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June, 2011:

California Lawmakers Reduce Income Tax Revenue, Kill Jobs with Misguided NEXUS Tax

Here we go. California’s just-passed budget includes the infamous NEXUS tax, which attempts to force online merchants to collect sales tax in any state where a single affiliate marketer — someone who gets a tiny commission for the sale — is present. Supporters of this nose-cutting, face-spiting tax claim it will bring in $200 million dollars in sales tax revenue.

Really? Haven’t they been paying ANY attention at all? Does nobody in Sacramento read the writing on the wall? Whenever a state has passed a law like this, Amazon and other online merchants have had a simple solution: they shut down the affiliate program in that state. Amazon doesn’t really need affiliate marketers that much; it’s making a tidy profit anyway!

The victims of this will be Californians.  By throwing down the gauntlet, the state legislature has encouraged Amazon and other online retailers to shut down their affiliate programs. If that happens– and  Amazon has indicated it will happen, just as it has in many other states — here’s the fallout:

  • No income tax will be collected, so the law’s goal will fail.
  • It will kill part-time (or even full-time) jobs for thousands of Californians.
  • It will eliminate millions of dollars of income for Californians, who will thus pay less income tax.
  • It will eliminate the “buffer funds” of thousands of Californians who were using that money to fund shopping, trips, leisure activities like going to the movies or catching a game, or pay bills. This means less sales tax collected than before, by the way.
  • It will put more pressure on one segment of the population: seniors, young people, work at home spouses, and those with health problems which make it difficult to work 9 to 5 jobs. Many of these were finding affiliate marketing an effective way to work and earn money from home.
  • It will cut back on sales of products made by Californian businesses selling their products on Amazon and getting the benefit of free marketing.

Way to go, California state legislature! You may have just killed thousands of jobs and lost your state coffers and local businesses millions of dollars!

 

Recommended Link: Why California’s Nexus Tax is a Lose, Lose, Lose situation for Californians, the state of California, and Amazon (and why the only winner in all this is, basically, Wal-Mart, which lobbied hard for this law)

Captain Obvious on Amazon Referrals

Most of you are much farther along than me in this whole Amazon Associates thing, which I only started doing systematically last holiday shopping season. I’m just overhauling a massive product catalog lens (a whole series of collectibles which I used to have divided up by page breaks), consolidating it and re-checking all the Amazon Associates links. Things I’m checking:

  • Affiliate links are nofollowed
  • All the links point to the right product (duh)
  • The associates id is in every link
  • Correct product image
  • 4 or 5 star rating on the Amazon product page
  • Reviews on the Amazon product page won’t give a potential buyer cold feet (if many reviews point out major problems with the product, this may not be a good product to recommend)
  • If there’s multiple Amazon listings, look for one with a “Buy” button on the right rather than “available from these sellers”
  • The Amazon product page has a reasonable price

My basic template right now is

[Thumbnail Product Image linked to Amazon listing]
[2-lines of captions under image in 9-point type:]

Photos: [Link1] [Link2]   | Video [linked to video review, if there is one]
[Amazon Link]  [Link to eBay module at bottom of page]

Paragraph: My own comments and review. Blah blah blah blah blah…

Links/quick blurb on other, similar items for comparison.

 

Instead of taking other people’s photos (bad!) I include links to their pages, but use the Amazon Associates image for the thumbnail on my own lens. Of course, if I link to another page for photos, that page must (a) have the photos near the top (b) not have anything offensive on it and (c) not be selling the product. For collectibles, at least, you’ll often find a ton of “look at my cool toy!” photos on Flickr and video reviews on YouTube.

Since eBay modules tend to load more slowly, I put them at the bottom of the page as an appendix, with a link pointing down there; they’ll have loaded in by the time visitors get far enough to look at them. This is only necessary if you’ve got an older lens with more eBay modules than the 5 we’re limited to nowadays.

