Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The BIG blog refresh


It's no secret that building a good model train blog takes a lot of time. More time in fact than building the model train layout you're blogging about in the first place. With the same amount of time as I have invested in this blog over the past 3 years, I could have easily built my layout 10 times over! And of course, maintaining a blog should be no different to maintaining a layout. Just as you dedicate time to cleaning your track, vacuuming and general maintenance, you need to put a little time towards keeping your blog running smoothly. And that goes a lot deeper than just making a great new banner such as the one I've shown above.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed a large decrease in the amount of visitors to their blog since May 2017. It was around that time that Google once more changed their search algorithm for all things Googly. Since that time, online visitors to Philden dropped from around 700+ unique visitors per day, to between 200 to 300 unique visitors per day. So to get my head around what-in-the-world was going on, I tried a 14 day free trial of some SEO software from WebCeo and ran a search of my site to see what was happening behind the scenes on phildenmodelrailway.

I was surprised to learn that there were 210 errors across my entire blog. And that was just on the first scan!

A lot had to do with the roll-out of Google's https:// prefix preceding each blog address. The 's' now denotes that the site is served over a secure connection, and a lot of my errors that came back in my report related to the 3rd party software and apps that I had pasted in the right hand column of my blog. So all those cool looking flag counters, add-on gizmos and links to 3rd party websites that I thought were benefiting my blog were actually harming its' search rankings. So you'll notice that all such gizmos are now gone.

In the bigger picture of things, the errors had more to do with changes to the SEO (or search engine optimisation) of the keywords that makes a site searchable in the first place. One of these changes involves limiting the number of keywords each site, page or blog post uses to help determine if a site comes back as relevant in an online search. Apparently this is now limited to 165 characters including spaces. Every single one of my posts exceeded this by about 100 words, or roughly 600 characters, meaning that each page in question, or even an entire blog, can be omitted from a Google search as being potential spam. Fixing them all up to keep the keywords below 165 characters is still proving a mammoth task, but bit-by-bit I am revising them one post at a time.

Another major area of concern involved the amount of links I had listed on any one particular page. Pages with over 100 outbound links are automatically excluded from Google's search results as being potential spam. Think 100 is a lot? Think again, it also includes the all links in your side column as these are also being displayed at the same time. My Railway Reminiscing page had exactly 100 links to the articles over on my author page at phillipoverton.blogspot.com.au and my Top Links page had also nudged over 100 links to suppliers websites and other modeller's blogs. The only way around this problem was to combine these two pages into one, and delete a lot of links.

While combining these two pages into what is now Philden's Top Links, I used a graphic design suite to create the following cool new blog logos to finish giving my blog a whole new look. Once uploaded, I ran the WebCEO search on my blog again, and still got a swathe of errors come back in the report.

 
 

Ignoring the issues with the 165 characters or less keywords that I am still working through, the next big surprise came with the quality of the links I had included to other modellers' blogs and suppliers' websites. I thought I was doing everyone a favour by including them, and in the process building this blog's presence on the web. Turns out I was wrong!

As well as detecting a number of broken links to pages, blogs and websites that no longer existed, the report went as far as timing the response of each blog or website I had linked to. If the response time is more than 25 seconds, the site can issue things such as a 404 Error/website not found. It doesn't necessarily mean that the website address does not exist, just that the server has compacted it far to the back of their server due to either the lack of traffic that the site is drawing, or the amount of time that has expired since it was last updated. The problem with this is, you guessed it, this also impacts as a negative score against the search-ability of my own blog.

Deleting the large number of broken and 404 Error websites was pretty straightforward. After double-checking to see if each link worked, I simply deleted the ones that didn't. Despite the time people put into building a blog or website for their model railroad, some modellers choose to delete it once their project has finished and they've moved onto a new layout. Likewise, some suppliers will either delete or archive pages once a model has sold out. The new links may work from their website, but for me to keep track of where each link has moved to becomes a bit of a nightmare. I chose to remove all of the supplier links from this blog, simply to keep this as an extension of my hobby instead of it turning into a full-time job. Finally, I checked to see if the links I had included to other model railroader's blogs or websites were still relevant. Some had not been updated since 2012. That's five years ago. Chances are they are no longer modelling, or at least would not notice that I had removed the link to their site. In the end I settled on 30 layouts that were a huge influence on me whilst building Philden. To visitors new to this site, going around the world in 30 layouts pretty much provides you with a list of 30 layouts to view over 30 days.

There were other suggestions that came back too, such as adding ALT attributes to all my photos. There's over 590 of them, so I passed on that one. I did run the WebCEO report one final time before the 14 day trial ended, and thankfully the major errors were gone. There are still a few posts remaining for me to shorten the description to 165 characters or less, but already the site optimisation score has jumped from 35% to 57% and the amount of pages in Google's search index has increased by 13%. Better still, there are no other errors.

Whether the amount of visitors to this site increases over the next 30 days remains to be seen, but as my layout moves towards being finished, it's nice to have all this blog maintenance nonsense out of the way. Now I can get back to some modelling.

Philden's next outing will be on the Gold Coast on 28-29th October, 2017. By then I will have added a few new Australian models to my small collection and be ready to start building the small modification to my layout's yard. These are all things I will continue to blog about over the coming 12 months. Following that I'll be drawing up plans for Philden Stage 2, to turn my layout into the double-sided L-shaped layout I'd originally dreamed of after studying Keith Jordan's The Patch layout in the 2012 edition of Great Model Railroads. Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, it was the first link I added back in May 2015 when I started this blog, and first on the list for Around the World in 30 Layouts. You'll find it over on Philden's Top Links.

Aside from friends, family and club members who may regularly check out your blog, giving your blog a refresh every once in a while is important if you want to keep attracting readers who just go surfing the net for model train sites. Not only does it keep your site looking fresh, you'll also uncover any potential problems. And since a blog is really just your way of sharing what you do, in whatever manner you choose to do it, there should be no rules other than trying not to offend anyone. It's a hobby, and hobbies are supposed to be fun. So in that spirit I've added Philden's YouTube Roundup to my Top Links page. Its just another way that I manage to make this hobby bigger than a small layout.

See also: Railway Modelling Vrs. Blogging

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil