≡ Menu

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)]


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.


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)]


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)]


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.


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)]


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”.


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)]


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)]


Scroll down the sidebar of many a travel blog and you’re likely to see a number of 80 pixel blog widgets hanging out in a small cluster. You may also have some on your travel blog, wonder what they’re for, and ask yourself are blog ranking widgets worth displaying on your site. Blog ranking widgets are a trade off between traffic, Pagerank, loading times and a decision you’ll have to weigh carefully to get the right balance.

blog ranking widget blog rank widget

What Are Blog Ranking Widgets?

Blog ranking widgets, which look a lot like the images above, are visual links back to ranking lists. Many of them often include your site’s rank in the widget as well, announcing your clout to the world. They also typically have “follow” links (here’s how external links work) going back to the front page of the list.

all travel sites

The Ranking Pagerank Cycle

All of those incoming links back to the list from the front pages of travel blogs gives many ranking sites a very high Google Pagerank. The front page of many of the ranking sites usually have the top 10, 20, or 50 sites (as many as possible without hurting Pagerank) so scoring a spot is good for your travel blog. How these sites actually rank their lists varies, although many of them base your score on your Pagerank itself, creating a little loop of reciprocal ranked links.

Disadvantages Of Blog Ranking Widgets

One of the main drawbacks of these widgets is that you don’t get to control the code of the widget itself. (Of course you can modify it but doing so hurts you blog rank.) That can slow down how fast your site loads as the widget calls out to the ranking site to update you numbers and serve up that little widget image. With one or two widgets you won’t notice this effect much but that more you add the bigger a problem it becomes. Now you’re sacrificing loading time, a key factor in determining Pagerank for Google, and one of the most important metrics for keeping readers.

A Balancing Act

Initially, when your travel blog is on the new side, you can display these widgets in hopes of increasing your Pagerank. Once they begin to affect your loading time negatively though it’s time to remove them. Using tools like Pingdom, Website Optimization, or UpTrends it will be easy to determine the specific load time of each widget. Remember, each time your page loads, the longer it takes (i.e. more than 5 seconds) the exponentially greater chance that you’ll miss out on a reader sticking around long enough to discover your travel blog.

In fact gaining links for your blog, finding a niche, and fast load times are infinitely much more effective ways of developing an audience and establishing Pagerank on a successful travel blog.


Last week, guest poster Ant Stone shared how to gain (legitimate) links for your travel blog. During the course of conversation in the comments, Heather asked why people continue to leave spam comments, if links in comments are by default “no follow”. There are actually a few reasons these comments still appear on your blog posts despite the apparent futility of doing so.

can of spam

blue robotsMeet The Bots

Most spam comments on you travel blog, or any blog for that matter, are not left by human beings but rather “bots”. Short for “robot”, a bot is a computer program that performs a function in place of a person. In this case those bots are programmed to leave comments on blogs…and not just one or two blogs.

Thousands upon thousands of them – a number much higher than even a team of humans could (or want) to do in a single day. Setting up a bot, or several machines running bots to leave spam comments is a trivial matter for even an amateur programmer. Once up and running those bots can run day and night leaving comments wherever they’re programmed to do so.

Low Cost High Yield

Spamming is a cheap business to get into. Sending out thousands of spam comments via a bot is relatively inexpensive and can be done with no more equipment than the average Internet user has at their disposal. Sure, more of their efforts are for naught, most people filter, block, and delete spam messages. It’s the small percentage that don’t which make the difference. In small quantities, that tiny percentage (e.g. 0.5%) means nothing, but if you’re sending out hundreds of thousands of spam comments – now you’ve got something.

one can of spamWhat The Annoying-Commenting-Bot-Spammers Are After

There is some debate about whether or not Google actually makes use of “no follow” links, and while they’re not used in determining Pagerank, they aren’t completely ignored. No follow links are part of Google’s method of mapping out the Internet and even spam comments can help build a solid road back to questionable sites.

  • Many spam comments also have affiliate links within them.
  • Commercial spam sites and booking engines may profit in sales to visitors from your travel blog.
  • Spam links can often contain malicious links, leading to viruses or password leaks.

You may be thinking, who would fall for spam in 2010? The vast majority of web users don’t but all it takes is a single person to make the minimal cost of spamming worth it. Nothing to lose and everything to gain is why comment and email spam persists, despite the incredibly low success rate.

riot policeHow To Handle And Reduce Comment Spam

One of my 13 recommended WordPress plugins for travel blogs, Spam Karma, does a good job of identifying spam. Spam Karma needs a little extra attention when you first start using it as it learns what spam is and isn’t. After the initial few days and weeks Spam Karma is quite adept and I use it on all of my blogs as does Chris The Aussie Nomad.