Squidoo Setbacks

Since Squidoo’s removal of favorites, Squidcasts, fanclubs, page breaks, bio box content, lensrolls and so many other  changes, it’s impossible to tell which are the contributing factors in lensrank changes. A slight drop in Google traffic  muddies the waters further.

But now that we’re past the flurry of updates precipitated by these changes, and Squidoo is starting to stabilize, I see that this is not simply a temporary lensrank churn. I’m down to 5-7 regular tier one lenses from 10-12 before these changes. That represents a loss of over $150 a month. I’ve got tier 2 lenses with 500+ visitors. All together, about 30 lenses have tumbled down into the “dud” range, making nearly a third of my lenses non-earning. (See my Squidoo Stats.) Sales are down slightly too, although some of that is seasonal.

I had guessed, but was never sure, that number of fans was a minor lensrank factor. My lensrank drop across the board seems to confirm it. If so, that’s good news for newbies. But I can’t be sure that’s the cause. Many lenses which dropped were page break lenses and/or received visitors from Squidcasts, since I used to use them to share Squidoo tips or interesting news related to the topics of my lenses. And all these changes have shaved about 2000 weekly visitor total from my lens portfolio. Therefore I’m left guessing: too many factors, no way to know which is the cause.

On Squidoo, the cause doesn’t always lie in your lenses, but in everybody else’s: lensrank is a comparison between all lenses on the site. Many members had to do a tremendous amount of updating as a result of Squidoo’s recent changes, and all those updates mean different content, which Google will have noticed. There may be other Google factors, too: Google may have reacted to the changed structure of Squidoo brought about by the loss of lensrolls, navigation links in bio boxes, the extra Adsense above the fold, or other changes.

And just because many of us have experienced drops does not mean there haven’t been gains elsewhere. Quantcast.com’s Squidoo traffic measurements suggest no more than typical seasonal variation. So I don’t think it’s just Google traffic. Other members may have good lenses that were overlooked under Squidoo’s old system. I’m not seeing any more spam or junk lenses than usual at the top levels of Squidoo. Just stiff competition.

So now what? My personal goal to have Squidoo earning me $1500 by the end of this year has been set back by all these changes: I’m still not through fixing all my page break lenses, and I have created almost no new lenses apart from repotted page breaks. Some are getting traffic, and may in the long run be successful, but for now they are struggling to get onto Google’s radar; it still has some of them filed under their old page breaks. I was hoping to get my niche account up to Giant status this month, since it was rejected in April, but I’m still working on page break repairs there, too, and will probably miss the June deadline.

Beyond Squidoo, I’ve been seeking other baskets for my eggs, but each requires a learning curve that’s difficult to climb while at the same time doing Squidoo triage. Wizzley.com is a possibility. I see Hubpages as a sleeper opportunity: Squidoo got hit hard by a Google slap 2007, got written off by many, and came back stronger. Print-on-Demand sites like Zazzle continue to have untapped potential. Self-hosted blogs or sites are probably the most viable long-term option. The closure of Amazon Associate programs in many states is worrying me: it may make the only monetization of my main blog obsolete. Longterm, the answer for me is to get my first novel published, but I was hoping to use Squidoo and other online earnings to provide a base income while I buried myself in writing.

In short, this is a rough time for all of us. I don’t have the answers, and in fact I can’t post many Squidoo tips right now, since the strategies that used to work for me seem to be sputtering. I just wanted to share my own experiences, to let others know that you’re not alone: even experienced Squids hit rough patches. Like any job, the test is to persevere, find and identify what you can work on, and look for and test alternatives.

SEO Tip: Save the Date

Sorry to post so much today, but I wanted to share this Squidoo tip before I forgot. Old hands know this already: where relevant, use the year in your page title (but NOT in your URL, since you’ll want to change the title each year.)

Users who search for product reviews, news or information often include the date (“best flatscreen TVs 2011″).  People sometimes do this to filter results which are eclipsed by another similar but different search (“2004 eruption Mt Saint Helens”  as opposed to the 1980 eruption). For certain topics, people may even include the day and month.

