HubPages: 7 Things We Did to Beat Squidoo (Case of “less is more”)

HubPages is an online publishing ecosystem where authors submit useful, informative articles on topics they know and love, and then earn royalties for their contributions through Google AdSense, eBay Partner Network or Amazon Associates.

Our site grew quickly after we launched in August 2006, as word spread that writers could (could for once) earn good money by publishing online. Still, a year on, HubPages was far behind our biggest competitor, Squidoo — both in terms of traffic, and in terms of revenue generation for the company and its authors.

We wanted to assume leadership in our space, so we decided to radically change direction. Instead of accepting just any content, we decided to open an author’s forum and monitor the content more thoroughly for quality. This was counter-intuitive — at the time, the potential traffic and revenue that publishing sites such as ours could generate was largely seen to be dependent upon quantity of content.

But porn and spam were constantly intruding on our users’ experiences, and limiting our options for monetizing effectively through online advertising. (Google doesn’t like spam or porn!) So we went ahead and instituted the seven key changes listed below. Paradoxically, reducing the number of published articles in the short-term actually helped HubPages grow traffic and gain share against Squidoo, in the long-term.

This makes HubPags a great case study in why “less is more” for content-oriented startups. (Especially with consumers who suffer for data-overload.) Here are the 7 filters HubPages instituted to effect its turnaround. Hopefully others founders can benefit from them, too.

1. We removed all adult content. This was tough since it accounted for about a third of our overall traffic.

2. We disallowed spam Hubs. We forced users posting aggressively promotional articles to create genuine informational value, and to tone down linking to sites they were promoting.

3. We unpublished purely personal articles (like blogs!), as these were less likely to be useful to readers or to attract traffic from search engines.

4. We checked all articles for copied content, and applied a score penalty to those with content already published on the Web (even if they had rights to republish that content). Those articles with very low scores were not shown to search engines.

5. We identified and flagged articles linking out to questionable sites, like sites that potentially phish, or display obnoxious popup ads, or redirect visitors to a different site than they intended.

6. We set up a discussion forum on the site, so users could help each other out, share advice, and socialize beyond the scope of publishing articles.

7. We started paying users up-front for exceedingly high-quality articles. Their quality attracted significant traffic from search engines and created success stories, which, in turn, set a good example that users followed.

Indeed these changes initially reduced HubPages traffic for several months, but recently-verified traffic figures from Quantcast are vindicating our decisions.

Over the past six months, we have seen traffic from Google and Yahoo! consistently grow, to the point that, even without the forms of content like porn that Squidoo continues to allow, we are now neck-and-neck with them in terms of traffic.

Live chart:

(Blue is HubPages, Green is Squidoo)

Today HubPages has fewer pieces of content than Squidoo, but we enjoy four times the number of visitors per piece of content — meaning HubPages’ authors are receiving substantially more revenue per published article than they are with Squidoo.

Word has spread, and now both our traffic from search engines, and the number of high-quality articles we receive continues to growth. All this increases the likelihood that HubPages’ success will be self-sustaining, proving in our case that less definitely worth more!

Jason Menayan is the Marketing Manager at HubPages, and he was the first employee hired at the company. Prior to HubPages, Jason worked at Quinstreet, an online marketing firm, and at CNET Shopper, SRI Consulting, and Procter & Gamble. Jason holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from RSM Erasmus University in the Netherlands.