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An Armchair Blog Detective’s Website Toolkit

Solving technical problems using blog detective tools

Like a CSI team uses forensic tools to solve a murder at a crime scene, a blogger uses plugins and applications to solve a problem on a website. I discovered my blog crime scene several months ago as I became a blog detective.

Log Entry 11/22/13

I opened my Gmail account and saw an email from Google Webmaster Tools – an essential website forensic tool. The message said:  Warning! Warning!
blog detectivesherlock holmes hat

Becoming A Blog Detective

So, I put on my Sherlock Holmes sleuthing hat and logged into the Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) dashboard to find the bad links hiding out on the “Crawl Errors” page.

“Crawl Errors” is listed under “Crawl” on the sidebar of the GWT dashboard. Click on the “Crawl Errors” link to open a new page. Then click on  “Not Found” to view the problem links.

URL Error messages

Once I found the bad links Google had notified me about via email (because I had a GWT account), I considered my options.

  • Fix the bad links in the GWT dashboard using “Fetch As Google” (also listed under “Crawl” on the sidebar),
  • Or log in to my WordPress dashboard where the plugin Broken Link Checker (BLC) was working 24/7 to locate broken links on my blog.

I opted for the BLC fix because it provided three easy-to-follow options  for correcting bad links.

The BLC plugin, another essential website forensic tool, non-intrusively searches a site 24/7 for broken links and then lists the link errors in the BLC control panel in the dashboard of your site.

As soon as I logged into the “BLC Settings” in the control panel, I looked at “Status” and saw that I had several broken links, indicated by the “Found 12 broken links” link. I clicked on the link and a new window open with a list of three options for fixing the broken links:

  1. Edit URL – change the link URL.
  2. Unlink – remove the link.
  3. Dismiss – link not broken.

Since I knew the bad links were likely due to a recent permalink structure change I made, I was able to change the link using the “Edit URL” option.

On another occasion, I discovered I had bad links while checking my stats in the Google Analytics (GA) dashboard, another essential website tool.

I noticed I had a high bounce rate on a page. So, I logged into the GWT dashboard and saw a list of links pointing to 404 pages. I corrected the problem using BLC and the bounce rate dropped.

laurens bounce rate

I can’t express enough how important it is to set up a GWT account for a website and then link it to an existing GA property. If you don’t know how to set up a GWT or GA account, read this Guide to Google Webmaster Tools or this one by Ileane Smith. There is also a GA plugin that simplifies the process. This will help you become a great blog detective.

If you don’t have the time or patience to set up a GWT or GA account, hire a tech person to do it for you. In my case, I was able to set up a GWT account and link it to an existing GA property but my settings needed tweaking, which required a tech expert since the problem was above my pay grade.

Hiring An Expert

I hired Mayura at Mayura4Ever  to fix my GA settings and URL problems because of impulsive late night decisions I had made. On a whim, I decided to change my permalink structure, which in retrospect, was a bad thing to do.

Google got angry with me and lowered my PageRank to “0” because I had hundreds of 404 page errors on my blog.

Please learn from my mistakes. Never make changes to your site late at night when you’re tired or early in the morning before coffee.

Become A Blog Detective via the WordFence Plugin

Another great forensic website tool for a blog detective is the Wordfence Security plugin. Wordfence sends me an email every time a plugin needs to be updated. It also allows me to see live traffic in the control panel of my dashboard, tells me if anyone tried logging into my dashboard (and then block the IP address) and if there are any 404 pages. For other benefits of the Wordfence plugin, visit the plugin page for WordFence. This is a a great tool to become a great blog detective.

Like a forensic tool kit helps a CSI team gather evidence at a crime scene, these  blog detective tools will help you pinpoint a problem on your website or blog that you or a tech expert can fix if the problem is above your pay grade.

  • Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Google Analytics.
  • Broken Link Checker.
  • Wordfence Security.

What tools do you use to help solve problems on your website or blog?

Do you feel like a blog detective too along the way? 

Lauren Salkin

Lauren’s work have been published in various newspapers and in BlazingMinds.co.uk, ByLine Magazine, the Front Porch Syndicate, MomBloggersClub.com and TribalBlogs.com. In spring 2014, Huff/Post50 Fiction will be publishing her short story “Garden of Dreams.” Her noir short "Priming Pamela" was published in Shroud Magazine. Lauren writes humor at ThinkSpin.com, a blog she created in 2009.

Latest posts by Lauren Salkin (see all)

35 Responses to An Armchair Blog Detective’s Website Toolkit

  • Chiastine says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Custom 404 page is a must for every blog, having a custom 404 pages reduced your bounce rate, improve your SEO.

