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Increasingly the content marketing is growing from a glint in the copywriter’s eye to a fully fledged marketing beast, rampaging through budgets and upsetting marketing manager’s neatly planned timetables (We even run a course about it).

Someone, somewhere finally figured out that if you have a lot of compelling content, then you’ll get more readers hanging out on your site. Of course, the trick lies in making people aware of all that fantastic content in the first place.

It’s fair to say that users are often creatures of habit, visiting the same blogs and sites on a daily basis, so while link building and guest blogging have major parts to play in a detailed content strategy, occasionally the only way to get in front of those cloistered users is to market articles directly to sites they are already visiting.

It’s an age-old strategy that any budding copywriter will recognise, but increasingly businesses are turning to article marketing sites, directly submitting content in the hope of finding new audiences.

I’ve seen quite a few articles recently about the best sites to submit content to, but none of them listed any actual results so I decided to carry out a quick test to see whether article marketing is really worth your time and effort, especially compared to aggregators and social networks.

I chose two recent articles from the Econsultancy blog, designed to appeal to broad and niche markets respectively:

I then submitted these to five of the top ranking article sites, and recorded converting traffic from each. First, Here's a quick run down of the sites and the submission process:

1: Ezine Articles

ezine logo

A truly massive site with articles neatly divided into categories, which ranks authors depending on the number of submissions.

This raises a flag immediately as many ‘expert’ authors have in excess of 20,000 articles on the site, and many of the top posts consist of advertorials for body butter and Canadian meds. Still, the sign up process is easy and a top 100 Alexa rank must mean they are doing something right... right?

Sign-up may be easy, but submissions are not. 

Many legitimate businesses won’t have time to write original features for these sites, so will be looking to repurpose blog content, so surely a simple copy and paste feature with an html or WYSYWIG editor for links would be best.

Oddly though, Ezine actively discourages linking out, limiting you to just two links. I understand this is in place to stop every word being a spammy link, but surely five links in a 2,000 word article isn’t excessive?

The editor also bans any ‘above the fold’ links, but neglects to mention what exactly counts as ‘above’ or ‘below’, refuses links to source (so feel free to tell people that you personally authored War & Peace) and Insists On Capitalising All Titles.

I should also mention the suggested keywords: “donrsqout” is obviously ranking highly on Google these days:


Finally, if you do wade through all this and find you’ve made a mistake, you’ll need to fill out a lengthy form with technical reasons before you can delete an article, and wait up to seven days before your article is reviewed and approved for publication.

2: Squidoo


On the surface, Squidoo looks a lot slicker; it has a fast, fun interface that’s extremely intuitive.

It’s quick and easy to easy to get started, with topics divided into ‘lenses’. Each user creates a topic-specific ‘Lens’, and can add any and all content they like, in effect building a mini aggregator that others can follow.

Unfortunately the site doesn’t easily recognise RSS feeds, and as rank is built on content ‘Freshness’, you’ll need to put in lots of time and update your Lens manually every day. On the plus side, this is quick and easy to do, and there are some nice nods to socialization. 

On the downside, the site is utterly awash with spam, people flogging ‘I can get you 20,000 twitter Followers for $9.99’ packs and articles promoting auto-follow tools, and there’s no requirement to verify posted content as original.

Good for entertainment and those taking their first steps into the world of blogging and curation, but as a marketing channel it’s sorely lacking as Squidoo’s goal is clearly to create an embedded audience rather than redirect traffic to you. 

3: Article Alley

dogs in hats!

Scores early points based purely on it’s Dogs In Hats (!) banner, but it’s offer of “Free content for your website or blog”  sets alarm bells ringing. 

Once inside, you’ll also quickly discover that nothing is free here. If you want custom content, you’re paying for it buddy. There’s a sliding scale price guide:

  • One article =$35
  • 2-5 articles $30
  • 6-10 Articles = $25

You get the idea...

The whole thing screams poor quality content at you from the start.

There are also problems submitting. The topics are varied but there’s a lot of crossover, I browse sections on e-marketing, marketing and sales, business, blogs, SEO... the list goes on.

Let’s have a look at articles in the ‘Marketing’ section:


‘Types of Drinking Glasses’ eh? Not sure Seth Godin will be worrying just yet.

