SEO and Google’s GBoard: What You Need to Know

Google’s new keyboard app for iOS may return results slightly differently from other use cases — something that digital marketers and SEO professionals may want to track. Google’s keyboard app is designed to make it easier than ever to query the search engine, and to that end has a couple of differences:

  • It doesn’t use long-term memory. Google will usually use past search results to inform future search results. It will notice if you’re always searching for activities in New York and will assume that a subsequent restaurant search is also for New York. But GBoard is only going to do this for a single session. Once you close the app, all the prior information is gone.
  • It wants to give direct answers. It’s likely that Google will use GBoard to promote its knowledgebase, something that Google has been slowly working towards for some time — attempting to provide direct answers to questions along with its assortment of links.
  • It doesn’t support ads. GBoard isn’t going to be a good place for mobile advertising because it isn’t going to have any. Instead, the results are provided in a concise format.
  • It gives news additional prominence. News articles are already promoted to the top of traditional Google results, but GBoard adds even more news links into the mix.
  • It uses mobile search algorithms. But other than the above changes, GBoard primarily uses the same algorithms as traditional mobile search.

GBoard doesn’t alter mobile SEO results significantly, but many of the small changes represent shifts that Google has been working towards for years. It also highlights how search results may differ not only on a device-to-device but also an app-to-app basis.

New SEO Crawler, Botify, Optimizes Sites for Google

A new SEO crawler, Botify, recently launched at Disrupt NY and has subsequently garnered interest from companies such as eBay and Expedia. Reportedly, Botify is able to fly through websites at speeds that sometimes the servers can’t even match, identifying non-compliant URLs and providing suggestions for optimization and improvement. Though Botify is certainly not the first crawler of its kind, its benefits lie in its efficiency. Botify is designed to be a high performance engine, combing through exceptionally large sites in a matter of minutes.

Botify is the answer to a problem that webmasters have been dealing with for years: identifying pages that haven’t been crawled or indexed by Google and resolving the issue. When pages aren’t crawled, they won’t show up in search engine results — and all of a marketer’s carefully laid SEO plans can go to waste. The speed and efficiency of Botify doesn’t come cheap, however: the most affordable plan for Botify is $500 a month, with a total of 5,000,000 URLs crawled.

When Your Boss Sabotages Your Social Media Campaign

Most marketers know the experience. You wake up to a flurry of emails and message notifications and you think to yourself: “Great. What did he say now?” Everyone has had that one problem client — the client that just can’t keep their mouth shut. Unfortunately, when managing your own company’s marketing campaign, you may discover that there are more “that guys” than you thought.

The Problem of the Rogue Agent

firearm-1300396_1280Thanks to the magic of social media, a single employee can cause some incredible damage to their company’s reputation. Many employees have their social media accounts visible to the world and they often discuss their work freely. A single off-the-cuff comment taken the wrong way can rapidly spiral into something that is now associated with the company forever. When it’s a boss or someone at the higher levels of the company, it’s even more difficult to manage. You can’t monitor everyone all the time, so what can you do?

Lock Down Your Core Accounts

Core members of the business — decision makers, management, and anyone in marketing and sales — need to have their social media on lock down. This means no visible personal accounts and carefully maintained business accounts. These are the individuals at your company who are going to be under the most scrutiny — and the words that are said by them are going to spread the fastest.

Adopt Brand Sentiment Strategies

If your business has hundreds (or even thousands) of employees, how can you ensure that your brand is being represented fairly? Brand sentiment analysis will analyze and track mentions of your branding online, to identify any potential problems as they develop. Brand sentiment is a valuable marketing tool for many reasons, including its ability to help put out fires.

React Quickly to Social Media Incidents

When a social media incident does occur, most customers and prospective customers will be waiting to see how you initially react. By reacting quickly and resolving the problem immediately (even if it requires a separation from the employee), you can usually regain consumer faith. Naturally, this depends highly on the nature of the social media sabotage. Unintentional sabotage can often be adequately handled through employee re-training.

Limit Exposure to Social Media Platforms

If your boss has a tendency to, say, jump on Yelp and start yelling at people, there’s only one question you should be asking yourself: “Why do they even have access to the Yelp page?” One of the best ways to mitigate potential social media disasters is to restrict access to any social media accounts and owned media to only the marketers.

