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


Have You Written Your Rep About SOPA Yet?

Here’s why SOPA wrecks the internet and threatens many of the websites we use most:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

They call it the Stop Online Piracy Act, but it’s actually the Stop Online Publishing Act. It’s too broad and too flawed, and it actually does very little to stop the most blatant and widespread form of internet piracy (see the video for why).

Here’s why SOPA (in Congress) and PIPA (same idea, but in Senate) destroys the internet.

  • It blocks any site which could POTENTIALLY be used for copyright violations. Not has been used. POTENTIALLY used. So all user-generated content sites will be threatened by SOPA. ALL.
  • Internet providers will no longer be protected by “safe harbor” laws. Before, users, not webhosts, were liable for their own copyright violations. Under SOPA, the website, the domain, and the internet host will all be liable for everything their users post. If a copyright violation is found anywhere on their sites — on YouTube, on Facebook, on Blogger, on Squidoo, on Tumblr, on Wikipedia — the internet provider will be liable for copyright violation. They could be prosecuted for felony. (Before SOPA/PIPA, the fault was the copyright violator’s, not the host site or internet provider).
  • It gives internet providers immunity from prosecution if they proactively remove any content that might be a violation. So webhosts and sites are motivated to remove anything, quickly, WITHOUT due process, WITHOUT any legal expertise on whether it’s Fair Use or an actual violation, to protect themselves. This means that corporations can make false copyright violation claims to censor anything they don’t like. Think it won’t happen? It’s already happening:
  • Before SOPA has even passed, one of its chief lobbyist sponsors, Universal Media Group, sent a takedown notice to YouTube to take down a video that criticized them. Universal Media Group claimed the video violated their copyright. This was untrue. The video simply criticized them. YouTube capitulated to the takedown notice. So SOPA will let corporations or governments remove content they don’t like, because webhosts would rather be safe than liable for their users’ content.
  • SOPA covers not only copyright content, but links. Your email provider and any service you use will be required to filter any links you share and make sure they don’t point to any pages with copyright violations. Think those filters will work 100% of the time? And if some of the links on a page you post point to pages with copyright violations, you’re liable.
  • Liability means you’ll be considered a felon, will go to prison for five years and have to pay a fine. Yes, you, who posted a video of your five-year-old dancing and singing a song from the Little Mermaid on your Facebook profile.

Think this video and I are being alarmists? Think again. Here’s an open letter by 83 of the engineers who helped invent and build the internet begging Congress not to wreck the web with SOPA.

This New York Times editorial discusses how SOPA institutes internet censorship on a scale comparable to China’s.

Journalists are also deeply concerned about news sites being taken down by SOPA censorship.

WRITE TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVES. WRITE TO YOUR SENATORS. SOPA = The Stop Online Publishing Act, and it will NOT do much to stop piracy.

Congress will be voting on SOPA any day now. Right now, they’re only hearing from Wal-Mart, Disney, and other big corporations. Remember, under SOPA, the internet provider has to shut down the entire domain if copyrighted content is posted on it. Can you think of any sites that might be impacted by that? (Hint: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, and of course Squidoo and Hubpages.) Any user-generated content site will be at risk.

I don’t normally write to my reps: I’m shamefully apathetic. But I’ve written them on this. Scarily enough, during the SOPA hearings, one rep after another used “I’m not a nerd” (translation: I don’t understand how the web works) as an excuse before passing judgment on SOPA. They are deferring to Hollywood’s high-paid lobbyists to tell them how this law works, and said lobbyists are obviously not mentioning the fact that SOPA violates due process.

We HAVE to tell Congress! Use little bitty words like  “kills jobs” “stifles innovation” and “no burden of proof” that even they can understand! Use all your copywriting skills to get through to them!

Google Tells Us a Few Algorithm Changes

Aha, here’s an official blog of Google’s that I didn’t know about, and should have: Inside Search. Most of it is information on using Google’s tools, but occasionally, they reveal information about algorithm changes.

This Monday, they posted Ten Recent Algorithm Changes.

Sometimes, the changes that Google tells us about are not actually the ranking factors that determine how highly a page gets listed in search results, but rather, display factors. Do you see the difference?

Ranking factors determine, “will Google show this link on page one of search results?” while display factors determine, “And how will it look, when Google shows it?”  People click on a link or not depending on what’s displayed. However, a page has to get listed in search results where people will see it, before they start deciding whether to click it.

I’m a little tired to be deciphering Googlespeak. In Google’s post, I’m having trouble distinguishing which announced algorithm changes are “ranking factors” and which are “display factors.”  For example:

Better page titles in search results by de-duplicating boilerplate anchors: We look at a number of signals when generating a page’s title. One signal is the anchor text in links pointing to the page. We found that boilerplate links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant, so we are putting less emphasis on these. The result is more relevant titles that are specific to the page’s content.

So, wait. On the surface, Google is talking about how it displays page titles in search results. That’s a display factor. But then it says “links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant.” That sounds like a ranking factor, and it makes sense: people who build backlinks for their own pages, tend to use their self-chosen keywords, whereas an impartial outsider who links to an interesting site is less likely to use that page’s primary keywords in the anchor text.

So does this mean Google is starting to deprecate backlinks with keyword-optimized anchor text? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did; Google’s avowed definition of webspam is any practice which attempts to manipulate search engines into sending more traffic. But I’m not sure.

Some of the other “algorithm changes” in the aforementioned post are similarly ambiguous.

Here’s another, separate tip. On Google’s official blog, they’ve filed a lot of posts concerning the Google algorithm and the kind of content Google is trying to favor under the tag “search quality.”

Google Is Now Hiding Our Keyword Traffic

So, last week, the SEO industry was abuzz with Google’s October 18 announcement that it would no longer report visitors’ search queries in any of its tools IF the visitors doing the search were logged into Google.

Say what? Let me show you.

BEFORE THIS CHANGE (this is an actual example from my own content):

  • A user searches the web for “where can I find a pet sea hare?” and lands on my page.
  • Google records the “where can I find a pet sea hare” query in its tools and sends it to Squidoo stats
  • I see in my Squidoo stats “where can I find a pet sea hare?” brought a visitor
  • Amused, I do the research and find some C. aplysia suppliers and add them to my sea hare  fanpage in hopes that info will be useful (or at least entertaining) to future visitors.
  • A user searches for “where can I find a pet sea hare?” and lands on my page.
  • Google’s webtools record the search as (“not provided”)
  • Squidoo doesn’t report the search query in its traffic stats. (In fact, it may not even know that’s a visit… I can’t tell, but my visits have suddenly dropped on my Squidoo dashboard stats without a corresponding drop in Google Analytics).
  • I don’t know what my readers are interested in, want to know, or need me to clarify.
In this case, it’s a one-time query that won’t tell me much. But how about more common queries? Looking at Google Analytics, the third most common search phrase people use to find my content is now listed as “not provided,” so I no longer know what hundreds of my visitors are looking for, and I can no longer respond as effectively to what my readers want.

Again, Google claims this is to protect users’ privacy. However:

  • Search queries don’t tell me who is doing the searching. They’re like words shouted from the back of the room, except you can’t hear the voices. So this doesn’t protect privacy.
  • The only search queries Google is concealing are those from logged-in Google members. It’s a protection racket: “Join Google, and we won’t spy on you!”
  • EXCEPT that Google still shares all the search query data with its paying advertisers, which is why the SEO industry is rife with articles like Google Puts a Price on Privacy and Google Invests in Privacy For Profit .
  • And speaking of privacy, Google is NOT concealling referrer data — where the visitor comes from — which is more private than search queries.
If  Google said they were going to start charging for valuable data they’ve hitherto given away for free, that wouldn’t annoy me, but these self-righteous claims of protecting user privacy offend me.

Some parts of the internet are gloating about this, because they consider all SEO to be dirty tricks, and they have swallowed Google’s white lie that this change will help protect users’ privacy. But I was using that data to improve my content for my readers. And see Matt Cutts’ video from this week:

Matt Cutts: “Does Google Consider SEO to be Spam?”

Well, at least that’s a little reassuring.

