social-media-graphicAt midnight tonight the world is stepping into the New Year and social media is already buzzing with excitement. As the hour approaches in every time zone, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will all be filled with updates from parties and celebrations from around the world. It is an appropriate way to ring in a new year that will almost certainly continue the global domination of social media.

The past year has seen record numbers for the most popular social media platforms of the moment, and even Facebook continues to grow their audience at a regular pace by reaching new demographics who have been hesitant to adapt to the new social age. But, social media could be notable for something new. This year could very possibly be the year ads on social media become a complete part of social media.

Of course, social media ads are far from new. Barely anyone can imagine their Facebook dashboard without the standard ad bar on the right side of the screen. But, the ad platforms used by the biggest social media sites have hit a turning point where they are growing into their own service. Facebook has greatly improved the customization of their ad service this year, and Twitter’s ad platform transformed from a ramshackle affair to a fully realized service. But what they have in store for 2014 looks to be even bigger.

Facebook is already testing a feature which will likely receive a lot of attention next year. It is natural that Facebook would eventually find a way to implement video advertising similar to the TV or YouTube ads we are all accustomed to, and their new video sharing function allows them an easy way to do just that.

As you’ve likely already noticed, Facebook allowed users to more easily share and see videos this year by remodeling the way they display videos in the News Feed. By setting the videos to autoplay silently when they shown on screen, the videos are automatically eye catching, without being intrusive. It sounds like the video ads they are testing follow almost exactly the same format, which is likely to see quick growth should it be implemented.

Meanwhile, John Lee from Search Engine Land recently discussed how Twitter filing for their IPO this year is a solid indicator that you can expect a closer attention to ads in the very near future. Simply put, now that Twitter is beholden to shareholders, there is going to be an increased emphasis on ad revenue and increased outreach.

Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only social media platforms to be increasingly show ads within their site. The more niche platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest have also begun testing ad units within their platform which will bring a whole new style of advertising to social media. Both platforms have strict rules discerning what ads are allowed within their tests, and it seems they are aiming to implement ads while keeping their distinctive style.

To top it all off, 2014 could be the year Google+ finally sees some form of ads. While Google may keep delaying the decision to place advertising within Google+ until they finally find a larger audience, the recent announcement of +Post Ads being tested could be a sign that changes are on the way. +Post Ads are not advertisements themselves, strictly speaking. They are a way for brands to advertise notable Google+ posts across Google, but there is still the lingering question of when ads will actually appear in Google’s flavor of social media.

For brands looking to continue their online growth over the next year, the surge of social media advertising is good news and bad news. Improved advertising platforms offer a better variety of ways to market your brand or products in the most effective ways. But, as Facebook recently admitted, it also means the playing field is beginning to become a bit uneven. Increasing your outreach online may become costly in the future, which could be a deal breaker for many of the smaller businesses currently taking advantage of social media.

More and more businesses are attempting to establish themselves online, but when you’re working with limited resources it can be tempting to cut corners. It can sound easy to manage the basics of SEO with some cursory searching, and many SEO guidelines are either woefully out of date or simply preach bad practices which can lead to short-term success.

Experienced SEO professionals have learned how to keep up to date with the latest changes in search and avoid being smacked with a huge penalty, but those who are new to the industry or are trying to handle SEO as a hobby can end up walking their site right into the fire. If you don’t believe bad SEO can be so dangerous, just look at the recent headlines about the lyric website Rap Genius.

Rap Genius is similar to any other website you’ve gone to for the lyrics to your favorite songs, but (as the name suggests) it is almost entirely focused on hip-hop music. What made it distinct from the other lyric resources out there was the ability for community members to annotate the lyrics with context or explanations which can make more abstract songs easier to understand.

Rap Genius Affiliate Post

Over Christmas, Rap Genius also became notable for being the first popular lyric website to be hit with a massive Google penalty which has wiped their website off of the search results almost entirely. If you Google any for of Rap Genius related topics right now, you won’t find any results from anywhere on at least the first four or five pages. You can still find links to their Twitter account, Facebook profile, and Wikipedia page, but the majority of the results at this point ironically focus on the SEO scandal.

