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tier 1 challenge

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. )

Tier One Challenge: We Have a Winner!

Lensmaster DinosaurEgg’s Dinosaur Coloring Pages for Kids — Raah! is the first lens in the Tier One Challenge to rise to Tier One (after never being in tier 2, as per the rules) and stay there for 30 days. Stop by to visit it and congratulate this fairly new lensmaster, who joined in late July!

I am not the expert — DinosaurEgg is, after getting this lens to the top! But off the top of my head, I can see several components of this winning strategy:

  • Combining THREE popular niches: coloring (kids fun), education, and teachers/homeschooling resources
  • Title includes keywords for search engines, tells people exactly what’s on the page, and has a little personality to draw the click!
  • Lens logo graphic is personal: it’s a real kid’s coloring job, messy lines and all, which gives the page so much more personality! Some studies show that a “credible” webpage logo or graphic is the most important thing in getting a visitor to look at the rest of a page
  • The introduction is short, tells what’s on the page (with keywords), but again includes a personal touch: she mentions her kids using the coloring pages she’s found
  • Excellent, simple CSS to make the page look good
  • Navigation system to help people find their way around the page, which also shows it’s been organized in a logical way
  • Hand-picked links and resources. Forget writing lots and lots of your own content. Get people to what they want with a guarantee you’ve picked out good links and products!
  • Well-targeted things to sell.
  • TONS of really good links, which means a ton of clickouts.
  • Occasional personal touches throughout — reinforced with the author’s own, original assets (actual coloring examples by the author’s kids)
  • PAGE BREAK MODULE: lots of closely-targeted pages means more “fishing nets” for visitors, doubling, tripling, even quadrupling traffic potential. Clickouts and sales are the bottom line, but both depend on traffic!
  • Cross-linked with a ton of other dinosaur niche lenses by the author (Yahoo site explorer sees 99 links from the rest of to the page).
  • Backlinks, schmacklinks: of the 138 backlinks Squidaholic (Yahoo site explorer sees), 18 are outside of SquidU posts (mostly Squidom, lensroll, squidUtils, but one hub, and a few blog posts).
  • Weekly traffic: 438 today. You don’t need thousands. You need hundreds who are willing to click and/or buy.

Well done, Dinosauregg! Thanks for the lesson in how to Squidoo!

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.


Survey of Tier One Challenge Lenses (Pt. 2)

Phew! It’s so easy to get caught up in your own lenses; I really admire all the generous squids who manages to make lens reviews on a weekly basis!

Before I forget: SquidooHQ recently invited us to nominate three LOTDs, and I’m delighted that my picks got featured! One lens you all know, and two you probably didn’t.  (one, two, three).

But now let’s get back to the Tier One Challenge. To recap, these are lenses people have never gotten above tier 3 that they’re trying to get to tier one. I’m trying to review all of them. So far I’ve done just five. Eek!

Drifter’s Traditional Books vs. eBooks

Great Stuff: Alex always uses crisp CSS to make effective-looking lenses, and I love his left-side border images. His active, engaging, eloquent language pulls you into the story, which is important on a lens that has something to say instead of just something to sell or info to offer.  He frames it as a debate, which helps convert casual web surfer into someone more mentally involved in the lens. And the content is just plain fascinating, varied, well-presented with a variety of ways to intereact with the lens. (It’s also one of the few Amazon Plexos I’ve felt like submitting to.)

Possible Tweak: I might move the video farther down on the page. It was in danger of distracting me from the meat and main topic of the lens. Then again, it did wake me up!

RANDOM CSS TIP: Have you ever tried putting a border around the Introduction Module or a Text module, only to have the lens logo or module graphic overlap the border? I’ve got two techniques for dealing with the problem, which I’ve seen on several Challenge lenses.


Survey of Tier One Challenge Lenses (Pt. 1)

I’ve been tardy getting to all of the lenses in the Tier One Challenge. So to make up for it, here’s a lightning tour. I’ll give off-the-cuff comments on what make these lenses tick, suggestions if I’ve got any. Of course, I’m no expert– take my comments if they’re useful, or ignore them!

Here we go!

Linda’s  Top Ten Horse Movies Christmas Gifts lens

(not the official title … here, have some related anchor text.)

