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

New Hub vs. New Lens: an Experiment

Query: How fast can new content on Hubpages and Squidoo start getting significant traffic and earning income? Which platform is best for publishing on trending, buzzworthy news and events?

When Hubpages introduced Idle Status, I wrote a hub about how Idle Status worked and possible ramifications. I drew comparisons with Squidoo’s WIP status.

A debate came up in that article’s comments about new hubs vs. new lenses. Squid∩ forum discussions helped me understand how the two sites deal with a newly-published article. This is important, because it determines whether a new article can get any search traffic or catch the wave of a traffic spike from a trending topic.

What happens to a newly-published article on Squidoo:

  1. A newly-published lens is visible to visitors who are sent to it via a link
  2. Search engines will index it if  they see a link to it and crawl it
  3. So it’s possible (and not difficult) to get search traffic coming in, before…
  4. Around midnight, Squidoo turns the lens red on the dashboard and marks it as WIP, but does NOT put a noindex tag on it.
  5. And about 6-8 hours later, Squidoo runs the lensranking algorithm, features the lens, removes the WIP status, plugs the lens into Squidoo’s directory, at which point search engines will find it if they haven’t already

What happens to a newly-published article on Hubpages:

  1. A newly-published hub is visible to visitors, but has a NOINDEX tag
  2. A search engine may find it if you share the link, but will NOT index it because of the NOINDEX TAG
  3. This will remain true until Hubpages removes Pending status AND search bots return to the page and recrawl it.
  4. Also, if you edit the hub after it’s been published, it will reset the Pending clock, and it could be another day before Hubpages moves it out of Pending status.
I believe that once a searchbot sees a new hub with a NOINDEX tag, that search engine may not return or recrawl the article for several days, but it could be a few weeks. (Recrawls happen more often on pages that searchbots expect to be updated frequently). This makes it dangerous to share a link to a new hub anywhere, even on Twitter, where searchbots may see the link.

My experiment: new lens vs. new hub

Thursday at midnight, I created a hub about the Friday morning shuttle flyover of California. The next day, when I realized it wasn’t getting search traffic, I created a lens about the same topic on Friday afternoon after I got home from watching it (written from scratch, so there’s no duplicate text.)

Publicity: On first publish for both hub and lens, I tweeted the URL using the event’s official hashtags and shared a link to it in a Squid∩ forum post. I retweeted the hub on Friday after I edited the hub and added my photos.

Results

Remember, the hub is one day older than the lens. Also, the hub was published the night before the event, whereas the lens was published after it. Nevertheless, three days after the event:

  • Hub traffic from GA as of Monday 8:30AM - 130 pageviews, 79 unique, from sources: 49 Squid∩, 40 hubpages, 21 Twitter, 10 from Twitter widgets on online newspapers set to display latest Tweets from #spottheshuttle hashtag, 10 direct (probably me reloading).
  • Lens traffic from GA as of Monday 8:30AM – 163 pageviews, 114 unique, from sources: 104 Google search, 29 Squid∩, 6 direct (I emailed it to relatives), 15 Twitter (including Scoop.it), 8 other search engines.
  • The hub finally came out of Pending Mode on Sunday, over 48 hours after first publish.
  • As of Monday 8:30 am, 56 hours after publish, the hub is still not in Google’s cache, although a Google search shows that Google indexed Tweets pointing to the hub AND a link to the new hub on my profile page:

Observations

Obviously, this is a very small sample size. We can’t extrapolate much from the actual numbers of visitors from different sources, but they can tell us what’s possible for a new hub or a new lens:

  • A new hub won’t get search traffic. However, a new hub gets internal traffic (visits from other hubbers), due to the fact that Hubpages has a “followers/activity stream” inviting other hubbers to come by.
  • If you promote a new lens immediately after first publish, it will be indexed by Google and has the potential for instant search traffic.
  • By using official hashtags related to the event, I not only received direct Twitter traffic during the height of the buzz, but also, traffic from automated Twitter widgets displayed on various websites — newspapers, Scoop.it — displaying the latest Tweets for a topic they were covering.

Conclusions

To recap:

This whole experiment is basically addressing, “Can you make money publishing on a trending/buzzworthy topic that gets an initial traffic spike which peters out later?”

PRIOR to Hubpages implementing Idle status, the answer was “Yes, but only on Hubpages, not Squidoo.” I had hit upon this as a great Hubpages strategy, sucking in thousands of visitors during the height of an event (e.g. the Mars rover landing) which petered off to 5-20 visits a day longterm.  Hubpages pays for ad impressions and ad clicks, so a traffic spike like that could result in a crunchy payout. Whereas on Squidoo, the answer was “not unless you can drive affiliate sales,” because a new lens isn’t eligible for advertising revenue until the first of the month AFTER it’s published.