Rap Genius has been using link schemes to manipulate Google’s rankings, and it appears they have been for a while. It could explain their quickly growing popularity up until this point, but their tactics were brought to the attention of Google’s search spam team, and soon after they were gone from the listings. It appears the scheme that got them into trouble was an “affiliate” program which encouraged bloggers to share  links with keyword heavy anchor text directing to Rap Genius in exchange for tweets from the lyric site.

The founders of Rap Genius issued a (sort of) apology, saying:

We effed up, other lyric sites are almost definitely doing worse stuff, and we’ll stop. We’d love for Google to take a closer look at the whole lyrics search landscape and see whether it can make changes that would improve lyric search results.

Rap Genius Traffic Lost

They still defend their actions, though they have sworn not to continue them, so it can be hard to take their resolve all that seriously. Even if they haven’t learned from their SEO problems, the stats since the penalty should be enough to convince you not to follow in their footsteps. Since the outage, Rap Genius has lost 80% of their traffic, and they are down in search visibility by 92%.

Simply put, shady SEO tactics might find you short term success like what Rap Genius enjoyed, but you will also suffer the same downfall for not following the latest guidelines or trying to game the system.

Netflix Logo

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Many out there are still enjoying some extra time off thanks to the holiday season. But, chances are most are already worn down by the Christmas shopping period and the surplus time with the extended family. The majority of us will be relaxing and taking comfort in some quiet nights until the the year finally comes to a close.

If you’re a Netflix customer, you might consider spending that extra time to indulge yourself and take in a few great movies before they disappear from the streaming service. When the clock ticks out on 2013 and the New Year has been officially rung in, many titles will be taken off of instant streaming, and there is no telling if or when they will return.

Netflix does their best to keep the expiration dates for their movies a secret, but some especially cunning Reddit users managed to figure out what movies will be going away with the passing of 2013. As Gizmodo points out, you can see the date the license on a film or TV show is up by adding the title to your queue.

So what will be taken off Netflix? Gizmodo has a list of the most notable films that will disappear, but you can also explore the more list compiled by Reddit here.

It should be noted, it is possible some of these films could have their licenses renewed quickly, but why take a chance when there’s still plenty of relaxation time before 2014 gets here? Plus, with all these films’ licenses expiring, there will be plenty of new content to binge on soon.

Santa’s Little Helpers work year round to help Santa deliver presents to the little boys and girls around the world. But, now that Christmas has just passed, you have to wonder how they might spend their little free time at the North Pole. Apparently, they have a hobby in common with us in the human world: taking selfies. Or, as the elves call them, #elfies.

Maria Scrivan made a comic for Christmas showing what it might look like if the elves took to Instagram, and it is just shows the magical little creatures can be just as vain as us (though they don’t seem to use as many filters).

Oh, and watch out or Frosty the Snowman will photobomb you at the last second.


Pinterest Sticker IconThe holidays are widely considered the most stressful time of year. Only the strongest make it throught the season unscathed, while the rest seek refuge from the seasonal mania in bars and anxiety prescriptions. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday all in quick succession is enough to crack the most resilient. The news reports from Black Friday make it seem as though you are lucky to get through it without being involved in a fight over the new XBox.

Worst of all, the holidays are still far from over. Christmas is still a week away, and there is always the New Year to celebrate. But, you don’t have to turn to alcohol or pill bottles to relieve the stress of the holiday season. According to a new study, relief is as close-by as your smartphone.

The study released earlier this month by Lab42, a next generation market research firm, claims that 92 percent of Pinterest users claim the site single-handedly makes the holidays less stressful. It is so effective, 27 percent went as far as claiming the site makes the holidays “much less stressful”.

How is a simple pin-board style website such a relief during the season? It seems users are treating it as a one-stop shop for all of their home holiday needs, and keeping everything organized through the season.

The main way Pinners are using the site to ease their stress is by collecting new recipe ideas for their holiday feasts with their family. In fact, 83 percent of users are planning their meals with the help of the site. Many are also taking advantage of the ability to share gift (74%) and holiday decoration ideas (64%).

It actually makes a lot of sense that Pinterest is seen as such a stress easer this time of year. With so much to plan and organize, having a single site which allows you to browse and collect everything in one place makes the whole process much easier.

With the new introduction of Pinterest ads, there is a serious chance next year will result in huge rewards for any advertisers who invest in exposing their brand on such a popular holiday resource.

