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


My Online Earnings Diversification (or not)

I’m reviewing which of my earnings come from where, in my slow march towards diversification.

Last year, by the end of the year, Squidoo still accounted for 95% of my earnings, and most of the rest was Amazon Associates (despite Amazon Associates in California getting punted for several months). Alas, nearly all those Amazon Associates were Amazon links embedded on Squidoo lenses, not on my blogs or other sites. That’s bad, because if Squidoo ever has problems, Associate links embedded on those articles will get clobbered too.

Here’s my Jan-Jun earnings breakdown for this year:

Squidoo is mostly tier payouts. But how much? For the most part, I have Amazon Associates links embedded on Squidoo lenses, but I also have the odd Amazon module here or there. A question on SquidU induces me to check out my Squidoo earnings breakdown to see which parts of my Squidoo payouts are from tier payouts.

Digging out my three niche accounts and checking their Squidoo earnings breakdowns for the past 3 payouts, there’s a wide variety in sales income:

Adsense Text Links Amazon eBay Cafepress
68.70% 21.05% 9.54% 0.00% 0.71%
65.77% 20.31% 2.90% 9.89% 1.13%
76.37% 23.18% 0.36% 0.00% 0.00%

Keep in mind those are all for Squidoo’s built-in modules, not 3rd party associates links, which are on the pie chart above.

In short, my Squidoo earnings are still mostly tier payouts (as opposed to sales commissions), and my overall earnings are mostly Squidoo, either through Squidoo payouts or through third party affiliate links on Squidoo lenses.

Clearly, I need to attend more to my blogs to have them draw a more significant amount of traffic/income (they get some Adsense, but I don’t count it yet as they have yet to reach payout threshold, and my Amazon links on my mythology blog almost never convert). Or else I need to establish a presence on Zujava or Wizzley as an alternative to Squidoo for embedding Amazon Associates links. (However, Squidoo has made me greedy: I like being able to embed my own Amazon Associates links and not share sales commissions.)

Getting Ready for Hobbit Hype…What Are You Getting Ready For?

A good and bad aspect of writing online for a living is that everything you love becomes potential writing fodder.

As usual, you have to find the “What you love / what people are searching for” overlap: I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fall of Gondolin” story in Book of Lost Tales, but few people are searching for it; those few people who love it are all on some Lord of the Rings fan forum talking about it. They’re not going to find an article I write on it unless I write a really good article on it, and lots of other really good Tolkien articles, until finally I get a following of Tolkien geeks.

That’s social promotion, which works by word of mouth.

Search engine optimization means automated traffic: people finding your content through searches. Not all aspects of a topic get search traffic. (“Fall of Gondolin.”) But many do. I’ve learned by trial and error that common search traffic queries related to science fiction and fantasy fandom are collectibles, toys, and costumes. People want Harry Potter  legos and Star Wars action figures and Xena swords. Being part of science fiction fandom, I also like some of these things, enough to research and write about them. Bingo!

Being a longtime Tolkien fan, I know that another Tolkien book is being turned into a movie — two movies — and that as with The Lord of the Rings films, there will be collectibles, action figures, replicas, toys, stuff. But of course, if fans just want to buy that stuff, they’ll go straight to Amazon and look it up there, bypassing Google and bypassing my lenses. They don’t need me to natter at them about that stuff! So product-related articles must do more than just showcase the product. They must provide some kind of information that fans want that Amazon doesn’t cover.

If you are a fan, you know what fans find interesting or want to know, and it’s your job (a fun job!) to research and provide that info. For example: The origin of Hermione’s Time Turner and how it works. The colors of different Jedi lightsabres. Costume details on Thor’s armor, and how to make it (and where to find materials to make it on eBay for cheap). This is where your fan expertise suddenly becomes useful, instead of merely an embarrassing hobby: you can answer questions that Amazon can’t, related to things.