I am also concerned about how Squidoo is handling this change. If Google isn’t reporting a significant number of search queries to Squidoo’s traffic stats, does Squidoo still count them as visits? This impacts Lensrank.  Yes, Google claims the cloaked data represent only a fraction of visits, but on the other hand, it’s everyone logged into Google from, say, Gmail, YouTube, Picasa, Reader, Google Plus, or a ton of other Google services. My third-most-common search query is now cloaked, and you can bet a bucketload of long-tail queries are (Analytics only gives me my top 500 queries, and one of my top lenses used to get more than 500 unique queries a week).

This change will also impact Hubpages and other sites that rely on Google’s API to report keywords that brought visitors to your site.

2011 Google Quality Raters Guidelines (Oops!)

Google did something wrong. I did something wrong. Yet I believe that good will come of this. Let’s recap what happened with the 2011 Google Quality Raters Guidelines:

  • Step 1: I see a post in the Squidoo forums noting that Potpiegirl (aka Jennifer Ledbetter, WAHM affiliate marketer) ha a new post up about Google.
  • Step 2: I read Jennifer’s lengthy (and fairly useful) post on How Google Makes Algorithm Changes.
  • Step 3: I notice that Jennifer’s post links to Google’s 2011 Quality Raters Handbook.
  • Step 4: Classics major training kicks in: Wait, hang on, is this real? Is this legitimate? Why aren’t the major SEO websites like searchengineland, seomoz and seobook salivating over this carcass like a pack of rabid hyenas circling a dying zebra?
  • Step 5: I share the tip with SearchEngineLand, asking if the document is legitimate. Barry Schwartz seems to think so and posts about it.
  • Step 6: Lots of people download the 2011 Quality Raters Handbook.
  • Step 7: Google contacts Barry Schwartz and asks him to take down SEL’s mirror of the document. Google also contacts PotPieGirl and asks her to remove the link from her blog.
  • Step 8: Too late: the guidelines have gone viral. As a result, various SEO bloggers and experts discuss ways to make content more relevant and useful. (There, Google, was that so bad?)

I owe Jennifer an apology for tipping without thinking. Hopefully the amount of traffic that has landed on her blog as a result of this offsets the inconvenience of having to delete that link. I also feel guilty for my part in spreading the leak, but I honestly think that having the Quality Rater Guidelines out there will encourage people to focus more on the quality of their content, which is not a bad thing.

So, well, Mea culpa. Now, what are these Quality Rater Guidelines? Simply, they are the rating system that Google beta testers use to test, refine, and improve Google’s automated algorithm. They are not the algorithm itself. But in order to create a computer algorithm which can detect and rank sites relevant to a given search query, Google first needs to know which sites real people judge to be the best ones for a given search query.

The reason these raters guidelines are useful to us is that they give us some idea what Google considers “quality content.” I can’t talk too specifically about what’s in the guidelines, but here are three takeaway lessons:

  • The rating system is based on relevance to a topic. Content is king, but relevance is queen. And “relevance” here means “gives the searcher what they wanted when they typed in that search.” Is a site absolutely THE go-to place for a particular search query? It wins. Is a site incredibly relevant for that query, satisfying most people who search for it? It ranks pretty well. Does the site only have some relevant content, or is it from a less trustworthy source? That’s going to lose points. If it’s only slightly relevant, fuggeddaboudit.
  • Google defines webspam as anything designed to trick search engines into getting more traffic. So while backlink spamming, keyword stuffing, or other sneaky tricks may work for a while, sooner or later, Google will tweak its algorithm to negate those practices. If you’re doing something only for search engines, it’s probably not worth doing it (save, perhaps, making your content structured, organized and clear enough for search engines to comprehend it). If you’re doing something that really is for your readers, hopefully, long-term, you’ll win.
  • Google doesn’t define all affiliate marketing as spam or “thin” content, but it’s extra wary of affiliate marketing. Raters are told to watch out for warning signs like a product review on one page that sends people to buy things on another domain entirely, suggesting the review is there to benefit the reviewer (with commissions) not the visitor. If you’re doing affiliate marketing, you have to create relevant content that is useful to your readers — price comparisons, pros and cons, your own photos of the product in use, etc. If you only excerpt/quote customer reviews and info from the site selling the product, then your page has provided nothing of value to the reader that cannot be found on the original product page. That’s thin, that’s shallow, and it’s asking for Google to bury your page so far down in search results that no one sees it.