Pinterest Holiday Infographic

Source: Lab42


Source: Jason Tamez

Does Google control the internet? Of course no one has control over the entire existance of the internet, but the major search engine has a huge influence in how we browse the web. So, it is interesting to hear a Google representative entirely downplay their role in managing the content online.

Barry Schwartz noticed the statement in a Google Webmaster Help forums thread about removing content from showing up in Google. It’s a fairly common question, but the response had some particularly interesting information. According to Eric Kuan from Google, the search engine doesn’t play a part in controlling content on the internet.

His statement reads:

Google doesn’t control the contents of the web, so before you submit a URL removal request, the content on the page has to be removed. There are some exceptions that pertain to personal information that could cause harm. You can find more information about those exceptions here:

Now, what Kuan said is technically true. Google doesn’t have any control over what is published to the internet. But, Google is the largest gateway to all that content, and plays a role in two-thirds of searches.

This raises some notable questions for website owners and searchers alike. We rarely consider how much of an influence Google has in deciding what information we absorb, but they hold some very important keys to areas of the web we otherwise wouldn’t find.

As a publisher, you are obliged to follow Google’s guidelines in order to be made visible to the huge wealth of searchers. It is an agreement which often toes uncomfortable lines as the search engine has grown into a massive corporation encompassing many aspects of our lives and future technology.

When you begin marketing and optimizing your site online to become more visible, you should keep this agreement in mind. A lot of people think of Google as a system to take advantage of in order to reach a larger audience. While you can attempt to do that, you are breaking the agreement with the search engine and they can penalize your efforts at any time.

Pantone Radiant OrchidWhile most people outside of designers don’t tend to follow color trends, it can be surprising how much they affect what you see every day. Most consumers would be surprised to hear that colors come in and out of favor in design on a regular basis, and those trends affect marketing, purchasing decisions, and your perception of a brand or object.

One of the leading influencers in color studies and usage is the Pantone Color Institute, known for their widely used color system. Not only do they provide an organized way to communicate about color in exact terms, they also regularly analyze media, socio-political events, and technological advances to help decide the Color of the Year.

In 2014, you can expect to see a lot more “Radiant Orchid”, as the purplish-pink color has been chosen as the color of the year, as reported by Web Designer Depot.

Portlandia EmeraldLast year’s chosen color was the more recognizable Emerald, though the specific hue wasn’t what most actually associate with emerald. It was a bold but relaxing color of green “symbolizing growth, renewal, and prosperity”, which then became extraordinarily popular among the fashion and design world.

“Radiant Orchid reaches across the color wheel to intrigue the eye and spark the imagination,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Institute. “An invitation to innovation, Radiant Orchid encourages expanded creativity and originality, which is increasingly valued in today’s society.”

It is hard to tell whether the analysis is so accurate that the team can predict a color that will become popular on its own, or whether Pantone’s influence is the primary factor making these colors so ubiquitous for a year. But, it is almost guaranteed 2014 is going to have its fair share of Radiant Orchid.

As part of their year-end wrap up, Bing posted some of their highlights from the past year in the form of an infographic on the Bing Search Blog. The infographic summarizes some interesting facts and statistics from 2013 that mostly puts a spotlight on their recent growth. But, there are some parts of the infographic marketers and business owners might take interest in.

Bing Social GraphicFor one, you have probably heard how important social media is to establishing a brand online and engaging internet users, but you might not know that Bing is often more attentive to social media than Google. While Google’s rankings may factor in social media data for website owners, actual users see very little social media presence outside of YouTube and Google+.

Meanwhile, Bing has been actively attempting to make Twitter and Facebook a significant part of their search engine. According to their end of the year stats, Bing indexes up to half a billion tweets from Twitter every day and over 2 billion Facebook status updates every single day. You might keep that in mind when considering which search engine you want to cater your social media efforts to.

You might also be surprised by where Bing is being used. Google is almost ubiquitous with web search, but you use Bing more often than you might think. The search engine is used on Facebook, Yahoo, Siri, and even some Android devices.

Other facts from the infographic include:

  • If everyone that sees the Bing Home page image each month were to hold hands, they could form a human chain stretching around the circumference of the Earth.
  • Search activity on Bing Video more than doubled in 2013.
  • If you were to line up even just 5% of the pixels that make up Bing Maps, you could make four round trips to Venus with trillions of pixels to spare.
  • It would take 150 years to watch the 800,000 films indexed by Bing.

