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Need Money Blog: Squidoo Slaps Its Members

As you know, I have been a big advocate of Squidoo since Seth Godin formed the company several years ago. I have over 50 "lenses" and have enjoyed sharing knowledge (for the most part, free of charge) with the world. However, there are big changes going on at Squidoo which new "lensmasters" should be aware of.

As of June 2010, Squidoo has updated their "dos and don'ts list" of appropriate topics, standards and rules for using Squidoo.

While some of the new rules are no shock (no porn for instance), there are other changes which are surprising and will affect many lens makers adversely. Of course, Squidoo is free to make whatever changes they feel neccessary, one has to wonder what the impetus was for the sudden lurch in policy?

Generally speaking, hard changes are the reaction to big problems. For instance, a few years ago, some spammer came up with a piece of software that could create thousands (I think they made 5000 overnight) of lenses. Naturally, Squidoo had to take steps to curb similar activity as it could grind the entire website to a halt with nonsense activity.

However, two of the new rules penalize lens makers for numbers of links to a domain and for a relationship with a respected Internet company.

First up is the "no more than 9 links" to a domain (I wonder how that works with or What does it mean?

Squidoo is tamping down on lenses which all link to the same website. The basis for this is to stop spammers, like the one described above, from creating multiple lenses to the same site. However, whether or not some specific instance like described above caused this problem has not been revealed.

Here is what some lens makers do. Website owners create multiple lenses each with a related high traffic keyword as the title. Visitors find the Squidoo lens and it leads them to the website owner's parent site by way of hyperlinks back to the parent site. It's a basic trick that is pretty common.

How to get around it? There is not much any website owner can do. Squidoo has an automatic filter that is trolling through the websites looking for multiple links to the same websites. Check your lenses and if they are not generating much traffic, consider dropping the link or redirecting it to another website. Get your outbound links to the same domain under 9 and you should be okay.

However, here's a devils advocate question for Squidoo. What if a lens maker has a parent site for a popular politician's election, for a well meaning charity or non-profit organzation (all popular topics with Squidoo management). Suppose the website owner creates different lenses for subjects related to the their cause and links each one back to their parent site. I can imagine a scenario where a politician in particular could have dozens of lenses, each about one of their policies or programs and would want them all linked back to his home page or donation site. What happens to these lenses? Are they judged the same way?

Squidoo is also slapping down on Clickbank sites According to the same "no no list", Clickbank is not getting blacklisted, but I disagree. I had a lens with multiple original components and only one Clickbank product link get locked (Squidoo's term for shutting down a lens). I think the Squidoo filter is running pell mell through lenses and turning off any with a Clickbank link.

How to get around it? Have all outbound links for Clickbank products go to a landing page under your own domain. From there, direct buyers to Clickbank's website.

What happens if a lens is tagged as naughty be Squidoo?

The lens gets locked and visitors are taken to a site which lets them know the site is locked for TOS violations. Then, the lens maker receives a form email telling them their lens is locked and to read the new terms of service. There is no exact reason given in the email why a specific lens is locked (the process is automated). Lens makers can appeal, but Squidoo admits that most, 90% or more, are declined and the lenses deleted permanently.

That stinks. Lens makers, having provided free content to Squidoo, which generates contextual advertising revenue, should be shown a little more respect than that.

Lensmasters provide content for Squidoo. And every single lens is packed with contextual advertisements, i.e. Google AdSense, Infolinks and others. The ads are automatically placed on the lens by Squidoo based upon the lens makers content and all the revenue goes to Squidoo who then shares some with the lens maker or the charity of their choice based upon an unknown metric.

The revenue share between Squidoo and lensmasters is lopsided. While the actual metrics have never been released, anecdotally, the earnings to lens makers are paltry. While nobody (except the owners maybe) are getting rich making lenses for Squidoo, lensmakers have received other benefits which made it worthwhile.

While I have seen a lot of really bad lenses, I have visited many many more which are educational and represent hours of hard work on the part of the lens maker. It seems a shame that all that work is tossed out based upon a "bot"

Here's the deal.

- Squidoo has a very high PR ranking. Links FROM Squidoo to new or lower PR sites is a big deal for search engine placement results. Thus Squidoo has great value to website owners.

- Squidoo is also the property of someone else. They own it, they can make the rules, right or wrong.

- Lens makers can make a choice. They can change their lenses in compliance with the rules, figure a way around the rules or simply delete their own lenses and go provide content to other websites, i.e. Hubpages, Scribd, etc.

- With each terms of service change, Squidoo changes how its "members" perceive it and the value it provides. While this may mean nothing now, the long term effects will be felt down the road.

As for me, I am just a little contributor in the big business machine called Squidoo. But the fun of being part of a the little "squidsperiment" has lost its wonder. Fortunately, there are other squids in the sea.

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