A lot of web content writers are wondering: What happened to eHow? And the answer is that no one but eHow knows for sure.

Based on more than three months of data analysis of five eHow accounts by three eHow writers, I can offer some possible–and probable–explanations.

The Growth Factor

On July 27, 2009, Time magazine published a nine-sentence article about eHow saying in part,

“This is no get-rich-quick scheme. But eHow.com whose popularity has soared during the recession as DIYers seek advice on topics like ‘How to Run Bathroom Plumbing,’ will pay any Joe Blow for content. All writers are welcome, regardless of expertise or ability to string sentences together.”

And eHow’s web servers, already overrun by newcomers, gained another three million visitors in the next three months. According to Compete.com, eHow gained a total of 13,000,000 visitors between October of 2008 and October of 2009. That is a significant increase for any website to deal with.

We don’t know how many of those new visitors are members, and how many members are writers. eHow requires anyone who wants to comment on or rate an article to join, so there are undoubtedly numerous members who have never written an article. But with the current economic conditions, it’s safe to say that eHow has gained a large number of writers during the past year.

The Quality Factor

If eHow ever had the reputation of offering quality “How-to” advice, they don’t now. As Time Magazine noted, anyone can write for eHow. Yes, eHow has quality standards, but they don’t appear to have been enforced prior to their “article sweeps” that began a few months ago. To survive as a power player in the user-generated content game, eHow’s management knew it could not afford to continue to ignore quality.  Search engines penalize for lack of quality, and so do visitors. But then, they knew this all along.

The Quantity Factor

So whatever the game plan was initially, the effect was that eHow gained a huge amount of content from its writers.  And although the search engines penalize for poor quality, they tend to reward for quantity. So now eHow begins to position itself for both. Ultimately, this can be a great thing for “real” writers and for eHow’s bottom line.

The Money Factor

As one of eHow’s members recently pointed out on an eHow forum, it makes more sense for eHow’s bottom line, and that of its parent company, Demand Media, to get as much quality content as they can for as little money as possible. As it currently stands, eHow writers earn monthly payments for their content based on some secret formula that undoubtedly includes number of page views and Google AdSense clicks that their articles draw, and the author retains the rights to the content.

So a really great article can earn upwards of $100 a year, and an article with no SEO value may never earn a penny. And an author can delete that great article any time they wish. It probably doesn’t happen often, but when eHow’s next big competitor comes along and offers more money to writers, there could be a mass exodus that would drastically affect eHow’s earnings. Sure, eHow can still use all or part of the article in site promotions for the next six months, but that probably doesn’t happen often, either.

Demand Media has always provided articles to eHow from its Demand Studios’ authors who earn $15 or $20 for each article, and then Demand Media owns the content forever. No more residual payments, and good content to boot.

The eHow UK Factor

At the end of July, 2009, the same time that eHow was experiencing this rapid growth and Time Magazine published their article, eHow was quietly launching its eHow UK site. The UK site appears to be a clone of the eHow US site without the forums or ability to join and write for eHow UK. All of the US members profiles and articles appear as clones on the UK site, with only the date formatting and ads changed.

EHow has been asked in the forums whether US members will be paid for the income that their UK clones generate, but no one from eHow has responded to the questions as of today. And since more members have reported their income dropping than increasing since the eHow UK launch in early August, it’s probably safe to say members do not earn for their contributions to the UK site. I personally analyzed data from two accounts that showed a small, but distinct decline in earnings per page-view, with a correlative increase in page views between October and November.

And there’s the rub: Links for related eHow UK now frequently appear in Google search results below the link for the original article searched for–where related eHow US articles used to appear. When a searcher might formerly have clicked a related article that was lower on the search results page, instead of the first title appearing, the visitor might have still ended up at the writer’s original article and even have clicked an ad or two, generating income for the writer. But now that same writer’s article clones on UK are competing for searchers’ attention, yet they earn the writer NO MONEY.

Draw your own conclusions.

So What Happened to eHow?

Bottom line, this is the law of supply and demand at work. Writers are more plentiful, so they get paid less. Content is more plentiful, so buyers are demanding higher quality. A company that might be making “enough” wants more. And if you really want to see where this is all leading, visit the eHow forums.

My Reaction

I joined eHow at exactly the wrong time, and spent my first month wondering why my earnings stayed at $0, like many others who joined at the same time. It was resolved, but the entire time I wrote there (past tense), there were numerous technical glitches and unanswered questions from eHow staff. The amount of time I invested there was a waste in terms of income.

However, I joined forces with several other eHow writers and a few bloggers, and we dug into the data and experimented, and we learned things that we have not yet shared. We compiled and analyzed data from five eHow accounts, and three of us are writing a book based on what we learned. I will announce it here when it is published, as well as on our launch site, which is one of the other authors’ blogs.

Are You Asking, “Should I Write for eHow?”

If you were searching for the answer to whether you should write for eHow, I obviously cannot decide that for you. But while I have removed my articles from the site, the decision was based on principle, and not on whether I think there is still income potential there.

I believe that eHow will continue to allow the general public to write on their site for some time to come. But I do not believe the income potential is as high as it was. That said, it is a great place to connect with other writers, and to learn what works in writing online and what doesn’t. If you have articles that are earning money there, I suggest you leave them, but BACK THEM UP! And re-write them to publish elsewhere. If it was ever a good idea to write for one content aggregator site to earn residual income, that time has definitely passed.

And Most Importantly:

When you re-write your eHow content, position it to compete with your original content instead of allowing eHow to exploit your articles to raise their UK site in the search engines, thereby reducing your chances of earning from them. Do your SEO research, and post your new, optimized articles on  InfoBarrel, Mahalo, HubPages,and Suite101 where they will build your residual income. Publish Squidoo Lenses and Ezinearticles content that points to these new articles. Make thoughtful comments on blogs that allow do-follow links with links to these new articles.

I do not believe that it will again be possible for writers to average $3 to $5 per article on eHow, as some eHow ebook authors have claimed they earn. I believe you can still average $2 for each well-optimized, well-written article that eHow does not randomly delete, and this is still a good monthly residual income.

It has always been important for web content writers to diversify, and now it is imperative. The equivalent of “publish or perish” in content writing is “diversify or cry,” and you would do well to apply this principle now. Like, today.

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