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Experiments and Challenges

My Tier One Challenge Lens: FAIL! But also success

First Tier One Payout for a one-year-old lens

Soooo. My Tier One Challenge lens reached Tier One on Nov. 11, dipped DOWN to lensrank 2119 on Nov 29, and is back up to 1624 today due to an Amazon sale. That fails the challenge to keep it in tier one a month, but I don’t mind, as its average for November is 1800, early its very first tier one payout! Not bad for a lens which averaged in the 100,000+ range for all but 2 months Nov ’09 to Sep ’10.

It’s still not a tippy-top lens, but I’m noticing a few trends that we can learn from, maybe.

So let’s take a tour of Dashboard Stats. First of all:

Vital Squidoo Statistics (12/2/10)

  • #1,624 overall
  • #49 in People Note: I am sneaky! Its content also fit in How to & Education, but “People” had less competition, and Athena is a person…well, sort of. ALSO it’s a SquidQuiz. Optimization gave it a chance to get to the front page of the People category AND the SquidQuiz co-brand, both of which are “top of the hierarchy” pages which should have good pagerank.
  • Highest rank achieved: #918 overall
  • Days on the Top 100 list: 0


My Tier One challenge lens is puttering along…

Well, my Athena Greek mythology quiz is still puttering along. I love looking at this graph on the dashboard:Tier One Challenge Lens Stats

Its traffic is only 15-25 a day, and I’m still not sure how much of its lensrank is due to likes (although they’ve slowed down — everyone who’d like it has Liked it.)  I am also wondering if the number of different referrers sending it traffic helps. I’ve always wondered what exactly they mean in the Squidoo FAQ by:

We look at community ratings, lensmaster reputation, clickthrough rates, frequency of updates, inbound and outbound links, revenue generated, and lots of other factors and give the lens a number.

Source Visits
Referral 93
Google 28
Direct 13
Ask 2
Yahoo 1

Every single visitor who arrived through search came with a slightly different search query. That’s the on-page SEO, optimizing for related searches, and content-rich approach at work. The referrals are visits from 18 different domains, half of them image searches or Google in other countries.

As for outbound links, I’ve got that covered: 66 clickouts in a month, 28 clicks on 18 different links in the last week, clickthrough rate of 8%. I’m sure this is part of why a low-traffic (for tier 1) lens performs well. What I don’t know is whether the lensrank algorithm counts any kind of user intereaction — comments or taking a quiz — as significant.

As for the whole group of 10 lenses (the challenge lens and its siblings), they’ve all prospered since this challenge began. All were in the 100K range with almost zero visitors and likes before. Now:

In other news, I’ve had 10 steady top tier lenses all month and a few more playing musical tiers with the bottom end of the tier (i.e. they’re tier 1 some days but not enough to average above it. )

How I Got an Old Squidoo Lens from Lensrank 100,000+ to 2000

After nearly a year of lensrank 100,000+, my Tier One Challenge Lens has climbed to lensrank 1,872 today,

a month and a day after I entered it in the Tier One Challenge. Of course, getting there is step one. Holding it there for a month is the actual challenge. But I’m encouraged by the fact that it’s been hanging around in the 2000 range for over a week now, and has not dipped below 3900 in 3 weeks.

Here’s a quick overview of the before-and-after stats, and the chief things I did to improve it.


Tier One Challenge: Week One Report

Status Report: Lensrank 3,497 on Oct 18, up from 84,121 on Oct 10

Weekly traffic: 137, up from 27. (Prior to about Oct 6, it was usually around LR 100K with 10-15 visits a week).

Summary: slow and steady progress.

It doesn’t have enough traffic or clickouts to get above tier 2 yet, and it’s not doing that great in the SERPs. I see some potential for growth there, but it’s going to be tough.

Here’s my in-depth stats breakdown for traffic sources, SERPs and more.


Tier One Lenses: How Much Traffic Do They Need?

Challenge Lens Status: LR 5648 today, Oct 14. Started at 84,121 on Oct. 10.

Many factors must sustain a Tier One Lens: a combination of traffic, clickthroughs, community ratings, sales, frequency of updates, and factors Squidoo keeps under its hat. (My guess: visitors interacting with polls, duels, etc; and maybe Squidoo counts it somehow if you’re getting traffic from more different referrers.)

