Dropping traffic, Gutenberg, and Google: what on earth is going on?

Woman confused with computer. PNG - JPG and vector EPS file form

My ads are back (WordAds/WordPress must have been having issues earlier today), but I do wonder how much longer I’ll qualify for the WordAds program (members get a small income based on number of impressions per ad).   My earnings have been dropping along with my traffic, which has been dropping steadily for several months, but has really taken a nosedive since the beginning of this year.

I can’t think of anything I’ve suddenly done differently that I hadn’t already been doing.  I did change my theme fairly recently (I think it was around Thanksgiving), but I don’t think that has much, if anything, to do with the drop.  In fact, my readers have said my new theme is easier to read and the layout less cluttered (I removed a lot of widgets from my sidebar).   So I think, if anything, the simpler, cleaner theme would be a draw.   Removing the unwanted and outdated sidebar items also has increased the speed of loading.

My WordPress stats show that my search engine activity is lower than it used to be.  This blog also no longer comes up on page one or two if I type in keywords that are used frequently on this blog, such as narcissism, or narcissistic abuse.    I can see that my Google hits are low, but there’s no way I can find out why.   Unfortunately, WordPress.com doesn’t allow its users to use Google Analytics, which does go into a lot more detail about the reasons why your blog isn’t getting Google traffic.

Not writing as much as I used to is obviously a factor, but I think there’s more going on, since each month is worse than the last and I’ve actually been writing more recently, or at least sharing old blog posts to social media when I’m not posting.   I don’t write every day, but I do spend a lot of time promoting this blog and its posts.  I seem to get half of my hits these days through Pinterest, of all things.

I have two theories as to why my hits have dropped so drastically lately.

  1.  Google has penalized this blog (but again, since I can’t get Google Analytics as a WordPress.com blogger, I can’t find out why.)
  2.  Gutenberg.   I don’t understand Google algorithms or even what they are, but I’ve been told its algorithm has been changed recently and it prefers Gutenberg to the classic editor, which I am still using (and want to continue to use).   So articles written in Gutenberg, apparently, are given priority.

Now I’m wondering if I should make the switch to Gutenberg, as much as I hate it (I’ve played around with it on a dummy blog I created just for that purpose, and I still hate it).   But I know if I did that, blogging would be a chore instead of a pleasure, so maybe it wouldn’t be worth it.

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Blogging 101: you don’t need to pay for SEO

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If you’re like me and want to increase your visibility on the web, you might be tempted to take advantage of those email ads promising instant visibility for a fee: search engine optimization. If you’re not familiar with the term, search engine optimization (SEO) is a service provided by individuals and companies that will put your blog or website and its articles on the top of Google and other search engines. But commercial SEO is expensive and unnecessary. You can optimize your own blog, using some simple tricks, and it costs nothing. All you need is a little patience.

I’ve written other articles about how to write a post people want to read, so here I won’t be focusing so much on how to write interesting and engaging articles, because that’s really another topic. Of course good writing and good looking posts are important, but here I’ll be focusing mainly on how to get the most out of things like social media share buttons, tags, categories, pingbacks/trackbacks, linking, and other tricks that generate maximum traffic to your blog.

1. The title is everything.
Make your titles short and catchy–and maybe a little sassy or controversial too.
This is really part of writing an engaging article but it belongs here because the title is SO important. Titles that are too long and sound like the title of a Ph.D thesis get ignored. It doesn’t matter how interesting or well written your article is. If the title is boring or pretentious, people assume what you have to say is boring or pretentious, and will skip over it. Try to be creative but not so creative your title has nothing to do with the article.

2. Use the Share buttons.
I can’t tell you how important this is. If you’re a WordPress blogger, the share buttons are available through the Dashboard, and include almost all the most popular and well known social media sites. You can also add your own, if the site you want a share button for isn’t available. Even if you can’t stand social media, other people reading your article will use the buttons and do your dirty work for you. I’ve had articles that reached 1K+ shares to Facebook, which would not have been possible without the share buttons. If the buttons aren’t there, chances are no one will bother to share them, even if they enjoyed your article.

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3. Use tags and categories.
Be careful with this. I have a bad habit of using too many tags and categories per post. It’s best to choose tags that are relevant to the post, but are no more than one or two words long. Categories are more general and you should use fewer of them than tags. For example, if you wrote an article about why cats shouldn’t be declawed, the categories you would use should be something like: cats, animals, pets, veterinary medicine. The tags could be more specific–unethical veterinary practices, declawing a cat, pets, animals, cats, animal cruelty. It’s okay to repeat your tags and categories, but the tags would be more specific, while the categories are more general. The reason why tags and categories are important is because when someone is doing a Google (or other search engine) search, the tags will refer to your article so it will be listed on the search engine page. Using too few tags means your article may get fewer hits (because people use more than one word or phrase to search for something), but using too many isn’t good either (though I’m not sure what the reason is, and I’m guilty of it).

