Greekgeek's Online Odyssey - Hubpages and Online Article Writing Tips

Thinky Thoughts

Dealing With the Changing Web

Changes! Yep, that’s the name of the game on the web. GeoCities, MySpace, Lycos: the web is littered with the carcasses of sites that didn’t evolve as the web did. So we have to be braced for it.

The sites where I publish have had several widely-discussed changes of late: Squidoo closed SquidU and opened new forums, while Hubpages implemented Idle Status to Hubs. Both changes caused upheaval and member consternation, and, hopefully, opportunities.

The changes will keep coming. Seth Godin’s recent post on SquidHQ’s blog elicited some positive responses as well as trepidation from the following announcement:

…if you haven’t been hearing a lot from Corey and Gil, that’s because they’ve been hunkering down with the rest of our tech team working on a new project that we ought to be able to share with you in a few weeks. It’s designed to make Squidoo an even better platform, with more options for different sorts of users.

My first reaction is hope. Squidoo desperately needs to adapt to the mobile web. I’ve also felt like Squidoo focuses on some niche audiences to the detriment of others, so I like the sound of “more options for different sorts of users.”

(more…)

Squidoo for Backlinks vs. Squidoo for Content, and Why Squidoo Is Like Erotica, Fanfiction and Folk Art

This should have been a blog post and not a forum post, but I was replying to an excellent post by Spirituality that set me off.

In a stupid reversal of what makes sense for a blog vs. a forum post, I will excerpt possibly the most useful part of my TL;DR post and quote it here:

Google’s end goal is to serve up the most relevant content; it’s treating “quality” not as an intrinsic value but as a component of relevance.

Start with Spirituality’s comment above, then grab a cup of coffee and read my natterings that followed. (or not.)

Flattery Bots: The New Paid Blog Networks?

Fastidious respond in return of this difficulty with genuine arguments
and explaining the whole thing regarding that.

~ Comment I just removed as spam from this blog’s “pending comments” box this morning. The username included a link back to what looks like a linkbuilding site in Germany (I didn’t check).

wow, I’ve been following your blog for a while, and I’ve recommended this post to all my followers!

~ Comment from someone with a link pointing back to a vast student essay slush site (where students can buy a paper to turn in and pretend it’s their own work).

Remarkable lens.

~ Comment I received from a new lensmaster on a page comprising a few word search and crossword puzzles. Fun? I hope so. Useful study aid? Sure. “Remarkable?” Hardly.

Sometimes, the comments are genuine. I’ve made some good lenses, and commenters are kind enough to say so.

But for the past month, I’ve had my ego stroked by a vast influx of generic flattering comments. The common thread in all of them is that they seem not to fit the lens very well, and there is nothing in the comment that matches the lens content. They remind me of the worst-case generic rejection letter my aunt parodied when trying to get a short story published:

Thank you for your thing. We are not accepting things at this time. Please do not send us any more of your things.

Nobody likes rejection letters. But everyone likes flattery. Therefore, if you’re looking to build up backlinks, design a bot that leaves human-sounding compliments plus a link back to your site. Or, if you’re trying to build up a social network, create a bunch of fake accounts on social sites and have the bots go around schmoozing up the locals, building up a social following and getting a percentage of the members on that site to check out the account that flattered them (including the link one wants to promote in the profile).

The timing of this flood of flattery is suspicious: it started up in April 2012 right after Google jettisoned links built by BuildMyRank and other paid blog networks (creating automated fake content on fake blogs, planting links in the posts to the websites of paying customers). Links from spam sites are no longer a way to get your site listed. So paid linkbuilders are now trying to Trojan Horse their links onto reputable sites that still have good standing in Google. Flattery is even more effective than a horse-shaped sculpture on wheels!

I don’t know for certain, but I think the paid linkbuilders are now using the Flattery Gambit to get their backlinks on your webpages. If the comment could apply to any written piece of material whatsoever (“this is really insightful”), I’m suspicious. Doubly so if it’s written in English as a second language, as was the comment I quoted at the start of this post.

