My travel blog has been a mess for a while now, where I more or less neglected it to the point where it was vulnerable, and I was not far from losing it entirely. So last week I forced myself into an unlikely overhaul after a number of worrying revelations on just how grim the situation had become. This includes a warning from WordPress telling me that my blog was coded in an outdated and vulnerable scripting language (PHP5.4 on GoDaddy) and I should upgrade to avoid my travel blog from being hacked. Secondly I was contacted by World Travel Hacking, using a way of Broken Link Building SEO, outlining the extent of what I had been so long trying to ignore. Then, finally, I received an email from Envato, who I originally bought my blog theme from, saying the theme was now a security risk, and they strongly encouraged me to “remove the theme from your installation”. I really had no choice but to take on a travel blog upgrade. But I am also a newb with web stuff, and while I can fiddle with the dashboard of WordPress, I am otherwise not technical at all. So the last time I even bothered with a travel blog upgrade was more than three years ago, and I am pretty much learning everything again from scratch, so I will share some of my learnings and simplish techniques here. Included in this travel blog upgrade is hosting, WordPress themes, plugins, widgets, broken links, and simple SEO.
1. SiteGround Hosting (GoGeek)
I would have continued with my original GoDaddy hosting given I were able to update and bring it into 2017. But anything they offered not only involved a price hike but was still years behind the current recommendations (PHP5.6 at highest). So I had no option but to look elsewhere for hosting and, inevitably, went with Siteground’s Go Geek package. Not only is it one hell of an upgrade from my previous GoDaddy Deluxe package (which is highlighted throughout this article) but it’s more or less crafted for WordPress. There are many hosting providers that offer WordPress hosting (check out www.consumersadvocate.org) but I prefer SiteGround. The prices are very different, however, where at normal prices it would cost me three times more than renewing my GoDaddy hosting. But they all offer introductory prices of 60% off. So, instead of getting one year of hosting, I realised three years up front, at the 60% offer, would more or less be the same price as my previous package over the same period. It does mean an up front payment but it also mean I don’t have to worry about renewal until 2020. Then I can reevaluate and possibly look for new introductory prices.
2. Website Transfer
This was by far the most frustrating part of the upgrade, and this is not because it was hard to initiate or complete, but the transfer took near two days to copy across from my old GoDaddy Server to SiteGround. And, during this time, I was unable to add to the website or edit blogs or do anything really as I would only have been editing the old copy of my website on the GoDaddy site. Otherwise it was ridiculously simple to do and it was free. I just phoned SiteGround’s support number, they initiated the transfer for me, and updated me through email tickets when it was ready with easy instructions to change the DNS (name servers) and the website was set to go. But it is this 24/7 support which I love about SiteGround, with free phone numbers and email tickets, to the extent where I may have abused the privileges to fine tune my website in the past week. But, for issues I would normally research, and even pay developers to help, I was just phoning the support line and having them fixed in minutes.
3. A New Web Theme
This was the actually first upgrade I took on, following the email on the vulnerability of my old theme, before going whole hog afterwards with the upgrade in hosting. But this was by far the most daunting part of the travel blog upgrade, knowing that after changing to the new theme, the site would be a complete mess until the setup is complete (although there are ways to customise themes offline). So I grabbed a few beers, and then threw myself in at the deep end, to work straight through until the new theme and travel blog was fully functional again. But I was clueless to begin with, given the new theme was nothing like my previous, and I relied a lot on searches through the theme’s instruction documents. So I was very much learning on the job, while under pressure, and it took around five hours in total to have the site fully functional with menus, plugins, widgets etc. I did play it safe to begin with, opting for a top seller and highly rated theme from Theme Forest (SimpleMag), as themes are all easily customized and work more as a frame to create your own personal travel blog. But, as above, it is always daunting to begin with.
