Some Good, Some Bad, Some Just Plain Annoying, and Everything In Between
I know the lensmaster community as a whole has been frustrated up and down with Squidoo lately. Changes are being made daily, HQ pointed fingers at people publicly on their blog, announcements are being made about policy updates and changes a lot in the past few weeks, and Squidoo traffic and profitability is at a low point (which is probably why Squidoo has their tentacles in a twist to begin with.) So let’s all take a deep breath and look at some of this stuff and make a new plan going forward…
First…. Deep breaths.
Second…. Remember and realize that Squidoo.com is is their web property, not ours, and as such they can do whatever they want. We don’t have to like it, if we want to continue to post work there and earn commissions from them then we need to comply with their guidelines or move our content elsewhere.
Now, all that said, let’s look at the recent changes and policy updates, whether good, bad, or otherwise. I do believe that Squidoo had good intentions in every single instance. I’m sure they knew going into these changes that their community would be frustrated, but that’s part of running a thing like Squidoo, people are going to love you when things are good, hate you when things are bad, and inevitably be frustrated when things are changing.
This post is going to be a lengthy one, so I’ve turned off my sidebar to alleviate scroll wheel finger cramps.
The Change to Responsive Design Across Squidoo
Back in December there was a bit of chaos and uproar over Squidoo changing their whole design across all pages right in the middle of holiday shopping season. While responsive design is a great and wonderful thing and all the bugs seemed to be worked out now (months later) it was a somewhat crazy thing to do right in the middle of your biggest traffic and income producing season. It caused all sorts of image issues and bug reports.
The “preview your lens” and workshop side of things didn’t reflect how a lens would look once published, so it was difficult to judge if you had things in the right places. Any previously published lenses had to be edited to adjust photos and move things around a bit. A time consuming process that many lensemasters with a lot of pages are still working on right now.
During the responsive redesign they also made all the “buy” buttons on the site black, which was just strange since black buy buttons are usually only used with luxury and high ticket e-commerce, but product recommendations on Squidoo are pretty run of the mill average normal every day type of products. They did change the buy buttons back to orange pretty quickly, but they are testing new button variations out again here in March 2013 – more about that later on.
Lack of Responsiveness to Support Requests and Community Questions
For more than six months now the response to support requests, bug reports, and emails to the Giant Squid concierge have been … well, pretty crappy. It has probably actually been going on longer than that, I’m estimating six months based on my own experiences and those of lensmasters that I’ve talked with.
Example; I submitted a support ticket the first week of November and didn’t get any response until the end of January, aside from an initial automated message that my request was received. Then when the information in the response was conflicting to other information I was given at Squidoo I replied back to clarify the situation, and here we are in the middle of March and no response to that message yet. It was regarding a seasonal lens, so it doesn’t even matter anymore because the whole thing took so long it’s no longer even relevant.
Understaffed and Dependent on the Kindness of the Community
Many people have suggested that Squidoo is understaffed for the size of community that it is. I tend to agree with that based on the support ticket experiences that many have expressed.
They also depend heavily on the work of volunteers and frequently ask their community to do volunteer work (ie; free) that many people would consider to be work that should be sent to staff members, paid freelancers, or perhaps even to company interns. Again, I tend to agree with that.
Spun Content and the Need to Be Human
This caused quite a spark of conversation all around the web. The post has now been edited and fingers are no longer being pointed at any particular account, but they were pointed, people/accounts were banned from Squidoo entirely, and discussions got ugly all around the web.
HQ wants to address “spun content” issues, and that’s a reasonable statement, but they’ve addressed the term broadly and decided to battle this internet epidemic with a filter that will sift through lenses and lock anything that it deems spun content or thin content. Squidoo said go out there, get personal, be authentic, and update your lenses because they filter is coming.
They said there would be warnings and people would be able to make improvements. They made it sound very scary, but they also said that 98% of pages have nothing to worry about. This entire discussion of spun content, thin content, sales content, affiliate marketing, product recommendations and so on, all had lensmasters scared stiff anyway.
Well, the filter is out there doing it’s sifting thing and I’ve been reading the past few days about lensmasters logging in only to find that their entire account has been locked and they’ve received some automated message from Squidoo saying that they’ve been locked and blocked for the use of spun content. The problem? Those authors were not using spun content. There’s no appeal process for this account locking as far as we can tell and those lensmasters were not given a warning or a chance to edit their works.
The community is quietly starting to panic at this point. Many lensmasters are wondering if they should stick around and wait it out or if they should seek other places to publish their work. I think the “export lens” feature is being used more heavily now than ever because so many people are afraid that their work is going to be locked and disappear from the internet.
Even top quality authors are worried about what fate the content filters might have for them. Squidoo also has an internal “duplicate content filter” that almost every lensmaster has run into once or twice in the past year. It’s not the most accurate filter, so when Squidoo says they’re going to use a filter I think the community lets out a collective sigh and rolls their eyes a little bit.
Again, we need to remember that Squidoo owns the overall web property and it is theirs to do with as they wish. We may not like it, we may think it’s not a good way to handle the situation, but they have a lot of pages to deal with and they are trying to recover from whatever caused their overall traffic to go downhill. These are their decisions and if we disagree with them the best thing we can do is offer our concerns and our suggestions to them, and we can move on to grow our own web properties instead of growing theirs.
Policy Changes All Around
In an effort to prevent people from gaming the system there were some new policies put in place for Squidlikes (the internal liking system) and SquidAngel Blessings (angel “likes” give a page a little lensrank boost) – These were cheered by some and complained about by many. Overall a good effort to work on quality and prevent people from gaming the internal lensrank system that decides which lenses are the top of categories and such.
Lensrank determines what tier you’re in and how much of a share you get of the profit share come payday, so this is kind of a big deal. The internal Squidlikes are a factor in deciding lensrank and tier, so by getting many Squidlikes a lens will move up the internal ranking and could receive a larger portion of the payday share even if the content is totally junk. In the same regard an absolutely amazing lens can be overlooked because it doesn’t XXX number of Squidlikes and gets pushed down the internal rankings.
My honest opinion on this whole Squidliking thing is that I’d rather see a tier and lensranking structure based on real traffic as opposed to internal traffic anyway. I don’t really understand the whole Squidliking concept that much, only those with registered accounts can use that feature of the site and often times are other content creators themselves and not really the target audience of what you’re writing, so I’m not sure why they give those clicks that much weight in the internal ranking. It does seem like something they’re making an effort to tweak right now and will be interesting to watch going forward.
The “Love” and “Want” Buttons that Open to Facebook from Amazon Widgets
These are kind of bugging me right now. I know that Facebook’s TOS says that it does not like you using buttons other than their official like and share buttons. These buttons show up in an Amazon branded module on Squidoo, when clicked they open up a Share box on Facebook for you to post to your timeline. I’m going to assume for now that they have developer permission from Facebook for those buttons, otherwise there’s a whole other issue that we should be discussing.
Squidoo didn’t announce this feature test so I can only make guesses here as to the purpose and thoughts behind these new buttons. I’m guessing that they’re looking to build fresh new links and social signals to Squidoo overall to try and get their traffic back up again. Social signals are a hot topic right now in the SEO world and various tests have been showing that social sharing is figuring into the search engine rankings in some way.
Since they’re in the Amazon branded modules, I personally think it would make more sense for them to go to Amazon where you can click on Amazon’s internal like feature or add to your Amazon wishlist or shopping cart. Going to Facebook from these buttons in the positions that they’re in on the pages doesn’t really make a lot of sense from a consumer perspective. Again, my own opinion.
The Big Ugly Discovery Bar
It’s just ugly. And it comes up with every page even after you’ve clicked on Hide. Have a look…
The screenshot here was taken from my desktop where I have a 24 inch monitor so it’s not completely awful there, but on a laptop or tablet it practically takes up half the screen.
I was browsing around the other day as a reader and I found the bar somewhat distracting while I was trying to actually read the information on the page and I had to hit hide every time I visited a different page. I see how the black bar could possibly be useful when someone comes in from a search engine result and is wanting a lot of information, but once they hit “hide” it really should stay hidden.
