March 8, 2010

Re-Examining The eHow Earnings Algorithm & eHow UK

More Thoughts On eHow Earnings & Why Some People Have Experienced A Drop In eHow Earnings

I’ve touched on this project a few times over the past 10 days or so in and now it’s time to devote a bit text to what I’ve been up to. In addition to my regular regimen of adding content to my blogs (light work as of late) and my recent Xomba Xomblurb Experiment (which I also plan on writing a devoted update post on) I have also been working closely with a handful of writers on eHow who have been noticing a significant declining trend in residual income for a long time… not just over the past couple months but over the past year as a whole.

In fact my project at first involved predominantly the Home & Garden category of eHow as Demand Media recently introduced a new website to their repertoire of massive content sites which is focused squarely on the Gardening niche. It seems that in particular circles on eHow many members were becoming suspicious that eHow was somehow manipulating the category causing articles in this category to start earning less… presumably to dissuade writers from providing competition to their new site.

At first I thought this was a crazy notion but I took the project of dissecting old data and new data to formulate an objective opinion based only on what I found. Having looked at the data from multiple eHow writers in the community with experience dating back to almost two years ago and article totals nearly a couple thousand I narrowed the titles down to a manageable bunch and began crunching numbers. What I found was both surprising to me and yet still somewhat what I expected.

Based on what I was finding with many of the articles I was seeing was not that eHow was outranking Home And Garden articles with their new site, their UK site, or by any other means but that most of the articles I was looking at had at one point earned way more per month than they were now. At first I suspected this was because the article were losing ground in the SERPs which is what spawned my ultimate guide to residual income post a few days back. What I later found however was that it appeared many of the articles I was analyzing did not appear to have fallen in the SERPs due to competition from others. Surely some of them did but for the most part search ranking and organic search traffic seemed to be stable despite most of these articles not receiving a lot of backlink help.

What was surprising however was that even though search traffic didn’t seem to drop but rather remain extremely stable over the past year for the average of the articles I looked at earnings per 1000 page views did drop considerably. And considerably is taking it lightly; they dropped a ton.

But before I get into that let’s look at a couple related questions first.

What Are The Best Earning Articles On eHow?

I was recently asked about the best earning articles that writers have on eHow (this relates to any other site too) and how the article that earns the most is not necessarily the best earning article based on an earnings per 1000 page view basis. I like to separate the thought process into two concepts. The articles that earn the most per month and the articles with the highest earnings per 1000 page views. The latter essentially refers to the potential best earners while the former refers to the actual best earners.

In my spreadsheets I have a list of the top 20 percent of my articles in terms of how much money they bring in every month. I also keep a list however of the articles that show the greatest potential even if they aren’t in my top 20 percent of high earning articles. I constantly tell people to send backlinks to their best earners so that they can be even better earnings and have greater longevity and security in the search engines but I also pay close attention to my best potential articles because these articles can earn more than any of the others if I can just send enough backlinks at them.

Because these articles earn a lot per 1000 page views but don’t earn a lot every month is because they are up against tougher competition in the SERPs. By constantly sending backlinks at these over the weeks and months eventually they will climb the SERPs to start making a lot of money.

Conversely both groups of articles can fall in the SERPs if ranking is lost and when this happens you will make less money per article. In the case where you are in a weak niche and few or no backlinks still mean your article earns then that means the slightest change to the SERPs could drop you back and bring you search traffic to a grinding halt. This is important to remember because it ties into my conclusions regarding this experiment and analysis.

My Conclusions (so far) On the eHow Earnings Drop

I have some very interesting results from the analysis of the traffic and residual income from many of these articles. I touched on it above with the concept of potential earners versus actual earners. Actual earners (articles which made a lot of money month in and month out) for the entire bunch of articles analyzed (on average) earned almost half of what they did almost a year ago based on potential earnings and real earnings. This startled me because I really anticipated seeing a page view decline as the cause of the earnings slip.

As I told one of the eHow writers I’ve been working closely with this week “It's blatantly obvious that your eHow residual earnings decline has not solely been due to you falling in rankings in the SERPs. It shouldn't matter where you are in the SERPs, page views should equate into earnings at the same rate for the same article assuming all things remain equal.” Something obviously is not equal.

