How To Waste AdWords Budget: Postie Plugin Edition

Some time ago I was looking for ways to send in posts to my WordPress blog via email, and I found a reference to a WordPress plugin called “Postie.” So I popped that into Google search and what did I get?

The correct answer to this search would be the Postie WordPress plugin hosted here. But apparently there is another company named Postie which manages enterprise mail (hosted at postie.com) which is a completely separate entity to the WordPress plugin (hosted at postieplugin.com). As you can see from the screenshot, my search resulted in an ad for the enterprise company.

But I have no interest in enterprise mail. That ad is effectively wasted. Worse yet, the CTR (clickthrough rate, the number of times the ad is clicked on divided by the number of times the ad is shown) of the ad goes down through no fault of the ad itself. But you can see why the ad was shown – the ad’s creator placed ads on the word “postie” and didn’t realize there might be other organizations with the same name.

This is a good example of where negative keywords are used. In short negative keywords are used to find searches to NOT show ads to. In this case, Postie (the enterprise company) should have used negative keywords to exclude the word “plugin” so they’re not confused with Postie Plugin (the WordPress plugin).

Google SEO Update On March 2024: Up 314%

If you’re interested in search optimization, you’ll know about Google’s new search update that released in March 2024. Per Google, the search update is intended to weed out low effort sites, sites with a ton of AI content, affiliate review sites, and so forth. A good outline of what went on in this update is here.

In short, a lot of chaos occurred. Major publications are reporting pretty severe drops in traffic; smaller sites are reporting traffic drops of greater than 90%. Here’s a fun quote:

BBC News, for example, was among the sites that saw the biggest percentage drops, with its site losing 37% of its search visibility having fallen from 24.7 to 15.4 points in a little over six weeks. Its relative decline was second only to Canada-based entertainment site, Screenrant which saw its visibility fall by 40% from 27.6 to 16.7.

https://pressgazette.co.uk/media-audience-and-business-data/first-google-core-update-of-2024-brings-bad-news-for-most-news-publishers/

There’s a lot of doom and gloom about this update, but I’m really liking it. I’m seeing a lot of very interesting stuff float up on my Google searches that normally would be buried. In particular I’m seeing fewer “top 10 XYZ” type webpages and more links to opinion websites such as Reddit and other forums.

And then there’s this: one of my websites is reporting 314% more clicks from Google search.

I run a small blog (not this one) which is basically a tumblelog-style fan blog for a specific consumer-goods company. It really doesn’t do much except repost funny pictures and interesting articles. The blog typically gets about 100 clicks a month from Google search – which never ceases to amaze me, especially since the site itself is so simple.

With that in mind, I was shocked to suddenly see a burst of emails over the past month congratulating me over a sudden rise in traffic:

A sample of the emails:

What on earth is going on? A quick view of my search console shows the truth:

I’m not making any larger point here, it’s just interesting to see how fast things can change during a search core update.

Task Queue Fun: DeadlineExceeded

I always love pointing out fun errors – where I define “fun error” as an error that is intermittent/happens rarely in the context of regular operation in the application. Those errors are always the most fun to fix.

Today I was poking through some of my toy applications running on Google Cloud when I saw this:

And the text only:

_InactiveRpcError: <_InactiveRpcError of RPC that terminated with:
._end_unary_response_blocking ( /layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/grpc/_channel.py:1003 )	-	Jan 23, 2024	22 hours ago	-

DeadlineExceeded: 504 Deadline Exceeded
.error_remapped_callable ( /layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/google/api_core/grpc_helpers.py:81 )	-	Jan 23, 2024	22 hours ago

Hmm – so an error occurred 22 hours ago, that last reoccurred almost 4 months ago (Jan 23, 2024). Doesn’t sound very important. But just for the laughs, let’s dig in.

Of the two errors, I know that the first one (InactiveRPCError) is most likely due to a connection being unable to complete. Not a giant problem, happens all the time in the cloud – servers get rebooted, VMs get shuffled off to another machine, etc. Not a serious problem. The deadline exceeded one concerns me though because I know this application connects to a bunch of different APIs and does a ton of time consuming operations, and I want to make sure that everything is back to normal.

