Monthly Archives: February 2010

Vote For Internet Radio!

Support our new community Internet Radio Station (www.OCTalkRadio.net) in the Cisco Small Business Contest by voting HERE.  We promise “Stimulating Conversations” for all!

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Open Look at Google’s Secret Algorithms

Recently ran across this excellent article by Stephen Levy in WIRED magazine about the history and inner workings of Google’s secret algorithms.  It’s the “holy grail” of any good SEO and the most widely sought secret on the Internet:

Want to know how Google is about to change your life? Stop by the Ouagadougou conference room on a Thursday morning. It is here, at the Mountain View, California, headquarters of the world’s most powerful Internet company, that a room filled with three dozen engineers, product managers, and executives figure out how to make their search engine even smarter. This year, Google will introduce 550 or so improvements to its fabled algorithm, and each will be determined at a gathering just like this one. The decisions made at the weekly Search Quality Launch Meeting will wind up affecting the results you get when you use Google’s search engine to look for anything — “Samsung SF-755p printer,” “Ed Hardy MySpace layouts,” or maybe even “capital Burkina Faso,” which just happens to share its name with this conference room. Udi Manber, Google’s head of search since 2006, leads the proceedings. One by one, potential modifications are introduced, along with the results of months of testing in various countries and multiple languages. A screen displays side-by-side results of sample queries before and after the change. Following one example — a search for “guitar center wah-wah” — Manber cries out, “I did that search!”

You might think that after a solid decade of search-market dominance, Google could relax. After all, it holds a commanding 65 percent market share and is still the only company whose name is synonymous with the verb search. But just as Google isn’t ready to rest on its laurels, its competitors aren’t ready to concede defeat. For years, the Silicon Valley monolith has used its mysterious, seemingly omniscient algorithm to, as its mission statement puts it, “organize the world’s information.” But over the past five years, a slew of companies have challenged Google’s central premise: that a single search engine, through technological wizardry and constant refinement, can satisfy any possible query. Facebook launched an early attack with its implication that some people would rather get information from their friends than from an anonymous formula. Twitter’s ability to parse its constant stream of updates introduced the concept of real-time search, a way of tapping into the latest chatter and conversation as it unfolds. Yelp helps people find restaurants, dry cleaners, and babysitters by crowdsourcing the ratings. None of these upstarts individually presents much of a threat, but together they hint at a wide-open, messier future of search — one that isn’t dominated by a single engine but rather incorporates a grab bag of services.

Still, the biggest threat to Google can be found 850 miles to the north: Bing. Microsoft’s revamped and rebranded search engine — with a name that evokes discovery, a famous crooner, or Tony Soprano’s strip joint — launched last June to surprisingly upbeat reviews. (The Wall Street Journal called it “more inviting than Google.”) The new look, along with a $100 million ad campaign, helped boost Microsoft’s share of the US search market from 8 percent to about 11 — a number that will more than double once regulators approve a deal to make Bing the search provider for Yahoo.

Team Bing has been focusing on unique instances where Google’s algorithms don’t always satisfy. For example, while Google does a great job of searching the public Web, it doesn’t have real-time access to the byzantine and constantly changing array of flight schedules and fares. So Microsoft purchased Farecast — a Web site that tracks airline fares over time and uses the data to predict when ticket prices will rise or fall — and incorporated its findings into Bing’s results. Microsoft made similar acquisitions in the health, reference, and shopping sectors, areas where it felt Google’s algorithm fell short.

Even the Bingers confess that, when it comes to the simple task of taking a search term and returning relevant results, Google is still miles ahead. But they also think that if they can come up with a few areas where Bing excels, people will get used to tapping a different search engine for some kinds of queries. “The algorithm is extremely important in search, but it’s not the only thing,” says Brian MacDonald, Microsoft’s VP of core search. “You buy a car for reasons beyond just the engine.”

Google’s response can be summed up in four words: mike siwek lawyer mi.

Amit Singhal types that koan into his company’s search box. Singhal, a gentle man in his forties, is a Google Fellow, an honorific bestowed upon him four years ago to reward his rewrite of the search engine in 2001. He jabs the Enter key. In a time span best measured in a hummingbird’s wing-flaps, a page of links appears. The top result connects to a listing for an attorney named Michael Siwek in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a fairly innocuous search — the kind that Google’s servers handle billions of times a day — but it is deceptively complicated. Type those same words into Bing, for instance, and the first result is a page about the NFL draft that includes safety Lawyer Milloy. Several pages into the results, there’s no direct referral to Siwek.

The comparison demonstrates the power, even intelligence, of Google’s algorithm, honed over countless iterations. It possesses the seemingly magical ability to interpret searchers’ requests — no matter how awkward or misspelled. Google refers to that ability as search quality, and for years the company has closely guarded the process by which it delivers such accurate results. But now I am sitting with Singhal in the search giant’s Building 43, where the core search team works, because Google has offered to give me an unprecedented look at just how it attains search quality. The subtext is clear: You may think the algorithm is little more than an engine, but wait until you get under the hood and see what this baby can really do.”

To read the full story, including a more detailed explantion about what Google does when it crawls the web and how they do it and a look back at some of the big advances in Google search, CLICK HERE.

Social Media Growing as Important Marketing Tool

According to a nationwide telephone survey in 2009 of the Inc. 500 list, under the direction of researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson, social media has penetrated parts of the business world at a tremendous speed. It also indicates that corporate familiarity with and usage of social media within the Inc. 500 has continued to grow in the past 12 months.
Key findings from the study are that:

The technology that continues to be the most familiar to the Inc. 500 is social networking with 75% of respondents in 2009 claiming to be “very familiar with it” (compared to 57% in 2008). Another noteworthy statistic around familiarity is Twitter’s amazing “share of mind” with sixty-two percent of executives reported being familiar with the new microblogging and social networking platform
While social networking and blogging have enjoyed growth in actual adoption, the use of message boards, online video, wikis and podcasting has leveled off or declined. The addition of Twitter (considered by respondents to be both a microblogging site and a social networking site) in the latest study shows that 52% of the Inc. 500 companies are already using this tool for their business
43% of the 2009 Inc. 500 reported social media was “very important” to their business/marketing strategy. And 91% of the Inc. 500 is using at least one social media tool in 2009 (up from 77% in 2008). In addition, 36% having implemented a formal policy concerning blogging by their employees.

As of 2009, 75% of respondents claim to be “very familiar” with social networking tools. In 2007, 42% percent were “very familiar” with social networking and 57% were “very familiar” in 2008. However, as the chart shows, across the board a significant percentage of the companies are “very familiar” with each of the technologies studied.

From familiarity, the survey moved into the companies’ actual usage of social media. While familiarity is related to adoption, even the least familiar tool (podcasting) has 37% adoption. Social networking and blogging have enjoyed growth, while the use of message boards, online video, wikis and podcasting hasve leveled off or declined. The addition of Twitter in the latest study shows that 52% of the Inc. 500 is using this tool for their business.

When asked if the use of social media has been successful for their business, Twitter users report an 82% success rate while every other tool studied enjoys at least an 87% success level. Measuring success was investigated and most respondents report using hits, comments, leads or sales as primary indicators of success.

When asked if they plan to adopt any of the social media technologies that they are not currently using, they clearly intend to continue immersing themselves in these tools. 44% percent of those without corporate blogs intend to have one. 27% percent of respondents who do not currently have a business presence on Twitter plan to move into that space.

Source: UMass Dartmouth, January 2010

The conclusion from the UMass report suggests that… from familiarity to usage to importance, social media has expanded rapidly. And, for the first time, 3-year trends in familiarity, adoption and importance to mission have been documented in a statistically significant, longitudinal study. This third study, says the report, begins to shed light on exciting new social media tools like Twitter, and new uses of social media like recruitment and & hiring, and the emergence of social media policies. With almost every responding company using at least one form of these exciting new technologies, social media is clearly here to stay in the business world.

At the same time, a new Weber Shandwick study, to evaluate how effectively Fortune 100 companies used Twitter to its full potential as an engagement platform, concludes that, with intervention, Twitter can help companies engage with customers, build new relationships and create a new pool of advocates talking positively about their brands.

The study showed that 73% of Fortune 100 companies registered a total of 540 Twitter accounts.

