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HubPages Contest Winners: How They Won

Updated on November 11, 2014

As a professional linguist, I study language. I have only begun writing on HubPages, so it is natural for me to gather a sample of excellent hubs to analyze and emulate. The Money Grows on Hubs Contest provided an excellent data corpus for statistical analysis. For 28 days, a Staff Pick was selected from among the daily entries. These are the cream of the crop—the hubs to study as models. It is, however, a personal analysis; I have no official capacity with HubPages and do not speak on their behalf.

[Updated to current capsule types and display features—January 2013]

For most factors tallied, a certain amount of commentary and interpretation is in order. In tallies for which nearly all hubs have a value, the median is more significant than the average, though I give both values. In tallies for which less than half have a value, the median will be zero, so the maximum and average are more significant for these tallies. For some tallies, ambiguities in my methodology surfaced partway through the tabulation process. Sometimes I have withheld the full extent of data tabulation when accuracy seemed doubtful or injurious to specific entries. I am naming and linking to specific winning entries in cases where a positive point is exceptionally well-illustrated.

Median versus average (a reminder)

Median: The value in a sample of values that remains after an equal number of values is removed both above and below it.

Average: The sum of values divided by the number of such values.

Titles and Topics

The easiest thing to count is the title—or is it? The judging criteria called for a “short, descriptive, to-the-point title” with a “specific, long-tail topic” that was “search-friendly.” Hmmm. It is risky for me to spout statistics here as if I figured out an algorithm to evaluate topic long-tail-edness that emulates that used by the judges. So I’ll tell you what can be counted: the number of words in a title. I counted only words from open word classes and question words. In other words, I excluded words from closed word classes like articles, pronouns and prepositions. The lexical heuristics built into modern search engines seem to operate something like that. The range was 3–10 words with a median of six.

College Savings Accounts with Low Fees and High Tax Savings has one of the biggest title word counts and, strikingly, in almost every other measurement, either sets or ties the record low count. I count 17 meaningful sequences of two or more words in that title.

Links and tags

words in tags
Self-tagging of hubs is no longer an option. Links are still useful, but not as much today as at the time of the contest.

I counted the number of in-text hyperlinks. I hypothesized that the principle of long-tailedness (long-tailidity? whatever) would apply here as well as to titles, but a full 39% of the Staff Picks had no in-text links whatsoever.

(I also counted the number of tags—a feature since discontinued—and the number of words from open word classes that occurred in tags—each instance, regardless of number of occurrences.)

I simply offer the data table for you to draw your own conclusions. A couple of times, links were listed on sequential lines to look almost like a link capsule; this raised the average, but didn’t affect the median.

Sometimes the hyperlinking url revealed a title that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the linked text or context. Very seldom was a tooltip used to clarify the relevance. Indeed, I suspect that a large number of these links were created in haste and checked by neither author nor judges.

Photos and videos


All but one Staff Pick had at least one photo (an official requirement in more recent contests). Three out of five had at least one video. Tips for a Budget-Friendly Holiday in S W France had two separate sets of thumbnails.

In my tabulation, I counted every photo as an original if it did not credit another source. In reality, I think that perhaps half of those were not photographed by the authors themselves. On the contrary, I can even tell you the source for a couple of them (but will protect the guilty). I point this out because the judging criteria mentioned “photos, especially your own” and “completely original content.” I like the way Johnny Parker attributed his original photos to his wife (presumably) to eliminate any source confusion. For the table here, I do not distinguish photo source, but simply compare photos of any sort with videos.

Word count

word count 
The official rules required 400 words minimum. More recent contests have required 500 words minimum.

There isn’t much to interpret about the word count table. I will say that a minor degree of inaccuracy was introduced by inconsistently including or excluding titles and captions of non-text capsules. This is discussed more in the next section, Subheads.


I tried to count subheads, but didn’t get reliable results. I usually didn’t count anything except the highest level subhead <h2>. Some writers used subheads for certain non-text capsules very effectively to break up long blocks of text. Other writers seemed to give little attention to whether such capsule heads had any effect in the overall document flow. Therefore, I sometimes counted the title separately; I sometimes dismissed it as part of a non-text capsule. The more meaningful statistics here would have been the number of lines of unbroken text and the lines per paragraph, but those would have been more time consuming. Having said all that, the median was 8.5 subheads per article.

News, RSS and links capsules

The news, RSS and link capsules are easily distinguished while in edit mode. I was reviewing from the standard published interface, however, where the distinctions are subtle. Since I didn’t want to take the time to backtrack and tighten my method, I suspect there were several times that I mistook one of these for the other. Therefore, I think the most meaningful statistic here is to add them all together without distinction.

