HubPages Ain't What It Used to BeWell 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.