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 – 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.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Presidents’ Day, iCopyInsiders.

I guess the foremost question on my mind is what Sasha and Malia Obama got their dad for his special day. In this case, a quick Web search wasn’t much help in digging up a good answer. Let me know if you find anything; I feel like somebody at least got him a tie.

However, I did find this interesting slideshow of Presidential gifts by The New Yorker.

The second thing on my mind this very Presidential Monday is the importance of social media and search rankings, which is how we’re starting off this week’s edition of Monday Must-Reads.

  1. AdAge charts how Facebook Graph Search will make it easier to measure ROI on social media, with some tips for optimization. No cheats here. As the Web gets smarter, every search engine will attempt to measure and reward genuine engagement with business-created content.
  2. VentureBeat breaks down ComScore’s Digital Future report. Among the key takeaways: Google still dominates search, but Bing is making slow but sure progress. LinkedIn and Twitter are neck and neck for unique visitors.
  3. TechCrunch picks this up from the ComScore report: 3 in 10 paid advertisements are never seen by customers. Considering that 5.3 trillion ads were shown in 2012, that’s a lot of ads that never saw the whites of a customer’s eyes. Don’t neglect your organic search marketing, folks! Connect with the people who are actually trying to find you.
  4. I have a few blogs I try to keep regularly updated – not to mention my workload as a freelancer – so trust me, I get that keeping content updated is a daily struggle. MarketingProfs has some helpful tips on how to build content marketing into a business routine. Routine, I would say, is the keyword.
  5. Also on the content side, Reputation Capital presents an interesting roundup of startup founders talking about the value of blogging. They ask a good question: Is it right for every business.
  6. Props to CNET for finding this: Harlem Shake Roulette. You’re welcome.

 

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.

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 platforms.

 

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Vine Gets Freaky

 

I guess this was to be expected; every emerging Web technology goes through its, uh, wild and irresponsible period.

Witness Twitter’s new video-sharing app, Vine, which allows users to post six-second videos for streaming. Naturally, the service found that most of the first week of its big launch was spent figuring out how to crack down on users posting porn and deal with the ensuing media attention.

Then the app experienced its first major outage within five days of going live.

That being said, I’m not ready to give up on Vine so easily. The service is already spawning third-party apps and extensions that allow users to embed videos into Tumblr feeds or search for cool content. And even in a few short days, users have embraced the medium in creative ways.

As any entrepreneur knows, things can get freaky fast when launching a new product. Here are my three takeaways when it comes to the weirdness that was Vine this week.

1. Give Vine time to grow.

Twitter seemed ridiculous too, at first. And while the micro-blogging site isn’t the right content delivery system for every business, few would question the cultural impact it has had since it first launched. Content platforms – and how people use and interact with them – evolve over time.

2. Vine can be used to make interesting business content.

The beautiful thing about Twitter is how it forces users to focus on their message. Now, this doesn’t work for all content, but you don’t have to be a marketing genius to recognize the potential of a memorable six-second video pitch. Vine will force marketers to be ruthlessly efficient – not to mention extremely creative – in how they deliver their message.

So, what’s your six-second pitch?

3. It’s OK if Vine isn’t for you.

I tend not to be a fan of social overload. A business doesn’t have to be delivering content on every single platform available. Not every business is built for, say, Pinterest, and that’s just fine. Actually, spreading content efforts too thin more often leads to weak or duplicate content.

Rather, it’s a good idea to focus on doing the best job possible on the social networks where you are active, and these should be the ones your customers are using. If video fits into that equation, by all means, start cutting some six-second clips.

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.

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.

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.