The infographic is below:

Bing Year End InfographicaQQQQQQQQQQQ

Web design changes all the time. New trends come and old trends go as quickly as the crowd catches up to them. Some of these trends can be long lasting and have a huge impact on how we interact with the internet like responsive design, others can be more fluid and fleeting like flat design. The design community has made its name by always pushing to create the most visually exciting and effective user experience the technology allows, but that means we also have to let go of bad habits as we grow.

As the new year draws closer, designers are reflecting on the changes web design has undergone in the past year. While many are using this reflection to predict what is going to be popular next year, Maryam Taheri looks at what we need to get rid of to improve looking forward.

Homepage Sliding Banners

Rotating Banners

The sliding banners have become a hallmark of news and culture websites across the web, as well as many retailers. But, the banners are becoming dangerously close to cliche and users seem to be mixed in their response. Many find them to be distracting and annoying. While there may be ways to make these sliding banners more enjoyable for users, it could very well be in our best interests to instead turn to more interactive design methods such as single-page scrolling.

Extensive Fill-Out Forms

While we will always have to fill out lengthy forms for legitimate purposes like online shopping (at least the first time!), there is no need to make users fill out a full length form for optional areas of your site. Chances are, they will just avoid that area of your site to avoid giving personal information, and it could severely hurt your trust with many of your online customers. Asking for an e-mail address is fine. Asking for their life story isn’t. Thankfully, the majority have already realized this.

Overuse of Fonts

Sketchbook Typography

It works in a sketchbook, not on your site.
Source: Carolyn Sewell

Typography is enjoying a new wave of interest in all areas of design, but it has its limits. A good designer can match a select number of fonts (no more than three) to create a pleasing website. But, it is far to common for less experienced designers to choose the “more is better” approach to diminishing returns. A mish-mash of fonts only makes a site look cluttered and schizophrenic. If you want to make your header or your copy pop but don’t know much about fonts and typfaces and kerning, it is wise to limit yourself to two fonts. If you can make two fonts compliment each other, you’re design won’t need any more.

Complicated Design

If there is one thing the favored trends of the past year have shown us, it is that users want their web experience simple. This seems like common sense for the large number of mobile users accessing the web while out and about, but it also stands true for desktop users. You don’t have to choose flat design or convert to the church of minimalism, but successful websites are increasingly focused on creating the best experience for users. If your website confuses or overwhelms, you’re doing it wrong.

Mandela 2008

Nelson Mandela in 2008
Source: WikiMedia Commons

Not to be outdone by Bing, Google published their top ten lists of the year, centered around their list of global trending searches of 2013 and their annual “Year-End Zeitgeist” page. The list is dominated by public figures and huge events, but it also features a few entries from popular electronics released this year. However, unlike many other lists, the public figures are exclusively male, and mostly associated with tragedy.

Both Paul Walker and Cory Monteith, two star actors who passed at young ages, are on the list, and the highest ranked trending search of the year was awarded to Nelson Mandela, the recently deceased South African leader who has made such a huge impact on his home country and around the world. As Google says:

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the #1 trending search of 2013 was an international symbol of strength and peace: Nelson Mandela. Global search interest in the former President of South Africa was already high this year, and after his passing, people from around the world turned to Google to learn more about Madiba and his legacy.

Google’s Top 10 Trending Global Searches of 2013:

  • Nelson Mandela
  • Paul Walker
  • iPhone 5s
  • Cory Monteith
  • Harlem Shake
  • Boston Marathon
  • Royal Baby
  • Samsung Galaxy s4
  • PlayStation 4
  • North Korea

Along with their Trending Global Searches list, Google published their Year-End Zeitgeist page, which lists more than 1,000 top ten search lists from over 70 countries. It includes topics such as the most searched celebrity pregnancies (Kim Kardashian), most searched Fortune 500 (Google), most searched for movies (Man of Steel), and the most searched TV shows of the year (Breaking Bad).

Of course, Miley Cyrus made a serious impact in search after her notorious MTV VMA performance, by contributing to the most searched “What is…?” question, which was “What is twerking?” She also won the most searched person of the year, showing controversy always leads to a surge of interest.

To top it all of, Google released a video to spotlight all of the highlights of the year: