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


Ouch! Squidoo Traffic Went Kablooie on Nov 17

Recent Daily Traffic for my Squidoo Lenses

Around November 17, 2012, Squidoo and many sites across the web experienced major traffic changes. In Squidoo’s case, it was the worst drop I’ve seen in years.

Barry Schwartz of Seoroundtable got a brief nonanswer from Google about it. One thing is clear: it’s not a Panda update. Google said Panda would be updated in the next week.

I don’t think it’s an EMD update, because that specifically targets domain names — the website part of a URL, not the individual page’s filename. ( = domain name, /my-cool-lens = the filename.)  I also don’t think it’s Penguin, because the main target of Penguin is sites using artificial link schemes and other heavy-duty black hat SEO practices which I think are beyond the capacity and budget of even the most spammy Squidoo lensmasters.

So what happened? Here’s a couple half-assed theories. Also, for my own enlightenment, I’ve compiled Squidoo sitewide traffic graphs for the past five years to see how our autumn traffic normally fluctuates. Bad news: there IS no “normal.”

P.S. Credit Where Due: Thanks to Victoriuh for pointing out some of the SEO industry analysis posts that I cite below.


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.


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?

Maximize Traffic from the Front Page of Squidoo

We’ve had a SquidU discussion about the recent SquidCademy quest, whose prize was getting your lens featured as one of the rotating selections on the front page of Squidoo.

I’ve been pondering how to squeeze the most traffic out of the two to four week window when your lens is part of the rotation.

Here’s some things to remember.

  • If Squidoo HQ issues a challenge or quest with a Squidoo front page feature, go for it. It’ll mean extra traffic for two to four weeks if you get accepted.
  • They favor lenses with strong, visually appealing graphics. Once I entered one of these challenges and got the points and purple star, but did not get a front-page feature, probably because the graphic wasn’t as good.
  • The number one way to maximize traffic from the front page of Squidoo is through the lens graphic. People arriving on the front page of Squidoo didn’t arrive via a search of a topic, so they’re not targeted traffic. Instead, they’re liable to click the picture that stands out from the rest with its visual appear.
  •  So use a crisp, clear, compelling graphic with a strong silhouette, possibly a white background (See my “Hook Visitors with Key Art Designs” tutorial for tips).
  • Check to see how it looks on Squidoo’s front page (especially if your graphic’s not square; Squidoo will crop it to a square). You can safely tweak, adjust, upload the graphic, and republish until it looks good (thanks to KathyMcGraw for asking if changing the graphic would cause any problems — it doesn’t. The graphic changed on the front page immediately after republishing).
  • While a front page feature will bring visitors because of all the people landing on the gateway, it’s useless for SEO purposes. I Googled cache: and double-checked with Webconf’s Search Engine Spider Simulator, and both of them show that the current featured lenses are not crawled or indexed. The lens gallery is generated only when you’re viewing live, so Google doesn’t see those links.
  •  Oddly, the testimonials are stored, so a random few lucky lensmasters get extra backlink juice if their testamonial is showing when Google’s spider comes by (which happens often). If Squidoo ever solicits us to write more blurbs, do it.
  • Also, of course, Squidoo Categories are featured in the sidebar, and those links are hard-coded, so getting your lens on any of the category or subcategory pages will get some trickle-down pagerank from the top level of

The Long Tail in the Age of Semantic SEO

I recently did a long tail experiment to catch a few different search phrases.

See my introduction to the long tail, The New Long Tail of SEO, if you don’t know what I mean by that term.

Okay. Here’s the story.


SEO Tip: Save the Date

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

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

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

Image Hosting on Your Own Domain

I’ve used ICDSoft as my web host for 8 years now, long before Web 2.0 burst onto the scene. I’ve hosted various personal websites on it and used it as file storage space for online communities where I was an admin or member.

On Squidoo, I continue to find it extremely useful for image hosting. First, it’s fast, and I’m not dependent on Squidoo’s servers. Second, I have ICDsoft’s own traffic stats data, which records longterm trends like keyword searches that brought people to those images. I’ve got eight years of keyword data to mull through when pondering what people search for — I really need to spend more time digging through the records to help me brainstorm for lens topic ideas! Third, ICDSoft lets me block hotlinking.

Most importantly, having images hosted off-Squidoo lets me store the images for each lens in folders whose names reinforce SEO. For example, all my images for my volcano lens are stored in a folder named [blah blah]/volcanoes/[filename].jpg.  This means every single image reinforces the relevance of that lens for the keyword “volcanoes.” You could use this technique on image hosting sites like Picasa and Photobucket as well, provided they let you name image folders, and those names are incorporated into the image URL.