Against my better judgement I try the submission process. Sign up is quick enough, and then it’s just a case of copy and paste. No wysiwyg or linking however, so if you want credit you’re forced to copy bulky links in wholesale.

To its credit, AA does offer you a ‘copyright protected’ option and publishes straight away, but again this does encourage a lot of spam.

4: Go Articles

go hello For a change, Go Articles has a social side, but it’s unobtrusive, a small profile page –here I am in a hat – and bio, although the option to automatically tie in your Twitter account is a massive bonus if you write business related content but can’t be bothered with all this new-fangled ‘blogging’ nonsense.

The site benefits from a clean and simple format, distributing articles in plain text via email.

Of course, this again means no links and very little HTML formatting, so the impact and readability is questionable, but GA does have a large subscriber base (It claims to be “the web’s largest free article marketing site”).
There are also some good category choices that allow you decent targeting, although some (Web 2.0 take a bow) are a little outdated.

Again, submission is a straightforward copy n’ paste job. Add an author bio, click submit and we’re done.

The site also sends out a handy follow up email to let you know if your article has been accepted or you’re due a call from the FCC.

5: Hubpages

Finally, let’s look at Hubpages. A nice looking site, and again ridiculously easy to sign up.

Hubpages follows the Squidoo quasi-social model, with users setting up profiles and creating a distribution ‘Hub’.

So, what’s a hub?

In essence a landing page, with options to copy in yet more non-linkable content and RSS it around the place.

Because we’re feeling sensible we title ours ‘Econsultancy’s Digital Marketing Hub’ (Amazon Women of Venus was taken unfortunately). Unfortunately both of our posts have a number of links to source, so it takes quite a while before I find a format the site is happy with.  

Despite this, there are plenty of networking opportunities available including a Quora-esque ‘ask the author a question’ section and links to related articles and Hubs:

hub social

I should point out though that generally the level of expertise is pitched fairly low.

There are plenty of ‘What is SEO?’ articles, but a distinct lack of ‘How do I benchmark Northern Asian SaaS B2B’s?’

On the plus side, Hubpages is one of the few sites that allows accurate tagging, but there is a bit of a "here to be seen" digital marketing posse in evidence, studiously posting their own articles and ignoring yours, so expect relatively small view numbers and little, if any referral action.

So, I’ve spent several hours copying, pasting, removing HTML tags, rewriting links and creating profiles, surely there should be some ROI?

Two weeks on, I check into GA and see what my traffic is like.

Here it is:


A grand total of six direct visitors in a two week period (Hubpages also provided 2 visitors to other landing pages).

The return on my time? $0.

Squidoo and Hubpages topped the chart, and given their social layers I’m prompted to believe that regular engagement on the sites could build a larger audience and provide greater returns, but compare these sites to social aggregators that require similar engagement.

Despite its many recent failings, even Digg provided twenty times the traffic in the same period, while Stumbleupon managed more than 4,000 unique visits, with a faster, cleaner and more easily targeted submission system.

We tested these sites on the basis of traffic, rather than SEO, as any search related benefits may take much longer to appear.

 Also, we're not convinced about the long term SEO value of these sites, due to some of the noise coming out of Google in recent weeks about penalising content farming sites. Based on these results, it’s no bad thing.

Content may well be king, but the vast majority of large article sites seem designed to harvest content and create their own entrenched audience, encouraging writers to submit free content while providing little value to the reader.

Although others may have had more success, it does seem to require an inordinate amount of time to create even a small return, so unless you are already a user then this may not be the path for you.

To be fair, some of the sites fair better than others: Ezine sent several follow-up emails after submission, and even provided a moderately helpful course with writing tips and advice so there is at least an attempt being made to build a community.

However, if you are going to invest time (and if you’re an employer, money) into content seeding then you need a solid ROI, and it appears that even the top sites in the field are woefully unable to supply it in scale without engagement that would be far better spent on cultivating your own blog and carrying out social campaigns.

Matt Owen

Published 23 February, 2011 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Great article, I am a regular user of Ezine and have recently started to question how useful it really is. As you say in the past it has worked very well but I belive its time to change tact. Thanks for the info.

over 5 years ago


Paramount Property

What does 'on the basis of traffic, rather than SEO,' mean?

over 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Hey, There is some evidence that submitting spread copy that's been heavily optimised can positively affect SEO, with articles ranking highly in search, however my key aims here were to test direct traffic from the sites themselves, rather than any long term effect on SEO, which would certainly require a larger sample and engagement over a far longer test period.