In my case, I like swords (there’s an Éowyn bottled up in me somewhere), and I like Elvish and runes and dead languages. I paid attention to the props and replicas in the LOTR films and noticed all the Elvish runes written on them. So what am I doing, on days when I can’t think of more educational and thoughtful topics to write about?

Amazon product images let me grab photos, and the Fair Use policy of a “limited excerpt” for critique/commentary lets me use a credited close-up photo for analyzing and reporting on the inscriptions on each weapon.

The details of what I’m doing aren’t important except as an example of how to mine an interest for an angle that’s likely to draw traffic and drive sales.

The point is: you have fandoms, hobbies, interests in which you have expert knowledge. Many of them are related to upcoming books, films, or events. Those are prime targets for search traffic. Now think of products related to the hobby, fandom, or event. And think of details about those products that fans might be wanting to know (“What do the runes on Gandalf’s sword say?”) The more you know about the fandom, the more likely you’ll be able to come up with information that may not be available elsewhere, or may not have been pulled together in quite the way you can do it. (There are webpages on Elvish, and there are websites about Tolkien trivia, and there are websites on movie swords, and there are sales listings for the swords available on Amazon, but the information from all those sources hasn’t been combined onto one article, plus I’ve found or added some information not found anywhere else.)

I’m getting ready for the Hobbit films. What are you getting ready for?

Hubpages vs. Squidoo: Short-Term vs. Long-Term Traffic

I’ve been exploring Hubpages vs. Squidoo ever since Panda smacked Hubpages and left Squidoo alone. (The longterm fallout from that is that Hubpages’ traffic has fallen roughly to be the same as Squidoo’s, but Squidoo’s distribution of more money to top-performing lenses means one can make more money with fewer visitors.)


One thing has come home to me forcefully in my recent experiments on Hubpages. It’s obvious, yet I don’t think many people are taking advantage of it.

Articles on Hubpages start earning ad revenue immediately. Articles on Squidoo can earn sales commissions immediately, but they only become eligible for ad revenue on the first of the month, not for their first partial month. Also, Hubpages revenue is tied directly to impressions, whereas Squidoo’s ad revenue is paid indirectly via the tier payout system.

What this means is that if you create a lens on a current, trending topic, you may not earn anything from the initial burst of traffic, and the later trickle of traffic after the main buzz is over may be too low to sustain the lens in a payout tier (or, at best, tier three). Whereas if you create a hub capitalizing on a current topic, you’ll get all the ad revenue from the initial traffic spike, then a modest trickle of revenue from the modest trickle of visitors that come later.

I discovered this by accident when one of my hubs went viral and earned more in a week than all my hubs combined in the previous six months. I confess that I had that episode somewhat in mind when, on May 18, I rushed to get up a page about how and when to watch the May 20th solar eclipse. (The article is now rewritten to reflect what people want after an eclipse: cool pictures.)  The 3500 visitor spike on May 20th easily doubled my earnings for the rest of the month. Post-eclipse, it’s getting 20-25 visits a day, not enough to pull in much ad revenue, but the pennies will become part of my overall daily income.

After some thought, partly because I think it will get more visitors on Squidoo, and partly because I really was excited about this event, I created a different article sharing my solar eclipse photos on Squidoo. That’s tailored to the more community-minded, slightly less informational style of Squidoo lenses; also, significantly, I host the pictures on my own website and link to them so they get clickouts, capitalizing on Squidoo’s lensrank factors and greater ability to drive traffic by letting me name images. It will be an interesting experiment to see how these two articles compare in earnings over the longterm. I predict that the Squidoo lens will earn more.

So, anyway, the point is: if you’re leaping on a trending topic, consider Hubpages for that initial traffic spike. If it’s a topic that’s likely to get longterm traffic and clickouts, Squidoo is the better option.

