Related Post Plugins are great. They present a set of posts that are (duh) related, and that enables your readers to see other posts they might like. That keeps them on your site longer and keeps your bounce rate lower. Your site's bounce rate is percentage of time that a visitor hits your site on a page and leaves from that same page. When it's high (above 40%), you want to look into what's up. So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed that my bounce rate had jumped from a traditional 30% to 70% in a matter of months. The average time that people were hanging around also dropped. What happened?
Related Post Plugins Can Kill Your Site
Before I get into what happened on chrislema.com, let me explain why some people are worried about related post plugins – for good reason. While I won't go into as much detail as my friend Austin (whose write up is great), here's the short version:
In order to know which posts should relate to other posts, many plugins scan the content of your post and all your other posts. This scanning is very taxing on the server and so performance starts getting worse and worse.
Another way these plugins can really mess with your site is that by automatically selecting which posts relate to the one your audience is reading, there's no way to know that they're getting exactly the right posts that you'd like them to see.
What Option do you Have?
Thankfully, you don't have to be handcuffed. You do actually have options. One option is to look at plugins that do their indexing away from your own server/site. My favorite of these plugins is nrelate because it gives you so many options without taxing your site at all. I used it in the past and it worked great.
You have another option, and it's the one I'm starting to implement here on chrislema.com – and that is to use a plugin that lets you select which posts you want to highlight. Sure it's manual but it gives you the best mechanism for making sure you're directing your traffic where they ought to go.
This is what happened here…
I mentioned that my bounce rate had gone way up. Well, about 3 months ago I switched from a StudioPress theme and nrelate's plugin to a theme called Canvas, from WooThemes. I love both companies and was excited to see Canvas 5 appear. So I adjusted themes and plugins. WooThemes has a nice automatic widget that comes at the end of the post and allows people to sign up for your newsletter (Feedburner) and displays related content. So I went for it.
And things took a dive from there. Bounce rate went up. Visiting time went down.
Now, there's nothing wrong with Canvas. I'm still using it. But I turned off that related post feature and have started using a plugin that let's me select the specific posts I'd like you to see.
If you try it, tell me what you think….oh, and by the way, check out these related posts below!