On August 15th, Seth Godin announced that the website I have long been making a living on, Squidoo, is going. The content and it’s authors are moving to Hubpages (and therefore the money making opportunities as well). It was a stressful day, so I had to process information quickly. I decided within half an hour that I liked this news. While I once loved Squidoo, I had come to distrust its management. Hubpages was always slightly annoying, and boring, but it is run by competent people. The kind who actually know how to build a site.
Was it really that bad at Squidoo? Yes, it really was.
I’ve been silent on Squidoo’s many mistakes in public, over the last year, because I was still making money there and it was becoming clear HQ wasn’t listening to feedback anyhow. The only thing I did was advise people to stay out of Squidoo if they weren’t already in.
Now that the take-over is official, I can finally open my pen. This is mainly about the stuff that happened after the panda update that penalized Squidoo late 2012, early 2013.
First off, SEO
Search engine optimization is key for any online property that relies on search traffic for it’s finances. And that is particularly true for sites like Squidoo which are basically heaps of information, comparable to wikipedia, but then with actual specific authors and competing articles on the same topic.
As an online editor and webdesigner, I cringed every time I thought about the site structure. I know, boring. However, site structure is where the trust the main domain has, get’s spread over the most important pages on the site. If done well, it can help successful pages thrive and give less important pages a chance. Squidoo has never had much sense about this. One of my pet peeves was the duplication existing in the Judaism categories within Squidoo. There are two Hanukkah categories. One for each spelling (Hannukah vs Hanukkah). Sure, I know a bit about religion and realize that spelling can be a huge deal. However, to have two categories for one religious holiday – each with only a handful of lenses populating it. It’s just madness. Neither search engines, nor users are going to appreciate it.
Content depth. Hubpages has learned that content of about 1000 words performs best in the search results. That is longer than what Squidoo has been stimulating it’s authors to make. Their ‘lenslets’ were generally more along the lines of a few hundred words. I totally agree with the longer Hubpages standard: content is more likely to be useful if there are actual words. Also, when there are more words, there are more potential phrases that match what people are typing into search engines. Accidental keyword optimization stands more of a chance this way.
Personal vs Useful
Good writing is personal. I agree, on the whole. Especially when writing fiction. However, on the web, personal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to mean anything to anybody but me. When I moved house, I might have written about it. However, unless I found some way of turning that experience into something useful for my readers, nobody beyond family and friends is going to be interested.
And yet, Squidoo told us to write personal stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, there is good reason to write with a personal voice. When recommending a laptop, it is more useful for readers if I have actually used that laptop. And my personal pictures of that laptop are also helpful. However, unless I know what I’m talking about when recommending laptops, most people will still not be all that interested. And if people won’t be interested, in the long run, Google won’t either.
The old writing advice still works: write what you know. However, that is backed by other writing advice: take your audience into consideration.
Yes, you know, the people who write stuff on online platforms like Squidoo are human beings. We don’t mind filters to check the quality of our content, but we do want to be treated well. However low quality some of the stuff some of us produce may be, if you lock it, we are going to be frustrated.
Hubpages handles this much better. When content doesn’t pass their QAP (Quality Assessment Process) – unless it is actual spam – it merely gets to be invisible to search engines. Human visitors can still see it. So you can share your lovely vacation pictures with friends without worrying that Hubpages decides to lock that page when it no longer gets traffic. It’s much more friendly.
Not only is it more friendly and less frustrating, it’s also wiser. It means that I can safely link to a hub, knowing my readers will be able to read what I wrote when they click through. With Squidoo this was no longer a certainty.
One of my frustrations with the filters was their lack of predictability. Lenses would be locked, even if they had a ‘100%’ score (which was a checkmark for how well you complied), for instance. Unfortunately, in some ways it became clear that they were very predictable: when a lens was flagged for low quality content, editing it would lead to an automatic lock. Of course they might have saved me the frustration, by just locking it before I clicked that edit button. But no, just when you were trying to improve that lens, it would get locked. Hugely demotivating.
Hubpages, in contrast, gives very specific feedback on what is wrong with hubs. So if you break one of their rules – the two links to a domain rule for instance – they will tell you so and they will highlight the offending links. MUCH more useful and less frustrating.
In an obituary, we would usually only mention the good. Here is what I would say about Squidoo, if asked to speak at her funeral.
I loved Squidoo in the early days. It was fun. I loved the community and helped it out. I learned writing, through the simple writing prompts Squidoo gave. Many of my early lenses started with me exploring the site through the search tool and it coming up with:
Congratulations! You are one of the FIRST to search for this topic in Squidoo. Why not be one of the first to BUILD A LENS on it?
Of course most of those lenses didn’t do very well, but that is water under the bridge. Squidwho (biographies), Squidlit (book reviews), Hey Monkeybrain (debates) – I had fun making lenses based on those ideas. In the process I learned about writing, SEO, affiliate marketing and online community building. I earned a living and even bought a house.
The fun had already gone out of Squidoo, before this announcement was made. I am glad what is ultimately most valuable, the content we produced (or the best of it), is going to a site that is run a bit more professionally. I trust the engineers at Hubpages will make the transition as painless as possible. I know my fellow former squids will be amazed at how well a site can be run.
For those who want to discuss the process, I refer you to http://squidu.yuku.com/
Help on understanding hubpages: