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Algorithms Are the New Content Gatekeepers Part Three: Reputation Management and Online Rabbit Holes

Alice and the RabbitIf you are reading this post, there is a good chance that you are concerned about how online communications affect your business.

With this in mind, we first need to start by reminding you that businesses are made up of people.

As people, we hopefully care about other people just as much or more than we care about making a profit.

After all, if we don’t look out for our customers, we might end up not having any.

It is therefore important that we identify how the world around us is influencing the lives of our current and potential customers so that we change our communications strategy or even modify the type of product that we currently offer to them. We might even identify new products that can help fix the problems that they face.

For example, we should be watching how algorithms are having an effect on the content that users see. These algorithms often lead users down rabbit holes that expose them to very radical ideas.

Unless you are in a leadership position at one of the major search engines or social networking sites, the algorithms that these search engines and social networking sites use to help users discover new content are beyond our control. However, knowing how they can influence society, and in some cases cause harm, can and probably should change the way that we do business.

At the very least, it is important to know what is going on so that we can make informed decisions in our personal and professional lives.

Search Engines and Reputation Management

As pointed out in the last post, search engines use many different signals when determining what will show up on the first page of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP.)

While the factors that influence what shows up on page one of a SERP are constantly changing, it is safe to say that if there is a lot of negative content about you or your business online, there is a good chance that Google will find it.

If a person with a grudge against you or your business is adept at manipulating the search engine algorithms, you can be in for some pain.

As I pointed out in a post in 2015, experts have identified cases where the same tactics used by businesses to get found on a SERP were used to help sully the reputation of political figures. In one case, these tactics were used to spread a malicious and racist campaign that targeted Michelle Obama. While the leadership at Google made the choice to clean the search results for Michelle Obama and end the smear campaign against her, this doesn’t always happen.

It is therefore important to keep in mind that sometimes even the results found on page one of a SERP might not contain the best information about a topic. In fact, in some cases, the information found might not be accurate at all.

In other words, “User beware.”

From a business standpoint, it makes sense to monitor what is being said about your company and see what shows up when people do both branded and nonbranded keyword searches related to your company.

It is also important to monitor what is being said about you and your business on social networking sites, because these posts can and often do show up in a Google SERP.

That said, there are even more issues that you need to be aware of when we look at social media and algorithms. Some of these issues will be covered in the paragraphs that follow.

Social Media Is Business

Before we begin here, it needs to be pointed out that social networking sites are businesses.

In an article on The Guardian website, Natasha Schull, the author of Addition by Design, is quoted as saying, “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”

“Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schull explained, you get drawn into ‘ludic loops’ or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback – and the rewards are just enough to keep you going,” the author of the article continues.

This is what helps the business sell itself to advertisers. If the site can deliver users who click on content and stay there, then it is assumed that it would be a good place for businesses to advertise their products.

That’s the way it currently is, clicks and time spent on the site get rewarded. I don’t think this is necessarily good or bad. It just is.

However, if social networking sites continue to deliver content primarily based on these criteria, the best content might not surface.

In fact, it appears that at least on YouTube, it is often outrageous or radical videos that get recommended to users. This often guides them down an online rabbit hole that can, if it goes unchecked, lead to them to even more outrageous or radical videos. If people start to believe these videos they will surely start to share them. This means they will often will be spreading of a lot of misinformation and “fake news.”

Down the Rabbit Hole

In case you are not familiar what we mean when we talk about rabbit holes, The Free Dictionary defines “go down the rabbit hole,” as “To enter into a situation or begin a process or journey that is particularly strange, problematic, difficult, complex, or chaotic, especially one that becomes increasingly so as it develops or unfolds. (An allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.)”

To get an idea of how algorithms on social networking sites can lead you down an online rabbit hole, you might want to read an article published in the New York Times in 2018 that was written by Zeynep Tufekci, Ph.D.

“It seems as if you are never ‘hard core’ enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm,” writes Dr. Tufekci. “It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.”

Dr. Tufekci again points out that it is Google’s current business model that is to blame. As she points out, “The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes.”

“What keeps people glued to YouTube?” Dr. Tufekci continues. “Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with – or to incendiary content in general.”

The conclusion that Dr. Tufekci makes is that one of the unintended consequences of YouTube’s recommendation algorithms is that after being exposed to these extreme videos, people get used to them and start to search out even more extreme videos.

Again, if this goes unchecked, we could end up with a lot of people believing a lot of extreme ideas that often are not based on verifiable facts.

“This situation is especially dangerous given how many people – especially young people – turn to YouTube for information,” writes Dr. Tufekci.

What You Can Do About It

It is unclear if there is a way to fix the problem.

As pointed out earlier, most of us don’t have any control over these algorithms.

Sure, government could step in. However, is government intervention the best answer? And, would they have the expertise to create laws that would fix the problem?

I’m not sure.

However, it is important that we teach people what is going on so that they can make educated decisions for themselves.

By spreading the word about what is going on you can help accomplish this goal.

From a business standpoint, it is also probably worth your time to research what is being said about your company on sites like YouTube. It is possible that YouTube users could be directed to false claims about your company that you thought were well in the rear-view mirror.

Photo credit: Matt Brown on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic — CC By 2.0)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Algorithms Are the New Content Gatekeepers Part Two: Organizing the Web

Man closing a gate.It was not long after the World Wide Web was created that people began looking for ways to help users find content online.

In fact, the first website was created by Tim Berners-Lee on August 6, 1991. The first search engine, W3Catalog, was created only two years later. This was followed by Aliweb, JumpStation, Infoseek, WebCrawler, Yahoo!, Lycos, and many more.

Then in 1998 Google was founded and the way search engines found and prioritized content changed dramatically.

According to Wikipedia, “While conventional search engines ranked results by counting how many times the search terms appeared on the page, they theorized about a better system that analyzed the relationships among websites. They called this algorithm PageRank; it determined a website’ relevance by the number of pages, and the importance of those pages that linked back to the original site.”

Today, there are many different factors used by Google to rank content and determine what gets the coveted positions on page one on a Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

However, that is not really the point that of this post. The real point being is that maybe even before the old gatekeepers lost a great deal of their power, new gatekeepers were being created.

Once again, we are almost right back to the same place where we started.

A Way to Get Found Online—Search Engine Optimization

In an effort to circumvent the new gatekeeper, or maybe earn favor with it, businesses started to use tactics that we now refer to as search engine optimization (SEO).

As a post on Search Engine Journal (SEJ) points out, “Although it could be argued that SEO and all things search engine marketing began with the launch of the first website published in 1991, or perhaps when the first web search engine launched, the story of SEO “officially” begins a bit later, around 1997.”

“Ranking high on search engines in 1997 was still a pretty new concept,” the author writes. “It was also very directory driven.”

That was, until Google changed everything.

“Although links were only one component of Google’s overall ranking algorithm, SEO practitioners latched onto links as being the most important factor – and an entire sub-industry of link building was created,” the SEJ post continues. “Over the next decade, it became a race to acquire as many links as possible in the hopes of ranking higher and links became a heavily abused tactic that Google would have to address in coming years.”

As anyone involved with SEO knows, the tactics needed to achieve a high ranking on a Google SERP are constantly changing.

In fact, recent developments in technology have dramatically changed SEO once again.

When Google announced the use of machine learning (ML) with Google RankBrain in October of 2015, a new era of search was being ushered in.

“Since that time, Google has expanded RankBrain to run on every search,” the author of the SEJ post writes. “While RankBrain impacts ranking, it isn’t a ranking factor in the traditional sense, where you get rewarded with better rankings for doing x, y, and z.”

While it is an exciting time for SEO practitioners, it is becoming harder to tell what the search engine gatekeeper will reward.

As the SEJ post points out, there still are things that can be done to get found in Google.

However, with the use of machine learning, it appears that the way to get ranked in organic search is going to be less formulaic.

Given that it is machine learning helping make the rules, will we end up with issues that we are finding in social media today? This is something that I will explore in a future post.

But first, let’s look at getting found on social media from a purely business perspective.

Getting Found on Social Media

In the early days of social media, most of the social networking sites displayed posts in reverse-chronological order.

That worked okay at first.

However, as more people joined, the social networking sites needed to find ways for people to find new content that they might not otherwise find. Again, this was accomplished by creating algorithms that reward specific behaviors.

From a business perspective, your company wants to get its message out there to sell more stuff or accomplish some other business goal.

This is great! You just need to please the new gatekeeper and optimize your content to meet the ever-changing requirements of each social networking site.

If that is the intent, sproutsocial has a post that offers some great suggestions.

However, as even the sproutsocial post points out, the algorithms are not perfect.

“There are plenty of instances of algorithms seemingly “hiding” content on Facebook at random despite being optimized to a T,” the author of the post writes. “On the flip side, there’s a well-documented phenomenon on YouTube of videos surging to millions of views out of nowhere after being recommended to seemingly random viewers.”

“Oh, and algorithms are constantly evolving, attempting to work out the kinks and provide the best user experience possible,” the post continues. “As a result, marketers have to constantly adapt to ‘em. This means consistently experimenting with content and changing up marketing strategies.”

Paying for Access

Whether optimizing content for search engines or social networking sites, it takes a lot of work and knowhow.

Many businesses don’t have the time or expertise to be able to optimize their content to reach the right users online.

Luckily, many of the search engines and social networking sites offer you the option to pay to get your content in front of users.

In the end, whether you pay someone to optimize your content to be found organically or you pay the site directly to get your content shown to users, you are still having to pay someone to help you get past the gatekeeper.

Indeed, we are right back to the place where we started.

Photo credit: Luca Sartoni on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic — CC By-SA 2.0)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Ignoring Your Potential Customers With Disabilities Will Affect Your Bottom Line

Handicap sign outside a buildingAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “61 million adults in the United States live with a disability.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

About one in four adults in the United States have some form of disability. Many of these people are your customers or potential customers.

Given the fact that more people develop disabilities as they get older, some people who currently don’t have a disability will develop one in the future.

