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

traffic

Useful Advice from Hubstaff

So, the transfer from Squidoo to Hubpages has been a mixed bag. While some lensmasters are reporting good results (including me, so far), others are watching their traffic dry up and wither away. On top of which, a major Panda update just rolled out.

Paul Edmondson has some really, really good advice on affiliate links. Read the top post, then scroll down slightly to find the gold-colored post where he responded to questions. His advice is based on (a) Google Webmaster Guidelines and (b) “example[s] where google applied manual spam action on the account…”

Robin (of Hubpages, not Squidoo) had some pointers which I think are well worth trying to follow, even though we may kick at them.

Again, thinking we know better than Google may result in our not getting traffic than Google. It’s irksome, but if we’re losing traffic anyway, we may have to give in and play the game.

I am certainly ripping out Amazon products left and right as I update hubs. I did not get rid of my Greek mythology books hub, but…we’ll see. Going forward, I will definitely be focusing on my informational articles and not writing any more product reviews  unless I really, really hit something that I love enough that I want to share it with my RL friends and family and online friends.

Looking Back at Squidoo’s Mistakes

Drat. I’ve been trying so hard to focus on the transition to Hubpages and getting on with it, rather than rehashing what’s done and past.

However, I keep see more and more posts by people throwing all the blame on members and absolving SquidHQ of the policies that led it into a death spiral.

Sorry, no. That’s not what happened. I’ve been on Squidoo since 2007. I watched the site change its focus and its approach. HQ erratically tried to backpedal, but even as late as the end of 2013 they were forcing us to create low-content sales-generating pages or lose Giant Squid status.

Here’s my full rebuttal, with more details on what I saw go down when.

And now I’m going to try to get back to looking ahead and slowly getting my transferred articles up to snuff under Hubpages’ QAP standards which, honest to gosh, I want to hug. They’re a nuisance, but it’s the first time since early 2013 that I’ve revamped all my Squidoo articles and have some hope that this will help them.

Squidoo to Hubpages Transfer: Traffic Increase

I just checked Google Analytics to see how my Squidoo lenses are faring after transfer.

Here’s their daily traffic stats according to Google Analytics. (Scroll down for a visual chart of the boring data).

To create this table, I combined all their Google Analytics daily traffic data. Squidoo or Hubpages, wherever they were, it was the same batch of articles.*

First Week of Squidoo to Hubpages Traffic

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Squidoo Lens Transfer To Hubpages Has Begun

Hubpages has set up a new help forum for Squidoo members making the transition to HP.

As expected, HP is transferring accounts a bit at a time, with early opt-ins getting early transfers.

Relache reports on how her lenses looked after import and what happened to modules that work rather differently on HP.

Still waiting for your lenses to transfer? Here’s what I’m doing.

  • One final Traffic Stats compilation. My weekly traffic for all my Squidoo accounts dropped below 9000 this week. Partly because I deleted over a hundred of lenses (Squidoo-related tutorials and community lenses, lensographies, and some product review niches that I’m moving to my own site), but that’s still sad for 259 pages.
  • KEYWORD DATA DEEP DIVE. Last chance! Whatever else one can say for it, Squidoo gave us good data on keywords tucked away in the depths of the dashboard. Really tucked away, since they hid the 90 day data.

You can get it by creating a random bookmark (be sure to add it to your browser toolbar), then editing the bookmark in your browser’s bookmark editor and changing the URL to the following mini script (scroll right in the code box below to make sure you copy all of it):

javascript:Qr=prompt('Enter%20lensname%20(minus%20http://www.squidoo.com/)','');if(Qr)location.href='http://www.squidoo.com/stats/traffic/'+escape(Qr)+'?range=3month'

Click that bookmarklet while you’re logged into Squidoo, and it’ll ask for a lens URL  — just the stuff after http://www.squidoo.com/ — and then it takes you to the 90-day traffic pane for that lens. Be sure to click the “see more” toggle at the bottom of the keywords list to grab ‘em all. Save ‘em to a text document with all the keywords for one niche, and they may give you some ideas about the sorts of things your primary audience is looking for.

