Monday Must-Reads – 3.11.13

Spring is almost here – a fact you are no doubt aware of as you groggily make your way through today, deprived of a precious hour of sleep thanks to the arrival of Daylight Savings Time.

Unless, of course, you’re from a non-observant state, such as those laid-back Hawaiians or cantankerous Arizonans, who, as we all know, don’t really care what the other 49 states think of them.

But shake off the cobwebs, because here are this week’s must-reads.

  1. Scientific American gets to the bottom of the Daylight Savings shenanigans. Cows give less milk, workplace accidents go up and all kinds of other observable grumpiness ensues, all because we set our clocks forward.
  2. ClickZ blog names Taco Bell the champion of social buzz this week with its new Cool Ranch Taco. But really, did you expect anything less?
  3. I just spent a slushy weekend in Boston posting dozens of pictures of buildings and food to Instagram, but Entrepreneur has some more lucrative uses for the photo-sharing app. Check out their marketer’s guide to Instagram.
  4. Speaking of the social Web, odds are, if you’re a social media marketer, you’re using it to keep your finger on the chatter surrounding your business. But your social spying has not gone unnoticed. eMarketer reports that new research shows that users are aware that businesses are monitoring their online conversations.
  5. On the more traditional, inbound side of things, Duct Tape Marketing blog gives some good pointers for how to increase sales leads through your website.

 

Freaky Friday – What it Takes to Censor the Chinese Twitter

It’s no secret that the Chinese government is not a fan of free and unencumbered access to the Web. But unlike North Korea, which restricts Internet access to all but a privileged handful of citizens, China recognizes that you can’t maintain your status as a rising power without you know, email.

So you can actually get on a computer and surf the Web in China, albeit one that is heavily censored. In fact, unlike repressive regimes in say, Syria or Egypt, China has done a fairly good job keeping the conversation under control – i.e. no criticism of the government – even using the Web to boost its legitimacy.

But while it’s well known that the Chinese Internet is heavily policed, we actually don’t know much about how it’s done. Rice University professor Dan Wallach and several colleagues recently set out to measure how censors keep non-approved content from appearing on Weibo – essentially the Chinese version of Twitter.

You can and should check out the entire story here at MIT’s Technology Review. The results are equally fascinating and freaky. Wallach and his team measured the volume of messages as well as the time and frequency of deletions to make conclusions about how Weibo is censored.

To keep tabs on Weibo’s 300 million users, who send 100 million messages per day and 70,000 per minute, Wallach figured that it takes 1,400 censors at any given moment and likely 4,200 each day to scan and delete messages. And roughly 12 percent of all messages are deleted.

I try not to get too political on this copywriting blog. But at least to me, this is very important work if for no other reason than it highlights the fact that a free and open Internet isn’t a given.

And it can’t be taken for granted.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Monday, iCopyInsiders. Ready for another week at the office?

Of course, I use the term “office” loosely. I imagine that – for many of our writers and clients – the office is wherever we make it. I like cafés as much as the next blogger, but I tend to stick to the nook in my apartment where I’ve set up shop.

I’ve got my headset, French press, WiFi, plenty of peace and quiet to write and a decent sixth-story view of Brooklyn, complete with a giant tree so I can tell the season. When the leaves turn green, I will finally go outside.

I bring all this up because telecommuting is suddenly the subject of surprisingly intense debate, with Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, axing work-from-home as an option for the tech company’s employees.

Which brings us to Item No. 1 on the weekly reading list.

