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Launching Product Portals 3.0, Where Content is King

The new Product Portals platform, version 3.0, has now been rolled out to all domain owners! The feedback we’ve gotten from early adopters has been overwhelmingly positive, to say the least.

The 3.0 platform offers a cleaner, updated UI for the storefront, a brand new admin system, and most importantly, the ability to increase the volume and visibility of high quality content on your sites. This last is critical for good SEO, increased page views, and, ultimately, higher page rank and revenue. Under 3.0, we have been seeing an average increase in page views of 23%!

The key to 3.0′s value is the ability to get rich content into the sites, and make that content more visible to both end users and to search engines.

The Articles Editor

There are two ways to add content to your product portals, the first by writing (or commissioning) original content, while the second is to import articles from what are known as “content farms”. If you are interested in ensuring original, high quality content, then writing the articles yourself is the clear way to go. And with the new 3.0 edition of Product Portals, you have an articles editor that enables you to compose articles of any length that support a full range of formatting options and rich content.

As with version 2.x, the 3.0 platform stores these articles on an Articles page. But now, there are additional ways to expose these articles to users.

Featuring Articles

One of the most important additions to v3.0 is the “Featured Articles” element.

Up until now, the primary block of SEO-friendly text in a Product Portal 2.x site was in what we called the “mainbox”. It did an adequate job, but as 1) a fairly generically worded block of text, and 2) a static block at that, it didn’t provide the kind of SEO value one gets from longer, more constantly refreshed content. In addition, while 2.x sites contained an articles page, the articles were not as visible as they could be and thus became something of an afterthought to site owners.

The “Featured Articles” element provides a mechanism for exposing a site’s most relevant articles “above the fold”. This placement has several benefits, including making the site more informative to end users, as well as by breaking up the heavy grid orientation of the test of the pages.

I’ve already described the ability of our new editor to create articles rich in content and graphics. The question then arises as to where to place them.

The 3.0 admin controls give you very precise controls over which articles are featured. Up the four articles can be featured on the home page as well as on on each tab. Because the designations are independent of each other, it would be possible, on a site with a home page and four tabs, to have as many as twenty unique featured articles at one time [(1+4)*4]. Any particular articles could be the primary featured article on one tab, the fourth featured article on another, and not featured as all on a third tab. This allows the site owner to place the most appropriate content on each part of his or her site.

I should also point out that the mainbox is still supported on the 3.0 platform, and that the mainbox and Featured Articles can coexist on the same page. That said, I recommend that those of you who set up the Featured Articles feature consider disabling the mainbox so that the product grid below isn’t too far down the page.

Scalability

The article editor, coupled with the ability to define where and how those articles are featured, gives the site owner the ability to make it an informative site for products and advice. But there is a problem. Writing an article — especially a good one — takes time, and writing several articles takes even more. Not a major problem for the owner of only one or two sites, but for the owner of scores or even hundreds of sites, generating that much original content is impossible. However, the new 3.0 platform has a solution: the ability to import preexisting articles from other sites.

As you well know, there are numerous sites, often called “content farms”, which provide content to web sites. The quality of these articles can vary greatly, from really good pieces to stuff that would embarrass a grade school English student. In fact, Google, through its Panda initiative, has begun downgrading the rankings of sites that house poor quality content. As a result, these farms are beginning to become less lax on the editorial side, and quality has begun to rise. But whatever the case, the owner of a hundred sites needs articles, cannot possibly generate them, and the content farms have them. So, how to get these articles into a Product Portal site?

Version 3.0 enables you to select a source for farmed content, and then set rules for how many articles you wish to import over a specified period of time. You might, for example, choose to have five articles important each week. These articles will be imported into your system randomly over the time specified, and will automatically appear on the Articles page. The import rules can be individually set for each tab on each web site, if so desired. The goal is to provide site owners who have neither the ability, desire, or time to write articles a way of getting longer form content onto their sites.

But what if an owner has 200 sites with an average of, say, five tabs? Setting up the import rules one thousand times is hardly a practical task for most domainers. That is why we’ve added to ability to configure certain settings globally. These settings are applied to every domain in your portfolio. They can then be overridden on a site by site basis for those domains that deserve your special attention. One of those global settings allows you to set the article import rules for all sites in your portfolio, so you are only a few mouse clicks away from filling all your sites with new content!

In addition, you can set global rules for configuring the Featured Articles element. Clearly, the level of specificity previously described cannot be applied generically over hundred of sites, so for those setting the feature globally, you can choose the number of articles (up to four) that are to be featured; the actual featured articles will be most recent ones.

We feel that this combination of capabilities offers the best of both worlds: the ability to make broad, sweeping settings coupled with the kind of detail you might want for particular high value sites. For example, you might have 100 sites, 95 of which you think will be well served simply with farmed content featured strictly by how recent the article is. Another three sites be still get by with farmed content, but you wish to specify the placement of what you think are the best of those articles. And the last two sites — perhaps your top performers — are worth the time and trouble to write or commission custom articles. Product Portals 3.0 would allow all of this through a single, easy to use interface. In this case, you could set up the basic feature globally for all 100 sites, and then for the top five site, make site-specific configuration choices. And, needless to say, you can combine farmed and custom (“free range”?) content on and and all sites.

Getting back to farmed content for a moment, Google’s Panda effort hit the content farming industry like a ton of bricks. Many of them had varying levels of quality pre-Panda, and some of them have significantly improved their editorial control since then, which others have changed not at all. The bottom line is that the quality of farmed content can still range from excellent to terrible. Consequently, we have designed the system to support multiple sources of content. Please note, however, that initially we only support articlesbase.com, which our DevRich team has had good results with. One of the reasons we have not yet turned on multi-provider support is that many of the farms steal from each other, and so the same article might appear of several farms. As you know, avoiding duplicate content is a key to good SEO, so until we can reliably avoid ingesting duplicate articles from multiple sources, we’ve taken the approach that is safest for your SEO. When we are able to safely support multiple providers in a non-duplicative way, we will do so.

Try It Out

To wrap up, we believe that the combination of a refreshed storefront design that emphasizes new sources of rich content, coupled with an entirely new admin system, will enable you to maximize the value of your product portfolio sites.

I have written in the past that there are two basic types of Product Portal customers: passive and active. Passive owners are content with the sites as generated by our operations team, while active owners want to take a more hands-on approach to helping grow their site. The new admin capabilities were designed to enable both set of customers. Active owners will find that they now have a great deal of administrative capability in a vastly more accessible user interface. And passive owners will find that the tools are simple enough that they can easily dip their toes into the waters with one site, and proceed from there.

We are extremely excited about Product Portals 3.0. I encourage you all to begin exploring the new capabilities by going to ppadmin.epik.com, which replaces your old Wishpot admin panel. You now have the tools to take a more active role in the running of your sites, and I hope you do so.

John Lawler
SVP, Products


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