I’m trying to collect the keyword data for my favorite niches and top hubs. That’s not something HP is going to preserve.

R.I.P Squidoo: A Long Time Coming

Squidoo shutting down shouldn’t be much of a surprise to those who have been watching it for the past year. The only surprise is that it’s giving away member content without explicit permission, despite its TOS which states,

Squidoo does not claim ownership of the Content you place on your Lens. The Content will be owned by you or a third party from whom you got permission to post the content.

I suppose, since Squidoo is merging with Hubpages, a lawyer could argue that Hubpages is now, legally, Squidoo, in the same way that my old bank is now owned by and named something else. Nevertheless, it feels a bit shoddy, especially with the “good news” spin in Seth’s announcement and the incredibly short notice.

That discourtesy towards members also doesn’t surprise me.

In a way, I’m relieved — the death by a thousand paper cuts is over, at long last. Nevertheless, I feel enormous sympathy for the many members who were still active and passionate about keeping the site going. You folks were just kicked in the gut. I wish I could wave pom-poms and give you “good news” and put a positive spin on this. But… I’m worried about those of you whose family budget depended on that Squidoo pay day.

Nevertheless, it’s not all bad news.

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Scientific Study Discovers What Gets Retweeted More Often

Chenhao Tan of Cornell University and his colleagues have completed an extensive study of what types of wording tend to generate the most retweets. There’s not one cookie-cutter template that works in all situations, because, unsurprisingly, you need to adapt your vocabulary and language to the particular community or audience you’re addressing. Nevertheless, the study suggests a few generally successful practices:

  • being specific and including some specific information
  • picking up on topics tweeted before
  • using news headline style copy (hey, I wrote a tutorial about how to draw clicks by mimicking news headlines a few years ago— ahead of the curve!)
  • asking followers to retweet

Best of all, for the moment, Mr. Tan’s website has a free tool letting you compose and compare Tweets using the intelligent algorithm he devised, based on this study of what wordings are most effective.

Translation: free Tweet optimization tool, at least until everyone discovers it and he has to shut it down due to traffic overload (just a hunch)! Probably worth using for article headlines as well.

A Squidoo Timeline: Looking Back at the Past Year

This is my attempt to round up a year’s worth of changes on Squidoo, with particular focus on which Squidoo changes and which Google algorithm updates may have caused traffic gains or losses.

As usual, I’m using Hubpages as a reference, because it’s a comparable site, although its traffic trajectory has been quite different. (Hubpages took its big Panda hit in Jan 2011, and has been climbing back ever since; Squidoo was mostly unaffected by Panda until Nov 2012).

Quantcast Chart of Squidoo & Hubpages traffic, July 2012-2013

I’ve marked specific dates of Google algorithm changes plus significant events at Squidoo.

Squidoo traffic, Google panda/penguin updates, 2012-2013

(Also available on YouTube, where you can pause and move the playback position, but video is a little fuzzy.)