On a side note… Where can you find information on which of your lens graphics is generating search traffic?

  1. Check Stats for that lens.
  2. Click the traffic tab.
  3. Scroll down to “Referrers” below the pie chart.
  4. Under “Referrers,” click Google. For some reason Squidoo treats Google image search as a referrer, not a search engine.
  5. Look for referrals beginning with these words: /imgresimgurl. Shortly after that will be the URL of the image. That means someone did a Google Image search, saw your graphic in the results of the image search, clicked on that graphic and came to your lens.
  6. It’s a little hard to decipher, but if you right click and copy that “referrer” URL into a spare document, then search for %3Fq%3D (which is a weird way of saying &q=, computerese for “query equals…”), everything after that is the actual search term someone typed in to find the graphic. %2B is computerese for a blank space. So for example, I see a referral with this gobbledygook:,r:8,s:18&biw=1259&bih=599

That means that someone found my lens by doing an image search for mount pinatubo. I’m really not sure how, since other images turn up ahead of mine in Google image search, but they did, so there you are. :)

Normally you’ll never need to dig that deeply into your stats, but just in case, that’s how. Don’t ask me what all that other gobbledygook is, though.

Two Thoughts About Traffic and SEO

These aren’t really big enough to deserve a post, but they’ve been sitting in my “Post Topics” box forever, so I toss them out for whatever they’re worth:

Greekgeek’s Maxim:

Traffic isn’t everything, but everything comes from traffic.

I’ve become more aware that clicks, sales, and other factors are almost more important than traffic. Traffic quantity certainly isn’t as important as some people think: attracting 5 people who are ready to buy what’s on your page is better than 500 people who are just browsing, or even 50 Squidoo members who are ready to say, “Nice lens!”  However, you can’t get clicks, sales, or anything else without first getting at least some people to the page.

Yeah, it’s stating the obvious again, but I kinda like the maxim.

SEO Is NOT Social Media; Both Get Traffic

I’ve stated this before, but never clearly enough.

1) When you’re doing SEO, you’re optimizing your content and links so that search engines notice them. Use specific language, keywords, and keyword research (traffic stats) to refine your SEO.

2) When you’re doing social media, you’re talking to people. People respond to clear, exciting, brief writing, appeals to emotions, and benefits. (What’s in it for them?)

Always ask yourself: which method are you trying to use at the moment? Each requires a different approach. The one you choose to use may depend on your topic:

1) Some topics get traffic most easily through SEO: product reviews, for example, are not very exciting, but when someone needs to replace or buy a Quixtop 234, by golly they’re going to search for Quixtop 234.

2) Certain topics almost can’t get search engine traffic. Your personal story, your opinions, your advice about important issues, your passions may not fit into some neat little label someone might search for. Then you have to rely on social promotion: putting out Tweets and Facebook updates and viral videos and other person-to-person content that stands out enough to tempt someone to click.

Social promotion requires skilled writing and a grasp of psychology. You’re running up against human indifference — they’re busy, so why should they read your page? You need to “be remarkable,” as Seth Godin puts it, in order to attract visitors and word-of-mouth recommendations. It can be done. But it’s not easy. Check out Seth’s blog for one example of how it’s done well.

The Tao of SEO

The most popular form of SEO boils down to:

  • researching popular searches related to one’s topic
  • scouting the competition for those terms and one’s niche
  • strategic use of keywords on a webpage and in links to that page

But “Search Engine Optimization” does not only mean keyword research, even if that’s an important and powerful method. Nor does SEO only mean optimizing for Google, even if that’s usually the biggest source of search engine traffic in the English-speaking world.

“Search engine optimization” simply means techniques for getting search engines to send traffic to your pages. We can talk about linkbuilding (which I don’t do enough of), on-page optimization, image optimization, Squidoo tags, cross-linking — but it all goes back to people searching for things, and finding those things on your pages.


People. Places. Objects. Nouns.

The tao of SEO is speaking in terms that someone else cares about, wants to know about, or might look for. The more concrete, specific vocabulary you use, the more likely your words may intersect with things people search for.

Don’t just say you took your dog to the park. Say your dog is a labradoodle, and you take it to play frisbee at Peppergrass Park. Don’t just say you like fish. Say you’re crazy about ikura (salmon roe) sushi with a dab of wasabi.

Somewhere, somebody might be looking for precisely those things.

They may append certain adjectives and descriptives to the nouns: cheapest, free, unique, homemade, best, review of, top ten. But nouns are common and essential in most searches.