Now, think about how you created your latest marketing campaign.

Did you take into account these people and their needs when developing this campaign? How about when you designed your website or mobile app?

If the answer to these questions is no, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table.

If your business does not cater to the needs of disabled customers, those customers might go to a competitor that does.

Ignoring Customers With Disabilities Could Result In Legal Battles

Need more incentive to cater to people with disabilities? In September of 2010, the Department of Justice published the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. These standards generally cover accessibility to your business in the offline world.

However, while the DOJ has yet to finish setting the rules for website accessibility, companies are already finding out that not having a website or mobile app that is accessible to all customers could be a huge oversight with painful consequences. In other words, if your website or mobile apps are not accessible to disabled customers, your business could be sued.

Keep in mind, disabilities that have an effect on how easy it is for customers to use your website and mobile apps are not limited to those involving the ears and eyes.

As a post on the DYNO Mapper blog points out, cognitive issues, voice difficulties, seizure triggers, limited hand motor skills, involuntary motion, neurological disorders, repetitive motion disorders (RMD), inability to speak, sensitivity to color, or a combination of any of these can make it difficult for customers and prospects to interact with your business. And, this probably is not an all-inclusive list.

Also keep in mind, even people without a permanent disability have accidents or illnesses that can make it difficult to interact with your company online if the website is not designed correctly.

If your competitors make it easier to interact with them when your customers and prospects are temporarily disabled, I wonder who these people will do business with after they heal.

Additional Resources

As mentioned, it is important to serve customers with disabilities both online and offline. While both are of the utmost importance, I plan to focus most of my future disability-related blog posts on the online component only. When I do, I will update this post and include a link below for reference.

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Voice Search Is Gaining Popularity, but Not as Quickly as Some People Think

Voice assistantThere are a lot of people still spreading the news that comScore predicted that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be done via voice search.

Marketers who have yet to consider voice in their marketing efforts might panic after hearing that statistic. After all, comScore is a reputable media measurement and analytics company. If they are predicting this, there must be some reason for it.

The problem is that it doesn’t look like comScore ever made that prediction. I searched several times and couldn’t find a comScore article reporting this stat.

It appears that as often happens, people are not checking with the original source. In their defense, people often link back to a trusted media website that focuses on marketing, advertising, and media when citing this statistic. However, while it is generally okay to cite a trusted source, often going back to the original source is advisable.

Furthermore, it looks like even after someone highlighted the error online, people either aren’t aware of it or ignore it and continue to share the erroneous statistic anyway. This happens a lot on social media and the Internet, in general.

Econsultancy Uncovers the Erroneous Statistic

In an article on the Econsultancy blog published in July of 2018, Rebecca Sentance wrote about several errors that she found regarding this statistic. The rest of the post that you are currently reading highlights some of the findings that she uncovered. If you get a chance, the whole series of articles that she wrote on voice search is worth reading.

The first thing that she found was that the statistic was actually based on something that Andrew Ng, then Chief Scientist at Baidu said in an interview with Fast Company. Again, in reality, it appears that comScore was not involved at all.

In the Fast Company article, Ng is cited as saying that “in five years time at least 50% of all searches are going to be either through images or speech.” The quote was then cited by Mary Meeker in her KPCB Internet Trends 2016 report and the “In five years time” got changed to “2020.”

As Sentance points out in the Econsultancy article, Ng’s estimate not only includes voice, but image search and voice search. This is the second error with the original statistic.

Sentance then goes on to make a back-of-the-envelope calculation that at the time her article was published only 13% of Google searches were made by voice queries.

That means that there is a wide gap to be filled in just a couple of years.

The Econsultancy article does give some insight into what Andrew Ng might have been thinking by highlighting a tweet that he wrote that stated, “As speech-recognition accuracy goes from 95% to 99%, we’ll go from barely using it to using all the time!”

“So, Andrew Ng believes that sheer accuracy of recognition is what will take voice search into the mainstream,” writes Sentance. “95% word recognition is actually the same threshold of accuracy as human speech (Google officially reached this threshold last year, to great excitement), so Ng is holding machines to a higher standard than humans—which is fair enough, since we tend to approach new technology and machine interfaces with a higher degree of skepticism, and are less forgiving of errors. In order to win us over, they have to really wow us.”

She then goes on to point out some other potential barriers to voice search adoption. However, that is something that I plan to take up in another post.

The Timeline Might Need to Be Adjusted

Voice search will be more important as time goes on. That is a bet that I’d be willing to make.

It’s just that 50% of all searches by 2020 is a prediction that probably won’t come to fruition. However, as we’ve learned, it doesn’t look like we can’t blame comScore for this one.

There is a prediction made by Gartner in 2016 that can be documented that says, “By 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.”

If Rebecca Sentance’s assumptions are correct, then even this number is a little optimistic.

However, only time will tell.

Photo credit: iphonedigital on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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ICYMI: Google Updated the Test My Site Tool to Help Businesses Provide a Faster Mobile Experience

For quite some time, we have known that Internet users want websites to load quickly. In fact, in many cases, if the website loads too slowly, users won’t stick around.

