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


Making Search Results Sexy, Revisited

I’ve talked about making search results sexy before. By this I mean tweaking your lenses so that whatever shows up in Google or other search engines tempts your target audience to click on YOUR webpage, instead of all the other search results that come up.

This is vital. Getting your webpage to appear in search engine results is important. But what you want is those clicks! Whatever appears in Google is your billboard, your front door, your commercial that will get people off the street and into your article.  Your search engine listing is the number one way to attract search traffic — forget backlinks! — so you want it to look its best.

Here’s an example:

Search results for 'Free Web Graphics' on Google

Search results for ‘Free Web Graphics‘ on Google

Suppose I’ve landed the #4 spot for the search “Free Web Graphics.” (Actually, I haven’t; that’s Google’s personalized results which tend to favor Squidoo in my case.) While searchers tend to click the TOP results on a page, a photo can draw the eye down. My photo is more appealing than the one above it, simply because of the contrast and vibrance of the colors (mine is a professional portrait). Also, my snippet’s excerpt sounds a lot more friendly — doesn’t it? — while still showing that I’m covering the search query.

So, let’s take Google’s search results step by step.

1) Title: You know the drill: include your keyword phrase AND something to engage your audience.

2) Breadcrumbs (green links in above screencap): make sure the category you file your article under suits  your keyword, if you possibly can.

3) Photo and Google Authorship links.

Set up Google Authorship if you haven’t. Once Google has crawled your lenses with authorship included, it will often place your Google Profile photo in search results for your articles. The photo can draw the searcher’s eye — or repel them if your photo is off-putting.

See the bottom part of my Is Your Profile Picture a Zombie? article for tips on how to tweak  your profile photo. Or see this recent SEOMoz post, which reminded me of this topic: How Optimizing My Google Profile Pic Increased Traffic 35%. Take a look at the examples he tried and discarded. That will give you more ideas about what works!

4) Google snippet (excerpt) from your lens, usually 156 characters.

I’ve covered this before, but just in case you missed it:

Google will give a short excerpt: either the first sentence of your post/article/lens, or the first place where the searcher’s query shows up on the page. You can’t optimize every single snippet on the page, but you can optimize the first sentence plus the place where your top keyword (or the 2-3 most common searches) appears. Do this by Googling for your article — assuming it’s already been indexed — and see what snippet comes up.

Tweak it. Use SEOMofo’s Snippet Optimizer to rewrite it so that the excerpt accomplishes two things: (1) shows that the page covers the search query and (2) show that the page is well-written and competent. (This means proofreading, crisp language). If possible, make the snippet engaging, intriguing, fun, depending on your topic. Be un-boring.


Panda Update 3.2 Happened January 18

Has your traffic profile changed recently? The culprit may be Panda 3.2, confirmed on Jan 18, 2012. See that link on SearchEngineLand for more info.

To review what this Panda thing is about:

Google’s search algorithm ranks pages’ relevance to a given search query based on over 200 factors. For example, are the words in the search query (“what’s in a hot dog?”) found in the page’s headers, or does that page link to other good pages about that topic? The pages that rank highest on relevance get listed first for that query when someone searches for it on Google. A better Google listing means more clicks, more visitors, more traffic.

Starting last February, Google introduced a new factor, code named Panda. This factor is weighted more strongly than many other factors. Panda is different from most of the factors in that it’s a measure of the domain where the page is found. Are there a lot of spammy pages on that domain (e.g. Are there a lot of pages whose content is found elsewhere? Or is that domain full of unique, useful pages? Panda attempts to determine the overall quality of a website. It then boosts or detracts the raw rank of any page found on that site.

Panda isn’t calculated every day. Instead, it’s recalculated manually whenever someone at Google says, “Time to run a Panda update again.” It then crawls all the sites on the web and re-evaluates whether they’re full of spam and junk or excellent content.

The long and short of it: each time Panda is recalculated, ALL articles on Squidoo may be somewhat impacted, depending on whether Squidoo gets a good Panda rating or a poor one. A good one means that — other things being equal, a page on Squidoo will be listed higher in search results than the same page posted somewhere else. Or, if Squidoo gets downgraded, it’ll give lenses a slight disadvantage, like a golf handicap.

January 18ith is about the time my Squidoo traffic jumped by about 20%. However, I haven’t seen a lot of Squidoo members gloating over a sudden traffic jump, so this is evidently not much of a sidewide change — in which case, my own traffic boost is probably not due to Panda.

There’s another Google update muddying the waters right now, making it difficult to tell which factor is causing what. Search Plus Your World now shows strongly personalized results in Google searches, including things your friends and circle have tweeted and shared. I’m not clear on whether Google has started giving more weight to socially shared links as a ranking factor— one of those 200+ factors mentioned above — or whether it’s still only regarding social signals from “trusted authorities” (say, a link posted by Neil Gaiman) as important and all the rest of our Tweets, Facebook Likes, etc as only significant to our friends.

