Squidoo promotes "SEO" to naive webmasters..for charity? It's all so confusing.

I did a double-take when I saw the Squidoo blog cite 2 Squidoo Lensmasters who reported that Squidoo was getting them top ranks in Google. Then I took a look. Show 'nuff, they report they get top rankings. And the Squidoo people, while taking the roundabout route, seem to suggest that Squidoo is good for SEO. But is it SEO?

Is it anecdotal reporting of long tail results as "top rankings". Is it simply a page title, h1, and a few anchors achieving placement for non-competitive terms? Is Squidoo pitching it as an SEO tactic to naive web masters, by putting those comments front and center, without qualification?

Kimberly Dawn Wells has dozens of "lenses", and one of them is called "Personalized Breast Cancer Support Shirts" which sells personalized shirts. What term did she find herself ranking #1 for? "personalized breast cancer". Uh huh. According to Kimberly Dawn Wells' comment:

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“During some researching, I looked up “personalized breast cancer” on Google and my Squidoo lens is the first result! … That’s pretty impressive considering the number of breast cancer sites out there…”

Another one is "Best Writing Blogs on Squidoo" which ranks #1 for "best writing blogs".

The second "lensmaster", who has what looks like a hundred Squidoo doorway pages...err lenses on "Amish_widgets" (many of them empty- LOL) reports that:

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“I decided to Google my Squidoo topics today and discovered several of them are either on the FIRST page of Google, or the second. I have competitors out there who have been at this for a long time, with a lot of backing, and they’re NOT ON GOOGLE’S FIRST PAGE, BUT I AM! It just blows my mind…..”

Does Seth know Squidoo is billing itself (indirectly) as an SEO tool? Well, they do suggest it in a very indirect way...

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It’s not our story……it’s theirs...(just a couple of lensmasters who made us blush)

So I wonder. Which is it? Is Squidoo an opportunity to get top ranks for keywords? Is that not SEO? Is Squidoo suggesting that it can be used by web masters to earn top rankings in the search engines? For charity?

At least one lens I checked said of itself "Commissions from this lens go to charity! Your purchases matter!" yet when I read the Squidoo FAQ, I see that Squidoo is for profit, gets to cover costs and expenses, and is apparently knee deep in a quagmire of how can we do this legally and properly:

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Yes, Squidoo is an old-fashioned corporation, with real employees and investors. We're not legally organized as a co-op; we mean that we've structured the organization so that we're in a partnership with our lensmasters. It's a co-op in the sense that the more you give, the more you get. All lensmasters with traffic get a pro-rated share in the income that we get from the Google AdSense ads that run on every page, for example. In addition, a rotating slate of lensmasters will be invited to participate in the panel that chooses the charities that get the money from our charity pool.

We divide up the money we receive in a very public way. First, we pay our bills. That's direct out of pocket expenses like rent and servers and salary and benefits expenses (our CEO doesn't take a salary, and neither does our board of directors). Then, with no other deductions, we pay 5% of our post-expense revenue directly to the charity pool, 50% directly to our lensmasters and retain the rest to pay off investors and employees. Don't quit your day job yet, but you should know that as we all grow, our goal as a co-op is to pay as much money as we can to our lensmasters and to charity.

and this is further "clarified" with another several paragraphs about money further down :

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MORE ABOUT MONEY

While this note is a few paragraphs long, it's not complicated... If you're interested in how Squidoo deals with money, we hope you'll invest the 99 seconds it takes to read it.

Our goal is to build a self-sustaining, profitable company that shares a large portion of our income with charities and with our backbone, the lensmasters who build our lenses (that's you).

BETA: (Note, we are now out of beta!). But, during the beta we were still figuring out how our systems worked. We were busy measuring them and tweaking them and getting smart about our (and your!) expectations. As a result we didn't pay royalties. Update: Congratulations, lensmasters! We raised thousands of dollars during the beta test, for 3 great charities: Room to Read, The Acumen Fund, and The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Thank you!

AFTER BETA: For a while (as with most startups) we expect our overhead will be greater than our income stream. We still need to pay our fixed costs (like servers and tools and staff salaries) or else we can't keep running and building the service. So, all revenue that comes in goes first to our overhead. Then we honor our 5% charity commitment.

Then, we divide it among lensmasters as follows:

AdSense revenue (these are the Google ads you see on every lens): This money goes into a pool, so as to avoide clickfraud. Half of the pool distributes out to lensmasters, on a PayRank scale that is based on a lensmaster's average LensRank and traffic.

Affiliate revenue (ie, referral income--like Amazon and eBay and CafePress and SuperStore sales). This is directly attributable to the lens that generated the revenue, and is not pooled with the whole co-op. The lensmaster gets a straight 50%.

So, once we are at scale and overhead is being covered, if your lens sells 1 book and Amazon pays us $1.05 in affiliate income, we send a nickel to charity and fifty cents to you.

Every quarter, we'll publish all our numbers so you can see exactly how much money was distributed to lensmasters and to charity.

We will also show your estimated earnings on your MyLenses page. This number will be updated daily.

We will also make an educated (we hope) guess as to what the maximum deduction for overhead is, and even if we're wrong--even if our overhead is higher than we thought or our income is lower than he hoped--we'll stick with our guess and take a hit. So you never have to worry about getting less than promised from your affiliate links.

If you've got suggestions for how to improve this plan, or how to explain it more clearly, please drop us a line

Wow. I am guessing there is a good deal of legal precendent in the charitable claims department that needs to be navigated here.

This has got to be a headache for the Squidoo founders and investors, no? And how about those web masters taking a share of the profits.. er.. donations? Tax status? I am not an accountant, but I think those donations are taxable income, right? And not tax deductable as donations, right? And so as donations to charity go, this money is being double-taxed on the way to the charity (once when earned by the donor, once when re-earned by Squidoo and the Lens Master, and I don't know the status anymore by the time some piece of it gets to the charity). Phew. Seems like a hard way to make a living, or a donation.

And by my read, 40 states now require registration of private entities before they can solicit from state residents on behalf of charitable organizations. And it's complicated further if someone is paid to solicit. is anyone doing that (Squidoo, the lensmaster?) Does anyone actually know?

Executive Summary: I don't know what to say. SEO matters? Build it first, worry about the business plan later? Or maybe no matter what happens, Google gets paid?

Comments

How easy is it to make the top 100?

And does that actually mean anything, audience-wise?
Have an account? http://www.squidoo.com/spamdoo/ (Lensrank: 49,286)

So how long will it take them to add nofollow tags after they get word that unprotected link love is (probably) Squidoo's major function these days?

Squidoo Top 100

It's really hard to get into the top 100, and IMHO not worth the trouble.

Of course top 100 placement will get you some exposure, and you have to get there before you find out what that is worth. Not much.

My "lens" Which Espresso Machine Should I Buy? leap-frogged over a lot of others and made it as high as lens rank #26 when somebody bought an expensive espresso machine "or something." (Squidoo doesn't share Amazon tracking data with mere content providers.) Now I've sold 5 such machines from my own links on that page, so it's "worth it" to me, but the non-HTML-speaking target market might be another story.

Anyway, my "royalty" of about $10.00 is 50% of the commission Amazon.com paid out, so rightly or wrongly (i.e. rightly) I consider that a $10 ad purchased from Squidoo. Not only did irate "lensmasters" give me low "star" ratings, but I didn't make any additional sales while I was basking in the glory of top 100-ness.

I have a name for businesses that buy unproductive ads. I call them "hobbies." If you want to get into the Squidoo Top 100 generally speaking you will have to pass a bunch of people (all capable of giving you the dread "1-star" rating) who are basically lavishing a lot more promotion on their lenses than they will ever be worth to anyone.

What you describe is to me,

What you describe is to me, advertising. Put a billboard out in the burbs for your store in the city. That's advertising. A MySpace page is advertising. A Lens by John Andrews on SEO, which does a decent job of highlighting SEO is also advertising (for me). Aaron did one of those a few weeks back. I didn't think it was spammy.

I guess I call it spam because of the lack of content, the deception that a "Lens" is an autority page on a topic linking out to the best resources when it's actually just a doorway sans redirects, and the keyword attention given to the page for ranking purposes.

If a highway billboard had nothing but keywordkeywordkeywordkeywordkeywordkeyword I'd call that spam, too, I suppose, although I'd be wrong cause it's just advertising/branding.

Web 2.0

Lots of things that were considered spam in web 1.0 are perfectly acceptable even encouraged in web 2.0. Can you imagine a mashup being considered good in 1999?

Re: SMO' money, SMO' problems?

Why is SMO Spam

Why is it smo' spam John because you have information in more than one location?

Why not instead imagine that your web site is a store in a good location where people congregate, sort of like a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Your store (ie website) gets a lot of walk-in traffic from one main road (your SEO strategy). Now, you’ve noticed some new suburbs have sprung up and there’s a new place that may support another store. What would you do? Probably consider building another store in the new location – that’s where the people are. The concept of social media optimization is similar. You want your web site and message to appear where people are congregating online.

SMO is not SEO but it should be part of your online marketing strategy.

SMO' money, SMO' problems?

SMO' money, SMO' problems?

With SMO, being visible in

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With SMO, being visible in multiple locations is a good thing.

So I guess it smo' spam?

it's not SEO, it's SMO

Having a Squidoo web site is not SEO, it is Social Media Optimization. With SMO, you are not focused solely on your www.mydomain.com. In addition to your web site, you probably have web 2.0 addresses at MySpace and Squidoo, a Flickr account and are utilizing del.icio.us bookmarks. Instead of focusing on keywords, you focus on increasing awareness on your brand/product across all these different platforms.

That is the fundamental difference between the two. With SMO, being visible in multiple locations is a good thing. With SEO, having similar content in different locations will cause you problems with the search engines.

personalized breast cancer

I just looked at the SERP for "personalized breat cancer" at Google and an ebay listing shows up number one and number two (that squidoo one is third).

Squidoo lenses are more useful for "presell pages" than anything else.

Ready ... Set ... Go

that's why it's all so confusing

grasshopper you looked more closely than I did. Thanks

Sure Aaron but that's why I wondered what was up with the Squidoo blog highlighting those success stories with a hint at "you too can rank in Google, with Squidoo". This is a Seth Godin property, no? The guy who is so fond of SEO?

>accidental foursome

>accidental foursome

Happens all the time, surely.

I think there are going to be good and bad pieces to any community driven content site. Most any network that starts off like that has to accept some amount of spam off the start and then come up with ways to encourage higher quality content to drown out the lower quality stuff.

>> is it SEO?

sure it is. it's parasite SEO, which is still technically SEO. i guess.

unique content ranks lightning fast for uncompetitive terms if you hang it off a domain that has trust. you'll notice that i ommitted the modifier "high quality" in front of "unique content", because quality is hard to come by on squidoo.

q.e.d. the "best writing blogs" lens. which is first-rate horseshit. the lensmaster (who also has lenses such as "Patriotic Pumpkin Patterns" and "Mosquito Ringtones: what is all the BUZZ about?") prominently features a blogger named daisy dexter dobbs, who sells romance novel e-books with titles like "interracial romance" and "accidental foursome".

are you shitting me? people sell this stuff?

i should offer a rev-share for my blog to be featured alongside daisy - i have romance novel e-books for sale, too. "bigotry under moonlight" and "where the fuck are my pants?" are two of my top sellers. what a load of crap.

Isn't Squidoo a Steaming Pile of Linkspam?

Does anybody have an example of Squidoo showing useful search results? I can't find one.