  • Spam Karma works best when you clear out moderated comments soon after their caught by the filter.

Askimet, a plugin that comes built-in to each new WordPress install, is a spam filter that uses a sort of social network to accept or reject comments. Blog comments are submitted back to the Askimet web service which runs comparative tests against them, ultimately approving or denying the comment. It’s called a must-have plugin by Gourmantic and does an excellent job of filtering spam with little user interaction.

More Ways To Combat Spam

Depending on the amount of spam you get (or at least the level of headache it creates for you) it may be time to consider putting up more hoops for the bots to jump through on each comment. These tactics will at least filter out the less intelligent ones but keep in mind spam is always evolving.

  • CAPTCHA – There are several plugins for WordPress that can add CAPTCHAs to your comment forms like Simple CAPTCHA and SI CAPTCHA.
  • WP Captcha Free – Using computer hashes is an effective way to automatically filter out most comment spam.

Of course the more barriers you implement against comment spam, the more you increase your chances of discouraging legitimate commenters. There is also the matter or determining what is actually comment spam. Many messages themselves can be difficult to discern, especially when the commenter name is linked back to Mary From Cheap Tickets. One thing is for sure though, comment spam – and spam in general – isn’t going anywhere. In all likelihood the spammers will keep modifying their techniques so they can annoy, scam, and spam us for virtually free.

[photos by: janetgalore (can of SPAM), Warm n’ Fuzzy (blue robots), jbcurio (one can of SPAM), Thomas Hawk (riot police)]


Ant Stone is a traveling freelance writer (or a writing freelance traveler, depending on how much sleep he gets). He’s the creator of struggling travel blog, Trail of Ants and When in Wellington, and he welcomes you to follow him around Wellington, New Zealand or on Twitter. You can also check out his previous guest post on Travel Blog Advice, How To Make The Most Out Of Your Link Page.

zelda link

Links, links, links. For the self-contained blogger, gaining inbound links can be a tedious bore, or an exploration of new ideas. The fact is: if you want to increase the number of unique visitors to your website, you need to provide plenty of entry points.

garden pathThink of your blog as a home. It’s full of beautiful and interesting things, the corners need a bit of a clean but the windows are gleaming. Now think of inbound links as the threshold. A clear divide between the inside and outside of your home.

The aim of the blogging game, is to get people over the threshold and into your home (where they’ll nick all your best furniture, but hopefully comment on how nice your curtains are).

So how do we get them up to the threshold? We create an attractive garden path. How? We build it, with comments.

Are Comments Backlinks?

There’s a certain amount of, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” when it comes to link exchanges. They’re a good way to notch some backlinks, but you should be diversifying your link strategy.

Comment threads are undoubtedly one of the most popular ways to do this. Very few blogs go without comment threads, and very few comment authors don’t link out to their website.

bloggers love commentsContrary to popular belief, simply leaving a boney little comment on a blog post isn’t very powerful in terms of direct search engine benefit. WordPress comment threads are mostly classified “nofollow” by default (“nofollow” is a value added to a hyperlink which tells Google’s search spiders to ignore that individual link.) Therefore, from a purely SEO (search engine optimisation) perspective, the link is a loss-leader.

The reason WordPress do this is simple: if they didn’t, hairy-backed spammers would flood your comment thread (more than they already do) in order to boost their own performance in the SERP (search engine results page). The I Follow campaign has made inroads on this issue, and raises some good argument, but in my opinion the “nofollow” filter does much more good than harm.

(Of course, as with everything Internet related, it’s all subject to opinion. Many people ardently believe “nofollow” is a myth, and that Google does in fact index these links. The jury’s still out for me.)

If you’re looking for fresh readers, comments are just about the easiest way to attract them. They can give readers a taste of your style, your beliefs, and your wit and wisdom. As a blog author, you should be making a concerted effort to leave high quality and relevant comments as these are the trail of crumbs which will lead readers up your garden path, and into your ‘home’.

But always ensure quality.

Leaving ten insightful comments on ten blogs is far more powerful than one hundred weak comments on one hundred blogs; because the aim of the comment-game is to secure click-throughs.

