SEO is probably one of the most mysterious aspects of travel blogging. A lot of guides out there focus on what you can do to improve your SEO game, but they often don’t highlight what you are doing wrong making it hard to target problem areas to fix them....
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It’s no secret that speeding up your site and taking seconds off your load time is a great way to boost your traffic and increase your ranking with Google. In fact, sites that load in three seconds or less retain 40% more viewers. There is a lot of information out there giving you ways to speed up your site. So, why am I writing another one? Well, because every single post I’ve read about speeding up your site is for generic cookie-cutter sites. But we are travel bloggers damnit, we don’t have cookie cutter sites, we have plugins, interactive maps, social media widgets, Instagram feeds and photo heavy posts. No one really tells you how to solve the problems that are outside the box or persist after you do the basic steps. That is where I step in to give you ways to speed up your site with specific advice for travel bloggers.
I’m going to be very honest with you, you might not like the information I give you since a lot of the things that slow your site down your site are free plugins, the theme you love and the widgets that highlight your twitter feed. After this post, it will be up to you to decide if you want to clean house and speed up your site or keep the bulky fun features. So, let’s get started on speeding up your travel blog website.
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- 1 Check Your Website Speed
- 2 The Three Kardashians of Site Speed
- 3 Further Site Speed Optimizations for your Travel Blog
- 3.1 4. Clean up Your Share Settings
- 3.2 5. Optimize Your Images
- 3.3 6. Think Critically About Your Widgets
- 3.4 7. Cache and Locally Host Your Gravatar
- 3.5 8. Cache Your Site
- 3.6 10. Clean Up Your Plugins
- 3.7 11. Gzip Your Site
- 3.8 12. Clean Up Your Database
- 3.9 13. Fix All Broken Links
- 3.10 14. Optimize Your Google Fonts
- 4 Trouble Shooting
Check Your Website Speed
Before we get started we need to test your website. There are 3 different tests for optimization and speed and they are Pingdom, Google Page Speed Insights (GPSI), and manually. The two important factors to look at are your overall score and requests made and the actual load time. Some of these test both and some will test one or the other.
Pingdom has a great UI, is speedy and my favorite to use. This not only gives you a letter grade performance score, but it tests your site speed. The great thing about Pingdom is that you can choose the location of where you test your site. If you’re located in Europe and you’re testing from Australia, you might have delays that aren’t related to anything other than cloud hosting. If you try several locations and there is a large difference in your score it might be a sign that you need to invest in cloud hosting or a CDN. I suggest testing where you’re located and where the majority of your readers are located.
Google Page Speed Insights (GPSI) will give you a score out of a 100 and some critical things you need to do to fix your site. This is great for beginners as it but it tells you very specific things to fix without a lot of analytical data, but on the downside, it does so without finding the root cause and it doesn’t actually test the speed.
I actually don’t like using GPSI all that much, but it seems most people obsess and stress over their score, so I like to talk about it. It is a good tool to test to see where major problem areas are, like specific images and script that are slowing down your site. BUT, sometimes these specific scripts and images can’t easily be optimized through not fault of your own and often these are Google’s own features like analytics and fonts. Plus I swear sometimes I test my site and it gets a score of 45 and others it gets 90. It’s a moody bitch. I like to remind people not to obsess over their GPSI score too much. Always use this in combination with Pingdom for a better look at how to improve.
Remember Google cares more about the actual site speed than they do the score they give you.
Manual testing. I’m a bit old school and I like to test things manually. To do this open your site in an incognito browser, or clear your cookies/cache and open a new browser. Type your website URL and as you hit enter start a timer and watch your screen closely. How long does it take for the swirl to stop indicating it has fully loaded? What was the last thing to show up on your website? What was the first? Write these things down and they will come in handy later.
After testing. It is important to screenshot or make note of your scores and time before we start. It’s always nice to see how much progress you can make! Your end goal is to get a load time under 3 seconds. Did you know that studies show that 40% of people leave a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load? Or that a one-second delay in page response can cause a 7% reduction in conversions? Think about that, if you can get your website to load in under 3 seconds you could potentially recoup 40% of your traffic that is being lost! On top of improving your website load time, we will also want to make sure you improve how your travel blog run and reduce the number of requests and optimize script issues.
The Three Kardashians of Site Speed
Originally, I was going to write about the 3 Musketeers of site speed, but then none of us FTB admins could think of the actual names and let’s be honest everyone knows the Kardashians, even if we don’t want to.
There are three main things you can do that may literally take seconds off your WordPress load time. I hesitated to invest in a few of these because they involved an overhaul or cost money and why would I spend money on a simple plugin that does EVERYTHING when I can install 7 free plugins that only do some things. #Logic
So I encourage you to spend a little extra money and effort to do these things if you’re serious about improving your site speed and they will have the biggest impact. I told you this wasn’t going to be easy and you were going to have to make some major overhauls and changes. After the 3 Ks of site speed optimization, we will go over all the little things that can add up to make an impact.