  1. Where do you stand on telecommuting? Slate offers both sides of the debate. Tech columnist Farhad Manjoo writes that work-from-home is awesome. Katie Roiphe begs to differ.
  2. On to a topic only slightly less controversial: social media and ROI. eMarketer reports on a recent study showing that Twitter generates the most leads for small to mid-sized businesses, while Facebook generates more traffic. Social media itself only accounted for 5 percent of sales leads in the survey of 500 businesses.
  3. In other social news, this via The New York Times, Facebook is set to display targeted ads around the Web with its acquisition of Microsoft’s Atlas Advertising Suite.
  4. Of course, our passion here at iCopywriter is organic search, so if you need a refresher, this column in Entrepreneur has five simple strategies that just about anyone can use to improve their SEO. It’s a good primer for SEO newbies.
  5. And, finally, the Girl Scouts of America has pulled the plug on the ecommerce ambitions of reality television star Alana Thompson – known as Honey Boo Boo – saying she can’t sell the cookies over Facebook because it defeats the purpose of selling the cookies.

Other than dispensing tasty treats, the cookie program is meant to help young women gain confidence and business skills. I’m sold. Now, where can I find some Tagalongs?

That might be worth leaving the office for.

 

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Battletoads as Business Metaphor

Struggling daily deal site Groupon fired CEO Andrew Mason on Thursday. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. The company posted a terrible fourth quarter and the conventional wisdom has taken a dim view of Groupon’s business model for a while now.

Instead, the chatter focused on Mason’s epic farewell message. In it was found one of the surest signs yet that the Nintendo Generation has truly come of age: a reference to the ‘90s video game Battletoads.

Specifically, Mason compared his journey to the heights of entrepreneurial success – and subsequent fall – to making it to the infamous Terra Tubes level without dying. Wired unpacks the semiotics of Battletoads – and just what Mason meant – pretty well in this article. You can also check out Terra Tubes in their unedited glory on YouTube.

I never imagined I’d think about Terra Tubes again. Actually, that’s not true, because I’ve never even thought to think that I’d never think of Terra Tubes again.

But now that the memories are rushing back to me, I can’t come up with a better example of struggling against impossible odds in a ruthless digital world. My seven-year-old self aspired to defeat Battletoads above all other games. I even cleared Terra Tubes (although not without losing many, many lives first). But hey, the next level is called Rat Race (another great metaphor) and I never did beat Battletoads.inflatable air dancer

If the self-esteem movement brought us participation trophies and scoreless soccer, ‘90s video games were still there to teach children what it’s like to strive in the face of perpetual failure.

Not a bad lesson for budding entrepreneurs.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Monday, iCopyInsiders. I attempted to avoid the Oscars last night by catching the Nets game at a local sports bar, but, lo and behold, I ended up un-ironically watching them anyway. Which brings us to our first pick of the week.

The envelope, please …

  1. Google, it turns out, did better at predicting the Oscars than this year’s flu season, calling it for Argo. Slightly less interestingly, Google also tracked the search patterns during last night’s awards ceremony and, lo and behold, the winners got the most search traffic.

    Now, on to the serious stuff.

  2. Copyblogger continues to beat the drum for Google+ and Google Authorship with a very comprehensive guide on using the service to improve your online authority.
  3. Have you signed up for Mailbox yet? CBS MoneyWatch has a preview of the app, which is supposed to solve all of our inbox problems.
  4. We’re two years into Google Panda. The blog Search Engine Land breaks down the legacy of Google’s infamous algorithm update.
  5. Here’s an inside look at what it’s like to actually use Google’s new wearable display, Google Glass. Like what you see? All you need to do is round up $1,500 for a pair. Oh, and get on Google’s exclusive distribution list.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Google Doesn’t ‘Get’ the Flu

Looks like Dr. Google misdiagnosed this year’s flu season. A widely circulated article posted by Nature this week describes how Google’s flu tracking application ended up overestimating this year’s epidemic.

If you’re not familiar with Google’s flu tracker, it’s one of a number of projects falling under Google.org, which seeks to leverage Google products for social good. Check out their site – not only are the projects really cool, but they show how the data generated by search goes far beyond marketing. The flu tracker attempts to measure the spread and severity of outbreaks based in part on Web searches – that is, people searching for flu symptoms and other related topics.large water slides for sale

Neat, right? And, actually, the project has historically been fairly accurate, at least enough so that medical researchers planned to take a serious dive into Google’s numbers this flu season.

