The Pros and Cons of HubPages as a Writing Site: Product Review by a Five Year Veteran

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HubPages was actually my primary writing home for nearly six years. A product review? Why not? As a writing site, there were pros and cons at HP–as is pretty much true for any aspect of life, but overall, it was a good run.

This review is organized into three sections:

    I. A (relatively) brief overview of my HubPages experience, designed to allow readers a bit of confidence in my qualifications to comment on the topic at hand.

    II. HubPages as a writing site: Ten Pros.

    III. HubPages as a writing site: Ten Cons.

    With that, let’s get started.

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    I. My time at Hubpages.

My first article (called a “Hub” at HubPages) was published on January 31, 2008. My request for the HubPages team to close my HP account was sent last night around 10:30 p.m. on October 12, 2013. That header photo is a screen shot of my HubPages profile, taken a few hours after the last of my Hubs had been deleted and the request to cancel had been emailed to HP.

That photo is a historical thing; pretty soon, the screen it shows will never be seen again.

The more than 68 months between those two dates encompassed some wild times in offline living. My wife and I nearly went broke in Colorado, moved to an off grid acreage one mile north of the Mexican border in southern Arizona, and then did go broke for real. Later, the finances improved. I was able to build us a house, Pam became established with doctors who finally understood at least some of the disabilities she has on her plate, and life goes on.

In the meantime, having begun with HubPages in Colorado, I continued in Arizona. Over time, rather than just piddle around with it, I got into a rhythm: One Hub per night at minimum. One 24 hour period saw five articles published, not just one, but always–with a few exceptions here and there–always at least one.

The exceptions included things like two weeks lost to writing when a couple of house walls were flattened by 75 mph winds. These were earthbag walls that had taken two months to build to six feet of height.

Two weeks later, I had them back up, better built, and went back to writing.

There was one hiatus for two full months, a sabbatical taken to allow me to concentrate on attempting to learn Spanish with the Rosetta Stone program.

Over the years, all other writing sites fell by the wayside. Squidoo and I were just not that compatible. Ditto for Examiner and half a dozen other online writing places.

In the end, it was for quite some time HubPages and HubPages only.

Except…there were instances, here and there, when I’d get ticked off and try to find a decent web host so that I could set up my own site. HubPages was the best of the commercial sites for writers–by light years, in my opinion–but they were never going to be, could never be, anything close to ideal.

Ideal would mean one thing and one thing only: My own site.

Every time I tried, though, I gave it up in the end and settled back in, figuring I was going to be with HP for a long, long time.

Not because they were perfect, but because I couldn’t seem to get my own operation going. There are a lot of web hosting companies out there that really, really suck. I made the acquaintance of several of them.

But I never completely quit looking. In the end, the combination of using DreamHost for web hosting and WordPress for writing software…that worked out very, very well.

And then, one day in August of 2013, with the startup learning curve glitches finally worked out here, I found one more excuse to cock an eyebrow at the way HubPages was doing things and decided to finally pull the plug.

Not that plug-pulling turned out to be all that easy. When the decision was made, I had 1,576 articles (Hubs) published on the HP site. Every one of them had to be either culled (deleted, trashed) or moved over to Ghost32writer. With some pieces running more than 5,000 words and a whole lot of photographs–one piece included 48 pictures detailing how to install a French drain around your house–the migration took a while.

It’s done now, though. More than 1,150 Hubs were culled, with this site acquiring around 400 cream of the crop posts to kick start Ghost32writer.

Unlike a number of other former Hubbers who’ve commented online, I am not bitter toward HubPages. Not in the least. Rather, I’m grateful for the benefits I received while writing there and I’m grateful for the things I didn’t like about the site.

Why the latter? Simply put, they spurred me on to create my own place to work. I’ve always worked best alone, with no one looking over my shoulder.

And now, the pros and the cons.

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    II. HubPages as a Writing Site: The Pros

1. It’s free. That’s crucial for those who have no coin in the kitty to pay for setting up their own websites. It was certainly true for me for roughly the first half of my years with HP.