I noticed my new Volcanic Eruptions Update lens is getting a lot of date-based hits, so I added the month/year to the end of the title. The catch, of course, is that this only works for pages which you update substantially and often enough to justify the monthly (or at least yearly) title change.

Important Google News: Panda 2.2, rel=author, analytics

WOW. LOTS of Google news to report to Squidoo users this week: it’s piling up faster than I can digest it. Let me start with the most recent, since it’s the easiest to tell, though it will take you more time to use:

Squidoo Has Added Google Analytics

Finally. If you have Google Analytics, go to your profile right now and edit it to add your tracking number. If you haven’t a clue what Google Analytics and Squidoo is about, see How to Track Lenses With Google Analytics by theFluffanutta. Also see SquidHQ’s official announcement: What Is the Advantage of Using Google Analytics Over regular Squidoo stats?

But wait! Don’t go yet! There is more Google news for Squids.

Google Panda Update News

SMX (Search Marketing Expo) is the big online search convention where all the experts line up to catch pearls of wisdom from Google Spokespundit Matt Cutts. (There’s even a term for his groupies, Cuttlets. Lordie.) A rough transcript of webexpert Danny Sullivan’s interview with Matt Cutts is posted on Searchengineland. Takeaway lessons:

  • Google Panda is an algorithm run less frequently than Google’s daily indexing. Panda re-evaluates sites occasionally for spamminess, content quality, etc, and then the regular Google algorithm uses Panda’s site ranking to boost/lower pages found on that site.
  • Google Panda has yet to be implemented on non-English-based Google (Google has a different search engine gateway and database in each country, so for example, search results by someone using Google in France do not match the search results for someone using Google in England).
  • Expect a Panda 2.2 soon.  No word on what it will entail.
  • ALSO, the “web spam team” is implementing a tweak to cut down on scraped content outranking the original. Huzzah.

Google Pushes Rel=Author Tag

Also from the Matt Cutts interview: Google has implemented two new voluntary tags, rel=author and rel=me, which allow you to link to an author profile page you’ve set up and back.

I was fussing with this post for several days because I’m still not 100% whether to implement the rel=author tag based on this news. But let me try to explain what it means and why it matters, and then you can ponder along with me!

10-word summary: Using rel=author might boost traffic for some sites. Maybe.

[[UPDATE: See Giltotherescue's comments below. Based on what he says, I suggest you skip this discussion unless you're interested. I do NOT advise using rel=author on Squidoo at this time.]]

But if you’re curious…

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Tweeting = Submitting URL to Google?

An SEOmoz member reports on a few studies that seem to confirm what I suspected: search engines are using Tweeted links to find and index content, so Tweeting is essentially the modern equivalent of submitting a URL to a search engine. I have noticed this myself: lately when I Tweet a URL, it’s indexed pretty much instantaneously on Google. (Case in point: I Tweeted my last post, and it was on Google by the time I switched to Google and searched for its title.)  In fact I’m NOT going to Tweet this post, and see how long it takes to be indexed, so please don’t spoil the experiment by Tweeting it. I’ll update later today what the result is.

Note that Bing isn’t that quick. That post has not yet been picked up by Bing. (Also, disturbingly, I see Bing is ranking scraped content from my Hubpages vs. Squidoo Panda Update lens on page one, whereas the actual article is nowhere to be found. Not impressed, Bing.)

According to the article I linked to above, there’s some evidence that Tweets from Twitter members with established, respected reputations may be a minor Google ranking factor. That is, in addition to helping Google find new posts and content, Tweets from respected figures may actually boost the links Tweeted in Google’s search engine results. I haven’t seen enough data on this to call this confirmed, but it makes sense.

Of course, most of us don’t have that kind of authority, so we should be using Twitter for social promotion— engaging with people in a way that makes them interested and gives them something in return — not backlink building, where we may be sharing links to get search engines to notice them.