Making Money Selling Zazzle Art on Squidoo

On my Want Graphics? Promote Zazzle Designs lens, our spiffy-hatted member TxCowboyDancer posted in the guestbook:

One question: Do you have a couple/three/four examples of “good lenses” that promote Zazzle?

OOPS! Confession time! While I do have the odd Zazzle graphic on my lenses, like my Sea Hare lens using a funny T-shirt to jazz up the guestbook, my lenses about my shops are seriously out of date…they’re still featuring Cafepress designs!

Here’s one, and it’s sneaky: my Funny Signs and Billboards lens includes a Zazzle gallery with “Demotivational Posters” whose spoof punchlines are a little too small to read, so visitors tend to click on them to view the posters on Zazzle. I haven’t sold too many, but at least this helped the lens get more clickouts (which impact its lensrank).

What about a lens dedicated to showcasing Zazzle art — either your own, or other people’s— to get a commission? Let’s check out some other members’ fine lenses featuring Zazzle products. I did a quick search for the “zazzle” tag on Squidoo and checked the results against Fluffanutta’s Squidaholic tool to see what kind of traffic they’re pulling in, since I can’t tell how well they’re selling. So, the comments below are about how the lens is laid out, how products are presented, and (because I know this stuff) some basic SEO-for-Zazzle tips.


Two Kinds of Reviews: Know Which You’re Writing!

Trial and error has once again revealed a useful insight for affiliate marketing: there are two kinds of reviews, and if you write wrong kind for your product and target audience, you can kiss sales revenue goodbye.

Hard-to-Find Products

Examples of this are my review of a cheap hard case for an old Macbook whose polycarbonate case was known to crack, a special kind of baits to kill the little black ants invading California, or collectible figures imported from Japan that are hard to find in the states. Here, the buyer has a problem or an idea what she’s looking for, but either doesn’t know the exact brand and model name (what to type into Amazon to find it), or it’s not available on ordinary retail sites like Amazon.

With all of these products, I use the products’s very specific name for the article to help it get picked up in search engine results, or, more often, (“hard case for old Macbook”) I did some keyword research with Google’s keyword tool to discover what people type when looking for that kind of product.

The “specific name” approach works for products that are difficult to find, or are sought by collectors. The “keyword research” approach works very well if you can zero in on a question or phrase people tend to Google when they’re looking for the solution to a problem.

However, there are several examples where the “specific name” approach failed to get much traffic. See if you can determine a pattern:

What’s the problem? People aren’t liable to type out “review of Herman miller Aeron chair.” Either they already have the Aeron chair and have formed an opinion about it, or they go straight to Amazon or some e-merchant they trust and look for product reviews on the site where they intend to buy the product.  Why Google for a product review when there’s already dozens right on the product page on Amazon?  I still get some traffic on these kinds of lenses, but no more than 10-20 a week.

So think about your buyer. Do a simulated run of buying it on Amazon yourself. Is it an item lots of people know the name of? Are the Amazon reviews informative, and the product page tells you everything you need? Does the Amazon listing turn up at the top of Google when you search for it on Google? In that case, you probably won’t have much luck, because the typical buyer is going to go to Google > Amazon > Amazon reviews > Buy as opposed to Google >Webpage  Review > Amazon > Buy.

That doesn’t mean don’t do the review, because you might get lucky. However, for the most part, I recommend focusing on products that fit the criteria I mentioned above: they solve a problem, answer a question, are difficult to find, or are sought by collectors. Those get searched on Google, not just Amazon, and users may actually do a little research before heading to Amazon.

The Buyer’s Guide

Often, web users trying to compare a bunch of products to pick the best one. Then they need a concierge to steer them to likely products. These articles take more knowledge and experience to write well, because you can’t get away with reviewing just one product: you have to be familiar with the niche and give an honestly useful report and comparison of a bunch of different products. But these articles can be very useful to customers, because they can’t just go to Amazon and read a few reviews to find what they’re looking for.

