Gant Software Systems

What You See When You Administer Websites

Sometimes, the truth is remarkably annoying and not what you told yourself it would be. So it is with managing website, both your own and those of others. People talking about these things often seem to be doing so with rose-tinted glasses on, as you’ll discover that it doesn’t all work like that. Here are some things I’ve learned on my little journey through being a webmaster.

  1. Driving traffic to a website is weird. Sure, there is supposedly a lot of art and science that the big boys get into and it looks like fun from outside (it actually still is fun from the inside, but there is no science here). One week, on this blog, I had a 431% spike in traffic (that would be the week of August 15th). The next week, it was down by 70%. What changed? I have no earthly idea, and I’ve dug into google analytics and elsewhere to no avail. Perhaps it was random chance. Another week, traffic spiked again and I was able to trace it. It turns out that one of my posts went very slightly viral. I still don’t know exactly why. Sure, it was humorous, I suppose, but that gives me little for repeatability. You’ll find that’s the rule with this stuff more often than not, there is allegedly art and science behind that black magic, but you’re in the audience, not on the stage. My blog traffic is on the incline though, so that’s good.
  2. Hackers are everywhere. There are near-constant attempts to hack this website as well as several others I maintain, usually from the eastern bloc or one of the various -stans. The attacks are hideously clumsy and brute force. They attempt to access files that they shouldn’t be able to reach, and attempt to brute force passwords. One website I maintain got over 130,000 failed login attempts within a period of a couple of hours (while the owner of the site was on a plane on the way to Ireland). It’s shocking the amount of nuisance these constant hack attempts bring.
  3. Comment spam is atrocious. I deleted dozens upon dozens of comments trying to sell mock Gucci bags, penis enhancements, and various drugs. These also come from the eastern bloc largely. A friend routinely gets hundreds a day. You’ll note that there are still no actual comments on any of my posts, even though I’ve been blogging for a bit now, and am dealing with dozens of spam comments a day even so.
  4. When you put a plugin into a wordpress site, you’d darned well better have a backup. You’d be amazed at how many of them will break everything. It’s a bit silly to have to maintain a separate development site for a simple wordpress blog, but you will have to do it in order to avoid crashes. There likely isn’t a content management system for the web that both supports plugins and is capable of surviving when they have major issues.
  5. Writing blog posts get easier over time if you get in the habit. With enough repetition, on the day that you typically write, you’ll automatically start thinking of ideas and churning them around in your head during the day. I used to think this was a difficult and creative process (it still is the latter, I suppose, but the creativity comes easier). That’s good, because other stuff you thought you had down will suddenly present you with edge cases.
  6. HTML is still a mess, and systems that heavily use it can’t help but inherit this behavior. Even the WYSIWYG editor in wordpress will burn you from time to time, screwing up spacing, removing tags, and putting roadblocks up to keep you from getting posts written. There is an inherent conflict between WYSIWYG and well-structured content. I fought with an issue the other day regarding getting an Amazon affiliate link to show up, for HOURS. I even had an “aha!” moment at the end there where I got it working. Now, I don’t recall what the problem was and I’ll likely encounter it again. It was related to the way the wordpress tries to protect you from certain kinds of bad content. It burned me pretty thoroughly and wasted lots of time that I really didn’t have. Part of that is wordpress being idiosyncratic, but part of that is because HTML still isn’t really “finished”.
  7. Surprising folks view your blog. I’ve had a good bit of traffic from Brazil. I have no idea how anybody in that part of the world even knows of me, much less wants to read my blog. It’s very neat, but you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what brings those folks here, as there is something really beautiful about having a worldwide audience and you’d like to keep it going if you are able. Former employers have also contacted me to tell me they enjoyed something they read, and the people that have have not been the people I would have expected (mainly because they spend a lot of time getting stuff done, not reading about getting stuff done).
  8. Trying to drive traffic through social media is even stranger than google traffic. I hooked up my blog so that new posts are sent to Facebook as well (as links) almost as an afterthought. I figured LinkedIn and/or twitter would be the main drivers of traffic, but facebook wins over both combined by an order of magnitude. It’s obvious my twitter strategy is pretty bad (I don’t really have a strategy), but I don’t have a facebook strategy either and that is getting traction. Again, it’s all a mystery, as I’ve been told by many people that facebook is utter crap for driving traffic. (Edit: six months after writing this post, I discovered that my twitter strategy was working, but the notification emails were going to the wrong address because I misspelled my own freaking name…fantastic…).
  9. The function of the wonks telling you how to structure pages to improve SEO seems to be to make augury and fortune telling look respectable. There are some good ones, but a lot of the information out there is badly out of date. Worse still, far too many think that what are essentially hacks on google search will actually bring sustainable traffic, versus having good content in the first place. The whole world seems to be looking for a way to get success without the annoyance of work and this is particularly evident in the SEO field.
    10.The perfect is always the enemy of the good. You’ll never get something out there and get feedback on it until and unless you actually get it out there. Perfectionism interferes with this process significantly and is to be avoided. You needn’t trouble yourself over grammar and logic errors to excess either. People usually either get what you are talking about or they point out the issue. This doesn’t mean that you should get sloppy, only that you should recognize that because the content is on the web, it can be fixed quickly. Take advantage of that. We’re not in the days where if you wrote something without perfect grammar that it would hang around in book form forever. Again, sloppiness is not okay, but it is important to recognize that there is a point where marginal utility of further grammar edits approaches zero. It’s more of “Ready, Fire, Aim!” than “Ready, Aim, Fire!” like in the old days.

It’s not that things are bad, necessarily, it’s just that they don’t quite work like you are led to believe.