On Squidoo, there’s an additional, insidious use of  flattery behavior: reciprocal visits and “likes” can boost lensrank, leading to high payouts. So why not build a bot that leaves friendly comments on thousands of lenses in order to get your lens to tier one within a week of starting on Squidoo, as Tipi just reported?  Or, even if you don’t have access to a bot, why not scramble around leaving short comments on everyone’s lenses to get lots and lots of reciprocal likes, boosting your Squidpoints and payout rank? (I’ve just had one lensmaster leave about 20 lame comments like “who are the girls?” on a long article reviewing a video game with female leads: it’s obvious from his comments that he’s just looking at the lens title and graphic. But at least he’s actually commenting on specific lens content, unlike the majority of the comments I’m talking about).

Unfortunately, the upshot of all of this is that the bots and vague flatterers are making me less appreciative than I should be of genuine, sincere, friendly comments which someone thoughtfully took the time to make! I now delete most variants of “nice lens,” unless there’s some clue in the comment to tell me the person read the article. On some days, I hit the point of saying to myself, “If the comment isn’t useful to my readers, and it’s just directed at me, there doesn’t need to be a public record of it. The message was received, after all.” Doubtless, when I’m in that frame of mind, some real comments get caught up in the lawnmower blades. I’m inconsistent in my comment moderation, letting some stand and removing others.

If I’ve pulled up one of your comments during an attack of weeding, I apologize. It’s easy to pull up a flower by accident! Thank you for your comment — really! I’m sorry the bad behavior of some people is making me cynical regarding genuine forms of human courtesy. (Or, more likely, I haven’t actually deleted your comment; my comment backlog may have swelled to 50+, at which point I fail to keep up with moderation for a while.)

Fair Use and My Web Copyright Philosophy

Once again a SquidU forum post spun off a riff for me, this time on Copyright and fair use.

I am chaotic good, to borrow the old term from D&D: I don’t obey the rules precisely so much as try to understand why the rules are there and then do what’s best for the people impacted by them.

I am much less rigid about copyright when it comes to stills and screencaps and even fanvids of well-known movies and video games. If someone’s got a Yoda icon or a fanpage on a favorite video game, I absolutely do not get my knickers in a bunch. Everybody knows who Yoda is, and that Yoda icon is going to remind you of Star Wars and maybe even go look up the Yoda lightsabre duel video clip and maybe from there think about buying a Yoda doll or a Blu-Ray Star Wars disc (if you can stomach Lucas’ latest fiddling).

Whereas when it comes to copying a photo or piece of art from someone’s Flickr stream or DeviantArt or the like, I’m much more strict. I’ll only use Creative Commons images. If it’s reproduced somewhere else, such as on Wikipedia, I follow the CC link back to its source  to double-check the terms of use and make sure the owner really did give permission for reuse. I am also much more careful about credit when it comes to art and photos from individuals. DeviantArt’s embed codes include a small thumbnail plus the artist’s name and a link to his/her profile, so I use those as is, but Wikimedia Commons and Flickr do not include the photographer/artist’s name in their embed codes, just an image linked back to the source. That’s not good enough for me. I always add an image caption to those, including the photographer or artist’s name, with a visible, clickable link back to the source (not just a hidden clickable link attached to the image).

Am I being hypocritical? Why am I so picky about copyright for stock photographers, Zazzle artists, and their ilk when I will use stills to illustrate an article on the Lord of the Rings films without batting an eyelash?

Well, one can argue that stills from films fall under the “amount and substantiality” factor of fair use, the aspect of copyright law that lets you use a quote or short excerpt. Whereas a copy of a photo is not an excerpt; it IS the photo and competes with it in search results, commercially, and functionally. (Also, there’s the whole “permitted for critique/commentary” aspect of fair use: if you’re writing a fan page about a movie, then it’s commentary; if you’re using someone’s photo as a free illustration for a blog post that has nothing to do with that artist’s work, then it’s exploitation).

But that’s not really why I make the distinction between the two kinds of sources.

The Lord of the Rings films are famous and successful, instantly recognizable. Any publicity they get reminds people of the films which they already know.