2. The social media aspect is outstanding. No other writing site is like this. I’ve acquired at least a dozen lifetime friends who were first met on HubPages, other Hubbers who liked my work or I liked theirs. My wife and I can’t travel much due to her disabilities, but four of those friends have taken the initiative to visit us offline, right here at the Border Fort.

3. It’s an awesome place to develop yourself as a writer. I’m no newcomer to the art of pen and paper, having written my first important piece at the age of twelve: Five hundred words on Why Little Boys Shouldn’t Throw Snowballs (especially when they sail through a second story window and skid across the Principal’s desk while he’s sitting there). But I look at the first Hubs I wrote in 2008, compare them with my 2013 output…and there’s no comparison.

4. A big part of developing yourself as a writer is just plain writing, writing, writing. Fortunately, HP encourages that. You can write on “almost” anything–with a few exceptions, which will be covered in the Cons.

5. The support system is pretty good. Most answers to questions (and there are always going to be questions) can be found in the Forums. Additionally, an email to the Team at HP will usually generate a reply in fairly short order.

6. The company is stable. It’s going to be around for a good long while. There are always naysayers, gloom and doom folks predicting HP’s imminent downfall, but the stats as measured by specialty sites like Alexa and QuantCast don’t bear that out. HubPages is big, and more importantly, it’s getting a lot of traffic.

7. It’s a great place to post your photography. Not every one of those 10,000 snapshots, of course, but the best of the best, worked into Hubs. They’ve done some real work in this area, too. Including more than a few photos in any one Hub page used to be a real horror, but they straightened out the kinks. Nowadays? Piece of cake.

8. San Francisco liberal ownership or not, they’re pretty tolerant about political pieces. I should know; more than 600 of my Hubs were political, all of them from the hardcore conservative viewpoint. None of them have been criticized by HP management.

9. When you earn money (through people clicking on the ads on your pages), they pay it out promptly, and the threshold of $50 is only half of Google’s $100 payout threshold for AdSense.

10. They’re not bad about ignoring pressure from the public. A manufacturer who did not like one of my product reviews sent a threatening email to HP in 2010, trying to get them to pull my Hub on his inferior air turbine. They simply advised him to take it up with me, which was the exact right thing to do.

Ten? That’s ten good things about HubPages already?

Yep. Time to go on with the Cons.

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    III. HubPages as a Writing Site: The Cons

1. You don’t own the site; they do. This means that as management necessarily makes changes to survive in an intensely competitive marketplace, you’re not going to like some of those changes–but aside from leaving, there’s not one thing you can do about it.

This is, of course, true for any site anywhere…except the one you set up yourself.

2. Despite being relatively open to all sorts of writing and all sorts of writers, HP has its limits. Over the years, I deleted Hubs they didn’t like for the following reasons:

    –Pro guns, willing to kill if necessary in self defense. (No, I’ve not had to do so, but have been prepared to do so, with the hammer back and the muzzle pointing directly between a man’s eyes.)

    –Anything to do with cigarettes. This one was extra irritating in that it was all about my wife’s efforts to stop smoking, but HubPages would not allow discussion of electronic cigarettes and other measures she tried along the way.

Other articles were not deleted but were considered “unsuitable for advertising” or required extra warnings on the Edit page and/or extra review by the staff, such as:

    –Transgender issues, especially the ostracism of transgendered people by those whose “thinking box” is just too small.

    –Website hosting. HubPages really hates to see people writing about website hosting. They claim it’s because there are so many website hosting scams out there, which there certainly are–but I strongly suspect it’s also because they, HubPages, are in many ways a de facto website host themselves…and they don’t appreciate the competition being published on their own site.

4. Too many ads. Look at any Hub out there by any author. If it’s not one of the relatively few considered unsuitable for any ads at all–or one written by an author who wants no ads on the site, which is an option (but which also precludes any possible earnings), you’ll see what I mean.

5. Picky, picky, picky, when it comes to ads.
For the longest time, HubPages encouraged us to include eBay and/or Amazon capsules of advertising on our Hubs. Google AdSense ads were automatic, as was the HubPages ad program when they instituted that. Amazon and eBay ads, on the other hand, had to be manually added by the writer.