Since Google constantly strives to improve user experience, it is not surprising that website speed influences how Google ranks your site. This is now true when users access your site from a desktop computer or a mobile device.

In order to make improvements to meet Internet users’ expectations when they are using a mobile device, and therefore improve your mobile search rankings, you need to know how well your mobile website is performing.

To assist in this effort, Google has updated a tool that measures the performance of your mobile website and then recommends how to make improvements.

Speed as a Ranking Factor

Back in 2010, Google announced it would use site speed as a ranking factor.

At the time, Google stated, “Speeding up websites is important – not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.”

However, until July of 2018, Google did not include speed as a ranking factor on mobile searches.

With the Speed Update, businesses now need to ensure that their mobile websites are fast as well.

According to an article on Search Engine Journal, “Now the speed at which a piece of content loads is a consideration when ranking mobile pages. Obviously the faster the better.”

The article states that this is the most important thing for SEOs and site owners to know about the update. However, the article also points out that the update will only affect really slow websites (i.e., those that take several seconds to load on a mobile device.)

The article also points out, “Relevancy is key, as Google always says. So if a slow loading page happens to contain the most relevant content, according to a user’s query, then it may still rank favourably in search results.”

The New and Improved Test My Site

In February of 2019, Jerry Dischler, Google’s VP of Product Development, announced the update to Test My Site on one of Google’s blogs.

“Because mobile is where most people turn when they want to know, go, do or buy, it’s important to deliver the kind of mobile experience that people expect today: one that’s fast, engaging and doesn’t get in the way of what they want to accomplish,” writes Dischler. “And because Google is deeply invested in the success of marketers and brands, we never stop looking for ways to develop and support new tools and innovations than can move the industry forward.”

“One of the mobile era’s clearest lessons has been that the foundation for any great mobile experience is a fast mobile experience,” Dischler continues.

To help businesses deliver a better and faster mobile experience, Google updated Test My Site to report the speed of both the entire site and individual pages, whether their site speed ranks Fast, Average, or Slow, and the potential impact of site speed on revenue.

Other key updates include a detailed list of recommendations to increase speed on up to five pages and a sharable report.

While Test My Site isn’t the only product out there to help businesses improve their mobile website speed, it is one that businesses should consider looking into.

After all, if you want to reach customers by ranking higher when they search for relevant topics on Google via their mobile devices, doing what Google suggests is a pretty good place to start.

Test My Site TWG

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Fashion Retailers Could Benefit by Providing Basic Fashion Tips Online

Fashion TipsIt has been well documented that consumers often turn to their smartphones while shopping.

In fact, according to a study conducted by Salsify in September of 2016, 77% of all shoppers report using mobile devices while shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. In comparison, only 35% say that they would turn to a salesperson to obtain similar information.

As a Salsify press release published in April of 2017 states, “With so many turning to mobile while shopping in-store as well, the need for strategic and informed product content has never been more essential. In fact, 87 percent of consumers say accurate, rich, and complete product content is very important when deciding what to buy.”

A study conducted by Retail Dive examined how consumers use smartphones while shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. The most common response to the question was to research products and/or look up product information (58%), followed by checking or comparing prices (54%), accessing or downloading digital coupons (40%), accessing a specific retailer’s mobile app (33%), and scanning a QR code (22%).

The type of product information that retailers will want to provide will vary from store to store based on the products and services sold, the customers it serves, the time of year, where the store is located, etc.

While some content could be expensive to create, sometimes providing basic information could be enough to help convince the customer to make a purchase.

For fashion retailers it could be as simple as providing basic fashion tips to customers.

Insight From the Sales Floor

Recently, I have spent some time selling men’s clothing at a department store just outside of Saint Paul, Minnesota. In that time, I have witnessed many customers using mobile devices while shopping in-store.

While it appears that many of these customers are taking photos to send to another person to see if they approve of a purchase, I would venture a guess that other times customers are using their smartphones in the ways reported in the studies that I wrote about earlier in this post.

If the questions that customers ask associates is any indication of the information customers are searching for on their smartphones, then providing basic style advice should be something that fashion retailers would want to provide on their mobile websites and apps.

Suit photoIn particular, online fashion tips could be extremely useful to customers who are purchasing clothing that they don’t often purchase (e.g., suits, ties, dress shirts, etc.) This would include explaining the correct fit, as well as letting customers know what articles of clothing compliment each other.

And, if the information provided online is optimized for search, customers might find it while shopping in a competitor’s store. While this might seem like you are helping the competition, just think about where the customer will turn to if your competitor can’t deliver the goods. My guess is that those customers would at least consider shopping at the store that just provided the information that they were looking for.

Providing this type of basic information wouldn’t cost the company that much.

However, a quick search on Google brings up a lot of information from fashion bloggers and websites like Esquire and GQ, but not much from major department stores, fashion retailers, or even the top designer labels.

Either they are not providing this information or they are not doing a good job of optimizing their content for search engines. In their defense, I did find some information from Macy’s and Nordstrom. However, they didn’t show up in all searches that I did. Furthermore, I think that additional information might be useful.