Sometimes the best way to go about this is to do numbers 4-14 and if you don’t see an improvement come back to 1-3.
1. Change Your Host to SiteGround (Kim)
If your site takes a looonnng time to load you probably have an issue with your hosting provider. When you test your site speed, look for a long server response time. You can also test your host’s speed at Bitcatcha. Changing hosts is one of the best things you can do for site speed. While there are dozens of hosts out there, and many of them are optimized for speed, SiteGround is by far your best hosting option if you want to optimize your site and speed things up while enjoying the comforts of amazing customer service, easy to use UI and great affiliate programs. They also offer several optimizing options that work with SiteGround, CloudFlare, and WordPress to bring you the speediest of service.
How fast are they? SiteGround was rated the fastest host for 2018 by the company that tests site speed all day every day.
When considering the SiteGround plan, I always suggest getting the 3-year plan if you are serious about blogging. The renewal price does go up after your expiration date, so make sure you are planning ahead to best suit your needs. Also, if you want to optimize your site to the max with the “Super Cacher” plugin (I’ll go over that in a minute) you will want to get the GrowBig or GoGeek plan, as this is included only in these last two plans.
After you’ve switched hosts to SiteGround, using our affiliate link, use their speedy and friendly customer service to help you get set up and ready to go on your new host. Then you’ll be ready to test your scores and site speed and see how things have changed.
Changing your host is the Kim K of WordPress optimization because she is the heaviest hitter and possibly the most influential (Kylie fans don’t hate me) BUT it doesn’t stop there, so let’s take about the added perks that Kim’s networking abilities bring to the table after purchasing SiteGround.
Optimizer Plugin “Super Cacher”
Now that you’ve got SiteGround installed and your website has been migrated properly it is time to install the SG Optimizer plugin, which only works if you have WordPress and SiteGround. Head over to your CPanel and look under “Site Improvement Tools,” install this plugin and set up “Super Cacher.” If you have the GrowBig or GoGeek plan you can optimize levels 1-3. If you have the basic plan you can only optimize level 1. Check the caching options you need, flush your cache and then test your site speed again.
With the purchase of SiteGround, you get a free CloudFare account. CloudFlare is a cloud-based content delivery network, meaning that all of your content is served from the cloud and no matter where people are located when they access your site it will load from their location rather than loading from where your host is located. This can be set up in your CPanel under “Site Improvement Tools.”
If you have WP Rocket (see below) make sure you go in and alter your settings to include this new CloudFlare account you’ve set up and you can get triple the optimization using WP Rocket, CloudFlare, and SiteGround.
2. Change to a Responsive Theme (Kourtney)
There have been some sites where I attempted to improve their site speed and even after I went through my toolbox at the end of the day their load time didn’t even move half a second and their theme and host were mostly to blame.
Additionally, a lot of themes aren’t updated properly to run with the latest version of WordPress, so it is important to buy a theme that is well known and created by a company that is going to always have the latest updates and service to ensure your theme and site are running smoothly.
It is hard to tell if a theme is going to be responsive before you buy it, but the best way is to google your theme with “NAME responsive for site speed.” To determine if you need to change your theme when you test your site speed see how many requests are being made and if none of the optimization plugins work. My best piece of advice is to stick to large well-known themes, from a well-known brand that puts out updates and create responsive themes. If you purchase any old theme from a mixed bag, you never know what you’re going to get.
The most responsive and fastest themes are from Studio Press with the Genesis Framework. These themes are recommended by the likes of Yoast and former Google employee Matt Cutts. The themes are SEO friendly and lightweight. You can’t go wrong with a Genesis theme. Search their themes using our affiliate link. They are highly optimized themes and therefore quite simple.
Changing your theme is the Kourtney of improving your WordPress site speed because Kourtney seems practical and savvy and almost just as important, if not the same as changing your host.
If you’re interested in reading more about the decision process of choosing a new theme, check out FTB Admin Lottie Reeve’s post about choosing a WordPress theme!
3. Install WP Rocket (Khloé)
This is the plugin I was hesitant to buy. I was using Hummingbird or Autoptimize and W3 Supercacher. However, as soon as I invested in WP Rocket my jaw dropped. Installing this plugin, took my personal travel blog, which was stuck at a Google Page Speed Insights at 75 to an 88 and I went from a Pingdom rating of C to a B/A with a load time under 3 seconds. I was not able to crack that 3-second mark no matter what I did, and this was what pushed me over the top. It is super easy to use and holds your hand while walking you through all the settings that can potentially optimize your site. It also includes a section to add your CloudFlare information and optimize your Google Analytics, which is a super tricky line item to remove from GPSI. I found a lot of the other plugins were quite technical and complicated, or they only aided in some aspects and not everything.
