If ever there’s a lesson to be learned in website optimization, this is it. Because Google, quite literally, brought my business to its knees.

I remember reading years ago (from Ryan Deiss or Perry Belcher) about the importance of correctly naming your images and image titles to optimise your search engine rankings. But, sadly, I didn’t really recollect this until a week or so ago.

Sadly? Yes. Because I inadvertently named and titled an image totally irrelevant to the message I was imparting in my post, which resulted in a flood of (unwanted) traffic that brought my entire web businesses to its knees because the server couldn’t cope.

At the end of April, I wrote a post about my fear of spiders (Wolf spiders, to be exact); but my message was about overcoming the fear itself and how anyone can do that if they have the right mindset. I had an incident with one of the big hairy beasts and, I thought, to convey to my readers just how scary they were I would include a big juicy picture of a Wolf Spider. I happily wrote my little post, plonked the picture in, aptly named ‘Wolf Spider’.

Let’s fast forward to almost 2 weeks ago (as I’m writing this, we’re almost at the end of August). I started noticing a spike in traffic to my blog, but as I was preoccupied in overhauling one of my main business sites I didn’t give it a second thought.

A few days go by and I receive an email from a prospective client, stating they signed up for my free eBook on one of my sites but it kept on coming up with an error message. Uh oh… I tried it, and yep, he was right. At the time, I was working on another site and it just so happened (almost simultaneously) that I couldn’t access it – totally caput!

I have a dedicated server that hosts about 15 of my sites – including my primary company website – so my heart skipped a beat and my fears were confirmed when I couldn’t access most of my sites!! My worst nightmare as my entire businesses are solely internet based.

Being after hours, I urgently dialled emergency support and the very helpful technician brought everything back on line very promptly… but he was unsure what had caused it. I was just thankful that everything was back on line!

It just so happens that the next day, I decided to do some analysis of my Google stats and was amazed at the spike of traffic I was receiving to my blog – not one of my primary sites! A 529% increase (and growing) each day! I started to receive warning messages from my server that my blog was going over limit in respect to traffic that I had allocated. Then within a day or two, the majority of my data-base driven websites were down again – for several hours – and continued to crash a few more times over the week. This was a nightmare for my business. No orders, complaints from clients because they couldn’t log in to download their purchased goods, emails because the project manager system was inaccessible… and it went on. This resulted in lost income and unhappy clients.

My blog’s traffic increased so exponentially that it was sucking a heck of a lot of extra Gigs a day! Now, my blog isn’t THAT intensive, so I knew something was going on. I thought, “Happy days; I’ve arrived! I’m a super mega star!!!” LOL (only joking!) 😉  But I knew something was up so I needed to delve back through my analytics.

So what did it?

Yes, you guessed it. That little teeny weeny Wolf Spider!  And if you want to take a look at it, go here: http://www.tara-west.com/2010/a-big-spider-nearly-killed-me/

 

Here’s what I did wrong and how you can learn from my mistake:

 

  • When naming your images include the keywords that relate to your post.

I named my beautiful spider image ‘wolf spider’, and it just so happens there’s a heck of a lot of folks in the world who are very interested in this hairy little fella. By naming my image ‘wolf spider’ (as well as the title of the picture), whenever anyone searched wolf spider in Google (worldwide), my little fella was right at the top in all his glory!

This is particularly important for WordPress-based websites that get higher ranking in the search engines compared to other websites.

Whilst I got a humungous load of extra traffic to my site, on the whole it wasn’t the right traffic I wanted to attract, as the folks who were searching for that type of thing were not necessarily looking to overcome fear (which is what my post was about). They were just interested in what it looked like and other information on the hairy spider.

To try and fix the problem, I had to rename the picture and title to something obscure (from memory 111), with the hope it would filter through Google as an error VERY SOON. As I am writing this post, it has now been taken off the first page; however, I am still experiencing a massive spike in (unwanted) traffic and I am trying to sort that out. How ironic that I wrote the post at the end of April, but it took almost 4 months to make it to above No. 1 spot (in images) on Google and only a few days to be bumped off first page! LOL  Ah, the wonders and delights of search engines and optimisation.

  • Check and double check your keyword accuracy.

The image name and image title alone didn’t just get me to that position on Google. It was also my post itself and the meta data I had included in All in One SEO Pack (oops!).  Optimize, optimize, optimize.  For the SEO plugin, grab it here: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/

  • Don’t name inconsequential graphics.

If you include a graphic that is of no consequence – such as a bullet, or similar – then name the graphic as something obscure. Ryan Deiss (or Perry Belcher?) recommends naming those types of graphics as 1.jpg, 2.gif and so on.

  • Protect your site.

If you own a WordPress blog hosted under your own domain, as per this site, then install a plugin to protect your images and content.

This will ensure a) people don’t steal your bandwidth and other images that may either be original or images you have paid for; and b) steal your content – i.e. copy and paste and pass it as their own!

A plugin I highly recommend is Blog Protector: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/blog-protector/ If you want to check it out, just right click anywhere on this blog and you will see what I mean.

As always, when you install a plugin, double check all aspects of your site to check its compatibility. There’s nothing worse than installing a new plugin and a few days later, realising that parts of your blog aren’t working as they’re supposed to! To be safe, do a backup first.

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I’m happy to say that my sites have now been fully operational, with no hassles, for the last few days. I am still amazed that one tiny mistake caused such havoc with my businesses. Still, GREAT lessons to be learned and I hope you’ve gotten something out of it too… and, oh yes, at least I can now sleep easy 🙂  Ah, the wonders and delights of operating in the online world 🙂

Happy blogging!

Your friend, Tara

PS: Want to share your horror story about websites?  Just add your comment below.