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How I Averted a Blogging ‘Crisis’: 3 Lessons Learned

I’m a bit of a stats junky. I know I shouldn’t watch them too closely but I like to keep an eye on the numbers for my blogs. So when my page views, here on Binary Moon, plummeted recently – I had to find out why and fix the problem as quickly as I could.

For Binary Moon in particular I like to keep a close eye on the numbers. Over the last year the traffic has been increasingly steadily – I recently had my biggest month – with over 179,745 page views. That’s a big number and I was understandably really pleased that my site is doing so well.

Because I constantly check the statistics – I know where people are coming from, what is most popular, and all the other things a good blog owner should know – which is why I was so surprised to see the change I did. It took me about 15 minutes of hunting through Google Analytics to work out what had happened.

It turned out some of my image attachment pages – which do really well on Google image search – had been removed from the Google search results.

Binary Moon Daily Traffic Graph

Hmmm – not great.

Once I realised where the crisis had originated I was able to go into fire fighting mode and fix the issue, and now my rankings are starting to head upwards again. It turned out the problem had happened because I had read a ‘tutorial’ about the WordPress SEO (by Yoast) plugin and how best to optimise it. In following the tutorial I ended up delisting some of my content.

Note: The issue was nothing to do with the WordPress SEO plugin – I would definitely recommend you use it. It happened because I changed some settings I shouldn’t have. The plugin did exactly what it was told to.

In working to fix this problem I learnt 3 things:

Lesson 1: Don’t Blindly Follow Online Tutorials

This first lesson should probably be subtitled – ‘especially if they involve SEO‘.

I don’t consider myself an expert at SEO, but I like to think I know more than your average developer – and so I feel a bit daft for making the changes I did. I was following a tutorial about the WordPress SEO plugin telling me how to ‘optimise the settings’ – and I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing.

In hindsight I probably should have ignored the tutorial entirely since I hardly changed anything anyway. The only elements I did change delisted some of my better performing content!

Lesson 2: Diversify, Don’t Rely on a Single Service

I’ve not really considered where my traffic comes from before – I know which referrers are most popular, but that’s about it. I get a lot of traffic from Google and Google image search – so what happens if I get hit by a Google search algorithm update that penalises my site for some reason? I’ve not knowingly done anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean Google won’t lower my rankings in the future.

It’s something to ponder for sure, and I am going to think about it more in the coming year.

One quick thing I have done is add some Pinterest buttons on the image attachment pages. Perhaps that will encourage people to Pin my stuff a little more often. This is a small change but it is a first step in increasing the diversification of my visitor referral sources.

Lesson 3: Patience

Once I found the problem I fixed it quite quickly. And waited. And waited. The images were delisted about 3 weeks ago now, and it’s only in the last few days that my website page views have been getting back to their old numbers. I was tempted to keep changing things, tweaking and improving, but if I had done that without waiting then I might have made things worse, or I might have broken something else and not realised.

Crisis Management

Bonus Lesson: Don’t Panic!

This whole thing was a bit of a worry. I know it’s all vanity and the people who visit these images don’t really interact or add to the website in any way – but it’s important to me. By staying relatively calm, and approaching the problem in a methodical way – I was able to fix the issue and get things back to normal.

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Tightrope crisis image from Shutterstock

11 Comments »

  1. Good to see traffic coming back Ben. Are you sure there really was an issue though? I ask because I’ve obsevered this exactly same pattern happening every year with my own blog right around the same time. Every year in mid December my traffic starts to drop and right up until New Year’s it’s down about 20%-25% for the month. Then as soon as the holidays are over it starts coming back.

    Here’s my post from last year talking about the drop in traffic. The first link in the post takes you another from the previous year. I’ve also checked my stats a year or two before the first post and see the same thing. This year it started on either the 13th or 14th and there were a handful of posts around that time in the seo community wondering if Google had made a major algorithm change.

    My guess is it’s just natural changes in how people search and what they want to see online around the holidays. I can’t offer any proof, but I’m thinking people focus less on information and more on products for a few weeks. Sites like yours and mine that offer information lose traffic and others selling products gain. Once the holidays are over everything starts to go back to the way it was.

    It’s possible you did do something to images that had an affect, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s mostly the same pattern I’ve seen every year. Keep an eye out for the same thing next year. If it happens again remember my comment and don’t worry.

    Either way I’m glad your traffic is coming back. I know how it feels both when it drops and when it comes back.

    • I’ve seen seasonal variation as well, but it was definitely to do with the SEO settings I changed.

      Here’s a screenshot of the stats for one of the attachment pages: http://d.pr/i/FFQ6

      As you can see the hits dropped to almost nothing – and they haven’t gone back entirely. This image was actually showing up as the third image on Google image search if you search for ‘Woody’ – so it was easy to test – and it had been removed from the search results entirely. It’s back there now.

      Totally agreed that an overall drop around the holidays is expected. That’s why the numbers were much lower over the Christmas period overall. In the screenshot in the post you can kind of see that the problem was repaired on December 26th (there’s a tiny jump in traffic) – but the numbers didn’t go back to normal until January the 2nd – when everyone went back to work/ school.

      • Oh yeah. That’s pretty clear that it was more than what I was talking about. In that case it’s really good you figured this out.

        Part of why I commented above are the lessons you mentoned to be patient and not panic. I’ve seen a number of people do the opposite when they see traffic drop and sometimes making changes can be worse than doing nothing. There are times when traffic will naturally fall off and this time of year is one of them.

        Not the case here though. The image of your stats makes it obvious something more was going on. I’m glad you figured it out and were able to fix it.

      • ah – I think I misunderstood. What you said makes sense too – you should definitely make sure that what you’re doing is for the right reasons rather making snap decisions for the sake of it. Things could easily have gotten worse :)

  2. Perfect, absolutely perfect article, Ben!
    I read with great pleasure and noticed that you choose the best way of solving problems. The lessons are truly useful and have been noted very correctly. Working on SEO aspects on my blog I was really shocked by the number of pseudo-experts, who gives their advices without any experience in this field. The best, what I have realised – No one knows your blog better than you are. And no one can give a good advice. You can find a proper development strategy and according to it find the best SEO (or something else) advices. Only this will be useful. As for me, I have different thoughts on the development and promotion of my blog and I’m trying to realize all of it piece by piece. Well, some of them have been already corrected by my subscribers and blog visitors. Something like public opinion. That was a valuable experience.

  3. I know this is off topic but I couldnt find like a contact place. Well, I just made a new blog and with my previous blog I had a theme called regulus. I really like that theme but wordpress doesnt have it anymore because it’s ‘retired’. What shall I do?? Any other similar themes I like are all retired too! :( How can I find the regulus theme? :(

    Thanks. :)

    • Hi. Since you’re using WordPress.com – you are restricted to the themes on the site.

      I must admit I didn’t know Regulus had been retired – I find that interesting to hear so thanks for (indirectly) letting me know. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  4. Great article Ben, I saw some of these restrictions but didn’t understand them before reading up. I think the diversification would be key in continuing with these practices.

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