The flu was bad this year; just not as bad as Google predicted. The search giant’s numbers doubled what the Centers for Disease Control actually observed, according to Nature.

It doesn’t take Nate Silver to figure out some of what went wrong. Among other things, Google didn’t account for the – excuse the pun – viral nature of this year’s flu season. Media coverage about the predicted severity of this year’s flu – including stories about Google’s incredible flu tracker – boosted the number of Web searches for flu-related topics, throwing off Google’s algorithms.

Nature posits that this is a temporary setback for a promising approach, but GigaOM and others point out that the whole issue raises important questions about the reliability of Web data.

My takeaway – and the takeaway for search marketers – is that search data, click-thru-rates and all the other numbers we pull out of the Web are incredible, powerful tools, but they still need real-world context to be used effectively.

The freaky thing is, numbers don’t always mean what we think they do. And neither can they be divorced from facts on the ground. For a blunt example, Carnival Cruise Lines is probably seeing a spike in Web searches this week coinciding with its well-publicized fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico. And anybody who is familiar with cyberchondria knows that not everybody who searches for disease symptoms on the Web is actually sick.

Digging into the numbers still requires human expertise. Google alone can’t cure what ails you – or your business.

Monday Must-Reads

OK, iCopyInsiders, it’s all business this Monday. We’ve pulled together some pretty serious SEO reads for you to dig into this week.

Ah, who am I kidding? Before we begin, here is a cat watching the snowfall during the big blizzard the Northeast had over the weekend. And here is a snowy pup. Hat tip to Buzzfeed (who else?).

Also, watch a cool time-lapse video of the snowfall in Connecticut.

With that out of the way, we can move on to the weekly avalanche of search and marketing resources.

  1. Auto blog Jalopnik reports that the big car dealers are turning to SEO to move vehicles off their lots. But not everybody agrees on whether this is a good strategy or not, at least in terms of the specifics of the auto industry.
  2. Only 2 percent of Web users have signed up for a Vine account, but that doesn’t mean brands aren’t rushing to make use of the micro-video sharing site. SmartBlog has a handy guide for using Vine for content marketing. On a personal note, I enjoy Vine – and I’ve written as much on this site – but I would like to see a more robust user base. My gut says that Vine will continue to grow, but it may take some time.
  3. Via Search Engine Watch, online newsrooms are finally getting savvy to SEO, but the secret is in synergy between the PR types and the SEO team. Not to belabor the point, but good content leads to hits.
  4. Seems like I’m seeing more of these mega tip sheets on the blog circuit these days. Here is one from HubSpot: 101 ways to make people hate your marketing. Worth a skim. Don’t annoy people, basically.
  5. Lest you forget that Google Author Rank is shaking up the online search scene, here is CopyBlogger arguing that the late, great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson would have been a huge fan.

Monday Must-Reads

It’s Monday, iCopyInsiders. And not the awesome, federal holiday kind. As you shake off the cobwebs and welcome an actual five-day workweek, here are some good reads to get your brain going.

  1. Freaked out by changes to Google’s search algorithms? MediaPost says, “Don’t be.” Check out this rundown on what recent changes mean for marketers in terms of search engine optimization.
  2. Because we’re all about search, here’s a smart post from SmartBlog that breaks down how social media affects search rankings. There’s a lot of debate about social media ROI, but don’t forget that it ties into your broader Web presence in surprising ways. Don’t neglect it.
  3. For our freelance and indie workforce friends looking to improve their business, here is a neat list of must-read books from FreelanceSwitch, including several Web marketing resources.
  4. For Google geeks, here’s an interesting profile of Jeff Dean, one of the company’s tech wunderkinds, on Slate. It’s part of Slate’s new series called Doers: People who accomplish great things, and how they do it.
  5. You Only Live Once, or at least that’s what Instagram and Twitter tell me. If you’re not familiar with the #yolo meme – and even if you are – check out this awesome primer from Know Your Meme and then watch the latest SNL Digital Short.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – The Great Norwegian Cheese Disaster

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

So, everybody knows that fat and sugar aren’t good for you in large quantities. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that they could be downright dangerous. And not just to a diet.