In sum, Google is trying its best to design an algorithm that rewards pages which are useful to readers and relevant to the search query.  Over time, the algorithm gets more and more successful in doing this (we hope). So, if you want your pages to rank well on Google, take a page from Kennedy:

Ask not what search traffic can do for your webpage, but what your webpage can do for search traffic.


UPDATE: I discuss this topic a little more here: Google’s “Quality Content” Guidelines: Do You Make the Cut?

Alas, Google Toolbar Pagerank is NOT Dead

Ding, Dong the –

— Twittersphere all a-flutter over (exaggerated) rumors of Google Toolbar Pagerank‘s demise.

Alas no. What happened is Google changed the URL where it stored Toolbar Pagerank, so most 3rd party tools aren’t displaying it.

Google itself has been trying to kill Google Toolbar Pagerank since 2007, but like a zombie, Toolbar Pagerank keeps lurching around the web, a macabre and thin caricature of actual, true, living Pagerank which is never revealed.

Toolbar Pagerank haunts us. Yes, I’ve actually looked at a Pagerank checking tool within the last month to get a sense of Hubpages vs. Squidoo Pagerank and see which of my lenses or hubs rank (I’ve got a fair number of toolbar Pagerank 4 to 6 lenses on Squidoo, so far none on HP, but so what)?

Here’s why it’s silly that I checked:

Google Toolbar Pagerank and the ACTUAL Pagerank Google uses to rank pages are not the same.

Toolbar Pagerank is updated every few weeks (or months). It is not stored in the same place as the Pagerank that Google uses to calculate search results, which is recalculated far more frequently. This is to prevent gaming the system, so that SEOers can’t reverse-engineer Pagerank and discover exactly what factors Google uses to order search results. (Source: “Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Toolbar Pagerank“)

Intersting tidbits about Pagerank from SEO-theory:
Matt Cutts stated that Real Pagerank is calculated several times a day, and it’s not just a (logarithmic) scale of 1 to 10. it’s got a lot more degrees to it. This suggests that it may not be 100% the same algorithm as Toolbar Pagerank. Matt Cutts says: “…At Google you’ve got full access to the raw values, so I rarely look at the truncated histograms of stuff.”

And by the way, it’s not called Pagerank as in “the rank of a webpage.” It’s named after Larry Page, CEO of Google, who co-pioneered the original algorithm (here it is, from 1998). But of course, Pagerank is nothing like it was 13 years ago, any more than the web is.

More recently, Google has talked about 200+ ranking factors used to determine the order of search results. That 200+ ranking factors was stated several years before we had heard of Google Panda, and (see link above) those factors are constantly being tweaked/changed. In the past two years, social media data has entered the equation, for example.

Google Panda 2.5 Winners & Losers

No time for a detailed post, but I wanted to recommend this link partly so I can find it later when I update my own page on Hubpages, Squidoo and Panda:

Google Panda 2.5 Winners & Losers

Supposedly, Hubpages has regained a lot of its traffic. Quantcast shows it’s still down from pre-Panda, and I have seen scattered complaints from some members that their traffic hasn’t recovered.

There is the uncomfortable possibility that Google has decided their content as “shallow” and downgraded it on a subdomain-by-subdomain basis. That would account for overall traffic increase but still not to the levels there was before Panda started dinging shallow content.

Many of those who lost traffic feel their content is excellent, unique, and original, and it doesn’t deserve to be penalized any more than Daniweb. Are they right, or… in the view of average web users, rather than those of us on the inside of the fishbowl, are those pages spammy, shallow or  just not something most of the web would be interested in reading?

It would be an interesting exercise to examine a sample of Hubages profiles: which members say their traffic has returned, which say theirs remains flatlined. Are there any particular features that the “winner” hubs have in common, or that the “losers” do?

Stay tuned for your next big bad Panda.





Subdomains: That Is the Question

Thanks to Hubpages’ June 2011 experiment in subdomains as an attempt to get out from under Panda, Squidoo is in the beta testing stage of something similar. Hubpages’ subdomain experiment picked up a lot of buzz when it landed in the Wall Street Journal, and I was one of many who was excited by the possibilities, since I thought it made sense. SearchEngineLand, one of the better SEO journals out there, made cautious noises and checked with Google (see that article for Google’s response).

