Monday, 14 March 2011

Squidoo Sales Lenses Are Of The Devil

Frequently a great deal of internal fuss, discussion and worry arises over so-called 'sales lenses' on Squidoo. To distinguish different lenses, the other kind is the 'content lens' by default. I have finally tired of this endless debate and am writing up my thoughts on the matter. (So let this be the end of it! ENOUGH already!).

My credentials in this area, as bias appears to be the main suspicion levelled at lensmasters who join into this discussion: I have 181 lenses as of today. They cover EVERY possible type of (non-Squid Don't!) lens you could create, including some junky ones. I have huge informational lenses, quick focussed sale pages, long list-y sales pages, unfocussed lenses, fan pages, how to pages, book reviews, art pages, pages with nothing for sale at all and pages with nothing else.

My successes and failures span the entire range. I haven't a clue which get the most blessings - although that's probably the Squidoo help lenses (thank goodness, as Squidoo'ers are the only visitors they get!). Writing a variety of lenses, and trying something new, is probably the best advice I could give.

Content Lenses

All lenses are content lenses to me, unless they are basically contentless, in which case they are junk. A useful product and description or curated list of products counts as content. So I will not bother to discuss content lenses further as I consider it a false distinction. Sales lenses are a sub-category, not a distinct class.

Why Do People Care About Sales Lenses?

People care for several reasons.

1. What kind of lenses shall I make?
2. Are the current lenses I have any good?
3. What should I do about this lens I have found?

Number 3 is the one that generates the most discussion, but 1. and 2. fuel it and tend to be a constant background worry. Lensmasters, either while browsing, or in pursuit of Angel duties come across lenses that may worry them. So they come to the forum and say...

Should I bless sales lenses?
I found this really spammy sales lens that...
This category is full of really crap sales lenses, what do I do?
Which types of lenses sell the most?
Can sales lenses get high lensrank?

And then doth the manure impact upon the air-creating and social signalling device.

Now, a lot of this is lazy definition - or in many cases, simply a description of the type of lens that is junky. Whether it's a relevant description... well, it gives the respondents a framework. Unfortunately (in this context!) lenses are not allowed to be identified negatively on the forums, so people often have to be quite circumspect.

What is a 'sales lens'? (Intent versus composition)

I have two mental categories, and I think these are the two main definitions floating around for 'sales lens'.

Category 1. A lens listing stuff for sale
Category 2. A lens intending to sell stuff

Most lenses fall under category 1 - it makes sense to add related books, awesome figures, glue for the crafts project you are describing. But the lenses I think people classify as 'content' lenses, either have nothing for sale, or could stand on their own without promoting any products.

 Personally, when I think of a 'sales lens', I think of a lens that is designed purely to sell something (Category 2). Sometimes they are obvious - the 'pure' sales lenses, consisting mostly of Amazon modules, products, and descriptions.

Sometimes they are less obvious, being perhaps a single focussed page about the merits of a single item, and a lot of content around it. Here, it's a really fine balance - you can classify some easily, but not others. Looking at the content, it's all about selling the product. Looking at the modules and types of content, it's almost all non-sale modules and writing and images.

Lots of lenses are easily both, but people lump them into whichever category is being discussed at the time, and worry even more than they need to!

Why do 'sales lenses' come up so often when people ask if they should report/ding/take other actions?

Now, first, people are mainly asking because they want to do the right thing. Whether they don't want to pass by a lens without reporting it, but aren't sure if it deserves it, or have noticed that they don't usually bless sales lenses. This means that they'll come and ask what to do. And 'sales' lenses come up more often, to the point where people are getting defensive about them.

Spammy sales lenses are easier to catch, but harder to figure out what to do with. (NB: Bad = spammy and/or junky - telling the difference is where most people have problems).

A non-obviously-sale-lens can be: 
  • plagiarised
  • On a Squid Don't topic
  • unnoticed
A 'bad' sales lens is either"
  • pushing Squid Don'ts very hard 
  • or is just completely irrelevant and clearly designed with the thought that 'hey, people buy STUFF from Amazon!' 
(the latter usually being junk not spam).

I mean, a lens about the awesomeness of acai berry supplements is usually a big push to BUY THIS AWESOME PRODUCT - but if it was a different lens, based on content/sales rations, it could easily be classed as a 'content' lens.

What is a GOOD sales lens?

1. To the lensmaster: One that makes sales.
I am not here to explain how to make a best-selling sales lens - while it might be a future post, I'm not the greatest seller on Squidoo!

2. To people searching for that topic: One that offers them what they want.

3. To random browsers and the Squidoo community: Ah. It's complicated. 

These people are the ones who come with questions, and don't really know the answers. I mean, the first two groups are easy - they're simple yes/no type answers. But Angels and other Squidoo'ers are generally not interested in buying anything, so they must judge based on the rest of the lens, based on the same three main factors as they would for any other lens..

  • Content
  • Presentation
  • TOS Compliance (technically not an on-lens factor, but it cancels out the first two)

This may include various media such as text, images, videos and links, or mostly consist of products. The former can be judged as an lens is, on quality and relevance. The latter, the sale items, are very difficult to judge objectively, if you are not interested in the products.

There are some very general guidelines you can follow:
  • Are the products all relevant? Yes? GOOD sign. And really the whole point of the lens!
  • Do they look like a thoughtful selection? You can't judge if the item is any good or not, but if it looks iffy and they don't offer a reason for their choice, then maybe they just grabbed randomly.
  • A good sign that some thought went into it is handpicked items in the Spotlight module, and personalised product descriptions.
  • Failing that, if it's a long list type lens, then that it is organised into useful categories
  • Heck, do you know roughly what you'll get if you click on the items?


This is the same as for any lens. While a sales lens layout might differ, all the usual rules of good presentation still apply. For example:

  • spelling and grammar
  • No default module titles
  • A nice balance of images and text

TOS Compliance
This one should probably have been first, but I'm being alphabetical and hierarchical today. If a lens is plagiarised, a Squid Don't or violates the TOS in any other way, it doesn't really matter how well it's written or how pretty it looks. (Oh, and we 'report happy Squidoo police' are vindicated - it looks like the recent Google Panda Update was aimed at those very Squid Don't topics, so removing them was good for Squidoo as a whole (check out these two articles My Theory on the Google Algo Change/Farmer Update and Google Panda/Farmer Update Cont'd) *na na na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN*)

Whew. Rant over? Feel free to discuss and point out areas I've missed in the comments!


  1. Dang this was a long post.....not sure it cleared that sales vs content debate for me, but I did learn that your library duties haven't gone to waste :) You sure can write!


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