Google “Promoted” search results are…..terrible.

WSJ has a new long, wonky article about web traffic that is just the sort of thing I love.  And, like a lot of news about our online ecosystem, it’s a bit depressing.

When you search in Google, it often puts “featured snippets” or “knowledge cards” at the top of the search results. You may also see a list of similar questions under “People also ask.” The problem is that the answers are sometimes bogus, and sourced poorly.

graph showing increase of google answers

From WSJ

“A study this year by Stone Temple, a prominent analyst of the industry, showed Google’s search engine answered 74.3% of 5,000 questions, and on those answers it had a 97.4% accuracy rate. Both percentages are higher than services from AmazonInc., AppleInc. and Microsoft Corp.

Yet since Google handles trillions of queries a year, even a 2.6% error rate suggests Google serves billions of answers a year that are incomplete, irrelevant or wrong.”       [emphasis mine]

I’ve certainly seen this in action in queries about insect identification or pest control.

How NOT to control Fire Ants, via Google

screenshot from google

The suggestions from Google about controlling Fire ants are TERRIBLE

Here’s an example: Suggestions for controlling fire ants.  Gasoline and grits! That will end well.

Note that there is a tiny “report inappropriate predictions” box in the lower right corner — so this is an opportunity to tell Google that Kill It With Fire Is A Terrible Idea.

Let’s say you search for fire ants and grits; a common home remedy. The featured snippet tells you that instant grits will kill fire ants. NOPE.

(Here’s an authoritative article about what does and doesn’t work in home remedies. FYI: none of these are effective. )

screenshot of incorrect recommendation

Very incorrect featured snippet from Google Search

Note that again, there’s a tiny little feedback link at the bottom right of the Knowledge Card. Give feedback on both good and bad results for entomological results! Help Google do better.

screenshot of feedback form

Google Knowledge card feedback form

Google gives priority to responses that have detailed comments about why the suggested information is wrong, and links to better, more authoritative resources.

So the next time you search for something and get terrible results, take action!

Facebook Page Traffic: Still a Problem

I wrote earlier here about how traffic on non-profit Facebook pages is radically reduced because of algorithm changes. Some new data has been added from the Chicago Tribune:

Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse

To give you a sense of scale, the Trib has over 500,000 followers on Facebook, much larger than most non-profits or small businesses. And yet, here’s some of the traffic stats they shared:

If you want a really thorough and wonky discussion of what this means, what Facebook recommends, and what to do next, check out this article. It’s not encouraging for those of us who manage pages with a much smaller audience.

 

Should you be on Facebook?

Shape 12This is a question I get a lot from scientists — there is a pretty widespread perception that Facebook isn’t serious, or that it’s a lot of work for little payoff.  The best way I know to answer is to point people at an amazing resource: The Pew Internet Study.

The Pew project releases 10-15 research reports each year. One of main reports is a yearly examination of how American adults and teens use social media.

Pew graph of social media use

As you can see from this graph, Facebook dominates the online world, and continues to grow. The overall trend is upward for all social networking platforms, so more people are adopting these platforms overall.

Other interesting bits of information you can glean from the Pew studies are demographics of different platforms. Here’s an example:

“While Facebook is popular across a diverse mix of demographic groups, other sites have developed their own unique demographic user profiles. For example, Pinterest holds particular appeal to female users (women are four times as likely as men to be Pinterest users), and LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and internet users in higher income households. Twitter and Instagram have particular appeal to younger adults, urban dwellers, and non-whites.”

Pew also collects information about where people get news, and how linked that is to social media platforms.  Again, depending on what group you want to target, this can be extremely useful in deciding which online media to adopt.

One of the main themes in my social media consulting is to make sure that the online effort you expend is aligned to your organizational goals and key audiences. “The entire Internet” is not a useful or achievable target audience for engagement!  You have a limited amount of time and energy to put into social media, so make sure that the channels you choose have a high ROI (return on investment).

social media pathways to newsFacebook has a large user base, and those users do tend to get news via that particular social channel. There are additional factors you might consider in deciding where you choose to engage online.

Google Plus doesn’t have a large reach at the moment, but having a Google Plus page can help your page ranking and authorship status with Google Search.  You can also use a Google Plus page as part of a campaign to verify your local business or nature center as a destination on Google Maps.

There’s an additional complication: Facebook has made a lot of changes to it’s display algorithms since its IPO.  Right now  non-profit and small business pages are clearly at a major disadvantage… unless they pay for advertising or promotion. (By the way, a work-around for this is to attach an image to anything you post on Facebook. But they will probably figure out how to correct for that soon.)

If you’re evaluating where to invest time and energy online, or re-evaluating the effort you are expending now, I strongly recommend looking at the Pew Internet studies about where Americans get their news.

Be warned, though: it’s fascinating stuff, and you may discover that several hours have drifted by while you look at all the data!

This is why I don’t use Flash

This is a screenshot of a non-profit foundation’s website. This site uses Flash extensively.

flash fail

What is the name of the website?

What is the name of this non-profit? You can’t tell. Because it’s in an animation that you can’t see.
This is why I don’t use Adobe Flash on any websites I build.
flash icon

If you aren’t familiar with it, Flash® (sometimes called Macromedia Flash) is what a lot of websites use to have cool animated or complex intro pages.  It is not supported on a lot of mobile and tablet platforms, so developers have to build two websites — one without flash for mobile, one with flash for desktops.

I’m a “work smarter, not harder” kind of gal, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to just build one site that is cross-platform compatible. Your websites need to be accessible for those with disabilities — and screen readers have issues with Flash.  Your website content should be accessible to Google and other search engines. Flash content isn’t. There is also plenty of data that suggests moving elements on a web page are distracting and confuse users. Flash sites have poor usability.

Whiz-bang intro screens are appropriate for some situations, but they are rare. I believe people should visit your site, find what they are looking for quickly, and leave happy. Knocking visitors’ socks off with a cool animation is more likely to get in the way than help your users.

If you really want complex actions on a website, you can do that with HTML5. And then it will be compatible with nearly all screens/devices, won’t be a security risk, and will be fully accessible.

(This is a discussion I had at a recent Girl Develop It Detroit meeting, which I thought I’d put in writing.)

Why I give away the secret sauce

Shape 161“Why are you telling everyone how to do your job!? Won’t that mean they won’t hire you?

That’s possible. But the folks that I know and work with are, for the most part, scientists, nature centers, and people working to broaden inclusion in STEM. So, I want them to succeed. I want them to succeed even if they don’t give me money.

The purpose of my Unsolicited Advice Column is to help you assess if you need someone external to help with your website re-design, or if you can do it yourself. And it also makes the process of what I do more transparent, so you know what to expect if you hire me.