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Hubpages Asked For Feedback
HUB PAGES ASKED FOR MY FEEDBACK
I ran a business for more than twenty years. As a customer of HubPages for more than three years I have followed with sympathy HP's struggles with Pandas, Penguins, and some of the more eccentric human contributors. I recently had a weekly HP mailing that asked for my feedback. It turned out to be only an opportunity to be part of the HP research effort as and when my opinion might be needed. So I thought I would say what I think anyway. I normally charge £750 -£1,000 a day for consultancy, but this is free to HP!
THE BUSINESS MODEL
HP is not a co-operative, a writer's group or a social service. HP is not a community resource or a utility. HP is a business that hosts content so as to sell advertising.
Almost all of HP's income comes from advertising. HP also earns a little money from Amazon. To attract the advertising HP needs to attract readers. To attract the readers HP needs high quality content. All the messing about with search engine optimisation, backlinking, adding RSS, taking away RSS, adding video links and the like cannot convert poor quality content into good quality content. Done right it can turn good quality content into even better quality content.
So how does HP attract good quality content? In the very early days HP actually paid people to write on HP, seeking to build a critical mass to make HP the market leader among content farms. The 60/40 revenue share is one of the best offers available to professional writers short of posting material on our own web sites. The strategy was successful. The critical mass of HP meant that articles posted on HP came up on search engines significantly before the same material would do if posted on a writer's individual site. Sixty percent of a good income was better than one hundred percent of a significantly less good income.
More than 95% of my “hits” come from Google, so Google is currently the only game in town. I like Bing better but my like is not currently shared by most of the world's internet users.
Google is not a public service. Google is using its dominant market position to divert traffic to sites in which Google has a financial interest. My personal web site www.uklawstudent.com links to Adwords just so the site will rank higher on Google than if it did not potentially generate profit for Google.
HP has had huge difficulty coping with the changes Google makes to its algorithm. HP is trying to keep up with the goalposts that Google keeps moving. And then HP has to induce its contributors to make the changes HP believes are necessary. By the time the contributors have done what HP asks, Google has moved the goalposts again.
HP is under huge pressure to succeed financially because most of HP's funding is from venture capitalists. I do not know the terms upon which HP has its funding but we all know venture capitalists expect and require very significant return on investment.
So what is HP to do? Google is extremely reticent about its algorithm. The justification is that Google does not want people “gaming” its algorithm. Critics might say that Google does not wish to be open about the extent to which it diverts traffic for its financial benefit. So HP is stuck with a “black box” research strategy where HP feeds hubs into the black box of Google and sees what comes out. Then HP tries to divine from these small scale experiments how to appease and “game” Google.
Were the HP staff not so stunningly intelligent, I would liken their efforts to a South Sea cargo cult where the natives build a replica airport out of bamboo and vines, continuously tweaking the structure until the planes begin to land. Sadly the planes never do land, so eventually the frustrated natives burn the chief or witchdoctor while the poor man is shouting “just one more tweak!” Some hubbers are more like South Sea islanders than they realise.
Some of the HP “tweaks” seem to work. And some seem to be pointless. HP sensibly does “Beta” modelling of its ideas, allowing ideas to be tried out by volunteers.
Does HP have any options other than trying to play catchup with Google?
Back to basics. I am willing to accept that poor quality hubs on HP drag down HP overall. So HP should suspend or jettison all the poor quality hubs. But what is a poor quality hub?
With the exception of Poetry and possibly Art, HP should state a minimum length for a hub. Anything worth saying normally needs a couple of hundred words to say it. This measure alone would weed out a goodly number of pathetic hubs. It would also damage some carefully hand crafted hubs, so there must be a facility for hubbers to request a review.
It may be appropriate to ask poets to put up collections and anthologies in single hubs rather than having dozens or hundreds of ten line hubs as some do at present. Or perhaps to have a dedicated poetry site affiliated to HP?
There are now programmes that assess the quality of grammar and spelling. Most people who can write two hundred words have reasonable grammar and spelling, so I am not sure to what extent such a programme would be useful. It would probably do no harm.
One programme that should not be used is a programme that establishes the reading age of a piece of writing. If I am writing on certain subjects, or for certain markets, simple language is essential. Writers should not be penalised for writing in language appropriate to the audience they address. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a greatly underrated virtue. Conversely, some more intellectual pieces may demand a higher reading age than normal.
I would suggest that these guidelines are stated in the hub creation procedure so no-one is taken unawares. And existing hubs that fall short should be idled, subject to a review procedure. Perhaps ask the poets to help with the review procedure? Or harness the energies of the HP awkward squad by asking us to review appealed hubs?
And pay a troll to review everything as it comes on to HP to prune the rubbish early. Some of us would happily do that for a modest remuneration.
The Learning Centre and the Apprenticeship scheme are great. I would suggest HP rethink and reorganise these areas. There are enough college teachers in the HP community that one of us might revise the Learning Centre for a modest fee. Helping existing hubbers to generate better hubs and more hubs is an intelligent way to improve the quality of the product. Doing it in a way that reduces the need for human input from teachers and mentors would be sensible. Ask the hubbers to put themselves forward because volunteers are better students. Or approach the backlog of people who expressed interest in the HP scheme or who have hopped a hub or have otherwise contributed to the HP community. Mention the Learning Centre prominently during the hub creation process.
It is a truism that in business 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your customers. I understand there is one hubber who personally generates 1% of HP's traffic. This suggests that there are maybe 30 people who between them generate 10% of HP's traffic, and maybe 400 people who generate the next 20%. This very small group out of the 200,000+ hubbers should be identified and cosseted. If they could be induced to increase their output by 50%, that would increase HP's turnover by 15% with no added cost. The profit contribution from this group's extra work would significantly improve HP's bottom line.
HP are right to generate a community spirit. I have been helped and encouraged by strangers, and I in turn have helped others. I have doubts about the Forum, in part because of some nasty posts that I think could put people off. I also think that people with no stake in the HP community because they have written no hubs at all, or very few, should not be eligible to participate until they have contributed some decent hubs.
It is possible to “game” the HP hub rating. As this generates the hubs HP wants, I would suggest making the criteria known would increase the perceived quality of hubs. One problem though is that I have significant disputes with HP's valuation of hub quality. If readership is a criterion, then we are encouraged to participate in the Forums to attract followers to boost early readership. Another way of gaming is for two or three people to keep commenting on each other's hubs so as to build the hub scores. This all takes up time and emotional energy that could be spent writing hubs instead.
If a piece is good but it is not read, should it be “idled”? Only if Google is prejudiced against good writing that is not read. Is Google so prejudiced? How do we know? If a piece is on page 220 of Google it will probably never be read. Does that mean it should be idled? If the piece is not indexed on Google, then it can never be found. One of my recently idled hubs was found by a new followers, who wrote a very nice comment.
One can also “game” the individual ratings on HP. Any “gaming” that takes away from actually writing good hubs is not to HP's advantage. I think HP should rethink its criteria to encourage writing good hubs and down-value commenting on other people's hubs and participating in the Forum.
The small group mentioned above who are the key suppliers for HP should be consulted on a regular basis. They have shown commitment, they do produce, and they are significant suppliers HP does not wish to lose. They will have insights that HP may not have.
There are a number of contributors who run or who have helped to run significant businesses. Some would be willing to contribute their insights.
HP should consider whether it can realistically generate the returns that the venture capitalists require. If it can, then HP should get on with it.
If HP cannot produce what the venture capitalists require, then HP should consider selling itself to a consortium of successful writers as a tax shelter, to a university, or to some other stable owner who will be content with a moderate return on capital. Could HP sell itself to the hubbers? Some of us might buy in if the price and the prospects were right.
Were Google to buy HP, Google would revise its algorithm in our favour. For a short time all hubbers would be better off as our hubs would come up on Google sooner. Over time, Google would adjust the payment rates in its favour, but there would be a honeymoon period. Microsoft might also be interested in purchasing HP as part of a move into media.
I assume HP knows which pieces are on Page 1 of Google, and which are moving up rapidly, or which are doing well against tough competition. It would be nice if that information could be added to the hub table for each writer. I am only human, and I get a boost from learning I am doing well in the Google rankings. So why not share the information with me?
I am grateful to HP. I have developed as a writer. I have made online friends. I have been exposed to issues and questions I had never previously considered. Some of my hubs have been inspired by Forum discussions. The staff are intelligent and helpful. None of this shows on HP's bottom line. HP is a great writer's nursery. Now how should HP motivate me to increase my output by say 50%? I think POINT TWO and POINT SIX above are the way forward to motivate me.
SO NOW WHAT?
What do fellow hubbers think?