It’s the new year and high on everyone’s resolutions is to improve their blog. Mine is five years old now* and I’ve been designing web sites for even longer. I’ve seen things change over the years and I know what works and what doesn’t because I’ve tried it all. That having been said, here is my advice for you.
* I started it in 2008 with the name Shibuya Daze but it wasn’t until 2012 that I got serious about blogging and transferred my old posts to The HoliDaze.
Plugins You Should Already Have
The usefulness of these first couple plugins have been documented times countless times before and therefore for the purpose of this article I will assume you already have them and not discuss them in great detail. If by some chance however you do not, install them now:
Now The Plugins You Need
If you think of any additions to this list then don’t forget to mention them in the comments below.
This plugin is a MUST! We all know page load speed is an important factor, especially since it contributes to your Google search ranking. People like sites that load fast and this plugin does exactly that.
For the purpose of this post I recently deactivated W3 Total Cache for a few days. Rather than list a bunch of boring technical numbers, just look at this graph of my blog load times below. It speaks for itself.
The one and only downside to this plugin is that it can be a little overwhelming to anyone who is not technically savvy. Luckily there is a “toggle all types of caching” option, just use this if unsure what to do. The plugin will configure everything and let you know if any errors arise.
All the tech geeks out there will love the extent of configuration settings possible. Pictured above is only the general overview. Each setting page has a full range of in-depth options to customize your site and achieve optimal performance.
Photos are a key part of travel blogging, especially large, vivid ones. The only downside is that frequently these can have huge file sizes, even when re-sized prior to uploading. Plus since WordPress automatically makes several different sizes of every photo uploaded, in reality there are five photos on your servers for every one you upload. Over time that really adds up.
Before discovering this plugin I used to manually compress my .jpg and .png images using a Windows program. It worked well but was a lot more time-consuming. Doing it prior to upload also means that only the original file is compressed, not the re-sized versions that WordPress generates and saves.
Smush.it runs in the background and automatically does it thing without you having to worry about it. It’s even possible to smush (compress) all of the old photos already on your blog as well.
Send email only on Reply to My Comment
Reader engagement is pivotal in developing a successful travel blog. WordPress comments are great but they lack one key thing: comment response notification. The only option is to check the “notify me of follow-up comments via email” which sure, will email you when your comment receives a response — however it will also email you every single time a new comment gets added. This is very annoying and therefore almost no one actually subscribes to all comments.
Because of this some bloggers have switched to 3PD commenting systems such as Disqus, IntenseDebate, and LiveFyre. While I won’t get into the upsides and downsides of these plugins here, I will say that switching over is not always a seamless process. Plus after posting about this to the Global Bloggers Network I learned that a surprising number of people actually hate these 3PD commenting systems for a variety of different reasons.
The easiest, quickest, and most effective solution is to use this plugin, which adds an email notification option to the comment field allowing individuals to subscribe to responses to their comments and nothing else.
Since installing this I’ve noticed a HUGE increase in the number of follow-up comments I’ve received. But even if people choose not to leave another comment at least this way they receive a copy of my response in their inbox. (I comment on people’s blogs daily but have no idea how many of them actually respond to me because I don’t subscribe to all comments.)
jQuery Pin It Button For Images
It’s no secret that Pinterest spiked in popularity during 2013. During a recent survey in the USA 21% of people said that they use Pinterest, compared to only 18% for Twitter. Growth is steady and expected to continue. As such it only makes sense to make your blog Pinterest-friendly, even if you do not use the site yourself.
There are several Pinterest-themed plugins however this one works flawlessly, is the most highly reviewed and has a variety of extra options, including selective targeting via a range of options (posts, pages, categories, all images, selected only, classes, etc) and custom Pin It compatibility. As long as you have watermarked your photos, might as well let others pin them and generate a fresh source of traffic. This is especially true for newbie photographers because some of those iconic shots get re-pinned countless times.
Your database is the brain of your blog so please do not neglect it — keep it optimized and running at peak efficiency! This plugin covers everything from spam comments to post revisions and even includes a weekly schedule option for those short on time. (I do believe that would be most all of us, no?)
There are plenty of other useful WordPress plugins for travel bloggers but these are definitely five of the most important ones.