So here’s the view of the error page:

So I know that the error is somewhere communicating with Google services since the error pops up in the google api core library. Let’s hop on over to logging and find the stack trace – I’ve redacted a line that doesn’t mean anything to the purpose of this post:

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/flask/app.py", line 2070, in wsgi_app
    response = self.full_dispatch_request()
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/flask/app.py", line 1515, in full_dispatch_request
    rv = self.handle_user_exception(e)
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/flask/app.py", line 1513, in full_dispatch_request
    rv = self.dispatch_request()
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/flask/app.py", line 1499, in dispatch_request
    return self.ensure_sync(self.view_functions[rule.endpoint])(**req.view_args)
  [REDACTED]
  File "/srv/main.py", line 331, in launch_task
    task_creation_results = client.create_task(parent=queue_prop, task=task)
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/google/cloud/tasks_v2/services/cloud_tasks/client.py", line 2203, in create_task
    metadata=metadata,
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/google/api_core/gapic_v1/method.py", line 131, in __call__
    return wrapped_func(*args, **kwargs)
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/google/api_core/timeout.py", line 120, in func_with_timeout
    return func(*args, **kwargs)
  File "/layers/google.python.pip/pip/lib/python3.7/site-packages/google/api_core/grpc_helpers.py", line 81, in error_remapped_callable
    raise exceptions.from_grpc_error(exc) from exc
google.api_core.exceptions.DeadlineExceeded: 504 Deadline Exceeded

If you missed the culprit in the above text, let me help you out: the call to the Google Task Queue service on line 331 of my application ended up exceeding Google’s deadline, and threw up the exception from Google’s end. Perhaps there was a transient infrastructure issue, perhaps task queue was under maintenance, perhaps it was just bad luck.

File "/srv/main.py", line 331, in launch_task
    task_creation_results = client.create_task(parent=queue_prop, task=task)

There’s really nothing to be done here, other than maybe catching the exception and trying again. I will point out that the task queue service is surprisingly resilient: out of tens/hundreds of thousands of task queue calls over the past 5 months that this application has performed, only 2 tasks (one in January 2024, one yesterday) have failed to enqueue. More importantly, my code is functioning as intended and I can mark this issue as Resolved or at least Muted.

Now honestly, this is a my bad sort of situation. If this was a real production app there should be something catching the exception. But since this is a toy application, I absolutely am fine tolerating the random and thankfully very rare failures in task queue.

Coding Fun: Vigenere Cipher Encryption/Decryption

I was working on some fun LeetCode type questions, and I came across a challenge to replicate the Vigenere cipher encryption and decryption in Python.

In short, the Vigenere cipher allows one to encrypt and decrypt a message if the user knows an alphabetic key. It’s notable for being easy to use; encryption and decryption are done by overlaying the key next to the message, then shifting the message letter by the letter number of the overlaid key. For more information, see the Wikipedia page discussing the Vigenere cipher .

The below functions are the “know-your-number-theory” / expected versions of how to encrypt/decrypt, where c is the encrypted message to decrypt, m is the unencrypted text to encrypt, and keyword is the secret encoding key.


def vigenere_decrypt_cipher(c: str, keyword: str) -> str:
    keyword_repeated = (keyword * (len(c) // len(keyword))) + keyword[:len(c) % len(keyword)]
    plaintext = ''
    for i in range(len(c)):
        if c[i].isalpha():
            shift = ord(keyword_repeated[i].upper()) - ord('A')
            if c[i].islower():
                plaintext += chr((ord(c[i]) - ord('a') - shift) % 26 + ord('a'))
            else:
                plaintext += chr((ord(c[i]) - ord('A') - shift) % 26 + ord('A'))
        else:
            plaintext += c[i]
    return plaintext

