"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Freelance Writing Advice: Jumping at Opportunity

The Importance of Jumping Quickly at Major Opportunity

One of the major pieces of advice I can give beginning freelance writers is the importance of jumping to take advantage of an opportunity when one arrives. Sometimes you see a potential to make a lot of money, or potential to really take advantage of how a writing website is doing in order to build up a great residual income for yourself. If there's one thing I've learned from several years writing, it's that diversification is important but when you see a clear opportunity, you need to put the majority of your efforts where you're going to get the majority of returns. For other 4 Hour Workweek fans out there, this is referred to as the Pareto Principle or 80/20 Principle. Spreading yourself out in the name of diversity doesn't make sense if you have one clear winner. Invest most of your energy in the open writing opportunity, and come back to diversify later.

So what do I mean by this? I'm going to give you two obvious examples from my own time writing online, and the reason I believe they both work is that even though both opportunities have more or less closed, meaning they wouldn't pay long term now the way they used to, if I had taken heavier action early on in both situations, I'd be far better off financially not only now, but heading into the future as well. Sometimes it's easy to say "well it's a good thing I didn't invest too much in that because now they're gone" - but that might be taking the easy way out and preventing you from learning from a missed opportunity. And if you want to make a living freelance writing online, you definitely need to learn from mistakes and learn to adapt and get better along the way.

So the first example: eHow. I wrote for eHow's now defunct writer's compensation program when I was just getting started with online writing, and it did very well for me. With around 150 articles I made about $160 to $190 a month every month, with the majority of that income coming from the last 30 articles I wrote. The reason was that when the original version of the 4HWW came out I listened to the audio book, did the 80/20 looking at which articles and topics were making money for me on eHow, and then my last 30 were only on those topics. All of them made at least a couple bucks a month, while some of my highest income articles came from this batch. In fact, I would say those last 30 averaged $4 a month each with some higher and some lower, as always.

This might not sound like much, but based on the subject matter that was doing good for me, I had a list of over 600 more topics which based on my research would probably have evened out to the same $4 an article per month rate. But I was also writing for Squidoo and for HubPages and for Associated Content and for my former employers and on Blogger blogs and building my own sites and pulling myself in a thousand other directions. Then the WCP closed.

Between when I had the article list and when the WCP closed was three to four months. In that time, I could have easily completed all 600 articles which not only would have led to several thousand a month in passive income for another year or two, but when Demand Studios decided to buy out articles, the buy out would have been worth virtually a year's salary as opposed to the almost one month's income my buyout was (I can't disclose actual amounts due to the confidentiality agreement). One month is nice...but imagine what I could do if I was holding a payment equivalent to 10 months or a full year? I could outsource for entire mega-sites, pay off a lot of outstanding debt, and work on anything I felt like for several months knowing all my bills were taken care of. Or I could even buy several aged sites already earning passive income and continue to build on them. The point is that instead of staying spread out, had I taken those three months to just "kill it" on the eHow articles not only would I have made far more passive income the past couple years, but I'd be setting myself up for an early retirement right now investing the severance payment.

That's one example where I should have really busted my back to completely finish off that list and to get up to a decent income as quickly as possible - then I could have spent a lot more time diversifying when I didn't have to worry about bills or anything else on a month by month basis. By delaying, I missed a golden opportunity which turned out to be two (when including the buy out).

Then there's HubPages. While my last blog post on Hubpages being finished might have been a touch premature...although I'm still not convinced it isn't...there was a time not so long ago when it took very little work to get your hubs to rank ridiculously high for any decently researched keyword. So what was my missed opportunity here?

Once again it was seeing the power they had, and not focusing enough energy on HubPages while they were extremely profitable. While the Panda slap would obviously still hammer me, there's still a good reason to see this as a missed opportunity. I was making about $350 a month from one HubPages account and $250 a month from another account. $600 a month isn't bad, but I was averaging only about 7-10 hubs a month with my attention split in multiple directions all at once. The $600 a month came from 200 hubs, but once again the majority of the income came from 50 hubs, many of which were some of my newest at that point. Had I focused first and foremost on hubs, there's no reason I couldn't have produced 100 a month for a few months. In three to six months, that would be near a full time income (on the low end).

While Panda would smack that number down like it did with the hubs I had, there's a very good reason I still should have put more work right into the HubPages when they were ranking so easily: because even at six months or one year earning a full time passive income I could spend all my time on diversifying, on building my own sites, or investing all my actual freelance writing income back into my own business. In other words, the gain I could have made in those months would have really pushed forward my business and my passive income even before the Panda smackdown.

Add in the new Hub Ad program, and the bounceback with 500 more hubs than I currently have and even now I would still be in better shape.

Don't get me wrong, I'm doing fine when it comes to building my residual income and my recovery from Panda is going great. In addition, I'm making more freelancing than ever which definitely makes things easier. But the point remains: I could already by at my goals, be sitting on a year's pay from a buy out, and still be a couple hundred a month more ahead right now had I taken advantage of those two online opportunities while they were there for me.

