Posts

To Blog or Not to Blog

I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had much time to update my blog. So I’ll tackle the question that has plagued mankind since the dawn of the information ages: should you have a blog or is a static site good enough?

Many who pose and answer this question with one-size-fits-all generic advice, such as “Everyone must blog” or “Blogging is dead,” aren’t offering much help. Let’s examine the arguments more closely:

Blogging is Dead…Or is It?

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A keyboard. This is what you blog with.

Just like literature, the novel, and the PC, blogging is on its way out.

Blogging, The Guardian tells us, is being replaced by social media. Fast Company tells us we’re undergoing a “content revolution.” Guy Kawasaki hasn’t updated his blog in four months. In one interview I saw on YouTube, he claimed that he has relinquished his blog in favor of Google+.

As a dyed-in-the-wool writer, lit nerd, and novel reader — those things which are going extinct, remember — I never really liked blogging as a means of online socializing. In fact, I don’t really care for online “socializing” at all…the real thing is better.

To me, blogging somehow soiled the purity of writing. When I began my blog’s first iteration, I started by insulting blogging as “blathering into the void.”

The Guardian argues that blogging, the blogosphere, and, yea, even the world are better off without all this noise. Blogs have morphed into news media, which are burying the casual blogger beneath oceans of more useful and entertaining content.

By association, I couldn’t help but remember that the The Guardian also argues that the novel is dead (this time for reals).

Whatevs

Such doom-and-gloom proclamations, as Gawker pointed out in its response to the above article, have been going on for a very long time, because literary novels just aren’t popular:

This is pretty clear to most people who aren’t literary writers given that they don’t read literary novels. And it’s also pretty clear to a lot of literary writers, who are spending their days eking out an existence on meager advances, adjunct salaries, and temp jobs, that what they do is marginal. The difference between those people and Will Self, a lot of the time, is that they do not expect that what is important and meaningful for them personally must be important and meaningful for everyone.

Incidentally, Gawker, a blog, is the 156th most popular website in the USA.

So I’m not too likely to believe that either blogs or novels are dead.

As a matter of fact, if you do some searching you’ll find that the internet is littered with the dead:

  • B2B Marketing is Dead
  • Email is Dead
  • Cold Calling is Dead
  • TV is Dead
  • Advertising is Dead
  • Social Media Managers are Dead
  • Social Media is Dead
  • The Internet is Dead

But I digress.

To Blog or Not to Blog

photodune-5351272-asian-traditional-bell-l

The death knell of blogging

Amidst all the dead blogs out there, I can’t find the very blog that inspired this post (one of many titled “Blogging is Dead, Long Live Blogging”). Perhaps it’s no longer among the living…

Said blog railed against having your own blog: it’ll just lie buried beneath the sea of other, more popular blogs that crowd the data streams. If you’re a business person, a business, or just a person, what reason is there to have a blog when no one will read it?

Tapping into the search engine market is one of the main reasons businesses have blogs. Self-promotion is one reason writers blog. And writing for fun is yet another reason individuals blog. That’s why I started this blog.

But not everyone wants or needs to have a blog. Since I live and breathe WordPress, writing, and technology, blogging’s a fun hobby when I have the time to actually do it.

Businesses, on the other hand, should remember that blogging isn’t free. It’s a form of marketing that costs money, just like PPC ads or direct mail. Unless you’re willing to put some serious cash or time into blogging for SEM purposes, you won’t see results.

After all, you’re competing against all the other businesses who are blogging their butts off to stay in the search engine limelight. Take a gander at any search engines results page to see exactly how many “dead” blogs you’ll be competing against.

So no: blogging isn’t dead.

It’s just changing shape, like the rest of the publishing world.

More Fun with Big Data

As Problogger pointed out that Define Media Group pointed out, Buzzfeed’s recent picture of traffic referral sources may be slightly skewed. Their claims suggest that Facebook generates nearly triple the traffic referrals that Google does. It’s an interesting statistic, but the methodology and data sources are clearly opaque. This problem suddenly becomes compounded when publications such as Recode and The Atlantic propagate said data without verifying it.

Good vs. Evil, Facebook vs. Google, DMG vs. Buzzfeed

But could it even be possible? Facebook has 1.24 billion active users and Google has almost 12 billion monthly searches, so yeah, I guess it’s possible that highly active users post and refer more traffic. Again, I’m dubious: Buzzfeed, a player in the social arena, understandably wants to promote social media, since social media promotes their services.

Reading Recode’s original article about the Buzzfeed phenomenon, it’s hard to tell where the data comes from: “BuzzFeed’s pretty darn big, and its network has some 200 other sites in it, so while we’re not looking at all of the Web here, we’re at least looking at a good-sized chunk of it.” DMG adds more about the data sources, but not much: “According to BuzzFeed their data gathering is done via a tracking code across their network of sites of which ‘represent an audience of more than 300 million people globally.'”

Define-Media-Group-search-social-pie-chart

via Define Media Group

Define Media Group, on the other hand, is a marketing firm that provides both search and social media marketing consulting. DMG is very explicit with their methodology and their data sources. Their data suggests results almost the opposite relationship between search and social referrals. In my mind, transparent methodology and data sources certainly lend DMG the upper hand here.

Hype and manipulated statistics have been around for quite a long time, but in the internet age, they can have a tendency to go viral and make big waves.

Surfing and Wiping Out

In Bob Hoffman’s notorious speech where he slammed new school marketing pundits, entitled, “The Golden Age of Bullshit,” he brought up the Pepsi Refresh Project.

A few years ago, to much fanfare, Pepsi dropped its marketing campaign in favor of a complete shift to social media marketing. And, after 2010, corporate social media spending climbed 64% each year for several years running, according to stats I found at Hootsuite.

We’re clearly living in a new age, right? An age of conversation, engagement, and buzz?

According to Hoffman: one estimate has it that the Pepsi Refresh Project cost the company between $50-100 million. The popular soft drink dropped from the second best-selling drink to third and lost a 5% market share before slinking back to its former paid advertising practices.

The same research companies that had proclaimed the death of traditional advertising turned around and stated that social media was a “barely negligible source of sales.”

Hoffman cites Forrester Research, which had foretold the beginning of a new age of social media marketing and “the end of the era of mass marketing” just a few years earlier. They later changed their position, and stated that email marketing was nearly forty times as effective as Facebook and Twitter combined.

What does this tell you about big data?

Big Data = Statistics

Big data is statistics with just more of them. It can be insightful and truthful, or it can be skewed and manipulative. Transparency in both methodology and data sources are vital if we are to make any useful sense of statistics that are thrown our way. Publications such as The Atlantic and Recode — not to mention anyone wielding statistics — have a responsibility to do some fact-checking and verification before propagating such big bad data.

If I had to pick one data set out of the two mentioned above, it would be DMG, because they are open about their methodology and statistics. With Buzzfeed’s info, we literally just have a picture, without understanding the methodology or numbers behind it, just as with Google Trends.

The Future of Content Marketing Part 2

Elsewhere I explained that everyone and their mom should hop on board the Google train, because they’re taking over the Earth. And that’s true.

Wil Reynolds, CEO of Seer Interactive, an internet marketing company, demonstrated as much in a presentation at Affiliate Summit. The search engine’s evolution is a good thing, he argues, because it clears away more of that spam that pollutes search results. And that’s true.

Image 5Look at the ribbon that now headlines search results: suddenly we see lists of local results with photos all lined up next to each other. How convenient is that? And how useful for local businesses?

After watching his presentation, I felt that I’d been rather harsh on Google. After all, Google currently incorporates your location into all search results, which should help business who are close to you.

But, what with the vastness of the internet — not to mention the vastness of the world we live in, from which the internet is derived — I can’t help but feel like I’m getting a rather simplified picture of the information I am seeking with my search query.

Is Google Good or Evil or What?

Wil Reynolds has a lot of positive energy and believes in building real value and promoting passionate business men and women, instead of spamming people to make a buck. While Reynolds seems to suggest that Google’s interface evolutions and search algorithm updates are beneficial for the little guy and the casual internet surfer who wants spam-free search results, I partially disagree.

To demonstrate how Google is battling the nefarious hordes of spammers, Reynolds breaks out his smartphone and talks to it. Instead of navigating into a website to find the weather or our flight times, he shows us, all we have to do is ask Google, and it will tell us.

Image 6

The Knowledge Graph

And it’s true. Ask for the meaning of a word, and Google will provide us with the answer. Ask who Miley Cyrus is, and Google tells us. Where does this data come from? Sometimes it tells us, sometimes it doesn’t. Why bother visiting Wikipedia or donating to their cause when Google just gives it to me?

Unlike a search engine, which would direct us to the services and sources of the information we are seeking, Google becomes the service provider by taking that information from said sources and giving it to us directly.

This trend will only continue.

Is this good or bad? How can we know when we don’t know what the heck is going on? Google doesn’t talk about their motivations or intentions.

Oh wait, according to them: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

How do Driverless Cars or Robots Fit In?

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Apparently you can book flights through Google. Airlines better stay on Google’s good side if they want to remain visible.

