Every now and then I’ll wake up in the morning, check my stats and think, “Wait…what’s that?”
It’s a weird feeling when something dramatically alters the life of your blog and you aren’t sure why.
Traffic, rankings, conversions… all these things can be affected by seemingly invisible forces.
Today I’m going to talk about a few puzzles I’ve encountered over the years on my own blogs and some of the client sites that I’ve worked on.
Hopefully it’ll help you if and when it happens.
What do you mean by invisible forces?
Okay, so I’m not talking about anything mysterious like ghosts or the Illuminti here.
But they are things that aren’t always immediately obvious.
For example, let’s say your server goes down and you lose all your traffic for an hour. That’s obviously caused by the server outage.
But what happens if that traffic slowly drops off over a period of six months without any obvious cause?
That can be a bit more difficult to understand and even more difficult to remedy.
Are these invisible forces hurting your blog?
With that all in mind let’s take a look at a few things I’ve seen over the years.
As always, if you can think of any others that I’ve missed I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Your story might help someone.
1. The American summer
I’m someone who works to US-time but doesn’t physically live in the USA and so every year when the US summer rolls around I start to wonder why my sales and sign ups falter.
It’s an interesting one and the theory is that the majority of web traffic comes from the East Coast of the USA. When summer hits and people actually go outdoors and start interacting with each other, the net actually sees a bit of a downturn.
This one will particularly affect those whose product or promotion is mainly digital or based around a digital environment. For example, my affiliate sales for blog hosting recommendations generally tend to slow down. Who wants to start a blog when the sun is out?
2. The American workday
Sticking with the USA theme it’s important to note how much the US East Coast workday can affect your conversions, sign ups and open rates. This one is particularly relevant for those of us who want more email subscribers (hopefully that’s everyone!).
Graph from MailChimp showing open rates by time. More data in the link below.
Some studies by MailChimp indicate that sending out email newsletters and email blasts is most effective when people are at their desks in the morning, perhaps right after they’ve checked their initial overnight pile up of messages.
If I send my mail outs at around 9:30am to 11am New York time I see a much higher open rate and initial burst of traffic. People click through to the blog and also seem more likely to share it. If, however, I send it in the middle of the night (Australian day time) then I see a real slow down in traffic.
3. CPU Throttling
This is a really interesting one for anyone who has noticed some unexplained slow load time on their blogs.
CPU Throttling is something that most shared hosts do in order to preserve the integrity of the entire system and prevent one resource-heavy website from sucking juice away from others. If, for example, your blog has a really massive infographic that gets a lot of traffic, your host may throttle your allocation so as to protect other blogs on that same hosting environment.
This is both an advantage and disadvantage of shared hosting. It’s good because it allows you to get your own host at insanely cheap prices. It’s bad because too much throttling will be having an impact on your blog’s success.
To check if you’re experiencing throttling go to your cPanel and find this button:
Fixing it is not always a matter of moving to a VPS or Dedicated environment (although that is one option). Sometimes you need to make improvements to your blog in a way that allows it to run more efficiently. This is probably beyond the scope of this post but I’d be happy to delve into server stuff if anyone is interested.
4. A partial Google penalty
Sometimes you might have a Google penalty and not even know about it.
Sure, most bloggers are pretty clued in to their stats and back-end data but, occasionally, you can find yourself hit by Google and not even know about it. For example, instead of a flat ban from the SERPs you often will find your blog dropped back to page five (which is essentially the same as page 1000).
The most common thing that I’ve seen and heard about is bloggers being incorrectly reported for spam or link-buying violations by a competitor. Sometimes your site gets benched while Google either investigates or asks you to explain.
Make sure you’re signed up to Google Webmaster Tools as they’ll give you a notification if you ever have any manual action taken against you.
5. On-site SEO settings
This one will be really basic for some bloggers but I’ve seen it so many times that I thought I should mention it. If you go to your WordPress Dashboard and scroll to Settings > Reading you’ll see this little checkbox:
If you’ve just started a new blog you’ll want to make sure this box is NOT checked. I’ve had so many emails from bloggers who can’t figure out why they’re not showing up in Google and, more often than not, it’s because this is blocking them.
This is only the most basic of such issues.
For example, a lot of blogs have their permalinks and title tags structured strangely. This can have an effect on your CTR from Google because the listing looks a little bit strange. I literally typed in “random search” on Google and found this:
As you can see, the blue link title text is gobbledygook and no one is going to want to click it. It’s much wiser to use a plugin like Yoast to craft how your blog post titles will appear in Google. Remember, this is like an advert and needs to be compelling.
6. Malicious stuff
This is the part of the post that will probably stress a few people out. But, if you learn a little bit about it now you can potentially save yourself a lot of problems down the track.
One of the darker aspects of the net is when people force their way into websites and blogs and the replace the blogger’s assets with their own. For example, it’s common for compromized blogs to suddenly start displaying hundreds of links to certain male 8===> drugs (I don’t want my blog to have those keywords!).
The thing is, sometimes these things are embedded so deep in the archives that you might not notice it for weeks until a reader reports it or you start getting a warning show up on your results in Google.
So how do you tell if something is going wrong?
Well, the first step is to contact your web host’s support staff. Let them know what you’re worried about and ask them to do a scan and investigate. The next step is to engage a company like Sucuri who can both clean up a compromized site and offer services for future prevention.
7. Plugins, software and partner websites
As you know, we talk a lot about how important it is to speed up your blog’s load time in order to maximize your conversions and reader satisfaction.
Unfortunately, some of the services that we rely on to power and improve our blogs can actually have a really negative impact on this stuff.
One well-known example over the past few years is the Facebook Like Box which seems to always slow things down. Facebook have addressed this but if you do a speed test on a site with a Like Box you’ll still see it have an effect.
Similarly, sometimes it’s not one single plugin that causes an issue but it’s when you load two plugins that don’t play well together. That’s called a plugin conflict and it can be pretty annoying to deal with. Generally you turn off plugins one at a time until you find the one causing the issue, but the article above has some other tips.
What have I missed?
Have you ever noticed any invisible forces that were hurting your blog? I’d really like to know how you diagnosed and dealt with the problem. Oh, and please let me know if I’ve missed anything in the comments below.
Top photo © Etiamos Apple Photo.