I make a few sales a day on these lenses: Best Books on Greek Mythology, Great Books on Celtic Mythology, Best Books on Egyptian Mythology. I had discovered these kinds of searches in my old Greece-related lenses’ traffic stats. On the same principle, I tried the Best Ice Compresses and got good results.  So if you know a subject, and you’ve done your own comparison shopping to figure out which are the best, write a lens on it, with mini-reviews of the pros and cons of each and comments about what each one is good for.

I’ve also had tremendous luck with collectibles guides where I showcase all the items in a collection. People don’t always buy those things, but they often go to Amazon to browse them, then they buy something— not necessarily any of those items, but those items lured them into the store like a shop window display!

The key with buyer’s guides is that you’re trying to attract people who are interested in a certain type of thing, they don’t know exactly what product name to type into Amazon to find it. This kind of buyer’s guide is especially effective for products that turn up a lot of four-to-five star rated products in Amazon search, so many that it would be bewildering and time-consuming to dig through all the customer reviews to find the best one (e.g. celtic mythology). If a search for, say, “eco-friendly Christmas lights” turns up only 5 products that are better than 3-star-ratings, then you’re probably not going to get too many visitors to a webpage on that product; it’s easier for visitors to skim those five products on Amazon, read the reviews there and make a choice. Again, this isn’t an argument not to write such a review, but it’s less likely to succeed. This problem is happening more and more, as apps and online retailers provide people many ways other than a generic Google search to learn all they need to know before making a purchase!

Here’s a special case of the buyer’s guide which is worth considering.

App Store Concierge

Right now, there’s no easy way to SELL apps — at least, I’m not finding an affiliate program with Apple that gets down to the app level — unless you go for the Android apps available on Amazon. [EDIT: See below; Christene’s got tips.] But since Squidoo rewards lenses that get lots of clickouts, there’s an opportunity to make some money playing app concierge. There’s a real opportunity here, at least for now, because the iTunes App Store isn’t really good at turning up items unless you know the name of the app you’re looking for. It’s got no tags, too few categories, and only shows the top 100 in each category. It’s a really inefficient way to find apps. For example, I couldn’t really find an app that let me keep track of miles and calories for a treadmill, exercise bike, etc, because Apple’s search tool is too inefficient.

So I’m creating a few guides to different kinds of apps. Right now I’ve got one on creative people’s drawing apps, although I put that on Hubpages because I’m trying to diversify.

Basically, if you’ve had to do some research on, “What’s the best app to do X?” make a lens about it, and be sure to make prominent links to the app’s page.

Beyond Squidoo: Getting My Eggs in Multiple Baskets

It’s wise to get eggs in multiple baskets — that is, income streams from multiple online sources — to protect oneself against Google penalties or policy changes on any one site. Whereas last year I decided to make a go of treating Squidoo as a full-time job, this year I’m trying to diversify.

So far, I’m having a hard time getting traction anywhere else, but then, it takes a while to discover what works best with each service and website. Here’s my breakdown for January-April 2012:


My Earnings Breakdown: Squidoo, Hubpages, etc

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately.


‘Tis The Season — For Sales Research

You should get holiday shopping lenses done now, because Google has been favoring fresh content more than ever, lately. (Of course, last month would’ve been better, to make sure it got indexed in time.)

Regardless, this is the time to gather data about what your visitors are buying. On Squidoo, click the $$$ tab on the dashboard to sort your lenses by recent affiliate sales. Right-click the “Stats” button under each lens with $$$ commissions, choose “open link in a new [browser] tab,” then click Squidoo’s “Royalties” tab to see what items were bought from that lens.

Create new articles targeting similar kinds of products, which evidently you can sell because you’ve already did sell some!

But wait— remember my little riffs about coincidental sales versus direct sales? Direct sales come from a review or “best of” list you wrote in which you featured the product. Coincidental sales come from articles you wrote for another purpose — a How To article or a tutorial, for example, where you featured books related to your topic or included the materials used in a crafts project.