Two Staff Picks won without using any of these three capsules. It was Les Trois Chenes, though, whose first win broke the curve with nine link capsules, very tastefully and attractively distributed throughout, and her second win as Staff Pick had eight.

Discontinued capsules or features

One in five layouts incorporated a slide show, which was then a photo capsule option when using five or more photos. Since that time, the control has been removed and slide shows are now automatic when using five or more photos.

Every Staff Pick used exactly one comment capsule, sometimes followed by an RSS or news capsule. Both RSS and news capsules have since been discontinued. No more than one comment capsule may now be used and, if present, no other capsule type may follow it.

Briefly noted

Amazon capsules—three at most—appeared in 75% of the Staff Picks. Only two had an eBay capsule and the total of eBay and Amazon capsules still did not exceed three.

Tables—as many as five—were used in half of the winning hubs. Poll capsules were used by 18% of the winners.

Only three Staff Picks had map capsules, but Bargain Shopping in Dallas, Texas, used seven maps.

No Staff Picks used quiz or code capsules.


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    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Very interesting way to look at this! It's not at all what I expected, but definitely worth reading. :)

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 6 years ago from UK

      Very interesting hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      Thanks for your over-the-top praise, KTrapp. I think we both have what I'll call a spatial awareness--what you commented on here. You discussed it a bit in your SEO hubs, but demonstrated it even more so. I picked up a great deal about hub layout from you. But as you've discovered, I've already got an ear to the ground for layout aesthetics!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Howard S., You are a very smart man. I found this statistical breakdown of contest-winning hubs to be very intriguing.

      In almost every job I have ever had, I used data and statistical trends in one way or another. Even as a manager in a department store I was a bit more fascinated with the analysis of the sales numbers than the clothing. Actually, I found it fascinating how the slightest movement or change in layout or display of clothing on a sales floor could so quickly and drastically impact the sales figures. It became a game of sorts that I enjoyed playing. So, it makes perfect sense to apply an analysis technique to hubs, as well.

      I am voting this up and interesting.

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      Thanks RT! I just skimmed it to see whether recent policy changes differ from what is reported here. Not much, if any.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      I'll be reading this again, but in the meantime, thanks! Voted up.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 7 years ago from East Coast

      I really like your writing, Howard. Poor spelling and grammar are huge pet peeves of mine and something tells me that I won't see much of that in your hubs!

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Lots of hard work gone into this hub and I love your analysis but find it a bit hard to understand, getting v dim in old age. Would you say that there is a 'list of things to do' to win?. ie include at least 20 tags; Use these tags at least 3 times in text .... or such like simple instructions?

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      Simone, your bulleted official list was my starting point. I did my best to cover them. If you feel I "forgot" them, I apparently did a poor job of communicating. I want to apologize if this seems to be misleading in any way.

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      I have revised the stats to include the final winners. Enjoy!

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      Thanks, Izzy, for pointing that out. That's the reason I myself do it, but wasn't sure about other folks. If I have highly constrained my news or RSS feed so that I am reasonably sure it will remain relevant to its context, then I place it strategically somewhere in the body of the hub.

      In any case, my analytical observation was that some do, some don't. I think I'll edit that line when I revise statistics with the three final winners.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      Interesting hub and thanks for posting it. You asked why so many put their rss or news feeds UNDER the comment capsule, and that is just the keep the page fresh. No-one really wants the reader to go looking at a news item, for example. It's there just for the google spiders which update the page each time a new item is added to those feeds.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Great Hub, Howard S.- and most interesting indeed! You did touch on a lot of the things we look for in the contest, though don't forget the official criteria!

      • Search-friendly topic/title of appropriate scope

      • Engaging, informative writing

      • Photos, especially your own

      • Specific, long-tail topic (see this HubCamp tutorial if you don't know what that means)

      • Judicious use of other capsules, especially relevant video, useful tables, and helpful links that work well with the Hub (e.g. do not interrupt flow)

      The biggest thing that people missed in this contest was the use of search-friendly topics. SO MANY people had great Hubs that would have won if they had only written a better title, or had gone for a topic that had not already been exhausted online. I hope that's different in the next contest we host!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Very interesting, thanks for sharing Howard!

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 7 years ago from Bangalore,India

      This is an interesting hub with stats.Thanks Howard for sharing!

    • The Pink Panther profile image

      The Pink Panther 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Excellent post - some interesting ideas!

    • bibekpahadi profile image

      bibekpahadi 7 years ago from kathmandu

      i really liked your beautiful post ,i have now gained some knowledge and info regarding the contest.

    • rmcrayne profile image

      rmcrayne 7 years ago from San Antonio Texas

      Great idea Howard! I did not participate in this contest, but participated in the previous three. I'd love to have seen this info on those contests!