Now that your blog is running, it’s time to think about the intricacies of ranking on search engines. I will take you through simple and highly effective methods to improve the on-page optimisation of your travel blog.
On the internet, you will draw attention to your blog in two ways. There’s a group that will visit your site freely, and another audience channeled to your pages from paid advertisements placed strategically in high traffic platforms like on Google and its plethora of partner websites. SEO refers to a variety of strategies that draw free traffic to your website while SEM is the paid version. SEO refers to search engine optimisation and SEM is search engine marketing. This article is all about SEO; more specifically, on-page SEO ideas for a travel blogger.
Optimisation can be loosely defined as the process, and individual techniques that improve a website’s relationship with search engines and users. To understand what a search engine is, think of a library. There may be several libraries in your town, but there is one particular library you like probably because of its customer service, its proximity to your residence or the sheer experience of being there. You might also vouch for that library because of its efficient classification of books. Now, think of your online search for something. Online, we use search engines. Google is perhaps the one you have used the most, but there are others like Yahoo and Bing. These search engines satisfy our inquiries by matching our search terms to their wealth of databases. Therefore, you want your website to be on the first page (if not the first position) of the search results generated by a search engine from a single enquiry that relates to your area of specialization. For example, when a user searches for ‘things to do in Nairobi’, and you have a page or blog post that expounds this topic, your wish is to have your page or post available to the user at the top of the search results page (SERP). In the industry’s terms; we call it good ranking.
So, that’s how the need for good optimization skills comes in. Additionally, you have to understand that ranking on search engines is closely tied to how internet users perceive or treat your blog once it is served as one of the best results for a specific search. If users like it, you get more clicks. If users think the page is irrelevant and visit other pages below you, search engines will take note. If users click, enter your website, and exit immediately because of the irrelevance of the content therein, search engines will take note too. Hence, in on-page SEO, you have to remember you are working for man (users), and machine (search engines). Please these two and you will be one of the top travel bloggers.
The on-page SEO process is like fermented uji. It takes a while but when it is ready, it is delectable. Don’t skip stages, use the right tools, get expert advice where you must, and wait for the impact. Don’t be fooled by companies that promise results in a month. The most they can do is create viral content campaigns that will give you speedy results for specific pages of your blog but without an overall improvement on the rank.
It took approximately six months to see commendable results in ranks (from position 50 + to the first five positions in Google for searches related to hotels in major regions in EA) for a local travel portal I worked for managing SEO projects. I mainly handled on-page SEO tasks like content audits, competitor analysis, content creation, internal linking and keyword optimization. Due to a segmented organisational structure, I acted as ‘advisor’ to teams that handled tasks I felt were pivotal in off-page SEO like link-building, influencer marketing and contests. It was a harmonious relationship where I cleaned house, and someone else brought visitors to it from the depths of the World Wide Web. Therefore, don’t fall for shams that preach immediate turn-around using SEO only. Once you start on-page SEO, you will then move to off-page SEO in order to work on other factors that control your position on search engines as well as traffic levels.
A website is as different from a journal or newspaper as Nairobi’s traffic on a Sunday, and a weekday after a drizzle. Journalism school taught me how to write with an emphasis on the elements that make a story worth telling. That is definitely important whether you are writing for a newspaper or a blog. However, blogs are dynamic. The web world changes daily. The artificial intelligence that guides search engines algorithms changes. When it does, you better adjust your sail or an abyss called the search engine position 50+ is waiting for you. Therefore, remember, tactics we use today may not heal tomorrow’s ills. SEO is a continuous process.
Let’s get started!
Use good quality images. Avoid blurry pictures. Most importantly, adapt the image size to your website’s layout. Having images running over text or images too large to load on mobile is a turn-off. Use a resizing tool (even Paint in MS Office works perfectly). Save at least one of your best images with the target phrase. For example, for an article about Nairobi National Park, one of the possible titles for my image would be Nairobi-national-park-lions not IMG100_10 or some random number my camera added when saving the file. Save other images in descriptive titles like terms associated with the action/object in the image. Add alt tags too to give more information about your images to search engines.
Images can also be pictograms, infographics and other creative and compelling graphics related to your topic.
Kizungu ilikuja na meli yes, but ilifika na ukaisoma. Poor grammar skills limit how you express yourself, and anyone who comes to the website hoping for engaging content will walk away after the first missing comma. If English is too much for you, adopt a local language like Swahili, or go the Ghetto Radio way and appeal to a niche that comfortably speaks sheng. Alternatively, use grammar tools online to check your grammar and structure. MS Word too will help you with basic spellings and capitalisation.
- Shareable content
Appeal to your audience’s emotions. Make them laugh, marvel, educate them, make them want to share the blog with others. Compelling content makes users stay in your website longer, which decreases bounce out rate.
More shares on social platforms mean more traffic. More shares will give you links from other blogs in your industry, which will break ranking juice and a better position on search engines. There, kill two birds with one stone.
- Website Speed
- Titles & descriptions
The first point of contact for a user searching on Google etc. is the title and meta description of your page or blog post. If users don’t like/understand the title and meta description, they will not enter your blog. Hence, Google will reconsider having your blog/page in the search results for that search.
- Website structure
Adopt a structure that is simple to the eye, where users can glide through pages. Use sidebars and navigation bars to highlight pages, categories, recent posts etc. Use soft colours and good fonts. Keep pop-ups to a minimal if you must have them because they are out rightly irritating. If you must emphasise the chat function, ebb it away when a user doesn’t reply to the ‘write our message here’ pop-up in the first five seconds.
- Create a Two-way communication model
Use a contact form or your email address, and display buttons to your social media pages. Anonymous is good, but it may cost you.
- Internal linking
Create a web through articles. Link one article to another using appropriate anchor text (the phrase that points to a new article). For example, if you wrote about 5 things to do in Nairobi last week, and you have a new post about Nairobi National Park, you could link these two.
- Length of articles
Longer is always better. Google seems to think so, and longer articles let you expound topics satisfactorily. Over 300 words per article are okay but if you can go to 1,000 words sometime, even better. It also depends on the topic. I wouldn’t expect you to explain how Kenya’s SGR will boost tourism in 200 words. That would probably be an introduction only.
- Do your research
Fluffy doesn’t sell on the internet. You either have something to say or you don’t. Gather facts about destinations and add snippets of information succinctly to your travel stories. Research widely before you select destinations to visit or topics to write.
- Responsive design
Your audience may access your website while stuck in traffic, at half time on game night… Your website should render for mobile phones and other devices. WordPress makes it easy if you have no coding experience because the themes are responsive.
- Update articles often
A blog is not a newspaper whose life lasts a day at most. For blogs, you have to improve content, add facts, and remove irrelevant content as often as possible.
- Missing Content and 404s
Check and redirect pages when you delete posts. Access to aggregate content (online content collected from other websites such as news from a media outlet) and external images may be changed or restricted and you end up with blank pages.
- Use tools to test your content
Use tools to analyse the keyword density of your articles, to test page load speed, to check titles and meta descriptions, to find broken links, to find missing pages, to see which pages/post are getting more traffic… You will make a better decision when you know the gravity of the situation.
I hope I have shared some of the knowledge I have acquired over the years working in the SEO industry. I know you can now comfortably begin the process of improving your relationship with search engines and internet users through on-page SEO.