Pending status changes this. On Squidoo, you might at least get some sales from a big, trending-topic traffic spike, especially because most of the traffic will be search traffic which came specifically out of an interest in that topic. Whereas on Hubpages, you’ll get social traffic and a lot of hubfollower traffic, who may be coming because they like your writing rather than because they are really interested in the topic.  Ad clicks and sales are less likely with this audience. (Also, in practice, I’ve only gotten one sale EVER from a Hubpages Amazon capsule, as opposed to dozens per week on Squidoo.)

Basically, now neither site is an effective platform for publishing fresh, new, buzzworthy content on a trending event. Either you get zero search traffic for the first week or so (Hubpages) or zero advertising revenue (Squidoo).

My hunch is that Hubpages will respond to member concerns about Pending Status = NOINDEX and fix this problem. However, as long as “Pending” status means no search traffic for days or weeks after first publish, I am disinclined to publish new hubs.

Which is good news for Christene, my Zujava referrer: it’s time for me to start learning what kind of content works best on Zujava.  :)

 

[UPDATE: It occurs to me that once “Pending” status is removed from a Hubpages hub – a day or two after first publish — you can probably force Googlebot to recrawl the hub by submitting its URL to Webmaster Tools.  But it may take another day for recrawl, and it won’t help with other search engines.]

 

Update2: I just tested: what about a new lens from a non-Giant Squidoo account? Same result…

  1. I published J.R.R. Tolkien’s Artwork  at 8:10 PM Tuesday night.
  2. On first publish,  sourcecode shows no sign of “noindex,” and lens is blue, not WIP, on dashboard (Screencap at 9:26PM)
  3. To get Googlebot’s attention, I Tweeted, cross-linked with related lenses, and link dropped on Squid∩ and Dreamwidth.
  4. Googlebot crawled at 9:08 PM (Screencap).
  5. As of 9:47 PST, lens was still blue, still NO noindex tag.
  6. At 10:40 PM, lens turned red on dashboard (screencap)
  7. BUT a search of the sourcecode at 10:40 revealed no sign of noindex (screencap).  I checked again at midnight; ditto. Compare with sourcecode (screencap) of this old, fallen-into-WIP lens whose sourcecode includes noindex/nofollow meta-tags.
  8. First search traffic from Bing at 1AM. (Which shows why we shouldn’t only consider Google).

Hubpages vs. Squidoo Traffic: Sept 2012

Hubpages’ new Idle Status should’ve removed a lot of low-quality hubs from Hubpages around Aug 29-30, giving Googlebot a little time to crawl the website and reevaluate it with some low-quality content cleared out.

A Googler reported a Panda reset on Sept. 18. This is the standard Panda update where Google reevaluates all websites based on their overall spam to useful/unique content and assigns that domain a Panda rating, which then becomes a strong factor (a boost or a dampener) which it uses to rank individual webpages on that site.

Our guess was that Hubpages’ “Idle Status” would give Hubpages a better overall Panda rating, and help it draw more traffic. This is dependent on whether Hubpages guessed correctly— idling the sorts of pages that Panda tends to downrank— and whether Googlebot has re-crawled and removed Idle hubs from Google’s index. Googlebot re-crawls stale pages less frequently than ones that are updated often, so it’s possible that Panda is still judging Hubpages based on what it looked like before a lot of those pages were idled.

What does Quantcast show? Unfortunately, the last date on the chart today is Sept 19, so we’ll have to wait a week to see for sure:

What I still can’t figure out is why Squidoo took off like a shot this August, although it parallels the June sag. Take a look at Hubpages vs. Squidoo traffic on Quantcast:

 

I mentioned in my last Hubpages vs. Squidoo post one hypothesis: Squidoo appears to me to be oriented much more towards family and kids products, so its traffic may go in lockstep with the parents-and-kids demographic. In the comments of that post, Simon of Hubpages asked me to clarify why I believed Squidoo had a greater lock on that demographic than Hubpages. I answered her at length, explaining the ways I think Squidoo has visibly and officially catered to that segment, but I’d add one more datum: Quantcast rates Squidoo as slightly above average in the “parents with kids” demographic, Hubpages as slightly under. However, the difference between them isn’t all that much.

I’m not sure how Quantcast is able to measure demographics like that. Raw traffic I can believe — embedding a 1×1 image on each page and counting pageloads is a straightforward visitor counter — but I wonder how Quantcast is able to determine details of who is tripping the turnstyle.

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.”

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Duplicate Content Penalty vs. Spun Content Penalty: Look at This!

Here’s yet another search result puzzle which tickles my curiosity.

Background: A lensmaster posted a complaint about Zujava and Wizzley cracking down on spun/duplicate content.

So I went to look up Google’s official word on spun/duplicate content instead of just saying, “ARGH! DON’T FILL OUR BEAUTIFUL WEB WITH ENDLESSLY REPLICATED JUNK NO HUMAN WOULD READ!”

We know that penalizing sites with lots of duplicate content is an integral part of the Panda algorithm. But wait…that’s a penalty applied to an entire domain. Does the spun content creator care what they’re doing to the host site’s Panda reputation, if spewing out a lot of low-quality junk in a hurry gets SOME traffic and SOME income?

True, Google is sending warnings about duplicate content to some webmasters, but it sounds more like warnings for exact copies of pages, not spun/reworded/paraphrased copies.

In the course of searching for answers, I Googled “spun content penalty” . Look closely at entries 2-4 and 6:

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Hubpages vs. Squidoo Traffic: August 2012

Riddle me ree, riddle me roo, why is Hubpages traffic different than Squidoo?

And what the heck happened around August 4/5?

Dates of Recent Google Updates:

Hubpages traffic vs. Squidoo’s on Quantcast, from Aug 22, 2012 (click image for larger-size)

Which just goes to remind us that big, publicly-announced Google updates are only one small factor, and that Google is CONSTANTLY tweaking its algorithm. (In fact, there were about 85 minor algo tweaks announced for June-July. Here’s a good discussion of some of them on Searchengineland.)

At first, my hunch was that this was due to one of the other algo tweaks. But I don’t think it’s that. With past algorithm tweaks, we’ve often seen Hubpages dip afterwards. But this isn’t a dip. Squidoo is climbing. What’s up?

Hubpages has a lot more writerly writers, whereas Squidoo has a HUGE chunk of Rocketmoms, work-at-home moms…. see a pattern? They create a ton of lenses based around kid-related and family-related products. I suspect we’re seeing a back-to-school climb, corresponding to the dip in traffic starting at the end of May .

What’s odd is that Hubpages writers also have mentioned a summer slump, but they’re not seeing a climb yet. I suspect there are more “informational” hubs and fewer sales hubs, or at least fewer sales hubs catering to the Soccer Mom demographic. Squidoo seems to have a lock on those. But that’s just a guess.

Why do I care? Partly, raw curiosity, but mainly, here we have a lab experiment: two sites with very similar models and similar ratios of spam to content. When their traffic diverges, that means there’s some small difference causing the change. If we can understand that difference, then we may begin to get a better grasp of factors that impact search traffic. (I would love for Wizzly and Zujava to grow enough to get directly-measured traffic for Quantcast; then we’d have  four sites with basically similar models to compare and contrast.)

Making Search Results Sexy, Revisited

I’ve talked about making search results sexy before. By this I mean tweaking your lenses so that whatever shows up in Google or other search engines tempts your target audience to click on YOUR webpage, instead of all the other search results that come up.

This is vital. Getting your webpage to appear in search engine results is important. But what you want is those clicks! Whatever appears in Google is your billboard, your front door, your commercial that will get people off the street and into your article.  Your search engine listing is the number one way to attract search traffic — forget backlinks! — so you want it to look its best.

Here’s an example:

Search results for 'Free Web Graphics' on Google

Search results for ‘Free Web Graphics‘ on Google

Suppose I’ve landed the #4 spot for the search “Free Web Graphics.” (Actually, I haven’t; that’s Google’s personalized results which tend to favor Squidoo in my case.) While searchers tend to click the TOP results on a page, a photo can draw the eye down. My photo is more appealing than the one above it, simply because of the contrast and vibrance of the colors (mine is a professional portrait). Also, my snippet’s excerpt sounds a lot more friendly — doesn’t it? — while still showing that I’m covering the search query.

So, let’s take Google’s search results step by step.

1) Title: You know the drill: include your keyword phrase AND something to engage your audience.

2) Breadcrumbs (green links in above screencap): make sure the category you file your article under suits  your keyword, if you possibly can.

3) Photo and Google Authorship links.

Set up Google Authorship if you haven’t. Once Google has crawled your lenses with authorship included, it will often place your Google Profile photo in search results for your articles. The photo can draw the searcher’s eye — or repel them if your photo is off-putting.

See the bottom part of my Is Your Profile Picture a Zombie? article for tips on how to tweak  your profile photo. Or see this recent SEOMoz post, which reminded me of this topic: How Optimizing My Google Profile Pic Increased Traffic 35%. Take a look at the examples he tried and discarded. That will give you more ideas about what works!

4) Google snippet (excerpt) from your lens, usually 156 characters.

I’ve covered this before, but just in case you missed it:

Google will give a short excerpt: either the first sentence of your post/article/lens, or the first place where the searcher’s query shows up on the page. You can’t optimize every single snippet on the page, but you can optimize the first sentence plus the place where your top keyword (or the 2-3 most common searches) appears. Do this by Googling for your article — assuming it’s already been indexed — and see what snippet comes up.

Tweak it. Use SEOMofo’s Snippet Optimizer to rewrite it so that the excerpt accomplishes two things: (1) shows that the page covers the search query and (2) show that the page is well-written and competent. (This means proofreading, crisp language). If possible, make the snippet engaging, intriguing, fun, depending on your topic. Be un-boring.

 

Coloring Pages, Copyright, Transformative and Derivative Works

We’re having a thoughtful discussion of coloring pageson the Squid∩ Community  message board.

A common question has come up: is it legal to trace or create your own art using someone else’s photo or art?

I want to copy my response here discussing transformative vs derivative work,  partly so I can find it again, since it’s one of my more coherent (and brief) write-ups (with apologies to Susan for my coming-down-like-a-load-of-bricks AGAIN, gack.)

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What Happened to SquidU? And a NEW, unofficial forum by and for members!

As most of you know by now, the Squidoo community woke up to find that the SquidU forums, aka the Lensmaster Lounge, were shut down by HQ. To replace them, HQ has set up a new forum on the HQ Blog site. Read their announcement here explaining why.

For various reasons, this change didn’t work for all of us. (Square pegs, meet round holes.) So Christene set up a totally-unofficial by-and-for-members community here:

Squid∩ Community

There’s a lot of familiar faces. Some folks are also on the new, official HQ forum, while others are sticking mostly to Squid∩. (Either is fine. We’re real big on “different things work for different people.” )

It’s also got subforums for people to discuss Wizzley, Zujava, or wherever else you’re active.

There’s a help forum where people can ask other members for tips/advice, plus an FAQ section where we’ve rescued a few of the most in-demand tips and Tricks of the Trade posts written by members who have migrated to Squid∩. Hopefully these forums will continue to serve as a place to get support and tips, as well as camaraderie.

(The upside-down U symbol is the mathematical sign for “union,” but really, we just like being upside-down.)

The True Power of Social Media

Wow. I had started to create a lens on the Mars Curiosity Rover a little over a week ago, claimed the URL, then stupidly failed to finish it.

I wound up creating the article on Hubpages instead, since its clean interface looks a little less corny for educational pages.

I discovered one more reason why I was glad I’d created my Mars Rover page on Hubpages: it’s really fast to edit, update, and add pictures.  Sunday night, I decided to use my hub on the Mars Rover to liveblog the whole event. With a few Tweets and hashtags related to the event as it was unfolding, I started getting traffic before the spacecraft hit the atmosphere!

Today, I saw just how fast Google can crawl after a Tweet or link on a social website gets posted (possibly this is only true of social sites its owns).

On Squidoo, I wound up making a lighthearted Mars Curiosity Rover 3D model lens showing off an amazing free app from NASA that lets you plunk a virtual reality model of the rover down on your cat, er, your desk, and move the model around. (It’s bizarre. It’s SO COOL.) Obviously, if I’m combining a trending topic with a funny cat video, I should Tweet it. In this case, I tweeted the video on YouTube, which is liable to get more visitors. In the video description, I included a link to the Squidoo lens showing how to get your own copy of the virtual rover so you can put it on your cat, er, desk.

I published that lens a few hours ago, but it’s got a lensrank of almost 2 million, since Squidoo ranks unpublished lenses lower and lower if you don’t publish them pronto. This means it’s a WIP lens, and is not yet plugged into Squidoo’s internal links, so Squidoo hasn’t yet informed search engines that the page exists.  To my surprise, it immediately started getting Google search traffic wanting to know how to get and use the app I was demoing in the video!

Remember, YouTube is owned by Google. It must have seen the link in the video description, and/or seen the Tweet, followed it back, and crawled it, a good 12 hours before Squidoo acknowledges that the lens exists.

I’m actually not sure whether the Youtube video link or the Tweet got the page indexed and ranked well by Googe, but it’s good to remember both, and to remember that you already have to be part of the conversation in social media like Twitter, or nobody is going to follow your interruption (link drop) into the conversation. 

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.)