Tier chasing or lensrank chasing is a bit like a dog chasing cars — there are better moving targets to focus one’s energies on, and why does it matter?! But that car bumper is very shiny.”
—Greekgeek, in SimeyC’s SquidU thread “Lensrank Buzz”
Lensrank has been a frequent topic of discussion in SquidU lately — more than usual, I mean.
I feel ambivalent about lensrank. I’ve seen a lot of internet communities in which post count, forum ranks, join date or some other arbitrary system gets used to gauge a member’s worth.
Except that lensrank measures something more meaningful than mere post count. It’s an attempt to gauge lens worth, so that low-content lenses get pushed to the back row and exceptional lenses get to shine. That’s a necessary quality control loop on a site where anyone is allowed to submit content. Lensrank also yields benefits worth chasing. The highest-ranked lenses get extra search engine and visitor exposure on Squidoo’s multiple “Top 100” lists. Squidoo’s search box, almost the only way to navigate the site, returns results by lensrank.
Finally, of course, lensrank determines payout. Even though I want to keep Squidoo as a fun hobby, I can’t help fiddling with my lenses just below a payout tier cutoff! I track my Squidoo lensrank and payout stats each month. Yes, the bumper is shiny.
So let us examine this shiny bumper. Just what is lensrank based on, and… more importantly for you folks, I’m sure… how do I keep 10-20 of my lenses in the Top 2000?
While Squidoo has to keep the lensrank algorithm secret to head off people gaming the system, the Squidoo FAQ actually lists many of the factors used to calculate lensrank:
We look at community ratings, lensmaster reputation, clickthrough rates, frequency of updates, inbound and outbound links, revenue generated, and lots of other factors and give the lens a number.
“[…]LensRank does a full sweep of all lenses in the Squidoo system and ranks them according to things like frequency of update, traffic, inbound and outbound links and more. We recalculate the rankings every day or so. […] LensRank is built to reward human-made, updated, curated lenses.”
I knew my training in literary analysis would come in handy someday. So, let’s translate!
- It may be significant that frequency of update is mentioned twice. Perhaps not, but it’s a reminder that frequent updates, not only the time since last update, is what Squidoo measures. Of course, that probably just means that each and every update gives a boost. Note also that Google counts “fresh content” as significant on at least some topics (Which does not include RSS feeds or any script-generated content on a lens).
- Community Ratings means the gold stars at the top of lenses. No wonder the FAQ has a section on Fool’s Gold, and the Squid Team periodically issues stern warnings about lensmasters being suspended for ratings manipulation, which could lead to their being devoured by mutant lemons. Smart lensmasters don’t cheat! However, I think it’s perfectly cricket to remind visitors at the bottom of a lens to jump back to the top and rate. Here’s basic “back to top” code: <a href=”#”>[link text]</a>
- Lensmaster reputation must mean the number of fans in one’s fanclub. Like ratings, you could remind visitors to favorite your lens, but be careful about asking your visitors for too many favors. I like to give them four options: Tweet, Stumble, favorite and/or rate, as opposed to the mass o’ social bookmarking buttons some people use.
- Clickthrough Rates are big. My clickthrough vs. “back button” experiment didn’t yield specific enough results for me to report how big the clickthrough lensrank boost is, but that’s just as well, since I don’t want my data getting anyone in trouble with Marty the Mutant Lemoen. I’m guessing that clickthrough boost is proportional to lensrank — otherwise a 5000 point lensrank boost could send a top tier lens over the event horizon into negative lensrank! At any rate, the point is to MAKE YOUR LINKS SHINY, and do what you can to earn clicks.
I do this by monitoring the search queries in my traffic stats tab not so much for tag optimization — my lens must already be optimized for those phrases at least somewhat, since I’ve got visitors from them! — but in order to fine-tune my links. You want clickthroughs? Link to what visitors are looking for! Preferably, link to another lens which you’ve built to address the most common searches showing up in your traffic stats.
- Inbound links (also mentioned twice) have generated another flurry of discussion in SquidU. Some argue that backlinks are important, particularly since Squidaholic borrows the Yahoo tool to count them for you. (Actually, nobody on the Backlink Bandwagon thought to bring up that point, but you won’t tell them, will you?)
I don’t think Squidoo counts all the links that Squidoo members fling about the web like so many styrofoam peanuts. For one thing, Squidoo doesn’t want to be penalized for endorsing link-spam! For another, there’s no accurate tool for measuring backlinks; Yahoo’s tool is approximate at best. Instead, I suspect that Squidoo notes how many different inbound links have yielded actual visitors. Or, to rephrase the “tree falling in a forest” paradox, “If a spammer drops a link on a random webpage, and nobody clicks it, does it count for lensrank?”
- Outbound links, (aslo mentioned twice), probably aren’t counted as the number of links on your lens, but rather, how many different links on your lens get clicked.
I have also heard — probably from The Fluffanutta, who knows the inner workings of Squidoo more than most of us because of his work on SquidUtils — that links passing traffic to other parts of Squidoo are weighted more than outbound links sending visitors away from Squidoo. (This makes good business sense.) The question is whether the same is true of inbound links!
At any rate, that brings us back to for driving clickthroughs.
- Traffic is obvious, although too many newbies treat it as second only to lensrank in importance. Important, yes, but the dashboard and the FAQ post we’re analyzing suggest many factors, not just a few, play a role. Shameless plug time: Greekgeek’s Squidoo Tips: How to Get Your Lens Found.
- Last and possibly most important, the FAQ sums up the Lensrank algorithm by saying: LensRank is built to reward human-made, updated, curated lenses.
In other words, change your module titles and text from the default! This also suggests that using the magicbuilders for Squidoo’s co-brands may hurt lensrank if you don’t bother to expand or alter the content that Squidoo’s scraped for you (e.g. the Wikipedia excerpt in SquidWho lenses). User-submitted parts of your page may also play a part. Finally, “human-made” could mean that using “keyword searches” to fill in the content of various modules like Amazon may not be as important to lensrank as picking your own products.
There’s no way to tell which of my guesses is right, but the take-away lesson is: Squidoo’s lensrank algorithm has built-in ways to reward you for creating original content, so as to help original lenses rank better than unimproved lenses. Take advantage of this boost!
Remember, Squidoo occasionally adjusts its algorithm to address new trends and nix the techniques used by “cheaters.” We have only a vague idea which of these factors carries the most weight. And FAQs aren’t always kept up-to-date. So use this post to help you better understand lensrank, but don’t sweat it if you haven’t “lensrank optimized” for all of the above factors.
Believe it or not, this is not all I have to say about lensrank! Stay tuned for Part II: Lensrank Secrets Right Under Your Nose.
My “Training wheels come off” SquidU post about what causes lensrank drop