Archive for March, 2007

Homepage speed up

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

I’ve just sped up the time to generate the homepage from 2.2 seconds to 0.1 seconds by moving a bracket once place to the right!

This is slightly simplified but my old code was something like:
results = list(Person.select(query))[:10]

Which I changed to:
results = list(Person.select(query)[:10])

In the code ‘Person’ in an SQLObject class.

The first version queries and processes the entire database and then throws away all but the first 10 items. The second version only processes the first 10 items as SQLObject will smartly replace the slice with a “LIMIT 10″ in SQL.

It’s amazing the power of a bracket!

Hotmail Email Problems

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Life is never easy! It turns out that the previous owner of our new IP address allowed an open relay to run on the server with the result that the IP address is on a black list at Hotmail - this means that although all of the email going to Hotmail appeared to be being sent ok it was in actual fact being deleted!

I’ve found that the fastest solution was just to edit Postfix’s main.cf to get it to bind to another of my IP addresses. I had to add an ’smtp_bind_address’ directive.

I am pretty annoyed about how Microsoft handle this. Every email that was being sent was being acknowledged by Microsoft with a received ok (250) code. If they’d been bouncing the mails or refusing to accept the connection at least I would have known what was going on. As it is I’ve lost days of mail and have hundreds of annoyed users.

UPDATE: Microsoft’s postmaster got back to me; it turns out they replied to me pretty quickly but unfortunately Yahoo’s spam filter put their mail in my junk box! Anyway their response was that I should publish some SPF records which I guess I should. In addition, I really should get Domain Keys running.

First 6 months

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

It’s now 6 months since I launched the site so I thought it would be good to review where we are. So here’s some positives:

1. The software platform is doing pretty well and the features are popular. The move to the dedicated server has really sorted out the speed problems. The chatroom is still a bit broken I can see the way forward to scale that to any size now.

2. The business model has worked, I’m currently in profit and I’m sure that revenues will scale faster than costs as the site grows.

3. The site has attracted about 3,000 email-verified members in its first 6 months which is prety good for a new site with no marketing budget. The sign-ups have accelerated dramatically but it’s below target.

When I first had the idea for the project I set myself a target of 1 million members in the first year. The big issue is that we are still not getting any traffic from Google (other than for seaches for “fab swingers”) and the original target was entirely based on getting a good share of the massive search engine traffic around swinging.

Everything I’ve read has said that a new site will take 6-9 months before it ranks on Google for competitive terms so hopefully in the next 3 months we will see traffic take off. In the meantime I’ll continue with my guerilla marketing and SEO.

I think that I will also now spend a bit of money on PPC advertising. I am now very comfortable that I can monetise my traffic so I think that I will make a profit but even I don’t I don’t really mind spending my profits on PPC because it will keep the site fresh for the members and will generate lots of content which will feed back to the search rankings.

On the personal side I’ve commited to working on another web project for probably about the next two years. This project will cover my living expenses quite nicely. So I’m quite happy for all of the Fab Swingers profits to be reinvested for the next couple of years which I think will take it to quite an exciting place.

I guess if I’m honest I think that the 1 million member target is not going to happen this year but I think it is quite possible to happen within 18 months, assuming we get some search engine coverage on Google!

Two SEO cock-ups

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Well, I admit it. I’ve made two silly on-page SEO cock-ups.

First, on every page I put a meta description tag with the same text. I’ve since realised that it’s absolutely fine not to have meta description tags but if you do have description tags they have to be unique otherwise Google will often view your pages as being duplicates. This is exactly what’s happening on the site, with only three pages visible on a site: search but thousands available when I ask for the similar results to be shown.

Incidentally, I also found out today that WordPress makes exactly this mistake by default. The solution is to install one of the metadata plugins. However I’m not that bothered about the SEO for this blog.

My second error was on the page design of the member profiles, which amount for the vast bulk of the site. I had the username as the sole h1 title. Now, I do have a nice title field which contains lots of keyword rich text but unfortunately I chose the username which is usually a nonsense word. This will give Google a strong indication that all the profiles are nonsense!

