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HubPages' ad program: We're the anti-content farm

Eager to spin itself as an alternative to Demand Media, smaller competitor HubPages launches new advertising partnerships it says will bring its top writers more revenue.

Given the fuss about Demand Media--its IPO, its controversial business model, the fact that Google seems to be hellbent on clearing its "content farm" brethren out of front-page search results--it's no surprise that companies are pitching themselves as the "anti-Demand Media." In other words, they're hoping there's a space for a mass producer of online content that improves rather than pollutes (as some critics of Demand have suggested) search engine results.

One of them, HubPages, plans today to formally unveil an advertising program it says will bring "premium" advertisements to its million-plus pages of content, a change from the common wisdom that companies of its kind tend to litter their pages with cheap search ads and remnant display inventory. Among these ad networks are Glam Media, AOL's, and Microsoft PubCenter.

HubPages CEO Paul Edmondson says "we think writers rule" and that HubPages is the largest privately owned content site now that the Huffington Post has sold to AOL. Content is not dictated by an algorithm; writers write what they want, opt into a revenue-share program (which would mean that if higher-quality ads are running alongside their stories, writers would presumably earn more money), own the rights to their content, and can delete it at any time. Both articles and the authors who write them are given a "HubScore" of quality, and if the score is above 75, those writers can enjoy "full promotion throughout the HubPages ecosystem," like being highlighted on its central homepage and category pages. This, theoretically, would also boost their standing in search engines.

Edmondson said some of the site's 200,000-odd writers are making a very decent full-time living this way, and that the new advertising program will help. "All you have to do is come and produce content, and you're going to have the managed monetization of any major publisher out there," he told CNET.

Yet HubPages is reported to have taken a big hit with Google's algorithm change, according to German data company Sistrix, which ranked it third in a listing of 25 domains that had been negatively affected by the technical tweaking.

"Regardless of the changes Google makes, we will continue to strive to create the most rewarding place to publish online and continue to innovate for our fantastic community," Edmondson said in a statement, adding that had the algorithm worked as Google wanted it to, he would have expected to see HubPages content with higher "HubScores" ranked more prominently in search results. "While we welcome changes that improves quality, and we hold our authors to the highest UGC (user-generated content) standards--much more comprehensive and strict than Google's YouTube. We feel that too much high quality content is suffering as part of this update. We haven't seen any change in traffic from Google to higher quality Hubs (articles) since the update. This is disappointing."

A HubPages representative told CNET that internal metrics did not correspond to Sistrix's findings, and that it's still too early to tell what the long-term implications of Google's actions will be.