Google’s “Three Black Teenagers” Controversy — And How It Works the Way It Does

Three Black Teenagers

It all began, as so many things do today, with a tweet. Just this week, teenager Kabir Alli noticed that typing in “three black teenagers” vs. “three white teenagers” produced notably different results. In the case of “three black teenagers,” many of the search results were related to arrests. In the case of “three white teenagers,” many of the search results were for stock photos. Many are understandably angry — but who should we be angry at, and why?

Why Google Isn’t to Blame for the “Three Black Teenagers”

Google has come under fire for showing racially skewed results, but that’s not how Google works. Google works by promoting the most relevant results — the results that are most likely to be desired when searching for a certain query. This is why Redditors have been able to bomb Google in the past: they upvote an unrelated image under the title of a search query and that image begins to show up in Image Results. You can take a picture of a frog and label it “Grand Concert Pianist.” If the link becomes popular enough, queries for “Grand Concert Pianist” will come up with a frog.

Essentially, Google reflects the temperature of the global Internet zeitgeist. All it can do is reflect what is on the Internet. It’s an unbiased system that reveals social biases. In the case of “three black teenagers” vs. “three white teenagers”, it’s showing us that articles with the phrase three black teenagers tend to be crime-oriented. It’s also telling us that stock photographers do not take photos of black teenagers together as often as they take pictures of white teenagers together.

Three Black Teenagers
Two out of the five top results for “three black teenagers” are now related to the three black teenagers Google results — showing that Google is only reflecting what people are searching for when they look for images associated with that query.

Why We’re To Blame for the “Three Black Teenagers”

But though Google might not be biased, it certainly is showing bias. It’s just our bias. Three black teenagers indicates that more positive media is being produced about white teens than black teens — and that race is generally made into an issue when crime is involved. It’s easy to become outraged at the most obvious source, which is the source that is providing the data. But that isn’t always the most effective path. Google cannot censor its search results without opening the door for some troubling issues. All it can do is reflect reality.

The “Three ___ Teenagers” Explored

Black teens and white teens aren’t the only ones with bias. “Three asian teenagers” almost universally produces images of girls and the stock photos are mixed in with porn. “Three mexican teenagers” produces cultural images interspersed with mugshots and gangs. These biases show the stereotypes that we most often connect with race — and it’s an interesting lesson in content and search engine optimization. For social media marketers, it’s even more interesting how quickly controversy about “three black teenagers” has dominated search results.

Apartment Association Gets Aggressive With Its Social Media Campaign

In a bizarre case of social media gone wrong, a building complex issued a “Facebook Addendum” insisting that tenants friend their Facebook page. The addendum noted that negative reviews were forbidden. Predictably, this backfired, sending hundreds of one star reviews in the building’s direction. If there’s one thing social media campaigners need to learn about the Internet, it’s that customers hate being told what they have to do.

Not the First Apartment Complex Gone Bad

In 2015 there was another similar story when an apartment complex threatened fines for negative reviews. The implication here is that there are individuals who are competent enough to create a “Social Media Addendum” yet not smart enough to realize that what they are doing is both illegal and unethical. As associations increasingly see their online reviews controlling the tenants and owners they can attract, it’s becoming more urgent for them to control their media. But they haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

A Lesson Learned in Social Media Marketing

It’s difficult to say whether this is a lesson about social media or a lesson about human nature. Social media always goes wrong when marketers attempt to fight their consumers. The goal is to give the consumers what they want — not tell them what you want. Marketers often go wrong when they get frustrated; the customer isn’t doing what they want, so they feel they have to herd the customer into it. All this does is produce a poor user experience and alienate potential clients.

The Better Way to Deal With Negative Reviews

Fining someone $10,000 for a negative review isn’t just unfeasible, it’s probably illegal. Moreover, there are far better ways to deal with negative reviews. The best way for a marketer to deal with negative sentiment is:

  • Transparency. Respond immediately and in public so that others can see your response.
  • Resolution. Provide a solution for the customer immediately and give them further contact information.
  • Professionalism. Always be polite and professional with the customer — even if they’re wrong.

Then again, it’s likely neither of the above communities consulted with a professional social media marketer. One thing is certain though — their lawyer, if they even have one, is probably racking up the billable hours.

6 Online Marketing Lessons from the Presidential Primaries

It’s undeniable that social media and the Internet audience has had a measurable impact on the political process this primary season. Whether this is because we’re turning to social media for our insights now more than ever or simply because campaigners are becoming savvy to social media’s uses, there are some very real lessons for marketers to learn.

1. It’s All About the Meme-ing

pepe-the-frog-1272162_1280Think of meme-ing as a sort of pill capsule. Through meme-ing, you take an already old and played out idea, pack it with your personalized message, and then feed it to the Internet zeitgeist. It’s not a great way to get across complex ideas, but it’s a fantastic way to build momentum and drum up influence. In fact, the entirety of the Trump campaign is essentially built on a platform of memes. Thanks to services such as Patreon, there are now even “professional” memers. Like racketeers, no one knows what they actually do.

2. You Don’t Need to Build Momentum — Just Capture It

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have one thing in common — well, besides the fact that they’re white, male, and pariahs within their parties. OK they actually have a few things in common. But in terms of marketing, both of them were able to capture an undercurrent of rage and distrust within their respective political systems. They didn’t create this wave. They answered it. When it comes to marketing, you don’t have to create a new craze or a trend: you have to find one to capitalize upon.

3. If You Can’t Fight It, Bury It

cable-1101805_1280And believe me — you can’t fight it. It’s impossible to actually hide negative press anymore, but it’s possible to bury it with more positive news, or just hide it when no one’s watching. This is one reason the White House tends to distribute bad news late on Friday evenings. In terms of marketing, you can most definitely fight news with news.

4. A Single Mistake and It’s All Over

We actually learned this one over a decade ago with “The Dean Scream.” You just have to make one mistake — the right mistake — and you’re suddenly plastered all over the news. A single upwards glance by Hillary Clinton in a Harlem apartment has turned into a meme of its own and isn’t likely to die fast. This means that you have to be incredibly cautious as a marketer, because a single slip could be your last. Anything that you say on the Internet will remain on the Internet… forever.

5. People Are Incredibly Fickle

As an addition to the above, there’s a reason why a single mistake can end a campaign. People always want to be on the “right” side, and their opinion of the “right” side is based on public perception. That’s why some Bernie supporters switched to voting for Hillary late in the primaries because they thought she was more likely to win. It effectively took away their personal right to vote, but it was more psychologically satisfying — even though it had zero effect on the general election. If you can seem like a winner, you’re golden.

6. Sometimes You Can Seem Too Good

The Bernie Sanders campaign found out something kind of remarkable: if you seem really, really good at what you do, people actually care less. For instance, if they think you’re definitely going to win at the next election, they don’t vote. And when you do lose later on, they then blame you. Marketers are constantly seeing this type of rebound effect: when you set expectations too high, every single under-performing moment is scrutinized. Set your expectations reasonably and ramp up from there — it’s safer.

Basically what we’ve discovered during the presidential primaries is that the Internet is chaotic, unpredictable, and powerful. When you can harness the Internet audience, you can do anything — but once you begin losing their favor, the tides can quickly turn against you.

The Key to Developing Solid Local SEO

Local, geo-targeted SEO has become the Holy Grail for digital marketers. Google’s landscape is increasingly turning towards the geographically relevant, often automatically boosting search engine results based on their physical proximity to the user. Even historical searches can have an impact on the location of the data shown — search for “zoos in Wisconsin” and then “restaurants” and you’re very likely to get restaurants in Wisconsin. But how can you quickly boost your local credentials?

Maintain Your Google+ Listing

It probably goes without saying, but in order to promote your company, Google first needs to know where you are. But your business listings are more important than just that. Google has been steadily moving towards a “knowledgebase” format for years now, attempting to provide information and answers rather than simply return websites. Google no longer wants to give a search engine results page when you search for “New York plumbers,” it wants to give you a formatted list of plumbers in your area. By updating your listings with Google, you can integrate yourself with this format.

Build Your Content through Buyer Personas

In order to bring in local customers, you need local content. But what do your customers really want to know? One of the easiest ways to figure it out is to create buyer personas. Use your demographic information to create a picture of a specific buyer. Create an inventory of buyers that represent your key demographics, and then tailor your content to them. If your product is being developed towards a 20 to 30 year old sports fan demographic, you know that you need to cover local sporting events.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Hyper-Local

The more niche your content is, the better it will rank. If you service five areas, your content has to be targeted towards those five areas — not just your city or your state. The more hyper-local your content is, the more likely you will be to draw an audience and to prove to Google that your website is relevant.

Keep Your Eye on the Competition

When geo-targeting your content, your competition is more important than ever. You should always keep an eye on what your competition is doing and what spaces they are competing for. If your competition is already entrenched, you may not want to go after their leading keywords — you may instead want to create an entirely different focus for your content, at least while you build authority. Knowing where your competitors are helps you determine where you should be.

