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.

 

Does your social media need an audit?

I was asked to do a workshop on social media for the IECC’s 2016 Conference, and thought I would write up what I did for everyone to use.

Running social media accounts takes a substantial investment of time and energy for staff. Before you get started: What do you want to accomplish?

Your followers and likes are increasing over time. Great!  But: Lots of followers isn’t meaningful if they don’t also connect to some real goal or metric for your organization.

What do you want to accomplish?  Do you want to improve fundraising, or make it easier to contact you with questions? What community do you want to engage with your social media?

“Everyone on the internet” is not a viable target audience! Have a clear goal in mind for what you want to accomplish with your activity on social media.

Audit Your Social Media

The first step in a website redesign is to take an inventory of what you have, and what exists already.  That’s a great way to start with evaluating your social media too.

  • Make a list of all the social media accounts you know about for your organization
  • Who’s in control of the account? If something happens to them, is there a backup?
  • How current is the information on the account?
  • Do all of your accounts have the same branding? Do the logo and name match on each account?

Here is a link to my personal social media audit. Feel free to download that spreadsheet as a template to use.

Once you list of all your existing accounts, then examine what information is out there about your organization that you don’t control.  (This is the second tab at the bottom of my spreadsheet. )

Facebook is notorious for creating pages for organizations –make sure you search for those. Here, for example, is a page Facebook made for Purdue’s College of Agriculture.

facebook screenshot

The Unofficial Facebook Page for the College of Ag

These unofficial pages can be liked and commented upon — so you need to know if they exist.

Is there a Wikipedia page about you? Who shows up on Google search that might be confused for your organization? All of these are ways in which your brand might be diluted or, in some cases, harmed.

google rating screenshot

Google Ratings for the Purdue College of Ag.

If you are a destination organization, or provide services, check out any sites where users might be rating you.

Those comments are full of useful information — and if someone is leaving negative reviews, taking time to respond can be important.

The last tab on the spreadsheet is for DATA. What metrics are you collecting right now on your existing social media accounts and websites? How far back does the data go?

ROI: Return on your Social Media Investment

Now that you know what social channels exist and how they are measured, circle back around to your goals.  Is the image of your organization presented by social media, and what people say about you online, in line with your organization’s mission and goals?

Are your social media channels in the right place to reach the audiences you identified? Are you measuring what you need to know?

Is there anything you can STOP doing, so that you can focus your efforts on social media channels with the most benefits for your goals?

For small non-profits, you can’t be on all social media channels. But you can identity which ones are best aligned with your audience and goals.

Social Media Resources to help you plan:

Utilities for Your Website:
Make sure your web pages look good when they’re shared!

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.)