Now there is one extremely important point to make when talking about putting most of your energy into one source: I wouldn't just stop and rest on my laurels. I would take advantage of the situation to diversify AFTER getting my full time income, then with my freelance income I would invest in my business to diversify FURTHER. I'm just saying instead of spreading yourself too thin and spread out early on, get your money and your income and then with your renewed freedom and extra income you diversify.

The point is, when you're writing for multiple sites, or maybe you're setting up multiple sites for yourself, look for that opportunity. When it shows itself, don't be afraid to take advantage of it. Work your butt off, race to your monthly passive income goals as quickly as possible, and don't worry about diversifying until you get to your goals. While some people might find this controversial, the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Diversifying is what you do to protect income, but until you have a major income to protect, what's the point?

Right now for me this means taking advantage of what The Keyword Academy has to offer, building my own sites while they are ranking the easiest compared to Web 2.0 properties, and jumping on the BMR train while it's still showing results. If there's one thing the past few years of online freelance writing has taught me, it's to take advantage of every opportunity!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Freelance Writing Opinion: Why HubPages Is Finished

HubPages Ain't What It Used to Be

Well this is a freelance writing post that's somewhat painful to write, and I'm sure there's going to be a lot of flak back about it, but one thing I've never been afraid of in this blog was calling things as I see them (you should have seen the level of hate e-mail I received after my negative Helium.com review) so I'm not going to sugar coat this freelance writing blog post. I will add the caveat that a lot can change over time, and things could very well change in a year or two, or even less. But as things stand right now, I'm not going to pull any punches on what I'm feeling about HubPages because as much as it hurts (I've made some very good money and wonder at the potential had they lasted out one more year) they're a mess. Or as Lissie put it, HubPages is a train wreck. Folllow that post up with her earlier HubPages Earnings Update, and you can see pretty easily that a lot of previously profitable and prolific hubbers seem to be jumping ship, and it's hard not to see that trend continuing. Part of the reason I finally wrote my Keyword Academy review is because there was no doubt in my mind that even for beginner freelance writers, it was time to jump ship from HubPages.

So let's get down to it. A lot has changed in the past few years since I started this online writing blog, and a lot has changed since Google rolled out Panda, not the least of which is the general opinion of many people I talk to that their 1st page rankings are total shite. Nothing like typing in a term that should scream "informational request" and getting 10 shopping links from Amazon, Target, Wal Mart, Home Depot, JC Penny, KMart, and eBay. Note to Google: If I wanted to buy from a top 10 retailer, I would have typed in their website name myself. But I digress. This is about the changes in HubPages, and why I think the ship is not only going down, but it might already be 100 fathoms deep. So let's jump into this, and remember that this is my own two cents as of 07/13/2011.

Starting with the ELEPHANT in the room
I thought about having this further down on the list, in the traditional "4th spot to hammer the point home for good" slot, but this time the Elephant in the room is so big it really stays as my number one reason why I'm dubious HubPages will recover. First of all, if you've been in Internet Marketing at all and you've dealt with SEO you know there's one major rule for attempting to stay out of Google's cross hairs: Don't Embarrass Google!

This is a big one, and the way you embarrass Google is by intentionally and blatantly gaming the system and taking advantage of Google's algorithm to rank your site - especially if it's duplicate content, poor quality, thin content, or any of the above. And HubPages was blatantly gaming Google's algorithm. How? Internal linking. Anyone who has done Internet Marketing knows that keyword anchored backlinks are the key to ranking high in the search engines, and that external links are far more valuable than internal links, which are still important. So what was the problem with HubPages? The problem was the internal linking was so strong that it was easy to get duplicate content, lousy content, or thin content ranked in the top 5 in Google for relatively little effort based entirely or almost entirely on internal linking alone.

Take for example my old hub on Vaser Liposuction. When I wrote this all 100% of the content is original, I worked to provide a lot of information on the procedure, there were over 1,200 words of content in addition to links to authority sites (which Google claims to like). I also built nearly 30 backlinks to this page. At the time, a hub did indeed end up #1 in Google searches for the term "Vaser Liposuction." But it wasn't mine. It was a bland 400 word hub full of fluff with little original value and 0 external backlinks. So how did this page out rank mine? It drove me nuts, but finally with an SEO tool I saw only one major measurable difference: that hub had 60 internal links while my page only had 2 internal links. So I managed to get my hub ranked a little higher score wise, which got the internal links from HubPages sidebars pointing at me. With 30 of those I ranked #1 for the term at the time.

Knowing this, I tested my next two hubs and easily got their scores high enough for the internal links to kick in (they were based somewhat on hub score - so getting over 70 was critical and over 80 was excellent), and with 2 Ezinearticles to each and internal linking alone, they both way outranked pages with nearly 100 backlinks and which had more content.