Not so with a photo or piece of artwork from somebody unknown. In that case, the image is a signpost to the person’s work, their calling card and their chief asset.  Jane Q. Photographer might have shared some photos on Stock Xchng or Flickr with a Creative Commons license, hoping to get recognition and drum up publicity for her blog or photography site. I want to help Jane by giving her a visible credit and a backlink and observing her terms of use carefully, since even one backlink spotted by the right person might land her a job, an offer to license the photo, or lots of traffic from a big website that also likes and uses the photo with the CC credit and backlink.

As a matter of fact, this odd distinction I make is another of the Four Factors of Fair Use, one that’s not well-understood: “The Nature of the Copyrighted Work.” Fair use grants more leeway in using a published than unpublished work. I used to find this aspect of Fair Use baffling. Now my understanding is that if a work is already published, out there, successful, widely known, and making money, then your use of an excerpt is less likely to compete with it than if the artist is still trying to become known and hasn’t quite figured out how to make money from that image or creation. (Which is not to say one gets carte blanche to print up and sell T-shirts with your fanart of Sean Bean as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. It’s just that one has slightly more leeway).

How much is too much? There’s no hard and fast rules. In a copyright lawsuit, the judge has to make a ruling based on his interpretation of the four factors of Fair Use and how they seem to apply to that particular case.

As always with fair use, the hardest part about it is that it depends on human judgment of individual circumstances  rather than a fixed, rigid set of rules. The four factors are guidelines that can help us feel our way.

 

Update: SPEAKING OF FAIR USE, check out these utterly adorable and highly creative parodies of Star Wars crossed with Winnie the Pooh: Wookie the Chew.” Yep, that there would fall under the “Transformative” factor of Fair Use (and parody, which is almost always Fair Use).

Are Cross-Links About to Get Google-Punched?

Uh oh. Remember how I noticed the murmurs about content farm penalties back in January 2011, and got scoffed at for suggesting Google was going to be unrolling domain-based rather than single-page-based penalties?

Weeeell, I don’t like the sound of this. Something in seoMOZ’s whiteboard Friday vid this week caught my eye:

Here’s the part that concerns me:

We’ve particularly seen this in the past few weeks with Google cracking down on linked networks, low quality links. They announced that they are going to be devaluing more administrative links. By administrative links, we mean sites that are related to each other. So if you own a network of 50 sites and you’re interlinking all of those to each other, the value that you are getting is over-optimizing. They are going to be diminished, and you could face a penalty. If you do it too much, you could face de-indexing, like we’ve seen Google do with the linking indexes.

I cannot find the source for this: where has Google announced it’s about to crack down on administrative links (cross-links between our own content on different sites)? But actually, it makes sense that Google would treat links we build to our own content as less value-passing than links other people have built, since self-promotion is not the same as third party recommendation. Furthermore, since Google (and Bing) define webspam as artificial practices designed to boost ranking in search engines, it will crack down on any linking practices — such as building a whole bunch of websites and cross-linking them to simulate backlinks — that are designed primarily for that purpose.

Once again, there’s one thing that worries me, and one thing that doesn’t.

I don’t care if Google decides to treat those links as less important. Many people think that Google ignoring signals it used to give more weight to is a penalty, and the effect can be catastrophic if you relied too heavily on them.

But there is a difference between “Google starts ignoring X…” and “Google starts penalizing X.” I may do things that Google pretty much ignores: they could be of benefit to my readers. What I try to avoid is things that I believe Google may actively penalize. (For example, since Google is on the record for penalizing paid links, I do not use Redgage, even though it may be perfectly safe).

I’m not saying I’m going to stop cross-linking my sites, articles and content: that would be a silly knee-jerk reaction, and I’m still not entirely sure what Cyrus Shepherd’s possible “administrative link penalties” will entail. After all, prior to Panda, the punditsphere was full of people predicting the demise of “Content Farms,” expecting Google to create some sort of blacklist of user-generated sites like Blekko did, and just penalizing those. In fact, Panda worked in an entirely different way. So we don’t yet know what form Google’s announcement will take when it’s implemented. (WHERE is this announcement?) But it’s time to brace, just in case.

To avoid possible algorithm tweaks in the future, it may be time to reconsider whether our cross-links are for our readers’ benefit or for ours.

