Monday, June 20, 2011


SEO Priests, beware!
Google knows where you live.
For some nerdy reason (and I think it was Jean Jacques Rousseau who said--in French, of course--that nerds have reasons that reason knows not of), I've been following a lot of online discussion in the SEO (search engine optimization) community about the new Google search algorithm called Panda. They hate it. For one thing, it attempts to undermine all of their little search engine gaming tricks, like links to lots of other sites, repetitive keywords, meta-tag subterfuge, and some really arcane things that none of us lowly carbon-based lifeforms can fathom. Panda's a revolution. And if you you believe these Old World Chicken Littles, it is upsetting everything the orange-fingered clergy of SEO know about how to make a website turn up at the front of the line, regardless of whether it's what you were were actually looking for.

Now I'm not going to even pretend to understand this debate. I'm a writer, a branding guy, not a programmer. All I know is that for the past several years I've been having to suppress everything I know about good writing and persuasion in the interests of making sure my "content" has enough buzzwords to make a search engine salivate--mostly at the cost of fun--or interest. But from what I can understand, what Google has done is to finally make an algorithm that comes closer to how actual human beings would prefer to browse for something, instead of how a robot would. The implications are, for me, wonderful. It means that the search engine is looking for interesting, original, cool content. It gives greater weight to well-known brands and trusted sites. It ignores sites with lots of ads and stupid links to nowhere. It requires that the content be relevant and well-written.Yippee! Or maybe, Yahoo!

One SEO blogger lamented that Panda is unfair because it means that big, well-known brands will have an advantage over small, start-up companies. So? An old colleague of mine, Amanda Mailey, used  to say, "The best keyword is a strong brand name." That's the way it should be. And Panda, by its quirky mathematics, looks to make that true again. It means that there are no wise-guy, programming shortcuts to racing to the top of a search list; you're going to have to do it the old fashioned way, by building a strong, well-known brand. And do it creatively.

What Panda promises is that we are getting closer to a time when the web is more human. A website will be more visible because a lot of people find it interesting or entertaining, not because it's been "gamed" to make it pop up at the front of a search query. And for those of us who long for the days when creativity and entertainment ruled branding, Panda is our friend. Anything that overthrows the Lords of SEO is our friend.

At least that's what this Luddite thinks. I probably don't understand it at all.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bad Science

1.2% Prefer Death by Eels
I've been following all of these marketing blogs and news feeds because, well, I don't know, I guess I think I'm supposed to because I'm in advertising? I really don't know. But one yesterday caught my eye because of its provocative headline: "Study Reveals Why Consumers Fan Facebook Pages," followed by the confusing subhead, "Nearly 40% of Consumers 'Like' Companies on Facebook to Publicly Display Their Brand Affiliation to Friends." After I tried to decipher the ambiguous sentence construction of the latter (which is always fun in headlines), I read the article in hopes of finding out the Why that was promised in the banner heading. I was disappointed. There was no why, it merely stated that, of all the ways consumers are hit by branding messages, 40% said in a survey that they prefer it when there are promotions attached and that 39% of those say they would be inclined to "fan" that promotion to friends on their network. There was no Why. And it didn't say they did actually fan their friends when there was a promotion, they just answered that they would be inclined to do so. They were probably thinking, "Yeah, sure, why not?"

You've participated in these mindless surveys. When you are sucker enough to start, you'd like to think that there is a mechanism in there to complain about something, but the questions are always so patently skewed to support the biased hypothesis that there is no real study; it's just trying to push a conclusion so they can push whatever it is they're trying to sell. It's bad science. Here's an example:

Q: Of the following forms of dying, which method would you prefer?
  1. Decapitation by a dull, rusty saw
  2. Sliding down a fifty foot razor blade into a pool of alcohol
  3. Being slowly lowered into a cauldron of bubbling lava
  4. Eaten alive by ravenous eels
  5. Peacefully in your sleep
The results? 96% choose #5
Therefore, this study shows that most people would like to die in their sleep. 

"That's why 96% of your friends recommend Go-Ezy, the sleep aid that takes you to paradise." 

But, as you take the test, you search in vain for #6 "Wait minute, nobody said anything about dying!"

It's the same with these loaded surveys that ask which method of social media advertising you'd prefer to see, or whether you'd fan somebody about a promotion. There is never the choice: "I'd prefer not to be bothered by advertising on Facebook, thank you."  But be honest, given a choice about being hectored by constant e-mails alerting you to a new promotion based on your "likes," or not having to empty your inbox 60 times a day, how pathetically lonely are you to pick the former? You need to get some sunshine.

I do worry about the 1.2% who selected death by eels. Are we sure they were taking the survey seriously?