Yes, according to Reuters, some 27 metric tons of flaming cheese blocked a road tunnel in Norway as it burned for nearly a week. The fuel: a fatty, sugary Norwegian delicacy known as Brunost. It’s a caramelized, brown concoction made from the whey of goat’s milk, which doesn’t really make it cheese, according to the blog Nordic Nibbler.

Either way, it’s potent stuff – about 30 percent fat – and according to Norwegian officials, the high concentrations of fat and sugar make for a highly combustible mixture that burns like petrol.

Some other interesting Brunost facts via Nordic Nibbler:

– Brunost has a slightly salty, sweet flavor, but is reminiscent of goat cheese. Think of it as goat fudge.

– It’s best eaten as a spread – perhaps on a slice of bread or a waffle – although it can be used in a variety of recipes.

– Curious Americans can apparently find Brunost at certain Whole Foods locations sold under the Ski Queen brand, although I couldn’t find it via a quick search of the Whole Foods website.inflatable arches

Just don’t transport it in large quantities. That would be a serious fire hazard.

Photo Credit: Smabs Sputzer

 

 

How to Give Your Website a Checkup

Welcome to the depths of winter, iCopyInsiders. We hope everyone is staying healthy with flu season raging (don’t forget to wash your hands, folks). And of course, America’s own version of seasonal affective disorder is swiftly approaching with the end of football in two weeks.

As the weather gets dreary and frigid temperatures set in this week, it’s as good a time as any to stay indoors, heat up some soup and give your business website a checkup, as well.

And when we say checkup, we mean checking in on some of the key indicators of a healthy, vibrant website – one that potential customers will actually find on Google and other search engines.

Now, as we’ve written in the past, a successful content strategy takes a dedicated investment of patience, commitment and resources to see serious return on investment. But you don’t need to hire an expensive firm to get a basic idea of whether your site is doing well or poorly. There a number of free search engine optimization diagnostic tools that can give you a broad idea of how to improve your site’s SEO efforts.

Here are some of our favorite free diagnostic tools.

Google and Bing Webmaster Tools

Both Google and Bing offer a ridiculously useful set of free tools for diagnosing the health of your website. Both of these should be a starting point for any site checkup, because they can be used to quickly see how the two search engines view your site, including the search terms customers are using to find it. They can also be used to figure out malware and website glitches such as crawl errors.

Copyscape

Google punishes duplicate content in its search rankings. And it’s no secret that plagiarism, whether you are aware that your content producers were committing it or not, is a guaranteed fast way to tank a reputation. That makes Copyscape – which scans the web for duplicate content – one of our go-to tools here at iCopywriter. We run everything that our writers produce through the service, but even if you’re an iCopy client, it’s worth checking out if you’re posting material on your own or from other bloggers.

Google Page Speed

Website load speed is an underrated factor in your search rankings. You don’t want to waste users’ time with a clunky, hard-to-load website. Also, they’re more likely to click away from a site that doesn’t load quickly. Luckily, Google has a set of Page Speed Tools that can be used to assess how quickly your website loads.

Site Grading Tools

There are a number of sites that can give you a quick, letter grade assessment of how your website is performing. We like HubSpot’s Marketing Grader. It’s a great resource for figuring out a few jumping off points for improving your website.

Social Mention

One of the big trends for 2013 will be social media’s increasing importance in search rankings. Bing is incorporating more Facebook chatter into its search results and Google Authorship is going to give more weight to socially influential content creators. Use search engines like Social Mention to get a quick feel for how and where your brand is registering on social media.

Have you checked out iCopywriter lately?

Photo Credit: FindYourSearch