    I’m sure it’s going to be very helpful.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Babanature says:

    Hello Lauren,

    I love how you came up with this post… Ahaha… a blog detective? It was nice knowing that Webmaster sent you a mail about your increase in 404 not found in-links. and it was good Mayura came to your rescue.

    I do check my blog for broken links every week and the tools i use is just the online broken link checker and it is working beautifully.

    Thanks for the lovely comment and do have a beautiful week ahead…

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi Babanature,

      I don’t know how I come up with these ideas. : ) I’m glad you liked it. I was thrilled Mayura came to my rescue.

      It’s definitely a good idea to check for broken links every week.I should set up a Google reminder for myself. I’m glad the online broken link checker is working well for you. I haven’t been to the site yet but intend to stop by one of these days.

      Have a wonderful week.

      Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Lauren, thanks for sharing this information with us. Just have to check the broken link checker to see how many errors my site has. It’s a pleasure you took your time to share this story.
    Loved your way you used story telling to make a technical article more fun-no wonder you are a writer.
    Wishing you success in your upcoming book.

  • Ray says:

    I have both WordPress and another CMS system that powers my site. A while back I upgraded the non-WordPress part, and within a week I had all kinds of not found errors or warnings in Google Webmaster Tools. I mean way more than average, or expected.

    Turns out the company that makes the software change the link structure and neglected to mention for those upgrading. In the past they did provide this information, and even included instructions about how to redirect links to the new link structure. So I just assumed that nothing had changed.

    I did fix some of the not found errors eventually, and some have actually worked themselves out because they seem to be going down. I wish I only had 26 errors, but unfortunately I had quite a bit more than that. Talk about a pain in the you know what for a while though. Glad you were able to resolve yours in a timely manner.
    Ray recently posted…Rankings Falling – Maybe Your Backlinks Are TooMy Profile

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      It’s really horrible that the software company neglected to mention the upgrade. I’m glad you were able to figure things out. It seems you have things under control.

      I know that sinking feeling when you see all those “not found errors” in the GWT dashboard. I was spinning my wheels for days trying to fix the problems. Finally, I realized I was spending too many hours on an issue I couldn’t resolve on my own. That’s when I got help.

      You’re right. It’s the biggest pain “in the you know what” dealing with tech issues.

      Thanks for sharing your story, Ray.

      Best -Lauren
      Lauren recently posted…A Blogger Looks Back to 2009 and Asks, Why Am I Here?My Profile

  • donna merrill
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for sharing your detective journey. Oh those broken links! I did have problems with it in the past until I plugged in the Broken Link Checker. It’s a good thing you know Mayura. He is a wiz at these things! I’m a faithful follower of his blog!

    I like the way you have dug in and checked out your bounce rates. I have done that also and found too many. that’s how I found out about the broken link checker which helped me so much.

    Great meeting you on Lisa’s place!

    -Donna

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi Donna,

      You’re welcome! I hope people learn from my mistakes.

      I can’t say enough good things about Mayura. Late one night, I posted a SOS at his blog about a redirection problem I was having on my site. Every time someone clicked on a link for a particular page, it redirected to a different page. It was like Disneyland! He responded within minutes.

      Keeping an eye on bounce rate is soooooo important. That’s why I’m a big cheerleader about GA and GWT. I learned about BLC from Lisa.

      Great meeting you, too!

      Have a great day! -Lauren
      Lauren recently posted…30M2DW III Day 3 – Temporary InsanityMy Profile

  • Zach
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hey Lauren,

    There’s some awesome info in there! I didn’t know about subscribing to webmaster tools – so I will be doing that very soon!

    Also going to be installing the BLC plugin to! Everyone who reads this should be able to glean a couple of gold nuggets for sure!

    Zach

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi Zach,

      I’m glad you found the post helpful. Definitely is a good idea to sign up for a google webmaster tools account and the BLC plugin will also help.

      Thank you!

      Happy Blogging!

  • Geri Richmond
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Lauren and Lisa,

    What an enjoyable blog post to read. Humor and facts: rolled into one.
    I use WordFence and love it because there have been several tries to break it into my dashboard.
    I am going to bookmark this post and share the URL on my blog.

    It’s all good though 😀

    Thanks so much for all the information and a job well done.
    Geri Richmond

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Thanks so much, Geri.

      I can’t believe how many attempts are made to log into my dashboard. Most of the user names are “admin” or a variation of it.

      Thanks for bookmarking and sharing the URL!

  • Lauren
    Twitter:
    says:

    Nice to meet you, Adrienne.

