As many eHow residual income writers do, I wish eHow would simply explain whether they are paying writers for the UK clone versions of their articles. But they have not been forthcoming.

And the plot thickens.

One eHow member had recently mentioned on the eHow forum that his article, “How to Succeed in Gold Coin Investing,” was ranked #1 on Google for its title–as its UK cloned version. His original US article, the one he KNOWS he earns money for, was nowhere to be found. At least not on page one of Google results.

This tripped my suspicion trigger, because content about investing is generally understood to have high earnings potential from its ads, and I wondered if it was being deliberately manipulated. Here is an example from the Google AdWords Keyword Tool:

Google's estimate for what these keywords pay, and how often they are searched.

Google's estimate for what these keywords pay, and how often they are searched.

So I searched Google for the Gold Coin article. On December 31, I found that this article’s link from Yahoo Answers was in first place for the title search, and its UK clone version was second. When searched in quotes, the US original came up number three.

That’s a little unusual, especially when you consider the original had a good backlink. But I revisited the search yesterday, and that’s when I found something for which the word, “unusual” would be a euphemism. The UK clone was now #1 in Google. And its format had been edited, apparently by someone at eHow. Here is a screenshot of the original article:

screenshot of original ehow US gold article.

screenshot of original ehow US gold article.

And this was its new eHow UK cloned version yesterday. It has since been re-edited to match the US version in appearance:

eHow article UK Clone

eHow article UK Clone

Why This Matters
The “related articles” section (now “All Things Related”) titles had been changed. “Related Articles” titles on the same page with articles, contribute significantly to the articles’ SEO, or keyword density, because they are in H2 (Heading 2) tags, which indicate to search engines that they are an important part of the page that should be weighted more heavily than plain text.

So I checked both articles’ keyword density with the SEO Quake Toolbar for Firefox (it’s free). Bingo. The UK article clone now contained 23 instances of the phrase, “gold coins,” while its original contained only 15.

Not only that, but the fact that the page was edited at all makes it seem like fresh content to Google, giving it another boost. The original had been written on 12/20/09, and presumably had not been edited by the author since then. And the author certainly does not have control over editing his UK cloned version.

Here are two more anomalies from that UK version that was online yesterday:
1. There was a new section called, “Top Contributors” that listed several Demand Studios writers and employees. At least that’s how it appeared when I checked their profiles on the US site. And most of their articles were about investing and buying gold. So it’s conceivable to conclude that someone reading the UK version would click on a “Top Contributor” and read their high-earning (for eHow, anyway) articles, adding further to eHow’s bottom line.

eHow Top Contributors

eHow Top Contributors

And let me add here, I have nothing against eHow making money. It’s good for everyone. At least, everyone who is compensated fairly for contributing to that profit.

2. And this new section:

new section on eHow uk article clones.

new section on eHow uk article clones.

This section now has three tabs, where the US version has two, adding more related article titles, and affecting the article’s keyword density ration further.

My Conclusions: It is certainly difficult to draw any firm conclusions from this, which is why I wish eHow would be more forthcoming. But here are some possibilities:

  1. eHow is experimenting with SEO so that it can share even more earnings with the writers who make it all possible, and they thought experimenting with the UK clones was more practical. They forgot they would be freshening the UK content by doing so, thereby outranking the originals in search results. But they will ultimately have their accountants figure the difference in lost earnings, and compensate the writers fairly.
  2. A few eHow staff are trying to get in on the action by writing articles based on what they can see from their analytics will make the most money, then linking to their profiles from “regular” writers’ articles.
  3. Someone at eHow is manipulating the system to rank UK articles higher, since those earnings are apparently not shared with writers.
  4. I don’t know. Do you have any ideas? There must be a more reasonable explanation. Seriously.

It is understandable that Demand Media would experiment with their new site. But why would they do that with articles from residual income writers? Why not do it with some of the many Demand Media-owned articles?

And while we’re asking questions, why would an online business with so many technical glitches that writers can barely navigate the system some days, spend their time experimenting with SEO instead of fixing what’s broken first?

Why won’t they tell writers whether the articles those writers OWN THE COPYRIGHTS TO are fairly compensated in their “secrect” system? Is this ethical?

Yes, I have read all of the arguments on the eHow forum saying, hey, it’s eHow’s business. Well, that doesn’t hold water, sorry. Demand Media is a corporation that represents eHow to the public as a place for writers to exchange one commodity–their content–for another–money, in the form of residual income. eHow’s terms of use do say that their method of determining rate of pay is secret, yes, but they represent it as being fair. They have set precedents as to what writers can expect from them, and they now appear to be violating that trust.

All the eHow writers want is answers. And they have a right to those answers. They need to know where they can place their trust and their efforts, and whether and how those efforts will be compensated. Direct, clear, honest answers.

So how about it, eHow?

Are you now, have you been, and will you in the future, pay writers for the profits you are earning from their UK cloned articles?

I, for one, would like to get on with more positive subjects. But we all need to hold companies accountable when they appear to abuse the public trust. Come on, eHow. Step up to the plate.

**Note: I saved the complete web pages from 1/1/2010 as files, and can provide them to anyone who wants to see them for themselves.

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