4. Post every day.
If you’re a serious blogger, you should write at least one article a day. If you only post once a month or once a year, people aren’t going to bother to keep checking your blog for new material (of course, not all bloggers care about visibility and are writing primarily for themselves and that’s okay too, but if you’re that kind of blogger, you have no use for this article anyway).

There will be days you can’t think of anything original or are just too tired to write, so then it’s okay to reblog someone else’s post, post a video you like, a funny or attractive photograph, a joke, a meme, or what have you. But make sure you do post original material often. People will lose interest in a blog that’s nothing but a compendium of other people’s material.

5. Use Twitter #hashtags.
Even if you dislike Twitter (many people do, because of the 140 character limit), if you want to promote your blog, every so often you should choose articles you want to promote or think may generate interest and post it to Twitter with hashtags. If your blog is set up to automatically share to Twitter (as mine is), you can’t add hashtags to the initial share, but later on you can reshare it and manually use hashtags. Hashtags act like tags, and will generate more traffic because when people search for a term using a hashtag, your article will come up in the list if you have tagged it that way. For example, an article about baking chocolate chip cookies could have hashtags like #baking, #cookies, #desserts, #sweets. Unfortunately, hashtags can be one word only, unless you put two or more words together as one, such as #chocolatechipcookie. You should do this only if it’s a term you think people will actually search for. #chocolatechipbananacookies probably won’t work. Keep in mind that due to the 140 character limit on tweets, you can’t use more than 2 or 3 hashtags, so choose them wisely.

Here’s what I do. Every few weeks or so, I pull up my stats page and check which articles are getting the most views and shares (sometimes the most popular ones surprise me!) Since these articles are already getting a lot of hits, I’ll reshare them to Twitter, this time using hashtags, to capitalize on the article’s popularity and generate even more hits. Also, if there’s an article I really like but it seems to be getting ignored, I’ll give it another chance by hashtagging it. Sometimes this works too, and the article suddenly gets noticed even though it didn’t the first time around.

6. Be a necromancer.
Every so often (but not too often!), you can give an old article new life by resharing it. You might want to do this for an article you’re especially proud of or ones that are already getting a lot of hits since those articles are resonating with people anyway. By resharing an article that resonates, your hits will reach the stratosphere.

When you reshare a post to Twitter, you should also reshare to other social media as well. On Facebook, be sure to set it up so anyone can see it, on or off Facebook, not just your friends. At the top of each post, there’s an option for this. The little globe means anyone on or off Facebook can see it.

Set up accounts on other social media too, just to share your articles. I have a Tumblr account I never use other than to share my articles.

necromancer_concept_by_denjinprime
Credit: Necromancer / Deviantart

7. Link to other blogs or websites.
Not only will other bloggers like you (and maybe follow you back) if you give them credit or quote them in your posts, linking to their article generates a trackback or a pingback, which appears on their site under the article itself or in the comments section. The curious may click on the pingback, which will take them to your article.

8. Love your haters.
You might hate having haters (I sure do and will probably never be comfortable with it), but having haters also means your blog is getting noticed. Haters generate traffic. A controversial article will get noticed and that means more hits for you, and your haters and detractors might even share it too. My haters have actually unintentionally brought me new followers, so I do appreciate them for that. That doesn’t mean you should write something controversial or incendiary just to get hits (because that’s basically just being a troll), but it does mean you should be able to write about what YOU want, even if it’s an unpopular opinion or idea.

Since I run ads on this blog, I like to tell my haters that I make money off them every time they visit (it’s only pennies, and I don’t do this for the money anyway, but saying that usually shuts them up).

9. Self-generating hits.
If you do all or most of the above things, there probably will come a time when certain of your articles become self-promoting. That allows you to rest on your laurels a little bit (but only a little). An example is my “20 Songs About Narcissism” list, which was split into two articles so I didn’t have to put too many videos in the same article. If you Google “songs about narcissism” these two articles now appear at the top of page one! That wasn’t the case when I posted them. I think they were on page 16 or something. It happened because as those articles’ Google rank began to rise over time (due to my promoting them), their higher placement generated even more traffic, without my having to do anything. Since there are a lot of people apparently Googling songs about narcissism, and my articles are the first thing they see, they continue to get a lot of hits, and I don’t have to do anything at all to promote them!

So that’s basically how SEO works. All you need is patience and the willingness to pimp your blog in the ways I’ve outlined and watch your Google rank rise and the hits start popping like Jiffy Pop.

Of course, if you’re not patient and can’t do without “instant gratification,” you can always pay for SEO too.

Also see 12 Ways for Non-Lazy Bloggers to Get More Hits.

For even more of my articles about writing and blogging (and how to handle trolls and bullies), see “The Art of Blogging” topic in the header.