The New Leaf Annex

Related posts in WordPress

My online writing website, The New Leaf Journal was de-indexed by Bing back in January. The initial de-indexing inspired me to look into ways to improve the site. While I think I accomplished that, nothing had to do with resolving the mysterious Bing issue, which remains unexplained on Bing's Webmaster Console and apparently inapplicable to every other search engine crawler.

One thing I have considered in improving the site is streamlining. That is, I am working to slim The New Leaf Journal down (it was fairly slim to begin with, however) and use WordPress's native functionality in lieu of plugins wherever possible ("possible" is limited by my lack of php knowledge and coding ability, however).

We used a solid WordPress plugin called Contextual Related Posts to handle related posts. It adds quite a bit to the database, but it has in-built caching, minimal display options, and several algorithm configuration options. Perhaps most importantly, it works on custom post types -- my short posts are otherwise difficult for visitors to find. However, we do have more than 1000 posts in total, and despite the fact that our VPS plan is over-kill for a single, moderately trafficked and minimal WordPress site, I was a bit concerned about how this would scale. Moreover, even with fine-tuning, Contextual Related Posts' selections are mediocre -- my 18,000+ word expose on the Roman Emperor Otho appears often in large part because of how long it is.

I ditched Contextual Related Posts in mid-March after concluding from our privacy-friendly page count solution that most people were one-and-done anyway (an absolute majority of our referrals come from Google now, see my post on the downstream effects of Bing blocking, which I published before we became victims, for an understanding of why this is). I studied DIY solutions and looked at other plugins, but ultimately found no good alternative (DIY solutions I found use categories and tags, which would not cover my custom post types; manual related post plugins were not quite what I was looking for).

After about two weeks of somewhat disappointing visitor counts, I decided to return to Contextual Related Posts (note: the plugin does an admirable job of cleaning up after itself if you remove it). I tested it to confirm that it had no negative effect on loading speed (test us on Google Lighthouse, we are solid). After being satisfied, I made a few tweaks to the algorithm to improve relevancy. I improved it a bit, although results vary.

For now, I will stick with Contextual Related Posts to help people who enjoy the first article that they land on -- most likely Google-users -- to find more interesting articles and perhaps decide to follow us long-term. I may also look into some additional tweaks to weights to improve results. However, the Bing blacklisting, which more significantly removed us from DuckDuckGo (essentially a Bing front-end in the end), has shown me that relying on search engines is as dangerous as relying on social media (we get little social media traffic, so not an issue in our case). Thus, I am working on some additional ways to bring attention to The New Leaf Journal (this is one such way).

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