It is only $39 for one year, and it was worth every penny I spent, you can download and purchase it using FTB’s affiliate link, here.
If investing in site speed for your travel blog is not in your budget you can try the free version of Hummingbird or a combination of Autoptimize and W3 Total Cache plugins, but setting these up is a bit more tricky and I recommend looking up the proper settings.
This option is Khloé because while it still packs a punch, but the other two might have a bigger impact on your WordPress site speed.
Further Site Speed Optimizations for your Travel Blog
Now that we’ve covered the three Kardashians of Site Speed, let’s look at some other options that can be implemented without a complete overhaul of your blog and will help get those last pesky seconds off your load time.
Ditch Sumo! Sumo is a popular free share plugin, but honestly, it is a beast that serves many functions- many of which you probably don’t use. Using this as your share setting slows down your site, increases the number of requests, and has bulky coding. Your best bet is to rid yourself of it and try a lighter option.
EDIT: Due to recent safety issues FTB is no longer recommending Social Warfare. Social Pug is a great alternative with similar features that is light and optimized for speed.
For a free option try Shareaholic, or really anything other than Sumo. We know, FTB is still running on Sumo, and we will be switching to a lighter option in an up and coming website makeover and relaunch!
While we’re talking about share settings, I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have like 5 sharing options, Sumo, Jet Pack, WordPress, etc on their site. You should only use one share plugins for everything from Pinterest sharing to menu bar share options. Often times, if you use something like Jet Pack, you’ll have default settings turned on you might be unaware of. Go look at one of your posts and hover over an image, are there 2 Pinterest pin options, not related to a chrome extension? Scroll to the bottom of your page, do you see your share settings PLUS three little icons? If yes, you might have 2 plugins trying to dominate the share settings on your site. Stick to one plugin that does everything and ensure sure all the settings elsewhere are turned off.
If you don’t know what is causing the problem check your Jet Pack and WordPress settings and see if any share options are turned on. Check the function and setting of any plugin that has a share feature.
5. Optimize Your Images
AH, the age-old image optimization and one thing people obsess over. I have two key principles for uploading images to websites, ensure the image is the size it appears on the web and upload images only after you reduce their size. Image optimization is best done by making smart decisions BEFORE you upload, otherwise, you might be in for a time-consuming project.
1.Check the images on your website. They should never physically be larger than they appear. To do this, choose an image on your site and right click on that image and select open in a new tab. If the image is larger than it appears on your website it should be resized because that means the image has to be compressed by the user’s internet in order for it to appear smaller than it really is. When you are uploading photos keep this in mind. You should be uploading images at the size they will appear on your website.
2. Keep images under about 900 KB as the compressing plugins I recommend can compress them at this size.
People always ask me what process I use to compress and resize images and my answer is more simple than you might think. I think running images through a compressors adds an unnecessary step. I just open them in my computer’s default preview editor and resize them to about 950 pixels wide. This reduces the physical size, to ensure they aren’t larger than they appear on the site, and the byte size all in one go.
Next, install the plugins Smush AND EWWW image optimizer. Run Smush, the free version can optimize up to 50 images at a time. Then install EWW. To compress the images with this plugin you need to go to your media section and you should see a new option to bulk optimize. Run this as well. These options can take several hours to run, so grab some coffee and work on a new post draft in another word processor.
What about old images? If you have a ton of huge images on your site, you will be tasked with the heavy burden of resizing them. I say just start with one post at a time and resize them and then reinsert into the post. You’ll need lots of wine to do this.
What about those Instagram images I see on Google Page Speed Insights? These will most likely never be optimized, unfortunately. I’ll talk about this next but because they are hosted on Instagram and not WordPress, so you have no control over them.
PNG vs JPG. PNG images tend to be larger in size. Try and minimize the use of these images if you can. They are of higher quality, so I typically use them for featured images and pin graphics. If you end up with a large size PNG, but you need it for a pin, this might be a good time to run it through a compressor like TinyPNG.
6. Think Critically About Your Widgets
I know we travel bloggers not only have to grow and build our websites, but also our social media. So, it is not uncommon to put sidebars, footers, and widgets with “Like My Facebook,” “Check out my Best of Pinterest Board,” “See My Recent Tweets.” Regardless of how much fun these widgets are, they slow down your site. Anything that creates an additional request like going to Twitter in order to pull all your current tweets can have an impact on your site speed. Additionally, these types of widgets are almost impossible to cache, as they change almost daily.
Think back to when you tested your site manually, were some of these widgets the last things to load?
Ask yourself: Do these widgets and sidebars make an impact on my social numbers? If so, how much and is it worth it? If not, maybe consider getting rid of some of them and being smart about the widgets you use. I get a decent amount of clicks to my Instagram, so I have chosen to leave that sidebar, but I have removed everything else as there was no conversion.
