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What Google giveth, Google taketh away…

There is no doubt in my mind that this site is growing. The meticulous Excel sheet I keep (because I am an Excel fanatic, and believe everything in life needs an Excel sheet and a linear forecast) easily proves it. The 10 day moving average of traffic for today is three times what it was 10 days ago. Of course, that’s mainly because 10 days ago this site had almost no traffic, and it’s not hard to grow from nothing into a speck of dust on the web once you get indexed by a search engine such as Google. Someone will inevitably do a search for “Paris Hilton barfing while riding a unicycle” that will inexplicably lead to your site being listed on the third page of results, behind all of the web sites that are actually about Paris Hilton barfing while riding a unicycle.

Most of the traffic on this site comes from Google. This was planned, intended, and expected too. Although I would certainly like it if all of you read my non-tutorial articles, that would mean I’d have to actually write them, which so far, I have been less then regular at doing. My time has largely been spent writing tutorials instead of editorials with (hopefully) semi-witty names like “What Google giveth, Google taketh away…”. Though this article somewhat disproves that theory, it’s close enough that we’ll call it the truth anyway. In any case, my prevailing theory has been that if I put more tutorials, Google would send me more traffic. More traffic means more advertising dollars. More advertising dollars means maybe, just maybe, there is a speck of a glimmer of a grain of hope that there will be enough to cover my hosting fees. Right now I’m up to $2.66 after a month of operation. We obviously have a ways to go, because even though we could have gone with Bob Smith’s hosting service run out of the basement of his mom’s house on his DSL line for just $2.66 a month, we believe in quality here, and that means paying for Joe Smith’s hosting service run out of his own basement on his DSL line for just $2.98 a month.

So on my meticulously plotted Excel sheet, I watched the traffic figures grow almost every day, and I rubbed my hands in a Mr. Burns-eque glee at the thought of becoming RICH RICH RICH enough to pay most of my hosting fees. Google, my savior, kept sending us traffic.

Until yesterday. What Google giveth, Google taketh away.

You see, in a temporary fit of web-2.0-insanity, I installed the wonderful simple tagging [1] plug-in that you see to the left in the sidebar. The one that is supposed to show you about all the wonderful topics I have been writing about, but instead just says “C”, “PROGRAMMING”, “TUTORIAL” because that’s all I’ve been writing about. The plug-in works great. Well, it will when I start writing about something other than “C”, “PROGRAMMING”, and “TUTORIAL”.

The problem is that WordPress and Google don’t get along very well. This ultimately reduces to a human vs. computer problem. Us humans like things to look nice and be organized in many different ways so we can pick one that suits our whim for the moment. Google, heartless master that it is, cares more about things like exact syntax, and tricky concepts like whether a URL beings with www or not, or ends with a / or not confuse it. It’s a simple creature. However, the thing it hates most is duplicate content, of which blogs tend to have a ton of. Pick an article, any article. This article. You can access this article through the front page, through the recent posts (at least until I write a few more articles, which at the pace I’m going I will die from being hit by a flying car before that happens), through the archives, through the categories, through the feeds, and through the tags. And probably six or seven other ways I haven’t figured out yet. WordPress is like a multi-armed full-service robot that wants nothing more to pleasure you in a way that is not as near as dirty as you started imagining when you read the beginning of this sentence.

So imagine my happiness when I ran across another plug-in, SEO_Wordpress [2], which tweaks robots.txt, so that the villainous Google spiders stay away from all of that equally-evil duplicate content. It was a dream come true! Or so I thought.

Just one problem -- SEO_Wordpress didn’t exclude the tags because they are not part of the WordPress core. So when the spiders came and carried my site back to Google, they reported “Hey boss! The juiciest content is in these tags directories, which are loaded with yummy keywords”. Google promptly stole all my underwear, executed ???, and then profited by indexing all of my tag directories instead of directing non-regular readers to the tutorial articles on the site (which is where the advertising is). On a side note, I am pretty sure Google is successful because they figured out what Step 2: ??? actually is.

And consequently, the site population plummeted starting yesterday, and continuing through today.

So now robots.txt has been amended to exclude the tag directories, and Google, foul temptress that it is, continues to torture me by making me pray for the next arrival of the spiders to amend the mistakes I made in the past. Oh glorious spiders, forgive my sins. The tags were not meant for you, but instead for my (few) human readers. Please send them back! I’ll sacrifice this chicken. I’ll bite the head off this bat.

Look, I have more underwear!