The Sketch

Since Christmas I have been trying to gradually improve this website. One solution I was searching for was a way of displaying an interactive cache maps of my finds on a particular day. I found a solution, and I think it’s good enough to write about. Why not?

One of the improvements I’ve worked on is to try to improve the search engine ranking for some of my posts. Not because I’m big-headed or because I’m trying to make money – I’m not. But I feel that if I’ve written a post about a cache series that I enjoyed, the effort is wasted if searchers on Google can’t find it. This was a problem I had with many of my “adventures” posts.

I enlisted the help of the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress so I had some guidance on how to improve rankings a bit. Yoast has an issue that the “suggested improvements” don’t work if you have a WordPress template that includes its own page builder. I do, but the problem is resolved adequately by changing the template each time I’m using that function. That is, however, by the by. This post relates to another issue, and the way in which I solved it.

The Nature of the Problem

The problem I found was one of keyword stuffing. This is filling your text up with the same phrase to encourage Goggle’s crawlers to think your article is the proverbial bee’s knees. “The machine” got wise, so keyword stuffing is now penalised. It wasn’t something I did deliberately, but something based on the way I was presenting content about geocaching.

If I find a series called “Heal the World” for instance, then I would name the post after the series. This naturally leads to setting the keyword to be the name of the post. If someone is interested in a caching series they are most likely just to Google its name.

So far, so good. So why does this cause a problem with keyword stuffing? I also like to list all the caches I found on that particular day. I link them to the actual cache page so people can go look for themselves. The problem is that for most series, each cache name is just the series name, and a number. The “Heal the World” post therefore had the keyword embedded 78 times in a single-page article. Google doesn’t like that.

So how do I display all the caches I’ve found without actually typing the names onto a page? Easy.

Interactive Cache Maps

The solution is evidently to remove the text, and to display a map instead. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Because I hadn’t seen the problem before, that’s why.

Firstly I needed was a mapping plugin for WordPress. My wordpress template includes a module for this but it’s basic. It’s not designed for large numbers, and each marker has to be added manually. What I needed was a plugin which allows bulk upload of marker points. I also wanted to be able to use custom icons for the markers. And finally it must be capable of “bulk” use. I’ve written a lot of posts about geocaching.

After surfing around a little I settled on WP Google Maps – It does what it says on the tin. I tried the free version as an experiment. The free version only allows one map. Multiple maps requires the Pro upgrade, but if the thing worked how I wanted then the upgrade would be worth it. It worked. It took me a couple of goes, but I managed to add several markers onto a map and configure them so that the marker title is a link to the cache page. I then exported this sample map to a CSV file so I could see how the import/export works.

The Pro upgrade allowed me to add a custom icon. I butchered a geocaching smiley face. The upgrade also allows me to create as many maps as I want, each having as many markers as I want. That’s kind of cool.

One quirk is that Google now charges for bulk use of its maps. It’s possible to use mapping sites that cover that cost for you, so your Google costs can be controlled, or you can use some different (i.e. free) maps. I chose the latter. I have selected the Open Street Maps tiling engine. Many cachers are familiar with these anyway, and I already use OSM derivatives on my GPS and in Garmin Basecamp.

Show me a map then!

Alright. If you insist.

This one shows a part of the “Flags of All Nations” series on the west side of Milton Keynes. If you play with different devices you should see the map is fully responsive. You can make it go full screen, and each marker has a link to the cache concerned. As this is all set up in a spreadsheet, it’s remarkably easy to do.