Dec 112008
 

It’s not exactly news that I’ve been far from happy with Izea, PayPerPost and SocialSpark for some time now. I actually abandoned writing for them for about two months, but have returned as they’re still one of the most consistent money makers available to me on the web. Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse over at Izea.

The last time I wrote about PPP was back in August related to Izea’s love of PageRank and how they’ve further embraced it instead of abandoning it as they had promised when Google attacked the bulk of their bloggers.  It seems good old Ted Murphy has decided that PayPerPost’s original critics were right and it really is all about selling PageRank and text links and actually has nothing to do with quality bloggers writing thoughtful and detailed reviews about products and services.  Why would I say this?  Well, according to Carri Bright (Izea’s Communications Diva)

The good news, though is that as of tomorrow (12.11.08), Tack Rating is no longer going to be a segmentation factor for Opps in PPP. So, while you may still receive a ban (deserved or otherwise) this will no longer affect your ability to take Opps from OTHER advertisers or lower your Tack score.

If you’re unfamiliar with PPPs workings, a ‘tack’ is the rating system advertiser’s have to give feedback on how well the blogger performed their duty when taking the advertiser’s opp (opportunity / sponsored post). Up until now, advertiser’s have been able to require a minimum average tack rating before a blogger could take one of their opps. This system allowed better blogs to (theoretically) rise to the top as an advertiser could require a 4 or 5 tack rating, leaving out all of those who previous advertisers have rated one or two tacks for poor English skills, outright lies, or rule bending.

The system was far from perfect, but was at least based on advertiser input and not the conflicted interest of PPP’s “reviewers” who (according to this ongoing thread) don’t seem very interested in disqualifying low quality blogs or even outright frauds and cheats.  In the past advertisers could allow even the one tack rated sploggers take their opps of they so chose, but now every PPP advertiser is required to let anyone and everyone who manages to game the (seriously broken) PageRank and RealRank systems get paid for linking to their website despite the quality of their writing or ability to follow simple instructions.

Aug 112008
 

Ted Murphy, founder and CEO of IZEA (parent company of paid blogging companies PayPerPost and SocialSpark) despises Google PageRank so much that his company created a competing website metric system called RealRank.  But I’ll allow him to speak for himself…

From a PayPerPost Community Blog post dated November 17, 2007-

Once again Google has proved that PR has little to do with blog traffic, influence or relevance and everything to defending their monopolistic stranglehold on search and online advertising.

[…]

What does this mean for Advertisers?
If you are still using PR as your measure for influence you will be missing out on a lot a great blogs and bloggers. While the general population has maintained their ranking some of our better bloggers have been hit by Google. You may want to consider using Tacks and Alexa instead of PR for future campaigns until we implement RealRank.

[…]

We know that Google PR does not reflect your actual traffic…

From the IZEARanks.com FAQ

PageRank is not based on real traffic, but on what Google perceives as the quality of a website as determined by a link rating algorithm and some cloudy rules. The arbitrary and unpredictable nature of this ranking system has left both bloggers and advertisers longing for accurate statistical measure.

In an IZEA Town Hall Meeting on January 24, 2008-

I can promise you that PR will disappear in the future. Timing depends on how fast we wrap SocialSpark, but we will be removing PR from PPP in favor of other data.

There were many, many more disparaging remarks made about PR by IZEA staffers, but I think you get the point.  As far as IZEA is concerned, PageRank is an essentially useless metric, the only reason they haven’t gotten rid of it yet is because some of their advertisers demand it, and it will be going the way of the horse and buggy as soon as possible.

So, then can someone explain this screenshot to me?

That’s an opportunity at PayPerPost, created by IZEA to advertise PayPerPost, and it is only available to bloggers with a PageRank of 1 or higher, regardless of the website’s RealRank.  If RealRank is so much better than PageRank and IZEA is looking to remove the option to segment blogs by PR, then why are they using it as the only qualifier in their own opps?

May 152008
 

Sunday will mark one full month that SocialSpark has been in public Beta, last Thursday marked the one month point from when I joined, and Tuesday was exactly one month since I took my first Sponsored Post there. I would have picked one of those specific dates to write this post, but the PayPerPost opp offering to pay me $9.00 to give my thoughts kept disappearing before I could grab it. Until today. And y’all know I can never pass up an opportunity to get paid to point out a company’s flaws 😉

Overall at the one month mark I can sum up my experience at SocialSpark thus far in three words: color me unimpressed. But, I have a feeling both IZEA and you, my glorious readers, would like a little more detail than that, so let’s break it down-

