What You'll Find On This Page
The Comprehensive Guide to SEO for Travel Blogs
Chances are if you have a travel blog, your goal is to get as many people reading it as possible. You can (and should) post your articles to Reddit, Twitter, and Stumbleupon; however, after a day, it falls off of readers’ newsfeeds and your articles are more-or-less gone from memory. Your traffic probably looks something like this:
The spike in traffic is good, but what you really want is consistent growth. You want a constant stream of new readers finding your material day-after-day. What you really want is traffic that looks like this:
So how do you get that? The key is to create articles that can be easily found on search engines like Google and Bing. This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and it is the single most important tool you have for marketing your travel blog. SEO is a huge topic, and there is enough information to fill a book (or 1,600 books, according to Amazon). In this article, I will show you the most important steps to optimize your travel blog for search engines. If you want to learn more, check out the list of resources recommended at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: Setup Google Analytics
If there is one tool you absolutely need to understand to have a successful travel blog, it’s Google Analytics. Adding analytics to your blog can tell you things like:
- Which sites send you the best traffic?
- Which visitors are most likely to subscribe to your email list?
- Which keywords have the highest engagement?
- Which articles have the lowest bounce rate?
How you set up analytics depends on what service you use to host your blog. Find your blogging platform below for a step-by-step guide to setting up Google Analytics:
Once Google Analytics is installed, your website will automatically start monitoring the traffic to your website. This data is incredibly valuable and can be used to optimize your posts for subscriptions or brainstorm content idea. This is another huge topic we don’t have time to cover in this article, but EveryGirl has a great guide for beginners.
Step 2: Optimize Your Blog for Search Engines
Before your articles are ever shown on Google, your page needs to be crawled by a spider called Googlebot in order to be indexed. Yes, spider and crawl are technical terms. GoogleBot (the “spider”) is a program Google created to read (“crawl”) websites in order to determine the meaning of a page. Once a website is crawled, it gets stored (“indexed”) in Google so that it can be shown to users searching through Google. When someone searches Google, it displays the most relevant and trusted websites that it thinks will answer the search question. Studies show that the top 4 results on Google receive 65% of all clicks, so making sure Google correctly understands your post could mean a difference of thousands more users to your site.
Google uses many different techniques to understand the meaning of a page, but the most important elements are listed below.
Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Page titles are shown at the top of every browser page, but more importantly, they’re what Google displays as its main search result. Google uses the page title as the primary indicator when determining what a page is about, so make sure it includes any article keywords. You want your page to stand-out on Google, so do some research on competing articles and make sure that your title is both different and compelling. Meta descriptions are what is shown below the page title which describes the contents of the page. These two items are the most important factors in determining your click through rate (CTR), or the percentage of users that click your link when it shows up on Google.
Page titles should be:
- Unique and intriguing
- Contain keywords near the front of the title
- Between 50 and 70 characters
Meta descriptions should be:
- A unique description of the pages content (do not duplicate)
- Between 100 and 150 characters
- Contain keywords for the page (these are bolded in search results)
Google recommends using short, human-readable URLs for an article. This helps Googlebot understand what a page is about. Clear URLs are more trusted by potential readers. If a post gets shared on Facebook, http://www.chasingthedonkey.com/increase-blog-traffic-travel-bloggers/ is much more likely to get clicked and than http://www.chasingthedonkey.com/page/AIER87341jJFS?ref=teset?sloppy=true?sketchy=yes.
Article URLs should:
- Be short and descriptive
- Contain the primary article keywords
- Use dashes “-“ instead of underscores “_”
Header Tags (H1 and H2)
Header tags are common HTML elements (e.g. <h1>Title</h1>) used to designate different sections of an article. H1 tags are typically the title of the article. If your blog post is a book, the H1 tag is the title of your book, and the H2 tags are the chapter names. Google reads these tags like a table of contents to determine the meaning of a page, so it’s important that these tags contain the keywords you are targeting.
Header Tag best practices:
- Only one H1 tag per page
- H1 tag should include main keywords of the page
- H2 tags should contain secondary keywords of the page
High-quality graphics are a great way to improve the quality of an article to a reader. On the flip-side, pixelated clip art makes a page look unprofessional. Similarly, with search engines, images can significantly help or hurt your rankings, depending on how they are used. There are three essential things you need to remember about images.
