An Easy Way To Add HTML Tables To Your Lenses

Sometimes you have content for a lens that’s best presented in a table. But Squidoo doesn’t allow HTML <table> tags in any modules.

Fortunately, there’s the SquidUtils Table Generator developed by lensmaster thefluffanutta to help you build custom tables for your lenses.

It’s a simple tool that works well. Tell the generator what format your data is in, paste in your data and choose your style options. (The color fields for Border and Shading apply to all of the options, not only the last one.)

Press a button and the tool shows you a preview of the table with your data and gives you the code to copy. The preview makes it easy and quick to experiment with different options. When you’re happy with how the table looks, copy the code and paste into a text module on your lens.

Now that your data is in a proper table, you can publish as is or customize the formatting even more if you want. A few ways you can do this are to bold or italicize text, add hyperlinks and adjust the cell widths.

Here are two examples of how I’ve used and customized the generated table code…

Office Character TableOn my Office TV Show lens, there’s a two column table that matches characters from the UK version of the show with their counterparts on the US version. The table generator settings for this were Border: Boxes; Border Color: black; Shading: None; Alignment: Center.

After copying the generated code into a text module, I modified it by bolding the header row text to help that stand out.  Then I added hyperlinks for most of the character names.  The links help readers find more info about each character and potentially increase clickouts.

Results TableMy Fantasy Football Addiction Test has a table to tell readers what their score means. The generator settings for this were Border: Header; Border Color: blue; Shading: None; Alignment: Left.

I customized this table by bolding the text in the header row and all of the scores in the first column. Since the text in the left column is shorter than what’s in the right column, I adjusted the width settings of each cell (width:140px and width:440px, respectively). This balances the table and allows enough room for the longer text in the right hand column.

Now go have fun adding tables to your lenses…

Check Your eBay Module Search Settings

While updating my Hess Trucks lens yesterday, I noticed something strange. Most of the eBay modules showed no search results. No listings means nothing for a visitor to click and potentially buy on eBay. That’s not good if you like earning commissions.

I copied the search criteria from one of these modules directly into eBay’s search tool and got a “Your search returned 0 items” message. That was followed by another message, “Search using the wildcard symbol (*) is no longer supported.” What!?

That’s right, eBay got rid of wildcard searches. To clarify, eBay took away a useful and powerful tool for shoppers to find the specific items they’re interested in buying. Brilliant! If I had stock in eBay, I’d consider selling it.

How can lensmasters (and eBay shoppers) replace wildcards in our searches?

You’ll need to build a new search query to find listings you want displayed in your eBay modules. Read eBay’s advanced search engine options page for info on constructing search queries. Test your new query on eBay. When you’re satisfied with the results, update your module and republish the lens.

In my case, I had used the wildcard to find items from a specific decade (e.g. 198* for trucks from the 1980s). So I replaced 198* with a Boolean OR search. Using eBay’s syntax that search is now (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989). It’s ugly but it works.

If your new query is long (my query above went from 4 to 51 characters), you might have to break up your listings into multiple modules due to eBay’s 100 character limit on search queries. The important thing is to check your eBay modules now and replace any wildcards.

Benefits of Writing Good Content: It Gets Shared

One benefit of writing good content is that your readers may want to share it. They’ll email it, like it on Facebook, Tweet it, or post a link to it somewhere. This has happened to several of my lenses and I’m always thrilled to see a new site show up in my Referrer stats. Usually, it’s from a forum or personal blog.

Other people sharing a link to your lens is good. It can generate traffic and helps you build credibility with the search engines. It’s even better when the link comes from a well known site.

This week I was surprised to find visitors coming to my how to play fantasy football lens from the NY Times website! It was an article on their Education blog about using fantasy football to teach quantitative analysis. They mentioned my lens as a good site for students to learn the basics of fantasy football. How cool is that?

That lens is nearly 6 years old and is one of my better lenses (my only LOTD). I invested a lot of time developing and writing the original content for it. And I continue to update it regularly. It’s cool to see that other people consider it helpful and worth sharing.

My lens building philosophy has long been to “build good quality lenses that interest you and that readers will find helpful and/or entertaining.” If a lens doesn’t inform, help or entertain a visitor, there’s no reason for them to share it.

So write good stuff.

Add An FAQ Section To Your Lens

One way to add more on topic content to your Squidoo lens is with a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. Providing an FAQ helps visitors who may be looking for the answer to a specific question on your topic.

Where can I get ideas for FAQ questions?
Watch your lens stats for questions in the search terms. If someone is looking for an answer, it’s likely that others are, too. Adding the question to your lens helps the search engines know you have the answer. All of the questions in the FAQ section at the bottom of my fantasy football commissioner guide lens came from search stats. (A bonus of doing this is that you may find search terms that spawn ideas for new lenses to build.)

You might also find questions in your guestbook comments. Another way is to look at the lens from a visitor’s perspective and think of questions you would have about the subject. The cool thing is that you can add to the FAQ over time as you brainstorm or find new questions.

Where do I get the answers for these questions?
Write your own original answers. You’re the expert that wrote the lens so this should be the easy part.

What Squidoo modules are good for an FAQ?
The Text List and Text modules are naturals for an FAQ. They look good, the content gets crawled by the search engines and you have formatting options. When using either module, I like to put each question in bold so it stands out.

What types of questions should I add?
Only feature questions that complement your lens topic. If the FAQ list gets too long, consider building a new lens that covers a subset of the questions and point readers to it.

Any other FAQ tips or ideas?
Another option is to write most of your lens content in a natural question and answer format. Phrase the module title in the form of a question then answer it in the body.

If you have a lot of lenses in a niche, you could build one lens that’s the FAQ for all of them. Each lens in the niche would link to it and the FAQ lens would link back to the other lenses in its answers.

Experiment with different formats and have fun adding an FAQ to your lens! Let me know what you discover.

Image credit: Steve, used under Creative Commons License

Reasons To Publish A Lens The Same Day It’s Created

There are two reasons why I try to publish a Squidoo lens the same day it’s created.  The first is all about lens stats.

I’m a stats junkie and like using graphs to analyze lens performance trends.  One of my Squidoo pet peeves is that an unpublished lens’s lensrank is included on the stats page lensrank graph. A newly created, unpublished lens currently gets a lensrank around 1,400,000. Since the graph includes all values, lensranks that high increase the y-axis (the vertical line) range so much that it’s difficult to analyze trends of the published lensranks.  Those are the values that matter since they determine pay tiers.

SquidHQ improved this some with the recent graph redesign. Only plotting the monthly average lensrank can reduce the max value if the lens is published within the same month. There’s now a mouse over showing the actual value and date for each point. Squidoo also went from a linear graph to a log-lin graph. That gives the lower values more space than the higher values. It’s why the y-axis intervals will be 0, 40000, 160000, 360000 on a graph instead of in even increments.

Best of all is the option to click “By day” and see only the last three month’s daily lensrank graphed.  You won’t be able to see the lifetime trends in this view, but if your lens was published more than three months ago, the graph will be scaled to a usable range.

Below is the lensrank graph for a lens not published on the day it was created…

Lensrank Graph

Fig. 1: Lensrank Graph of a lens not published on the same day as created.

The lens was created in July (point A) and had an average lensrank of just over one million. Note the huge span of the y-axis, from 0 to 2,250,000.  After the lens was published in August and lensrank moved to a normal range, its best rank was at point B and then fell off to point C.  But how bad of a shift was that?  It doesn’t look like much on the graph. Is it a difference of 5,000 spots?  10,000?  30,000?  I can’t really tell without using the mouse overs.  The answer is nearly 81,000 spots.  It went from a solid Tier 3 to well into Tier 4.

To get around this, I try to create and publish a lens in the same day.  Doesn’t always work out that way, but I try.

How does that help? By publishing the lens before the next daily lensrank calculation, its first lensrank will be that of a newly published lens (currently around 260,000, assuming no traffic). So the y-axis scale doesn’t have such a large range and the lensrank graph is more usable. Here’s an example…

Lensrank Graph

Fig. 2: Lensrank Graph of a lens published the same day as created.

This lens launched at point D with a lensrank of 205,000.  The y-axis range is 0 to 360,000…not ideal but much better than the values in Fig. 1.  It’s easier on this graph to gauge the ups and downs of the lensrank value thanks to a smaller y-axis range and the line at 40,000.  You can see that when the lens hit its best lensrank at point E it was below 40,000 and above 40,000 when it got to F.  The actual values are 9,101 for E and almost 62,000 for F.

This graph would look even better if the lens had seen some traffic and interaction on its first days at sea.  That would’ve earned it a better lensrank at the start and a smaller y-axis range.

The second reason to create and publish in the same day is to get the lens done…or at least presentable. If I let an unpublished lens sit longer than a day or two, I might switch gears to something else. It could be a week or more before the lens finally gets published.

No matter if you publish your lens on the day it’s created or not, only publish a lens when it’s ready.  It should be coherent and offer value to any readers that may stumble across it. If the lens still looks like it’s under construction, then leave it in WIP status. Many of my lenses didn’t get published on the same day they were created because I couldn’t get a sufficient amount of content written or organized in time. I may obsess on stats sometimes but I’ll never sacrifice quality for stats.