Different types of lenses find a winning formula in different ways, depending on the topic and the working style of the lensmaster.

For example, Jollyvillechick’s 40+ Things My Husband Does Right will probably not be sustained by search engine traffic, unless her mention of battery testers or other specific products in the “he fixes stuff” section catches search engines’ fancy. However, it’s a well-written human interest lens, so it may succeed through social media promotion and word of mouth.

Other people’s lenses succeed through sales and/or extensive social promotion and linkbuilding. Mine succeed primarily through a combination of traffic and clicks, a trickle of Squidoo community ratings, and the rare sale. I also re-publish every 60 days, but I only see a small 3-4 lensrank spike from it, so I don’t rely on update frequency.

Therefore, I need to tackle each of the first four factors.

Let’s talk traffic.


Getting a Lens to Tier One: Action Plan

Not every lens has content that can achieve Squidoo tier one. I have some lenses that aren’t going to get above tier 3, or if they do, it would take tons of social promotion, and they’d drop back down as soon as I stopped.

So when I selected a lens to submit to the Tier One Challenge, I looked carefully for one with the potential to do better. I needed a lens where I knew why it wasn’t succeeding, so I knew how to improve it.

Why it wasn’t succeeding: quiz module content is not indexed by search engines, and it had little else besides pictures, so it was getting no search traffic.

Why it might succeed: Its topic satisfies 5 separate, overlapping searches/audiences: mythology, trivia quizzes, Athena, pictures, and paganism. The topic had the potential for clickthroughs and interaction, and maybe the odd sale. Also, it’s in my primary niche. I have other lenses, blogs, a messy collection of sites and nodes I’ve scattered across the web that can be tapped for traffic and promotion.

Squidoo ratings and social promotion are great, but they are not enough to keep a lens in tier 1. A lens must be self-sustaining.

So now comes work. LOTS OF WORK. What have I done so far to improve my test lens’ chances?


Old Squidoo Lens Rises from Lensrank 100K to 10K in 7 Days

This is why SquidQuizzes need extra content.

Take a look at what happens to the lensrank of an old SquidQuiz when I supplement it with new content for search engines to pick up. A little promotion doesn’t hurt either.

Average Lensrank –  Nov ’09 to Sep ’10: 105,197

Lensrank – Oct 5 2010: 101,282

Lensrank – Oct 12 2010: 13,824

Ten months in the life of a Squidquiz:

Squidquiz Lensrank by MonthBreakdown from SquidUtils:

Date Lensrank Visits
November 2009 127,995 1
December 2009 93,938 36
January 2010 103,854 66
February 2010 121,585 47
March 2010 110,926 53
April 2010 80,809 51
May 2010 118,422 48
June 2010 89,571 35
July 2010 122,344 43
August 2010 106,551 49
September 2010 103,974 52

Lensrank Last Seven Days:

Squidquiz Lensrank By Day

Breakdown from SquidUtils:

Date Lensrank Visits
30 September 2010 104,110 0
1 October 2010 108,284 0
2 October 2010 109,855 4
3 October 2010 106,819 4
4 October 2010 103,502 6
5 October 2010 101,282 4
6 October 2010 69,496 3
7 October 2010 75,158 1
8 October 2010 80,357 3
9 October 2010 84,138 4
10 October 2010 84,121 6
11 October 2010 25,125 18

So far so good, although most of this is not sustainable since it derives from SquidLikes which wear off in a few weeks.

However, as outlined in the first post for the Tier One Challenge, I’ve been laying the foundations for longterm improvements; the Squidoo social stuff is a side effect and not what I’m targeting. I see single search traffic results from Yahoo, Google, and Ask targeting the new lens content, and a couple visits from the LJ* post I made yesterday.

Today I’m going to work on syndication of Squidcasts and RSS feeds.

I already have a syndicated PR2 Livejournal blog that’s several years old where I announce updates to Ancient Greece Odyssey, so I just announced the quizzes there, and I’ll announce it on as well, a PR3 site that’s 2.5 years old.

