Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Flushing inspiration down the toilet

I've mentioned how, unlike Helium, Hubpages offers its authors the freedom to produce hubs to a reasonably open choice of subjects, bar the ones that will get the Google puritans hot under the collar. Sometimes, though, inspiration may be lacking. One potential recourse is the pool of questions asked at HP. Maybe, just maybe you will find ideas there, although the majority are as moronic as typical questions placed on Yahoo Answers.

For some time, in addition, we had the HubMob concept, facilitated by non-staff HP members. Basically, this involved a fairly broad topic being suggested once a week. People would produce hubs relating to the topic, and all these hubs would be interlinked through a RSS feed. There used to be some element of fun in those days. Regrettably, HubMobs are now a thing of the past, and instead we have the "Weekly Topic Inspiration" provided by HP wage minions working to an agenda.

WTI is about as uninspiring as it can get. Recently, it has literally plumbed the lowest depths. Apparently, a new advertiser on HP Ads is a Yankee drain cleaning company - whoopee! So we have had one  "Weekly Topic Inspiration" on kitchen plumbing, which is now being followed by a second one on bathroom plumbing. Truly topics to get the creative juices flowing - not! All bow to the great god Mammon seated on the toilet.

I was about to flag one of these plumbing hubs as low quality, then I noticed vociferous praise had been given to it by an HP minion, sigh...

I still stand by my statement that Hubpages has a way better return than Helium. However, I am very, very glad that membership of HP does not involve an obligation to write "crap" relating to HP Ads advertisers. The day this is enforced is the day I leave.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Free writing websites: Hubpages or Helium after Panda?

via Wikimedia Commons
Helium was the first writers' web site I found. I joined Helium nearly two years ago and then found Hubpages a few months later. I started by running them in tandem, although with not a large number of articles on either. However, I am now convinced there are numerous reasons to keep on with Hubpages and no reasons at all to continue with Helium. These reasons relate to earning potential, freedom and flexibility, the community, quality and post-Panda performance.

1. Earning potential for hubs versus Helium articles

Monthly earning 5-10 times higher with Hubpages than with Helium.

Most people signing up with writers' sites want to write to earn money online. When I first joined the two sites nearly two years ago, there was a big difference between Helium and Hubpages in that Helium paid by number of views. Helium also offered upfront payments for the first article written to a title. In contrast, Hubpages offered the potential to earn through Adsense clicks and through sales made via Ebay and Amazon capsules inserted by the writer into the hub. Thus, there was a guarantee of some income with Helium, while Hubpages was more risky. People with the SEO knowledge to gain from Adsense seem to have always done vastly better on Hubpages. Since I am weak in that area, my earnings were initially comparable on both sites.

Now things have changed dramatically. Helium no longer offers guaranteed upfront payments, except in occasional short-term promotions. It does have contests and it is also possible to write articles commissioned by publishers. Better paying commissioned articles are restricted to certain groups of writers and sometimes are open to as many as 50 authors to battle it out for the payment. There is no limit whatsoever to competition entries. Thus this is rather a large risk in terms of time and effort.

The latest development at Hubpages is to provide the opportunity to earn money through page views as well as by the other routes.

Easier earnings and more sources of income with Hubpages

Hubpages has introduced the HP Ads programme, which pays for impressions not clicks and which is used in addition to Adsense. Signing up for HP Ads means Adsense clicks become much less frequent. Nonetheless, many are reporting increased earnings overall with HP Ads, although Adsense veterans generally say they do better sticking to Adsense alone.

At the moment, I am earning somewhere between five and ten times as much on Hubpages as on Helium each month, despite having 40% more articles at Helium than at Hubpages. Because most of my hubs focus on information rather than on sales of specific products, I am doing better with HP Ads + Adsense than with Adsense alone. My Amazon earnings are miniscule. Since Ebay changed its criteria at about the time I started on Hubpages, I was unable to sign up for that affiliate programme via Hubpages.

