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I've been tweaking the layout and content of my food blog a bit more, working off a little free advice I got on how to potentially improve its performance. So far I'd say it's working, which makes me happy. I've also been looking at what are the posts that are the big traffic drivers there, and not too surprisingly it's restaurant reviews in my local little area. Obviously this is a topic where there's not going to be a lot of blogging competition as compared to writing about Philly restaurants. That's going to push me to try to get out more in the year ahead and sample some different places, even if just for a lunch bite here and there.

I have started posting a few articles for Yahoo! again as I'm surprised how well some of my old pieces are still drawing in regular traffic - and some $'s every month. I'm not going to make it a big tome commitment but my objective is one short (350-600 word) submission there a week.

I might come to regret this, but I also signed up for Zujava's "28 Leaves in 28 Days" challenge for February. Whether I complete the challenge or not, I figured it would be a good way to push myself to get a real portfolio of Leaves started there and to see what topics may actually have potential to pay off or not. There's very little competition/other writers there yet in my main areas of writing interest, so I feel like I do have a good opportunity to get in "early" there (and grab good URLs) before the competition is so over-saturated like on Squidoo.

We shall see!
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I'm late with posting any kind of year-end wrap up - actually late to updating this blog at all for the past few months. To say it's been busy is an understatement. I won't bore with too many details, just try to hit on some of the major things...

In October I spent two weeks in Venice and the surrounding area, a topic I've been writing about in numerous Squidoo articles (including my one on Torcello which was selected as a Lens of the Day) and also in my food blog (under the Venice 2012 tag.) Of course, by the time I was getting exhausted writing about Italy and travel, I had to head deep into holiday promotions and updates for my various Christmas lenses and gift guides.

The work did pay off as I'm expecting a pretty good payout from affiliate sales over the next two months, and I ended up in December with my highest Squidoo payout ever to date: just a little under $500! I finished the year with 198 lenses published, meaning I'd completed actually exactly 100 new lenses in 2012. That's a lot of writing! I had two writing goals for 2012: one was to get to 200 lenses by the end of the year, which I just missed, and the other was to be regularly earning over $200/month from on-line content publishing. Well, I made that payout goal by August, so altogether I consider 2012 a successful year.

What are my writing goals for 2013?

1. I'd like to make it to over 250 Squidoo lenses so I can apply for "Colossal Squid" status. At that point, I think it's going to be major work just keeping my existing lenses regularly updated (at least the ones that perform well enough to deserve it) so I do plan on slowing down my Squidoo lens creation and try to branch out to a few other sites.

2. I really need to work on my Zujava portfolio, including getting back to finishing/publishing those author/artist/musician profiles I'd done initial Q&A's for back in the fall.

3. Keep up the work on my food blog by posting at least once a week there, if not more regularly. I just updated the theme/layout in a way that I find much more visually appealing...now to hopefully finally make it to some ad revenue payouts this year...

4. Consider either starting another for-profit blog on a niche topic, or perhaps go back to occasionally writing articles for Yahoo. Although I haven't published there in almost 2 years now, I still get a nice little payout every month from those old articles, and Y!CN in general seems to be doing better in Google's eyes lately than it was when I stopped publishing there. Since some current events-type writing has more potential on a site like than vs. Squidoo, I might start dabbling in the waters there again. (I'm just going to avoid the snark-filled/aggravating community there like the plague).

5. I'd like to be earning a steady $500/month from on-line content by the end of 2013. I know I almost made that goal last month, but given that was thanks to a lot of holiday traffic (and sales) boosts, I know it's going to take some work to meet that target even during "slump months."

What are your writing goals for the year ahead? Did you make your goals for 2012?
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Yesterday: working on some lens drafts but nothing much. Wasn't feeling very good so spent more time reading than writing.