Keep in mind that I only searched for information on men’s suits. It’s possible that they provide more information for other types of clothing. Additional research would be required to get a more accurate picture of what information fashion retailers are providing their customers online.

Final Thoughts

Studies show that finding the right online content is very important to consumers who are looking for product information when they are deciding what to buy.

Because consumers are now searching for that information while shopping in-store, a time when they are actually going to make a purchase decision, providing the right information is now even more important than ever before.

If the questions that customers ask sales associates is any indication of what information customers are looking for, then fashion retailers and department stores should be providing basic style advice and fashion tips to customers. This is particularly useful for products that customers don’t buy often and are being purchased for specific important occasions (e.g., weddings, school dances, graduations, etc.)

Since department stores can’t control how customers search, this information should be available to customers in as many ways as possible. This would include on mobile apps and on the mobile web. Letting customers know that it is available through notifications on in-store signs might also help increase conversions.

Sales associates could also help get the word out that this type of information is available to customers who don’t want to engage in a conversation. This information could also be used as a visual aid when associates are helping customers.

Finally, don’t forget to optimize your content for search. Because if customers can’t find it, then it doesn’t exist.

Photo credit: Angelbattle bros (Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-ND 2.0.) and Banalities on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Businesses Are Realizing That Snapchat Isn’t Going to Disappear Anytime Soon

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.For a while now, marketers have debated about whether or not it is a good idea to use Snapchat to market a brand’s products or services.

However, in recent months, the app that is known for its disappearing content seems to have more vocal fans than detractors.

At the very least, more brands are experimenting with it.

The obvious reason for this is the fact that more and more people have started using the app.

In fact, according to a post on the comScore blog written by Adam Lella, “Snapchat isn’t just for teens and college-age adults anymore. While still wildly popular among these younger demographic segments, the ephemeral photo and video sharing app is also rapidly growing its user base among older Millennials (Age 25-34) and those 35 years-and-older. Three years ago, Snapchat’s app was only being used by 5% of smartphone users age 25-34 and 2% of users age 35+, according to comScore Mobile Metrix. Today its penetration among these two age demos is an impressive 38% and 14%, respectively.”

What is maybe more impressive is the fact that 69% of smartphone users age 18-24 use Snapchat.

“Snapchat’s growth has likely been fueled by the introduction of several popular product features over the past few years, which amplified its already powerful network effects,” the author of the comScore post explains. “Most notable among those new product features was the launch of “Stories”, which allows a user’s “snaps” (i.e. photos or videos) to be viewed in a chronological order by their friends an unlimited number of times in a 24-hour period. The Stories feed also includes coverage of various live events or places, in which some of the best snaps from users engaging with that showcased event are curated into one story available to all users. And more recently, Snapchat began regularly adding innovative ways to express oneself, such as “Lenses,” the camera’s creative filter options which make simple photos and videos more fun and entertaining.”

Knowing this, many marketers have started looking for ways to leverage the new Snapchat features to reach all of the customers and potential customers who use the app.

For businesses that are thinking about using Snapchat, here are a few things to consider.

Snapchat Lenses and Geofilters

As Adam Lella pointed out in the comScore post, the fact that Snapchat gives users the option to make their content more fun by providing lenses and geofilters has helped fuel the growth of the app.

While similar, there is a slight difference between a Snapchat lens and a geofilter.

Lenses give users the ability to add real-time special effects and sounds to the user’s Snaps.

By now, you have probably seen the rainbows coming out of a person’s mouth or a person’s face morphed into a zombie. (President Obama used the zombie Snapchat lens in his 2016 White House correspondent’s dinner video.)

Several large brands have also used sponsored lenses to increase awareness of their products or services.

In fact, earlier this year, Taco Bell launched a sponsored lens to celebrate Cinco de Mayo that resulted in 224 million views in one day. According to Adweek, this “shattered a Snapchat record.”

According to the New York Times, a Snapchat lens like this could cost between $450,000 to $750,000. This puts sponsoring a lens out of reach for many businesses.

However, that doesn’t mean that smaller brands can’t get in on the fun.

Snapchat also has geofilters that businesses can purchase for considerably less.

Geofilters are basically digital graphics that can be put over the user’s Snaps to make the current photos or videos more interesting.

In addition to the free community geofilters and the filters that can add various stats like time, temperature, or the speed that a person is going, Snapchat also offers on-demand geofilters that can be purchased by businesses or even users themselves.

The Personal Geofilter can be used to promote weddings, parties, birthdays, graduations, or just about any other event that is tied to a physical location.

A Business Geofilter can be used to help promote sales or any other event that is taking place at the business.

According to a LA Times article, these geofilters can be purchased for as little as $5 depending on when and how large of an area you want to include.

This inexpensive price makes it possible for local bars and restaurants to experiment a little.

Snapchat Stories

As mentioned in the comScore article, the other feature that has helped fuel Snapchat’s growth is the introduction of Snapchat Stories.

Again, the Snapchat Stories feature lets friends view a user’s Snaps an unlimited number of times within a 24-hour period.

A lot of brands are using Snapchat Stories to give users a behind the scenes look at the business, offer an all-access view of an event, offer surprise coupons and discounts, or create an interesting story that connects with customers.

For example, Red Bull often lets influencers take over their account in order to let users see what it is like to live and compete in some of the extreme sports that fit the brand’s image.

Other brands like Express are using Snapchat to highlight some of the items that they have for sale and then ask for engagement with the brand. They then acknowledging those who do respond, which is a great way to make customers feel valued.

These are just a few suggestions. There are many different case studies to be found on the Internet.

Also, you need to understand that any brand can create Snapchat Stories, and these shouldn’t be confused with the content provided on Snapchat Discover.

Not Everyone Is a Fan of Snapchat

I started this post off by mentioning that there has been a debate going on about whether or not brands should invest in Snapchat.

And, while a lot of brands have started to at least experiment with Snapchat, others think that it is a waste of time. These people often list measurement issues among their largest concerns.

In a Forbes article, Mark Fidelman explains the concerns that he has with Snapchat.

Many of his complaints are similar to others I’ve heard before.

However, the one point that he makes that really hits home with me is the fact that when a person sees your content on Snapchat, there is no way to send them to your website or blog using a clickable link. This not only makes it difficult to drive sales, it also makes it difficult to attribute a conversion to Snapchat. And, the fact that there aren’t any links from the app means that your efforts won’t help with SEO at all.

Final Thoughts

There are definitely issues that make it difficult for some businesses to justify investing in Snapchat to market their products or services.

However, given the fact that a lot of people have started using the app, it might make sense to invest at least a part of your marketing spend on the app.

If done right, using Snapchat can be a fun way to connect with your current and potential customers.

In my opinion, this is an app that I would keep an eye on and try a few things, but it is not a place that I would invest a lot of time in. At least not now.

That said, I also don’t think that Snapchat is going disappear anytime soon.

It is just somewhat difficult for businesses to use Snapchat to market their products and services. And, it’s even more difficult to measure the results of these efforts.

This, however, might be part of the reason why so many people have started using Snapchat.

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Local Inventory Ads: A Key Ingredient for Mobile Marketing Success (Case Study)

Photo credit: RubyGoes on Flickr.In the short term, having the ability to confidently tell a customer that you have the exact product in stock at a nearby brick-and-mortar store directly within a mobile ad or even on your website is going to give retailers a huge competitive advantage. However, before you know it, this level of information is going to become table stakes.

While there are a lot of obstacles that retailers need to overcome to provide accurate inventory data for their brick-and-mortar stores, it is important that they start to work through this problem.

As a case study mentioned in an article on the think with Google blog proves, this type of information will help drive traffic into stores.

And, I believe there will be many more case studies like this in the not so distant future.

Local Inventory Ads Drive Shoppers into Stores

The case study mentioned earlier shows that local inventory ads can be very effective.

As the original article on the think with Google blog states, “With over 1,200 physical stores across the country, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores has embraced Google local inventory ads (LIAs) to bring nearby customers on mobile devices into stores. The results: a 16% higher click-through rate and a 122% higher store visit rate compared with online PLAs.”

The article also points out that Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores local inventory ads yielded return on ad spend (ROAS) higher than other offline marketing.

In fact, in the article David Buckley, CMO of Sears Hometown and Outlets stores, states, “When we compared our most recent performance of local inventory ads with offline media typically used to drive store sales, such as a recent broadcast television campaign, local inventory ads returned in-store sales at more than 5X the rate of TV advertising for each dollar spent.”

Buckley is also quoted as saying, “We’ve been closely monitoring the performance of local inventory ads and our most recent analysis points to more than $8 of in-store sales for each dollar invested.”

Not bad.

Giving Customers the Information They Need

“If people are searching for a product on their phones, there is nothing more targeted than serving that item with a picture, description, and price while letting the customers know exactly how far they are located from the product,” Buckley adds.

In my opinion, I think that he is understating the significance of being able to give customers the knowledge that the product that they are looking for will be found at a specific brick-and-mortar store.

In fact, I think that the knowledge that the item will be in stock could be more important than price in some cases. As the adage goes, “time is money.”

The importance of letting customers know that an item is available at a nearby store is confirmed by a finding in a report, titled “Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping: Research Debunks Common Myths October 2014.”

According to the report, “Search results are a powerful way to drive consumers to stores. Providing local information, such as item availability at a nearby store or local store hours, fills in information gaps that are keeping consumers away from stores.”

In fact, the report goes on to point out that, “1 in 4 consumers who avoid stores do so because of limited awareness of nearby stores or the risk of items not being available.”

While the report is now over a year old, it has a lot of insights that retailers could find useful.

Final Thoughts

The more information that a retailer can give customers before they make the trip to the brick-and-mortar store, the better.

As the case study on the think with Google blog points out, providing item availability information to customers who are near a particular brick-and-mortar store helps increase the effectiveness of a mobile ad.

Keep in mind that it is important to make sure that the information that retailers provide to customers is accurate, because if a customer is told that the item will be available only to find out that it is sold out when they get to the store could potentially damage the credibility and trust that the customer has in the store.

While there are obstacles that retailers need to overcome to be able to provide accurate inventory data to customers online, it is something that they should be working on.

I think that being able to provide this type of information to customers could be more important than even the think with Google article leads the reader to be believe.

And, it is only going to be more important as time goes on.

Photo credit: RubyGoes on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Machine Learning and the Future of SEO

Photo credit: Sam Greenhalgh on Flickr.Many of your current and future customers have found or will find your business by doing a search on Google or some other search engine. This is true whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or the mom-and-pop store down the street.

While many factors influence whether or not a searcher clicks on your website when it is listed on a search engine results page (SERP), studies have found that the higher the website ranks on a SERP, the more likely it is that a searcher will click.

It is for this reason that many companies, both large and small, are investing in search engine optimization (SEO).

The different factors that influence your ranking on a SERP are always changing. In fact, if the recent announcement from Google is an indication of the future, the way businesses optimize their websites for search may soon be completely different than it is today.

Hummingbird: Google’s Search Algorithm

According to a recent post on Search Engine Land, there are many factors or “signals” that determine where a webpage ranks on a Google SERP. The article on Search Engine Land was written as a follow-up to an article on Bloomberg.com that discusses a new signal Google is using in its search algorithm.

“Signals are things Google uses to help determine how to rank Web pages,” writes Danny Sullivan, Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. “For example, it will read the words on a Web page, so words are a signal. If some words are in bold, that might be another signal noted. The calculations used as part of PageRank give a page a PageRank score that’s used as a signal. If a page is noted as being mobile-friendly, that’s another signal that’s registered.”

“Google has fairly consistently spoken of having more than 200 major ranking signals that are evaluated that, in turn, might have up to 10,000 variations or sub-signals,” Sullivan continues. “It typically just says “hundreds” of factors, as it did in yesterday’s Bloomberg article.”

SEO experts use these known signals as a guide to tweak websites so that they are Google friendly and hopefully rank higher on a Google SERP.

Introducing RankBrain

Google recently announced that they have added a machine-learning artificial intelligence system into the mix to help assist in determining where a site displays on a Google SERP. Google is calling this new machine-learning artificial intelligence system “RankBrain.”

“The problem is that Google processes three billion searches per day,” writes Sullivan. “In 2007, Google said that 20 percent to 25 percent of those queries had never been seen before. In 2013, it brought that number down to 15 percent, which was used again in yesterday’s Bloomberg article and which Google reconfirmed to us. But 15 percent of three billion is still a huge number of queries never entered by any human searcher – 450 million per day.”

“Among those can be complex, multi-word queries, also call “long-tail” queries,” Sullivan writes. “RankBrain is designed to help better interpret those queries and effectively translate them, behind the scenes in a way, to find the best pages for the searcher.”

With RankBrain, Google is using the information and knowledge gained from some past searches to better understand future complex searches. In other words, Google’s algorithm is learning from past searches and using that knowledge to help rank pages to deliver results that it feels searchers are actually looking for.

RankBrain Is a Very Important Signal

As the article on Search Engine Land points out, RankBrain is not replacing the Google algorithm. Currently, RankBrain is only one of the many signals Google uses to determine where a website shows up on a Google SERP.

That said, it has been less than a year since it was first used and RankBrain has already become the third-most important signal in the Google Hummingbird algorithm.

It is unclear exactly how many search results are impacted. However, what we do know is that “a very large fraction” of the search queries on Google are being processed by RankBrain.

And, while I haven’t heard Google confirm this, it is entirely possible that RankBrain could play a larger role in the future.

What Does This Mean for Business?

While Bloomberg did break the story of RankBrain in the media, SEO experts were already aware that something strange was happening with SEO that they were having difficulty explaining.

In fact, Market Motive had a webinar a couple of weeks earlier, titled “SEO Webinar: Rise Of The Machines: What Artificial Intelligence Could Mean For SEO.”

In the webinar, Danny Dover explained how Artificial Intelligence is being used to help determine where pages rank on Google SERPs. However, I don’t think he mentioned RankBrain by name.

After the webinar, I sent a tweet asking Mr. Dover if he thought there would be a day when SEO would not be possible because of AI and personalized results.

“Interesting question. I think SEO as we know it today will disappear rapidly but SEO as in marketing online content will stay,” Mr. Dover responded.

He then clarified by tweeting, “Rapidly might not be the best word, perhaps disappear (but with no specified timeframe.)”

After Bloomberg broke the story in the mainstream media, Tim Wang asked Mr. Dover whether it would affect link building strategies and/or content creation. Mr. Dover responded by tweeting, “Yup. Machine Learning (one technique used in AI research) relies on training data not factors (a small but important diff)”.

If Mr. Dover is correct, in the future businesses will need to adapt and develop new ways of making sure that their website is found when a user does a search on Google or any of the other search engines. (As the Search Engine Land article points out, Bing has been incorporating its own machine-learning system into its algorithm it uses to rank pages since 2005.)