There is another kind of popular search besides noun-phrases: question-phrases like “how can I…?” or “what is the HTML code for…?” or “how many…?” or “how hot is…?” or “When did….?” These often make great section headers or first sentences of paragraphs.

In my creative writing, I find myself snipping out excessive use of names and description, favoring nuanced language that implies more than it says. On my Squidoo pages, I replace pronouns with nouns and say what I mean. Search engines can’t read between the lines.

Of course, people can read between the lines, so you have to be careful not to overdo it. A huge mass of nouns will lose reader interest, like reading the phone book aloud. But usually, you can state the obvious in a way that’s compelling to readers as well as helpful to search engines.

The tao of SEO is to find phrases that express what you want and need to say in concrete, specific ways that search engines notice. Then your pages won’t just rank for one or two big keyword searches. They’ll pick up all kinds of little searches, phrases that perhaps no one has ever searched before,  and that your competition has not tried to optimize for.

You can’t always write concretely. Sometimes you need to write on abstract concepts, ideas, beliefs, opinions, feelings that just don’t lend themselves to specific, searchable language. But when you can, state precisely what you mean. Skip filler. Skip introductions. Get to the point.

Get Traffic By Designing for Visually Impaired Web Users

Enhanced web accessibility means enhanced SEO

Visually impaired users use screen readers, i.e. voice software, to browse the web. There’s a lot more people surfing the web this way than you’d think. They are dependent on the text we use and the organization of web pages to help them navigate.

Search engines, too, are text-dependent. They need keywords to help them analyze page content. They need structure like headings and  image file names to tell them what each section and image is. They use words in bold, links, and certain key parts of each page to help them learn their way around.

Designing for human users and search engines often forces us to juggle two conflicting priorities: human readability versus targeting keywords. In this case, we’ve got a win-win situation: designing for people will help search engines get what we’re trying to say.

A Squidoo Example

A Squidoo page which I just critiqued in SquidU’s Critique Me forum got me to thinking about all this. It’s a simple page: Funny Pie Charts. It’s a collection of funny pictures. The page’s author did a good job of making the page more accessible for search engines by choosing a short phrase and using it in the image’s file name, alt text, and title text. (Title text is optional text that pops up when you hover your cursor over a link. You put it into  link tag like this:  <a href=”link goes here” title=”hover text goes here”>clickable text</a>. Each image was linked back to the page it came from, so there was a place to include title text).

I suggested that the “Funny Pie Charts” author could leverage search engine traffic even more by varying the phrase in the image file name, alt text, and title text. Then I thought about people using screen readers. They won’t get the jokes, because the jokes only appear in the graph itself. For example, there’s a graph on “What Zombies Do” that includes “Dance with Michael Jackson”.

If the alt-text for each image included the funniest two or three options from the graph, then people using screen readers could enjoy the page too. And search engines would see those words. Win!

The Long Tail, Again

If you write humor or any content with web accessibility in mind, you’re chasing the long tail: that large untapped reservoir of niches, under-served target audiences, and people with special interests and intense passions who will care more about your page on wombat widgets than the huge mainstream population who read any sort of widget webpages or buy any old widgets. You may not be able to compete in the widgets market, because the widget market is saturated. There’s a million widget webpages and widget producers and big-name widget brands out there. But by golly, you can compete on wombat widgets.

So write for the screen reader crowd. Give them content to read and funny pages to laugh about which they’ll share and like and email to their friends. The next time you make a Lolcat, give it an alt-name that includes the caption found in the graphic, and let them enjoy the joke.

How to Design Pages for Screen Readers

How do we design for screen readers? There’s a lot of good guides out there, but here’s a lengthy yet incredibly information-packed Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Websites that includes all kinds of tips about how people with screen readers navigate webpages and how to shape your content to help them along.

Here’s five things which we can do:

  • Use alt-text to make clear what’s in a picture, especially any text in the graphic. Exception: don’t waste time identifying a decorative graphic that provides no content, only a visual accent.
  • Start each paragraph, header, and link with words that give readers a clue what’s in the rest of that section.
  • Establish patterns and repeat them. For example, cookbooks present recipes in the same order on every page: ingredients on the left, graphic on the right, step-by-step instructions below.
  • When possible, avoid terms that voice software is likely to mangle. Abbreviations, cute spellings, and compound words often come out funny.  For example, “homepage” gets mispronounced, so use “home page,” two words. In this post, I’ve used “web page” and “file name” instead of running them together as I usually do.
  • Don’t waste readers’ time. Be brief. (Oh, I have a hard time on this one.)

Speaking of which: