I started a website dedicated to my cat a little over a year ago. I first got started posting her pictures on Instagram. After she got up to a hundred something followers, I decided a .com was in order.
Thus, Gabby The Tabby (dot com) was born. She really is just the sweetest cat, and always puts up with us taking an inordinate amount of pictures (and video) of her.
This website has proven to reliably bring in some decent money for us. Nothing huge or earth shattering, but some decent drinking money.
As an aside: If I wanted huge, earth shattering results from the website, I could get them. It would simply require that I put huge, earth-shattering effort into it. Which I don't. But that's probably something for you to keep in mind. Earth Shattering Effort = Earth Shattering Results
I only really log in to update WordPress. Maybe once a month I'll log in and write a post. I don't even think I actively collect emails from the website. It's honestly on auto-pilot at this point, passively bringing in – across all channels – maybe a few hundred dollars average on a consistent basis.
Like, literally so little money I probably won't even have to claim it on taxes.
But still, I like to see my efforts rewarded. I spent some time a few months ago doing some heavy writing and networking, and then I took another hiatus to wait for my SERPy rewards.
Well, I sure enough got them! Traffic on the website slowly started picking up from 12 hits a day average to 20, to even 30+!
I was very excited to see my traffic climbing so well. I checked webmaster tools and found I was showing up for several Google Snippets – which drive great traffic.
I even noticed that my product review article for a specific product was outranking the company that made the product for certain results!
Then I took a look at my stats last night, for the first time in a few days, and saw this:
Instant Traffic Death.
I really wasn't sure what caused it, and like the typical over-thinker that I am, I immediately pulled up webmaster tools.
Now, this is funny because when I tell you what the problem was, you'll see my mistake here was swift and immediate.
I didn't wait to fuck up.
I saw that traffic had been gone down for days, and knew it was a drop off of organic search, so I looked at my search rankings.
I found everything in tact on the Google end of things. I was still ranking high, still doing well, still indexed.
As a matter of fact, Google showed that I had over 25 clicks on that first day of dead traffic, yet that day only had 12 total views.
I checked my Google Analytics account to confirm – because the native Jetpack WordPress stats are good for a quick glance, but are dodgy for real use – and sure enough I had only about 10 actual page views!
I was at my day job and on lunch, so I only had my cell phone – yet I was still missing the key step. I did what I could from my phone, hoping to see better results.
That last little tiny bar there is of this morning. I was very sad to see that my traffic was still dead despite my trouble shooting – disavowing what I thought may be bad links and the such.
This morning I decided to log in to my website from my computer and see if I could suss out the problem, whereupon I immediately found it:
My SSL certificate for the website, issued by LetsEncrypt, was due to expire on the 12th of December.
You'll notice in the traffic chart that the 12th is the exact day my traffic died. Had I visited my website first, instead of webmaster tools, I would have been immediately alerted to the problem.
Because the impact of the problem had been so large, I assumed that the problem itself must also be large.
Now I will admit, I was initially confused: I had gotten the email about my expiring certificate two weeks ahead of the twelfth, and had renewed it that day.
When it's as simple as as line of code, why not renew it right away?
The Problem, Revealed
I assumed maybe I had done something wrong in renewing my certificate, so I logged in to my console and tried to renew again.
At this point I feel I should mention that I run all of my websites on Google's Cloud Services platform, and so my only real server access is through SSH.
I watched the process scroll through the SSH window and was met with a message that told me that all of my certificates were up to date.
That's when it dawned on me: LetsEncrypt generates certificates in its own folder!
They aren't put in the Apache folder where they need to be! I had generated my new certificates weeks ago, but had simply forgotten to copy them into the proper place in Apache.
A few commands to delete the old certificates from their Apache folder, and a few commands to copy the new ones, and now we're good to go!
I'll update this tomorrow to show you how my traffic has recovered, but in the mean time let this be a lesson to you: Keep your certificates up to date!
I'm lucky I caught the problem as quickly as I did. If I hadn't have checked my stats for a few more days, or let this certificate error go on for days, it would have probably decimated my rankings.
I hope this keeps you from making some simple mistakes! And remember: When you have a problem, always start at the source, and always try the easiest solutions first!