I did better this month than last month.
Monday, February 28, 2011
|End of the Line / Quinn Anya|
I'm guessing that the content sites will do one of three things:
1. Encourage members to aggressively spam Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites, in a frantic attempt to make up lost traffic.
2. Become more selective about who can write. Require real subject-matter expertise -- credentials and/or experience. This is the direction that Demand Media seems to be heading. To see if it works, keep an eye on how about.com -- which adopted this strategy a long time ago -- fares under Google's new system. The big question here is whether the sites can attract experts while still paying low prices.
3. Back off of claims that people can make a living writing for their sites, and cultivate hobby writers instead. Either stop paying people altogether, or make the payment more like a token prize.
Whether this could work depends on whether the sites can figure out how to hook into that hobbyist energy. Wikipedia does it, but Wikipedia contributors see themselves as helping build something important. Will writers feel the same way about random for-profit content sites?
Maybe the trick would be for the sites to make participating more like a game. They would have to do something to make posting on their sites better than simply posting on one's own blog, if they do decide to stop paying. Maybe Helium can figure it out -- they've already got a small army of volunteer "managers" doing administrative work for the company, without pay, a feat that would have made Tom Sawyer proud.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
|No farms / USDA|
Google made the long-awaited tweak to its algorithm on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Here's what Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, and Matt Cutts, Principal Engineer (and, usually, the public face of the anti-content-farm brigade), wrote on the official Google blog on Thursday:
Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
Full post here: Finding more high-quality sites in search.
For whatever it's worth, Demand Media Studios is claiming that it wasn't affected by the change. And, indeed, I am still seeing a lot of eHow links high up on the Google results pages -- whether as many as before, I don't know. Meanwhile, anecdotal reports from writers on various revenue share sites are that page views are way down. Hubpages seems to have been hit particularly hard -- or maybe it's just that its writers are the most vocal. In any case, I think it might take a few more days for things to settle down enough so that we can tell what is actually going on.
On the Helium forums, a lot of people are saying that Google is only going after writers who post their articles on multiple sites. I think this is a misreading of Google's call for "original content" that ignores what Google is clearly saying about "research, in-depth reports, [and] thoughtful analysis."
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
|All your insides|
Bashing eHow is a popular spectator sport, and I've indulged in it myself now and then. But today, eHow came through for me.
I had a jar of spaghetti sauce -- mushroom and garlic -- and it looked so good. But I couldn't get the damned thing open. Tried all my usual tricks, including using a special grippy rubber mat made especially for opening jars, but no luck. It wasn't behaving like a usual stuck jar lid either. The lid was moving around in circles, but it just wasn't coming off.
I was almost resigned to throwing the jar away, but I thought I'd try to find some help online first. The first couple of sites I tried didn't help, but the eHow article gave me the answer -- use a bottle opener upside down, with the point of the triangular hole-punching thingie underneath the lip of the lid.
And voila -- an opened jar of spaghetti sauce (less about a third that ended up on the kitchen counter).
Perhaps this would be obvious to everyone but me. After all, one of the criticisms of eHow is that it is written for idiots. But, in this case, I was exactly the idiot that it was written for!
I can't tell you how happy I am to have triumphed over the Barilla jar. And to the extent that eHow does help people get past life's little (but hugely annoying) frustrations, it is doing a good service -- and I hope that Google leaves at least the most useful articles alone.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I thought maybe it was a typo, or maybe the publisher was tightening its belt. I was unable to get an answer about what was going on, so I ended up not writing anything for the new article request.
Then yesterday, I was planning on writing an article, on a subject I enjoy writing about, for a different publisher who had also bought my work in the past. Then I noticed that this publisher was also offering a lower rate than before.
It seemed unlikely this would be a coincidence, as the publishers' pay rates had always been stable in the past, as far as I'm aware.
I did some calculations and it looks as if Helium has increased the cut that it takes from the articles from 20 percent to 30 percent.
A 30 percent cut is not terrible -- Constant Content takes 35, and I'm satisfied with that -- but it seems sneaky that Helium would increase its take without saying anything.
It doesn't make sense to me why they would do this. Their Publisher Marketplace is low volume. If they take a few dollars more on each article, that will probably only add up to a few hundred dollars a month -- a drop in the bucket for a company Helium's size. They could probably save as much if they turned off the lights a few minutes early each evening.
I was going to do the article anyway yesterday, but then I lost motivation and couldn't push myself enough to get it done. I think the wall I ran into was resentment. I've done a good job on the Publisher Marketplace articles in the past, and I think I played a part in helping Helium to retain publishers. Why would Helium want to risk losing its writers who had done good work for them and helped them retain business, just for the sake of being able to nickel and dime them?
The pay for these articles is not bad, by content-site standards, even after the increased cut. But it's a basic principle of psychology that it's not the absolute amount of anything that matters, but whether it's going up or down.
If I'm not doing Helium ("new") Marketplace, and I'm not doing "regular" articles, and if now I'm not doing Publisher Marketplace articles (which were always my main interest at Helium), there's nothing left except for the special-project "neighborhood" articles that I have been doing lately, and I can't seem to do those fast enough to justify the time.
In the unlikely chance that anyone from Helium headquarters reads this, I may be burning my bridges -- probably not a good idea as I'd like to reserve the option to change my mind. But what Helium is doing, on so many fronts, seems so unfriendly to writers -- and so inexplicably so -- that perhaps that would be for the best.
|Photo by Stan Shebs|
A few days ago, Matt Cutts, head spam-zapper for Google, announced that the new Chrome extension was available:
We’ve been exploring different algorithms to detect content farms, which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. One of the signals we're exploring is explicit feedback from users. To that end, today we’re launching an early, experimental Chrome extension so people can block sites from their web search results. If installed, the extension also sends blocked site information to Google, and we will study the resulting feedback and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results.More: Matt Cutts' 2/14/11 post on official Google blog.
You can download the extension and start blocking sites now.
The New York Times "Bits" blog has a good article about this:
When critics refer to content farms, they generally mean sites like eHow and Associated Content from Yahoo that publish articles based on what people search for on Google. The articles, they say, provide questionably useful information (so questionable that they inspired a satirical blog, which Google winked at in its blog post.)More: NYT: Google Asks Users to Weigh In on Content Farms.
In a recent interview, before Monday’s announcement, Mr. Cutts said Google tries to determine whether a user would be unhappy if she landed on a certain page after doing a search, and is working on algorithms to push content farms lower in results. The new extension directly asks users to tell Google which sites they find to be not worth their time.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
January was a not a good month for me for content-site earnings -- it was the worst month, in fact, since I started this blog in July, 2010. I was burnt out on writing and didn't do very much. I got a second wind at the end of the month, though, so (knock on wood) the numbers in next month's earnings post may be better.
Janice Brand, who presides over Helium's Marketplace, was invited to the White House as one of only 26 editors invited to the first ever Online Women's Summit. They had a full day of talks with White House officials -- and, get this, Obama himself even dropped by to shake everyone's hand.
From Helium's official blog (which has more details and a picture), via @heliumVP
From Helium's official blog (which has more details and a picture), via @heliumVP