When you follow as many blogs about making money online as I do, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. In fact, I often wonder whether I’m doing something wrong with my online businesses because when I compare myself to some of the other more successful bloggers out there, I can rarely replicate their incredible results.
The key thing to realize is that while starting a successful online business might seem like a smooth and easy process, I can almost guarantee you that every successful entrepreneur has had their share of ups and downs.
In fact, I would be willing to bet that all of the successful entrepreneurs that you’ve read about online likely took years of hard work to get where they are today.
So to keep things in perspective and to share the good along with the bad, today’s post is going to talk about some recent mistakes and hardships with my online store that have cost us sales.
My Recent SEO Debacle
One thing I love about running an online business is that everything is in a constant state of flux. Technology and the way we shop online changes everyday so you have to keep up in order to stay ahead.
I’ve always felt that one of my core strengths is my ability to adapt to new technology so I tend to embrace change. My belief is that if I can act faster and more decisively, then I can have a leg up on the competition. And as a result, I’m always changing around my pages, adding new features, and fiddling around with my shopping cart.
Recently, I decided to add some extra graphics and tables to reinforce my unique value proposition on all of my category landing pages in order to improve the conversion rate of my online store.
My change was actually very trivial and was only meant to enhance the aesthetics of my site. But it ended up indirectly messing things up how my site appeared in search. Below is an example of one of these changes.
One day as I was randomly checking up on my search rankings, I noticed the following search result for one of my keywords.
Can you spot the error? My title tag was completely screwed up. Instead of reading “Personalized and Monogrammed Handkerchiefs”, the link read “personalized or monogrammed handkerchief!” in all lower case letters with an exclamation point.
Needless to say, the link looked unprofessional which probably had a negative effect on the click through rate. Now what was strange was that the change I made to my content had absolutely nothing to do with the title and meta tags for my site so I could not explain why Google was messing up my search results.
But upon closer examination, I discovered that the culprit had to do with a shortcut I made to my site a long time ago. Back when I first launched my shop in 2007, I wrote some code to auto-populate the meta descriptions of my site with the first 2 lines of content on the page when no meta description was explicitly specified (Note: Certain WordPress plugins do this as well).
So when I started adding graphics and tables to the top of my landing pages, I inadvertently injected HTML code into the first few lines of every page which ended up in the meta tag descriptions.
Obviously, Google didn’t know what to do with these funny meta descriptions so it ended up messing up the title tags for many of my key money pages. It’s hard to quantify the damage that was done as a result of my change but thankfully, I caught the issue before it started affecting my rankings.
My Mobile Site Debacle
When I first developed the mobile version of my online store, I made a very difficult and conscious decision to maintain 2 completely different code bases for the desktop and mobile versions of my site.
Why did I do this? It’s because I wanted an extremely customized and mobile optimized experience for cell phone users that would have been very difficult to achieve by modifying my existing desktop site.
You can read about my entire decision making process behind the development of my mobile site here, but essentially I committed myself to maintaining the 2 sites separately while sharing a common database.
One of our goals this year was to starting shipping internationally, so when I made the appropriate changes to the desktop site to handle this new functionality, I inadvertently forgot to make similar changes to the mobile site.
In reality, that’s not exactly true. I didn’t actually forget. My intention was to first roll out international shipping to desktop users first followed by my mobile customers once all of the kinks were ironed out. But it turned out that modifying my desktop site ended up breaking my mobile site in a way that I had not considered.
It took me 3 days of not receiving any mobile orders at all (since I don’t always pay attention to mobile vs desktop) for me to realize that I had grossly screwed things up!
My Server Upgrade Debacle
This final mistake that I want to talk about was easily the worst one of them all because it involved crashing my online store website for nearly half a day. What sucks it that the reason for the crash was pure carelessness and laziness on my part.
One very ordinary day, I received an email from my web host recommending me to upgrade my apache web server installation to the latest and greatest. So I thought to myself…sure…I haven’t upgraded in a long time. I should probably do so to get the latest security patches and vulnerability fixes.
Since I practically do this every 3-4 months with my WordPress installation, I said why not and hit the “upgrade” button without even thinking about it. And that’s when all hell broke loose.
One aspect of the upgrade was that my PHP version was updated to version 5.3 from 5.2. Now you wouldn’t think that a mere “.1” would make such a huge difference but it had a tremendous impact on my shopping cart code. Yes, it broke everything.
What was particularly bad about the upgrade was that at a casual glance, everything looked to be working perfectly with my site. But if you actually tried to shop and checkout, you would receive catastrophic error messages.
It took me about 4 hours of no orders to realize that something was grossly wrong, so I immediately reverted the change. Ultimately, it ended up taking me about 3 full weeks to upgrade my shopping cart to support PHP version 5.3 and I ended up losing nearly a half day’s worth of revenue for my carelessness.
Putting Things In Perspective
Running an online business is no trivial task. So whenever you read about someone’s unbelievable success story online, make sure you consider the fact that it took a lot of hard work and pain to get there.
There is no such thing as “smooth sailing” in my book. And none of my business ventures have ever gone exactly according to plan. But to be honest, I tend to have short term memory. And if I didn’t document my screw ups online, I’d probably forget about them at some point:)
In any case, this post is my way of telling you that you shouldn’t compare yourself to what you read about online. Blog posts don’t always tell the entire story and chances are that the entrepreneur you are trying to emulate has gone through significant hardship to get where they are today.
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- How To Organize Your Mobile Website To Maximize Usability And Sales
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