At any rate, any one of the recent reshufflings of what Google displays as seach results could explain my traffic boost. It’s not just more traffic following a holiday lull, as this is significantly more traffic than I saw in 2011.

ETA: Click the widget below to view the full-sized Quantcast chart for Squidoo traffic. It may show a modest bump in traffic from the latest Panda update, or it may be within seasonal variation. (Here’s Hubpages’ traffic, too, for comparison.)



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.

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.


SEO Tip: Is That the BEST You Can Do?

For obscure reasons that Glen and Janet will understand, I’m going to call this the Potato Chip Challenge.

In the past, we’ve learned that adding “unique” to gift-related keywords captures long-tail searches. I have also observed that the word “stuff” can collect people who are searching vaguely for interesting, er, stuff. As in “stuff about volcanoes.” “Review” gets people looking for “[product name] review” before making a purchase, and as I noted in a previous post, people often search for types of products, news, movies, etc by appending the year to the search (“lcd TVs 2011″).

Well, here’s another to add to the list. I’d been doing it already, for some topics where keyword research suggested a match, but I hadn’t consciously added it to my toolbox of pointless yet useful qualifiers: “best.”  I’ve got Best Books on Greek Mythology, for example.

Here’s the Potato Chip Challenge: Take a lens where you’re reviewing several of the same kind of thing — or even one thing, if you’re really sure it’s a good one — and open its traffic stats, the detailed stats where you’ve got all the keywords that have brought visits to your lens. Set the time span to “90 days.”

Now, open another window to edit the lens. Add “Best” to the title. Work in “best” next to the main keyword in a few places on the lens where it sounds natural. IMPORTANT: As you edit, keep an eye on your traffic stats to make sure you don’t accidentally delete/screw up a phrase that’s bringing you traffic.

Publish and use SquidUtils’ workshop add-on to ping the updated lens.

Wait! You’re not done yet. Look at the traffic stats again. Open a text document, jot down the date, and record the weekly and monthly traffic totals. Copy and paste the complete list of keywords. Save the document as “potato chip” in your Squidoo projects folder.

Come back in a month and compare traffic stats (keeping in mind that shopping-related traffic often dips in summer and rises in the fall). Hopefully, “Best [thingie]” will now be part of your lens traffic.

I don’t know how successful this will be, but based on observations, it looks like an experiment worth trying. Please report results one way or the other, if you give this a try!

Hubpages vs. Squidoo Traffic: Holding Steady

With all the hullaballoo lately I haven’t had much time to follow my pet project, the impact of Google Panda on Hubpages and Squidoo (there’s another lens that needs rewriting before page breaks vanish, sigh).

I just wanted to post a quick follow-up. I was actually checking to see if Squidoo traffic is down across the board, because I and a number of members have seen a very slight drop. But traffic drops every summer. But here’s Hubpages traffic vs. Squidoo traffic, measured directly via Quantcast:

The Feb 24 and Apr 11 Panda Updates are visible on Hubpages’ line. They’ve implemented a lot of changes, but it may take a while for Google to recrawl and reassess. The problem is (I believe) that part of Panda is a special algorithm that evaluates the quality of a domain/site, and from that derives a handicap which it applies to pages on the site. When someone asked how long before traffic came back after one totally re-tooled a site, Matt Cutts said the Panda algorithms have to be re-run. If I’m interpreting that correctly, it means that the site penalties are being updated less frequently the daily crawl to find/index content.

So Hubpages members need to stick tight a little longer and wait for Google to reassess what Hubpages has done to correct its problems. I’m hoping for their sakes (and mine; I’m trying to get a few irons in the fire over there) that they will have good news soon. Meanwhile, Squidoo members need to stick tight and see whether Squidoo has second-guessed itself in a wise or foolish way by implementing vast numbers of changes after successfully passing through Panda I and II unscathed. Most of them aren’t content-related, but some are navigation-related; in particular we’ve lost a vast number of internal links with lensroll getting phased out. And I’m uneasy about the extra line of adsense above the fold. We’ll see.

A quick survey of Panda news reveals nothing much, but M. Martinez has detected hints that Panda might unroll in Latin America next. To recap, Panda was implemented on U.S. Google results on Feb 24, all English-based Google results on Apr 11, and a minor Google update whose impacts I haven’t been able to see in the sites I’ve studied. I shall be interested to see what happens when Panda is implemented for French, Russian, and especially German Google.


My Lens on the Google Panda Update

Yes, you’ve probably already seen it: I’ve written a 3-page article discussing the Panda update’s impact on Squidoo and Hubpages traffic, and what lessons we can learn from it to stay ahead of the Google wrecking ball.

You may notice that the root message boils down to, “write unique content that your readers find USEFUL,” which isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it’s amazing how many people try every approach but that one.