def vigenere_encrypt_message(m: str, keyword: str) -> str:
    #filter to kick out spaces and punctuation
    filtered_m = ""
    for toon in m:
        if toon.isalpha():
            filtered_m = filtered_m + toon
        else:
            pass
    #the rest to process the "real" stuff
    m = filtered_m.upper()
    keyword = keyword.upper()
    encrypted_message = ''
    keyword_repeated = (keyword * (len(m) // len(keyword))) + keyword[:len(m) % len(keyword)]
    for i in range(len(m)):
        char = m[i]
        if char.isalpha():
            shift = ord(keyword_repeated[i].upper()) - ord('A')
            if char.islower():
                encrypted_message += chr((ord(char) - ord('a') + shift) % 26 + ord('a'))
            else:
                encrypted_message += chr((ord(char) - ord('A') + shift) % 26 + ord('A'))
        else:
            encrypted_message += char
    return encrypted_message.upper()

Honestly, while it was fun to implement, it’s not immediately obvious how Vigenere’s works from the code. So for fun I wrote the functions below, which sort of mimics how Vigenere messages would be coded/decoded by hand:


def look_up_letter_index(letter):
    alphabet = "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz".upper()
    return alphabet.find(letter.upper())


def decrypt_vignere(encrypted, key):
    translated = ""
    alphabet = "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz".upper()
    print(len(alphabet))
    count = 0
    alphabet_array = []
    for letter in alphabet:
        single_line = alphabet[count:26] + alphabet[0:count]
        alphabet_array.append(single_line)
        count = count + 1
    print(alphabet_array)
    print(look_up_letter_index("a"))
    overlaid_key = key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    encrypted_count = 0
    for encrypted_letter in encrypted:
        print("encrypted letter" + encrypted_letter)
        print("keyoverlaid letter" + overlaid_key[encrypted_count:encrypted_count + 1])
        encrypted_index = look_up_letter_index(encrypted_letter)
        overlaidkey_index = look_up_letter_index(overlaid_key[encrypted_count:encrypted_count + 1])
        encrypted_count = encrypted_count + 1
        print(encrypted_index)
        print(overlaidkey_index)
        #loop through alphabet array
        single_alphabet_index = 0
        for single_alphabet in alphabet_array:
            single_alphabet_letter_test = single_alphabet[overlaidkey_index:overlaidkey_index + 1]
            if single_alphabet_letter_test == encrypted_letter:
                print(single_alphabet_index)
                print(alphabet[single_alphabet_index:single_alphabet_index + 1])
                translated += alphabet[single_alphabet_index:single_alphabet_index + 1]
            single_alphabet_index = single_alphabet_index + 1
    print(translated)
    return translated



def encrypt_vignere(message, key):
    alphabet = "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz".upper()
    print(len(alphabet))
    count = 0
    alphabet_array = []
    for letter in alphabet:
        single_line = alphabet[count:26] + alphabet[0:count]
        alphabet_array.append(single_line)
        count = count + 1
    print(alphabet_array)
    print(look_up_letter_index("a"))
    overlaid_key = key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    overlaid_key += key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key + key
    message_count = 0
    encrypted_message = ""
    for message_letter in message:
        print(message_letter)
        overlaid_key_letter = overlaid_key[message_count:message_count + 1]
        print(overlaid_key_letter)
        message_letter_index = look_up_letter_index(message_letter)
        overlaid_key_letter_index = look_up_letter_index(overlaid_key_letter)
        translated_letter = alphabet_array[overlaid_key_letter_index][message_letter_index:message_letter_index + 1]
        print(translated_letter)
        encrypted_message += translated_letter
        print("--")
        message_count = message_count + 1
    print(encrypted_message)
    return encrypted_message





print(encrypt_vignere("MESSAGE", "SECRETKEY"))

print(decrypt_vignere("EIUJEZO", "SECRETKEY"))

While these functions are much longer, I think they’re much more readable than the previous set of functions. These versions generate a matrix of 26×26 alphabets; the first row is a to z, the second row is shifted 1 to the right (b to z then a), the third row is shifted 2 to the right (c to z then ab), etc. Then we overlay the secret key and use it along with the message/encrypted message to encrypt/decrypt by finding the appropriate entry in our matrix. Admittedly the code is a little ugly and could be cleaned up, but I thought it would be fun to share.