Don’t forget that the best SEO works with the search engine rather than against the search engine. Google wants to provide your customers with the best data — so you should want to provide your customers with the best data. By keeping your information up to date, creating relevant buyer personas, and drilling down to niche markets, you should be able to rank high wherever your customers are.

Chinese Government Astroturfing Revealed By Harvard University

A study released by a Harvard University research team indicates that the Chinese government is doing some significant astroturfing. Over 400 million fake social media comments could be produced by the Chinese government every year, with the goal of altering public perception of the country.

The “50 Cent” Party

The 50 Cent Party is a group of paid social media commentators, who are given 50 cents per pro-Chinese post. The 50 Cent Party may start their own threads or may begin engaging in existing ones, with the express goal of convincingly defending Chinese policies, government, and culture. Though it’s long been known that the 50 Cent Party existed — and, to a lesser extent, that they were incredibly prolific — the new Harvard University study gives an actual measurement to the activity.

Not Just China

China isn’t the only country engaging in heavy astroturfing. Russia has often been accused of this as well. Many well-known cases of astroturfing have been perpetrated by private companies. In 2006, Walmart engaged in an astroturfing campaign that appeared to be a blog run by two consumers. In 2007, launched a campaign against Google that appeared to be user-supported, but was actually a marketing campaign by the company itself. The Hillary Clinton campaign has also been accused of astroturfing through social media.

The Problem of Astroturfing

Public perception is often influenced by the media. The goal of astroturfing is to change public perception by flooding media with the desired point of view. Studies have shown that people are inclined to agree with the majority even if they believe that the majority is wrong. This is an instinct that his a holdover from humanity’s tribal origins; it’s usually more beneficial to cooperate than to be correct. Thus, astroturfing is actually incredibly powerful. As long as an individual is convinced that a majority feels a certain way, they too will probably feel that way.

Though astroturfing may be morally problematic, it also can’t be stopped. The Chinese government isn’t doing anything strictly wrong or illegal — the only way they would be is if they were violating the individual Terms of Service for the websites that they are posting on. Propaganda has existed for as long as countries have existed, and social media and the Internet is simply making it far easier to distribute.

SEO Company, e-Ventures LLC, Sues Google for Censorship on SERP

Everyone knows that Google reserves the right to blacklist websites that don’t play by its rules. But what happens when you initiate a lawsuit against them? e-ventures, LLC, an SEO company removed from Google, is trying to find out. The answer, however, is likely to be “not much.”

Google’s On-Going Fight against SEO

Google doesn’t like SEO. In fact, one of the things that Google has cited as hurting your website is being “overly optimized.” Google wants to give information that is truly relevant and it’s invested a lot of money into trying to determine whether naturally produced documents are relevant. When marketers “optimize” their texts, they’re usually seen by Google as trying to game the system.To that end, Google often removes spammy and potentially irrelevant queries in waves, when new detection systems are developed.

e-ventures LLC vs. Google

e-ventures LLC claims that its websites were removed from Google due to the tactics of a third-party competitor. Not only were its own websites blocked, but new websites that they also put up were blocked. This isn’t unknown within the industry. Potentially, e-ventures LLC could have been using black hat or gray hat SEO techniques, which were reported by a competitor. e-ventures LLC could also have been the victim of negative SEO — a third-party could have essentially framed them. The question is whether or not this would be actionable.

Google attempted to get this claim dismissed in court on the basis of freedom of speech, but a judge has allowed the claim to progress. That doesn’t mean that Google is guilty, merely that e-ventures LLC will have a chance to prove their case in court.

Censorship in a World of Google

Does Google have the right to censor its product? Of course it does — it’s a private service. But this might have more consequences than it seems. The right to freedom from censorship only applies to government agencies. The government is not allowed to censor private individuals (in theory and with some notable exceptions). Google owns a private website and can remove any information they want. They could remove every website besides Google, if they wanted to, though their shareholders probably wouldn’t be thrilled.

This raises an interesting point, as Google has essentially become a public utility. If Google did decide to censor a competitor, service, or product, it would actually have a dramatic influence. However, Google also has a vested interest in providing the best and most relevant search results.That being said, e-ventures LLC vs. Google isn’t strictly a case of censorship, but instead breach of contract. e-ventures, LLC is claiming that — through the actions of a third-party — their website was removed from search engine results even though they didn’t violate the company’s Terms of Service.

e-ventures LLC vs. Google will be a case to watch for SEO companies. That the case has been allowed to progress at all means that there may be some merit to claims against Google — specifically, claims by companies who have been removed by Google but have adhered to Google’s Terms of Service. This case will likely set some form of precedent, as it’s the first time an SEO company has sued Google for exclusion.

Digital Marketing and the Upcoming Death of Vine

Vine is dying. Recent reports show that over 50% of the power users on Vine have already begun to abandon the platform. But why, following Vine’s explosive growth, has its user base started to move on? It’s all a combination of marketing failures, redundant user experience, and a critical lack of innovation.

Peering through the Vines

Released in 2012, Vine hit explosive growth soon after due to its unique atmosphere and youthful customer base. Vine combined the best parts of both YouTube and Twitter: short snippets of visually interesting content. Comedians, musicians, magicians, and other entertainers flocked to Vine as a way to court their own fan base. Vines proved to be highly shareable in a way that no other social media platform could compete with — they delivered quality content without any investment of time. Further, the seemingly outlandish concept (a few short seconds of video) actually forced Vine producers to be even more creative.

But All Good Things…

In response to Vine, other social media platforms made it easier to share videos. Previously, videos were cumbersome to share and often difficult to play. By integrating video more seamlessly into their platforms, other broader social media platforms began to court video production. But it wasn’t until Vine started searching for advertiser dollars that many Viners began to leave — primarily to YouTube. Vine suffered from the same problem Twitter did: a lack of monetization. Though it had a tremendous number of users, content, and activity, it had no clear path to profit. This is an area in which many social media platforms faltered.

Twitter addressed this issue through promoted tweets and other marketing products. And Vine followed suit — but, unfortunately, the more youthful demographic of Vine quickly rebelled. Sponsored Vines turned off both video producers and the users that followed them. What could be fairly easily ignored on a text-based platform such as Twitter was discovered to be hopelessly obtrusive in an audio and video format. It’s a lesson that needed to be learned: users are still almost universally resilient to direct marketing.

What’s Next for Vine?

Vine may be dying, but that doesn’t mean that it’s beyond redemption. Vine still has a fairly stale platform and a strong user base. The core problem now appears to be the difficulty that Viners have in monetizing their own videos, which makes it difficult for them (and their followers) to accept promoted advertising. Viners have more success monetizing their YouTube channels, even though the format may be significantly different. If Vine can find a way to provide for better creator monetization while reducing the visibility of advertiser-provided content, it may be able to bounce back among its core demographic.


Artificial Intelligence and Digital Marketing

IBM’s Watson may soon be the hardest working marketer in town. Once big data was implemented within the marketing community, artificial intelligence couldn’t be far behind. In order to actually analyze and comb through the immense warehouses of data that businesses have been collecting, algorithms had to be developed. This was big data analysis. Once those algorithms became sufficiently complex, they turned into full artificial intelligence suites. These advanced AI systems are designed to identify relevant marketing data and determine the patterns that human marketers could potentially miss. And they’re becoming more sophisticated.

technology-1283624_1920What’s the Difference Between AI and Algorithm?

Artificial intelligence is simply a more sophisticated, complicated method of analyzing big data. AI distinguishes itself from a mere algorithm by being able to learn and adapt. A marketing AI will get better at identifying patterns in its marketing data the more often it’s used. So the real difference between AI and an algorithm is that AI doesn’t stay static. It’s constantly growing and evolving into something that is more effective and more likely to improve revenue generation.

Why is Artificial Intelligence Necessary?

Artificial intelligence such as Watson are especially skilled in combing through unstructured data. And a great deal of marketing data today is unstructured. Email, blog posts, news articles, social media updates — all of these elements are critical to the modern marketing campaign but cannot be neatly pigeonholed into a spreadsheet or database. Artificial intelligence uses its own knowledge to identify relevant information from this unstructured data, prioritize it, and then determine the best way to isolate patterns and draw potential conclusions.

Artificial intelligence is being deployed throughout all areas of business intelligence and technology, not just the marketing sector. For those within the data science industry, it’s definitely an element that is here to stay. What remains to be seen is how it will ultimately impact the digital marketing niche. As of now, true AI is only available to the largest marketing firms, and has yet to trickle down to smaller agencies. Once reliable artificial intelligence is available at an affordable rate to smaller firms, marketers may see shifts in both conversions and engagement.

How Will Virtual Reality Impact the Digital Marketing Field?

Virtual reality is coming. In fact, it’s coming this year. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Microsoft HoloLens have dominated tech news throughout 2016, and though they may be primarily targeted towards games and entertainment, they also represent some interesting opportunities for the digital marketing arena.

Virtual Reality and the Digital Marketer

virtual-reality-1389032_1920Consumers have been interested in virtual reality for some time, but it’s only recently that the technology itself has been feasible. Virtual reality headsets are currently being used to play games in immersive environments and watch movies in expansive, private theaters. Some virtual reality applications are even being developed to create entirely digital work spaces, where employees can potentially collaborate with peers who are in an entirely different location. But as with all entertainment, the virtual reality platform will eventually become open to marketers, just as mobile platforms before it. This opens up some incredible doorways, such as tying advertisements into 3D environments and creating fully immersive marketing experiences.

Being “There” With Virtual Reality

Virtual reality makes it possible for customers to review products in a 3D space before purchasing them. Theoretically, customers can visit an entire virtual reality mall, making purchases as they go. Real estate agents can conduct a 3D walkthrough of a property halfway across the world, and customers can take a look at hotels and restaurants before they make a reservation. When used properly, virtual reality will give unique opportunities for marketers to engage directly with their clientele, providing all the benefits of brick-and-mortar sales.

Data Mining and Analysis in a Virtual World

virtual-reality-1237523_1920Incredibly, though, providing a full 3D experience isn’t the most valuable aspect of VR technology. Most digital marketing will probably still be in the form of content, videos, and images– purely from a budgetary point of view. No, the most significant value for marketers is probably going to deal with big data. Marketers will theoretically be able to use VR technology to track what customers look at and interact with. They’ll be able to tell how long customers spend looking at specific objects to gain their interest. This goes far beyond the traditional statistics that digital marketers use for web-based interactions. By tying this into existing marketing campaigns, businesses will be able to target their ads even more effectively.

But That’s Not All — Augmented Reality Is Still Coming

Fast on the heels of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive is Microsoft’s own HoloLens. Microsoft’s HoloLens appeals to a significantly different demographic: it’s essentially a B2B product. More costly than either the Rift or the Vive, this headset can be provided by businesses to their professionals for the purposes of productivity, especially in the areas of design and engineering. HoloLens isn’t a virtual reality product, it’s an augmented reality product. It’s essentially everything that Google Glass wanted to be and more.

Augmented reality is even more important than virtual reality because it has the capacity to become ubiquitous. It’s also not unlikely that HoloLens will be marketed towards business consumers and professionals and then filter down to the consumer market, once the price point can be addressed — at $3,000 it’s a little too expensive for the average household. With augmented reality, advertisements can actually be displayed in real time over reality. You could be walking down the street and receive a banner ad and coupon for the restaurant that you’re passing.

Virtual reality and augmented reality represent the potential for a paradigm shift as disruptive as the one from print to the Internet. It allows for targeted advertising within the consumer’s living space, driven by in-depth behavioral analysis. And while this may be exciting for marketers, it should also be a little worrying for consumers.

All About Bounce Rate: The Real Deal

Bounce rates are one of the most important metrics for marketers, but there’s still a lot of voodoo surrounding them. In short: bounce rates do matter, but potentially not for the reason that you think they do. For beginners, a “bounce rate” is the number of users who click through to your page but quickly leave it.

The Truth About Bounce Rates

What does a bounce rate really mean? A high bounce rate is an unfulfilled promise. It means that whatever the user thought they were going to get when they reviewed the title of your page and its description wasn’t what they actually got when they clicked the link. This could happen for a few reasons:

  • You misrepresented your content. Obviously they were interested enough in your title to click the link. But did the title truly represent the content? Or was it intentionally designed to mislead?
  • Your website loaded too slowly. Most users will only wait two to three seconds for a page to load. Any longer and they will get frustrated and leave.
  • Your website is ugly. There are a few things that will get users to immediately exit out: auto-loading videos and modal windows are two of them.

A high bounce rate is, in other words, one of the best indicators that something is wrong with your website. But what is a bad bounce rate, anyway? It may surprise you to know that the average bounce rate for a website is 41% to 55%. That’s right — if you’re capturing more than half of your clicks, you’re doing good.


The Lie About Bounce Rates

There’s one really big lie about bounce rates that’s been going around just about forever: it doesn’t have an impact on your SEO. That’s right. While bounce rates may impact your overall user experience, it has absolutely no impact on your search engine performance. This has been confirmed directly by Matt Cutts at Google.

It’s easy to see why this type of lie might proliferate. It would make sense for Google to track bounce rates as a method of determining whether a website was truly relevant. But then consider the fact that a “good” bounce rate could be as high as 30%. The metric itself is highly variable and dependent on a number of factors.

So there you have it. Bounce rates are an important metric that indicates the overall user experience of your content but not necessarily its search rankings. A high bounce rate indicates that the content is not providing the value that the user anticipated — but bounce rates in general are quite high. To lower your bounce rate, you need to ensure that your content is fulfilling the promise of its meta data.