Squidoo Timeline July 2012-2013

  • Jul 5, 2012: START. Squidoo and Hubpages both draw ~1 million global unique visitors a day; Squidoo is on top.
  • Jul 24, 2012: Panda #17.  Sistrix shows both Squidoo’s and Hubpages’ overall visibility in Google search results DOWN 10%. [See Google's guidelines on what Panda rewards].
  • Aug 10, 2012: Pirate / DMCA updateBoth sites unaffected.
  • Aug 15, 2012: Departure of Megan Casey, Squidoo co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
  • Aug 20, 2012: Panda #18. Sistrix shows Squidoo UP 3%, Hubpages UP 9%.
  • Sep 18, 2012: Panda #19. Sistrix shows Squidoo UP 1%, Hubpages DOWN 2%.
  • Sep 27, 2012: Panda #20, EMDSistrix shows Squidoo DOWN 4%, Hubpages DOWN 12%. [Hubpages uses subdomains, which might trigger EMD downranking; Squidoo does not, so it should be immune to EMD.]
  • Oct 5, 2012: Third Penguin Update. Sistrix shows Squidoo UP 13%, Hubpages DOWN 32%. [Searchengineland explains Penguin, Google's explanation].
  • Oct 9, 2012: Page Layout Algorithm #2. Sistrix shows Squidoo unchanged, Hubpages 17% DOWN. [Info on Page Layout Algorithm, also called "Top Heavy"]
  • Oct 31, 2012: Squidoo implements Postcards.
  • Nov 5, 2012: Panda  #21. Sistrix shows Squidoo 35% UP, Hubpages unchanged.
  • Nov 12-16: Sporadic Squidoo traffic drops. Several veteran Squids report significant traffic drops at a time when traffic is usually increasing due to holiday shopping season. I have never been able to correlate this to a known Google algorithm update, unless it was a Nov. 15 change in Google Image Search.
  • Nov 21, 2012: Panda #22. Sistrix shows Squidoo 60% DOWN, Hubpages 33% UP. [FWIW,  some Squidoo members were reporting spammy ad popups at about this time.]
  • Nov 26, 2012: Squidoo implements Crowdignite Ads.  These have finally been replaced with “related” Google ads; not sure when that happened, but it’s after Mar 1.
  • Dec 7, 2012: Squidoo implements “Responsive Layout redesign. Quizzes, polls, and some Amazon and eBay modules break or lose content, and new ads appear in the middle of lens body content for mobile devices and on some web browers (Chrome OSX).
  • Dec 21, 2012: Panda #23. Sistrix shows Squidoo 14% UP, Hubpages 9% DOWN.
  • Jan 22, 2013: Panda #24. Sistrix shows Squidoo 15% UP, Hubpages 3% DOWN.
  • Feb 28, 2013: Bonnie posts about Spun Content problems (the day before, Bonnie warned against thin sales lenses, but that “Showercurtain” blog post was removed.)
  • Mar 5, 2013: Squidoo adds “You may also like” with 5 supposedly-related products to the bottom of every Amazon module. All Amazon module content blocked by Adblock on Mar 6, and on Mar 7, Squidoo discontinues “You may also like,” but Adblock continues to block Amazon modules for several weeks
  • Mar 12, 2013: Squidoo implements new “Discovery Bar”, at first covering part of first screen of content, then moved down, then removed on Mar 18.  On May 28, HQ replaced it with a popup for non-logged-in visitors.
  • Mar 18, 2013: Panda #25. Sistrix shows Squidoo 17% DOWN,  Hubpages 3% DOWN. (From this time onward, Panda is ongoing.)
  • Mar 19, 2013: Giant Squid conference call with Seth, Bonnie & Gil.
  • Mar 21, 2013: Squidoo bans most coloring pages.
  • Mar 25, 2013: Squidoo’s new filters announced, giving members 7 days (Giants 21? days) to fix flagged lenses before they’re locked. Some members choose to delete/move flagged lenses. Thousands of lenses must have been locked after this window. Since then, many members have reported finding lenses locked without warning.
  • Mar 28, 2013: Squidoo Nofollows all outbound links.
  • May 7, 2013: widespread reports of Phantom”  Update, unconfirmed by Google.
  • May 13, 3013: In response to many people bewildered by “thin content” flags and locks, Bonnie posts about Keyword Density.
  • May 16, 2013: New Squidoo Homepage. At first it’s missing links to categories, making them unfindable to search bots, but now those links are restored.
  • May 22, 2013: Penguin 2.0Sistrix shows Squidoo 25% UP, Hubpages 8% UP.
  • May 29, 2013: Subdomain testing.
  • June 10, 2013: Outbound link limit more strictly defined.
  • June 18, 2013: second Seth Godin/ HQ conference call.
  • June 25 , 2013: Squidoo adds Scorecard. (See Q&A.)

April-June: Squidoo changes or retires  “About Me” and “My Lenses”Poll moduleAmazon modulesPhoto Gallery, Twitter,  Video modules. After each of these changes, many lensmasters report lost/deleted content from these modules, which searchbots may notice.

A few caveats.

  1. There’s seasonal cycles. Squidoo usually had a shopping-related traffic swell starting in September, cresting at Halloween, peaking again just after Thanksgiving, and staying more or less elevated until Christmas, with a lesser peak at Valentine’s Day and then a slight summer slump. (Part of the reason that veterans started sounding the alarm in November was that traffic was dropping at a time when it normally increased).
  2. “Correlation does not equal causation.” Sistrix measures when a site has gained or lost a lot of search visibility by checking to see where it ranks on a huge database of search terms that Sistrix keeps re-checking. It assumes bit traffic shifts are related to the most recent known Google update, but there might be other causes.
  3. If Squidoo is tinkering under its own hood or purging a lot of content, that may result in traffic changes on that site which have nothing to do with Google updates.
  4. After significant changes, there may be a lag before Google and other search engines recrawl pages they’ve visited before and make adjustments.
  5. During holiday shopping season, the full extent of traffic losses on Squidoo may be masked, because Squidoo has so many sales-related pages.
  6. Google does not announce all updates; it’s making smaller updates and adjustments all the time. (And sometimes, as on May 7, many websites may report traffic upheavals without Google confirming an update.)

Also see: Yuku forum thread where various lensmasters are sharing their May 2012-May 2013 and June 2012-June 2013 traffic stats and changes.

The Great Squidoo vs. Panda Death Match: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Recent major Google algorithm updates that have helped or harmed Squidoo, according to Sistrix.com’s “Google Updates” tracking tool.

 

So, we all knew that Squidoo had to do some major damage control to rescue itself, since Google’s downranked it for… well, we’re all making educated guesses, but Google’s webmaster guidelines provide us with a list of likely culprits (links are to the specific part of Google guidelines detailing each big no-no):

Most of these are content-related problems which are the responsibility of Squidoo members. Some are in the hands of HQ. Let’s take a closer look at each of these problems and how it’s playing out on Squidoo:

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Squidoo After Google Panda 25: How’s It Looking?

The data is still coming in from Panda 25, launched March 15. We really need to wait a longer time to have a representative sample size, but here’s the early returns from Quantcast:

Squidoo traffic vs. a similar, comparable article site, Hubpages.

From now on there will not be discreet dates on which Panda is updated; Panda is now “Panda Everflux,” continually reevaluating sites and adjusting their rankings up or down. This is good, as it means Squidoo won’t have to wait a month or two for Panda to reevaluate it. (The bad news is that we’re only halfway through big changes from Google. There is a huge Penguin algorithm update coming which Google’s Matt Cutts says will be talked about all year.)

Here’s my own traffic. It looks like maybe a 7% hit from Panda 25. All told, I am down 50% since before the November 16 traffic drop that sounded a reversal of my own Squidoo fortunes for the first time since 2007.

My 6-month Squidoo traffic, Oct. 17, 2012-Mar 17, 2013

Meanwhile, my own Hubpages traffic is plodding along steadily with a temporary traffic spike from a bunch of Tolkien fans discovering one of my articles. I need to do more of those.

Squidoo is now ranked lower than Hubpages on Quantcast for the first time since Panda began in January 2011.

Squidoo took a pretty big traffic hit in summer 2007 from Google, and I feel this is comparable.

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Thin Content on Squidoo Is NOT a New Problem; Something Else Is

For years, veteran Squidoo lensmasters have been tearing their hair that some thin-content, “pile of links” lenses get promoted, showcased on the front page of Squidoo, and earn payouts, while more content-rich lenses like this sink in lensrank until they fall into WIP mode, get noindexed, and thus become invisible to search engines, cutting off their traffic.

