Monday, April 25, 2011

Suite101: A Panda Casualty

Suite101, if you aren't already aware of it, is a long-standing website that pays a revenue share to freelance writers who take on various topics and categories. I started writing for them about three and a half years ago when I'd been ghostwriting a lot and needed some Web bylines to get new clients. They proved to be fun to write for, and I made my minimum hourly amount with them, so I stuck around. After a year or so I became the feature write for the online publishing category (there is one feature writer per category). It came with a pay raise and some extra exposure, and I still got to choose my own topics within that category. Win-win.

The May Google algorithm change last year, however, cut some of my income from them and made them a little less attractive to write for. I lost about 20 to 30 percent of my monthly pay from them, and it became slightly less than my minimum hourly. Not happy.

And now Panda, a Web explosion that has decimated nearly all rev-share sites, has utterly destroyed Suite101. The site is pretty much over, and it's kind of sad. One of the Google guys actually specifically mentioned the site when talking about getting rid of sub-par sites for Panda. With a slight algorithm change, there is hope for the future. With a careful weeding out of specific sites that one guy hates, there is much less hope. I seriously doubt they will come back from this in the next year or two, if ever.

Just how bad is it? Here's a taste: on an given day I could expect $5 to $15 a day to come in on the stuff that I've already written. I wasn't getting rich from it or anything, but it was only about five hours a month and it was nice to have it coming in while I was building some bylines to show to prospective clients. Yesterday, I made .05. That's it. They've entered Triond/Bukisa/InfoBarrel territory. Lose-lose.

How did it happen? Here's what they did wrong:

They didn't screen content well. As a decent-paying rev share company, they were inundated with applications from all over the world and tons of content being written by the people they hired. They weren't as selective as they needed to be. There is some great stuff there- parts of the gardening section are particularly good, but some of the content on the site is really, really, really horrific. I'm assuming they figured that no matter how bad some of it was, they were making money off it and it should stay. That was shortsighted and ridiculous.

They stressed quantity over quality. They talked a lot about the quantity of output, but rarely said anything about the quality of it. Many of the writers assumed that the more they wrote, the more they would earn. This is not how rev shares work, and it's not what makes money for a site overall. A site that old should have known better.

They didn't listen to me. I mentioned two years ago that the increasing emphasis that the site was putting on its writers, rather than on its content, was going to do the site in. In other words, plastering "Write For Us!" across the front page made them look like tools. They constantly advertised for writers, and every page on the site has a "Write for Suite101" link at the top. That makes the site look amateurish and ridiculous. Any site worth reading doesn't do that, and that's likely one of the things that got under Google Guy's skin. If you're just there to grab writers and try to increase your workforce, you aren't a site that people are going to go on purpose. I did try to mention this and to lay it out simply and logically. I was given an award for pointing it out. Just kidding- I was emailed by the site editor himself and told that I would be fired if I ever said that again. No lie. Guess what? I'm saying it again. That editor is gone now anyway.

It's probably too late. They are dumping yucky articles, relaxing the article minimums and giving more screening to what gets published. But, it's likely too late. Being specifically targeted for demotion and spending so many years doing so much wrong has left the company with a bad reputation. The best chance to turn things around is to get a new domain name, reorganize the company and start again with a different way of doing things, perhaps migrating the best 1/4 of the content to a new site with a new name and management that hands out awards for helpful observations.

I haven't written a word for them in more than a month, and I don't know that I will. I do know that many people have jumped ship because of it all, but I haven't decided what to do. I only have to write one article a month to stay on. Do I do it?


Diane Laney Fitzpatrick said...

Well, crap. I was a Suite writer for years and took the last 2-3 years off. I had JUST decided to get back into Suite writing, went to the site and did some checking on what's been happening since I was there last and saw inklings of this huge development. Your (this) blog post was high on the Google search for "Panda Suite 101" by the way, which is a little bit oxymoronic.

I agree with your take on Suite's emphasis on quantity vs quality. However, I wrote for them in the 1990s, too, when - oh boy - it was like a dumpster for some of the most dreadful writing on the planet. Except for my stuff. It was wonderful. ;)

Good luck with wherever you go from here.

L. Shepherd said...

I've seen some of that stuff- they claim that they've now gotten rid of thousands of bad pieces from the earliest years. If they have, I'm not sure it will help much. They've gotten such a bad rap from Google that starting a new site is the only way to go.

Anonymous said...

I actually just started writing for Suite 101 and am not really happy to hear this news. I wonder if you knew of any other good sites to write for (similar to what Suite 101 used to be). Thanks.

L. Shepherd said...

eHow was the second-best, but now that's gone as well. I do well with Demand Media rev-share articles and with HubPages. HubPages is interesting because they have their own ad network that you earn from as well as giving you an AdSense share- and there are easy-to-use modules for Amazon affiliate sales.