The Good

  • The site’s much more attractive then PayPerPost with nice warm colors and cute little icons all over the place. If there were any more rounded, ‘Web 2.0 style’ corners your monitor would have to be spherical.
  • .
  • The queue system, which is taking a beating on the IZEA forums, is actually a huge step forward for all bloggers. In PPP opps would appear only to be snatched up in seconds. If you weren’t quick enough on the draw they were gone. They’d frequently become available again later, but again, only for a few seconds. In SS the opp remains visible to everyone and people who miss the first batch of reservations are put in a queue to receive later slots in the order they entered the line. No more constant refreshing the opp page hoping for the opportunity to scrape together a few pennies. But it does have its problems (which will be addressed later).
  • .
  • The potential for greater blogger to advertiser communication (as well as blogger to blogger and advertiser to advertiser) is 100% there and could be very powerful. In no other ‘paid to blog’ company do I have the ability to ask for clarification or leave comments directly on an advertising opportunity or with another member of the community (be they blogger or advertiser).
  • .
  • The feedback system is much more clear and communicative. In PPP I would sometimes notice when I got a tack rating, other times not. never did I know who had left it or what they were thinking when they did. In SS a comment can be left along with the feedback rating and all feedback is linked to the account that left it. Now if we could only get advertisers to use it!
  • .
  • The dynamic pricing system (where the price of an opp fluctuates based on the number of people seeking to write it) could revolutionize sponsored posts and make the world of paid blogging a much more beautiful place for both advertisers and publishers. However, advertisers are going to have to understand how to properly segment their opps (see below) for it to work the way it should. Additionally, I fear that the economies of scale are always going to undermine the market influences behind dynamic pricing because there are just too many bloggers willing to write any post for $5.00. Remember, that may buy a latte here in the US, but it’ll feed and house a family of four in other parts of the world.
  • .
  • The profiles for the advertisers, bloggers and blogs are an excellent concept. Particularly the blog profiles with all of the demographic information. It’s great to be able to ‘sell’ myself and my blogs, or to just let my numbers do the talkin’ for me – as I see fit. Check out Philaahzophy’s SocialSpark Profile to see what I mean.
  • .
  • In Summary – SocialSpark has a ton of potential, but very, very little of it is being realized right now.

The Bad

  • SocialSpark was put into public Beta way too soon and with way too little documentation (FAQs, tutorials, Knowledgebase, etc). Even the IZEA employees don’t know how a fair amount of this stuff works, yet.
    It’s gone through six releases since its Beta release (thats an average of one every 4.5 days) which have addressed a total of 150 separate features and bugs (or 5.5 per day).
    My gracious side says they were just tired of hearing us Posties moan about the release, but the cynic thinks they knew they had a captive audience since the PageRank slap left so many of us without a glimmer of hope and we had nowhere else worthwhile to go.
  • .
  • Blog and post review is erratic at best. I lost count of the number of long term posties who initially had their blogs rejected because they “appeared to be built exclusively for money”. Meanwhile the same blogs written in pidgin English with no respect for capitalization, basic grammar and the conjugation of verbs are flooding the SocialSpark blog rolls. I even had a post rejected because they claimed the adjacent posts were sponsored – only one even had a link in it and it pointed to the the other one.
    Their repeated excuse for this was that they’d hired new reviewers. Obviously they didn’t take the time to train them well enough as these issues occurred for weeks.
  • .
  • The much trumpeted “Bonus” feature is not only not explained anywhere, but doesn’t seem to be functioning at all. This is one of the things even the employees don’t understand.
  • .
  • The social networking “toys” (friends and props) are absolutely meaningless as they’re so easily and openly gamed. Yet they are presented to advertisers as relevant to the quality of the blog(ger) since advertisers can segment by “Most Props”. This means that bloggers with integrity, who refuse to hand out props and friendships just to build their own numbers are left out of some opps. This is exactly the kind of thing the anti-sponsored post brigade loves to accuse us of – selling out our opinions.
  • .
  • Advertisers clearly don’t understand how segmentation works as is made evident by my SocialSpark Advertisers post from earlier today. I won’t repeat what I said there, but make sure to read the comments as well as the post itself.
  • .
  • Since the queue system only releases new slots at midnight IZEA time, many people are asleep (or heading there) when the notices go out. This leads to missed opportunities for bloggers and longer wait times for advertisers to get what they came looking for. These notices should go out every 6 or 12 hours at minimum instead of once every 24 hours; or be sent at 9am the blogger’s time; or best of all, sent as soon as a slot becomes available in the same manner that opps become available again in PPP.
  • .
  • Having to wait 30 days (or more) for payment approval and then having to wait until you have $20 accumulated in your account is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know of any other company on the ‘net that takes this long (and has this many hoops) for a publisher to get paid.
  • .
  • If opps (and reservations) are going to be released around the clock, then someone needs to be answering support tickets around the clock as well. I received a reservation at midnight IZEA time last night for an opp that had an impossible to meet requirement in it. My reservation window was 12 hours. 20 hours later there has still been no response to my support ticket.
  • .
  • It makes absolutely zero sense for dynamic pricing to be updated hourly when reservation notices are only sent out daily. Unless, of course, requesting the slot were to lock in the price offered at that given moment. Only then would the system function both fairly and as designed.
  • .
  • There are, already, way too many blogs in SocialSpark for the number of opps available. If all of the opps are being snatched up within seconds of release (which they are) then there is no reason to have thousands (or tens of thousands) of bloggers in the system. Once a month the bottom 50% (or even 25%) of blogs that have been in the system for a month or more should be culled. The blogger accounts should remain, but they should not be allowed to add another blog for 60 or 90 days. This will help make segmentation like “Top RealRank” actually mean something instead of encompassing 3,000 or more blogs with as few as 50 visitors a day.
  • .
  • In Summary – SocialSpark has a ton of problems, though none of them are insurmountable. In another month or two all of these issues could well be addressed.