So here are the possibilities that I can see that might have caused a large drop in earnings:

  • eHow page views may be have been inflated throughout the summer and Fall and even recently due to eHow UK. If you ranked for eHow UK articles in the Fall you might have seen the page views tally up in your eHow account but not the earnings because the UK views didn't earn anything for you. If eHow is to believed then the redirects should restore this balance and the views should remain unchanged in the weeks coming forward but the earnings should jump back up (which I'm starting to see a lot of evidence for). Your views now should have the potential to earn even when the UK article is clicked on in the SERPs whereas they didn't in the Fall. If this is the case then that might explain why my articles have seen a remarkable increase in earnings per 1000 PV over the past 4-5 weeks; since the redirects started happening. We're talking almost a 100 percent increase for me over the last 4-5 weeks. 
  • Also possible but probably unlikely:  eHow at some point over the last year changed their template and ad placement which resulted in a new mix of ad placement. I'm sure the template has changed over the last year but it's doubtful eHow would have done this only to realize a decline in revenue per 1000 PV so great. This in my mind is very unlikely.
  • eHow changed the earnings algorithm at some point over the last 12 months to share less revenue with writers. This is very possible and likely this happens frequently to a small degree. Because they reserve the right to manage their algorithm in secret they could very well tweak it every month for all we know based on their underlying needs.  I see no problem with this as this is their business decision and we all know about it.  Having said that however making drastic changes to the algorithm is probably not a smart move and I doubt any writer would be able to notice it changing month after month.
  • Last possibility I see which also seems very unlikely is that ad revenue simply declined over the period. I highly doubt this is the case though because every site across the board would have noticed a remarkable dip in ad revenue and this just isn't the case.

Here's What I Guess Actually Happened

I believe many people were making good money on eHow up until summer last year. Around that time eHow UK was launched and some of your page views went to that site but were still tallied on your US site counter in your eHow profile. This made slight traffic declines seem much greater as a percentage of what did come to your articles actually went to a place where you couldn’t' earn for it, eHow UK. People that didn't have many (if any) quality backlinks to their US version articles at that time were hit particularly hard by the UK site. Those people who weren't hit hard probably had more backlinks built up.

In January eHow began redirecting traffic from UK articles back to US articles. For some unknown reason everyone goes through a period of next to no earnings during this phase. For me it was about 2 1/2 weeks in January. Others saw that occur in February. Most of us however are starting to see a rebound (for me that rebound is remarkable - I'll talk about this more in my next post on my February residual earnings) and I believe it's because the redirects are making our page view totals correct again, meaning the page view count we see is actually the views on articles we earn on rather than simple articles we wrote.

The Damage From eHow UK
I believe that eHow UK hurt everybody’s earnings a ton and especially those that did very little or no backlinking before the UK launch. For me; eHow UK and the earnings due to it were all I ever knew. I started at eHow in August 2009, but I backlinked from the very beginning and I saw earnings growth for the most part all the way to January 2010.  But conversely people who had seasonal articles that were not good for Fall or Winter who also had little or no quality backlinks took a huge hit by the Fall.  Some people lost hundreds of dollars every month.

My guess is that most were not adequately compensated for losses from the UK site launch with the January bonus distributions we all received (mine was about $4) but in the future most articles will soon be making what they were making before and possibly more if any backlink work has been done over the past few months. If you were to start backlinking your articles I believe most would be back to new highs very easily by May and June.  Personally my new highs are here already.  March is on pace to double my previously best month.

Good luck to you all and I hope everyone starts earning better money again.  If you want to start learning how to backlink your articles properly let me once again suggest the residual income guide I wrote about a week ago or for shorter reading I suggest you simply start an account at InfoBarrel and start baclinking your eHow articles from there.

Lastly I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions.  Add them below in the comments and we'll work our way through them.

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  1. Great analysis. My earnings tanked in Feb - 50% drop from the lower eHow earnings related to the UK site. I've got some good backlinking too so I think they messed with the secret sauce to recoup the totally BS payout for the ehow UK disaster.

    I've proven with my blog that I can rank very high for selected key phrases - including phrases like "eHow UK" so I don't need eHow to get my work found and read. Xomba has also been kind to me for reads if I pick a good title.