Based on Google’s responses and Hubpage’s traffic rebound (see below), I thought subdomains couldn’t hurt and might help, and said so. However, after more pondering, I’ve joined the ranks of Squidoo members who are concerned. Apologies for the about-face. Let me explain.


Hubpages’ subdomains approach is forward-thinking

This is another of my off-the-cuff observations not backed up by evidence, but I really like one approach Hubpages has taken to recover from Panda: establishing author-based subdomains.

On the one hand, this means backlink churn. They’ve got redirects in place, but any time you shift the URLs of part of a website, there are bound to be problems. They’ll iron out over time.

But on the other hand, this makes it much, much clearer who’s written what. Is everything in one subdomain scraped garbage? Fine, penalize it. But if another subdomain has unique, well-written content with sound links to related content, don’t give it a penalty because of Jane Q. Scraper/Spammer in the next domain over. It’s the same principle as web hosting from the last decade. There’s quite a mix of websites on the hosting service where I’m posting this blog, and search engines don’t judge us the same way.

There’s one other piece of the puzzle that Hubpages and Squidoo are getting half right.

Both Hubpages and Squidoo have added a hidden rel=author link from individual articles (lenses, hubs) to the member’s profile page. Good. That makes clear that the member is the author of all those pages.

But as Marisa Wright of the HP forums reminded me, there’s something more to do. There needs to be a rel=”me” field on our Squidoo and Hubpages profiles to link to our Google profile, or Google won’t count the authorship, and our suite of articles, as our own work separate from the rest of the site, because the authorship won’t be confirmed.

Update: Squidoo has now implemented this field. (And it didn’t matter anyway, since we could add a rel=”me” link manually, but still, the field makes it easier.)

Mormon Search Engine Optimization

Wow. You learn something every day. This post got long, so I turned it into a Hub:

The Church of Latter-Day SEO

SEO basics and ethical questions raised by the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ grass-roots SEO campaign.

Woo Hoo, Another “Squidoo Surprise”!

Hopefully this is a bug and not a feature.

Katinka / Spirituality reports in a SquidU post that the My Lenses / Featured Lenses modules which many of us use to inter-link our lenses are no longer indexed by Google. This would prevent duplicate content from showing up — namely, the 150 character excerpt of each lens’ introduction — but also severs cross-links, hampering SEO.

You can verify the missing modules for yourself, as I just did, by Googling the following on a lens with a Featured Lenses module:


replacing the URL above with a lens URL. This will show you exactly what part of the page Google has indexed and knows about. At the moment, the Featured Lenses module just isn’t there.

We don’t yet know whether this is a deliberate Squidoo design change or a bug introduced during recent upgrades. Katinka’s passed this news onto Fluff, who isn’t a Squidoo employee, but sometimes works with Squidoo on a volunteer basis to bug hunt.

So for now, we sit tight.

The reason this matters is that Featured Lenses / My Lenses modules were easy ways to cross-link lenses, allowing search engines to find new pages on Squidoo very quickly through links on existing pages. These cross-links were backlinks, hopefully backlinks from related content to related content, if you used them to point to lenses in the same niche / topic.

IF — big if — this is a new, permanent “feature,” it means we’ll have to do yet another workaround, hand-coding cross links to other related content so that we don’t lose backlinks. The basic HTML code for doing this, which most of you know, is:

<a href="">Clickable text goes here</a>

I will also shameless plug some handy tutorials I’ve written, my old Make a Fancy Table of Contents tutorial for making compact, elegant-looking navigation bars and menus, and the Fancy Featured Lenses module trick I’ve ben using lately for lensographies such as my  index of all my graphics tutorials.

Or… once, long ago, when the Featured Lenses Module only let us enter 5 modules and displayed its contents in a random order rather than letting us pick the order of lenses, I figured out how to mimic the Featured Lenses Module’s appearance precisely in a text module.

So there’s several alternatives for cross-linking purposes. And as Katinka noted, cross-linking through Squidoo tags still works.

Let’s sit tight for a few days until we know for sure whether this change is permanent, before we revamp all our lenses to address the problem.