 However:

76% posted fewer than 500 tweets
52% are not actively engaged
50% of accounts had fewer than 500 followers
11% were placeholder accounts
4% were used for a specific event only
With more than 20 million people on Twitter in the U.S.(50 million worldwide), there are ample opportunities for audiences to engage with corporations and brands, says the report.

The key is listening and engaging, says Weber, but the study indicates that companies are not engaging effectively. Among the Fortune 100 companies examined by Weber Shandwick, only:

26% of their Twitter accounts were primarily used as a one-way flow of information that offered no engagement with followers.
24% of the Twitter accounts were primarily used for brand awareness. Many appeared to be on Twitter simply to have an online presence.
16% were used mainly as sales vehicles for company products and services.
9% were directed primarily to customer service
8% focused on Thought leadership it.
14% of accounts were used for other reasons such as recruitment or employee-specific information, or their accounts were locked and not visible.

And, the conclusion of the Weber Shandwick study is that for the majority of Fortune 100 companies, Twitter remains a missed opportunity. To maximize the benefits of Twitter, says the report, companies should offer opinions and encourage discussions, reach out to their communities of customers and advocates, build relationships with new customers and look for untapped supporters.

Courtesy of  The Center for Media Research.
(c) 2010 MediaPost Communications, 1140 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001.

Economic Snapshot: February 2010

Three-quarters of respondents to the latest survey conducted by McKinsey Quarterly expect their companies to enjoy a profit increase in the next year, and fewer than half expect to cut costs during the same period—both firsts since October 2008. On the whole, this survey shows that executives see economies on the mend, with positive prospects for their countries—84 percent expect national GDP to rise in 2010—as well as for their companies.

But the results also show uncertainty and uneasiness about the future, particularly at the global level. When asked about the likeliest description of the global economy over the next three months, 46 percent of executives pick “constrained global markets perpetuate imbalances”—far more than choose any other description. This view, along with a dip in the share of respondents who expect their national economies to be better in six months, implies a slight dampening of economic hopes since December. Low consumer demand is seen as the largest single threat to national economic recovery in developed economies.

Respondents in developing economies, however, see a bright picture for both their companies and national economies. Further, they identify very different threats to growth: most notably, high commodity prices and currency values.

Courtesy of the McKinsey Quarterly.

Most Small Biz Find Social Media Ineffective

A Citibank/GFK Roper survey of 500 U.S. businesses with fewer than 100 employees has found very few small businesses in the U.S. have adopted social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter for business uses. The findings include:

  • Three-quarters of the small business owners surveyed say they have not found sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn helpful for generating business leads or expanding business in the past year
  • 86% said they have not used social networking sites for information or business advice
  • 25% said they’re using more online advertising to generate business leads and sales
  • 10% said they have sought business advice and information on expert blogs

Here’s a link to the full press release for more info.  Courtesy of SEARCH ENGINE LAND.com

Brands Becoming Their Own Media Company

It isn’t enough for top PR firms (like Edelman) to just package your message and present it to media reporters anymore. They seem to be admitting that their clients are going to have to start broadcasting that message directly to the public thru their own “new media channels”  (like blogs, podcasts and internet radio shows) further blurring the lines between “traditional journalism” and “new media journalism”.

Here’s what Edelman’s press release said:

In a move that backs up Edelman CEO Richard Edelman’s stance that brands will continue to morph into media companies, the agency has hired its first Chief Content Officer.

Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s Director of Global News and a member of the BBC’s Management Board for the last ten years, will join Edelman in May.

“Companies are going to have a harder time penetrating that authority media because reporters are getting less space. Therefore companies are going to have to do a more extensive job of putting out their story through their own websites and other channels. And in order to do that I needed someone who understood high-quality content, [but] not to replace the mediated view. This is a further addition to the conversation,” Edelman told Advertising Age.

In a statement, Sambrook said Edelman is a firm he has “long respected.”

“I’m greatly looking forward to helping to develop their content production and their approach to crisis and issues management,” he said.

Sambrook will also assume leadership of Edelman’s Global Crisis and Issues practice towards the end of the year, as agency vet Mike Seymour begins to transition out of the position.

Courtesy of MediaBistro.com’s PRNEWSER.

What is “linkbait”?