You can’t save people from themselves. If the higher-ups at your company are truly determined to tank their social media standing, there’s very little that you can do. Nevertheless, with the above strategies and tactics, you may be able to mitigate some of the worst of it — at least long enough to meet your own marketing goals.

SEO Secrets: The Truth About the Ubiquitous FAQ

Have you ever come across a FAQ page and just flat out wondered why it existed? “Surely no one is asking questions about concession management at the 1923 French tennis championships frequently,” you think to yourself. To a certain extent, FAQ pages reside in an area of shared fiction. Both reader and writer contentedly pretend that these are questions that have already been asked, rather than questions that they simply want you to know the answer to. But there are reasons why FAQ pages are still ubiquitous even if they don’t seem to fulfill their intended purpose.

Why Do FAQ Pages Really Exist?

Of course, some people put up a FAQ page simply because that’s what has always been done. They see FAQ pages on other sites and decide that it looks professional. Ideally, however, FAQ pages are designed to:

  • Deliver basic information to the reader in a compelling way. The Q&A format simply makes something more readable — for the same reason an interview is often easier to digest than a biography. Of course, the company could just list its history, services, store hours, and address, but the text would be dry, dense, and (more importantly) ignored.
  • Bring the reader’s attention to something that they didn’t even know. The interesting thing about a FAQ page is that it often asks a question that the reader couldn’t possibly ask because they wouldn’t know to ask it. A seller of shoes might add in, nonchalantly, “How Long Do Custom Orders Take?” Herein is the embedded, implied knowledge that the store does take custom orders, neatly slipped into their consciousness.
  • Allow the customer to self-serve when encountering issues. FAQ pages can fulfill their stated intent by actually answering questions that are frequently asked, such as “Why is my hoverboard exploding?” But for the most part, these questions are now covered by a troubleshooting or knowledge base system, rather than  a FAQ.
  • Improve the website’s SEO. Finally, this is actually one of the major reasons FAQ pages still exist — they’re superb for SEO. They can answer questions that customers are actually searching for, such as “What are Milliways’ operating hours?” or, again, “Why is my hoverboard exploding?” This boosts search ranking and appropriately directs queries about the company to its actual website.

But all this potential usefulness can’t change the fact that most FAQ pages aren’t really helping anyone at all — not the owner, not the customer, and certainly not the search engines. FAQs have become so obligatory and so obvious that they are usually just used as filler.

Improving the SEO of Your FAQ

FAQ pages are uniquely useful for SEO because they are specifically designed to answer questions — just like a search engine. Any FAQ can be easily modified for SEO purposes — just remember that the ultimate goal is to provide usefulness to people. 

  • List full and specific questions. “How much does it cost?” may make sense in the context of your page, but it’s not going to make any sense to a search engine. “How much does a hoverboard cost?” is far better — and it makes it easier for readers who are just scanning down the page.
  • Separate larger FAQs into smaller FAQs. You might need a product FAQ, sales FAQ, and company FAQ. The goal of this is to make it easier for your potential customers to find information once they’ve been directed to your page.
  • Incorporate your focus and long-tail keywords. Just like any other page on your website, your FAQ should be designed to target a variety of keywords. In particular, focus on geographic keywords — it will make it easier for the search engine to direct users in your area to your website.

FAQ pages are interesting precisely because they are everywhere. Most people never think about their FAQ at all — let alone in an SEO capacity. But truly conscientious SEO marketers will optimize everything from their FAQ to their Terms of Service; if it’s on the website, it should be doing something for the website. A properly written FAQ has the opportunity to further the customer relationship while also adding a tremendous amount of SEO value. It only requires that you ask the right questions.

Four Critical Online Community Management Lessons from Reddit

So, Reddit has been a mess lately. One might assume that the “front page of the Internet” would have better community management skills. But, conspiracy theories aside, Reddit has shown some spectacularly bad PR decisions in the past few weeks… and their fumbling can become your learning experience. Here are a few of the things that Reddit might have wanted to do, if they hadn’t wanted to experience a complete upheaval of their user base.

phone-735062_12801. Always Communicate With Your Users

Reddit’s first mistake, out of many, was making major decisions about their platform without communicating with their users first. The administrators made a sequence of unpopular decisions and apparently believed that an announcement after the fact would suffice. If they had communicated with their users first, they might have avoided the worst of the blow back. (And we say apparently believed because, again, there are some who believe it was intentional.)