Today:
New lens published: Easy Stir Fry Chicken Thighs with Chili and Basil for the September Chicken Recipe Quest

Drafts in progress: worked on several. Need to get at least the scifi quest lens done by deadline on Sunday.
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Well, I did it - today I published my 100th lens on Squidoo. Given that I joined the site last February, I think that's a pretty good accomplishment for 11 months' time. I'm hoping that BY February, my monthly payouts will be at and/or regularly exceeding where I was at with Yahoo! Associated Content when I bailed on the site at that time last year. That means keeping at least 2 lenses in Tier 1 regularly and/or getting a lot more sales. We'll see how that goes - then then if I can hit my goal of earning at least $200/month from Squidoo in the not too distant future.

My latest lens - and the one before that - are both on the hot topic of downloadable coloring pages. Yes, for some reason this is one of the hottest topics on Squidoo - go figure. Of course, there's a lot of abuse there too, people hot linking to images and stealing copyright protected content. I'm trying to be 100% legit and just use my OWN artwork and photographs to generate my OWN coloring pages thru a very cool software program I found (and only cost $8). We'll see how that goes.

I've published 3 other lenses since the beginning of the year, so I guess 2012 is off to a good start. I just for some reason seem to be battling a case of the blahs since getting back from vacation a week ago. I know I should feel somewhat accomplished, doing 5 new lenses from scratch, but it just doesn't seem like enough. My mess of an office keeps haunting me, as I'm supposed to be working on organizing it and getting started on my 2011 books for taxes, gallery inventory, etc. I just can't find the energy for it. Perhaps it's the mid-Winder/post-Christmas blahs. I've also been wasting too much time still playing around with fanfic, which I always feel these days is such a "waste" of time since it's writing time I can't/won't get paid for! But when the creative bug hits, I hate to ignore it, too. I can go years without feeling inspired to write any fiction...and lately I've been pulling out old unfinished stories and realizing I should at least finish them off for sharing, because I miss that bit of fannish sharing.

Anyway. I'm rambling and punting work again so I should get back to it. Or at least making dinner.
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Squidoo, your Tier ranking will never cease to baffle and amuse me.

My highest ranking lens on Weight Watchers PointsPlus and the Problem of 29" has slowly, so slowly, been creeping its way into Tier 1. Right now of course there's a lot of buzz for WW, with the annual plan tweaks and changes due to be announced by the end of the week. As such, it finally broke through and stayed in Tier 1 for all of November (yay!) and was actually hovering around 500 in the ranks for the past week or so.

Yesterday it gets its best single-day traffic ever, jumping from around 150-200 hits a day to almost 600! I was excited to see how that might affect lens rank this morning. Well, it managed to DROP in rank down to #1,016. :-/

Just goes to show, there's no one foolproof way to get high rank. This is a lens that gets a decent number of clickouts but doesn't move many products. And I suspect with sales/holiday lenses being the "thing" for December, it'll be a struggle to keep this lens in Tier 1 this month, unless I add a lot of new info once the plan changes are revealed.

We'll see.

My writing goals for December - well, I'd love it if some quick upfront assignments showed up at DemandStudios, but I doubt that's going to happen. Even though I'm in their First Look program, yesterday was the first time I got a notice about any assignments available in my favorite topics in a good month or two. And of course they were long gone and claimed by the time I woke up at 6:30am and got the email. That site has just completely dried up for most users, which is a shame - and just makes me glad I didn't over-commit myself to counting on them earlier this year. It was nice for a month or two when I could pull in a hundred dollars a week or more, but a lot of tedious work writing to their format as well. I've even started watching the assignment desk at Y!CN again, but for some reason I just keep getting targeted with NYC-Metro area stuff, and, um....hello, I'm outside of Philly? I don't get it. I still have my issues with them since earlier this year, so I'm not going to write anything there again unless it's for good upfront pay.

So I guess I'll stick with updating and promoting my Squidoo holiday pages and hope for some decent sales, even if I can't crack the mystery of Tier ranking!
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I published this article as an opinion piece, this morning with the disclaimers below that it was solely published as my opinion. I've now had it "Editor Declined" by Y!CN - a first for me. Here was their email as to why:

Your submission, Working Out the Numbers, has been declined by the Yahoo! Contributor Network.

This content is in violation of our Submission Guidelines, which state the following: "Don't publish content that consists of feedback intended for the Yahoo! Contributor Network staff. It is not appropriate to publish content that criticizes or reviews our policies, staff members, or other contributors. Contact us with suggestions and/or complaints. You can use the Contributor Forum to discuss the Yahoo! Contributor Network with other contributors. But even in the Forum, attacks on other contributors are inappropriate. If you feel that someone has published an item that violates any of these guidelines, flag the content by clicking the "flag" icon (present on all Associated Content from Yahoo! pieces) – don't call out the person in public." Our Featured Contributors FAQ states: "Our Featured Contributors are expected to strictly abide by the Yahoo! Contributor Network Submission Guidelines, the style guide in their particular category, and all instructions from Yahoo! editors." Please note that due to these standards, submitting content that violates our Submission Guidelines could result in the suspension or revocation of your Featured Contributor status. We are happy to respond to your feedback via any of the appropriate channels of communication detailed above. You can also contact your Featured Contributors Program CM using the email address provided to you in your acceptance email. Thank you for your understanding and thank you in advance for abiding by all Submission Guidelines in the future.


I'm seriously tempted to just ask to no longer be an FC, period. If the following is so grossly critical of Y!CN that I cannot have the voice to speak it, then I no longer want to contribute to such a company. End of story.

*

Working Out The Numbers
Or, Why I've Started Writing Considerably More for Demand Studios instead of Yahoo! Contributors Network

An introductory note: The following is purely my personal reflections on my own interests, objectives and needs as a writer. I'm not out to "bash" anyone who has a different point of view, but to simply explain why I've made the decisions I have of late in regards to my writing.

The Yahoo! Contributors Network - known when I first began here as simply Associated Content - was where I first dipped my toes into the waters of content writing for the web. Of course, I had my own journals and several websites on-line already - professional and hobby-oriented - but I'd never made it a goal to directly make money with on-line writing before. I had been a system administrator and written considerable content for a large website which had always struggled to make enough money to stay afloat through on-line advertising, therefore I wasn't keen to pursue a site where ad sharing would be my only source of writing income. I wanted - I needed - direct pay for my writing in some form or fashion to make the effort worthwhile. I wasn't thinking of this as a plan to make tens of thousands of dollars a year as frankly I had other part-time jobs already which were more critical to my livelihood. But something I could work on for a few hours every morning to help pay the monthly household bills? Hey, sign me up!

I very quickly got the writing "bug" on AC and enjoyed slowly building up my page views and monthly earnings, as meager as they were at first. I found trying to chase hot news stories and celebrity gossip wasn't for me as they never had been my interests. I concentrated on the subjects I loved the most: travel, food, crafting, local interest stories for Philadelphia, classic and alternative rock music. Over the months I worked hard to get into the old AC Featured Contributors programs and at one point was in four at once - at least until the Local FC program was killed.

I was becoming really pleased as each FC category I was in meant three upfront $10 assignments a month, and that was a nice little boost and incentive to keep writing for AC/Y!CN. I didn't feel as though I had to worry about chasing the page views as much, although they were slowly but steadily rising. By January 2011 I was closing in on my goal of having a 500 PVA (Page View Average) for my body of work.

I applied to Demand Studios around that time to start broadening my writing markets. I was thrilled when my application was accepted quickly, yet struggled with the format for some time. Even after mastering the basics of their writing guidelines, I found it difficult to find open subjects I could tackle. For $15 upfront - and no residuals - I couldn't justify wasting too much time researching obscure technical topics I knew little about.

Yet then everything started changing around Y!CN, at least for me. In early February 2011, Google enacted a major overhaul in their search rankings which massively targeted numerous so-called (or in their minds, at least) "content mill" domains - including Associated Content. Like many other Y!CN writers I saw my daily PVs take a nosedive as a result. Where I'd previously been averaging 400-500 PVs a day, with occasional spikes over 1,000, I was now down to 150-200 at best. Response from The Powers That Be at Y!CN were minimal on the topic, save eventually a blog post on the importance of original and quality content. Well, I'd been trying my best to provide original, quality content all along so this advice didn't really have much to say to me.

