So, we all knew that Squidoo had to do some major damage control to rescue itself, since Google’s downranked it for… well, we’re all making educated guesses, but Google’s webmaster guidelines provide us with a list of likely culprits (links are to the specific part of Google guidelines detailing each big no-no):
- Spam, thin, and duplicate content that’s not useful to visitors (Panda algorithm, starting in Jan 2011. Squidoo took modest hits from Panda, offset by other Panda update boosts, until Panda 22 update in November 2012 killed 60% of Squidoo visibility.)
- Affiliate links that sell without giving users something that helps them. Google’s quality rater guidelines show that it has evaluated affiliate-link pages critically long before Panda, but I think Panda has raised the bar.
- Mass backlinking to boost a site (Part of Penguin “webspam” algorithm, starting at the beginning of 2012. Squidoo has actually been treated kindly Penguin, for reasons I’ll explain below.)
- keyword stuffing (Part of Penguin “webspam” algorithm).
- Overly aggressive advertising (especially “above the fold”) (Page Layout algorithm, starting Jan 2012. Squidoo has taken mild hits from this one.)
- Link schemes like traffic exchanges and paid links (was already in Google algorithm before Panda and Penguin, but Penguin has emphasized it more)
Most of these are content-related problems which are the responsibility of Squidoo members. Some are in the hands of HQ. Let’s take a closer look at each of these problems and how it’s playing out on Squidoo:
Thin/Duplicate/low-value affiliate content: I raised concerns about this on the now-deleted official Squidoo forums in early 2011, a few weeks before Panda first launched, and I’m still sore about the “you’re being chicken little” response I got at the time. In fact, my dire predictions didn’t come true until late November 2012; until then Panda was just dinging Squidoo with small paper cuts.
Squidoo has now instituted aggressive filters to catch spam, thin, and duplicate content, a move that was initially cheered by many lensmasters tired of seeing garbage outranking good content on Squidoo. Unfortunately, the filters are a work in progress, and the growing pains have been dismal: we’ve had or heard of lenses that passed filters with flying colors on one day being inexplicably flagged, locked, or deleted on the next without warning. I fear that a lot of excellent content that meets Google’s criteria for “useful to visitor” has been deleted and lost.
Meanwhile HQ’s massive campaign to add personal stories to content is missing the fact that Google does not reward personal content; its algorithm is designed to reward usefulness and relevance. Personal content can be useful, or it can be non-vital padding that impedes the reader from getting to what she really wants to know.
Spammy Backlinking: What Penguin is mostly targeting is aggressive, large-scale backlinking campaigns and other sophisticated SERPs manipulation schemes by major black hatters. Penguin was instituted after JCPenny embarrassed Google by boosting itself with a massive fake backlink campaign and got caught not by Google, but by a very public shaming in the NYT. Google’s Webmaster guidelines now specifically forbid “automated programs or services to create links to your site.” This is backlinking on a scale that lensmasters can’t do unless they’re buying massive linkspam packages on Fivrr. Most Squidoo users are just small-time incompetent backlinkers, focusing on links that Google simply ignores, like forum signatures. These links don’t help, but I believe that they don’t hurt either. It saddens me to see good lenses getting locked without recourse for something that does not seem to be much of a factor in Squidoo’s current woes.
Keyword stuffing: Again, Penguin comes down like a load of bricks on this, but I find it telling that Squidoo’s search visibility seems pretty much untouched by Penguin. Mind you, keyword stuffing is not a good idea, and Squidoo might get hurt on it at some point in the future. Plus, it repels human visitors, so why do it? But I think HQ is barking up the wrong tree by focusing too much on keyword density and flagging/locking successful content that’s still getting traffic and sales.
Page Layout Problems: I’ve sounded the alarm since 2011 that Squidoo’s aggressive use of “above the fold” advertising would eventually incur a Google downranking. I also argued last December that several recent changes in Squidoo’s layout were really begging for a Google downranking. To be fair, it appears that Squidoo has only taken a mild downranking from its layout issues, as opposed to the body blows from Panda updates.
Linking schemes: Ironically, Squidoo itself is doing more of this than lensmasters are. I and many lensmasters have expressed concerns to HQ that the CrowdIgnite links they started replacing the Discovery Box with are a traffic exchange expressly discouraged by Google webmaster guidelines (“Excessive link exchanging“). Other lensmasters have been sounding the alert on the TotallyHer / Momtastic link (which looks like a paid link, though I can’t tell) on every lens, even where it’s not at all relevant.
So Now What?
If you have been worn out by jumping through hoops and dealing with changes constantly breaking your content — Squidoo updates that lose your original content from poll modules, Amazon modules, “My Lenses” modules, photo galleries, video modules and so on — or if you have been badly burned by the filters locking and deleting successful lenses, or if you just want to protect yourself by diversifying, Paula has a good guide to alternative platforms for publishing your content.
Or, if you’re sick of digital sharecropping, the yuku forums set up by lensmasters to support one another after the old official SquidU forums were shut down also has a Webmaster Way sub-forum where lensmasters are discussing tips, strategies, plugins and tools for building blogs and websites. Please join and add your ideas and questions!
In declaring which algorithm changes did or didn’t hurt Squidoo, I’m following Sistrix, which I have found to be the most reliable site in the SEO industry for monitoring specific impact of Google algorithm changes. Jeffreyv’s chart of “effects of Google updates on Squidoo” seems to match Sistrix’s assessment pretty closely, based on a different site’s testing. Another ballpark way of measuring the effect of Google updates is to look at traffic stats for yourself (on Google analytics) or sitewide (on Quantcast.com) and compare them to the Moz Timeline of Google algorithm changes. That’s mostly what I’ve been doing, even though I know it’s a sloppy shortcut (see “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” logical fallacy). Sistrix, instead, measures how much each site has increased or decreased visibility in Google search results, which is more likely to be caused by Google algorithm changes.
I am in awe of your intelligence and analytical skills and your ability at being able to explain this sort of stuff Ellen. I am so tired and frustrated by what is going on, on Squidoo, that I have more or less lost my online voice.
I am also scared – scared at what I consider to be a total misinterpretation of “what Google wants” by Squidoo HQ could do to Squidoo over the next year.
This is not said with any malice or hidden agenda – just genuine concern.
AJ! Bless you, I’ve been wondering where your wise voice was. I’ve been feeling just like you; this is my first post on the recent mess since March. I was hopeful after HQ finally listened and started cracking down on the likes/blessings gaming and junk content, hopeful enough to overhaul 200+ lenses in anticipation of those filters, but the past few months have turned me from burned-out to “YES! They’re LISTENING to us! There’s HOPE again!” to “NO. Just no. You’re totally misunderstanding what Google says it wants, and a lot of this won’t help.”
Also see Flynn’s cogent and well-reasoned response to the last HQ blog post which resulted in Flynn being banned from posting on the HQ blog and, presumably, the forums. [Update: the ban was revoked after 24 hours, but the post remains deleted]. If HQ won’t permit that kind of constructive criticism, which was tactful and raised some very legitimate points that spoke for dozens of dedicated and experienced lensmasters — well, message received, loud and clear.
I’m afraid that I’m back to being burned out. When HQ held out a hoop and said, “Jump! Jump! Just a little higher!” again this week by consolidating Amazon modules, breaking and losing a lot of content, I knew I needed to go inspect/overhaul all 400+ lenses again for the third time in as many months and… I just can’t. To borrow Tumblr slang, I have no spoons left.
Yeah, I can’t log into the forums at all. That’s what tipped me off to being banned, actually, as the weird blog comment loading was a bit random and could have been a Disqus issue.
Sidenote: the Spoons thing originally came from this. http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/
Yeah. THAT. That is my life (substituting a different set of chronic health issues for lupus). Thank you for pointing me to the source.
You are very welcome; pretty sure it should be a must read for everybody everywhere.
Thank you, thank you, for the Spoons thing. Yes, everyone really needs to read that.
Heh. Every report and email communication with HQ henceforth should have it in the signature line or something.
How true, this is such a brilliant way of describing a chronic illness – thank you!
wow – that so perfectly describes what happens every day, and how if you are not prepared, well planned, organized, your day just implodes on you.
So good to read, and learn a way to describe CFS other than just “waking up every day with the worst flu you ever had, ten times over”
Also, ha. You’re sending a fair bit of traffic to that post
“Remember, my young padawan, the powers of linkbait are mighty and insidious. Always use them for good not evil.” — Obi-Wan SEO
Thanks for another insightful analsis
Excellent summation of the journey of Squidoo changes and responses. My biggest problem with what they are currently doing is that they are getting rid of lenses that are still getting traffic and sales which means that they are still valued by Google.
That goes against their stated purpose of improving the site for Google.
I agree with you that Squidoo is misinterpreting what Google wants in adding value to the pages. Personal stories is not the way to go. Adding value is the correct method. You can add value in a lot of ways, not just adding personal stories.
Thanks so much for taking the time to pull this all together, simplify it for us and share it. This is simply brilliant and very useful information.
Have always admired your analytical skills. Squidoo helped me meet a lot of wonderful people in the last two years and I am grateful for that. For me, it was a grand joyride till it lasted. I became an Angel, then a Giant Squid and then a nobody one day, with all lenses locked! It was 0 – $600 a month through study of what worked there, and after 190 lenses invested there, it is now all gone! It was good in the eyes of Squidoo one day, till they felt I was a bad name to their reputation another day!
I am sharing this here, not because of woe. I still earn enough income and am writing my second book, of which you all may come to know.
It is also for you to be forewarned, if you are building a platform thinking it is going to be of substantial income for long!
Karmic Christian: I’m so sorry. I’m seeing this story from so many people.
I’m glad you’re able to take it with such good grace and that you’ve already found your calling in writing elsewhere. Best of luck!
I too love your analytical skills…makes things easier to understand. I also feel for Charles and AJ….so many are either at their wits end, or they have been locked out.
One of your examples was what you wrote in 2011, and no one listened, yet here we are. With no one listening that has the power to do something. It’s mindboggling trying to keep up, and very disheartening too.
Ellen, I SO wish you were a part of Squidoo HQ. They so desperately need this kind of logical and analytic thinking. Your detailed explanations about some of the recent Squidoo insanity have been right on target. Very helpful!
I’ve sorely missed Squidoo, went from truly being addicted to rarely bothering to log in. It often feels like someone significant in my life died. I still earn a little from my main Squidoo account (the niche account was attacked hard by filters), but both traffic and income has fizzled.
The good is that I’ve finally begun learning WordPress and finding other new avenues to focus on writing online. While lots of former Squidoo writers are now publishing on other similar platforms like Wizzley and Zujava, don’t they have potential to one day do the same thing? I think I’ve learned my lesson about digital sharecropping, yep. No more investing countless hours to create content not under my own control. Live and learn.
Yes, I admit, having gotten burned on sharecropping, I’m having trouble getting motivated on Wizzley and Zujava, despite liking a lot about both sites. (Ironically, HP is what’s working for me just now, but I know about ebbs and tides.)
I feel residual guilt for having stepped down from the volunteer job that Megan offered me back in 2008. If I had stayed, I might’ve followed the same track as Robin and Bonnie to an actual SquidStaff position. But it was a lot more work than I expected from the initial pitch of just a few hours of week to help support the Giant Squids. Robin and Bonnie took the bit and ran with it, whereas I quickly had to step down due to conflicts with grad school and health issues. So I always feel a twinge of guilt for offering critique. It’s easy to offer advice, but hard to do the heavy lifting.
GreekGeek, you nailed it. I could ramble and rant on here about what I think Squidoo lacks but it’s all been said. The fact that they nobody on staff who gets it the way you do is, IMHO, the king of their mountain of issues.
I’m glad someone pointed me to your blog today! I personally love and envy your abilities – being able to see the forest AND the trees…
I’ve never earned more than $40 in any given month on Squidoo – but my income IS building, and frankly, I REALLY love Squidoo. For some reason, it totally fits my personality – and I have no beef with it. I’ve had lenses locked here and there, and have either deleted or re-worked them, and am continuing to make new ones.
But what I really wanted to comment on is that something you offered in this post bears emphasis – you talked about “Alternatives to Squidoo” – and I’ve bookmarked that page by Paula. The point is that in ANY of these free platforms, there is always a chance that there will be dramatic or even drastic changes – in fact, an entire platform could just totally disappear. So, we ALL need to diversify our writing portfolios.
Now, as much as I love Squidoo, I’d feel very foolish if that were the only place I wrote or marketed. It’s a piece of my portfolio, and one I truly enjoy.
I happen to work on a team with a bunch of guys who are quite successful in web marketing completely separate from Squidoo, and so I’ve gotten used to the continual (if not a little tiring, I do admit!) changes of direction that I’ve needed to take, “Ok, new algorithm…new directions…stop what you’re doing on THAT site, Kath, and let’s move over here and work on THIS right now…”
Maybe I’d be more upset if Squidoo had been a source of income for me, but in all honesty, I’m finding it just as enjoyable (and I’m actually beginning to earn a little bit more) – so I’m feeling excited, enthusiastic, and positive about it.
I just wanted to pop over and thank you for all your information, your analysis, and the time you put into this stuff… You’ve got no idea how much I’ve learned from you!
Thanks! And I’m glad my words are useful, even as we’re two trains passing in opposite directions, it seems! There’s almost always a flux of burnout and newer members to keep any place afloat.
It was fun for me for very many years, enough for me to leave academia and make a go of this whole online-writing career. Let’s just figure out where our passions are and go for it.
Maybe it’s time to start taking this blog in a new direction – towards the sustaining and sustainable independent platform for content writing and information sharing on the Internet? So many people are now minded to stop the sharecropping and start the smallholding!
Absolutely! I will be, once I have something useful to report on my other efforts! But I’ve been on semi-hiatus for a few months, so my progress on my non-Squidoo efforts is slow.*
That said, I’ve actually talked a fair amount about Hubpages on this blog in the past, as well as general web trends, search news, and social media; Squidoo has just been the most common topic.
The blog may be due for a rebranding, however. I’ve been mulling it over, but I’m still waiting for inspiration to strike as far as a new name.
*It’s taking me a while to get going. I’ve simply been blogging on something I love and letting myself recover a bit from the Squidoo grind. See that essay on spoons, which applies to someone with my chronic health problems as well. After putting all those sixty hour work weeks overhauling lenses to get ready for the new filters, I was utterly wiped out, and then had to prepare my home for houseguests. So other than posting one to two blog posts a week, for fun and content-building rather than any concerted effort to make up lost Squidcome, I’ve been off my online writing routine completely. Once the houseguests are gone and I’ve recovered, I can really make a start.
Your latest post was another excellent summary of the ongoing drama. Thanks for doing all that tough research and putting it into a very readable article.
Seriously. This is the best all-inclusive explanation I have seen that explains all of these issues going on with Squidoo. I have pretty much said all of these things to my own team but I didn’t say any of it with the easy-to-understand explanations you have provided here. You actually just earned a permanent place on my add-on bar! Thanks for such helpful information to all of us struggling to understand these issues better!