Unfortunately, if you publish on an open article-submission site like Squidoo or Hubpages, your content is partly judged by association, so you can get marked down by Google even if that’s exactly what you’re doing. Fight back by encouraging quality content on your favorite sites and leading by example.

I think Hubpages is taking some good steps to put its house back in order (as is Squidoo). We’ll see if Google agrees a few months from now.

Google Panda/Farmer Update Cont’d

I thought I’d check back in on Squidoo and Hubpages now that the Google Farmer Update (Panda update) has had some time to work. Short-term results can suggest major upheavals, but it’s the long-term stats that really mean something.

Here’s today’s traffic charts from Quantcast, showing that Hubpages traffic has stabilized:

Google Panda Update Impact on Hubpages and Squidoo

Keep in mind that the update was only for Google’s US search engine. It hasn’t yet been unleashed globally. The drop in U.S. users is included in “global” as well as “local” results.

My prediction, based on what I’m seeing, is that after this change, Hubpages’ traffic is going to be nearly the same as Squidoo’s. It already is within the US.

The Spam’s the Thing?

Jennifer Ledbetter of made a mini study of specific spam phrases confirming by the numbers my guess in my last post on the Farmer Update: Squidoo’s ongoing spam crackdown means it has fewer (but alas, still some) pages on the most spammy topics than Hubpages and several other sites. This DOES explain why didn’t lose places in the SERPs: it has even fewer pages matching these spam phrases.

Jennifer didn’t test this, but we both also argued — in different ways — that Hubpages’ much, much stricter policy on outbound links may be causing it some trouble. She pointed out that links on Hubs are nofollowed until you’ve reached a certain status. I related my experience of having all my hubs locked for having one link on each of them to cite the source of my photos. Squidoo’s got a nine outbound link per domain limit, instead, and it nofollows affiliate links in its merchant modules.

Various other ideas have been thrown out to explain the change. Another thing I pointed out is the significantly lower bounce rate of Squidoo compared to Hubpages, ezinearticles, and (of course) mahalo.

There’s just one problem.

The Quantcast traffic charts show Hubpages U.S. traffic simply dropped back to Squidoo’s levels.

If my explanations and Potpiegirl’s  guess about outbound links were correct, Squidoo should now be outperforming Hubpages. But it’s not. They’re now about the same.

Jennifer’s spam study shows that Squidoo has fewer pages than Hubpages on the spammy topics she chose to test, but not all that much less. The last phrase she checked (“tv for pc”) actually had more pages on Squidoo than Hubpages. (It really shouldn’t be filtered as spam; how to watch television on a PC is a reasonable query. It’s just gotten targeted by a lot of spammers trying to cash in on a popular search).

So my vote is on the spam being the deciding factor — as it should be — about how Google’s picking “quality” sites.  Let’s keep reporting and flagging it when we see it, folks, and for goodness’ sake don’t write on a Squiddont topic! Also, don’t give up on Hubpages. It’s gotten humbled, but it’s no worse off than Squidoo. And keeping eggs in different baskets is always a good practice.

The Google Farmer Update and Squidoo

Google Farmer Update: Early Returns

So, the manure has hit the rotary blades, and we’re starting to see some results from Google declaring war on so-called “Content Farms” in 2011. (When even mainstream news media hears about it, you know it’s big.)  Various pundits and industry experts had ideas on what content farms are, but until we saw the traffic shake-up, we couldn’t be sure how Google defined them.

Of course, I hear the little Michael Martinez devil’s advocate on my shoulder screaming “insufficient sample size, short-term data is inferior to long-term data”! but with that caveat, we’ve already got some apparent results.

Squidoo users, for the most part, haven’t seen any changes in traffic:

Squidoo Traffic Farmer Update


Hubpage users are feeling some pain (it’s all over their user forums), which is reflected in the Quantcast traffic data:

Hubpages Traffic Google Farmer Update


Go play with Quantcast to test your own favorites. Some aren’t available yet (ehow, ezinearticles), or are CLOAKED (, surprise surprise) so Quantcast can’t measure them.

For the big picture, see Danny Sullivan’s “Number Crunchers: Who Lost In Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Change?” on SearchEngineLand, although Squidoo is too small a squid to have attracted detailed stat analysis by the experts, unfortunately.

My own traffic stats reflect what Quantcast saw: in fact, my traffic has been increasing slightly since the change (repeat: limited sample size) not dropping.

So what does this all mean for Squidoo users, most of whom publish on a variety of other platforms as well (including Hubpages)?


What to Write on to Get Traffic

Apologies for stating the obvious (again), but yet another “just write on what you love, and the traffic will come” post in a forum inspired me to make this graphic:

How to Pick Topics That Get Traffic

Traffic does not come to read what YOU like to write about. Traffic comes to find what THEY are searching for. The key to getting traffic is to find the overlap between the two!