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

Making Money

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.)

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.


‘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.)

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.

If the Nexus Tax Killed Your Amazon Associate Account

… you can change your Amazon Associates links on Squidoo to Squidoo’s Amazon associates ID instead, and then get at least some commission. You know the drill: Squidoo collects about 8.5% commission due to its high volume, then pays us half of that, so you’ll be making less than before (assuming you were making 6% or more). But at least it’s something.

Flynn got on the ball before I did and wrote a Tutorial on How to Change Amazon Associate Links to Use Squidoo’s ID. Obviously, this will only work on Squidoo, which means “eggs in one basket” syndrome all over again, and we’re screwed if Amazon shuts down its New York program (where Squidoo is based).

Captain Obvious on Amazon Referrals

Most of you are much farther along than me in this whole Amazon Associates thing, which I only started doing systematically last holiday shopping season. I’m just overhauling a massive product catalog lens (a whole series of collectibles which I used to have divided up by page breaks), consolidating it and re-checking all the Amazon Associates links. Things I’m checking:

  • Affiliate links are nofollowed
  • All the links point to the right product (duh)
  • The associates id is in every link
  • Correct product image
  • 4 or 5 star rating on the Amazon product page
  • Reviews on the Amazon product page won’t give a potential buyer cold feet (if many reviews point out major problems with the product, this may not be a good product to recommend)
  • If there’s multiple Amazon listings, look for one with a “Buy” button on the right rather than “available from these sellers”
  • The Amazon product page has a reasonable price

My basic template right now is

[Thumbnail Product Image linked to Amazon listing]
[2-lines of captions under image in 9-point type:]

Photos: [Link1] [Link2]   | Video [linked to video review, if there is one]
[Amazon Link]  [Link to eBay module at bottom of page]

Paragraph: My own comments and review. Blah blah blah blah blah…

Links/quick blurb on other, similar items for comparison.


Instead of taking other people’s photos (bad!) I include links to their pages, but use the Amazon Associates image for the thumbnail on my own lens. Of course, if I link to another page for photos, that page must (a) have the photos near the top (b) not have anything offensive on it and (c) not be selling the product. For collectibles, at least, you’ll often find a ton of “look at my cool toy!” photos on Flickr and video reviews on YouTube.

Since eBay modules tend to load more slowly, I put them at the bottom of the page as an appendix, with a link pointing down there; they’ll have loaded in by the time visitors get far enough to look at them. This is only necessary if you’ve got an older lens with more eBay modules than the 5 we’re limited to nowadays.

This Lens Makes Sales: How Can I Make Others Like It?

When it comes to sales lenses, I’m  a newbie. I’ve been writing on whatever the heck I feel competent and compelled to write about, going with content first and the odd Amazon Spotlight as a complement to my lens.

It should be possible to modify that approach to include reviews of things I genuinely use, know, and recommend. I’ve done it on a few lenses. I’ve got one that has made sales almost every month for years. Not in huge volume compared to our more seasoned affiliate marketers, but consistently enough to call a success.

So why does this lens work, and how can I apply its lessons to other lenses?


On Moneyearning with Squidoo: NotPop’s Right!

Most of us know this, but it’s such a succinct answer to such a common question (“why isn’t my page getting traffic/ratings/sales?”) that I want to preserve it here so I can remember it later.

Quoth Notpop in SquidU:

If your lens doesn’t do anything they couldn’t have accomplished themselves with the same number of clicks then why would they “pay” you for the help?  Find them something worth bidding for and they’ll click through.  But if you’re not earning the commission then don’t be surprised when you don’t get it.

Or, as I think Seth Godin put it (not on sales, but on visitors):  “You don’t deserve traffic.” He wasn’t trying to be mean; he was just pointing out that our webpages aren’t entitled to a single visit: the web is infinite, and we need to give people a reason to spend time on our piece of it.

Here’s an interview where he talks about “deserving traffic.

Earning money with Squidoo lenses follows the same wisdom: you have to earn those sales.

Of course, the people who don’t understand this are probably not the people reading this blog post.

On Squidoo Success Stories

With the biggest payout yet for many people — including me! — and the end of the year, Squidoo members are pondering Squidoo success stories…and failures.

MikeEssex created a Squidoo Success Stories lens reporting on the real-life successes of several members, plus links to stats and earnings lenses by many members who maintain lenses or blogs to track their Squidoo progress. (Here’s mine.)

In response, three-year Squidoo member SisterCaren wrote a tongue-in-cheek lens which I think is just as important: her Squidoo Failure Story. She shares tips and insights on what doesn’t work.

We need to know about both Squidoo successes and Squidoo failures. I included both when I created my “Is Squidoo a Scam?” lens several years ago. I also demonstrated (I hope) that success on Squidoo can be defined in many different ways: traffic, successful promotion of a blog, business, or cause, moneymaking, gaining an online following.

However, there is one way that most Squidoo members and the rest of the world define success: earnings.  And Kimberly’s announcement on 12/16 that ONE member earned $2000K for the month through Squidoo earnings alone is a story of  both success and failure at the same time.