So we should be happy that Squidoo HQ has raised the issue that we have raised for years, although I feel bad for the targeted lensmaster. But here’s the catch.

Check out the recent lensrank of the lens that HQ decided to make an example of as a “spammy lens.”

And here’s its traffic:

Prior to HQ’s Feb 27 post, what we see is the natural, organic search traffic the lens was getting. It drew daily traffic, for all that it was a pretty thin-content page. So apparently some people were finding it useful, or at least finding it.

Ironically, all the visits sent by HQ’s blog post precede a next-day lensrank tumble. I suspect that some kind of manually-applied lensrank penalty may be at work, so we can’t draw general conclusions from the tumble. But before that, we see that a thin-content, “list of product links” lens can naturally rank in the 15K-14K range, whereas thousands of lenses with more substantial content rank lower.

Here and elsewhere, we’ve seen that Squidoo’s lensrank algorithm rewards lenses like the one HQ has held up as an example of what not to do. Various theories have been espoused as to why:

  • The front page of Squidoo often showcases lenses with thin content just like this one, boosting the lensrank of those lenses
  • Like exchange groups on Facebook artificially promote spammy lenses via internal traffic rather than organic
  • Soliciting of likes is now encouraged on the official forums
  • Many Squidquests tell lensmasters to run around liking lenses, and in general, the points system encourages like exchanges, so people are liking things to get points not because of content
  • Other Squidquests award points for people nominating lenses in various categories for purple stars, and so people look for and nominate random lenses in various categories to get points. Purple stars provide lensrank boosts.
  • Lensmasters now receive “angel” wings automatically, and are encouraged to bless and rank up lenses with no guidance or training to tell them what’s bless-worthy
  • Fivr gigs, bots and services have sprung up selling traffic and likes to Squidoo lenses
  • ETA: When “Monsters” were added to Squidoo in fall 2010, it changed the thrust of the site from publishing content and earning readers to gaming and earning points. Is it any wonder that content has suffered, while gaming the system has increased? (Remember, before monsters were introduced, likes and blessings were anonymous).

I’m not sure which of these factors is signficant, and which are just offensive to our sensibilities but fail to have a real impact on lensrank. HQ is in a better position to judge.

The bottom line is that the top tiers are saturated with lenses similar to the one held up by HQ as “Never do this.” These lenses set an example of what earns money on Squidoo. Lensmasters see them, see what gets rewarded with a good lensrank, and imitate, imitate, imitate, trying to capitalize on the same success.

At which point, telling people “don’t do it!” is like wagging a finger at athletes not to take performance enhancing drugs when many news headlines, awards, and good salaries are going to stars taking performance enhancing drugs. Nothing will change until you make sure the problematic behavior is not getting rewarded.

Translation: Blame the lensrank algorithm, not just the lensmasters chasing it. And fix it.

There are bigger forces at work here, however. I can’t help but see Bonnie’s post in the larger context of what’s been happening on Squidoo lately as a whole.

Yep, I’m talking traffic fluctuations. As usual, I use Hubpages as a comparable site and yardstick against which to measure Squidoo’s traffic fortunes. Until November 2012, when Panda 22 took a noticeable bite out of Squidoo’s overall traffic and rankings, Google always seemed to leave Squidoo alone and use Hubpages as a punching bag. Now, abruptly, Squidoo’s traffic levels have fallen down to Hubpages’ levels (and even below):


— Source: Quantcast.com

Look at mid-February. This is not a typical traffic pattern for Squidoo; in past years its traffic has been fairly steady from January through March.

This means that something has happened in the past few months. Either Google has done a massive algorithm change — in which case we’d be hearing about it across the SEO blogosphere and on these Google timelines maintained by  Sistrix and SEOmoz — or some sort of recent changes on Squidoo have caused it to fall out of Google’s good graces, after years of navigating the stormy waters of Panda and Penguin without a wobble.