Update: Drat, this test is a failure. Google indexed the post within one minute of my posting it, even WITHOUT my Tweeting it. Behold the power of blogs. Google really, really loves frequently-updated blogs. Bing has indexed the front page of Squidbits.com again to show the text of this post, but has not indexed the page under its own URL.

I presume, however, that the SEOmoz post I shared above shows that the initial premise is correct: Tweeting helps Google find pages faster, although unless your name is, oh, Danny Sullivan, it may not help the page rank any better.

Follow-up:

Test one: Google indexed this blog post immediately because it likes blogs. As of June 9, 6 days later, Bing still hasn’t indexed this entry under its own URL; it just updates what it shows in its cache for the front page of Squidbits, which includes this post. I forgot to check Ask in my original test, but Ask is now showing both Squidbits and this post under its own URL.  In other words, Google and Ask are indexing individual blog post pages; Bing is just indexing the top level of a (not incredibly popular) site.

Test two: Using a Twitter account that nobody knows and which has only 2 followers, I tweeted a page hidden on a server I haven’t used since 2003, with no links to that page from anywhere. Google indexed it within half an hour. Six days later, Bing does not list the page by its title or selected phrases, nor does Ask.

So that looks like Tweeting works to submit a URL to Google, but not to Ask and Bing.

Hubpages vs. Squidoo Traffic: Holding Steady

With all the hullaballoo lately I haven’t had much time to follow my pet project, the impact of Google Panda on Hubpages and Squidoo (there’s another lens that needs rewriting before page breaks vanish, sigh).

I just wanted to post a quick follow-up. I was actually checking to see if Squidoo traffic is down across the board, because I and a number of members have seen a very slight drop. But traffic drops every summer. But here’s Hubpages traffic vs. Squidoo traffic, measured directly via Quantcast:

The Feb 24 and Apr 11 Panda Updates are visible on Hubpages’ line. They’ve implemented a lot of changes, but it may take a while for Google to recrawl and reassess. The problem is (I believe) that part of Panda is a special algorithm that evaluates the quality of a domain/site, and from that derives a handicap which it applies to pages on the site. When someone asked how long before traffic came back after one totally re-tooled a site, Matt Cutts said the Panda algorithms have to be re-run. If I’m interpreting that correctly, it means that the site penalties are being updated less frequently the daily crawl to find/index content.

So Hubpages members need to stick tight a little longer and wait for Google to reassess what Hubpages has done to correct its problems. I’m hoping for their sakes (and mine; I’m trying to get a few irons in the fire over there) that they will have good news soon. Meanwhile, Squidoo members need to stick tight and see whether Squidoo has second-guessed itself in a wise or foolish way by implementing vast numbers of changes after successfully passing through Panda I and II unscathed. Most of them aren’t content-related, but some are navigation-related; in particular we’ve lost a vast number of internal links with lensroll getting phased out. And I’m uneasy about the extra line of adsense above the fold. We’ll see.

A quick survey of Panda news reveals nothing much, but M. Martinez has detected hints that Panda might unroll in Latin America next. To recap, Panda was implemented on U.S. Google results on Feb 24, all English-based Google results on Apr 11, and a minor Google update whose impacts I haven’t been able to see in the sites I’ve studied. I shall be interested to see what happens when Panda is implemented for French, Russian, and especially German Google.

 

Partial Recovery of Lost Squidoo Fans List

I don’t like losing useful information (see Spirituality’s blog post on why the Squidoo fans list was useful). I had meant to go on a tour of ALL my Squidoo fans after I hit 1000 fans last month, but hadn’t gotten around to it. I’m not sure when I’ll have time for that, but I can at least provide a backlink at the end of this post to some of you — THANK YOU!

Grab Search Engine Caches of Your Fans List

Many search engines let you view cached copies of their last crawl of each webpage. If they’re not too efficient, their cached copy may be from just before fans disappeared from our lensmaster profiles. Unfortunately, in 2010, Squidoo started displaying only a selection of your fans and hid the rest behind a “more” link which search engines can’t see. So many fans are gone for good. But this will recover at least some.

