Lessons Learned #1: Don't Confuse The Bots

Wow, it's been a few weeks since my last post, sorry about that! We've been busy beavers and just rolled out a bunch of changes, but before I blog about the cool new stuff, I wanted to start with a Lessons Learned post.

See that graph above? That's our traffic over the past few weeks as shown by AdMob... It's sort of the reverse hockey stick most people want t see. Somehow I pretty much single-handedly decimated our traffic by screwing something up and getting mowser.com banished from Google. Doh! I actually am not sure *exactly* what I did wrong... If I did, I probably wouldn't have made the mistake in the first place, as I thought I had a handle on the whole SEO stuff. Obviously not. :-)

Here's sort of a timelined narrative of how I got the traffic and then how I lost it. Before Mowser had even launched, I had been slowly building the traffic to Mobitopia as a sort of mobile del.icio.us - though I soon realized that after a few hundred domains were added to the database, there really wasn't much out there in terms of dedicated mobile content. Happily, however, the stuff that was there seemed to attract a good amount of traffic from the mobile search engines out there. Cool. Some of the things that helped was a bot detection script which would only deliver mobile content to any bot, and lots of tags which helped multiply the content and give the bots lots of stuff to munch on.

So when I decided on the Mowser name, I decided I didn't want to try to maintain two separate sites, nor did I want to create a company narrative around two names that were so similar, so I just went with the one, and moved all of the links over to the new site. At first it seemed to go really well, the traffic just flowed seamlessly over to the new domain, and Mowser was able to get a kickstart in terms of traffic. Rock.

Ahh, but then the search traffic disappeared... a little slowly at first, and then pretty much completely this past weekend. Yowza. What the hell did I do? Lots it seems, though I'm not exactly sure which tweak was the final straw that pushed Mowser out of the search indexes, but it was definitely something.

In order to fix a problem with Nextel phones, I changed the Apache settings so that instead of using mod_rewrite to redirect domains, I used a separate virtual server. Nextel wasn't sending the correct HOST name and would end up in an endless loop, so by grouping other domains such as mobitopia.net and other random mobile domains I have into a separate virtual server, I was able to avoid this bug, but created others.

Also There was lots of duplicate content - tons of URLs would point to the same page because my mod_rewrite rules were being overly liberal in matching URLs. And the web pages were either being served as too static, or too dynamic. Not sure which, actually... I thought at first that making pages seem as static as possible would be good, but on analysis, it turns out that this caused the Search Engines to index dynamic pages such as the Transcoded external pages and feeds. For a few days this was nice - lots of hits were coming in for dynamic content.

So anyways, the flow stopped dead a few days ago, and I finally looked up from adding new features to get Mowser's URL House In Order. I'm definitely the worst SEO in the world. Since I was essentially starting from scratch in terms of traffic AND had no real idea what the problem was, I took the opportunity to just do a wholesale cleanup. I added a very restrictive robots.txt file to the server to make sure that Mowser.com is the only URL being indexed by all the bots out there, and I cleaned up the mod_rewrite rules to match only specific pages. I also went through and added rules to make sure that the proper content type was being served to the proper robot - so a mobile search engine gets mobile content, a normal search engine gets web content, etc. I also went through and re-registed the site at the search engines, wrote up a clean sitemap, and tried to nudge the bots as best as possible to re-index the content.

So! We'll see if that helps... It could be another month or so before we're added to the index again (if we haven't been banned semi-permanently as some sort of Spam Blog). As the business model for Mowser sort of relies on decent search traffic fixing this is kinda important.

If you have any Mobile SEO tips or tricks you'd like to share, please leave a comment -or better yet, start a new Forum Thread about it so we can all learn. I'll write up about the new features in the next blog post, but one of the things we added was a Mobile Publisher's Wiki which we're hoping will be a repository for mobile publishers both those who want to use Mowser to create their mobile site, and for the mobile web in general. I'm going to start by adding in the mobile bot User-Agents I've discovered so far.

Okay, look for another post about the newest release soon. And I promise, from now on I'll start blogging more regularly.


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