So far no one seems to think the discovery bar looks good or serves any useful purpose other than to encourage traffic leaving the page and to be another distraction among the many that are already there when you’re browsing a Squidoo page. Which brings us to our last point for today…
Is Squidoo Committing SEO Suicide?
There is a lot of conversation going on about Squidoo’s SEO practices and decisions over the last year and a half. Some people find them questionable. The conversation about the discovery bar brought up some of those concerns. Other conversations have turned to SEO related topics in regards to Squidoo’s coding, themes, magazine layouts (Oh crud, we didn’t even talk about Squidoo-Magazines, maybe another day), the use of contextual link advertising services, and the list could go on here for pages…
There are other places on the web where they don’t want you to link to Squidoo as a source because they think of the site overall as being spammy. To be fair, that’s what Squidoo is trying to fix right now, they want to restore the internet’s faith in them and they want to be deemed a quality source of information.
SEO communities have talked about Squidoo at length since it is considered “an authority site” and many times the conversation turns to being about the strange use of links, the siphoning off of link juice, and debate about whether it’s a dead in the water social media property or not. Always very interesting, but never very encouraging.
So now what happens?
Let’s wrap things up here. Like I said, this isn’t even a full list of the changes, nor is it a full list of concerns that the Squidoo lensmaster community has been having lately. So now what?
My first recommendation, as always, is do not put all your income eggs in one basket.
If you’re worried about the content filter locking you out of your lenses make sure you’ve backed things up or moved your content away from Squidoo entirely. Set up your own websites, build assets on the web, and try other things.
I’ve seen many lensmasters with 100s of Squidoo pages (and a nice amount of monthly sales and revenue) exporting their content and going elsewhere over the past month. I have not done that at this point, though I will admit that I considered it. I decided my time was better spent working on the other things I have to work on, because for me Squidoo is a very small portion of my income.
I’ve also seen lensmasters with lots of great content and pages who share their knowledge for the simple joy of sharing it, and they often make less than $10 per month on Squidoo because the system is flawed. Plenty of those folks are also exporting their content and going elsewhere too. They’re upset, hurt, and angry over the mess that things have become. All the fun and joy is being sucked out of the platform for them. They’re tired of the negativity and they’re tired of the flawed system.
I like Squidoo, I really do. It’s been a fun and interesting place to test niches, write one off articles, and to meet other people who are doing things they enjoy and sharing their experiences. I don’t want to see it die off as just another web property that was once cool to use.
There are definitely things going on and the community is slowly starting to fade away. Unless Squidoo plans to stop all lensmaster publishing and kick everyone out to go in a different direction, they need the community. A community built web platform is nothing and makes no money if it doesn’t have a community that stands behind it. As I’ve said (more times than you’d like to hear) it is their web property and they can do with it as they please, but ignoring the concerns of the overall community is a huge mistake.
I did just see an email come in that there will be a live conference call on Tuesday with Seth, Bonnie, and Gil to talk about the changes. The call bridgeline holds 150 people and they plan to answer approximately 10 – 12 questions in regards to the changes they’ve making and the issues they’ve been having.
I Am Here to Help You If You Need It!!
Several people have asked me if I can help them in starting their own website. I am here to help in any way that I can. If you have a question or you need help finding a resource, please ask me. If I don’t know the answer to your question, I will go find someone that knows and do my best to get the answers you need.
A few people have asked me if I can do a course or a coaching group for those that want to move away from Squidoo and start writing for themselves. I’m considering it, but I don’t want to put it down as a for sure thing yet because I want to be sure that I can give you my full attention. Between my transcription business, my own websites, and with two of my boys playing soccer this season, I am really swamped right now and I don’t want to start a coaching group when I’m distracted because that would not be fair to you. As soon as I can reorganize a few things we’ll definitely discuss the option of having some group coaching. In the meantime, while I’m sitting at four soccer practices a week I’ll have my legal pad handy and I’ll start writing up some outlines on things that we could discuss and work on in such a group.
Please discuss your thoughts on all of these Squidoo happenings in the comments section below….
I look forward to hearing everyone’s opinions, thoughts, and suggestions.