Here’s the latest idea to “lure” others to link to your site:  offer free and appealing “linkbait” (like interesting and embedable graphics or widgets).  This recent article from SEARCH ENGINE LAND explores two separate campaigns to “churn the waters” in this way (and gets its own link from me in the process!)

“In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), the tactic known as “linkbait” is one of the few link building tactics the search engines embrace, encourage and algorithmically reward. The reason for this is simple, linkbait generates editorial links which the search engines love. Knowing this and understanding the influence of universal search, the bounty placed on paid links and the need to build brand on an increasingly cluttered Web, creating and launching successful linkbait may be more important than ever before.

I recently came across a couple of linkbait campaigns, they’re from different companies in the same industry. Both used an info graphic to convey their message but one is better in terms of creativity, marketing and linkability. It’s this “linkability” which is the essence needed to attract links and take your content viral. Since the two pieces targeted the same audience but took different approaches, I thought they’d make a great comparison study on what you should and shouldn’t do when creating linkbait.  (Note:  I have permission from the owner of the less stellar linkbait to use it here.) Before we get started, a quick definition of linkbait.

What is linkbaiting?

 Linkbaiting is a link building tactic which uses dynamic content to attract attention and links. The term and technique gained prominence in 2005/2006  when controversial blog posts and articles were used  to “flame” and/or humor people into linking. It’s quietly morphed into a more mainstream “content generation” method using elements such as puzzles, contests, widgets, infographics and inspirational content to attract attention and links. 

Good and not-so-good linkbait Both companies in our comparison study are in the ink cartridge industry which is a busy and competitive space.  Each created an infographic to show how many pieces of paper it would take to print every tweet sent. Great tie-in for an ink cartridge company but the similarity between the two linkbaits stops there. To help with the comparison process, I’ve listed three important components of a linkbait campaign and compared the two pieces to each.Component #1: emotion 

Whether you make them laugh or cry, your visitors will remember what they see if your linkbait stirs an emotion.  Both pieces provided impressive statistics, but Company A didn’t make me work to find them, their information was presented in short, easy-to-read captions.Company A Intro:

 

 Company B:

 Company B used too much verbiage and not enough graphics so I started skimming and skipping over segments to get through it. Long sentences and lots of text can be a killer with linkbait, keep your initial call to action and body content short and sweet.

 

 Component #2: information

 Linkbait should have something new or eye-opening as part of its content so the message sticks long after you’ve left it. Both campaigns did this by showing the amount of  paper needed  to print every tweet sent but Company A’s linkbait made it easy for me to understand and be impressed by what I was reading. Seven billion tweets printed = 3.5 million pounds of paper, that’s a lot of dead trees.

Company A, Part 2:

 

 Component #3: viral

 The goal of any linkbait is simple… get as many people to see and link to it as possible. In order for this to happen, the bait needs to be  promoted heavily through social and traditional media for a better chance at going viral. The viral element is highly desirable for many reasons but reach and cost are the two biggest. People passing linkbait costs you nothing, nets views from a wide audience and hopefully more media attention down the road.

Company A’s linkbait was highlighted on Mashable, the article had over 1100 retweets and 18 comments. Comments are important to help with the next piece of linkbait, check out some of the advice left for Company A. According to Yahoo! Site Explorer, Company A’s linkbait was linked to by over 940 sources while Company B’s had substantially fewer inbound links. Since Company B was second to launch,  their data was old news and ignored in traditional and social media. Sometimes, being first is all you need.

Linkbait takeaways

Keep the linkbait short and sweet and be sure to include an “embed this image” option for easy reprint.  Include Twitter, Facebook and Stumble share buttons.

  1. Keep an eye on the social media sites and what’s going hot in your industry, try to create linkbait around topics people are reading and talking about. (Both companies used Twitter  in their titles which was smart!)
  2. Launch your linkbait to a specific group of people before going public, tap the associations and social media communities you belong to for feedback and a jumpstart.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use bright colors, bold graphics and slogans. You want to be remembered and passed around, not filed away under “cute”.

This post is focused on using linkbait as a SEO link attraction method but not everyone uses linkbait for links, some want to build brand or promote charitable causes. Take a look at what the Special Olympics is doing, I think it’s awesome and one of the best examples of linkbait I’ve seen outside of SEO. Here’s the full linkbait piece from  Company A and Company B.