It’s the coincidental sales you want to look for. You already have lenses to sell the direct sale products, so you don’t need to make another. But if you accidentally sold toothbrushes on a lens about hairbrushes, maybe you should make a toothbrushes lens.

There is actually a spectrum between direct sales and coincidental sales, because people often click on a product review, go to the online retail website, and wind up buying something else entirely.

Consider creating lenses on “I went to buy X but bought Y instead” products.

Of course, you’ll have to use your judgment. There’s many things that one visitor will buy that no one else will buy — that’s the beauty of the long tail. But it’s time to examine all your sales and see if you detect any patterns (similar kinds of purchases) or any really good ideas for product reviews. New lenses may not get out in time for this holiday season, but at least you’ll have them for later.

(And yes, I can hear you saying: “but if I publish them now, and they aren’t indexed in time for the holiday shopping season, then they won’t be as fresh for the holiday season next year.” To which I say: never cheat yourself out of publishing effective content that may be building up an income stream because of something Google might or might not be doing.)

More Tips for Building Amazon Associate Links

I’m always fiddling with ways to display Amazon Associate links with big bold images and appealing layouts so they get more clicks.

I’ve got a few tricks I use all the time. They’re fast, and I do them almost without thinking about it.

Unfortunately, when I try to explain them, they look scary, because the code Amazon gives us is scary, then I have to insert minor tweaks.

Which is why I’ve filed this Squidoo Tutorial under Advanced CSS. For old Squidoo hands, it may be useful; for new Squids, it’ll probably make your head spin:

My Amazon Associates Links Beat Squidoo’s Links

Hopefully they will prove useful to somebody.






Making Money Online: Coincidental vs Direct Sales

Squidoo, Hubpages and Wizzley users make money through ad revenue and affiliate commissions. Many of us who come to these sites with basic writing skills are shy about sales lenses. We take a pussyfooting approach instead: we write on something we love, and include links to products that might interest our audience.

I call this second approach coincidental sales:  you’re not writing a product review, just hoping that visitors will stop what they’re doing (reading your article) to buy. Obviously, this isn’t quite as effective as the direct sales approach, but there are ways to tweak it.

Coincidental Sales

My very first two reliable sales lenses were my   Thoth article, an essay on Egyptian mythology, which I’d divided up with some Amazon product thumbnails more as visual decoration than to sell anything, and my “How to take your pet on a plane” article, where I included a spotlight on a particular pet product I use.

In the former case, I learned that you can break sales modules “best practices” — a keyword-rich header or caption for search engines, a large picture and personalized review for people — if the textless thumbnail images are so puzzling, intriguing, or provocative that people tend to click on them. Another excellent example is posters or signs that obviously have funny captions, but are slightly too small to read. I shamelessly use a block of Zazzle “demotivational posters” on my Funny Signs lens for exactly this reason. (I don’t get many Zazzle sales, but at least I get clickouts). People click images. Surprisingly, they even click images which are decorative elements on the page. Getting them to Amazon is like getting people inside a department store — it won’t guarantee a sale, but it’s a start. And again, on Squidoo, clickouts boost lensrank.

The second lens I mentioned above, the “pets on a plane” lens, was useful in that it showed me there was a market for a particular product. Multiple “coincidental” purchases of the same product meant I should break the lens off and create an actual sales lens devoted to that product.

Direct Sales

Direct sales lenses, however, are more powerful. People use the web to buy things. Don’t be embarrassed to help them. After all, you search the web to buy things all the time yourself, correct? If you provide useful, actionable information that can help someone find what they’re looking for, then you’ve earned your pay more than half those folks wearing orange, green or blue aprons in big box retail stores.