You’re probably thinking, “What about the Wayback machine?” and rightly so. However, its archives will still be around next week. Whereas search engines’ caches only exist UNTIL the search engine crawls the webpage again. Here’s the ones I found whose cached copies — as of June 2nd — predate Squidoo’s removal of fans. I used a few international search engines since they tend to crawl English sites less frequently:

  1. GOOGLE. Search Google for: cache:http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/yourname
  2. Bing.com:  search for: lensmaster page yourname
    then mouseover to the right hand side of the listing, click the right-arrow that pops up, and scroll down to the bottom to find the cached link. I couldn’t get this to work on Chrome, only Firefox.
  3. Yandex, the main Russian search engine:  search for lensmaster page yourname
    then click the копия link (if you’ve got Google translate turned on, it says “copy”).  This was the most up-to-date one just prior to Squidoo removing fan clubs.
  4. Baidu, the main Chinese search engine. Search as usual, then click the only link right under each search result. It only has some lensmaster pages. (While you’re at it — I don’t normally recommend wasting time submitting your pages to search engines, since most crawl Squidoo very often anyway, but with international SEs it may be worth it. Here’s the submit URL link for Baidu. Keep in mind Baidu will tend to favor content in Chinese and/or content of interest to people in China, plus your content has to pass web censorship, but at least some Squidoo pages are getting through the Great Firewall of China. But do that later. Let’s grab your fans first).
  5. Gigablast.com: search for lensmaster page yourname as usual and click “cached”. This was a fairly recent cached copy as well.
  6. Exalead:  Who are these people? Donno, but they’re saving caches of the web. Search as usual and hit the “cached” button.

You will note that most search engines give you a date for when their crawled copy of your page was cached.  Make a note of the most recent one to get a fairly accurate estimate of your fans just before they vanished. Ah, vanity.

Find More Fans From the WayBack Machine

Once you’ve gotten all the fans you can find through search engine caches, THEN go to the Wayback Machine aka Internet Archive and punch in http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/yourname into the “Take me back” search box. This will pull up a calendar. Dates with highlights represent cached copies of the page; click on one of them to go to that date. Then you’ll have a menu at the top of the screen that lets you skip forward and back through cached copies. The layout for Squidoo pages from 2010 onwards is too complicated for the Wayback Machine to reproduce correctly, but the fans list is there: scroll down to find it. Note that pre-2010 Wayback Machine caches of your lensmaster page include ALL fans from that time, since Squidoo displayed the whole list until 2010.

Copy that data into your document too. Save it.

Dump your list into Microsoft Excel. Add a row at the very top (row one) and label it “Names.” Then, to hide duplicates:

  1. Select the column of names.
  2. choose “Filter > Advanced Filter…” under the Data menu
  3. Say “OK” if you get a nag popup.
  4. Click the “Unique Records only” box and click okay.

And you can sort the column alphabetically. Alas, the result will be all your pre-2010 fans, but coverage of recent fans will be spotty.

A note on lensrank:

The Squidoo FAQ has long mentioned “lensmaster reputation” as one of the factors in lensrank. In 2009, as part of my comprehensive lensrank study, I guessed — although I can’t be sure — that this included fans as a lensrank factor (probably only a minor one). Right after Squidoo dropped the fans list, I dropped to 5-6 tier one lenses. That represents about a $150 drop in income. Ouch. I’m hoping that drop is due to the fact that everyone is scrambling to update their lenses to cope with all Squidoo’s changes, but maybe it means a more level playing field for newbies.

Backlinks for MY Fans: A Small Thank You

I only recovered half of my 1045-ish fans (wah!) but as a small thank you, here’s all the ones I’ve managed to save. The links will be very minor backlinks. (I’ve added a few more that I know were on there.) Feel free to add yours in comments if you like, and thanks again. :)

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