If this “administrative linking” algorithm adjustment materializes and is confirmed from reputable sources, I’m going to watch my author-linked content closely compared to my alternate pen name content which is not linked to my real name, “Greekgeek” pseudonym or Google profile. It will be interesting to see whether the network of blogs, articles and content Google associates under my authorname drops in rankings while the stuff associated with no particular author name (and thus missing the authorship benefit) stays unchanged.

I also want to leave you with a word of wisdom picked up from a guest interview at seoBook (I do not necessarily endorse most of what Aaron Wall says, and I am a “useful/exceptional content and on-page optimization” advocate rather than a professional backlinker like Jim Boykin, but still):

SeoBook: Google recently nailed a bunch of lower quality bulk link networks. Were you surprised these lasted as long as they did? Was the fact that they worked at all an indication of the sustained importance of links?

Boykin: Well…surprised…no… filtering out networks is something that’s always going to happen….once something gets too big, or too popular, or too talked about…then it’s in danger of being burned… the popular “short cuts” of today are the popular penalized networks of tomorrow.

Emphasis mine. They’re talking about BuildMyRank and other link/blog networks getting deep sixed by a recent Google penalty, but the wider message is a Google variant of Tall Poppy Syndrome: various tricks will work for a while to draw traffic, boost lensrank, or succeed in any sphere where success is measured by a computer algorithm, but once a particular strategy for gaming the system becomes popular, then, sooner or later, the algorithm maker will notice and attempt to thwart the tactic. (And the collateral damage is sometimes more devastating to innocent bystanders than those the algorithm tweak is meant to thwart.)

On Pinterest and Copyright Concerns (Yes, That Again)

I wrote an article called “Is Pinterest a Haven for Copyright Violations?”  that covered the hidden catches buried in Pinterest’s Terms of Use. The article went viral, and a firestorm ignited on Twitter when my article and two others on Pinterest and copyright came out at about the same time (search “Pinterest copyright” on Twitter).

Apparently what I said resonated with many. The comments I received on both sides of the argument are worth reading. That was actually my intention in writing it:  I wanted to present one side of the story as clearly as possible, and was hoping for the debate that followed.

On a tangent, the “how to” side of things:  this is only the second time I’ve had an article go viral. In both cases, I tapped into an issue that a lot of people cared passionately about, and which was rising in popularity.  In both cases I used a Magnetic Headline posing the topic as a question designed to provoke an emotional response. I didn’t know it would go viral, but just in case it did draw traffic, I posted it on Hubpages which pays better for individual impressions than Squidoo does. (I think Squidoo is better for pages that people click links on and/or buy things from.) Hubpages also has a cleaner, more professional-looking skin for a reader unfamiliar with the site, which I find makes a difference in op-ed and informational articles.

However, I didn’t post the article just to get traffic. I posted it to deliver important information on an issue I care about. I was terrified that I’d be virtually tarred and feathered, but I was gratified to find some people in the comments making my points better than I could make them myself. Of course, many commenters argued the other side of the debate, and some of them had important things to say, too. I urge you to read it, and them.

Note to Squidoo: Facebook Is STILL Evil

Dear Squidoo:

No, I will not be taking advantage of this new “opportunity” to label my lenses for Facebook’s Open Graph (and I think you should come out and inform non-savvy users that Open Graph is part of Facebook — there, that’s better). Why?

1. Facebook is evil.

Or, in case you’re laughing at silly old Greekgeek and her quaint Facebook phobia, let’s review:

What the CIA failed to do in 60 years, Zuck has done in 7: knowing what 800 million people–more than 10% of the world’s population–think, read and listen to, plus who they know, what they like and where they live, travel, vote, shop, worship. — Forbes Magazine

Facebook is a big steaming pile of p….rivacy violations, a site designed to collect more and more more personal information from its members to sell to its advertisers. And it started with a Big Lie.

Originally, Facebook enticed users to join with promises of community and sharing their personal lives with their closest friends. Then Facebook turned their private info public and started selling previously-confidential information. Enter the Facebook Privacy Erosion Cycle: privacy protections would come down, savvy users fought back, Facebook promised not to do it ever again, then did it again a few months later, repackaging the launch slightly. Rinse and repeat, until Stockholm Syndrome wore down users’ reservations, and Facebook could get onto the next personal-data-mining push.