It’s really hard for me not to see the monopolistic side of things: Google is aggressively pushing into every major market they can get their paws on. They are offering overnight delivery to compete with Amazon (already a retail and publisher crusher), they are extracting and storing and publishing portions of books online,  they read your email, they are going after wireless giants, they are building robots, they are building driverless cars, and they are going to build androids.

Some tech lovers love Google, and knock the “Google is evil” mantra. I think “evil” is a word from a Disney movie and has no place in an adult discussion about real things in the real world. Google’s just monopolistic — the dream of any profit-centric business — and their data gathering behavior is creepy. Emails should be private. Privacy should be a given.

But I digress.

Image 2It doesn’t pay to wear a tin hat, but it does pay to pay attention to the writing on the wall. Google may not be evil, but don’t assume that they are an altruistic company that looks out for your business or aims to bring the world together in peace and harmony. Do you think they’re fighting the recent FCC ruling because they’ve got such big hearts?

Like any corporation, their top priority is their bottom line.

 

PS – “What does this have to do with content marketing?” some content marketers may be asking themselves. Other content marketers, however, will see exactly how this affects their field. If you are one of the former, then watch Reynolds’ presentation.

Google Trends Says Laotians Love Japanese Girls

If you already understand how Google Trends works, you can skip to the “Why Google Trends is Stupid” Section.

Everyone else, welcome to my article.

For those who don’t know, Google Trends is a Google tool that allows you to examine the relative “interest” in search terms, search topics, where those terms and topics are most popular, other related searches, and other related data.

This type of data, of course, is extremely valuable for internet marketers engaged in research…or would be if it weren’t so sketchy.

Miley, You Lose

Let’s compare the literary genre of science fiction, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, the search term “hunger games,” the anime genre, and the term “miley cyrus.”

miley v anime google trendNot only does worldwide “interest” in anime consistently top all other searches, it even outperforms all the others combined at least 95% of the time. On the one hand, we never really think of anime as being so popular, but when you include the entire world’s search results, you can see how it compares to other genres and titles that garner so much attention from mainstream media.

When you look at the actual charts, Google’s site correlates popularity spikes with news events for you, so you can see that miley cyrus’s biggest spike coincided with her MTV music awards. Examine the “regional interest” section and you’ll see that her biggest fans aren’t in the United States, but in Guyana, the Faroe Islands, Guam, Belize…in fact, the USA is #8 on the list.

Interesting, or confusing?

The Japanese-Loving Laotians

laotians love japanese girlsjapan laos google trendsWhile first looking at some Japan-related search trends, I noticed something else: Laos tops the search term volume for “japan,” followed by Cambodia, Myanmar, Mongolia, and so on.

At the bottom of the Laos-specific search page, you will see related searches.

Now, anyone who has spent any time in southeast Asia doesn’t need to blink twice to know something’s wrong with this picture.

The “100” next to Laos means that it has the highest search volume in the world, and the other 1-to-100 numbers are calculated against that…or so I thought, based on Google’s unclear help bubble language, which says, “Numbers represent search volume relative to the highest point on the map which is always 100. Click on any region/point to see more details on the search volume there.”

The reason for these odd-looking results?

Google normalizes its data (see below), but, even in a post titled “How Trends Data is Normalized,” it doesn’t tell you how Trends data is normalized, it just explains what the normalized results look like.

We aren’t told what the search volume is, so I went over to Google AdWords to look at numbers. There, we find that Laos manages a paltry 1,360 searches per month vs. the USA’s 199,640. When I checked search volumes for “japan girl” plus “japan girls,” I found that Laos came up with 206 searches, and when you add “google japan” to that list, you only come up with 278, vs. the USA’s 43,422 for all three search terms.

Why Google Trends is Stupid

No numbers and no pre-normalization information means no meaningful picture.

Google really needs to work on its social skills. Its inability to successfully promote its social network Google+ is one glaring example of this, and the opaque Trends interface is another. Behind the scenes I’m sure they’re working on an artificial brain that will predict the future, but we’re all left in the dark with “interest” charts. I suppose that’s normal in this age of Big Data-hoarding.

Data Normalization

Wow, guess those Aussies like GoT. Too bad there's only 22 million of them

Wow, guess those Aussies like GoT. Too bad there’s only 22 million of them. How good is there internet infrastructure, I wonder? And what about demographic data?

To normalize a data set means that, according to the map-making software folks at AlignStar, you “transform the data so it may be compared in a meaningful way.” In the example they give on the AlignStar site, we see two maps of unemployment rates. One which shows absolute values within a US state, and the other which shows normalized values.

Each map paints a different picture.

If, for example, you wanted to measure the counties of a given state to see which have higher unemployment rates, then you would measure the absolute number of unemployed against the total workforce, which is what AlignStar did in their second map. This shows a couple counties that had relatively high unemployment rates. They pointed out,

The maps above portray a very different picture of the same information. Each map could prove useful depending on the point that the map creator was trying to make.  It is important to keep this in mind when creating thematic maps. Sometimes a very small change can result in a very different picture.

What is a Trend?

game of thrones australia usaWe don’t know what data goes into these graphs or how it is being processed.

Not normalizing the data would make many Trends rather boring, however, since the USA is the biggest user of Google and has one of the most powerful — if not the most powerful — telecommunications infrastructures in the world. It would probably look like the first map on the AlignStar website.

But what do Trends’s post-processed pictures actually tell us?

I’m no statistician, but there are some pretty obvious questions that come up as to how valid or useful this tool is. In the case of Game of Thrones, we see many first-world countries popping up on the map, so it is more reasonable to assume some relative popularity correlations between countries such as the USA and Australia. But without the raw data we can’t verify anything for ourselves.

Look at Laos and Cambodia. The vast majority of the population doesn’t even have internet access.

So, once you dig a little deeper, you realize that Google’s geographical “normalization” can, at times, be misleading, pointless, and wrong. Guyana‘s and the Faroe Islands’ supposedly vast interest in Miley Cyrus, for example, doesn’t tell us how many people in said countries have access to the internet, have smartphones, speak English, use Google, use other search engines, or have ever seen a computer.

In Cambodia, Japan’s second biggest fan, most people live in rural areas with no internet access or electricity, and will likely go their whole lives without ever seeing a computer except that one time that one white guy came to take pictures of an ox with his smartphone.

When you take such a ridiculously small search sample size from small countries with small populations that live the same way they have for the past thousand years, Google’s one-size-fits-all normalization clearly tells us absolutely nothing, except maybe that some travelers, Japanese expats, or other rich folks search for “japan” with more relative frequency than other countries.

Maybe, though, that’s the just data you’re looking for.

More Fun with Big Data

It’s just Big Data, and I hate Big Data, mostly because I don’t have any.

As Jaron Lanier has pointed out, and as I will probably write about again, that sacrosanct elixir of the techtopians has got a tenuous-at-best causal relationship between the input and the output. When you hide the quantities and use unknowns to algorithmically define terms like “popularity” or “interest,” without including (in this case) vital geographical and demographic factors such as economic status, internet infrastructure, population of said country, and so forth, then you start getting unverifiable and meaningless statistics. Bad data is even worse than bad science.

As I like to say, “No! No, Big Data, no. Bad Big Data. That’s a bad, bad Big Data.”

Without the ability to see and play around with absolute values ourselves and without knowing how those values are normalized, we are left only with pretty pictures and graphs. As with the Google algorithm, we just have to take their word for it. And with Google’s attitude toward the world’s data, do you really feel like doing that?

SEO to Now: Content Marketing’s Future

The basic “currency” of SEO is the backlink, which can vary in value, from the negative-value spam links to quality links from authorities such as Amazon, Wikipedia, or government sites. The basic mindset of SEO used to be “more, more, more,” in terms of both content and links, because it was quantity that mattered. As Google wised up, we gradually saw a shift towards quality content and content marketing, yet we still see filler material everywhere. Google’s emphasis on quality content will never change, but as technology changes, what other changes can we expect to see in the marketing world?

The search engine’s algorithm updates helped steer the marketing world towards content marketing, where the bottom line has been “promotion through valuable content.” Content subsequently replaced links as the atomic unit of internet marketing. Google Now, a personal assistant and prediction service based on the Google search engine, is poised to become the search interface for Google Glass.
The goal is to create an easy-to-use personal assistant, as opposed to a search engine.

Beyond the Search Engine

The gap will continue to grow between the top results and all the rest
The gap will continue to grow between the top results and all the rest

Google itself is obviously not just a search engine any more, but has become a full-fledged tech monopoly with multiple agendas. In the post-SEO world, especially with Google+, Google has made it clear that if you want to be successful with Google marketing, you have to play Google’s ballgame. Google will continue to compete for the same types of multi-market dominance as Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung. So they will push harder and harder to have everyone “integrate” with Google services.

Content marketing will be affected by the further consolidation of data and traffic into an even more biased and simplistic interface. For one thing, the top results will become more static and difficult to penetrate. The content itself will become shorter, simpler, and designed to be more attention-grabbing.

