Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Caffeine: Do You Really Need It?

Have you heard of caffeine? I know that I have.

Many of us think we need caffeine; some of us indeed do. That's why it's in coffee, that thing the jet-setting among us purchase for $2 or more every morning. For the same reasons, caffeine is in those carbonated beverages that some of us drink in the afternoon because we again need a caffeine fix and realize those funny ads about those kinds of drinks aren't too far off the mark.

But have you heard that Google thinks it needs Caffeine, too? (That, by the way, is Caffeine as a proper noun, baby.) In its continual effort to better itself by improving the accuracy of its search engine technology, Google is rolling out the biggest update to its indexing criteria since Jagger in 2007. Go here for a good rundown of the changes Caffeine apparently will bring. The Google Blog talks about Caffeine, too, and Google is even letting you test out Caffeine and provide feedback.

And I encourage SEO and SEM people everywhere to refrain from providing Google with any feedback. No, really. OK, that was meant to be humorous, but not at the expense of being at least partially serious. Don't help them figure out how to thwart organic SEO efforts.

Is that paranoid? Maybe. But how good is the organic search engine optimization industry for Google's Pay-Per-Click revenue stream? We don't really know. Even so, it's probably safe to say Google itself would be just as happy without this industry revolving around it. Sure, all the attention has played its role in making Google a household brand name, but the organic SEO industry hasn't exactly added to Google's bottom line. As more and more companies figure out that they can produce more and more content to please Google's spiders and thus appear in the first search engine results page (SERP), a major pillar of Google's revenue stream, premium placement on the first page of search for a premium price (i.e., PPC), begins to appear irrelevant. Not that PPC is entirely irrelevant -- but it's not like its essential, either.

Google has plenty of other reasons, of course, to evolve its search engine technology. I won't go into all those in this post except to say social media is a big one. But nobody should be surprised that one of the changes Caffeine brings, apparently, is a continuation of Google's efforts to individualize search engine result pages (SERPs) for every user. Taken to its logical conclusion, this march toward individualization fundamentally alters the dynamics and meaning of page rank, and the attendant conjecture within the search engine marketing community has been, well, spirited. Some suspect that Google may be gaming its own system to favor PPC. And why wouldn't Google do this? The potential attrition in PPC revenue because of SEM dollars instead going to organic SEO firms is a clear and present danger to Google.

Fortunately, spirited competition may be at hand among the major search engines, and it might yield viable alternatives that would be welcome any time now. This is the last thing Google probably wants, but the company may finally have brought this upon itself. I speak of Bing, which is already gaining traction among SEM types. In my next post, I'll share my thoughts on how Bing might take advantage of the growing discontent.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nichey Nichey, Bing Bing

Savvy readers will recall that Google itself explored ways to work with Yahoo! some 10 years back. With the recent partnering of Bing and Yahoo!, is Microsoft taking a cue from Google's own playbook in a bid to leapfrog Larry Page and Sergey Brin's brainchild to become king of the search engine marketplace? Or are the designs humbler, saner?

The answers are unclear. But let's look at where search is today, now that the two search engines whose names aren't Google have joined forces.

News this week indicates that even search engine users Bing and Yahoo! may call their own use Google more, according to research from comScore. This amounts to as much as three-fifths of the time. Clearly, then, any upstart that wishes to become a long-term force in search has an uphill battle ahead. This, we know. It's cliche, and everyone says so. But what will that battle entail? What are they fighting for? A niche is what I say. The real mission for Bing-Yahoo! is that they must identify and target a niche of search engine users to wine and dine over time. And it might not even take that much time.

At first blush, this isn't exactly flattering for their alliance, but a huge opportunity may be at hand. Does niche mean small, for instance? Not necessarily -- stay tuned for more blog entries about this.

Monday, August 10, 2009

PodCamp Boston -- Kind of Like Woodstock, but for Social Media

Woodstock may have been three days of peace and love 40 years ago, but it had nothing on what I experienced less than 40 hours ago. Subtract the mud sliding and the loud music*, keep almost everything else, add some uber-smart businesspeople and academics with cutting-edge ideas on social media and the Web, and you'd have a pretty accurate rendition of PodCamp Boston**, the event I attended this past weekend.

PodCamp was everything I expected it to be when it comes to social media -- and many other things I didn't anticipate at all. At Woodstock, kids from all walks of life descended upon a small town to share a passion for music and cultural change; at PodCamp, businesspeople, academics and others descended upon the UMASS Boston Campus to share their passion for social media and the change it fosters in business and in daily lives. Hard-core entrepreneurs, "solopreneurs" and well-sorted corporatists shared space and ideas with intensely dedicated "social-preneurs," idealists, realists and eternal optimists alike. The unofficial goal seemed to be to understand each other and to reach a common understanding regarding this newfangled social media we find ourselves using every day. (Common understanding -- wasn't this, as well, an idea from the Age of Aquarius?)

