It has now been just over 90 days since we have migrated from Blogger to WordPress and roughly six months since we started development work behind the scenes in order to make the migration a success. As many of the modifications we made were behind the scenes and not necessarily apparent to those looking at this site, we wanted to share a brief summary of our results thus far and outline all of the site modifications we have made in order to get here.
So let's start with the results first:
- We had over 22,000 page views in March 2015. A new record.
- We saw a 33% increase in page views from January 2014 to January 2015.
- We saw a 60% increase in page views from February 2014 to February 2015.
- We saw a 67% increase in page views from March 2014 to March 2015.
- This also corresponds to a 30% increase in traffic from December to January (pre- and post-migration months), a 4% increase in traffic from January to February this year, and a 12% increase in traffic from February to March (on a per day basis).
Since we had about two years of steady page views when running on Blogger prior to our migration no matter what we tried, the growth we've seen in the last few months is a huge step forward. But when it comes down to it, us hailing these results as a success is only one half of the conversation.
The most the important thing to talk about is the work that occurred to make it happen, and that is what we want to cover today.
Site Elements That I Changed To Achieve Results
As I made quite a few changes, I'm going to list them all in rapid fire. There are many WordPress tutorials out there which cover the nuances of each, their benefit, and adjustments you may need to do in order to make them work on your own site (keeping in mind not all WordPress plugins and themes play well together), so I will not be covering the finer points of everything as that has already been covered elsewhere.
Likewise, since I made all of these changes at roughly the same time as each other, it is hard to attribute traffic growth to specific ones. So for this article I'm only going to highlight the work itself without commenting on the traffic gains and will instead save that for later articles.
The changes we have made in the last six months are as follows:
- For a site redesign coinciding with our WordPress migration, I installed the responsive Vertex theme from Elegant Themes and host on BlueHost. My reasons for doing so were primarily that I liked the look of the Vertex theme, the customization capabilities provided by Elegant Themes, and already hosted my other sites on Blue Host and did not want to splurge for a better (but more expensive) server at this time. That comes later.
- After significant research, my developer and I chose to install about 20 plug-ins. They were:
- Akismet – Fighting against spam comments and all that jazz.
- Broken Link Checker – Reports broken links and allows for easy removal or modification. (I only turn this one on when I need to check to reduce server load, as per our developer's recommendations). This one allowed me to reduce our 404 displays < 1 per day on average.
- Custom 404 Error Page – Allows for a customized 404 page.
- Display Posts Shortcode – Automatically updates a list of recent posts wherever the shortcode is inserted. Quite customizable for navigation pages.
- EWWW Image Optimizer – Image optimization plug-in
- Google Analytics by Yoast – Google Analytics plug-in
- Interactive World Maps – Linkable world map feature for directory listings (premium widget).
- Jetpack by WordPress.com – Included in basic WordPress.org installation.
- Official Statcounter Plugin – Okay, I like Statcounter for analytics too.
- ONet Regenerate Thumbnails – Refreshes thumbnails after optimization.
- Q2W3 Fixed Widget – Allows for widgets to be locked on sidebar to fill any available white space after sidebar ends.
- Sucuri Security – Security plug-in for site evaluations.
- SumoMe – Lots of available options, but used primarily for floating social share buttons on sidebar and list building pop-ups. Appeared to run a bit faster than competitors (premium widget to remove log-in screen from non-admins).
- W3 Total Cache – Caching and website optimization. Very comprehensive tool for caching images, JS minimization, CSS minimization, and more.
- WordPress SEO (Yoast) – Allows for in-depth SEO modifications.
- WP About Author – Display's author profile at the end of posts.
- WP Hide Post – Hides selected posts from archives, blogroll, RSS feed, etc.
- Yet Another Related Post Plug-In (YARPP) – A powerful related post plug-in that displays relevant posts by tag at the end of an article. Said to slow page load-times, but great at what it is designed for.
- My site design and plug-in optimization was focused on increasing pages-per-visit, reducing page load times, and improved SEO. I know I achieved two when looking at our data from the last three months, but pages-per-visit hasn't seemed to change much yet (although I'm seeing a slight uptick towards the end of the 3rd month). To monitor these I created custom dashboards in Google Analytics.
- After 3 months of back-end design work on a 3rd party domain, I hired Chris of RTW Labs who is a travel blogger and programmer to do the migration work. The first step of the migration was importing all of my blog posts onto the test site, and after I optimized all settings, layouts, and confirming 1:1 hyperlink transfers (to ensure new posts have the same hyperlink as they did on Blogger), he installed the completed theme on the domain I owned. Later Chris also made a few minor customizations to improve the user experience.
- To try and increase pages-per-visit, I utilized the Q2W3 Fixed Widget plug-in to lock my four core categories on the sidebar at the end of posts where the non-sidebar white space would otherwise reside. As you can probably tell by looking at the sidebar now (unless you're on a mobile device), they're directing you to my Planning directory, Destinations directory, Booking directory, or Services directory. Two of these lead to ways to explore our site and increase our page views, and two lead to ways we could make money in some capacity. Unfortunately these pages did not exist prior to the redesign, but I can easily say right now they contribute 3% of our overall traffic each month and the existing menu pages contribute another 5% (roughly double the pre-migration traffic). So while our pages-per-visit has not increased very much, our menus are being used more which is a step in the right direction.
- To optimize page speed, I monitored our performance on several sites and adjusted our plug-in settings and site layout accordingly. I cannot say specifically which changes yielded these results as it was a combination of many factors. Our optimization results on the homepage included:
- Pagespeed Grader:
- 6.82 seconds load time to 2.01 seconds load time.
- 3.86 MB download size to 543 KB download size. (A significant portion of this was due to image resizing).
- 155 requests to 52 requests
- 70% score to 77% score
- First view time of 14.5 seconds to 2.4 seconds (about 1 second slower for post pages)
- Repeat view time of 6.8 seconds to 0.7 seconds
- PageSpeed Insights
- Desktop 61/100 to 83/100
- Mobile 49/100 to 72/100
- User Experience 59/100 to 100/100
- I was able to achieve better numerical scores from PageSpeed Insights and Pagespeed Grader through other optimizations; however, I focused on the user experience first and these scores second so my final scores went down slightly to accommodate that.
- Other metrics I monitored and optimized were based on the results from the tools on Feed the Bot which ranged from SEO topics, performance in Google Webmaster Tools, to Speed Results.
- Pagespeed Grader:
- To optimize SEO, I organized the settings of the Yoast plug-in based on recommended guidelines and went through our old posts (post-migration) to optimize the following:
- SEO title, meta description, image title and alt tags, interlinking between posts, and adding in h2 / h3 tags on sub-titles.
- For 1,000 posts, this took exactly one month at 2-4 hours per day and amounted to around 2,000 H2 tags, 500 H3 tags, 900 meta description changes, 300 SEO title changes, 3,000 image tags, and 400 internal link additions that didn't exist before.
- I also added rel=canonical references onto about 50% of our tags and 100% of our categories pointing to our main navigation pages. At some point I'll get around to finishing the rest. Whew.
- I made sure to go through and verify my site and submit sitemaps to the major search engines. This included Google Webmaster Tools (done by my developer), Bing Webmaster Tools, and Yandex Webmaster Tools. If you know of others worth submitting to, I'm all ears.
- I submitted every post I consider “above average” to G+ to have one extra submission there. Whether or not that does anything, I'm really not sure. I hate G+ but I'll play the game if it helps.
- I created a new blog post series that serves as a navigation feature to get visitors to new articles on our site. If you haven't checked out our Top 100 #myRTW Experiences yet, you really should. This feature also added another 150-200 interlinks between posts and gave our traffic an incredible boost.
- Finally, we spent a significant amount of time focusing on optimizing our performance on social media in order to better reach our community of 40,000 travelers. Changes we made included:
- Testing out hash-tags on Instagram for optimal performance.
- Editing images on Instagram so they are more visually appealing for engagement.
- Optimizing our auto-Tweeter schedule for engagement both with and without images.
- Participating in Twitter chats to get our name out there more.
- Creating 200 custom Pinterest pins to improve our click-though rate and put an emphasis on our pinning schedule. (An example of the custom pins can be found at the end of this post.)
- Starting a weekly country feature across all all social networks to provide continuity and brand recognition. You can follow along with this one under the #myRTW hash-tag!
Whew, that was long.
Migrating Was Just the Start
When it comes down to it, I really wish I could say that migrating from Blogger to WordPress solved all of my problems and I experienced great traffic growth just because I switched over.
The reason we are experience growth on our site is not because of the migration itself, but rather a result of the six months worth of work that I outlined above. WordPress is a great service for bloggers, but at the end of the day you're only going to get out of it what you put in, and those who want a migration to be a cure-all will probably leave disappointed.
In fact, even those who do put in a significant amount of effort like we did may not see a decent return, and I attribute our growth to four main points:
- I have published over 1,000 articles on this site which, for the most part, I think are generally good. My SEO overhaul on 1,000 posts is beginning to yield improvement in my search engine rankings and click-throughs. Since SEO is all over the place to begin with, I feel like I may have had more opportunities to see growth than sites that have fewer posts.
- My starting traffic was anywhere from 14,500 to 17,500 page views per month. I was already getting traffic to most of my posts from search engines, so the SEO improvements only helped that. A blog with no traffic may still be a blog with no traffic after a conversion and optimization. (Note: My understanding of SEO is that it may take 3-6 months for changes to see results, so I'll be keeping an eye on this one now that we just crossed over the three month mark since migrating).
- I knew what I was doing, mostly. Sort of. I had a clear cut plan in mind for what I wanted to do with the site. I read enough articles and attended enough blogging conferences to know the kind of improvements I wanted to make, how to do them, and what results I should expect to see.
- I worked my butt off. For everything else, I went through a brute force attack to make it work and spent countless hours making it happen.
Overall, migrating to WordPress was something I should have done much earlier. The benefits were many, I came away with a site design that I loved (versus one I merely tolerated), and hopefully will see continued growth well into the future.
So if you're running on Blogger and considering a migration, don't wait six years to migrate like I did. Do it now! Just be prepared for a lot of other behind the scenes work that you may not be anticipating.
If you want to build a better travel blog, or a better blog in any niche for that matter, you're going to be working your butt off to make it happen.