Final Thoughts

The goal of most search engines is to provide the most useful results for searchers. In an effort to accomplish this goal, the search engines are constantly updating their algorithms that determine where a website shows up on a SERP.

What this means for business is that whoever is in charge of making sure that the business’s website is optimized for search, whether it be a person on staff or an agency that specializes in SEO, needs to stay current on the best practices and trends in SEO.

While machine-learning is currently only a part of Google’s algorithm it uses to determine where a website appears on a SERP, it is already the third most important signal. And, it is entirely possible that it could play a larger role in the future.

This means that, in the future, businesses might need to use different tactics to optimize the business’s websites for search.

 

Note: While I have completed Market Motive’s SEO Foundations training as part of the Digital Marketing Foundations Practitioner Certification, I am not an SEO expert. I wrote this post to help make business leaders aware of some of the changes that could have an effect on their SEO efforts. I am relying on information from trusted experts. As just mentioned, it is important that the person who is leading the business’s SEO efforts be trained in the most current SEO strategies and best practices for optimizing a website for search.

These are the series of tweets that I cited in the post:

Photo credit: Sam Greenhalgh on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Is Twitter Destined to Fail or Did It Find a Creneau?

People are always trying to assess the future of various social networking sites.

For businesses, this type of assessment is needed from time to time, because businesses don’t want to invest heavily in a particular social networking site only to see it close its doors.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that HubSpot is holding a debate about the future of Twitter on Friday, June 22, 2012, at 12 P.M. EST.

The debate will feature Kipp Bodnar, Inbound Marketing Manager at HubSpot and co-author of “The B2B Social Media Book” (affiliate link) and Laura Fitton, Inbound Marketing Evangelist at HubSpot and lead author of “Twitter for Dummies.” (affiliate link)

Mr. Bodnar predicts that “Twitter is slowly coming to an end.” On the other hand, Ms. Fitton “couldn’t disagree more.”

Personally, I agree with Ms. Fitton, but it will be interesting to hear what they both have to say during the debate.

Finding a Creneau

I’m currently reading, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” (affiliate link) by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

In the book, the authors point out that the French have a rather useful marketing expression, “Cherchez le creneau.” The English translation: “Look for the hole.”

The authors suggest that it is difficult (if not impossible) for a brand with a small share of the market to take on the established leader by competing head-to-head.

Instead, they suggest, “Cherchez le creneau and then fill it.”

Facebook Vs. Twitter

In the social media world, with over 900 million monthly active users, Facebook is clearly the established leader.

Using the logic put forth by Ries and Trout in their book, it doesn’t make sense for another social network to try to take on Facebook by offering a similar product. However, in my opinion, that is exactly what Google+ is trying to do.

Twitter, on the other hand, with its approximately 100 million users, offers users a social network that is very different from Facebook. Instead of using a complicated formula similar to Facebook’s EdgeRank to determine who sees a post, pages and a timeline that are filled with a lot of other distractions, and a plethora of other features, Twitter focuses on speed, simplicity, and brevity.

In fact, what makes Twitter unique is brevity. That is, given the fact that posts can only be 140 characters long, it forces the person who posts the message to get to the point.

Furthermore, Twitter is great for skimming through a lot of posts quickly to see if there is something that you might want to learn more about by clicking on the link, if there is one. This is not as easy to do with Facebook.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that according to a MarketingVox study, 40% of active Twitter users don’t actually tweet. They are using Twitter as a resource for information.

And, as Tom Webster points out in his blog post, titled “Why Twitter Is Bigger Than You Think,” the way that Twitter is set up makes it easy for traditional media outlets to use the site as a source for their news stories.

Bigger Is Not Always Better

The HubSpot blog post that introduces Friday’s debate points out that while Twitter came out only two years after Facebook, it hasn’t grown as fast.

I’d argue that this might not be a bad thing.

Often when a site gets so big that everyone is using it, it loses its appeal to a certain subset of the population. Twitter offers people an alternative to Facebook.

Furthermore, while users might use Facebook to connect with certain people, they might choose to also use Twitter to connect with a different subset of their network. This allows them to post things without sharing everything with everyone in their network. (I know that you can accomplish this by changing the post settings in Facebook, but sometimes it’s just easier to post to another network and not have to worry about it.)

Twitter for Business

Twitter is not going to be useful for every business.

As with all social networking sites, Twitter is going to be the most beneficial to your business if your customers and prospects are using it. Therefore, the future of Twitter might not matter to you if your customers and prospects don’t use the site.

Keep in mind, however, what you tweet does have a chance of showing up when your customers and prospects do a search on Google or any other search engine. This is just something to think about.

Final Thoughts

It is important for businesses that use social media for marketing purposes to keep up with trends and assess the health of each social networking site that they use to connect with customers and prospects.

Therefore, it might helpful to watch the debate that is being held by HubSpot on Friday.

Going into the debate, my feeling is that Twitter will be around for a long time, even if it only serves a small subset of the population.

Social networking sites can’t be everything to everyone.

As I pointed out in this post, I think that the fact that not everyone is using Twitter can actually work to its advantage.

In other words, I definitely think that Twitter has found a creneau and filled it.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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