“Privacy is dead!” Zuckerberg trumpeted again and again. “This is what YOU want! It’s an OPPORTUNITY!” And then he made another million selling people’s personal info to his advertisers.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Facebook’s word for it. See Facebook’s Changing Privacy Policy Over Time. Or, better, view this fascinating animation of The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook.

Or take Zuckerberg’s word for it. Remember, this is what he said soon after he started the embryonic Facebook:

  • Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
  • [Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
  • Zuck: People just submitted it.
  • Zuck: I don’t know why.
  • Zuck: They “trust me”
  • Zuck: Dumb fucks.

Source: http://articles.businessinsider.com

Enter Open Graph. Open Graph is Facebook’s latest attempt to collect, codify, and spy on its users’ web browsing activities. It’s trying to get us to “integrate” our off-Facebook content with Facebook so that it can collect ever more specific information on our readers and visitors’ viewing habits outside of Facebook’s garden wall. It’s doing this because it’s maxed out the amount of content it’s milking from its own users. Now Facebook is asking us to assist it in collecting information about users when they stray from its walled garden.

Again, don’t take my word for it. Here’s a good discussion of Open Graph by TIME’s tech blogger.

So I don’t want to hear about Open Graph integration as an “opportunity.” It’s an “opportunity” for Facebook, not for me, and not for my visitors. It’s an “opportunity” for us only in the sense of this famous cartoon:

The "Free" Model by Geek & Poke

 

Yes, Google is also guilty of exploiting us as its personal piggybank, but that does not make it better. I have a few bones to pick with Google. However, Google never presented itself as a social community for sharing personal information with your friends, then tried to redefine the meaning of friendship itself in order to collect information for advertisers. That’s bait-and-switch. At least Google was up-front the start that its goal was to collect and index any published information it could find.

Facebook has not earned my trust.  It may claim it’s the web, just as AOL did in the 90s, but it does not deserve to be the web. Therefore, I will not let it gather information on my readers, and I will not assist Facebook in its bid to take over the web. (Update: it may be impossible to stop it, of course, since Facebook tracks and records all web browsing of non-members as well as members, once they’ve visited any Facebook page.)

Oh, and speaking of “opportunity,” I’ve been seeing that word being used in a strange way lately. To quote Inigo, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” I keep seeing “opportunity” used in the context of someone  trying to exploit my content for their benefit. How very Zuckerbergian!

Think hard before sliding down the slippery slope to Zuckerberg perdition. Remember, there are— or were— alternatives.

Twitter is starting to win the social media war, because it does not go down the Facebook route.

Remember Squidcasts?

With Squidcasts, I was communicating directly with my readers who were interested in the subjects I was writing about.  With Squidcasts, I was able to give them highly-targeted, relevant info specific to their interests without collecting data on them, without forcing them to sign up with a social network. They got the benefit of my content, my tips, my recommendations— for free!— and it kept some of them coming back. They chose whether or not to subscribe to a particular article’s Squidcasts, and they chose how to use the info I gave them, rather than the other way around. My traffic dipped slightly when Squidoo took Squidcasts away. Yes, Squidcasts were a bona-fide “opportunity,” and now they are a missed opportunity…as in, “I miss them.”

Remember Seth Godin’s concept of “permission marketing”? Squidcasts (and Twitter) implemented that concept beautifully. Facebook betrays it.

Meanwhile, lately, I’ve seen other “opportunities” promoted on Squidoo— contests and such— only to find I’m excluded from those “opportunities” because they only exist through Facebook pages where I can’t participate without turning over my personal info to Facebook.   When I signed up with Squidoo, Squidoo was not Facebook, and did not require me to be a member of Facebook to participate in Squidoo.

Don’t go there, please. Don’t relegate me to a second-class citizen because I like Squidoo but not Facebook.  Don’t make Squidoo an appendage of Facebook.

Squidoo is better than that.

“What Do You Want?”

That headline won’t make any sense unless you’re a Babylon 5 fanatic. (And if you love any science fiction, fantasy, or thought-provoking fiction whatsoever, go find it and watch the first four seasons).

