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


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).

California Lawmakers Reduce Income Tax Revenue, Kill Jobs with Misguided NEXUS Tax

Here we go. California’s just-passed budget includes the infamous NEXUS tax, which attempts to force online merchants to collect sales tax in any state where a single affiliate marketer — someone who gets a tiny commission for the sale — is present. Supporters of this nose-cutting, face-spiting tax claim it will bring in $200 million dollars in sales tax revenue.

Really? Haven’t they been paying ANY attention at all? Does nobody in Sacramento read the writing on the wall? Whenever a state has passed a law like this, Amazon and other online merchants have had a simple solution: they shut down the affiliate program in that state. Amazon doesn’t really need affiliate marketers that much; it’s making a tidy profit anyway!

The victims of this will be Californians.  By throwing down the gauntlet, the state legislature has encouraged Amazon and other online retailers to shut down their affiliate programs. If that happens– and  Amazon has indicated it will happen, just as it has in many other states — here’s the fallout:

  • No income tax will be collected, so the law’s goal will fail.
  • It will kill part-time (or even full-time) jobs for thousands of Californians.
  • It will eliminate millions of dollars of income for Californians, who will thus pay less income tax.
  • It will eliminate the “buffer funds” of thousands of Californians who were using that money to fund shopping, trips, leisure activities like going to the movies or catching a game, or pay bills. This means less sales tax collected than before, by the way.
  • It will put more pressure on one segment of the population: seniors, young people, work at home spouses, and those with health problems which make it difficult to work 9 to 5 jobs. Many of these were finding affiliate marketing an effective way to work and earn money from home.
  • It will cut back on sales of products made by Californian businesses selling their products on Amazon and getting the benefit of free marketing.

Way to go, California state legislature! You may have just killed thousands of jobs and lost your state coffers and local businesses millions of dollars!


Recommended Link: Why California’s Nexus Tax is a Lose, Lose, Lose situation for Californians, the state of California, and Amazon (and why the only winner in all this is, basically, Wal-Mart, which lobbied hard for this law)

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.

Act Now, or We May Lose Our Affiliate Income

ALERT! Will we lose our Amazon and other affiliate income? We might. Many already have.

[Originally posted in SquidU]

In several U.S. states, Amazon has shut down its associates program, in response to new laws passed attempting to collect sales tax from affiliate marketers or internet commerce. I’m guessing that the cost of recordkeeping for so many individual accounts and/or paying sales tax on such minute amounts eats too much of the profits to be worth the trouble.

Most recently, Colorado associates got shut down, following Hawaii, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Read that link for more info.

Alarmingly, I’m reading old — or new? — news that New York State has instituted such a law, and the only thing holding it back is an appeal filed by Amazon. Here’s a New York Times editorial about it, expressing the opinion that Amazon should lose.

On the one hand, states have the right to tax sales that go on in their states.

On the other hand, every time Amazon shuts down an affiliate program, it’s not Amazon who gets shafted. it’s us. The affiliate marketers. The folks trying to pay bills. The folks trying to make ends meet.

Any of us could be victims of these new state laws, which could take away our Amazon or other affiliate earnings.

Some of our friends and Squidoo members have already gotten burned by this: they’ve lost their associate accounts because Amazon’s pulled the plug in their states.

And it could happen in New York, where Squidoo is based.

I don’t know what would happen then, but I don’t like the prospect.

That New York Times editorial shows that most people think this is just going to impact Amazon’s bottom line. All they see is big bad Amazon getting a tax break while competing with small businesses. They don’t realize that millions of families and small businesses make money on Amazon through affiliate commissions. I’m sure legislators don’t have a clue.

So I think that we should use some of our marketing and writing skills to write EVERY SINGLE state legislator and congressperson, and tell them the other side of the story, which they’re probably not hearing: yours and mine.

Write your state representative. Write your congressperson. Today.

This is more important for your online livelihood than any Tweet, Facebook status update, blog post or other page you do all this month… maybe all year.

I’m not sure what arguments one can use to counterbalance, “we need the sales tax to pay off our looming debts.” But how about, “Amazon will just shut down their associates program in states where the cost of running it is too costly — they already have in HI, RI and CO — so you’re not going to get that money anyway. But Amazon Associates pay income taxes, so if they get shut down, you LOSE revenue, not to mention killing people’s jobs, income, and buying power.”

Share this post. Spread the word.

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.


Lens Review: EditorDave’s Lens on Guam

I wasn’t planning to do lens reviews on this blog, but spouting about my own stuff all the time could get dreary. So why not use someone else’s lens as an example of a good use of Squidoo?

When you find a lens you like, ask yourself: WHY do you like it? You can get insights about building good lenses, articles, and blog posts by jotting down what on that lens worked for you, what didn’t. Don’t copy their content (please!), but learn approaches to presenting your own content in more effective ways.

Here is EditorDave’s Guam: Where America’s Day Begins lens.