Because of PodCamp, I've reached a few conclusions regarding social media, how it affects your business, and how you might best use it. Actually, let's just call them conclusions in progress. Nevertheless, I can't wait to share these ideas with you all. Stay tuned.

*Even so, I did see an impromptu game of frisbee form outside, and at one point, someone vocalized some rapper beats over the PA system.
**Oh, and by the way, unlike Woodstock, parking at PodCamp Boston was orderly and easy -- and even free on the second day of the event.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Twitter, Meet the Upside-Down Pyramid…Sort Of

You ought to be inverting your tweets. This will make sense shortly. Read on.

The hallmark of informative writing is the inverted pyramid. Think about walking into a bona fide Egyptian pyramid. I've never been inside one myself; maybe you have. But I do know that no real, live pyramid is inverted. The fattest part, the footprint, is at the bottom, flush with the ground. And you probably have to climb a musty, ancient stairwell to get to the top. That's what I'm guessing, anyway. As I said, I've never been inside one myself.

But where's the top of the figurative pyramid when you're reading a news release, the mainstay of informative writing? That's right. The top is at the bottom. When we read, we read from top to bottom, and the most -- and most important -- information appears at the top of this upside-down pyramid, also called the inverted pyramid. Skillful writers can stuff that info into the first sentence, even. This way, if you're the reader, you're sure to learn everything essential in the first paragraph, and if you're the writer, you've imparted the gist of your message in the space where your audience is most likely to pay attention. And if the lead paragraph compels you to do so, as the reader you have the option to climb down into the rest of the news release, just like you have the option to climb to the top of a real pyramid if you are so inclined.

Sure, the analogy is rough. In a real pyramid, for instance, curiosity might compel you to climb to the top regardless of what's at the bottom. I don't know what's inside the fattest part of a real pyramid -- perhaps nothing of note. But the fact remains that you must first enter the fattest part of the pyramid before you can get to the tip, and the same goes when you begin to read a news release.

Take stock of the inverted pyramid's utility, for doing so will help you to write more effectively online. A well-put-together online news release, for example, contains many of its most important keywords in the very first few lines -- again, the fattest part of the inverted pyramid. These very first few lines, in turn, display directly underneath the news release's headline (another critical component) on a SERP (search engine results page).

Put another way, people aren't the only ones who best pay attention to and digest information presented in the inverted pyramid format.

But how do these concepts possibly apply to Twitter? Well, I recently read an article that shares several ideas on how to write tweets, and when it comes to Twitter SEO, one of these ideas cuts to the core of issue: your tweets' visibility online. To squeeze the most possible organic SEO out of your tweets, you must write them as tiny inverted pyramids of information. Include the keywords up front, within the first 30 characters or so, because when search engines index your tweets, these are the characters that will appear on the SERP.

Where, by the way, does this leave shortened URLs, the very basis of many tweets and arguably just as important as a tweet's original content? Place them at the end of a tweet. That's what I do, and this means my tweets take on the form of not just one pyramid, but two: an upside-down pyramid at the beginning joined at its tip to that of a right-side up pyramid at the end.

Yes, that's all pretty complex for a mere 140 characters.

But with just 140 characters at your disposal, do you really need to think about capturing the reader's attention before those 140 characters are up? Shouldn't even the most boring tweet still command some attention simply because it's only 140 characters? Conversely, shouldn't it take at least 140 characters to get someone's attention in the first place?

Yes and no. It almost seems pathetic and silly, the ultimate indictment of our ever-shortening attention spans. And it would be, except that the "reader" in this instance is a search engine, where a large population of your potential followers will learn of your tweets' very existence, let alone take interest in your micro blogging. In key ways, this makes the search engine your gateway audience, and now that Google has announced plans to make real-time search a reality, the time has come to invert your tweets and make them search engine–friendly.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ongoing Changes to the Blog Color Scheme

If you're visiting this blog right now, you might be encountering difficulty reading some of the text that displays in the right-hand column. We're still tinkering with the new design and its attendant color scheme. Stay tuned for legible text in the very near future. ...

Friday, June 5, 2009

SEM feeds social media activity that leads to leads

Last week, we looked at how search engine marketing (SEM) leads not only to good search engine optimization (SEO), but also to a Twitter frenzy. But can activity in social media lead to, well, leads -- and closed sales, for that matter? Yes.

Forty-eight percent of businesses have generated qualified leads by utilizing social media, according to a survey of 880 marketing professionals whose responses are compiled in the Social Media Marketing Industry Report. Presented at Social Media Success Summit 2009, this white paper by business research expert Michael Stelzner also reveals that 35 percent of these same participants have witnessed social media marketing closing sales for their business.

The report itself includes a great deal of data on who's using social media and the results they're seeing. For those in talent management, we've already established that TMT's approach to SEM can provide a big boost to a company's SEO, which runs a high likelihood of inspiring a flurry of activity on social media sites such as Twitter. All that's necessary is a presence on social media in the first place.