Rethinking Costume Lens Strategy

Costume lenses are popular on Squidoo…they’re fun to build and it’s rumored that they can make money. There are over 2,300 lenses with the tag “costumes” and probably many more that don’t use that tag. Only 7 of them are mine.

There are two styles of costume lenses:
1. Costume Catalog – A pictorial list of Amazon or affiliate links to costumes and accessories.
2. How To Make Your Own Costume – Step by step instructions and tips to craft a homemade costume.

Many costume lenses are a hybrid of the two styles. They offer a mix of how to info with costumes and accessories featured for sale.

Each style serves a different audience. Some people want to buy a costume and have no interest in making one. They’re looking for a catalog. Other people are do-it-yourself types, like to save money or want something unique. They want to build their own costume and are looking for instructions and tips.

My costume lenses so far are all in the catalog style. The only how to stuff is a few accessory ideas. Most were built to complement an existing non-costume lens. Colonial costumes for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, caroling costumes for people planning a Christmas caroling party and so on. The others are costume genres I thought were cool.

I had fun searching for good costumes to feature on these lenses, but I didn’t enjoy writing them. It felt like writing a sales pitch vs. providing helpful info to readers. Writing helpful stuff is more fun. My costume lens ideas list is growing but I delay starting any more because I dread writing them.

This Halloween season I stumbled across a couple good how to costume lenses that got me rethinking my costume strategy. They are artvixn‘s Steampunk Costumes Made Easy (a former LOTD) and Nerd Costume Ideas by emmalarkins. Both offer quality tips based on personal experience (with photos to prove it). And they blend in Amazon modules where it makes sense. Now I’m inspired to think of how to build how to costume lenses.

Side note: If you were playing a variation of “Hi, Bob!” called “how to” when you started reading this post…you’d have a good buzz right now.

My wife and I do make costumes so I have experience. And I enjoy writing how to lenses. The challenge is the costume photos. Most costumes we make are for our kids and I don’t publish photos of my family on Squidoo. So I’d be making costume lenses without photos. Not a recipe for success.

How can I make my costume lenses more “how to” without posting photos of my family? A few ideas (please let me know if you have others) are:

  • Use a mannequin for pictures of the costume. I could probably find one on Craigslist. Not sure how readers would like pics of a costumed mannequin.
  • Take photos of the costume laid out on a table. Won’t pack the same punch as on a person but could be useful in small doses.
  • Add more ideas on personalizing store bought costumes. This could be a good starting point and improve the quality of my existing costume lenses.
  • Use Flickr pics of people in similar costumes. Might be tough to find good shots and I don’t like using close up pictures of people. Yeah, they’ve posted it online for all to see and granted CC license, but I don’t know if they really want to be a model on my lens.

Hopefully this will get me back into the costume lens making spirit. Eventually, I’d like to have a good mix of catalog and how to style costume lenses. There are people searching for both.

What are your thoughts on costume lens strategies?

Image Credit: zol87, used under Creative Commons License.

Impact of the NFL Lockout on Fantasy Football Lenses

When the NFL lockout started in March, one of my first thoughts was, “great, there goes traffic to my fantasy football lenses.”  Fantasy football advice and info is one of my lens niches.  No NFL season means no fantasy football season.  That means no one’s looking for fantasy draft advice or how to play fantasy football.

Thankfully, the lockout ended on July 25, and the football seasons (real and fantasy) can start on time. But what about the four months of uncertainty that kept fantasy players on the web search sidelines?  What was the real impact to my fantasy lenses?

To answer that, I compared this year’s lens stats with last year’s for April through July.  To make a fair comparison, I only looked at fantasy football lenses that were published before March, 2010, and had stats for the full sample periods.

Traffic Impact
Most of these lenses lost traffic compared to 2010 but the amount varied widely.  One lens was down 56% while another surprisingly almost doubled its traffic during the 4 months. Several lenses had single month traffic drops of 50-60%. The worst for a single month was a 76% drop. Ouch.

As a group, traffic was down 6% for April through July. That was less than I expected but does include the last week of July when traffic spiked for all of these lenses after the lockout ended.  Looking at only April through June, the total traffic was down 24%.

LensRank Impact
Nearly all of these lenses had worse monthly average lens ranks in at least 3 of the 4 months analyzed.  The one exception had improved lens rank all 4 months (but not enough to bump it into a higher tier).  Most lenses had worse lensrank in all months.

Pay Tier Impact
The impact on tiers wasn’t too bad.  Several lenses were in a worse tier than at the same time last year. That means a potential ad pool earnings loss.  None did better than last year.

It’s tough to say how much of the lensrank drain was directly due to traffic loss.  I looked at the data multiple ways and didn’t find a consistent correlation.  That’s not surprising since traffic’s only one input to Squidoo’s lensrank algorithm and there are more good lenses competing for rankings than a year ago.  I’m sure losing traffic didn’t help the lensranks.

So what’s the lesson here?
Recognize that events beyond your control could adversely impact demand for your niche topic and prepare accordingly.

The risk of this happening varies by subject.  Fantasy football is based on a real business that can have labor issues.  That makes it a riskier subject than something like Valentine’s Day.  I doubt there will be a Valentine’s Day lockout anytime soon so those lenses should be safe if you have them.

I dodged a bullet.  If the NFL owners and players had waited another week (or longer) to reach a deal, the July stats would have been worse and probably caused more lenses to end up in lower tiers than last year.