Reddit’s second mistake was underestimating the general intelligence of the uncontrollable hivemind that they had created. Though the user base may be occasionally (or even often) incorrect, there were still many users who noticed inconsistencies within the decision-making process. And though a hivemind may be slightly dumber than its individual components, it can still be more suspicious. Without clear communication, the user base took off on a variety of conspiracy theories, some insane and some frighteningly probable.

woman-789146_12802. Never Make Assumptions About the User Experience

Reddit’s administrators seem to have entirely underestimated the popularity of their AMA administrator, Victoria aka Chooter. Though they undoubtedly knew banning subreddits would create an immense storm of drama, they didn’t seem to anticipate the reaction that firing Victoria would have. And this, from one perspective, could be understandable. They saw the work that Victoria was doing, but did not see the reaction to it. For many, Victoria had become the quickly-typing-hands of the AMA process. She had her own fans. And these fans were legion.

You should never make an assumption that your users see your community the same way that you do. A feature of your site that you think of little more than nuisance or clutter could be an intrinsic component of the user experience to others. Communication and data analysis are two ways that you can get a better picture of how your community actually uses your site, rather than how you would use your site.

russia-95311_12803. Value Your Employees

Community employees — even volunteers, such as moderators — tend to be the “face” of a community. Not only do they need to be valued, but they also need to be chosen properly. They will set the tone of your community. To upper management, low-level community employees may seem entirely replaceable. To the users, they may define the entire community — and users can be spectacularly loyal. Not only were the users of Reddit upset when Victoria was let go, but they were further outraged when the founder and administrator of Reddit Gifts was similarly given the boot.

How could this have been avoided? Sometimes an employee has to separate from a company. But if it’s done properly and with goodwill, it won’t be seen as a slap in the face to the users who valued them.

But let’s close this with something that Reddit actually did right…

fire-171229_12804. Move On Quickly

People on the Internet have short attention spans. It’s just the nature of this free-flowing, fast-paced informational world we live in. If you move on fast enough from anything, no matter how bad the situation is, you’ll usually be able to distract them. For Reddit, the announcement was made that their CEO was stepping down and that a new CEO was taking their place. Some brief online fanfare occurred and then everything, very quickly, went back to normal.

This kills the momentum.

Most users can’t be angry or outraged for long. Outrage requires fuel, and when denied of fuel — like a fire — it will quickly perish. As long as you can starve a fire of accelerants, you can control the situation. Now, if Reddit had continued beating the dead horse and discussing (or defending) their decisions, then they would have had a problem.

Of course, quite a few people today believe that Reddit did all of this intentionally, as a way to boot out the Interim CEO and place the original co-founder of Reddit into a position of power. Regardless of which conspiracy theories you personally believe, there’s still a lot to learn from the debacle in terms of user behavior. Users need to feel valued and they need to feel as though the administration of a community care about their desires. When they don’t, they rebel — and sometimes quite violently.

Continued Education and Certification for the Digital Marketer

For newbie digital marketers, it’s not usually necessary — or, really, even advisable — to go back to a brick-and-mortar school to learn the ins and outs of marketing theory. But that doesn’t mean that you should jump in entirely self-taught. The marketing graveyard is littered with the bones of those who thought they “knew enough.” Apart from local seminars and casual webinars, there are a few online courses and certification programs that can help you further your knowledge and present yourself to clients.

glasses-272399_1280Coursera’s Digital Marketing Specialization Certification Path

Coursera offers a Digital Marketing specialization and certification through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This course is essentially a primer that walks newbie marketers through branding, consumer behavior, marketing strategies and data analysis. Each course is $79 (as of 2015), and there are five courses total:

  • Marketing in a Digital World
  • Digital Analytics for Marketing Professionals: Marketing Analytics in Theory
  • Digital Analytics for Marketing Professionals: Marketing Analytics in Practice
  • Digital Marketing Channels: The Landscape
  • Digital Marketing Channels: Planning

The cost of the entire specialization is $474. A self-paced course, each student has 180 days to complete each unit and gain their certification.

Google’s AdWords Certification

A digital marketer interested in running the best PPC campaigns may want to become AdWords Certified Though naturally there are other PPC networks out there, Google’s AdWords remains by far the most ubiquitous. There are five available Adwords Certification exams:

  • AdWords Fundamentals
  • Search Advertising
  • Display Advertising
  • Video Advertising
  • Shopping Advertising

The exams are free, but you need to sign up to become a Google Partner first. Preparing for the above exams will give you a valuable crash course in digital marketing techniques.

board-361516_1280ALISON’s Digital Marketing Diploma Courses

ALISON offers free courses, certification courses and “diploma” courses, all of which are either free or very affordable and completely self-paced. In the area of digital marketing, ALISON offers a Diploma in Social Media Marketing. This course, suitable for beginners, is estimated at fifteen to twenty hours long and includes video, audio, assessments and a final certification.

Modules in this course include:

  • Email marketing and affiliate marketing.
  • Social media tools used for marketing.
  • Social media marketing with Facebook.
  • The end of course assessment.

University of San Francisco’s Online Internet Marketing Program

The University of San Francisco runs a series of online marketing certification programs, ranging from some basic standalone courses to advanced specializations. These courses — and the certifications that are received from them — are accredited and completely online, but they are extremely expensive. Still, they may be valuable for those who want to promote as well as improve their education. Included within this online program:

  • Advanced Professional Certificate in Internet Marketing – 3 Course Series
  • Advanced Specialized Certificates – 6 Individual Courses
  • Specialized Mini Courses – 8 Individual Instant Courses
  • Internet Marketing Courses (Individual)

teacher-702998_1280Avoiding “Scams” and Useless Certifications

Be wary of online marketing courses that aren’t produced by well-known, qualified companies. There are many fly-by-night operations that offer basic digital marketing classes at premium costs. Remember: anyone can set up a website and upload a video. A few red flags to watch out for:

  • Promising “insider secrets” or “secret techniques.”
  • A cult of personality — marketing based on a single “guru” or “expert.”
  • Overly aggressive, “sales pitch” advertising.

And, of course, there are likely some digital marketing classes available at a local community college or university close to you, some of which may allow attendees outside of the university system. Look for outreach programs and local seminars if you tend to learn better in person.

Bing It: Does Bing Even Matter, Or Is It Just a Waste of Time?

Let’s be honest. When we’re talking about search engine optimization, we’re talking about Google. We can ask ourselves questions like “Who’s Really Winning The Search War?” but they’re hypothetical at best and, yes, even a little patronizing. Google is clearly the girl that we all want to take to the dance. Realistically, anywhere between 80% and 90% of search traffic today comes from Google. So should we even care about Bing?

weight-loss-648689_1280The Internet Is Made for Porn

Every time the question of Bing comes up, someone kind of laughs and says “Well, it’s great for porn.” Then everyone kind of nods their head and chuckles, as though it’s just a joke. But it’s not. For the past few years Bing has actually been a remarkable search engine for pornography. Even when you didn’t want it to be. Even innocent searches would turn into pornographic ones, if you didn’t have your safe settings in place.

This is actually due to Bing/Yahoo’s algorithm, which has not “learned” the way that Google’s has that not all Internet searches can be judged based on popularity… because then the Internet would just be porn. What initially appears to be nothing more than a joke or a curious fluke is actually a very telling revelation of Bing’s major flaw as a search engine. It has no context; it’s not “smart.”

But that also means that it can be taken advantage of. Google has many exceedingly complicated algorithms designed to promote good content and demote spammy content. Bing/Yahoo provides a little of that — just enough that the web isn’t really, really atrocious — but not as much of it. So it’s probably understandable that some low quality sites may still focus on Bing, or that black hat techniques may frequent it.

hands-545394_1280But Some People Do Use Bing

And they’re not all perverts. For instance, this guy switched to Bing literally because he was being paid to do so (through Bing’s rewards). This weirdo thinks Bing is more aesthetically pleasing, because my search queries require a scenic backdrop. Others admit to using it because “it was default on [their] phone.” And it’s dumb, but that could actually be something we need to watch out for in the future — because most people don’t change the default search engines on their mobile devices, or even on their computers. (Who knows, maybe when Project Spartan ships, it’ll create a whole new wave of people who don’t know how to change their browser settings.)

Taking a broader view, it appears that Yahoo/Bing has a more mature age group, with more men than women. And yes, a great deal of mobile searches come from iOS, since Bing is the default search engine for both the browser and Siri queries. One might wonder if this skews the audience, and it most definitely does: as a whole, users on Bing tend to be wealthier. Why? Well, not to make too many assumptions, but it’s probably because they’re old enough that they don’t know how to change their default search engine.

UntitledOK, The Snark Aside… What About Ads?

As we move into more niche markets for our Google advertising, we realize that traffic isn’t necessarily anything. We’re using long-tail keywords and demographics to drill down to specific segments in Google… so why not use Bing? It really doesn’t make any sense to both claim that a smaller audience is better (in Google) and then claim that a wider audience is better (in Bing).

In fact, it appears as though Bing paid advertising could actually be more effective than Google ads. And less expensive. (Of course it’s less expensive; they’re desperate.) And if we’re going for a demographic that’s already within Bing’s small but stubborn realm, all the better. And if we’re paying per click, we can simply extend our advertising campaigns. Very few of us are actually paying for as much traffic as there is on offer.

But, of course, a PPC campaign is a radically different beast from search engine optimization. What about organic search? Are there ways that you can tailor your content to Bing in a way that Bing isn’t utterly irrelevant?

search-engine-optimization-687236_1280Search Engine Optimization  for Bing

Believe it or not — and you’ll probably believe it — there’s not a lot of information out there for SEO and Bing. While Google maintains a significant amount of Webmaster documentation and tools, Bing/Yahoo probably lost their own internal documentation years ago. Tailoring your site for Bing is a lot like tailoring your site for search engines circa 2008: a lot of keywords, above the fold content and fewer backlinks. Perhaps most hilariously, Bing only actually reads the first 100kb of a page. But unlike search engines in the days of yore, Bing pays attention to multimedia documents and social media signals. This probably pushes back to the whole porn angle, somehow.

Okay, so actually — tailoring your content towards Bing can actively harm your Google standing. For instance, Bing likes keyword-laden anchor text; Google hates it. But there are other areas in which the search engines aren’t at odds; Bing uses social media signals and Google simply discards them.

So, is it worth it to work Bing into your digital marketing campaign? It certainly seems as though PPC advertising may be more effective on Bing, or at least compelling enough to be tested. And if you happen to have a lot of resources at hand, it probably won’t hurt.

Bing/Yahoo can represent up to 20% of your market, depending on your industry, and that’s not an entirely insignificant amount. Moreover, Bing can more readily be manipulated and it has rather specific audience demographics — I mean, there’s like a 50% chance that the person finding your website is doing it through Siri.


How the “Football Picks Scam” Is Used to Build Content Authority

Big game coming up? Get out a list of 80 names. Send 40 of them a “tip” that the game will go one way; tell the other 40 the opposite. Now it’s just wash, rinse, repeat. Next game, take the last 40 winners, and do it all over again with groups of 20. Eventually, you’ll find yourself with 5 people who think that you can predict any game.

At each stage of this process, you can charge the winners a little bit more, because they trust you more. And the losers? Well, it was just a bad tip. This is known as the “Football Picks Scam,” and the most clever aspect of it is that it requires very little actual effort. All the Football Picks Scam needs to succeed is sheer numbers. And when all a digital marketer has is traffic

dog-665159_1280Throwing Everything Against the Wall

Tim’s a newbie digital marketer. His first client is a pool servicing, maintenance and repairs company. Tim knows that he needs to put out valuable, informative content on a regular basis, or his client’s marketing strategy will fail. Unfortunately, what Tim doesn’t know a lot about is pools. So Tim can create content, but he’s just not very sure about that content. And eventually, he really finds himself struggling to come up with information. In the last week, Tim has posted:

  • Ridding Your Pool of Murky, Dirty Water With Natural Remedies
  • Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens
  • 6 Eco-Friendly Ways to Keep Your Pool Warm and Comfortable
  • The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools
  • Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep?