I’m also going to finish updating related lenses, the other Squidquizzes in the series. I did most of them last week, but there’s two still awaiting my attention. They all cross-link to each other, so they need uniform look-and-feel plus good content on all of them, which will attract traffic and drive some to the test quiz.

*(I’m both surprised and relieved that Livejournal, forerunner of MySpace and Facebook, has never registered on SEO / Social Media radar; it’s only a huge social blogging community that’s been around since the 90s! But it’s not designed in an SEO-friendly manner like modern blogging software and sites.)

The Tier One Challenge – Getting a Dud to a Stud

LindaJM has issued a Tier One Challenge:

Choose ONE lens that has never made it into Tier Two… in other words, the highest lensrank ever must be under 10000. The challenge is to do everything you can to get that lens into Tier ONE.

I was surprised and pleased to discover that it was hard to find a Tier 3  (or below) lens that had never been in Tier 2. Yes, there are a few, but I know they just don’t have tier 1 potential.

However, eventually, I found one. It is one of a set of SquidQuizzes I created a year ago while working towards Giant 100. Each of them consisted of:

  • A SquidQuiz (quiz content, created by Javascript, is not indexed by Search Engines)
  • A Text Module with an attractive ad/backlinks to my Greece Odyssey lenses.
  • A Featured Lenses module pointing to the other SquidQuizzes in the series.

Unsurprisingly, they never saw much traffic; most never even reached tier 3. Then Squidquizzes started earning points, two of the series crawled out of the depths into tier 2, and I realized I needed to make them easier or do something to give more value them to Squidoo members, as opposed to for the students I had in mind when I wrote them.

I was in the process of revamping the series when LindaJM issued the challenge. I picked one that I think has the most potential for improvement. I’m going to keep notes here on what I’m doing to improve it, and how its rank changes.

So, here’s its starting condition:


More Experimenting: Boldface and SEO

I’m really pleased that Michael Martinez of SEO-Theory dropped by to check out my fledging experiments in boldface and SEO, although his shrewd comments remind me yet again why it is so much easier to parrot “common SEO wisdom” than test it.

Anyway, in my test pages, I’ve been flop-flopping which page of each pair has the boldface. At first, it took one to two weeks to see any shift in SERPs, but now Google has decided they are regularly-updated pages, and it’s picking up the changes within a few days now.

I’ve done 4 flip-flops where the only changes were switching which page of the pair was bold, and sure enough, each time I’ve done it, Google soon changes which one of them is listed first, which listed behind a “Similar results” link. I cannot be absolutely sure I’ve isolated all factors, but I think that’s enough for me, Jane Q. Blogger and Squidoo author, to be fairly confident that Google gives a little extra weight to text in boldface.

Of course, in this case, the biggest confirmation is that Matt Cutts of Google said that Google treats <b> and <strong>, <i> and <em> “with exactly the same weight.” Taken literally, “the same weight” could be zilch, but he wouldn’t have mentioned them unless Google gave them some significant weight. The only question is how significant. I’m guessing not much, but — here we go again — I haven’t tested enough to tell.

Note that <b> is actually a bad habit. I should have been testing <strong>. Back in the day, HTML mixed up two fundamentally different things: how to display something (bold, italic) versus what it is (a paragraph, a title, a header, a key word or important point). <b> and <i> are like specifying that you want medium rare without specifying that you’re talking about hamburger. It’s better to use tags to specify THINGS, and CSS to specify (if you must) how they look.

Simple Experiment: Does Boldface Help SEO?

Does boldface text really have more SEO value than plain text?

I am persuaded by the rigorous testing and skepticism of Michael Martinez of SEO-Theory that when he says emphasized/boldfaced text has some (although not huge) SEO benefit, he’s checked it. He often castigates people for dispensing SEO advice that they haven’t verified using controlled experiments (with all other variables isolated, so one knows for sure which factor is causing the result).

Since I’m guilty as charged, I conducted a few experiments. I discovered that (a) it’s really hard to eliminate all factors but the one you’re testing for, and (b) yes, it looks like boldface gives a SLIGHT seo boost.

Left: The image I used for the lens logo of each test lens, renamed with that test’s keyword.

Click “More” to read the details of my tests and results.