The Unknown

  • Blogrolls and Street Teams sound like really great ideas, but does anyone know how, exactly they work? And what’s the difference between the two?
  • .
  • Bonuses seem like a really good idea. But the way it appears to me the first (or second) post always maintains their status as “Best Post To Date” simply because it’s been around longer. In addition to the problems mentioned above.
  • .
  • Will advertisers take the time to take advantage of the social networking features on SocialSpark? We know bloggers will, because their compensation depends on it. Advertisers seem far more likely to just move on to some other advertising option should they not see the desired ROI.
  • .
  • In SummaryEverything at SocialSpark is still an unknown. But I’ll be sticking with it for the time being and hope my kvetching and prodding is taken in the constructive light it is intended.

There you go, IZEA, and dear readers 1,500-plus words (before this conclusion) rife with suggestions and constructive criticism on where SocialSpark stands one month after going public.

To IZEA – I know you want this to work as much (if not more) than we Posties do, so I wish us all luck. And because I don’t say it nearly often enough: THANK YOU for all that you’ve done for me and mine.

To my readers and fellow bloggers – I suggest you hang in a little longer, or sign up if you haven’t already. Assuming SocialSpark doesn’t crumble under its own weight in the near future, it absolutely will revolutionize blogging once again.

Apr 282008
 

Setting aside, for the moment, the fact that more than five months after its release, IzeaRanks.com is still missing a significant number of both site visitors and page views, the IZEA development team really needs to take a closer look at how their various platforms (IZEARanks, Social Spark, and PayPerPost) communicate with each other. I’ve seen other blog posts and threads on IZEA’s own forums about other people’s situations, but I’ll leave them to tell their own tales. Instead I’ll focus on what’s been happening here at Philaahzophy…
IZEA Real Rank
This first screen shot (taken about 10 minutes ago) shows Philaahzophy’s page at IZEARanks.com.

I circled the relevant portion for you-

One Week Avg Daily Page Views – 226

One Week Avg Daily Visitors – 153

3 Month Avg Daily Page Views – 210

3 Month Average Daily Visitors – 155

Social Spark profile
This second screen shot (taken seconds after the first) is of Philaahzophy’s Social Spark page.

Again, I circled the relevant portion in blue-

Daily Avg Visitors – 98

Daily Avg Views – 142

Am I the only person that thinks the numbers reported in SocialSpark should match some number reported at IZEA Ranks? Sure, my RealRank islisted as the same at both sites (actually, it’s the same at PayPerPost as well), but what’s te point of sharing my traffic numbers with potential advertisers if they are not only going to be inaccurate, but also nonsensical?

The whole point of RealRank is to have a transparent and reliable ranking system for blogs.  The fact that the majority of bloggers seem to have their traffic stats set to private removes the transparency.  And its reliability is thrown into serious question by the fact that not even the various IZEA properties seem to be able to accurately report current numbers.

Unfortunately, my second recent example has no accompanying screenshots, so you’ll have to take my word for it.  Yesterday, all three IZEA sites were reporting the RealRank of my hometown blog (Aahz Reviews Morgan Hill) as 4,387.  However, I was unable to select that blog for a PayPerPost opp whose only requirement was that the blog be in the top 50% of RealRank.  With IZEARanks showing 9,167 blogs with RealRank, the top 50% would be anyone with a RealRank of under 4,583.  Yet, the PPP site didn’t seem to be aware of this simple fact.

Don’t get me wrong!  I still believe that RealRank is the best website ranking system available to us, but it still needs a lot of improvement.

Jan 252008
 

It was almost exactly one month ago that I discovered I was still passing PageRank despite being Googlesmacked for writing paid posts. A Google employee was quick to jump into the comments and inform me that I was completely wrong. I had neither the knowledge nor the resources to run a genuine experiment, but luckily Brian Combs of Apogee Search does and he did just that. You can read his results in his blog post: PayPerPost Blog Links Still Impact Google Rankings. Here’s the most salient points-

Clearly, the claims that PPP blogs have lost all ability to pass link juice have been definitively proven false.

However, the possibility that an actual penalty has been imposed still remains. The PPP sites pushed pages into Google at half the rate of Yahoo, while the Control Group pushed pages into Google and Yahoo at very similar rates. This suggests that Google may have lowered the actual PageRank for the pages. Whether this was to zero so that only the link juice from the page itself is passed (none of the link juice coming into the page would be passed) or to some other amount is unknown.

Alternatively, this differential rate may be due to Google’s attempts to reduce the influence of Google Bombs. The anchor texts for the PPP Group were actually somewhat more competitive than that for the Control Group. On average, the keywords in the PPP Group had 196 SERPs while the keywords in the Control Group had 129 SERPs on average, a difference of about one-third. If the efficacy of the Google Bomb filters is based upon the number of pages that rank for a keyword (as many believe), then this could account for much of the delta.

Now if we could only get advertisers to accept this reality and stop depending on Google’s outdated and ineffective ranking system.