There is also the possibility to insert one or two affiliate links into a hub. Not all links are permitted; for example no Clickbank links are allowed at all. However, this does provide even more earning potential at Hubpages.

It is impossible to give definite reasons for the difference in earnings, because Helium provides its writers with no information at all on their page views and CPM (payment per 1000 views). In contrast, Hubpages displays personal statistics on page views, as well as on ad impressions and CPM for HP Ads, while Adsense provides statistics on page views and Adsense clicks. In addition, Hubpages does at least disclose that it takes the revenue during 40% of the hub's viewing time, although it does not give statistics of when during the day this is applied. Helium provides no disclosure whatsoever about how much revenue it keeps back for itself.

One reason for lower earnings on Helium is that the site gets far fewer visitors and ranks much lower than Hubpages. At the time this post is being written, according to Quantcast, Hubpages gets nearly 500,000 views from the US per day, compared to Helium's approx. 34,000. According to Alexa, Hubpages currently ranks at 344 globally and 215 US, while Helium ranks at 2,836 and 1,360, respectively.

A major drawback at Helium is that writers only earn income from their page views if they constantly participate in the rating of other articles. In rating, articles written to the same title are presented in pairs and one is rated up over another. In order to get a good score, a rating has to agree with that of a mysterious rating algorithm and with ratings of other members. The level of agreement and volume of rating awards "rating stars". There are a number of complaints on the Helium forums from people who cannot retain even one rating star despite spending hours on this immensely tedious task. The main reason for this problem is that they actually try to rate in a critical manner as readers looking for quality of style and content.

In fact, the algorithm, being non-human, cannot judge on those criteria, so the simplest approach to rating is to guess the rules it applies. I consistently maintain a rating score of 80-95% by following some simple rules I have deduced, mainly based on formatting and the presence or absence of references. I rate at odd moments between work during one afternoon or evening every two or three months, which is enough to keep one or two rating stars. However, I consider it outrageous that writers are forced to do rating to claim their share of revenue.

One snag to earning with Hubpages is that you need an Adsense account to join the HP Ads programme, even though payments are made directly from Hubpages into Paypal for HP Ads earnings, while Adsense earnings from hubs are paid by Google in the usual way. Pretty well the only reason to consider Helium as a source of earnings is if you are unable to obtain an Adsense account or have been banned from Adsense. Helium payments go directly from Helium into a Paypal account. Like Hubpages, many other revenue-sharing writers' sites require users to have their own Adsense accounts.

2. Greater flexibility and freedom for writers at Hubpages

Hubpages wins over Helium regarding the control retained by writers over their work and also because of the writing interface.

Writers' control over their work

Helium contravenes the rights of their authors by denying them full control over their content.

Once an article is placed on Helium, it cannot be deleted by the author, although it can be deleted at whim by Helium. Requests for articles to be deleted can only be made by elite 5-star writers. Writers are not allowed to place the same article elsewhere for 12 months following acceptance at Helium. Even after the 12 months is up, the original article still remains on display at Helium, thus making it pointless to use it elsewhere due to penalties for duplication.

In contrast, writers at Hubpages are free to remove articles and place them elsewhere whenever they wish.

The second, almost unbelievable injustice done to writers at Helium is that they cannot freely edit their articles as and when they wish. It is possible to request correction of very minor typos by sending an email to the administration. However, any writer wishing to make any bigger changes, for example to update the content, has to undergo the indignity of "leap-frogging". The old and new versions of the article are subjected as a pair to the rating process. If raters select the old version, the new version is rejected. At least seven days must pass before another attempt can be made. This is another issue that provokes many complaints on the Helium forums. The reason given for this policy is so that writers cannot deliberately sabotage their articles in order to get them deleted by the administration.

Thus, in order to prevent a potential consequence of one right being contravened, Helium contravenes yet another right!

Writers on Hubpages can edit their hubs with no outside interference. 

On Helium writers are forced into the straitjacket of writing to pre-fixed titles. It is possible to suggest a title, but then you have to wait for the title to be approved. 

On Hubpages, apart from some subjects that would go against Adsense policies, writers are free to write about anything they want. If they have SEO knowledge and skills, they can optimise titles as well as the rest of their content. 

Helium provides a platform for writers who have no idea of what topics to write about. Those who know what subjects they wish to cover and how they wish to do this are better off at Hubpages. 

Plain text at Helium versus rich content at Hubpages

The only input possible for a Helium article is plain text, with no special characters permitted. It is impossible to control formatting or insert images. The finished product looks ugly due to the distraction of many blocks of advertisements above, below, to the sides, and in the middle of the text. 

Hubpages enables a certain degree of formatting, although more would be desirable. However, it is possible to insert capsules containing images, video, quizzes, tables, maps, rss feeds, as well as sales capsules for Amazon and Ebay. Sales capsules now require there to be at least 50 words of article text for every capsule inserted. HP ads does not insert as many ad blocks as Helium does. 

The appearance of hubs is much more colourful and interesting than that of Helium articles. 

5. The community

The Hubpages community is incomparably more friendly and helpful than the Helium community

My experience of the writers' community on Helium was extremely negative. The forums are dominated by smug moderators and their cronies, who will rapidly start a witch hunt against anyone who dares to criticise the site in any way. 

Not only is the Helium community unfriendly, it is also very introverted. There is very little on the forums apart from endless navel-gazing about rating stars and policies, writing stars and other totally in-house matters. 

In contrast, the Hubpages forums buzz with conversations on every subject under the sun. It can get a bit heated in the political and religious threads and temporary banning of members is fairly common. On the whole, however, it is a friendly and helpful community. 

Among active members on the Hubpages forums, there is a significant number of people who are highly knowledgeable about all aspects of how to earn money online. They are always ready to answer questions and offer good advice to those starting out on this path.  

The community at Hubpages is one of the best web communities I know. The forums can be addictive. Depending on your viewpoint, this can be a plus or a minus. Either way, the help and information that can be found there is of enormous value. 

4. Quality and post-Panda performance

Hubpages has more variable quality than Helium, but seems to be performing better 

The quality of hubs on Hubpages is very variable. There are very many truly excellent hubs of all types: informative articles on all subjects, poetry, short stories and even whole novels, sales hubs and satire. 

In terms of content quality, Helium cannot compare with Hubpages at its best. It is probably a combination of having to write to a title set by someone else, and the rigid rules applied at all stages that makes the majority of Helium articles (at least the ones I have read) as dull as dishwater. They give the impression of being essays dashed off by unwilling school pupils. It does not help that large numbers of people sometimes contribute to one and the same title, resulting in a slew of repetitive material. 

On the other hand, because anything that does not trip automatically controlled stop words can be published, Hubpages also has many very poor hubs with incorrect use of English, spun text or other spammy content. 

It was the latter type of material that has caused Hubpages to take such a pounding by the Google Panda algorithm. As a result, Hubpages brought in some stringent measures to try and raise the quality. Unfortunately, some of the new requirements also affected long-standing and successful hubbers, who left the site as a consequence. 

Very recently, Hubpages moved all its members to individual subdomains. The hope is that quality writers will get better results, while poor writers will be pushed further down search engine rankings. At the moment, people's experience is very variable. Nevertheless, the majority impression is that recovery is starting. 

I have already referred to Hubpages outperforming Helium on Alexa and Quantcast scoring. 

I have one hub and a Helium article on the same fairly narrow topic. My hub comes up on the first page of Google for the most obvious key word. Pages further down, I still was not able to see the Helium article. Admittedly, this is a miniscule experiment, but, together will all the above, it is enough to convince me not to bother with producing more content for Helium. 

Ultimately though, the way forward is through my own web sites. With respect to this also, I consider that Hubpages provides me with far more valuable training and experience than Helium, as well as with all the help and advice obtained from the Hubpages community.