    One factor against the home and garden articles is the BIG juicy square banner about the eHow Garden Blog and the smaller links inserted about the eHow blog to a lesser extent. These "internal ads" likely earn the writer nothing but they are so attractive they must draw readers away from the Adsense Ads that make up most of the earnings formula.

  2. If you track the industry trends -- Google's pay-per-click was on a real decline for 2009. And the advertising industry as a whole reports steep drops in monetization rates. I think that's your culprit right there.

  3. @Jade - Your point about the H&G links to their garden website may havesomething to do with this but I don't really feel this is significant because the big ad for the eHow H&G blog is not targeted to the visitor.

    Two weeks ago I posted a How-To on "Perennial Garden Deisgn" to see how the category acted rigth off the bat. Anyone looking for this article in the SETPs will be looking for info on Perennials not another blog. The ads directly above the H&G Blog ad and to the left of the article are all for various garden planting, planning, and design sites. If I was searching for Perennial Garden Design I'd be much more inclined to click the ads then to click through the eHow Home And Garden design Blog... but that's just my opinion. And for the record this article is only about 3 weeks old and has already made money; people are clicking the ads not the button for the blog.

    @Anon - Even if G'c PPC was declining for 2009 it was not at the pace that many saw their earnings per 1000 page views decline. Mine never declined because I came to eHow after eHow UK but since January my earnings per 1000 page views are up alomst 100%... that's no change to G's PPC in my opinion. If the change was singe digit percentages then you'd have an argument but when we're close to triple digit percentage changes things are different. I'm sure you are right that it has somethign to do with it but I expect it to be very slight.

  4. A question I have, for the Home and Garden writers, is WHAT used to be in the space now occupied by at least 3 eHow H&G/Livestrong/Dare ads? Those larger ads were not there last spring. I'm guessing that space was filled with other ads- ones that probably earned click pay. I doubt eHow pays anything when it diverts readers to its own pages. Relevant ads are now text, and are scrunched up in the top right corner and below the article. Also, at some point, eHow disabled the ability to choose what YOU think are other relevant eHow articles (like your own) when you write an article. That surely lowers your own traffic when the relevant articles being shown in 2 areas on the page redirect to others articles- mostly flat-rate CM articles. Surely this plays in just a little?

  5. @ GloryBug - This may not be the best answer... it may not even be correct so don't hold me to it but many articles not in the H&G category have a big square ad where the H&G blog banner sits that is almost always a generic ad which is not contextually driven. I'm not sure why they put these there as they are not relevant to most articles accross many categories.

    For instance take a look at this recent article of mine on epoxy concrete floor paint, this article has fanstic ads except for the big square on the right. Right now it's a generic ad for Kaiser Permanente. That has nothing to do with my article.

    I suspect that they switched out their non-contextual ad square for relevant buttons for certain categories like the Home & Garden category.

    I doubt any of us make much from this big square regardless of what is in it. Non-contextual ads always pay less than contextual ads.

    Regarding related articles; you can still add related articles during the publishing phase but not once your new article has been published. I've never liked this but it is what it is. All of my new articles link back to older related articles whereas the older articles do not.

  6. Wow, interesting analysis. You covered a lot of ground here.

    One thing to add, though: If a high earning article suddenly stopped earning money and the reason doesn't fit any of the categories Brian mentions here, it might be due to plagiarism. I had an article that made over $15 the first month it was written. However, towards the middle of the next month, earnings slowly started to disappear. The next month the article didn't earn anything at all. At the time, I was taking a break from eHow so I didn't pay it much mind. However, several months later I investigated and I found 6 websites had actually plagiarized the article.

    To right the wrong, I had to go through the process of searching the domain names on whois databases, then trying to contact the authors of each website. If no contact information was found or the webmasters never got back to me (which was the case with a few of them), I had to find out what hosting service they were using and contact the hosting company. To make the long story short, it was a disaster. I did manage to get rid of the plagiarized articles though, which was good. However, the article that was plagiarized never picked back up in earnings and still earns nothing month by month. I'll try back linking it to see if it does anything. Hopefully the article starts earning again.



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