17 Comments

Summary:

HubPages is an online publishing ecosystem where authors submit useful, informative articles on topics they know and love, and then earn royalties for their contributions through Google AdSense, eBay Partner Network or Amazon Associates. Our site grew quickly after we launched in August 2006, as word […]

HubPages is an online publishing ecosystem where authors submit useful, informative articles on topics they know and love, and then earn royalties for their contributions through Google AdSense, eBay Partner Network or Amazon Associates.

Our site grew quickly after we launched in August 2006, as word spread that writers could (could for once) earn good money by publishing online. Still, a year on, HubPages was far behind our biggest competitor, Squidoo — both in terms of traffic, and in terms of revenue generation for the company and its authors.

We wanted to assume leadership in our space, so we decided to radically change direction. Instead of accepting just any content, we decided to open an author’s forum and monitor the content more thoroughly for quality. This was counter-intuitive — at the time, the potential traffic and revenue that publishing sites such as ours could generate was largely seen to be dependent upon quantity of content.

But porn and spam were constantly intruding on our users’ experiences, and limiting our options for monetizing effectively through online advertising. (Google doesn’t like spam or porn!) So we went ahead and instituted the seven key changes listed below. Paradoxically, reducing the number of published articles in the short-term actually helped HubPages grow traffic and gain share against Squidoo, in the long-term.

This makes HubPags a great case study in why “less is more” for content-oriented startups. (Especially with consumers who suffer for data-overload.) Here are the 7 filters HubPages instituted to effect its turnaround. Hopefully others founders can benefit from them, too.

1. We removed all adult content. This was tough since it accounted for about a third of our overall traffic.

2. We disallowed spam Hubs. We forced users posting aggressively promotional articles to create genuine informational value, and to tone down linking to sites they were promoting.

3. We unpublished purely personal articles (like blogs!), as these were less likely to be useful to readers or to attract traffic from search engines.

4. We checked all articles for copied content, and applied a score penalty to those with content already published on the Web (even if they had rights to republish that content). Those articles with very low scores were not shown to search engines.

5. We identified and flagged articles linking out to questionable sites, like sites that potentially phish, or display obnoxious popup ads, or redirect visitors to a different site than they intended.

6. We set up a discussion forum on the site, so users could help each other out, share advice, and socialize beyond the scope of publishing articles.

7. We started paying users up-front for exceedingly high-quality articles. Their quality attracted significant traffic from search engines and created success stories, which, in turn, set a good example that users followed.

Indeed these changes initially reduced HubPages traffic for several months, but recently-verified traffic figures from Quantcast are vindicating our decisions.

Over the past six months, we have seen traffic from Google and Yahoo! consistently grow, to the point that, even without the forms of content like porn that Squidoo continues to allow, we are now neck-and-neck with them in terms of traffic.

Live chart:

(Blue is HubPages, Green is Squidoo)

Today HubPages has fewer pieces of content than Squidoo, but we enjoy four times the number of visitors per piece of content — meaning HubPages’ authors are receiving substantially more revenue per published article than they are with Squidoo.

Word has spread, and now both our traffic from search engines, and the number of high-quality articles we receive continues to growth. All this increases the likelihood that HubPages’ success will be self-sustaining, proving in our case that less definitely worth more!

Jason Menayan is the Marketing Manager at HubPages, and he was the first employee hired at the company. Prior to HubPages, Jason worked at Quinstreet, an online marketing firm, and at CNET Shopper, SRI Consulting, and Procter & Gamble. Jason holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from RSM Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

  1. I think the reason you are succeeding is that you decided to focus. Not trying to be everything to everyone, but instead focusing on really pleasing a few people.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Share
  2. Nice work on #7. That kind of confidence is inspiring to good content authors, I’m sure.

    Share
  3. [...] Posted by smoothspan on April 28, 2008 No sooner did I pen Immediate Gratification Matters than I read Jason Menayan’s GigaOm post on 7 Things HubPages Did to Beat Squidoo. [...]

    Share
  4. Interesting … if I go to hubpages.com, I get a “this paged park free courtesy of GoDaddy”. Hopefully they weren’t so busy on their business plan that they forgot to renew the domain!

    Share
  5. I think the reasons are:
    1. your internal page ranking/score may have helped.
    2. At hubpages you harvest directly what your hub generate.
    3. At hubpages, Google can send payments throughout the planet earth whilst in squidoo they are limited to 55 countries that paypal can send payment.
    4.I think it is easier to organise your hubs at hubpages than it is to organise one’s lenses at squidoo since you can see the traffic performance and know where to put more effort.

    Share
  6. nguereco:

    Concerning #4, it sounds like you haven’t seen Squidoo’s extensive traffic and other stats tools, which cover not only traffic for each lens, but sources of traffic, backlinks, what key terms are being searched, and what the clickthroughs are.

    — The figures given in Mr. Menayan’s post are somewhat misleading. Squidoo’s 500,000 lenses include many that are not yet “featured” — ones which do not have enough content to be indexed, and are hidden from search engines until lensmasters make the effort to improve them.
    See a recent Squidoo update by Seth Godin on the number of featured Squidoo lenses, and how this works to separate wheat from chaff.

    — Therefore the average visitors figures listed above don’t match the real-world performance of Squidoo lenses.

    — Note that non-featured lenses are not the same as spam: Squidoo deletes certain categories of lenses as spam (see SquidDont).

    — Of the list of changes Mr. Meneyan mentions, Squidoo does #2, #4, #5, and the help forums at Squidoo. Other steps mentioned above are addressed in different ways.

    — “Forums” can encompass many levels of community. There’s a LOT of different kinds of help, resources and mentoring available on Squidoo forums that I haven’t gotten in my brief forays to Hubpages’ forums. Perhaps I’ve just not found the right threads, though.

    It comes down to this: Squidoo does a lot of things Hubpages can’t, and vice versa. Apples and oranges. I’m a member of both, and use both.

    Share
  7. I’ve been a writer over at HubPages for 2 months now and I can honestly say that I know I’ve found my writers platform there. Not only can I focus on my writing, but the capsules are easy to use. The site is very user friendly, and the forums are a great source for information and mingling with other writers.
    The ranking system makes it easy for me to see where I stand, what improvements I can make and the comments section helps me connect with my readers.
    And hooray for them- HubPages is focusing on QUALITY, and I have seen this firsthand when someone tries to come in with inappropriate content. The moderators over there are on it IMMEDIATELY.
    I’ve tried some other writers sites (I won’t mention them) and HubPages has won me over without a doubt.
    I knew I made a good choice.

    Share
  8. I have to say that as a user of both Squidoo and Hubpages I think I find that Squidoo has a few more features I like. Having said that however, I have used Squidoo a hell of a lot more so I am probably biased in that direction.

    I also like the fact that with Squidoo you can link out to anywhere. It may cause a bit more spam to make it’s way into the community but I think Squidoo have done a good job of keeping it as clean as they have.

    The one thing I really like about Hubpages is the usability factor. You can insert html into pages a whole lot easier than Squidoo.

    Share
  9. [...] topics they know and love, … Still, a year on, hubpages was far behind our biggest competitor, …http://gigaom.com/2008/04/25/hubpages-7-things-we-did-to-beat-squidoo-case-of-less-is-more/Berry Tree ReviewIs the berry tree the real deal or is it a fake. this is the berry tree review with [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post