And just after what I like to call the "Googapocalypse," the old Associated Content Featured Contributor program was closed. A new Y!CN Featured Contributors program would soon begin accepting applications, but I was disheartened. I'd recently convinced a few friends and fellow writers to apply to the old program, and just a month or two into it they lost their "badges" and would have to re-apply. The benefits of the new program were nebulous with only one promised monthly assignment of $15.

I applied to several categories I had been a Featured Contributor in before, and so far have regained one FC title. Yes, a rejection I received in another stung, but already I was beginning to question where my future as an on-line content writer was going to lead me. Better titles about the topics I knew well were coming in more regularly at Demand Studios and I sat down to do a little thinking, and a little basic math.

While a $15 assignment at DS was a "one-time only" payment, with no residuals, that would be equivalent to a "display only/no upfront pay" Y!CN article needing to get 9,375 page views (at my current Clout 8 level, meaning I earned $1.60 per 1,000 page views). In truth, of my over 250 articles written for Y!CN in about a year? Only two articles had ever bettered that number in page views. Even those old $10 upfront Featured Contributor articles would need to get 3,125 page views in order to make that additional $5. And again, from my overall body of work, now I was only looking at four out of over 250 articles which had accomplished this page view goal.

All of a sudden my focus and writing direction became a lot clearer to me. While submitting for Demand Studios meant giving up more control of and rights to my writing, as well as the subject matter I'm writing about, from a financial point of view there was no question in my mind which was the better market for my work. If I could turn out at least two or three $15 articles a morning, several days a week - and with no limit on the number of $15 articles I'd be able to claim and submit in a month? I'd be looking at considerably more money sitting in my PayPal account on a regular basis.

If money wasn't at least a partial factor in why I write, sure, I'd probably continue to publish more here on Y!CN than elsewhere. I still enjoy the freedom of publishing allowed on Associated Content by Yahoo!, but I just don't know that my style and my passions really mesh well with what they wants for their now more heavily promoted sub-sites like omg!, Shine! and Your Wisdom. Maybe I never really was the right fit here to begin with, given my page view numbers rarely hit the levels most of the "Hot" writers for the site were able to achieve regularly. I'll wait and see what "opportunities" I do receive from my one new Featured Contributor program here before applying (or re-applying) to any of the others.

But in the meantime, I'm concentrating more on Demand with the objective of qualifying to write for more of their other properties beyond eHow. I've also been tremendously enjoying creating lenses for Squidoo, where the format is not just more flexible but I can also easily promote my artwork and other projects through my writing there.

Again, what I've written here are all just my opinions and the reasons why I've made the decisions I have of late. And also, why my friends and fans here on Y!CN will likely see less of me around these parts in the coming months, until or unless things change again. You never know. A few months ago I was writing about what a great experience Y!CN had been for me, and now I currently have much more mixed feelings on the subject. It certainly was a good experience in the past; in the present I am undecided.

I certainly would not discourage anyone from "sticking around" Y!CN if they're doing well writing here, enjoying it, or maybe looking in to writing for the site for the first time. But Y!CN is not the old Associated Content, and for some that's good, but maybe for others, not so good. A writer needs to find the market that best meets their objectives and goals, and what's the best fit for one author is not necessarily going to be the best fit for another. My only advice to writers is to not be afraid to experiment and explore - it's a big web out there, and there are many opportunities to put your talents to work.
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So, as anyone who writes articles for the web knows by now, Google recently launced a massive smackdown campaign against (not all) so-called "content farms." What that seemed to come down to, as the linked article shows, is that many domains such as Associated Content, Suite101, hubpages and others are now massively devalued in search results. An article that might have shown up on page 1 of Google results before may now be buried on page 5, 6 or even 10 - largely just because of the webdomain it is published on. Curiously enough, one of the most often criticized "content farms", eHow, only seemed to get a boost from the re-ranking process.

I know I've certainly seen the fallout myself. Whereas before I was getting anywhere from 350-1200 page views a day on my AC content library, over the past week that dropped more to 150-250 page views. That's a huge, huge drop and very discouraging, especially when I always prided myself on trying to write "evergreen", original content instead of chasing Google trends or churning out celebrity gossip for the PVs.