Martha, reading these articles, rapidly loses interest. “Ridding Your Pool of Murky, Dirty Water With Natural Remedies” claims that arsenic is a natural remedy, which she’s pretty sure isn’t right. “6 Eco-Friendly Ways to Keep Your Pool Warm and Comfortable” suggests that you set the pool on fire, which she’s almost positive is neither a good idea nor actually possible. By the time she gets to “Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep,” Martha’s been lost. She has absolutely no faith in the writer.

But Mike, on the other hand, only read “Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens” — which, he thought, had some great tips — and “The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools,” which he thoroughly agreed with, as the owner of a saltwater pool himself. By the time he gets to “Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep,” he’s already primed and ready to go: he trusts Tim.

Though, really, he probably shouldn’t. Tim has managed to build authority by doing something that, let’s face it, most of us do at one time or another: creating articles that are nevertheless based on facts that were never properly researched. He knows that he isn’t going to convince everyone, but he’s going to convince enough people for the strategy to work.

cube-442544_1280And It Does Work: Why Rolling the Dice Can Be Effective

Two major principles drive this type of strategy: the tendency to quietly disregard items that you disagree with and the tendency to focus on and promote the things that you do. In content marketing, we actually have a benefit that “The Football Pick Scam” never did — our “winning guesses” get pushed to the top, and our “losing guesses” can be eradicated entirely. Even the “losers” in our scenario will likely just shrug and move on.

As Tim’s marketing strategy grows, people like Mike will link to and promote “Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens” and “The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools,” while people like Martha will generally just leave. The good articles will show up with higher prominence on Tim’s client’s site, if Tim has properly configured his “popular” and “related” categories. Fewer and fewer people will ever see the articles that are incorrect, as they will be pushed to the bottom. Ultimately, Tim can even cull these articles entirely, as though they never happened at all. No more Marthas.

Tim has managed to build his content authority simply by crowdsourcing his quality control. He had no idea which of his five articles were actually accurate or not: the crowd told him. It’s a principle that almost all of the big entertainment sites today are using: they publish and post anything and let the audience vote on its merit. They end up with a front page that has only the best content, but only because there was a lot of trash to comb through. And even better, they barely had to do anything at all.

waiting-410328_1280…But It’s Not Necessarily the Best Use of Your Time

It’s undeniably true that you can build content authority and a brand by just throwing everything at a wall and seeing what sticks. But really, this strategy is almost an act of desperation. Tim could have just written five great articles about pools, if he knew anything about pools. And those five great articles would likely have performed better than the two articles that he ended up getting right. Tim also might just want to find clients with services that he actually understands.

Obviously, there are some areas in which this strategy works and some areas in which it doesn’t, mostly down to how educated the consumer is in that particular market. Science popularization sites can get science wrong — peer-reviewed journals largely cannot. A B2B marketing campaign will often employ this strategy much less successfully than a B2C marketing campaign, simply because of familiarity within the industry. And it’s also important to remember that this strategy works based on sheer volume. Smaller sites and niche sites need to make the most out of every visitor, every Mike and every Martha, that they can.

We often use the “throw it at the wall” strategy even without thinking about it. We may have an idea kicking around in our head that we aren’t quite certain is right, and we may simply think — “Well, I’ll float it and see what happens.” But usually we can benefit from a more thoughtful approach. It’s not that the Football Picks Scam doesn’t work — it clearly does — but, at its core, it’s a lazy attempt, and often a waste of time. There are other strategies that can work better if we give ourselves the time to think it through.

When Bad Press Turns Good: Negating the Negative through Social Media Campaigns

dolphin“No publicity is bad publicity” is a phrase residing firmly within the realm of non-marketers. Marketers are aware that some publicity is provably bad publicity. One need only look towards SeaWorld, which saw its stock plummet and never recover following the release of the chilling documentary Blackfish, Still, bad publicity only seems to affect companies for a long time if it kicks the proverbial (or, for that matter, literal) puppy. Consumers tend to be very forgiving should there be no direct element of harm. Some companies can even turn their bad press around through effective marketing — and social media is one of the best ways to do it.

ground meatThe Taco Bell 35% Beef

Taco Bell found itself on the wrong side of a lawsuit in 2011, when they were accused of serving “beef” that, in fact, contained only 35% beef. According to the suit, Taco Bell’s seasoned beef didn’t contain enough beef to even be called beef, so it was (again, allegedly) a case of false advertising. The suit further claimed that the rest of the product was made out of water, oats, soy and corn starch — and, to be fair, this wasn’t entirely unbelievable. The class-action lawsuit circulated quickly, calling for Taco Bell to change its marketing to “mixed meat” rather than “seasoned ground beef.”