    That’s good to know abut BLC. I remember the problems you had with BlueHost. I always keep that in the back of my mind. It resurfaced again in the beginning of February. I discovered my blog webmail was hacked. BlueHost shut down my webmail and didn’t tell me. I only found out because CommentLuv ReplyMe wasn’t working. Mayura figured out that I had a problem with my webmail and told me to call BlueHost. Low and behold I was shuffled off to another department where I was told my webmail was hacked.

    Mayura saved me a second time.

    I know that regular maintenance is important. We all learn by our mistakes.

    Take care -Lauren

  • Adrienne says:

    Hi Laura,

    Nice to meet you and thank you for sharing your experience with us here at Lisa’s place. I think we all can learn from each other.

    I installed broken link checker some time back per other’s recommendations but found that it wasn’t catching all the links so I dumped that one and just check for broken links through the web site they offer. Tim provided the link above for that.

    Luckily I’ve never received a message from Google because I stay on top of those. I’ve also never changed my permanlinks after the fact because as you just shared, that’s a nightmare waiting to happen.

    Now I had a commenter just today share with me that her hosting service shut her blog down because it was using too much resource and while investigating found it to be the broken link checker plugin so just beware. Apparently it can cause issues so I would only activate it when you need it.

    I’m glad Mayura was able to help you clean all of that up. I love to learn so I’ve learned how to handle these on my own so if you check them at least once a month you won’t have near the issues as time goes by.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us and a hard lesson to learn isn’t it!

    ~Adrienne

  • Jean says:

    Thanks for this! I hid from Google Webmaster tools since I just blogger, but it’s just as important to do this. For traffic alone, fixing all the errors can help bump up traffic.

    This is a good skill to have — you’re more of an expert than you know!

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Thanks for reading this! Yes, believe me, I begrudgingly learned from GWT every time I screwed something up, which was often. As I mentioned in the post, I try not to do anything technical early in the morning or late at night. That’s when I got into trouble.

      Thank you, Jean. I really appreciate that.

  • William Butler
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Lauren,
    Nice to meet you here on Lisa’s website. 🙂 Thank you for a great post. I love the detective angle 🙂 I’m curious 1) what impact BLC has on load time of one’s website and 2) if WordFence conflicts with the Limit Login plugin.

    Kind Regards,
    Bill

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi Bill,

      Nice to meet you at Lisa’s place, too. : ) I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the detective angle. I love watching CSI dramatizations.

      Honestly, I can’t answer your questions on load time or WF conflicts. I need to defer to an expert on this. If an expert is reading this, please respond to Bill’s questions. Thank you!!!!

      • Kumar Gauraw
        Twitter:
        says:

        Hi Lauren and Bill,

        I don’t claim to be an expert but I’ve my share of experiences that taught me a few things and I can tell you that adding a plugin always adds to the size of your website and obviously it has a negative influence on your page load times. So, whether or not the performance will suffer because of WordFence significantly, it will still add to the load on your server.

        And regarding conflict with Limit Logins, I don’t think that will happen. But you wouldn’t know until you try.

        Hope it helps?

        Well, glad to meet you at Lisa’s blog. Thank you for sharing about GWT and it’s importance through your story 🙂

        Cheers!
        Kumar

        • Lauren
          Twitter:
          says:

          Thanks for responding, Kumar.

          I guess brokenlinkcheck.com might be a better way of handling broken links if someone is concerned about the Broken Link Checker plugin affecting a web page load time.

          Cheers!

          Lauren

  • Sylviane Nuccio
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Lauren, and nice meeting you.

    I find Google Webmaster broken link checker quite confusing.

    The last time I found an overwhelming amount of broken links on my blogs I hired Mayura to do it, so I thought it was interesting that’s what your suggesting here.

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi Sylviane,

      Nice meeting you, too.

      Google Webmaster Tools can be confusing. As you know, I think that getting help is the best solution for problems that seem insurmountable. The best way to determine if you need help: if you spend hours on a project and feel like you’re not making any progress. Have a great day!

  • happy valentines day 2014 wallpaper says:

    Thanks for sharing such a informative post here. I am new in blogging and looking for such a useful article. I am going to bookmark this post and will share with other friends.
    😀

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. Thank you!

      Yes, Lisa’s site is a wonderful place to learn about the tools you need for blogging. You should come back here often. : )

  • Hello Lauren,

    Nice to meet you! The one that’s new to me is the broken link checker. Right after I post my comment and share this post I’m going to check it out.

    I might have to do some tweaking to my settings to and the link you shared to Ileane’s video to help get us started will be very helpful! Mayura is awesome, isn’t he? He has come to mind when I think of asking someone for help regarding my blog :).

    Thanks for sharing this with us Lauren. I hope you ladies are having a great week!
    Corina Ramos recently posted…Aqua Aerobics: 5 Easy Exercises To Get Fit and Have Fun!My Profile

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi Corina,

      Nice to meet you! Definitely check out Broken Link Checker. I originally heard about it here. Lisa wrote a post about it a while ago. Thanks for sharing!

      Yes, Mayura is awesome! You’re welcome.

      Have a great week, too!

  • June O'Hara says:

    If I understood a word of that, it would change my identity. 😉 Seriously, tech stuff was one of the reasons I’ve taken off from blogging. It was getting in the way of writing and I knew I had to make a change. I’ll learn what I need to somehow, some way. It just might take a very, very long time.

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi June,

      I know. I feel for your about the tech stuff. It’s overwhelming when you don’t have a grasp of the nuances. That’s why I strongly suggest getting tech help when necessary. Don’t be a hero when it comes to trying to solve tech problems on your blog.

      Since I unplugged from the Internet, I’ve been getting a lot of writing done.

  • Mayura
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hey Lauren,

    What a surprise to see you here at Lisa’s place, Lauren 🙂 Gotta say I love that hat as being a Sherlock Holms fan.

    Now I can vouch for you as you have been through enough technical issues lately, but that must have been a great way to learn how to respond when something is off on your blog. You will notice how peaceful it can be when everything is working fine though 🙂 Anyway, the best thing is, now you have become a Blog Detective 😉

    I remember Lisa once mentioned in a post that first and foremost thing to do is “Don’t Panic”. Now that’s a pretty good advice. Isn’t it? 🙂 Sometimes it takes some panics to calm down in future panic-able moments.

    I like the way you have taken us through the steps in BLC 🙂 Sometimes users do just unlink when they could have edit and update the link. May be they don’t know much, but this comes in handy for those who didn’t know.

    GWT, GA, BLC and WF are even FREE too. So why someone shouldn’t use ’em? They are essential indeed. As I’m on Blogger platform, I’m far away from plugins though dear. Yet GWT and GA has been very helpful to me.

    Anyway, I’d like to add another WordPress plugin to the list ~ BackWPup. It could impress me when it comes to the safety of database and core files, and love the automated behavior.

    I really appreciate the mention and glad I could help you resolve the issues you have been experiencing dear 🙂 What really made me happy was that I could get you back into blogging when you were about to give it up. Thanks again! 😳

    You both have a wonderful rest of the week there, Lauren and Lisa 🙂

    Cheers…
    Mayura recently posted…How to Add YouTube Subscribe Button to Your WebsiteMy Profile

    • Lauren
      Twitter:
      says:

      Thank you Mayura.

      I haven’t been here lately. I’ve been taking an Internet break. In the beginning of the month, I had all this stuff going on. I got paralyzed and had to unplug.

      Yes, I love the peace and quiet. Thanks to you! : ) The Sherlock Holmes hat was Lisa’s brilliant idea. Mayura, I will always be your megaphone, shouting my praises of your work across cyberspace. You’re quite welcome.

      Have a wonderful back of week, too!

  • Ileane
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Lauren, nice to meet you here on Lisa’s blog.

    I agree that people should be getting notifications from Google Webmaster Tools. So glad to know that you figured out how to fix the problem and got help when things got too complicated.

    WordPress changed the way Permalinks are set by default and I think that’s a good thing because once they are set it’s a pain to change them unless you know what you’re doing.

    Thanks for the resources.
    Ileane recently posted…How To Start Winning The Social Media GameMy Profile

  • Lauren
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Tim,

    That’s good to know about brokenlinkcheck.com. Thanks for mentioning that. Yes, Mayura is “one helpful guy.” He’s also a pleasure to work with…and so patient, something I lack when it comes to tech stuff.

    As far as Wordfence is concerned, I’m using the free version and am not knowledgeable of all it’s features. I know that the free version also has a lot of meat to it. I just haven’t read up on it yet. Maybe now’s a good time to get started. : )
    Lauren recently posted…30M2DW III Day 3 – Temporary InsanityMy Profile

  • Tim Bonner
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Lauren

    I used to use the Broken Link Checker plugin but found it used lots of resources and didn’t pick up all of my broken links.

    I currently use the free broken link checker at brokenlinkcheck.com. I’ve personally found that to be more effective.

    Great that Mayura was able to get things put right for you with regards to your permalinks. He’s one helpful guy!

    I do use WordFence Lauren. It’s saved my bacon when it comes to brute force attacks on numerous occasions!
    Tim Bonner recently posted…Do Your Blog Posts Pass The Test? 5 Things You Can Improve On TodayMy Profile

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