4. Speed Matters
Again I am going to talk about SiteGround, as many of the upgrades I made were specifically through the hosting and server itself (note this is in no way sponsored). But the slogan on their site is “Engineered for speed, built for security, crafted for WordPress” which kind of sums up everything I was looking for and there are many benefits to cover. So speeds are said to be 4 time faster than other shared hosting because, with the Go Geek package, websites are hosted on semi-dedicated servers. This more or less means that more server resources are dedicated to each user. So this is one benefit, and I did notice an immediate difference, although I didn’t aim to prove it. But this is also to do with my server location, which I chose to be hosted in Singapore, given Asia is where three quarters of our webtraffic comes from (previously it was in Amsterdam, with GoDaddy). Then finally, with just one click on my SiteGround dashboard, I was able to upgrade the scripting code to PHP7, which in itself makes the website faster, and more secure.
5. Caching Plugins
Next I look at caching and, after another click or two on the SiteGround dashboard, I have Cloudfare CDN up and running. This more or less means that copies of my website have been cached on servers across the world, and this means my webpages should open at the same or similar speed globally (despite my server being in Singapore). So this is an optional feature built into my hosting (although it can be added as a free plugin on WordPress as well) and it can also be connected to SiteGrounds own caching system, called SuperCacher. This again helps cache the website locally and speeds up load times, and while I can’t comment on it’s performance against other popular caching plugins on WordPress (e.g. WP Total Cache and W3 Super Cache) it is just ridiculously easy to set-up. Then in WordPress itself I added a few additional plugins like Autoptimize, which compresses source code, and Ewww Image Optimizer, which reduces the file size for images (lossless compression). And again each speeds up the website load time. And I know much of this sounds like complete gibberish to most, but it was also gibberish to me before starting out with this website upgrade.
6. Broken Links
I remember reading that just one single broken link on a site can impact your search engine rankings, which was kind of worrying considering my site had over one hundred broken links. Then what probably made this worse was that many of these broken links were pointing to an old website of mine, Boutique Bangkok, which in itself had more than a hundred broken links. So the situation really was dire, although it was also easy to correct. I installed quick WordPress Plugin, WP Broken Link Status Checker, and it listed them all. So I went through the list, editing them one by one, which was ridiculously tedious, yet still oddly rewarding, knowing I was finally correcting what I had so long been putting off. Anyway, I was dipping in and out of these changes over the past week, on both websites, then set alerts for broken link in the future as it make more sense to maintain links on an ongoing basis. I even went on a bit of a link building binge, commenting on posts through random searches on my niche, to give my own SEO a quick boost (although I’m not sure how affective these links are these days).
7. Security First
Before now I have always blamed the downfall of my site to the time it was hacked almost two years ago (August 2015). But in reality it was really my own laziness and procrastination to get it fixed after. But I recently heard of a friend’s network of websites being, more or less, deleted from his hosting, without back-up, because of viruses he had on his sites. So this had me a little bit terrified as I may have been on the brink of losing it all. And again there are a number of benefits found through hosting with SiteGround, including a daily backup of the websites. But they also allow for an upgrade to HTTPS, which more or less means my site is now encrypted and a lot safer. I even have that “secure” logo up there on the address bar. Snazzy. But there were a few complications in this, because I was clueless and just changed across to HTTPS. But, after a phone call, and a ticket, the Siteground folk had it sorted in less under an hour. I’m not really certain what it involved, but they said they set me up with an SSL Certificate, then they had to convert all the old URLs internally after the recommended plugin, SSL Insecure Content Fixer, failed to do its job.
So I had somewhat given up on my travel blog, for a number of reasons outlined before, but now I am in full control again, and while I could easily have outsourced all these tasks, I really don’t like relying on others to do things I should be capable of (no matter how monotanous they are). So again I am excited about blogging, and I learnt a hell of a lot of stuff in just the past week, and I will more or less break even with my current costs on hosting compared to that of my previous (although I did put down a 3 year up front payment). And this did only take a week of half-assed work (as is all my work). So my travel blog now looks much better, it is loading much faster, and it is a hell of a lot more secure. But whether or not I have increased my SEO, and traffic to the website, will only show in time. Success in SEO is always ongoing, and slow moving, so I will be sure to follow up in the coming months to share the results (if any). Otherwise my current stats and my travel blogs past stagnation and demise are shown below.