I'd certainly be interesting in hearing from anyone who has had success (either directly or in terms of SEO) with these sites.

over 5 years ago

Joe Friedlein

Joe Friedlein, Director at Browser Media

Interesting article Matt and few would argue that your evidence is both thorough and convincing.

I would say, however, that it is just one example and there are plenty of examples where it can work very well, both in terms of helping to boost your SEO efforst via the links that you build, but also in referred traffic.

The degree of success in terms of referred traffic will always be very closely aligned to how well the article ranks - I find that results vary massive but Ezinearticles in particular can often rank quite well for some reasonably phrases so we have seen cases where there has been fairly healthy amounts of referred traffic from article marketing (albeit usually from just one of the sites as you invariably run into duplicate content penalty issues with submitting the same article to multiple sites and not everyone writes different versions for different sites).

Another aspect which is important, yet hard to measure if you are just looking at clicks on the links, is that of 'authority' and brand perception. Even if the user doesn't click on the link, a well written article can definitely help position your brand in a positive light. If the article itself attracts links, you have extra reach and I would suggest that it must help demonstrate quality and authority (which will help your SEO in the longer term).

I do think that it is becoming much harder and constantly churning out dross is not a good plan, but well crafted and engaging content is still a tactic that we use and find that it is worth the effort.

Excuse the shameless plug (or just moderate it!) but we did a mini review on some of the article sites that we tend to use, which I hope you agree is relevant to this discussion and also helpful in understanding more about the various options - please see http://www.browsermedia.co.uk/2010/11/24/free-article-directories-mini-review/.

over 5 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

We write and submit articles for our clients, along with several other methods for our clients to great effect as it gets results, and we are paid on results! BUT we are doing this for links mainly, traffic from this activity is a bonus. And, as this blog suggests, posting can be a complicated procedure and also using articles for links is not straightforward. DIY at your peril!

over 5 years ago


Claire Jarrett

Like John, we use this method mainly for links rather than traffic, and submit a large volume of articles for our clients on a regular basis.

I tend to find with Go articles it's quite easy to end up with your article being refused due to too high a keyword density - when you've only mentioned the word a handful of times!

Our own site does receive a fair few referrals from Ezinearticles - but having tested posting an article versus a blog on our own site, I haev noticed higher rankings from our blog.

over 5 years ago


Emily Hill

We also submit articles for clients, as it can be an effective way to build an increasing network of links over a period of time. It's certainly not the best way to get an immediate influx of traffic (although occasionally an article will 'get lucky' and be republished somewhere with high visibility).

Ezinearticles.com is particularly good for referral traffic, as the articles we publish there often rank highly in the SERPs.

over 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

I like the article, the process, and the findings, but for me this was sadly the key line:

"We tested these sites on the basis of traffic, rather than SEO"

I think that ignores the main reason anyone would use any of the sites you tested.

I'd love to see the same test with an analysis of that.

over 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Hey all, thanks for your comments -'m laregly agreed that there are SEO and also online PR benefits to be had from this, but I'd be tempted to question the value compared to a hosted blog and the likelyhood of traffic resulting as a consequence of this - is anyone running this as a key campaign? I'll be following up on this and will run some tests based on brand awareness building and value as well as direct traffic - thanks for your input all.

over 5 years ago


John Bloomfield

Hi Matt

Really good article I tried ezinearticles a couple of years ago and found the biggest problem I had was that anything I published would appear verbatim on 40+ other sites within a week either without an author credit and link to my site or no reference to author at all. Took way too much energy trying to protecte my content, and very little traffic coming through to my own site.

I note ezinearticles has recently had a redesign that make sit even harder for a reader to se ethe link to an authors own site. And in additionI note this week the google pagerank of ezinearticles has dropped 1/2 from the 6 it used to be, I think Google's must now be monitoring bounce rates - I mean when was the last time you stayed on one of those sites for more than a minute!

over 5 years ago



I don't know if it's just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering problems with your website. It appears as though some of the text on your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a problem with my web browser because I've had this happen previously. Thank you

over 4 years ago

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