You may be sitting on a goldmine of old content
I’ve been experimenting with a new social media technique recently. I’ve been tweeting out new links to my old blog posts. I’ve only done this with chunky and in-depth pieces, that should still be relevant, even though they were written a couple of years ago.
Twitter has a short memory so your older posts can be relevant to a new audience. I use Buffer to queue up my favourite posts (that I think still stand out as useful material). One of my old favs is my post about How to Choose a Tagline. Generally, I’ll tart up the post with some new photos and some updated links. This is also good for SEO so it’s time well spent. I went through a move from Blogger to Wordpress last year so a manual tidy up helps keep things looking good.
- Lesson: Old content is never too old to be interesting to a new audience.
- Action: Tweet out links to your old (and good) blogs posts. (Hint: Focus on ones that have catchy titles.)
Strong ties make for strong shares
Hacker News allows entrepreneurs in the tech scene to share, vote and comment on links that they find. Alessandro’s post with my site only received about 24 “upvotes” but it was featured briefly on Hacker News front page.
This bought in just over 3,000 views in 24 hours. The traffic spike was huge and was larger than I would have expected. Hacker News bought in more than three months average traffic in only one day.
- Lesson: Your friends are the best sources of links. A single link in the right place can make a huge difference.
- Action: Ask your friends (nicely) to “plus one my shiz”. (Note: I didn’t actually ask Alessandro to share my post, it was just a lovely coincidence.
How did Dreamhost do?
I had gotten so frustrated with Dreamhost shared hosting (crashes, downtime and instability) that I had upgraded to a Virtual Private Server. The VPS is much faster under normal load but under a traffic spike the VPS hit its memory limit and reset itself leading to downtime at the worst possible moment. I kind of wish that I was still on shared hosting (which might have scaled to a peak better) or on Media Temple VPS which promises to allow for a traffic spike by autoscaling the server. This seems like a fatal flaw in the Dreamhost VPS and I’d like to hear their opinion on how a VPS should handle traffic spikes.
- Lesson: A virtual private server might not cope with a traffic spike.
- Action: Check how your site host deals with sudden memory increases.
How did W3Total Cache do?
I use W3Total Cache with basic page caching to serve a static version of mot pages to new users. This is supposed to make a blog “Stephen Fry Proof” meaning that if a famous celebrity mentions your blog on twitter that the site can handle the traffic spike. So W3TC should have been my saviour when I hit the front page of Hacker News. I’m sure that W3Total cache saved my site and that things would have been worse without it. Unfortunately, W3TC didn’t play as nicely with the Dreamhost VPS as I would have liked. The main page that visitors were hitting seemed to survive but a couple of the related blog posts crashed on Dreamhost and then W3TC stupidly went off and cached the 404 Error message so that when the page came back online it still presented the error message to users. - Not good.
- Lesson: W3Total cache isn’t perfect.
- Action: Check your cache settings and make sure they are optimised to deal with a spike.
What else could I have done?
I used to use the Cloudfront CDN until it started crashing the Wordpress admin dashboard after the upgrade to Wordpress 3.5. If I had still had Cloudfront active then it would have provided a layer of safety and continuity when Dreamhost reset the VPN.
- Lesson: Multiple layers of caching are annoying day-to-day but can save your ass in a crisis.
- Action: Reevaluate Cloudfront.
With a traffic spike, users will usually arrive on an individual blog post page, not on the homepage so double check what is happening design wise and user flow wise at the bottom of each blog post. People will tweet and share specific posts, not just your homepage.
Did the traffic convert?
I could have had better related posts suggestions. I’ve found that most related post plugins for Wordpress put secret links to the author on every page (e.g. Linkwithin actually links to itself not to your content). Those plugins are fine for the user experience but deadly for SEO so I use a more streamlined plugin that makes suggestions based on categories. I wish that I had a few better posts in the same category to attract users that had just read my post.
I didn’t get as many repeat visitors or click-throughs as I would have liked. My bounce rate (users that didn’t click through to another post) was too high for my liking. I want to convert new readers into commenters on the post, followers on Twitter and email subscribers to the blog. Not enough of this happened.
- Lesson: Clear calls to action at the end of each of your posts.
- Action: Review my theme layout and post footer.
Did I react fast enough?
You need to actively get involved in the conversation. I could have reacted faster. Admittedly, it was Christmas day and I was on the slopes in France so there wasn’t a lot I could have done. But I wish I had a traffic spike notification set up in Google Analytics as an “event”. Google Analytics can be set to email (or even SMS message) you when your traffic hits a certain threshold. I’ve now set it to send me an email any time that any of my sites gets 200% more traffic than normal for that day of the week.
- Lesson: Reaction speed is critical to manage problems and capitalise on a win.
- Action: Create email alerts for “events” in Google Analytics.
I’m super grateful to the Hacker News community for checking out my blog post and I hope that I can contribute more to the entrepreneurial community in terms of lean marketing, agile branding and how to grow a user base quickly.Tweet