column is only 600 pixels wide, you can try resizing your images to 600 pixels to help keep them under 100kB.

ball and chainLook At Your Flashy Website

Giant photo headers, Flash animation, and widgets look nice but slow things down. Consider not running every graphic on your homepage and rather disperse those features across other pages of your travel blog. (You can also try scaling your header image down as described above.)

  • Get Rid Of Unnecessary Plugins – Shut down any plugins you aren’t using or be selective and keep those you really want. Plugins that require frequent calls to your database (e.g. most popular, recent comments, etc.) are generally the biggest offenders.
  • Blog Ranking Widgets – Cause a negative impact on page loading times and aren’t worth displaying on your homepage or sidebar due to that effect. If you don’t want to get rid of them altogether create a separate page or add them to a single existing one (e.g. ‘awards’, ‘statistics’, etc.).
  • Limit The Number Of Posts On A Given Page – Especially on your homepage, don’t display your last 30 articles. Depending on how your travel blog is laid out, reduce this number and organize more efficiently.
  • Clean Up Your Code – While your travel blog may appear good from the outside, the code running things may not be quite up to standard. You can check to see how many errors your site has using the W3C Validator. A good check to run, especially if you’ve done a lot of modification to your sidebar widgets.

Simple is usually faster and shaving off a few kilobytes here and there from images or getting rid of a widget can save you precious seconds of loading time. Also, if you happen to be running banner ads, ask the advertiser if you can download the image to host on your site rather than having the HTML code call it up from another server. Images hosted elsewhere can act as anchors if that other server is running slow it can drag your site down with it.

Cache Your Travel Blog

WordPress users can try either WP Super Cache (my simple overview) or W3 Total Cache to compress and cache their travel blogs. These plugins work by caching your popular posts so they don’t use your database – one common bottleneck. Either of these plugins are very customizable but even in their default configuration can have a very positive effect on page loading times within hours of installation.

Speed Over Style

While they’re not mutually exclusive, it’s in your best interests to have a faster site, even if that means it’s not quite as complex or pretty. Unless your hosting plan is up to par (and most aren’t) be selective and limit yourself to those plugins and visual elements that really matter to you. If your travel blog takes too long to load and few people will wait to see it at all.

[photos by: Nick Chill (roadrunner), Travis Issacs (wall of photos), jgarber (ball and chain)]

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Several weeks ago when I posted some photos of Boras, Sweden I mentioned foXnoMad was most popular (relatively speaking) in that Swedish city according to website ranking engine Alexa. I was asked by Sherry Ott how other travel bloggers could determine specifically where in the world their sites were most popular and as it turns out, the answers is a series of “it depends”.

alexa

Not Available To Everyone

The higher a given Alexa rating (i.e. closer to number 1), the more accurate the data displayed about that particular site is. According to Alexa, most sites with a ranking over 100,000 have very limited information available about them, so any location-based data will be sparse in general.

stick man carrying globeWhere To Find The Location Data

When Alexa has a good amount of location data, or you get very popular in one particular city, that information will be displayed in your site summary. That’s how I saw I had my highest relative Alexa ranking in Boras.

However, if your summary doesn’t have that information you can still find out in which countries your travel blog is popular in by scrolling down and looking at your “Worldwide Traffic Rank”.

Alexa Caveats

Although it’s nice to have an idea of where your fans are in the world (especially if you’re running a travel blog), keep in mind that the location data Alexa uses primarily comes from their toolbar users. Basically the location data Alexa provides is a reflection of how many people with the toolbar installed access your travel blog from a given city or country.

Also, one more thing to keep in mind is that Alexa data is not considered reliable (by them) on websites with less than 1,000 monthly unique visitors.

Increase Alexa Ranking And Accuracy

You can increase your Alexa ranking ever so slightly yourself by installing the Alexa toolbar. It’s a bit bulky in most browser windows but since it’s used by Alexa to track surfing habits; every time you open up your travel blog it’s a mini boost for your site. When it comes to location information though you’re better off referring to Google Analytics for that data; it integrates nicely with these 13 recommended plugins.

Finally, aside from how neat it is to know where your readers are coming from, it can help you tailor your posts, be an idea for specific guest post requests, or be incentive to visit a city you might not have considered before.

[photo by: crystaljingsr (stick figure carrying globe)]

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One of the most effective methods of speeding up loading times on WordPress blogs is using the WP Super Cache plugin. This recommended WordPress plugin reduces the load on your blog’s database, making things much faster (and less of a strain on your web server). As effective as WP Super Cache is, it isn’t the most intuitive plugin to setup.

the flash

This simple overview of setting up WP Super Cache should take about 5-10 minutes from start to finish – and within a few minutes have your pages loading many times faster than they currently are. [Keep in mind this is meant as a guide and sites vary – as always, proceed with caution.]