Optimize Image Size so Pages Load Faster
Images need to be properly resized and compressed, and if you are simply uploading photos directly to your blog you could be adding huge files onto the page. Google rewards pages that load fast and punishes the pages that load slowly. This is especially important for mobile traffic. Images are often the most costly thing to a page regarding speed, so improving your page speed could be the difference of thousands of visitors each month. Google’s Page Speed Tool is great for finding the images that need the most work. Even Nomadic Matt, arguably the biggest travel blogger in the world, could benefit from improving his images:
So how do you do that? First, make sure the images are properly resized, to begin with. If an image is going to be displayed 500 pixels wide, you should make sure that the image is actually 500 pixels. If your image is 1000px wide and shrunk to 500px by your theme, you’re going to get dinged. Second, you need to make sure the image is properly compressed for website. The easiest way to do that is compress your image with TinyPNG. Image compressors like these can bring a huge file down to a manageable size with very little change in quality.
Properly Name Images and Always Include Alt Tags
So far we’ve only talked about showing up on Google Search results. But what about Google Image results…
Believe it or not, Google Image results are a fantastic way to drive traffic. They are especially important for travel bloggers, particularly when writing destination-specific articles. Imagine how people many search for images of Bangkok each month: hundreds of thousands. Wouldn’t it be nice if even a fraction of those people read your article?
In order to show up in Google Image results, you need to make sure Google understands what each image is about. It looks at two attributes to figure this out, the file name and the alt tag. Your file names should be short, and accurately describe the image. Similar to URLs, you should make sure to replace all spaces in a filename with a dash “-“
Alt attributes are additional pieces of information you can (should) provide Google about each image. They should be complete sentences, nd accurately describe the picture. Try to keep them to around 16 words long. Alt attributes are added to the image HTML like:
<img src=”http://www.websites/image.jpg” alt=”Increase Blog Traffic |Increase Blog Traffic Travel Bloggers – 3 Travel Bloggers Tips“>
Most blog platforms make it very easy to add image alt attributes directly from the image upload screen.
Step 3: Build Links and Your Domain Authority
When determining what results to show, Google looks at two factors: relevancy (how well a site answers the search question), and authority (the strength of a site’s reputation). So far, we only looked at improving relevancy by making sure Google understands the purpose of our articles. Equally important is making sure Google views us as an authoritative, important source of information.
So how does Google measure authority? I’ll use an analogy to explain. Google groups websites like neighborhoods. Wikipedia is a good neighborhood, so if they link to you, Google assumes you are also a nice, respected website. If you are linked from a site that contains malware, Google knows you are in a bad neighborhood and punishes your site in their rankings. KissMetric gives a good definition of a bad neighborhood:
- Bad Links – If you see any links to what is known in the SEO world as negative PPC – pills, porn, or casinos – then get out of that neighborhood ASAP.
- Too Many Links – When it comes to any page on a website, there should be a bigger ratio of content to links. The page shouldn’t be 90% links, 10 % regular content.
- Spam – Sometimes, even though there are not too many links or bad links, there are still pages that have a disproportionate amount of spam on their pages. It may be to seemingly innocent sites, but chances are if no one is moderating the spam, the bad links are bound to come next.
- Over Abundance of Ads – Google, ironically a distributor of ads via their own Adsense system, has been cracking down on sites that are more ads than content. Just like a page shouldn’t be 90% links, it shouldn’t be 90% ads either.
- Poorly Written Content – This one is a little harder to spot, but if you are trying to place content on a site, and you see that the articles are poorly written, then you probably don’t want your content next to it. It’s a sign of sites that may be using “spun” content where someone takes one piece of work and uses software to replace a lot of words to make it seem original.
The best measure of a website’s reputation is its Domain Authority. The higher a website’s domain authority, the more valuable a link to your blog is. The goal of link building is to get as many high authority websites linking to your blog as possible. This is very much a quality over quantity thing. Getting one link on a website with 70 domain authority is more valuable than 100 links from websites with a domain authority of 10.
Quick Tangent: Nofollow Links
Before you start posting your blog links all over the web, you need to understand that not all links will help your domain authority. In order to prevent people from spamming, Google invented what is called a nofollow link. Nofollow links tell Google’s crawler to ignore this link when calculating authority. It is not worth spending time building nofollow links as they have no direct benefit for SEO. As Wordstream put it, “Nofollow links get no love. Theirs is a sad and lonely life.”
