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: 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.

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.

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

Monday Must-Reads

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

Happy Monday, iCopyInsiders. I hope you’re enjoying the long weekend. Of course, if you find yourself behind a laptop, tablet, smartphone or other glowing rectangle today, we’ve got you covered with our weekly reading list.

If you’re attending an Inaugural Ball tonight, you may even think about asking your social media butler to retweet a few of them.

Without further adieu, check out these SEO and copywriting links.

1. We harp on it a lot, but if you want further evidence that social content is becoming more and more relevant to search, HubSpot has a good article about how Bing is adding more Facebook content to its search results.

In other words, it’s a good time to clean up that company Facebook page.

2. Maybe I’m in a social media mood today, but I also liked this piece from Entrepreneur about how to optimize your LinkedIn profile for search. You’ve got expertise, but can the people who need it find you online?

3. I initially chuckled at this new series from Copyblogger called The Writer Files, which will feature regular interviews with some of the Web’s foremost content producers. I mean, we’re not exactly The Lives of the Poets. But it’s actually an interesting window into what kind of workflow some of the Web’s best bloggers use.

4. I guess we have to give a nod to mighty Google because this is an SEO blog. Here’s an interesting piece from Slate about how the company keeps its employees happy with the world’s most sophisticated HR department.

5. Finally, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is more than a lazy Monday. I recommend reading (or rereading) Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail or the text of his immortal I Have a Dream speech. His words remain powerful, inspiring and even revolutionary.

 

Freaky Friday: Weird of the Day – Tri-Freakta – The Hermit Kingdom Revisited, Smart Silverware and Digital Parenthood

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

Man, 2013 is off to a weird start. So weird, in fact, that we’re bringing you a triple dose of FreakyFriday, all crammed into one freakishly compact post.

1. Google chief searches North Korea

First, the seriously freaky: In our last episode we touched on Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit to North Korea. As an update, Schmidt did right by Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” credo and called on the Hermit Kingdom and its leaders to embrace the Web.

I don’t know if anyone is hopeful that the world’s most authoritarian regime will find much use in supplying its people with a massive, open source of information that encourages personal expression. But, hey, somebody had to say it to Kim Jong-un’s face, because I don’t think the guy has a Facebook. Either way, Eric Schmidt walked around North Korea looking at things, which is apparently what you do in North Korea if you’re important, at least according to Tumblr.

2. The age of smart cutlery is here

The gadget powwow 2013 International CES was held in Las Vegas this week. In the last couple years it has actually been just as popular to write about why CES isirrelevant – and there is a strong case when Apple and Microsoft don’t even bother to attend – but, all the same, it’s usually good for at least a few interesting tech curios.

Our favorite this year: the smart fork. Yes, the HAPIfork is a utensil designed to help you lose weight by letting you know when you’re eating too fast. The HAPIfork is making at least some people sad. The news and culture site Salon declared that the smart fork is a sign that civilization is doomed. We’re not prepared to go that far, but hey, the fork goes back to at least the eighth or ninth century, and it’s been working pretty well ever since.

You should probably stick a fork in this idea, and into some healthy food, if you want to really lose weight.

3. Parenting 2.0

This is destined to become a question on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me. A Chinese father, tired of his son playing video games instead of looking for a job, hired virtual hitmen to assassinate the kid’s character in online video games – the idea being that eventually he would get tired of constantly losing and quit playing.

It’s an ingenious example of crowdsourcing, but, alas, it didn’t work.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Google Chairman Reportedly to Visit the Hermit Kingdom

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

This week, we take you to a land where search engine optimization is nonexistent, but if it did exist, would probably land you in prison: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, better known to the world as North Korea.

The regime is, of course, seen as one of the most repressive in the world. Watch the VICE Guide to North Korea or the Sundance film selection Kimjongilia. Harrowing, bizarre and tragic stuff. Web access is limited to only a few dozen elite families, while the rest of the country’s computers operate on a closed, heavily monitored Intranet.

So, heads naturally turned when it leaked to the Associated Press that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be visiting the Hermit Kingdom as part of a humanitarian mission. And the U.S. State Department is not happy, especially given recent tensions with the nation over a December rocket launch.

It’s a tale of tech intrigue if ever there was one. The visit is being kept under wraps – the U.S. has no formal relations with North Korea – leaving most to speculate what the Google chairman will be doing in North Korea. According to the AP, it likely won’t be talk about search, or even business, but possibly information technology. Kim Jong-un is reportedly making a push to modernize the nation’s technology infrastructure.

What that would look like – if it could ever happen, as North Korea is currently constituted – is a question I’ll leave to the experts.

Google isn’t commenting – implying that any such visit, if it happened, would be personal travel. But the leader of the world’s most visible search company landing in the world’s most technologically isolated nation is a significant event. Technology has the power to open governments and give voice to the voiceless, but it can just as easily be used to monitor, harass and persecute.

Let’s hope Mr. Schmidt takes Google’s code of conduct to heart.

Monday Must-Reads…

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

OK, it might not be as invigorating as a strong cup of coffee, but why not start your week with a potent brew of SEO and copywriting knowledge? If you’re interested in staying found on the Web – and what business isn’t? – then you know at some level you’ve got to keep up with this stuff.

Luckily, we’re huge geeks here at the iCopyInsider, so we’ve done the hard part for you. Welcome to our new feature: Monday Must Reads. Every Monday, we’ll bring you some of the best articles from around the Web related to SEO, SEO copywriting and pretty much anything else we think you might useful or interesting.

 

Here are five reads that we think are worth your time this week. Enjoy!

1. Is a picture worth a 1,000 clicks? How to boost SEO with infographics via Practical eCommerce.

2. VentureBeat asks an important question: Are you getting a good deal on SEO?

3. We wrote about the growing importance of Google+ last week, but here it is again. AdWeek talks about how Google+ is following Facebook’s trajectory.

4. Here’s a new tool recommended by PCWorld that you can use to see if your Twitter followers are actual humans.

5. And finally, here is a good read in The Guardian about the dying art of creative copywriting.