Taco Bell responded quickly and transparently, producing a recipe of 88% beef. They followed up not only through the press but also by reaching out through social media; the response was overwhelmingly positive through both Facebook and YouTube, with an average of 90% of responses being positive. And, the thing was… well. Most people didn’t really care what went into their Taco Bell taco, they just cared about being lied to. In fact, many  were already gleefully eating Taco Bell imagining the worst: that it was composed dominantly of saw dust and grease.

By showing that it was, in fact, 88% beef, Taco Bell actually exceeded their expectations. Hell — most customers would have counted anything above 50% a win.

By Wasforgas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsThe #SusanAlbumParty

Maybe this actually underscores the importance of properly formatting hashes. Regardless, most people wouldn’t have heard about Susan Boyle’s record, released in 2012, if her PR manager hadn’t completely glitched out that day. Seeking to promote the album through Twitter, @SusanBoyleHQ implored fans to tweet in questions to #susanalbumparty, apparently not thinking too much of it. Obviously, the Internet did think something of it, quickly noting the somewhat rude message hiding in the hash, and the tag was quickly trending over the world. The consequence? The album vastly exceeded expectations. It even went platinum in Australia and New Zealand, three years after the height of her popularity.

Obviously, they quite stumbled into this — or, did they? It could have been nothing more than an embarrassing side note if @SusanBoyleHQ had decided to delete and disavow the tweet. It could have even gone very poorly. The web has historically shown a dogged determination not to let such embarrassing mistakes slide quietly into the night. By rolling with it, not trying to hide it and not getting overly aggressive about it, they turned the tide positive with virtually no effort at all. By the end, no one was laughing at Susan Boyle, they were laughing with her — and buying her album. It could have been an entirely different situation had her marketing team not had somewhat of a sense of humor.

pomegranatePOM Wonderful’s Snake Oil

On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, POM Wonderful was skewered for making unsubstantiated health claims about the benefits of pomegranate juice for prostate cancer, among other health issues. John Oliver gleefully referred to it as “snake oil,” and encouraged purchasers of the juice to add stickers to it suggesting that it contained dogs. False health claims can be incredibly damaging to a company’s brand — and, in fact, can cause harm. At the same time that John Oliver was making his quippy statements, news reports were lambasting the juice business — and the entire situation recently ended in a lawsuit,which POM Wonderful initially lost but appealed and won.

It seems like a nightmare for a brand, but POM Wonderful is still on shelves and the company is doing remarkably well. POM Wonderful responded very quickly to John Oliver by sending a humorous letter, which changed the tone of the entire debacle. By focusing on John Oliver’s humorous take down of their product — and by showing their own good humor — they made the entire issue less serious. The John Oliver segment ended up on YouTube, where it is currently sitting at 2,054,707 views, 18,408 likes and a mere 226 dislikes. Even better, this allowed POM Wonderful to hit John Oliver’s core demographic — males between 18 and 35.

Social media creates a personal relationship between the consumer and the company, making it extraordinarily effective at managing bad publicity issues. When bad press hits, companies need to respond quickly, transparently and in the appropriate tone if they are to keep their consumer base engaged and positive. Many businesses fail to achieve this: they react negatively to bad press, try to sweep it under the rug or simply don’t take it seriously. Above all, customers want to see as though their concerns have been listened to and valued.

orcaEven SeaWorld could have theoretically bounced back from its animal abuse controversy had it taken the concerns of its customers under serious advisement. Instead, the company seemingly ignored customer concerns, repeatedly insisting that there was nothing to worry about and attempting to continue moving forward without any major changes. The company spent large amounts of money on marketing campaigns directed towards bringing visitors in without appropriately assuring them that they had changed — leaving their customers adrift, wondering if they mattered to the business and wondering if the animal abuse issues had been addressed at all.