Ahem. I had a really good pow-wow with a couple of Squids yesterday, 2muchtrash and her partner. We talked about successes and failures, and about the challenges of making money and getting traffic to our articles. We picked our collective brains. I coredumped everything I know about succeeding on Squidoo (which alas is still too scanty on earnings; I spent 3 of the last 4 years experimenting with ways to increase traffic).

For all my tips, advice, and tricks, once again I was making the same error most of us do. We discuss the power of backlinks, the use of nofollow, the use of rel=”author”, SEO, encouraging clickoutsinterlinking content, time spent on lens, boosting lensrank, article marketing and keyword research and all these other little techniques for maximizing traffic and profits and lensrank and…

phew!

Even as we start to get comfortable with our skills, search engine algorithms and the way people browse the web keep changing. Even if they did not change, we never know exactly what Google, Bing, or all these different browsing platforms are optimized for: they never tell us, so people won’t game the system. All we know is (a) our own areas of expertise and (b) what visitors are doing on our pages, more or less.

 

So once again I return to lens stats and traffic stats, digging up whatever information I can about user behavior. Because that’s where the staying power is, the one thing we can master that will survive the web’s inevitable evolution. We need to keep asking ourselves: What do our visitors want? What do web users look for, and need, and enjoy? What do the comments we receive tell us about our visitors?

To turn it around, because those questions still sound like, “What can I get out of my visitors and how can I use their behavior to my advantage?” let us ask: What are we giving them? What function do our webpages serve? What GOOD is our content? Not “how good is it?” but really, truly, what purpose does it serve? What can people get out of it?

Why do we spend so much time pondering backlinks and stats and keywords and Tweets and not what are we doing, what are we creating, and how can we make our content more useful, readable, interesting, and/or entertaining?  What about article structure and form: not simply heat maps and click maps, but “How can I make this page as functional as possible?” the way Apple did when it designed the iPhone/iPad interface. We know content quality matters. So how can we improve our content? And why do we spend so little time thinking about it?

Look at your own articles with the eyes of a total stranger who has the whole web to browse. Why yours? Is your content really good enough to hold somebody’s attention? If not, what’s missing? What kind of webpages appeal to you, and why do you find yourself reading them, visiting them, clicking links on them, or buying from them?

I don’t have great answers, how-tos, or tutorials on how to make fantastic, useful content. All I can do is suggest we be a self-observers of our own web behavior, looking to see what we like and use. We can also monitor visitor stats, trying to discover what visitors like and respond to. It’s psychology (deducing what users want); it’s research (building exceptional content that isn’t simply rehashing what’s already all over the web); it’s writing craftsmaship.

Quality isn’t everything: the web is so vast that people may never stumble across it. But really unique, excellent, useful pages have at least as good a chance of long-term success as ones put together strategically, following certain tips, checklists, techniques and “how to” rules.

Panda 2.3, Hubpages, and a Suggestion for Zazzle Members

By the way, Google reran the Panda algorithm again on about July 25.

What this means is that every month or so, someone at Google pushes the “Panda button.” Panda then reassesses the quality of content on each domain versus the amount of junk/spam on it, and gives that site, shall we say, a Panda Rating. That Panda Rating then becomes one of the factors Google’s everyday search algorithm uses to decide how well to list a page in search engine results. Panda’s rating is apparently a fairly strong factor, as traffic on each domain tends to rise or fall together, unless individual pages on that site have acquired enough other factors (say, backlinks from highly-respected sites) to offset the Panda factor.

Good news for Hubpages members: reorganizing Hubpages along subdomains has helped many of you, by partitioning off your content from spammy members’ content. That helps convince Panda to judge your content on its own merits versus that by other authors on the Hubpages domain. So Hubpages is now slightly outperforming Squidoo, ezinearticles, suite101, and other open publishing sites (as opposed to those vetting content with an editorial board, which Panda is going to like better). We can clearly see Hubpages getting an uptick from Panda 2.3 at the end of July:

Now, wait, why did I put DeviantArt on there? A hunch. Just look at all that traffic! I think Zazzle members should have a DeviantArt account where you showcase some of your work and link to your Zazzle gallery and/or accounts on Squidoo and HP where you showcase more of your work.

DeviantArt has an advantage over sites like HP and Squidoo, as you see.   A social community that appeals to a large niche market (share your art! writing! photography!) gets tons of traffic if search engines didn’t care diddly squat for it. Members market it by pointing friends, relatvies, and peers to their stuff. Search engine traffic, for DeviantArt, is a bonus on top of the social buzz it generates.

Now, don’t all run out and create DeviantArt accounts for the purpose of spamming DA with backlinks. That won’t help much for SEO purposes. DeviantArt does not let you link directly out to some other website. Instead, when you enter links on a DeviantArt page like your profile, it’s stored in in a special in-house format, which is deciphered by a script only when a user clicks that link.

For instance, here’s our friend Flynn the Cat on DeviantArt. Hover over that link in Flynn’s sidebar and see what the URL is:

http://www.deviantart.com/users/outgoing?http://www.squidoo.com/flynn_the_cat

I bet that Google, at least, is clever enough to detect the hidden URL in there and crawl it for indexing purposes: “Aha, there’s a webpage at http://www.squidoo.com/flynn_the_cat.” But indexing is not the same as ranking. This link probably doesn’t count as a backlink, when Google is checking backlinks as one of the factors it uses to decide how high up to list a page in search engine results.

So why bother with backlinks on DeviantArt, if they don’t count for SEO? Pages on Hubpages, Squidoo, etc get indexed / crawled pretty quickly anyway.

Because links have two audiences: (a) search engines, which may use that link to rank your page better in search engine results and (b) humans, who will click on links that look interesting or useful to them.

In this case, your target audience is (b), people.

When writing backlinks for people, you have to give something they’ll be interested in. On DeviantArt, if they see an excellent portfolio of art, photos, or other kinds of creativity, some visitors will follow your link to see more of your creative work hosted elsewhere. Note that just because DeviantArt itself has a huge amount of traffic doesn’t mean your account will. As with Twitter, Facebook, or other social sites, you’ll only get traffic if you participate in and/or post really good stuff that attracts a following.

But if you are an artistic person like Flynn here, and upload stuff regularly, you will attract a following. You could then direct some of that following to a Zazzle store, Squidoo gallery, or blog where you showcase your stuff.

By the way, Digg, StumbleUpon, and many social media sites create outlinks the same way as DeviantArt: they are stored in a non-standard, in-house format, and then a script untangles them and sends the user to the real link. So everyone measuring links from those social sites as backlinks is missing the boat. Those may help Google index a page, but they probably don’t count much as far as helping a page rank better. As with DeviantArt, those links won’t help much for traffic unless you’re an active, contributing member of those communities who has gained a following by frequently posting good stuff of the kind that community tends to like.

Traffic Trick: Give Something

You know the trick: Free Prize inside. Give people something. Rewarding visitors encourages clicks (we’re programmed to reciprocate), and it gives them a reason to read your article. Besides, the internet was built on free stuff  – commercial enterprise was actually illegal on the internet until relatively recently — and it still grows largely based on free stuff: our content, our ideas, our comments, which are an indirect return for the massive infrastructure invisibly keeping the net running.

But beyond that. Doing something for customers is a marketing trick used by everyone from the IWearYourShirt guys to scantily-clad people in front of web cams. So many newbies ask, “Why aren’t I getting any traffic?” When the answer is, “Why SHOULD traffic show up on your doorstep?” What creative, original thing have you done to bring that traffic? And what are you giving your visitors? You should ask yourself this question with every page for which you want traffic: what are you giving people they can’t get anywhere else?

I have a good online friend who’s just turned thirty. To celebrate being 30, she created this website: Experiment30.  For the next year, she’s going to be putting up polls inviting the internet to tell her what to do. Crazy stuff. Silly stuff. Not R-rated stuff, mind, but just…well, go see what her first poll asks.  She’ll be posting photos or results as she acts out whatever people tell her to do.

Will she get visitors? No guarantees. She’s not doing it to get lots of traffic. She doesn’t know squat about SEO. She has no idea I’m posting this as a signal boost. But it’s an interesting experiment. It’s also authentic. She’s just doing it….because why not?

Happy birthday, you nut. Good luck.