Great stuff: She’s been busy with CSS to make it visually sharp (slightly larger type for grandparents, good call),  calls to action and benefit-specific copy (kids love horse movies and watch them again and again), and careful keyword research for both headers and body text.  Also she’s doing all the backend work, off-site backlinks and promotion.

Possible tweaks: With review lenses, especially Top Ten lists, reviews can start sounding the same, so how do you encourage visitors to choose? Personally, I listen more closely to “I saw this great movie, and what I loved about it was…[something unique to that movie]”  rather than, “Oh, I loved it! It was my favorite! It’s just fantastic!” Linda’s got specific, thumbnail blurbs on the first six, which gives me a tiny taste of them. But say I’ve been living under a rock and I’m Sammy the 10 Second Surfer who’s too laaaazy to click the videos (which are nevertheless a great hook for more leisurely surfers), I’d love to know more about the last 4.

EclecticEducation’s File Folder Math lens

Great stuff: This Homeschool Club lens was the first to crack tier 1, and it’s staying there– no surprise! Eclecticeducation is an experienced teacher with a whole batch of great homeschooling lenses, building up a reputation and visitors who know what quality they’ll find and come back. This one explains a homeschooling activity, has one (1!) quick video for people like me who had never heard of File Folder Math (Oh, now I get it!), suggests a few choice Amazon File Folder games (just a few!), gives a hand-picked list of File Folder websites (clickouts!), and then a featured lens module sending visitors onto closely related lenses in the same niche — now that is a simple, well-organized lens firing on all cylinders.

Possible tweaks: *drool* Sorry, I got nothin’.

Timehacker/Nnaij’s Nokia X-6 Review

Great stuff: Product-specific reviews are great: people don’t tend to Google “phone” so much as “I want to know about THIS phone.” This lens is well-optimized for the phone’s name and related searches like features, apps, parts, details. LOTS of details. After all, geeks are one segment of this market, and geeks want details. Details are also good for search engines, which (I think) tend to prioritize concrete nouns (“[product] [model number] review” rather than “my incredible personal story which is an a great read but no one would ever think to Google for it.”)

Possible tweaks: I’m always half afraid to say anything about product review lenses, since I know nothing about marketing. But I find this lens to be so full it’s a little intimidating. It’s got everything one can find on the net, even Facebook fan pages and Tweets about the phone. But I think I’d like a more brief, focused, personal review of the phone. Possibly the best thing there is a video demo of the phone, but I wonder if it would work better to have one demo than 5?

JollyvilleChick’s 40+ Things My Husband Does Right

Good stuff: This is one of those “my incredible personal story which is a great read but who’s going to think to Google for it?” lenses that I really want to see succeed. The writing is fun, the list is a great list of real, authentic things one can relate to in one’s own life, and the underlying message is so good: keep that relationship going and stop to enjoy it by noting what he/she does that you love. It even manages to slip in a few products that will appeal to the spouses (especially gents) who might be reading this lens. Also, it’s well-presented (lovely but understated CSS). She manages to slip in a few “selling stuff” modules like an apt iTunes theme song that are so appropriate that one forgets it’s an ad. I think social media and word-of-mouth may help this lens have legs to make up for the challenges of SEO.

Another great thing is that by following excellent blogs and Tweeters on her topic, they may actually follow the social juice back and find the page. Which has good enough content that they might pass it on.

Possible tweaks: hmmmmm. Maybe when the challenge is over, I’d move the critique/challenge-related modules off the lens onto a blog post as a keepsake, just because this lens is a little long. But maybe not. It’s a great lens.

Photahsiamirabel’s Cute Cartoon Hedgehog Gifts Cards and Calendars

Good stuff: Oh, they ARE cute, and that lens logo graphic plus the simple yellow/green theme really draw you right in. This is a personal recommendation for someone’s hedgehog art, which is best (yay for promoting a Zazzle artist), and there’s excellent shopping opportunities interspersed with personal notes and comments that fit, plus one adorable hedgehog video module. There’s some Hallowe’en art to catch seasonal traffic; I’m betting this will get fresh content for Christmas.

Possible tweaks: Tiny nitpick; I had no idea what “spinewise by mothlight” meant in the introduction module. Maybe quotes plus a link to the painting? Or save cryptic jokes for a little further down. Also, possibly, a poll module right after that video module on which hedgehog is the cutest– but this would require hand-picked videos rather than letting YouTube pick. I would’ve been receptive to a poll right after watching those . (I click polls on things I don’t have strong feelings about, whereas I don’t participate in duels unless I have a strong opinion and something to say.)

