In the past few years, a number of changes have conspired against content creators. Those of us who write on sites such as Infobarrel, Squidoo, etc, have seen various impacts on traffic. To an online writer, traffic is often the key to success. Visitors must find your work before you can earn any money. Unfortunately, the ways of the past are increasingly obsolete.
How it Was
Back in the old days, before 2010, nearly any web site could have ample traffic. The search engines were pretty primitive. People would publish a page and it would rank highly on search tools such as Google. With very little effort, information would be accepted and traffic would result. People learned how to improve their sites, which was actually pretty easy.
Keywords were stuffed. That is, the web pages were bloated with text that was strictly for the enjoyment of robots. Tags were similar. Many other tricks were employed in order to get more traffic. The visitors, of course, didn't understand. They just wanted information which they found on the Internet.
In time, the big search engines, particularly Google, decided to tighten the rules. They suddenly determined that old, poor pages were no longer of value to viewers. Such content was de-indexed, or at least not emphasized. That meant that pages that used to show up on search results were no longer doing so. Without the exposure, they would get no viewers.
At first, this strategy had a positive effect on good authors. Those who wrote well, and did not stuff keywords, were not penalized. In many cases, they were rewarded, actually. Their material began to be highly regarded as it was clearly not meant to "game" the system. Viewers continued to go to such sites, at first.
Next, the biggest search engines decided that certain sites were generally poor. Anyone who was associated with such a site was likely scamming the Internet. Sites like Squidoo and Infobarrel were suddenly penalized. Traffic dropped off from these sites and the effect was instant.
To their credit, content sites quickly cleaned up their portfolio of articles. The imposed strict quality guidelines, or even mandated certain limits. Keywords could no longer be stuffed. The text was to be completely natural. Other characteristics, such as links, were examined. In some cases, these were strictly limited. In other cases, they were ruled invalid. Around 2011 to 2012, the changes in response to search engines, were coming fast.
As the operating environment changed for authors, they saw several problems. First, of course, the amount of traffic dropped severely. With this, the revenue dropped as well. In the case of many Squidoo authors, their income went from many thousands of dollars per month, to merely hundreds. Some earned even less.
Squidoo at the time was very reactionary. They began to flag questionable content, and even delete it. Authors were given a short period of time to effect repairs. If the work wasn't done in time, or was still not compliant with changing rules, the article was deleted.
Such deletions had several other effects. First, the amount of new revenue dropped to zero, naturally. As well, many articles had outstanding earned revenue balances. In many cases, these amounts were forfeited by the author. The action was automatic, and mainly a Squidoo phenomenon. Infobarrel certainly treated authors much better.
At this time, other sites were undergoing similar radical effects. Many were forced to shut down. Others re-invented themselves. Revenue models were changed. Content was forced to be better. Links were ruled invalid in many cases.
Although Infobarrel experienced a major drop in traffic at this time, they did stand by their authors very well. They implemented a quality metric so that authors could evaluate their work. Links were discouraged, but not dropped entirely. Strict attention to keyword density was imposed. For a time, these changes were not enough as Infobarrel was penalized. With the dedicated work of the admin staff, however, they were able to recover preferred ranking for the site. Traffic then began to build again, and with it revenue for authors.
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The Reason For the Changes
Although no search engine company will ever admit it, the primary reason for ranking changes appears to be to reduce the usefulness of free traffic. Quite simply, they want more companies to pay for each delivered viewer. Since they are in the business of selling advertising, with ads that deliver traffic to relevant web sites, it is in their interest to reward their paying advertisers.
Those authors who provide quality content, on sites like Infobarrel, are not paying for traffic. They earn money from search engines when ads are displayed alongside hosted articles. There would be little point for an author to pay to deliver traffic to the ads. Similarly, content sites like Infobarrel are delivering quality to search engines. For that, they should be rewarded with free traffic. More and more, this bargain is no longer working.
Again, search companies will not admit that this is their new business model. A review of recent search results, however, clearly shows the effect. Searching for the term "puppy bed" retrieves 48.5 million results. Of those returned to the first page of results, 12 of 13 links are for advertised goods. The obvious ads are first in the list. They are also very prominent, although they do have an "Ad" tag next to them.
The next displayed results are from large retailers. Their links to sales pages are shown. Because the companies are large, they may be established as search engine partners. Even if they are not, they have a lot of material on the Internet which may help them rank better.
Quite a way down the results page, smaller business operators begin to be seen. This is where the free traffic starts. Further down, informational articles begin to appear. These are provided by authors who provide material in exchange for viewers. Because the information is so far down the page, they are likely to receive few visitors. Still, they are luckier than those authors whose work appears on the second, and subsequent, pages of search results. Those articles will rarely see any traffic.
That, of course, is the big question. Authors must continue to produce quality content. They must provide a worthy article that viewers will enjoy. Furthermore, they must avoid certain practices that used to generate traffic. Limiting the frequency of word distribution, keywords and others, is important. Reducing the number of links is important as well. Adding the HTML directive, "No Follow", is practically vital. It will increasingly be important to obtain your own audience.
This means that authors, and content sites, must do everything they can to attract, and keep, their own viewers. For a content site like Infobarrel, this means that they will have to eliminate poor articles. They may also have to ban poor authors. Authors may want to consider writing series of articles.
As an authority, your work becomes more valuable to readers. When they find your first article, you want them to move to parts 2, 3, 4. Publish a series in order to lead the viewer. It's always better to hold an existing customer than to get a new one. The changes to search engines have now made that business principle apply to online writing as well.