DuckDuckGo, big data, the death of Google Authorship…

It’s time for my latest round-up of copywriting, digital marketing and online communications news.

6 more copywriting and digital marketing-related snippets

1. Neanderthal hash tag

This one’s just for fun…. a carved pattern on a stone floor in a cave in Gibraltar delivers more evidence that Neanderthal people were more creative than anyone previously suspected: far from being simple and brutish, they made art. The doodle dates back 39,000 years and looks remarkably like a Twitter hash tag, strengthening the notion that Neanderthals were capable of subtle symbolic and abstract thought.

2. The art of explaining complex concepts simply

Whether you’re doing an offline direct marketing campaign or writing a website home page, your audience won’t tolerate guff. Unless you explain yourself clearly, succinctly, plainly and elegantly, you’ll lose their attention before they get past the first sentence.
Here’s a brilliant example, an explanation of plate tectonics in just three plain language sentences, beautifully done by the science writer Jeff Hecht:

“Plate tectonics is driven by the formation and destruction of oceanic crust. This crust forms where plates move apart, allowing hot, light magma to rise from the mantle below and solidify. Where plates are being pushed together, the crust can either rise up to form mountains or one plate is shoved under the other and is sucked back into the mantle.”

How have you described your business on your home page? It’s shocking how many site owners don’t include a simple description of what they do, probably because they’re too close to the subject. If that’s you, take a step back and precis your business in a maximum of three sentences, so people can tell at a glance if they’ve landed in the right place.

3. Big data delivers genuine real-world benefits

Big data usually falls down where predicting consumer behaviour is concerned. It shouldn’t be a surprise since we know humans are contrary beings who base buying decisions on emotions, not logic. But big data is proving revolutionary outside the marketing arena.
What’s the story? In 2013 a California-based supercomputer ‘read’ 100,000 research papers in just two hours and ‘found’ loads of thrilling hidden biology in the data. But the idea that we can find new knowledge by analysing existing research isn’t new. In 1986 the information scientist Don Swanson analysed a vast database of scientific literature by hand and deduced – correctly, as it turns out – that fish oil might be a good treatment for Raynaud’s syndrome. And a new system called Eve, designed by Ross King at Manchester university in the UK, might just have revealed an innovative anti-malaria drug. It’s thrilling stuff.
Big data will never be able to predict human behaviour accurately, since human behaviour is inherently unpredictable. But where scientific research is concerned, it really is proving revolutionary.

4. Bye bye Google authorship – It’s been great

An experimental way to tie up the content you create with your G+ profile, Google Authorship is now dead. Why? Apparently it’s because take-up wasn’t as high as expected amongst content creators. I’m not surprised, since it was very confusing to set up. But it also looks like the little photos next to content in the search results didn’t affect click-through rates as much as Google had hoped, hinting that Authorship wasn’t as important to users as the search engine giant expected.

5. An introduction to Google’s Pigeon algorithm update

Pigeon first hit the search results in July 2014. Its actual impact is far from certain. But if it hits UK searches any time soon, it’s likely to be quite dramatic. Here’s what those in the know have discovered about it so far:

  • Right now the update only affects local, English language search queries in the USA
  • There’s no such thing as a Pigeon penalty, since it’s actually a core algorithm change
  • You should see fewer duplicated search results, with fewer businesses overlapping in the organic and map-based search results
  • Local queries tend to return more localised results, with a smaller geographic reach
  • Things are still all over the place, which indicates the changes aren’t set in stone and Google is still testing

What to do about it?
Even if, like me, your business is local, national and international, it should help if you think local. Here’s how:

  • Optimise your content for your local area, including your city / county in H1 tags, alt and title tags and the content itself
  • Claim and optimise your Google My Business listing
  • Make entries in good quality local directories, set to enjoy a resurgence in popularity as a result of Pigeon

6. What is DuckDuckGo?

In their own words, DuckDuckGo is a “search engine that focuses on smarter answers, less clutter, and real privacy”. It doesn’t rely heavily on crawlers, although it uses them. Instead it focuses harder on sources like Yelp and Wikipedia to generate answers and recommend web pages. It ranks the results using its own proprietary algorithm and, unlike Google, harnesses both follow and nofollow links to help it prioritise the results.
Founded in 2008, DuckDuckGo has been quietly increasing its audience ever since. In 2013 a billion searches were performed on it, and it has just announced its inclusion in the latest Apple operating system. Is Apple’s involvement a signal to marketers to sit up and take notice? On one hand Apple is an aspirational premium brand, only accessible to the relatively wealthy, which means it is never going to go mainstream. On the other hand the Apple brand is ridiculously powerful and its influence is way bigger than its physical reach.
But there’s more to think about. According to Searchengineland, new research reveals more than 90% of search engine users are concerned about their online privacy. An impressive 60% are worried about the privacy of their keyword history, 72% don’t like ad networks accessing their search history and 66% dislike the way search engines target ads according to a person’s search history. All of which is a damning indictment of the way most search engines do their stuff.
One thing is certain: DuckDuckGo’s arrangement with Apple will give their brand a massive boost. You never know, one day we might even see a mass defection from Google as people vote with their feet against what is actually the planet’s biggest ad network.
Want to know more about DuckDuckGo? Give it a go.

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