Simply stating: “That’s a great post” will earn you very little appeal, and for most blog readers it’s obvious that it’s a misguided attempt to draw readers in. Consider something more akin to: “That’s a great post. I really liked the way you covered the topic of INSERT TOPIC, I wrote a post about it last month called INSERT ANCHOR and LINK.”

This intrigues readers, and will often lead them to your website or blog, and increase the number of unique visitors, which will boost your reputation with Google.

t-bag travel blog directoryBlog Directories

Blog directories are another solid and simple way to earn a high number of inbound links with a little legwork. Most link pages don’t pack much of a punch in terms of SEO benefit, but if you’re on a lot of them, then you get a ‘lot of little’ punches. Better than nothing? Yes.

If you’re struggling to attract links from these style of pages, but you’re running a decent blog (i.e. you’re not a spam merchant) then it’s perfectly acceptable to just ask outright. Every now and then someone will get on their high horse and curtail you for ever dreaming of asking them for a link but in my experience, bloggers are accepting and love to engage with new bloggers.

What’s A Good Link?

Reciprocal links (you link me, I’ll link you) are OK for your reputation with Google, but really, they’re just a drop in the iOcean. What you really want is full-on link fornication, and that comes in a number of ways.

silver linksGuest posts are a great way to achieve link love from the Big G, because they (should) include a link back to your website or blog. A link from the main body of a good domain is worth a lot (you don’t think I’m writing for Anil out of pure love, do you?), and this is a tactic you’ll hear a lot more of over the next 12 months as Google algorithms develop to combat shortcuts.

  • A popular feature among travel bloggers include posts which feature the author’s favorite blogs, or posts of the week. Scoring a spot on these is a good, quick way to score some link love, and the only way to achieve this is to create good, engaging content. Prove you’re worth the link, and the link will prove you’re worth it.

Similarly, incentivising web creators to include a link to your blog will do wonders. A good example of this is Gran Tourismo’s popular travel writing competition. They offer excellent prizes, which naturally attracts a healthy number of entrants. One of their primary goals is to attract traffic, which boosts exposure for their major sponsors.
grantourismo screenshotMany of their entrants are good travel writers. Good writers’ blogs have built up natural respect, and tend to command good authority with Google, therefore one link from them is worth two in the bush.

Where Lara and Terry (Gran Tourismo’s editors) really score, is the high quality backlinks which stream in from within the premier zone of blogger’s sites (their pages and posts) as appose to crowded links pages which Google takes less notice of.

They make it a condition of entry for entrants to include those backlinks in the posts, and insist they tweet about it and leave a comment on their monthly competition thread.

Premium backlink + viral social media + regular comments. The result? Google begins to love their website, which gives them more exposure. The roiling SEO benefits created by the incentive will ensure their blog reaches, and remains in the upper echelons of the SERPs and the best part is, it’s so so simple to achieve. (Although, granted, a ¬£500 incentive does help to get things moving).

It’s a case of giving people a natural reason to like you. Talking of natural affinity, Google owns Blogger, and therefore they do seem to give more authority to their domains, so scoring an incoming link from this popular platform is conceivably better than say, a WordPress blog.

woman grossed outWhat’s A Bad Link?

If you put outbound links on your website or blog that lead to less credible websites (porn, spam, notorious text link ads etc.) then you’ll be given a clip round the ankles by Google, and slapped with a decrease in authority (i.e. you’ll be given the keys to that flat in Peckham).

A tumbling authority (which includes, but is not exclusive to PageRank) is like a spare pair of hiking boots in your backpack. You neither need, nor want it.

Also, don’t be a ‘link whore’ by accepting every random request for a link exchange. Make sure they’re relevant to the travel genre and that the link recipient is good quality. Linking out to a bad website is akin to walking into a Scottish pub in an England football shirt. No one will thank you for it (and you might get a good shoeing.)

I get a small number of submissions to the T-Bag Travel Blog Directory from companies looking to exploit the purity of the page. In my opinion, if a company wants me to endorse their product or service, I need to be assured that they’re a brand I want to be associated with, and naturally, writing is my job, so I might want paying for the privilege.

But equally important as link strategy, is a solid content strategy (something I’ve never mastered!) Content is unequivocally the key. If you build a website or blog that features genuine, high quality and engaging content and leave a good enough trail, then the readers will come pouring over the threshold and right into your front room.

What’s your link strategy? Do you even have one? What’s your incentive to leave comments on other blogs, and what’s worked for you in attracting them?