The Gettier Problem: Justified True Belief and the Digital Marketer

moonIn 1963, Edmund Gettier wrote a 3 page paper on philosophy questioning the concept of “knowledge.” Prior to Gettier, the Platonic definition of knowledge was commonly used — justified true belief. Justified true belief states that if P is true, and S believes that P is true, S is thus justified in believing that P is true. Essentially, S has knowledge of P. Simple example: The moon revolves around the earth. You believe the moon revolves around the earth because you have seen its orbit. You thus have the knowledge, also known as the justified true belief, that the moon revolves around the earth.

But Gettier pointed out a flaw in this argument: you can believe the right thing for the wrong reasons. And that’s a problem we need to struggle with in marketing every day.

theaterThe Gettier Problem: An Approach of Assumption

You see a friend at the movie theater, and thus conclude they were seeing a movie. In fact, that was just someone who looked like your friend. But your friend was also there at the movie; you just did not see them. You thus have the knowledge, which is correct, that they were at the theater — but you believed it for the wrong reasons. Still, your knowledge would have been no different if you had, in fact, viewed your friend instead of the look-a-like stranger.

There are some problems with Gettier’s approach as a philosophical statement. It always requires that at least one step of the process be a clear mistake, and thus incorrect.  When attempts are made to iron that issue out, it treads dangerously on “all life as a simulated lie” territory. But on a more practical level, The Gettier Problem can be rather directly applied to digital marketing.

For instance, what if you had called out to that look-a-like? The illusion would have been destroyed. What if you later ask your friend why they didn’t say “Hello” when they saw you? They would have been absolutely perplexed. Maybe there would even be an argument! The Gettier Problem is really a problem with assumptions.

mouseBelieving the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

We make “Gettier Problem” assumptions all the time. We are constantly believing the right thing for the wrong reasons. And that seems fine, until you realize that this can adversely affect your performance in the future.

I once had the most charming, frenetic ball of energy as a supervisor. She constantly complained that her wireless mouse would kill batteries while she was at home but not in the office — even though she used the exact same mouse. We tried buying her new mice, it didn’t matter. We tried swapping the mice, it didn’t matter. She used the same computer — an old laptop — with an identical dock both at home and in the office. So we replaced her mouse at home with a wired mouse and we knew that a wireless mouse drained batteries ceaselessly at her home.

That is, until she switched desks at work… and we found that she had the same problem. Slowly we realized the weird, simple truth: the keyboard tray that she had at home, and that she installed in her new desk, was indirectly causing the wireless mouse drain the whole time! The keyboard tray made her more comfortable, so she held on to the mouse and jiggled it, constantly, the entire time she was seated. When she was on the phone. When she was on a teleconference. When she was reviewing materials. When she was in a meeting. The mouse never sat idle! We knew that it was happening, but not the correct reason why.

Well, obviously if we’d had better knowledge, we could have worked that one out much faster.

question-mark-463497_640The Value of the Skeptical Marketer

Marketers are encouraged to outline clear goals and methodology during their A/B testing process for a very simple reason: unless you isolate the actions that you take, it becomes impossible to tell whether the results you received were related to those actions. Unfortunately a digital marketing campaign is rarely a “clean” environment. There are hundreds if not thousands of factors that could be tracked; as hard as we try, some element of guesswork will exist. And that also means that we have to be both intuitive and highly skeptical as marketers.

Let’s say you change your call-to-action and receive a 2.8% increase in conversions. That’s fantastic. It’s very easy to assume that it’s the call-to-action that worked. But if you regularly see a +/- variance of 3% in your conversion rate, it could merely be random. And if you don’t compare it to prior year statistics — or don’t even have prior year statistics — you might not realize that the shift was actually seasonal.

But even more infuriatingly, your call-to-action change could have worked, in itself, but not for the reason you think it did. Say you punched up the copy and made it a lot edgier. The call-to-action worked. But maybe it wasn’t because you made it edgier. maybe it was because it also happened to be shorter, which moved the “call-to-action” button above the fold.

In other words, the change of button location is what increased conversion. If you take the obvious answer, you’ll go around making your call-to-actions edgier and you may not see the same results. Instead, you could be changing your button locations to a greater effect.

A great deal of marketing is about avoiding assumptions. This is what separates the marketers who are attempting by-the-numbers optimizations and marketers who can easily intuit relationships within the field. You can train yourself to be a skeptic simply by always taking the time to ask questions about what you believe to know to be true.