Spreading Yourself Thin

Successful revenue generation as an online writer or producer requires a lot of balancing and often requires that the producer is capable of planning and producing from a great variety of perspectives.

Many begin their online journey wearing the hat of a writer. Traditionally, a writer will have to produce content specific for a market or to be more blunt, a writer will always work for someone else. But, the latest incarnation of the web has created a new opportunity for writers to publish and earn from their craft. Sites exist that will take care of the technical aspects of web publishing and advertising placement and simply allow a writer to work for a small share of income or income potential.  A writer, will quickly learn under this model that certain topics and techniques will earn better than others. Over time these writers will begin to also wear the hat of a search engine optimizer, a marketer and a designer. It is difficult to master any single one of these crafts and even more difficult to find the appropriate balance as an individual publisher.

Under this model, the writer becomes an internet age "sharecropper," renting the tools and property of his overlord in exchange for fertile publishing soil. Unfortunately, the very same juggling act that the writer is balancing is mirrored at a greater scale by the site owners.

In February 2011, the Google Farmer Update, officially titled "Panda Update" as proven that many of these sites failed to balance correctly and the fertile soil has become arid and poisoned.

What caused this collapse?

Failing to balance short term ad revenue optimization with user experience

When you allow any single element of the balance between creating revenue through advertising, a quality user experience and optimizing for search traffic to outweigh the others your site or content will suffer. The writers at many of these sites had very little control of much of these aspects, so the blame falls on the site owners for failing their writers and their visitors.

4 of the most effected sites in the Google Panda update were Suite101, HubPages, eZine Articles and WiseGeek. A quick visual analysis of these sites shows some very obvious similarities. A more detailed analysis done as a typical naive web searcher/info seeker would expose more blatant issues.

In short, the advertisers and search optimizers abused the viewers via short sighted ad layouts and usability features.

The Obvious Factors:

  1. Overuse of Above The Fold Advertising / Disguised In Content Advertising
  2. Inappropriate internal linking that does not assist the searcher
  3. Generally Ugly Design

This may be effective in producing a high CTR rate for advertising revenue and balancing out that bounce rate by artificially increasing page views per visit, but the site itself becomes forgettable and is noted as avoidable in future searches.

What Not to Do in Order to Rank Well in Google

WiseGeek was hit very hard by the Panda Update. With an estimated 77% drop sitewide visibility in sitewide in search returns.

WiseGeek actually has rather dependable information, the content is human edited before publication and is derived from Demand Media writers who had to fulfill an application process before even being given the opportunity.

But, the site isnt designed to give a viewer an opportunity to actually read anything. An ad optimizer would call the design well integrated, but the viewer would consider it misleading. Navigating through all the advertising in order to read any content is a chore even for web users who are savvy to the components. Even a cursory glance at this site would reveal that the purpose is ad revenue generation not value to the searcher.

One will also find that nearly every other word tends to be an underlined link, these links are internal links to relevant topics within the site created by the SEO minds to inflate time on site and page views, but any reader should have no use for them if they are legitimately attempting to read through to answer a query.

Overall, the site is just plain ugly and suggests a AOL inspired 1990's High school  Computer Science project. Googles algorithms effect on this site reveals that misleading in content ads arent going to cut it anymore if you expect your domain to have any trust factor.

Misleading Ad Placement - WiseGeek

WiseGeek Screenshot

Where is the content ? Suite 101 The Poster Child of Wrong

During an Interview, following the Panda algorithm devasation of Suite 101, the site was specifically brought up to Matt Cutts, Head of WebSPAM at Google, as being a possible accidental casualty of the new algorithm. His response made it quite clear that Suite101 ended up right where he felt they should be.

Suite 101 received a 94% loss in Search Engine Visibility!

When you pull up a Suite 101 article from a search return, you will see the below:

Unattractive Layout - Overuse of Above The Fold Ads - Suite101

Suite101 screenshots

On careful inspection, or just with a cursory glance, a knowledgeable online producer would notice that less than 20% of the space above the fold has actual content. Everything else is ad space. Can anyone believe that the purpose of this site is anything but Adsense revenue generation?


HubPages.com also was heavily pummeled by the Farmer algorithm. Some obvious design flaws include the use of Kontera contextual ads that masquerade as legitimate links and a program of HubKarma which has led to users linking internally within the text in  naive manners for the hopes of increased internal user scores.  The HubPages ad layout was also overly top heavy, with above the fold advertising from various networks and even additional in content product modules from the writers. Hubpages can be commended for quickly attempting to solve some of these issues, as even the screenshot below shows a changed layout with one less Adsense module. But the use of Kontera, HubKarma for inflated and usually non-essential internal traffic and pageviews combined with a new flashy and un-focused impression based ad program suggests that Hubpages did not learn their lesson well enough.

Links should be used when they make sense. The flow of an article should not be interrupted just because your site happens to have another page that matches a possible keyword.

HubPages - Overuse of Above Fold Advertising and Unnatural Internal Linking

Hubpages Screenshots

eZine Articles has long been the site for building up backlinks and quickly gaining exposure in the article marketing field. The fact that the site has been around so long is evident in its design and aesthetic. Glance at the screenshot below, somewhere in that wall of text is a small snippet of information that calls itself an article, everything else is an ad. Users and Google have spoke up and stated that they dont search the web to read ads, they search for information and if your design and content dont suggest that your in the business of providing that info then your not likely to stay on top of the SERP's in the future.

eZine Articles - Ad Pages with some text

eZine articles(43675)

How to respond to the Google Update

There are two obvious  steps to take if you were beholden to any one of these sites for an income,

  • Find a site that was unaffected and transfer content or begin writing anew.
  • Start your own site


I suggest both. Site development takes time and if its your first experience you will have a short learning curve to conquer. In the meanwhile, you can re-purpose dead content or begin writing new content here at Infobarrel. Unlike, its major competitors, Infobarrel had an anti-spam team in place, limits in content advertising and requires editorial review. As a result, the algorithm change had little to no effect on the majority of publishers.

Getting your site off the ground requires three things, effort , a domain and hosting. I can guarantee that this link for a $7.49 domain from Godaddy is the cheapest source for a fully featured .com in the industry. The best part is it always works and has not expired in the 3 years I have been using it.

When designing your own sites for the future take a lesson from where these sites failed or succeeded. Short term gains made by offensive advertising leads to a loss of respect from your viewer and eventually by your traffic supplier, Google!