How could this be seen as anything other than gaming the system by Google? Add in the fact that these out of control internal linking practices have NOT been changed at all by HubPages - despite making many others in response to Google that don't really make sense - so they might be changing a whole lot, but they've done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about what clearly (and glaringly) stands out as their biggest flaw. Until that is dealt with, I don't see any serious recovery, and yet among many ridiculous changes, no mention has been made of this at all.

Time is not healing
You know that old saying "time heals all wounds?" Well according to HubPages traffic numbers and Google Analytics, that's not happening with HubPages' attempt to recover from the Panda update. For something like the fifth month in a row I'm still losing traffic and rankings. Some of my well back linked hubs are maintaining okay search engine positions, many others aren't. But either way, it's easier now to rank a brand new website from scratch and rank it for a keyword than it is starting a hub from scratch and ranking it for the same keyword - so why give up 40% when there's no advantage to doing so anymore? While I understand changes take time, there have been several more roll outs of post Panda adjustments, and I'm not seeing any positive changes.

The Amazon/California Situation
This is a huge deal. Maybe HubPages gets this sorted out, maybe they're okay with allowing hubbers in non Amazon affiliate banned states to continue profiting from Amazon modules on HubPage while they're not, or maybe they can move their corporate offices to allow themselves to become Amazon affiliates again. These are all viable options, but they also don't help individuals who are in states like North Carolina, California, and Illinois where Amazon won't allow individuals to sign up for their affiliate program (and a general "sorry" goes out to you folks). Then there's the chance that HubPages can't work in a way for themselves to profit off of Amazon and so shut it down. Since there's no way of knowing which of these scenarios will actually take place, that adds in a lot of uncertainty, and not a lot of "everything will be all right" options compared to further hammering on the HubPages model.

Baffling Official Response
Even with the disaster that was Panda, I'm with many online Internet Marketers who agreed that HubPages response was more damaging and damning than even the update itself. After the update they should have restructured the internal linking to make it far less powerful (which they didn't do), ban duplicate, spun, or low quality content (which they did), and then waited out the after effects to see how they would do with the next update before making any rash moves (which they didn't do).

So the changes like banning links to popular affiliate sites like Clickbank: terrible idea that chased away a lot of the best marketers. In fairness, I understand their thinking in that this idea looks good on paper, but it doesn't work in reality. Yes, Clickbank has many products that encourage spam, and they also have some excellent programs which used to make hubbers a lot of money. Now that all of that is out the window, and while trying to keep spam topics away is admirable: you could just ban spam topics or spammers. Just a thought.

Then there's the ban on pixelated images. WTF? Really, what's that have to do with anything?

Limiting capsules to content: I don't have a huge issue with this at all although they may have overdone it a bit.

Changing the AdSense layout has absolutely demolished the clickthrough rate (I can't give my CTR % because that's against Google's TOS, but I can tell you that my current rate is less than 25% of my old one). You were penalized for things other than ad layout - I'm not sure how cutting AdSense revenue by 75% further is really going to help at this point.

In addition, rampant complaints of the tone of interaction with moderators and administrators changing is giving off a lot of smoke. There are major complaints of much ruder responses, a shift in philosophy from "all of us together" to "we're talking to you." There are also the less friendly and longer responses, like promising a blog post in a "couple days" in response to the Amazon situation and the community waiting 14 days later and counting for a response. I understand when nothing happens, but then give an update along the lines of "we're working on it." Freelance writers who helped make your site deserve at least that much.

Because of the Marketer Exodus
When some of your best writers who know SEO, keyword research, and backlinking/marketing all leave, who exactly is going to rebuild your rankings? Many of the best marketers and writers are already leaving HubPages - and with no one promoting your site, how exactly are you going to rank in the future? If everyone who knows what they're doing are leaving and even taking down their hubs, it's not going to be good. Especially when Google notices all the backlinks going to pages that no longer exist, and all the internal or broken links to other hubs that no longer exist. This is going to make HubPages appear even uglier in Google's eyes. So freelance writers, beware. HubPages is not the sweet deal it used to be.

So what now?
So can you still make money on HubPages? You can, as long as they stay afloat (and many of us wonder if they're bringing in enough now to do that - although in fairness that is pure speculation), but the effort is MORE than building your own blogs or websites. So why would your bother with HubPages? If you're serious about the passive income, The Keyword Academy is the way to go. They adjust to changes, give amazing education, and provide all the tools needed to build up a long term passive income. Now that starting your own sites from scratch is faster than HubPages, and more stable and successful, it only makes sense to go with them.

As for which sites work for active income, or for a passive income split, it's probably long since time for me to put up another update, but that's coming next. For me, I'll keep an eye on HubPages, but I'm not holding my breath. Even the HubPages Ad Program has gone down considerably every month I've been in it, not only as total income put also $ per 1,000 so it'll be interesting to see if they can recover the way Squidoo did or not.

But for now, I have to stick by The Keyword Academy as the best passive income option and at this time I simply can't recommend HubPages anymore.