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.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – The Web Predicts the Future

The sum total of digital links, text, data, images and everything else you touch online everyday may just be the closest thing we ever get to a crystal ball.

Yes, there is a serious move afoot – led by very serious people – to mine the Web in order to predict future events. Don’t believe me? Just check out this paper by Microsoft Research and the Israel Institute of Technology.

Their idea: Software can recognize undetectable patterns in the mass of real-time and archived news and other information online – and analyze it in an unbiased way – to forecast future events. H/T to tech blog GigaOM for the link, as well as a great post about how the paper’s authors will be digging into two decades of New York Times articles and seeing what kind of forecasts they can extrapolate.

This idea isn’t so crazy – witness last week’s post about Google’s uneven efforts to predict the spread of the flu – and there are a number of startups in this area, including Recorded Future, which is already being marketed to the defense and financial sectors. You can even try a very limited version of Recorded Future for yourself – although the corporate plans and are going to cost you, big time.

But I encourage anybody to give the demo a spin to get a taste of predictive analytics. The focus of the research is on large, worldwide events, but we’re already seeing plenty of predictive analytics in the business world, including behavioral targeting and even algorithms that attempt to predict what will trend on Twitter.

Just imagine how hard it’s going to be to stay ahead of the curve when everyone knows where the curve is going.

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.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Oh, the Things You can Print

They say you can find anything on the Web. Thanks to 3D printing, that’s truer than ever. The kinds of stuff you can download just got a lot cooler and, in some cases, much freakier.

For the uninitiated, 3D printing involves laying down successive layers of material – often plastic or a liquid resin – to create solid, three-dimensional objects. For now, these printers are mostly the domain of the tech-savvy DIY and Maker crowds because they’re great for rapid prototyping and other design projects, but the time is probably not far away when affordable desktop 3D printers will be available.

Put simply, sometime in the near future, it probably won’t be that unusual to print an iPhone case. Early adopters are already doing it.

Clients take note: If your business makes something – as in an actual, physical thing – 3D printing has the potential to change your industry. Forever. I’m talking as much as blogs and social media have changed this former print newspaper reporter’s trade.

How and when this happens are up for debate, but there are plenty of innovative companies in this space. MakerBot and Shapeways are two notable 3D printing companies based in New York.

But enough about the business end of things. It’s FreakyFriday, and you were promised freakiness. Well, 3D printing can deliver on that front, right in your home, in successive layers of resin. Here are three of the coolest, weirdest and/or freakiest things being done on 3D printers.

1) Your face. Or your mom’s face. Anybody’s, really.

This one probably wins. Tech blog Gizmodo had an article this week about Brooklyn artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who is printing theoretical 3D faces of strangers from their discarded DNA. That is, she’s lifting genetic material from cigarette butts, wads of gum and stray hairs found on the streets of New York, creating rough likenesses via computer based on ethnicity, age, gender and other factors and then printing them out.

And you thought Facebook’s facial recognition was freaky.

2) Magazines.

As in high-capacity gun magazines. Austin-based Defense Distributed is spearheading what it calls the Wiki Weapons project to develop printable firearms and ammunition. This week, Talking Points Memo reported on its IdeaLab blog that the organization demonstrated that it had successfully created a working, printable gun magazine be named in honor of New York’s pro-gun-control governor, Andrew Cuomo.

3) Human organs.

This one is still down the road, but, according to Mashable, Scottish scientists are working to create a 3D printer capable of replicating human organs via stem cells. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but for lack of a better sentence: Wow – science!

Monday Must-Reads: Super Bowl Hangover Edition

How are we feeling today, iCopyInsiders? Super Bowl Sunday may be an unofficial national holiday, but it’s no three-day weekend. Not that we don’t treat it like one. So let’s get Monday started with some postgame brain food.

First, let’s deal with that headache.

  • If you’re looking for ways to motivate your hungover employees, Inc.com has put together the ultimate guide. For good reason, too; Jacksonville Business Journal reports that up to $850 million will be lost in worker productivity today.
  • The International Business Times has a roundup of hangover cures.
  • If you’re feeling extra motivated, you can petition the White House to just go ahead and give us all the day off.

Feeling better? Now, onto the business end of things. We’ll start with more football, because, hey, the Super Bowl is also the championship of marketing.

  1. USA Today breaks down how the big game played out on the Web and social media. Not surprisingly, Beyoncé and the Superdome blackout ate up most of the social bandwidth.
  2. Major events like the Super Bowl rarely go off script – except, of course, for the game itself – but when the power went out in half the Superdome, socially savvy marketers were quick to shine the light on their own brands. Oreo takes the prize here, with a blackout-themed advertisement that quickly went viral. Well played, Oreo.
  3. In non-Beyoncé, non-cookie related news, here is an article from Ad Age about how Facebook plans to take on Google’s dominance in the search market with its social graph. I’m not sold on social graph, but marketers should keep an eye on this.
  4. Search Engine Journal advises businesses on how to improve a website’s bounce rate. Remember, your website isn’t much good if users don’t stick around.
  5. This one is via the ClickZ marketing blog. Google has been plugging its universal analytics that aim to give marketers an accurate picture of site performance across platformsinflatable tunnels.

 

Boost Your SEO IQ This Month

January is almost over, iCopyInsiders. How are those New Year’s resolutions going?

Of course, here at the blog, we don’t believe that it needs to be Dec. 31 to commit to self-improvement. So, we’d like to humbly propose a New Month’s resolution:

Learn something new about SEO and/or the Web in February.

Even if your company outsources its search engine marketing – and most do – it’s well worth it for any business owner or manager to pick up some of the basic SEO terminology and skills [check out iCopy's latest Pinterest boards: "For Our Clients: Interesting SEO Copywriting Info & SEO News]. It will make you a savvier customer when it comes to shopping for vendors, and it will make strategizing with them more effective, as well.

Knowledge is power, as the cliché goes. It also leads to Web hits. Here are some of our favorite resources for learning the art and science behind the clicks.inflatable jumpers buy

Online Courses

For a comprehensive dive into SEO, there are a number of excellent online courses.

HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing University offers more than a dozen online videos taught by some of the leading lights in search, tech and marketing. They’re a little less than an hour each, but well worth a chunk of your evening or whatever spare time you can find. They’re also free to watch online.

In terms of paid options, DistilledU offers access to its SEO classes for $40 per month, although you can test out the service with a free demo. Point Blank SEO also offers a course for $67 on the all-important subject of link building.

Subject Guides and Blogs

For digital bookworms, the gold standard on the Web is the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, a free ebook produced by software company and online search community SEOmoz. It’s short enough to read in one dedicated sitting, but covers all the biggies, including the basics of how search engines work, how to use analytics and SEO-friendly Web design.

No surprise here, but Google also offers several useful resources. The company offers its own Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. To stay on top of the company’s latest announcements, be sure to bookmark its Inside Search blog. Google Analytics IQ is another great resource for figuring out how to decipher the vast amounts of visitor data that websites produce.

Web Development

For those who are truly ambitious – but technical newbies – consider dabbling in programming. Getting under the Web’s hood is the fastest way to understand how it works. Luckily, thanks to massive online open courses, top-flight tech classes are right at your fingertips. Udacity’s beginning computer science course actually runs users through how to build a bare-bones search engine. Codecademy is also a fun way to learn the basics of programming and development.