Interestingly enough, the public announcement of the Google change came only a few days after Y!CN announced the ending of their former Associated Content "Featured Contributor" program. That meant the end of 9 $10 upfront assignments (+PVs) for me a month. To say my enthusiasm for writing for Y!CN dropped significantly after that was an understatement. Why would I kill myself carefully editing articles and trying to do my best when a piece might only get a couple hundred hits now, if that? When earning less than $2 per 1,000 page views on Y!CN, the economic impact of the Google change is huge to many.

I understand and fully well saw there has been plenty of crap published on AC/Y!CN through the years - even through their mismanaged FC programs. Poor grammar, plagiarized content, nothing but link lists to other sites, you name it. And yet now everyone - including the good authors - has to suffer? I think it stinks. Y!CN seems to be doing its best to move people off the AC domain and onto their own sponsored networks like omg!, Yahoo!TV and Shine - which is great if you write the kind of content they want for those channels. I don't. I've only had one article chosen from my 250 piece library for Yahoo!TV, and while it got a nice upfront, it barely has received 30 pvs in over 2 months.

I've reapplied for the "new" Y!CN featured contributor program in 4 categories but remain discouraged. Now instead of 3 $10 assignments per month guaranteed, per category, you'll only get one $15 assignment as a FC - oh but they keep telling us "new and exciting opportunities are coming!" Yeah, sure. I really don't believe that.

So what am I doing? I'm branching out. I'll work harder at grabbing $15 upfront assignments from Demand Studios to reach the next level where I can qualify for better assignments. I've been working on developing a library at Squidoo where I can earn pay not just on how my pieces are performing but on affiliate sales links.

I'm also getting back to what I should have been doing for months - working on my artwork, marketing it, rebuilding my Etsy shop and realizing that web writing was a good gig while it lasted and might still be a good gig, but only if you're willing to change with the times and play the system as it develops. And I'm not sure how much I want to play the system just yet.
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While I've got ideas for my Featured Contributor articles this month, I'm always looking for other interesting topics to tackle. So if you've got a topic you'd like to see me write about, leave a comment here! It could be anything from a rant or opinion piece to something informative about any topic you'd think I could handle. Go crazy. Give me ideas.

Also, if any of you other creative types - writers, artists, musicians, crafters etc. would ever be interested in being featured in an interview, please let me know. I'd love to feature you and hopefully bring more attention to your work.
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I find it curious to examine, after 4 months, what are my top performing articles on AC and to try to understand why.

Number 3 is 20 Things You Must Eat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This one benefited from getting Tweeted by a very popular AC writer with a lot of Twitter followers soon after publication. Yet it also continues to get steady hits long after that. Perhaps name-checking so many Philadelphia restaurants and types of local food has something to do with its lasting popularity. Traffic to the article has increased this summer as well, probably as there are more tourists visiting Philadelphia at this time of year. It also received a high upfront pay from AC when I first submitted it, so there must be something about the piece which is just what AC wants.

Number 2 is Bad News, A-Team Fans: No Dwight Schultz nor Dirk Benedict in A-Team Movie, which was just a quickie piece I wrote after seeing fans react to the announcement that their cameos had been cut from the firm. I later updated it when it turned out their cameos remained, but only after the credits. Not all movie-news articles do well, but I guess a lot of people were searching for this info (and continue to search for it). I also linked to it on several A-Team messageboards and communities.

Number 1 is Etiquette for Shopping at and Browsing Craft Fairs and Dealers' Halls, which I find amusing as it's a rather snarky piece I wrote about my experiences dealing with annoying customers. It was doing okay page-view-wise, but rocketed up after being selected as a Featured Article in the Crafts & Hobbies section of Associated Content. Since then it continues to get some modest daily views.

Looking at these results, there's no real consistent theme for me as far as what has performed best to date on the site. Certainly getting featured either on-site or by another popular AC contributor helps, as well as providing entertainment news on a non-saturated subject. I'll continue to keep looking at what are some of the better subjects to write about that will provide solid, steady traffic.

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Nicole ("sockii") Pellegrini

January 2013

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