I’ve fixed both problems now but I suspect it will take a while for everything to get properly reindexed.

I think that these two mistakes could explain why on some of my keywords we’re on page one of Live Search but not visible in the first 30 pages of Google.

Server move

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

I had just placed an order with Jaguar PC for a dedicated server when I noticed that chat.fabswingers.com had gone down. Eventually after an email exchange with support it turns out that the reason the server was failing was because Jaguar PC had allocated my IP number to another customer; and because I was less important than the other customer it would have to be me who would change my IP address. This will probably result in about two days of outage. There was no explanation or offer of compensation.

If this was an isolated incident I would still be very angry but it follows two lengthy outages caused by their inability to enable journalling on large file systems (which means that you can be down for days while the systems check themselves for errors - more than 48 hours in one incident).

Anyway, I spent a lot of time looking around and eventually decided to do some whois’s on the IP addresses of some of my competitors, I chose competitors who seem to have reliable websites. I also did a bit of Googling. In the end I’ve chosen ServePath, I didn’t really like the prices on offer but if you hang in there then the prices come down and the spec goes up to something much better!

I’m getting a Pentium 4 2.4 GHz, 1024 MB RAM, 80 GB drive and 1500 GB data transfer on Debian. This should be enough to take Fab Swingers to 300,000 members, if it scales as I expect.

Time for a dedicated server

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

I’ve managed 6 months with two Virtual Private Servers from Jaguar PC. One server runs the chatroom and one server runs everything else. I’ve been pretty happy with it (other than the occasional outage but I think that the time has come for an upgrade to a dedicated box.

The performance is getting a bit sluggish when it’s busy and I given that my traffic is still increasing pretty dramatically in terms of hits (hits are a useless measure for measuring popularity of a site but are a great measure for the load on the server) and the traffic is also rocketing towards my bandwidth allocation.

On the positive side advertising revenue has risen too so I can afford the move. I’m going to stick with Jaguar PC and order their basic AMD 3500, 1 GB memory, 160 GB drive with Debian. I’ll get rid of both VPS’s and I will work this year towards getting the chatroom migrated away to a hosted service.

DMOZ Open Directory

Friday, March 9th, 2007

I applied last night to become an editor of the DMOZ Open Directory. I really want to try to sort out the Swinging -> Personals and Ads section. At the moment it’s a bit of a mess with broken sites, inaccurate descriptions and fairly ridiculous omissions - including top 100 Alexa sites which haven’t made it in.

The parent category is also a bit of a mess so hopefully I’ll be able to look at that too.

I do hope I get accepted but I’m not holding my breath.

Swinging Heaven goes to print

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

This is an odd story. Good old Swinging Heaven have announced that they are creating a print magazine! To say that I’m surprised would be an understatement, I am in fact shocked.

Here we have one of the top sites in the UK, albeit in decline, suddenly deciding to go into print whilst we’re going through the biggest shift from print to web that there has ever been.

I really can’t imagine what strategy this could be part of.

Experiments in social networking

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

I’ve had a go at creating some profiles on a few social networking sites. I put a profile on Yahoo! 360 and on MySpace.

Both profiles have been quite successful, currently I’ve converted a lot more from Yahoo! than from MySpace which may seem surprising but although MySpace is a much bigger community it seems to be easier to find the right people on Yahoo. My sign-up conversion rate from the Yahoo profile is currently hovering around 18%.

With both sites it’s really important to understand that simply creating a profile is pretty pointless, you really need to get involved in the communities by joining groups and inviting lots of appropriate people to become friends. As well as recruiting lots of new members I think it may have been good for link building, it’s certainly set my Google Alerts off several since times since I started.

Technically I much prefer Yahoo! 360 to MySpace, one of the nice features is the ability to add RSS feeds to your profile, so I’ve added a feed of new swingers to the profile which is working pretty well.