Year End Review and Goals for 2013

Sunrise during anchor watchIt was another interesting year for Squidoo lensmasters.

The year’s events included the Flickr module fiasco; the front doors (SquidLit, etc) were retired; Kimberly left; Megan left; new magazines started (I cancelled my subscriptions to all magazines); the SquidU forum closed; a new official forum opened; the release of Squidoo Postcards (still don’t get the purpose of them); the ill timed and poorly communicated (but good for the long term) responsive redesign; and tier payments continued to grow (the tier 1 payout for December 2012 was nearly 50% higher than December 2011′s payout!).

How did I do on Squidoo this year? I missed every one of my goals for 2012.

New Lenses – Only 4 new lenses launched this year, including my 100th published lens. I used most of my Squidoo time for maintaining existing lenses, stats analysis, reading forum posts, a few blog posts and repairing lenses after the Flickr fiasco (still plenty of work to do there).

Revenue – My Squidoo payouts grew 18% over last year thanks to a mix of higher tier payouts and increased sales. Revenue growth was trending higher, but several lenses that normally get to tier 1 or 2 had weak lensranks in the last half of the year. In the last two months of 2012, only one of my lenses made tier 1. Other affiliate income from my lenses grew 4.5%.

Blog Activity – Only 9 (including this one) posts made this year.

So my goals for 2013 will be a repeat of 2012′s…but with a strategy for better execution.

1. Have at least 120 published lenses by end of the year.
Four new lenses in one year was inexcusable. New lenses will be a higher priority for my limited Squidoo time in 2013.

2. Grow Squidoo revenue by at least 50 percent over last year.
Relying on old lenses to repeat past lensrank and tier earnings performance isn’t a viable long term strategy. New lenses and sales performance are the key focus areas. I also want to increase other affiliate income by 50% but 25% may be more realistic.

3. Maintain a consistent posting schedule on Lens Harbor.
Two posts a month minimum, not counting lens launches. I’ve done this the last two months and need to continue.

My challenge across these goals will be focusing on a specific task each time I sit down at the computer. I tried that when working on my last lens with good results, now I have to make it a habit.

Have a fun and prosperous 2013!

Image Credit: sky#walker, used under Creative Commons

Plotting A Course For 2012

USS McFaul transits through the Turkish Straits to Georgian aidIt’s a new year and time to plan where I want my Squidoo career to go in 2012. Every journey has an origin, so let’s start by reviewing my performance in 2011:

New lens production was way down last year with only 8 new lenses. That’s not good and well below my career average of 1.5 new lenses per month.

My Squidoo revenue grew 31% in 2011. Nothing like the 150% revenue growth in 2010, but still healthy. That figure only includes payouts from Squidoo, not outside affiliate programs (which are also growing).

I started Lens Harbor, the blog you’re reading now, to share my Squidoo experiences and knowledge. This is my first self hosted blog and I’m excited about it. I hope you find it helpful in your Squidoo journey.

Along with many other Giant Squids, I also became a Squid Angel, covering the Fantasy Sports neighborhood. A nice surprise at the end of 2011 was learning that one of my lenses was mentioned in a New York Times blog post! Never underestimate the value of writing good content.

While 2011 was a good year, the lens building and money making lost speed. To correct for this I’m setting some goals to keep me on course. Here are my Squidoo goals for 2012:

1. Have a total of 120 lenses by end of the year.
I’m at 96 now so this means an average of two new lenses per month. It’ll be a challenge but it’s realistic and necessary to kickstart my lens building. A by product of this goal should also be earning Giant Squid 100 status during the year.

2. Grow Squidoo revenue by at least 50 percent over last year.
Higher than last year’s growth but lower than my best year. It’s a reasonable growth target that I’ll hopefully exceed through a combination of more lenses, better promotion, overhauling some old neglected lenses and focused selling.

3. Maintain a consistent posting schedule on Lens Harbor.
When I started this blog, my plan was a post a week, not counting lens launches. That’s only happened in the first month. So two posts a month may be a more realistic goal for me since I also want to crank up my lens building. I have some cool ideas for this site and I’m looking forward to making them happen!

Have a fun and prosperous 2012!

Image Credit: simminch, used under Creative Commons License.

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.

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.

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.