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Seth Godin Interview About Squidoo

December 1, 2006

Back in June, Jill and I were front and center at SES Toronto listening to Seth Godin, entrepreneur, best-selling author, and marketing guru. He is as excellent a speaker as he is a writer! Seth delivered a thought-provoking as well as motivational keynote speech, and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, it is a truly remarkable experience!

 

We were very excited when Seth agreed to an interview for High Rankings Advisor readers. He has graciously answered a few questions about Squidoo, where he is founder and original squid. - Pauline

 

Before we get started, you might need an explanation of the term “lens” that Seth mentions:

 

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SO, WHAT’S A LENS?

A lens is one person’s view on a topic that matters to her. It’s an easy-to-build, single web page that can point to blogs, favorite links, RSS feeds, Flickr photos, Google maps, your eBay auctions, CafePress designs, Amazon books or music, and more. Then, when someone is looking for recommended information, fast, your lens gets him started and sends him off in the right direction. Win, win!
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Now, here are the questions about Squidoo for Seth Godin:

 

Pauline: It seems the Squidoo community has essentially built the brand and is making Squidoo even stronger. Did the community band together during the few weeks where rankings had hit a lull?

 

Seth: It’s been thrilling to watch our community really gel over the past six weeks. Part of it is the tools we’ve built. Most of it, though, is human nature. People like to make connections, to help each other, to do important work that spreads good ideas. This is what we set out to build. It took a while, but now it all seems very natural.

 

Pauline: I saw this on the Squidoo site:

 

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WHO SHOULD BUILD A LENS?

You should, if you…

1. …have a Web site and you’re not happy with your PageRank in Google, a lens will increase it. That’s because a lens provides exactly what search engines are looking for: authoritative insight so people can find what they’re looking for.
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This could be misleading to someone first discovering Squidoo, as they may take this literally and believe this will be their magic potion to get a higher PageRank.

 

Seth: This is a dramatic overstatement and shouldn’t be there. We have never portrayed Squidoo as a “get-rich-click” SEO scam. It’s always been about charity and teaching surfers what they need to know. I hadn’t realized this sentence was there… by the time Monday rolls around, it will be significantly edited. My apologies.

 

We should have said something like, “If you have a Web site and you want more traffic, more authority, and more results, building a great lens on Squidoo can certainly help. People are more likely to find you and respect what you have to say and sell when you speak out and help them when they’re lost.”

 

Pauline’s Note: Within a couple of days, #5 on the Squidoo FAQ was updated with this:

 

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WHO SHOULD BUILD A LENS?

You should, if you…

1. …have a Web site and want more ways for people to discover it. A lens is another signpost online that can point people your way.
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Pauline: Have you heard of any cases where this is true?

 

Seth: There are plenty of cases of people with sites posting on their blogs about how pleased they were at the results their efforts at Squidoo generated.

Here’s one post.

 

I’m a little disappointed that people are fairly shortsighted about building reputation online. It took my blog five years to get to where it is.

 

Investing a few months on some great lenses is nothing in comparison…

 

Pauline:  Do you think perhaps, by posting this statement on your site, this may have caused Squidoo.com a Google penalty?

 

Seth: I have no idea how Google’s algorithm was changed, and it’s not worth my time to wonder. We don’t work to please Google… we’re trying to build something useful and transparent and fair… something we’re proud of. When we find that this isn’t happening for whatever reason, we change things. The new stuff we’re rolling out in a few weeks will take things to an even higher level.

 

Pauline: As a new visitor to Squidoo, what can I expect as far as content?

Are most lenses set up to actually sell me something?

 

Seth: Actually, the vast majority of top lenses try to teach you something, not sell you something. Any good salesperson will tell you that that’s the best way to sell, anyway.

 

Pauline:  While at Squidoo, I searched for a lens about Costa Rica. The following message popped up:

 

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Congratulations! You are one of the FIRST to search for this topic in Squidoo. Why not be one of the first to BUILD A LENS on it?
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I don’t think this is something Squidoo really wants me to do, as I know nothing about Costa Rica! Nor do I want to read the lens of someone else who may be like me, just someone searching around for info on Costa Rica.

 

Seth: How do I know you don’t know anything about Costa Rica? You’d be amazed how often people search for things they know or do. Have you ever searched on your name or your career or where you live? Wikipedia is 100% populated with articles built by people who searched on that topic, right?

 

Pauline: Out of the thousands and thousands of people that have built lenses, what percentage do you think have authoritative and unique offerings?

 

Seth: I think in the haystack world of the Web, the issue isn’t how many not-so-great things are at the bottom, the issue is how many useful things are at the top. We have hundreds of thousands of lenses… and a lot of them are useful, generating traffic and have very significant clickthrough rates.

 

That’s what we focus on. Sure, there’s junk. So what? You don’t find the junk unless you look pretty hard.

 

Pauline: Obviously, if I did build a lens about Costa Rica (I didn’t, but I thought about it) I could definitely link to other sites or make some money via affiliate links, but would I be a model lensmaster?

 

Seth: We’re finding that the best lensmasters don’t try to make money; they try to make a difference, to teach, to influence. Money will happen sooner or later, but like blogs, attention is worth way more than cash right now.

 

Pauline: Why should people create a lens instead of just going to Blogger or WordPress to create their own blog? What differentiates Squidoo? What is the added value of creating a lens?

 

Seth: First, why is it “instead”? Lots of people do both. They do different things. A blog is a diary, a rolling series of ever-changing entries for a finite reader base. A lens on Squidoo is a signpost, a pointer, something that doesn’t change so much every day and is much more structured. You change the menu of your restaurant every night, but you still need an ad in the Yellow Pages, right?

 

Second, a lens is much faster to set up, cheaper (no hosting cost, no setup fee), and it earns money for charity.

 

Third, a lens shows up in the right place at the right time… when someone is looking for information. A blog is much more of a conversation, part of a web of connections that naturally follow a lens.

 

Pauline:  I’ve read a few blog posts by people who have several lenses reporting that some lenses have done even better since the “Squidoo Slap.”

 

I’m guessing those lenses must be worthwhile and valuable lenses. This leads me to believe that this was actually a good thing and may have taught some people abusing Squidoo that they really need to add value to the community if they still want to play. What’s your take, Seth?

 

Seth: We were deep into a spam overhaul when the Google thing happened. It takes a long time to build the systems necessary to stamp out bad actors.

 

With or without Google, we were in the process of eliminating tens of thousands of pages as well as the iframe redirects. I’m sorry they both happened at the same time, but I’m absolutely delighted that our best lenses keep getting better.

 

Pauline, the easiest thing in the world is to be a critic. I know, because I am one! With Squidoo, we have resolutely focused not on pleasing critics but on giving lensmasters the tools they like and surfers the information they need. While we’ve done it, we’ve built a school in Cambodia, funded a scientist’s research on juvenile diabetes, sent money to a pet shelter, paid for an inner-city kid to go to a private school, and supported more than a hundred other great causes. If critics want to scoff at the millions of people who are getting something useful out of Squidoo, it’s fine with me.

 

We’d rather have them join us in making it better, though.

 

Pauline: Thanks, Seth!

 

(P.S. If anyone would like to republish the above interview, please email me your request and where it will reside.)