Google or Bust

While technically speaking a search engine should be a database, Google has been called an advertising agency, which makes sense from a marketing perspective and a design perspective. Businesses will face even more pressure to integrate with Google services in order to be featured in the search results. If you opt out of Google+ or anything else Google, then you just won’t make it near the top.

Some might say this type of filtration system is good, because it weeds out the filler content and spam. But it also means that the search results will be more simplified than they already are. It means that legitimate businesses will have to compete harder against each other and against spammers to make it into the results that actually matter.

And for those who do not want to join Google+ or get a Google account?

Good luck with your marketing.

Three Marketing Automation Tips for the Freelancer

If a Tweet is Tweeted in a busy city and nobody hears it, did it make any sound?

If a Tweet is Tweeted in a busy city and nobody hears it, did it make any sound?

When you are a freelancer and work from home, you don’t always have time to maintain ten different social networks. The social network scene soon becomes a time sink of sharing, liking, linking, and tweeting. And with the need for constant self-promotion, the freelancer can end up spending way too much time online.

The mainstreaming of automation tools has changed the landscape for everyone. In the old days, i.e., five or ten years ago, internet marketing automation was only for the tech-savvy. If you knew how to program, you could design your own scripts or programs to assist you, but these days, applications such as Hootsuite and Buffer are pretty much necessary for anyone that has multiple social presences.

I hope he doesn't get mad at me for posting this...honestly this is what it looked like when I scrolled down...

I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for posting this…honestly this is what it looked like when I scrolled down…

The Twitter user interface needs a lot of work, which is one reason that more functional applications like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Tweetadder, and Buffer came around. Twitter really needs to revolutionize its model before other programs, like SnapChat or Prismatic, come in and push it out of the way. However, as long as Twitter maintains its hold on the mass-chat model, it will stay there. If next generation social networks don’t incorporate a tweet-ish feature, Twitterers will stay Twitterers, and, in my opinion, the post-Facebookers will become SnapChatters or Prismacticers.

So with the state of social networks in constant flux, how do you manage it all?

Use Hootsuite

Currently, Hootsuite is the ultimate  social media marketing tool that organizes your data streams for pretty much every outlet you can think of, and some you may not know about. For instance, did you know that MySpace is still around? It must be, since Hootsuite offers integration with it.

Try not to crash

Try not to crash

At first glance, its interface looks like the cockpit of an airplane. But once you start trying to maintain several presences, its benefits will become obvious. But if you want to be able to quickly share to multiple accounts, there’s another app that you should use. It’s called…

Buffer App

Personally, I use Buffer to schedule post to a handful of accounts. Buffer’s app can connect to Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, App.net (whatever that is — just kidding! I’m sure it will be very popular one day), and Facebook. You install an add-on for your browser, and whenever you click the Buffer button it queues it to a customizable schedule for any or all of your connected accounts.

At this stage, Buffer’s limited social network selection may be a deterrent for some. They are building out functionality, though, so the future probably bodes well for Buffer users.

Using Buffer is a snap, and Hootsuite gets easier with time, but with all the choices of social networks, which ones are right for you? Many people will give you different advice. Usually they tell you what works for them, or base their advice on popular opinion, etc. But the bottom line is:

Choose the Networks You Like

I never liked Facebook, the same goes for LinkedIn, and Google+ was DOA, but your choice of marketing should really be based on one of two things: your personality, and your personality.

If you are a Facebooker, then marketing on Facebook will come more naturally, you will enjoy it more, and you will have an easier time connecting with other Facebookers. Consequently, Facebook marketing should work best.

Kevin Muldoon interviewed a number of successful bloggers, and they all had different styles that worked best for them. Some advocated a large social network presence, some advocated accumulating bylines, while others were entirely successful as ghostbloggers, without bylines or a social presence.

Most people will tell you to do things one way, because that’s what worked for them. That’s problematic, because they don’t know your business or your target demographic, among other things. Regardless of your approach, time spent is time spent. You will get a return.

What Buffer looks like right before you share. Obviously I'm not going to share a post of me working on this blog.

What Buffer looks like right before you share. Obviously I’m not going to share a post of me working on this blog.

For most freelancers, Buffer and Hootsuite are more than enough. Buffer lets me post to Google+ for SEO purposes, Facebook even though I think it’s pointless, and Twitter because I think that’s the best way to connect with other like-minded people. And Hootsuite lets me manage conversations easily and quickly.

All freelancers should definitely automate their marketing to a certain extent. As online networks evolve, they are dividing up the internet population into many social networks, and managing all your networks is becoming more and more difficult. Fortunately, automation tools will always be around to help you maintain your online social presence.