Okay, it’s late and I’m getting sleeepy. I will get to them all though, I promise! Stay tuned for part 2.

Great Ideas from the Tier One Challenge Thread

Since LindaJM started the Tier One Challenge on Oct 10, the challenge thread has grown to 15 pages. Way back at the start, Fluffanutta said:

People in this challenge need to think about how they are going to get their lenses to the top.
It won’t be enough to simply drop a link in the forum – you need to work on the content of the lens: update it and add some fresh quality text. Add plenty of clickout opportunities and sale modules where relevant. Also, check the tags and build some new links from other related and authoritative websites.

That is an excellent, succinct summary of lens improvement and promotion. Take about 30 seconds to ponder it!

Besides that nugget of distilled wisdom, the thread has become a compendium of brief or not-so-brief notes on techniques we’re using to improve and promote lenses. Here’s a quick survey / summary of tips from all fifteen pages of the thread so far:

  • Write on-topic blog posts featuring a link to the lens.
  • Linda asked us to consider Three Key Questions in tweaking our lens.
  • Work on Keyword research, SEO, and Squidoo tags.
  • Add more interactivity (Polls, Duels, Plexos).
  • Add Amazon Spotlights, Zazzle, eBay, etc. (See my “Selling Stuff” Module list for which are commission-earning, and which simply invite clickthroughs).
  • Cross-link with one’s other lenses via Featured Lenses module, Squidoo tags, or links in the body of the lens. Links from Squidoo’s co-brand may be treated as backlinks from a different domain.
  • Post article on your topic, with link to lens, on Hubpages, Gather, Ezine, or other article submission sites.
  • Alex is pinging “reader services” with (I assume) the RSS feeds of lenses, and I need to know what he means by a “bookmark drip” (perhaps bookmarking on places like del.ici.ous and Tagfoot?)

Another Fluffanugget:

Send a SquidCast. Write a good paragraph or two telling people what the lens is about, and why it they might be interested in it. Something juicy that grabs them. If you’ve syndicated your SquidCast feed properly, then this message will go out across the blogosphere and social networks giving your lens more exposure and backlinks.

  • Promote lens with social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc). [Remember: social media is usually more effective as a way to reach people, not search engines.]
  • Look for places to post backlinks (comments on related blogs, but be careful to be a good contributor not a spammer), related subject directories.
  • Hard-core backlink building.
  • Modify module subtitles to target keywords, or alternate keywords (related searches).
  • Utilize Sidebar Widgets, especially Amazon Spotlight.
  • Tidy/tweak appearance, graphics, content!
  • See Jollyvillechick’s Lens Promotion Followup Checklist and a whole slew of good ideas and another slew.
  • Join a discussion forum related to topic, participate meaningfully, include link in profile.
  • Add outbound links from the lens to excellent, relevant blog posts, or lensroll related lenses (says Fluff: these links add keyword-rich anchor text AND invite clickouts).
  • Twitter Search module to get updated, related content on lens (NOT Twitter Follow, which is not indexed by search engines).
  • Use to promote across all your social media accounts quickly.
  • Break lens into multiple, more focused pages using Page Break Module.
  • Add more clickable, specifically-named images for clickouts and image search traffic.

Finally, CCGAL has created a lensography for the challenge featuring all the challenge lenses.

And in fact, this post was GOING to be a survey of all those lenses, but I got distracted. So stay tuned!

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.


The Snowflake Method of SEO

Challenge Lens Status: 3,983 on Oct 17, up from 84,121 on Oct 10

I’d like to talk about the Snowflake Method of lensbuilding, based on the Snowflake Method of fiction-writing (which is a good lesson on how to write content). Your lens topic is the kernel of a snowflake. Like the grain of dust a snowflake forms around, that core idea, its focus, will determine the shape of what’s to come, along with weather and moisture (competition and search popularity) and other external factors.

You can’t control external factors. But you can control what’s inside.

A healthy lens needs six things:

  • Focused, useful, interesting content.
  • Organization and a logical flow from one section to the next.
  • Graphics and visual appeal (CSS, varying text with visual elements).
  • Strong writing: good grammar and spelling; compelling, crisp text.
  • Avenues for conversion: links to click, things to buy, or another action you’re directing your visitors towards.


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.