[photos by: Dunechaser (Link from Zelda), v1ctory_1s_m1ne (garden path), miss miah (bloggers love comments), Jimby K (silver links), Lloyd Doppler (woman grossed out)]


You can boil down Google’s Pagerank system into an analogy of the Italian mafia and use it to increase your standing in the eyes of the ultimate boss – Google itself. Many travel bloggers complicate what Pagerank is, which can cause frustration and delay your page’s move up the ranks. Understanding the system makes it much easier to become a part of the network and a “friend of ours”.

don corleone

Meet Don Google

Think of Google as the “Godfather” of an online mafia, which uses a vouching system to determine who it can trust and who it can’t. Your links are vouches, a travel blog’s displays of trust, visible back up to the boss.

  • A big part of how external links work are “follow” and “no follow” links.
  • “Follow” links are the only ones Google uses to create it’s map of the Internet – “no follow” links are ignored.
  • Sure there are other search engines out there, but Google controls more than 70% of the global search market.

Almost all links are “follow” by default so anyone you link out to is used by the search engine to develop its trust map. Keep in mind that the vouches are specific, in the sense that rank is is given to individual pages based on keywords like “traveling with teenagers.”

Higher Rank, More Trust

men talkingNot all links are created equal. Much like the movie mafia, the more trusted you are, the more weight your words of assurance will have. That’s the basic principal, the more rank a page has, the greater impact a link from that page will have on the other site.

  • Importance Of Relevance – Linking out to completely unrelated niches or using a pattern of unusual keywords like “playing poker online” stands out and reduces your site’s value in the eyes of Godfather Google.
  • Pagerank Isn’t Everything – The placement of incoming links (whether in text or on a sidebar) are part of Google’s algorithm and the reason corporate guest posts are so interested in contextual links.

It takes time to move up the ranks and older sites tend to be more trusted by Google. Ideally you want quality incoming links from sites with higher Pagerank to your homepage and any keywords you may be targeting. That said, any links have some value for your site.

sopranos photo exhibitVouching For Everyone – Why Links Pages Don’t Typically Rank

Links pages are good ways to get links for your travel blog, since they announce to the world you’re keen for exchanges. These pages don’t typically earn any Pagerank however since they give out too much trust. In the mafia you can’t trust the person who trusts everyone and that’s a bit how links pages are. They give out trust to everyone, which is why Google doesn’t give them much clout.

  • Homepages Are Valuable – Many companies try to work their way up in the system by muscling their way on to your homepage, where typically your highest Pagerank is. Limit the number of external links coming out from your homepage and be choosy as to who you add there.
  • Make The Most Out Of Your Link Page – There are ways to have ranked links pages.

While you can have many associates (i.e. your links page) be selective about whom you want to recommend to the boss. You can accomplish this by limiting the number of outgoing (follow) links on a given page. It’s easy to give out a link and say you trust someone, but what are you willing to do for them? Would you add a description, link to them in a post, or perhaps make them one of a few on a travel links page?

money grabTrust Goes Both Ways

Money talks and there are a number of companies who try to gain Google’s trust by buying your good word. Selling text links is against Google’s code and you should be careful who you link out to no matter how much they may pay you.

  • Getting Whacked – Link out to spammy sites or try to overtly manipulate the system and Google can reduce your Pagerank or worse – completely de-index you.
  • Don’t Forget Your Followers Too – As Gourmantic notes, people generally hate vague links. Use descriptive links to build trust with your audience too.

Linking to spam or irrelevant sites is akin to introducing an FBI informant to a mafia family. You’re now vouching for that link which isn’t worth a dime and making the Godfather look bad. If that happens, guess who’s going to be penalized?

What Pagerank Gets You

Pagerank doesn’t necessarily mean your travel blog or blog posts will always be the first result of a given search. Nor does my mafia analogy mean it’s a bad, corrupt, or unscrupulous system. It’s just an easy way to understand what’s at work and how Google tries to build and rank trust with all of the sites on the Internet (most of whom it doesn’t know personally!)

Higher Pagerank means (in basic terms) that Google trusts your site and places more value on the recommendations (aka. links) you give out. Sites with higher Pagerank also tend to get indexed frequently and scrutinized under a closer lens by the big boss. Don’t obsess over Pagerank, understand that it’s a trust and value system. By making your travel blog a useful website within your niche you’ll naturally gain authority, moving up the Google (Page)ranks.

[photos by: shaun wong (Don Corleone), Nfoka (men talking), vasta (Sopranos photo exhibit), Steve Wampler (money grab)]