Are spammy lenses like the one Bonnie just fingerpointed a new phenomenon on Squidoo? No. They’re annoying, and they’ve not helped Squidoo’s reputation, but Google has never given Squidoo a hard time about them before, because Squidoo has a lot of meatier, in-depth content, too. So, if those aren’t anything new, what is new on Squidoo?

The biggest recent change has been Squidoo’s responsive layout redesign.

Starting in December, Squidoo redesigned the website, hoping to make it more mobile-friendly.

  • Many lenses actually became less mobile-friendly as a result, since hand-coded layouts were mangled by the change. Lensmasters have needed to go back and fix these layout problems manually, and many lenses— perhaps thousands— have not yet been fixed.
  • The responsive layout often pushes sidebar ads down to the bottom, then adds more ads to the body text area of the lens, between paragraphs and modules. This occurs not just on mobile devices, but even on very wide screen monitors and large browser windows which previously accommodated Squidoo’s sidebar and body column. I’ve also seen extra advertising appearing at the top of lenses on my tablet.

Too much “above the fold” and intrusive advertising causes websites to be downranked by Google’s “Top Heavy” algorithm. I’ve argued since 2011 that Squidoo’s inefficient use of “above the fold” space risked incurring this penalty, yet I was wrong: somehow, Squidoo always managed to squeak by. But now that we’ve got ads smack dab in the body text of the lens — where Hubpages has always had a block of ads, and until now has always fared worse from Google than Squidoo has — Squidoo’s traffic levels have fallen to Hubpages levels. Coincidence?

Also starting in December November, Squidoo became a Crowdignite affiliate (see Google’s warnings about Link Schemes). This did three things.

  • Crowdignite links now replace the “Related lenses” box in the sidebar of Squidoo lenses, unless we specify “related lenses” manually. So before, Squidoo lenses cross-linked to good on-site content that was relevant, boosting relevance on both sides of the link and keeping pagerank within Squidoo. Whereas now, most Squidoo lenses cross-link to CrowdIgnite content that may not be as relevant and which siphons pagerank away. This is a huge SEO change.
  • Crowdignite and Squidoo are basically creating an artificial traffic exchange.  It’s not a paid traffic exchange, which would likely incur some kind of penalty, but it’s not something that Google recommends.
  • Moreover, to hold up its side of this traffic exchange, Crowdignite takes and republishes Squidoo content elsewhere.

This is also huge. In the past, Squidoo did not distribute lens content to other websites. But now, according to Crowdignite’s TOS, “By registering a website on the Service, you expressly grant, and you represent and warrant that you have a right to grant, to Company a royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, hyperlink, list information regarding, edit, translate, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of all content displayed on any page of your website.”

This means the content we post on Squidoo is no longer found only on Squidoo. I don’t know where CrowdIgnite is redistributing our content, or how much of Squidoo’s total content is being duplicated on CrowdIgnite’s other affiliate sites. All we know is that CrowdIgnite is duplicating lens content off-Squidoo.

Duplicate content, folks. Again, I can’t be sure this has anything to do with Squidoo’s recent traffic woes, but the timing is suspicious.

However, I don’t know how to test whether this duplicate content, Crowdignite’s traffic exchange, additional ads, or layout problems are in fact causing Google to downrank us. Those are just educated guesses, based on my knowledge of what kinds of factors have gotten other sites clobbered by Google algorithms in the past.

So how does this tie back into Bonnie’s post about spammy sales lenses?

Squidoo has a traffic problem. Its traffic and revenue are falling. I was waiting to see what kind of steps HQ was going to take to address this problem.

While I worry that too many thin-content lenses like the one Bonnie fingerpointed could lead to Google penalties, they have been part of Squidoo for years and have not cost Squidoo.com any Google rankings; they simply took away Squidoo tier payouts from other, possibly more deserving lenses. Whereas now, it looks like something else is costing the site Google rankings. I hope HQ is investigating what that “something else” might be.

[UPDATE: HQ has now identified at least one possible culprit: a recent flood of "spun lenses."]