With sales lenses, you have to:

  • Identify the product in the opening sentence, or declare what kinds of products your page covers.
  • Establish yourself as trustworthy and knowledgeable. Polished prose helps.
  • Stay brief, focused, and to the point. They want information to help them decide whether to make a purchase. Give them that information. Don’t give them something else.
  • “Talk benefits, not features.” The most valuable lesson I’ve learned on sales is that people want to know what’s in it for them, not how many whoosiwhatsits it has.
  • Use crisp, eye-catching graphics, if you can.
  • Don’t go overboard. Less is more. People who are shopping are in a hurry; they don’t want to plow through more than they absolutely must. So you don’t have to be exhaustive and comprehensive. Just give them the most useful benefits, the most important points. (You might do this at the top of the lens, with a spotlight, and then go in more depth for those who pass the first big shiny BUY button without committing.)
  • There is nothing wrong with having a BUY button near the top of the page for those who make their minds up quickly, and another at the end after you’ve covered it in more depth.

I am learning to create two kinds of sales lenses.

“Best Of X” or “Top Five/Ten X”

You’re not just pushing them to buy, buy, buy. You are serving as a concierge, researching all the products of a certain kind (Digital SLR cameras, e.g.) and presenting your recommendations for the top five or ten. Basically, you’re being a one-person Consumer Report, saving your readers time and effort by helping them find the product that will best suit their needs.

In this case, you start by saying you’re going to review the best [cameras, kitchen utensils, cars, books, dog breeds, software, or other thingies] for X, Y, and Z. Say this right in the first sentence. You need to tell people the page has what they’re looking for. Then deliver on that promise. Be brief, but personable. Show you know what you’re talking about. (Polished writing helps.) Link to products that also have good customer reviews; if they don’t, you’ve got the wrong product. Go beyond Amazon customer reviews to the web at large — heck, do look at Consumer Report, and other sites too — to learn what you can about the products. You don’t want to overwhelm; your readers are in a hurry and want a few facts (or features), not an essay. You don’t want to lift reviews or copy from anywhere; write in your own words. But research and learn so you can give good info.

“My Review of X”

When I’m stumped for what to write on, I prowl the house looking for things I like, and then review them. My own photos are a powerful message (I hope) saying, “Look, I use this. I know what I’m talking about.”

Again, start the article by saying what you’re covering. What’s in it for your reader? They’ve come to find out about the Widgetbat XT 3000, not your feelings on widgetbats in general. Use the product name — brand, model, number — in the page title and URL, if possible, to attract the precise people who want to know about that product before buying it. They’re researching it.

Again, give them more than they’ll find in Amazon reviews, otherwise there’s no reason for them to read your page as opposed to going straight to Amazon. I list features, what I use it for or like it for, pros and cons.  I highlight the main product in  an Amazon Spotlight.

I also give a few alternates below for people to make their own comparisons. “Other products like this.” I include shorter blurbs on them.


Silly moneymaking tip…

I’ve got just one word to say to you:

“The Graduate”

Or, wait, two words…

I noticed this phenomenon several years ago when I converted a seminar paper on the Egyptian god Thoth into a Squidoo lens.

People love action figures. Even in this economy, and especially if it’s something for which one would not expect an action figure, they’ll click on small thumbnail images of action figures to get a better look. Sometimes they’ll buy. Sometimes they’ll buy something else on Amazon instead.

There’s sports figure bobbleheads and politician action figures (and voodoo dolls) and collectible action figures for every single movie, video game, and most pop music stars. There’s collectible Greek mythology action figures.  There’s Seth Godin and his mismatched socks.

The eco-friendly part of me shudders at promoting collectibles, because they’re plastic, plastic, plastic, and they’re a waste of resources. Mea culpa.

The pragmatic part of me says that they pay the bills. And I’m really fond of the one that sits on my computer guarding my hard drive.

So there’s a thought. Which I’m offering in lieu of intelligent commentary on Squidoo’s experiments with subdomains and “digest” style magazines following the Hubpages success with subdomains which has the Panda watching world in a tizzy. Other than: it’s worth testing.