Okay, so they pushed–uh, encouraged–and then, more recently, they started complaining when we put “too many” Amazon (or eBay) products in one spot on a page.

It was enough to give a guy an ulcer.

6. Mother-smothering the writers with “suggestions”. Nag, nag, nag. Now, if you’re a halfway-there writer who needs and appreciates all those “hints”, well, fine. But it just–okay, it steamed me no end. It got to the point that you couldn’t call up an Edit page without all these “suggestions” popping up in the top right hand corner. Things like…hm. Maybe a few screen shots will tell the tale here.

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These “gentle reminders”, more than any other single factor, finally drove me to make the break from HubPages to focus on my own site. I’ve got a wife to tell me I’m not doing things right all the time; I don’t need a Mothering Program on a writing site to add to that.

7. Here and there, they lie. Or at least it looks that way to me. Some time back, HP instituted a system whereby Hubs would be either Featured or…not. If not, the idea was that you the author would flog yourself forty lashes with a few strands of four point barbed wire, then either “fix” your sorry piece of literary dog poop so that it would be featured…or give up and delete it entirely.

For the most part, I ignored that part of the program. After all, I had more than a thousand Hubs that were not Featured, and I didn’t much feel like flogging myself. But most significantly, HP claimed those low class Hubs were by the magic wand of HubPages being made invisible to search engines. Still published, but invisible to Google, Bing, and the rest.

Well, maybe so–but I easily located a number of my own articles that were not Featured, and yet entering them into the Google search box brought them right up on the top pages of Google results, just like always. Maybe they’ve cut a deal with Bing, but a medium sized player like HP telling the Google giant that it can’t have access to a published page?

I don’t think so.

The stress laid on multitudes of Hubbers by the Featured Hubs program has been incalculable. Necessary, perhaps? Perhaps. But ugly nonetheless.

8. HubPages is no longer a viable venue for the beginning writer. It used to be. Not that I started that way; my first published science fiction novel, Ptolia, came out in 1982. But in the “old days” at HP, a few years ago, the rookie writer who did sign on at HubPages had a real chance. The company was patient, even with abominable grammar, and sometimes–not always, but sometimes–an experienced Hubber would take the newbie under his or her wing.

Not so today. If your writing is not top drawer today, you can expect your Hubs to be “not Featured”, sometimes even forcefully Unpublished arbitrarily by HP. A young lady writer from the Philippines is a case in point. Her English was quite good, but not quite to the level of a native speaker. Never mind the content; HubPages cut her no slack and closed her account three different times before she finally gave up.

9. The money, when you do make some, is highly unlikely to ever be enough to cover your home mortgage. As mentioned earlier, after 68 months of writing on the site, my earnings were anything but spectacular. In fact, during the final months, it worked out to somewhere between $2 and $3 per day.

10. While I believe they do sincerely try to remain “fair and balanced” toward writers, management’s liberal political bent shows up enough to make things uncomfortable every now and then. When you set up a new Hub on the Edit page, the program will automatically reject your chosen title if someone else already has a Hub with that exact wording.

Except…about a month ago, I happened to notice two Hubs by different authors…with exactly the same titles. Both were liberal pieces slamming the Tea Party as racist–which, as a Tea Party member, I assure you it is not.

Had I come up with a title slamming President Obama that used the same wording as another Hub, would the program have let me slide on through like that? I seriously doubt it.

But maybe that’s just me.

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    SUMMARY

HubPages can’t properly be given a “Star Rating” because it’s going to rate differently with different writers. If you’re like me, an experienced author who’s simply outgrown the HP system, that’s one thing. If you’re a fairly decent hand who actually likes and perhaps even needs the extreme “nagging structure” the company currently provides, that’s quite another. I’ve made this product review as comprehensive and accurate as I could without drowning the reader in minutiae, but, as always, only you can make up your own mind.

You may decide that HubPages as a writing site is good, bad, indifferent…or all of the above.