Think about your other “fun stuff”. If you have a giant map or a huge sliding image carousel on your website and those loaded last during your manual test, these might be a major factor. How much longer does it take them to load than the rest of your site? If it’s .5 seconds you might get away with keeping it. It if is 4 seconds, you need to get rid of these elements or get a new responsive theme.
I suggest deactivating these plugins or features one at a time, clearing your cache and loading your site in an incognito browser. Which ones have the greatest impact on your site speed?
If you’re dying to keep these widgets and plugins and you haven’t changed your host or theme yet, there is a possibility that purchasing a theme with some of these options included may have enough impact to counterbalance these features. Additionally, some themes have options built in, using a theme slider is better than a plugin with a slider.
7. Cache and Locally Host Your Gravatar
Gravatars work the same as those widgets I was talking about above. If you use WordPress you most likely have Gravatars, or those little images when people comment on your site. WordPress has to pull these images from an outside source, and they aren’t cached, so it creates extra requests.
Some of the optimizing plugins offer Gravatar caching, but if not you can do this on your own.
- Cache your Gravatar Images using the plugin “FV Gravatar Cache.” Just install the plugin and let it do its thing.
- Locally host your Gravatar with the plugin “WP User Avatar.” Under “Settings,” click on “Disable Gravatar and use only local avatars.” Then select a default avatar image. You can even add an image of your own to match with your branding.
8. Cache Your Site
When you cache elements of your site it ensures that they are stored on someone’s website to be more quickly generated. The first time someone accesses your website, it is like developing old-school film in a dark room, everything has to come together and it can take a while. The second time someone visits your site if you have caching set up it is like making a quick photocopy of that already developed film. If you don’t cache your site you have to develop that photo all over again.
If you have already set up WP Rocket or SG Super Cacher, you are good to go, but for anyone not using SiteGround or Rocket, you will need a plugin to help. Your best bet is to download and install the plugin WP Super Cache. Follow their caching prompts and cache as much of your site as you can.
10. Clean Up Your Plugins
Who has dozens of plugins they are not using? While it is nice to have them “just in case” they slow down your site. Delete any unused plugins. Go over each and every plugin asking yourself, “What is this used for?” “Do I use it for that?” “Do I have another plugin doing the same thing?” Clean up anything you don’t need or has a dual function.
11. Gzip Your Site
GZip compression reduces the size of your entire site. A website that is 5GB for example, is huge, but you can reduce that size sometimes up to 70% with compression.
If you’re smart and installed WP Rocket you don’t need to worry about this aspect, it is done for you. You don’t even need to change a setting it is automatic.
If you haven’t installed the plugin, check if your site is Gzip compressed, here. If it is not, ask SiteGround to do this for you. Or you can do this yourself in the .htaccess file in your CPanel by adding this code:
12. Clean Up Your Database
Your website saves a lot of data, data you don’t even know about, like every revision you’ve made, all your spam comments, all your trashed items. If you don’t regularly clean this out, it adds to the size of your website.
Last time I am going to say this, I swear, but if you have WP Rocket you can do this in the settings of this plugin, under database. I always save my drafts and once I week I go in and clean up all the junk to speed up my site.
Another option is to install WP Sweep or check the settings of your other favorite optimizing plugin and see if they have a database clean upsetting.
13. Fix All Broken Links
This one is self-explanatory if you have any hard 404 not founds your site will slow down as more requests are made and they are met with a dead end. You can check your 404s in Search Console. If you have any missing links, you can create a 301 redirect using a plugin for 301 redirects to ensure every one of your URLs has a home.
If you delete a post you might get a 404 error in Search Console, but don’t worry about these errors.
14. Optimize Your Google Fonts
At this point, I am going to hand this over to an expert. If you still are seeing Google font as a line item in Google Page Speed Insights, even AFTER you have tried optimizing plugins like WP Rocket, WP Super Cache or Autoptimize, then use this handy blog post to help you out.
What happens if you did *almost everything on this post and you’re not seeing an improvement in your load time, I will ask you one question, did you go through the three Kardashians? If not, you might need to make the hard decisions and do an overhaul. Like I said if you don’t have a responsive and lightweight theme a lot of the optimizing options might not work. If you have a slow host, you’ll always be a slow site.
Focus on your time conversion as that is the most important factor.
We want to hear how this blog post helped you! What things did you do to speed up your WordPress website load time in order to optimize the site speed of your travel blog and how many seconds did you lose?
Let us know if you have any questions, we are always happy to help!
Click on the pin below to save this website speed post to your blogging board on Pinterest!
Susanna focuses on adventure travel and eco-tourism, while hitting pause for what she’s defining as hipster city travel. Follow Susanna on her blog at Wandering Chocobo
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