The best way to check if a link is nofollow is to right-click it, then select ‘inspect’ from the dropdown menu. This will show you the HTML of the link, which you can use to see if a link is nofollow:
<a href=”http://www.website.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>
Note: This will not work on our site because we have security measures in place to prevent right-clicking (thanks to so many dirty thieves who kept stealing our content)
Common nofollow links are:
- Links in comments on blog posts (this can be good for networking, but does not benefit you for SEO)
- Links in YouTube video descriptions or comments
- Links on WikiPedia or Wikitravel pages
- Links on pages that require logins (GoogleBot can’t login to anything)
So how can you build links that actually help your domain authority? Here are the most common ways:
Get Recommended by Other Travel Blogs
Many travel blogs have a “resources” or “partners” page on their blog where they link to other travel blogs they recommend. Find travel blogs of a similar size and ask them if they’d like to partner. Offer to link to each other’s blogs. If you’re just getting started, don’t expect the big travel blogs to link to you. Start small, and work your way up. Facebook Travel Blog Groups have weekly link exchanges and are a great way to find potential partners.
Guest Post on Blogs or Write for Travel Publications
A great way to build links is to write content for other blogs or publications. This allows you to leverage someone’s existing audience and exposure your personal brand to hundreds of new users. Before you begin this process, you should have at least 10 quality articles on your blog.
Finding Your Target Blogs or Publications
Guest posting on other blogs is a great way to build your audience early on. Like I mentioned earlier, Facebook Travel Blogging Groups are a great way to find blogs to guest post on. Once you have been blogging for a few months, you’re in a position to try and get published on professional travel publications.
The first step is to develop a list of blogs or publications you want to target. For publications, these can be general travel magazines (e.g. Travel & Leisure), or destination specific (e.g. a magazine about Croatia). Here is a list of some big publications to get you started:
- Matador Network
- Budget Travel
- Condé Nast Traveler
- Global Traveler
- The Travel Detective
- The Travel Magazine
- Travel & Tour World
- Travel + Leisure
- Travel Weekly
Next, you need to find out who to contact. For blogs, this is the blog owner. For publications, you need to find out who the editors are. Track these in a spreadsheet, with their names, social media accounts, and contact information.
Craft Your Pitch
Next, it’s time to pitch them an article. Remember, these editors are very busy and you’re not the only one sending them pitches. These publications are businesses, and it is the editor’s job to find articles that will drive the most traffic to their site. If you can write a story that their users enjoy, you just made their life easier.
I suggest reading Vagabundo’s guide on developing a pitch. At a high level, your pitch should include:
- A personal introduction
- Your qualifications
- Links to writing samples
- The idea
- Thank you
The more you stress how your article will help their readers, the better. Do not copy and paste the same pitch for every editor. This is the quickest way to get your e-mail deleted. You should research and understand the types of articles the publication usually posts before sending an e-mail.
Rinse and Repeat
You are going to get a lot of rejections. That’s life, don’t let it get to you. If the editor was kind enough to respond, use their feedback to improve your future pitches. Getting published is not easy, but it has the biggest payoff in terms of SEO and getting your name in front of potential readers.
Distribute Existing Articles
Whereas guest posting is writing unique content on other websites, this method involves getting other websites to link to existing articles on your blog. The benefit here that one blog post has the potential to generate multiple links to your site.
The key here is to write long-form, quality content for your blog, then send it to targeted publications in hopes that they share it. Ahref, a digital marketing company, has a great example on their outreach guide. Tim Soulo, the author, spent 5 days writing an article about the history of the New York skyline. He then sent links to relevant publications like a New York History blog and asked them to share it. Out of 8 e-mails, 3 different blogs with domain authority over 40 linked to his article on their websites.
Another great place to post your articles is TripHappy, an online travel guide. TripHappy allows travel bloggers to post high-quality articles directly to their travel guides. Travelers planning a trip will be able to see your blog posts and click through for more information.
(Disclosure: I work for TripHappy, that’s how I know they’re so great)
Step 4: Continue Learning – Additional Tools & Resources
That’s it! Well, not exactly. This article covered only the most critical components of SEO. Search engine optimization is an ever changing field, and something you will have to continue to work on as you grow as a blog. Below are my favorite tools and guides you can use to continue your education:
- Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO – Best Free SEO Guide I’ve Ever Found
- WordPress XML Sitemap Generator – Free plugin on WordPress to generate a sitemap for your site. Sitemaps are help Google more quickly index articles.
- Guide to Canonical URLs – Advanced topic, but very important if you have multiple versions of your website (e.g. www vs. non-www, or https vs. http)
- TinyPNG – Optimize Images for Free for Websites
- Google PageSpeed Test – Find What You Need to Do to Improve the Speed of Your Site
- A Guide to PR and Outreach – Great advice for crafting a pitch and link building
- Moz Open Site Explorer – Measure a websites Domain authority
Calvin Hawkes is the co-founder of the travel planning company TripHappy. He would love to hear from readers and answer any questions you might have. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.