A Quick Note On What Caching Is: On a travel blog without caching enabled, anytime a page is loaded your blog calls back to its database to fill in the blanks (e.g. posts, comments, sidebar widgets). The problem is that databases are very slow and create a bottleneck when there are more than a few connection to them. Caching, in short, stores a ready made page that is updated every hour, for example, instead of on each page load. That means faster page loading, although things like your sidebar and some widgets, aren’t as current.

Installing WP Super Cache

Begin by downloading the WP Super Cache plugin from WordPress’ official directory. Unzip the file and upload the entire “wp-super-cache” folder to your WordPress plugins directory (e.g. yoursite.com/wp-content/plugins). Once all of the files are uploaded, you can begin configuring the plugin to cache your site and compress the images on your blog (something WordPress doesn’t currently do).

download wp super cache

Recommended Settings For WP Super Cache

I’d recommend setting up and starting WP Super Cache during a non-busy time for your site, in case there is any down time along the way. Late at night on the weekends is generally the ideal time for most travel blogs. Now that you’ve got your cup of coffee ready, let’s begin by understanding what each of the recommended options on WP Super Cache really do.

  • Once you activate the WP Super Cache plugin, visit the admin page under your WordPress “Settings” list.

You can go use the simple setup under the “Easy” tab but that doesn’t allow WP Super Cache to take advantage of all its features. Go to the “Advanced” tab and begin with the following.

  • Cache hits to this website for quick access – This actually enables caching of your travel blog and without it makes WP Super Cache essentially useless.

wp super cache settings

Use mod_rewrite To Serve Cache Files

This option intimidates many users since it requires the use and modification of a .htaccess file. However, since it allows the plugin to bypass your database, it has more impact on lowering page-load times that the other options.

  • Verify Your .htaccess File – It will be in the root directory of your WordPress blog. By default it’s a hidden file most FTP programs aren’t configured to see, so be sure to enable “view hidden files”.
  • If The .htaccess File IS There – Make sure it’s writable by your server [777 permission].
  • If The .htaccess File IS NOT There – WordPress can create one for you if you change your permalink structure for better SEO results (if you haven’t already) or you can just upload a blank text document to your WordPress root. Once it’s there, rename it to .htaccess.

Once you get the .htaccess file setup, WP Super Cache should automatically update the file for use with the plugin. Make sure to click Update Status > Update Mod Rewrite Rules to complete the process.

Other Suggested WP Super Cache Settings

Instead of checking off all of these settings and clicking save, enable them one at a time so you can pinpoint any particular ones if they give your site trouble.

  • Compress Pages So They’re More Quickly Served To Visitors – This makes your cached pages smaller (mostly by compressing images) and is recommended unless you’ve already enabled GZIP compression (which is unlikely for most WordPress users).
  • Don’t Cache Pages For Known Users – Caching ensures elements of a page, like sidebar widgets, aren’t updated on each page load for visitors. Clicking this setting disables caching for you and other registered users so you always see freshly updated blog pages.
  • Cache Rebuild – Shows cached pages even when new versions of that page are being created.
  • Mobile Device Support – Enables caching for users viewing your site from portable devices like iPhones.

You might not notice an immediate effect on your travel blog, mostly due to the fact that it takes some time for WP Super Cache to generate the first batch of cached pages for your site.

More Useful WP Super Cache Features And Options

WP Super Cache is a very versatile plugin that can be highly customized for your particular site. Here are some of the other common settings to take a look at.

Expiry Time & Garbage Collection – You can specify how long a page will be cached for before it’s updated – this time also specifies how often old cache files should be cleaned up. For very busy traffic blogs 1800 is a good setting, for all others stick with 3600.

wp super cache expiry

Accepted Filenames & Rejects URIs – Any types of pages you don’t want cached can be specified here. Unless there’s an element of your site that you feel must be updated in real-time, leave these blank. Directly below this option you can specify any particular pages you want to omit from caching.

wp super cache accepted file names

Lockdown – For those times you’re anticipating extremely high traffic, like being mentioned in the New York Times, “lockdown” mode disables cache refreshes on pages when they get new comments. Under normal circumstances you probably want people to see new comments as they appear but for extreme cases (e.g. Digg) you want them to at least see your site. Be sure to disable Lockdown mode after traffic to your site returns to normal.

wp super cache lockdown

Faster Loading Time, Less Down Time

Page loading time is an important factor used by Google to determine Pagerank but more importantly the first few second that make or break your site’s relationship with new readers. Site’s that take more than a few seconds to load are abandoned by the majority of people online who are quick to move on and never return. Later this month I’ll expand on this topic, showing you several ways to speed up your travel blog, but if you’re using WordPress, WP Super Cache is an excellent place to start.

[photos by: Thomas Duchnicki (The Flash)]

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