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Search engines and social media are battling for the top spot as the leading source of referral traffic to publishers on the web. Recent accounts suggested that social media may be taking the lead.

However new data from Parse.ly, a content analytics platform that counts Reuters, Mashable, Slate, and The Next Web among its many clients, shows that search has retaken the lead from social media as the top source of referral traffic in March of this year.

parsely-search-social-referrers

Parse.ly’s publishers saw 32.8 percent of its traffic coming from search in March, compared to 31.2 percent from social media. That is the exact reverse of results from data, when data showed social traffic outdid search 32 to 30 percent.

Overall the trends still favor social media, despite the good month for search in March. If you look at reports from further back, it becomes clear that search has been steadily losing ground. In October 2013, Parse.ly reported search was by far the dominant source of traffic at 36 percent, compared to only 22 percent for social.

parsely-oct2013

Google sites were still the No. 1 overall source of traffic for the analytics platform’s clients during the most recent reporting period, with Facebook coming in second. Those two net giants were significantly higher sources than any other individual sites.

More than a few online marketers are ready to declare desktop search to be dead, as the internet works to integrate platforms more than ever. But while mobile traffic is becoming an ever more important part of the search world, ignoring desktop internet usage could be a huge mistake.

One of the most important metrics for many online businesses are marketers is engagement. When you share something on your site or through Facebook or Twitter, the goal is naturally to interact with others. Sure, plenty of people spew out content without ever actually interacting, but anyone who takes social media and online interaction seriously knows that real engagement is what happens after you’ve shared.

Publishing and sharing content has tons of benefits, but users gain a better idea of who the company they are interacting with through commenting, messaging, and truly engaging a discussion. Consumers have shown more and more that they are looking for brands with a face, or at least a Twitter personality.

how-they-share

However, if you are marketing directly towards a mobile users or you are writing up a death certificate for mobile search, you likely aren’t getting as much as engagement as you could. A new study has shown that desktop users are the dominating force behind content sharing and engagement around the world.

The mobile share of total engagement has been increasing, but the latest data from AddThis still shows a 65%-35% advantage for desktop. There are many possibilities for the cause behind the disconnect. Martin Beck suggests the driving force is publishers who haven’t optimized content and engagement services for small screens, but that doesn’t explain away the differences observed on mobile optimized platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

More likely, the differential is created by different usage patterns across platforms. Mobile users are more likely to look up brief facts and information, but content that calls for engagement also often necessitates more thought and time to read. Quite simply, most people are more likely to do their reading, bookmarking, sharing, and commenting from the comfort of a desk.

It appears we are currently in redesign season for most major search engines and social media platforms. Over the past month, Google and Bing have announced redesigns of their search results pages (Bing’s is still in testing, but has been confirmed). Meanwhile, Facebook rolled out the latest version of their site, and now Twitter has announced a new design for profile pages, complete with a slew of new features.

It seems obvious that one of the major motivators for the redesign was to improve organization of the site. Marketing Land recently conducted a study that found one of the biggest reasons for people to quit Twitter was the lack of sorting, filtering and media, which are all major focuses of the new layout.

Source: Marketing Land

Source: Marketing Land

The biggest and most notable change however, is the huge profile header that spans the full width of the screen. The huge header is easily the biggest visual change, but the most important updates all fall below. The new features allow users to pin Tweets to the top of the page, which is the first feature that allows users to break the chronological flow of their page ever. You can also filter the tweets you view by three categories:

  • Tweets
  • Tweets and Photos/Videos
  • Tweets & Replies

One of the last updates is a bit more subtle than the rest. Tweets with more engagement have gained more prominence on the screen as fonts get bigger based on activity. The Tweets getting the most attention get bigger, while less popular updates will continue to be shown at the normal font size.

Source: Marketing Land

Source: Marketing Land

The new profile design and functionality is currently limited to a small group of prominent users such as Weezer, Zac Efron, & Michelle Obama, but Twitter promises all users will have access in the “coming weeks.”

Online video has reached a new level of importance in our lives over the past few years. YouTube is still the dominant service for free online video hosting and sharing, but several other platforms have taken YouTube’s lead and expanded on it in numerous ways.

Instagram and Vine have imposed limits on their video lengths to make them as sharable as possible, while Vimeo has focused its efforts on hosting primarily high-quality and visually stunning videos instead of the shaky cell-phone footage so prevalent on YouTube.

The question remains, which services do you invest your energy and resources into? If you are hoping to use the social video site to increase your brand’s visibility, you want to tailor the content you are creating to the platform most suited to your demographic.
You can get a complete breakdown of all of the major services in the infographic below.

The graphic was created by Russel Cooke, and explains what makes each service unique, as well as how each could benefit a business. If you know your market, you should be able to identify which service is most likely to connect you with your audience. From there, it’s just a matter of making content that will excite them.

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Social Media Fail

Source: Dashburst.com

It’s no question that social media has become one of the most prominent aspects of online marketing. As Facebook and Twitter have become ingrained in the public consciousness, companies and search engines alike have recognized the value and social media marketing has become intertwined with SEO and advertising to the point that it can be hard to tell where one stops and another begins.

But, as with any new field of marketing, there are bound to be plenty of missteps, gaffes, and wildly ill-advised attempts. For every brand that is killing it on Instagram and Twitter, there are just as many who have found that social media can also magnify your mistakes and make a PR issue into a complete catastrophe.

Thankfully, there is always something to be learned from the mistakes of others. Search Engine Journal recently shared a list of 35 of the most remarkable social media failures in recent history. As they explain, the point isn’t to laugh at those who have made huge mistakes on social media (though it is hard not to laugh at some of the entries). Instead, you should take note of how fine the line is between viral and bad taste, as well as how important it is to keep your cool in times of crisis.

Twitter has become an undeniable force in modern culture. Even if you aren’t signed up for the social media platform, you can hardly turn on the television without being bombarded by tweets and hashtags.

Every major news network solicits tweets from their viewers in order to get real-time responses to issues, and any new episode of a show is bound to have at least one hashtag hovering in the bottom corner of the screen.

But, those TV hashtags highlight one of the biggest problems with Twitter: few people actually understand hashtags or how to use them efficiently. Sure, we all know how to tag Instagram photos with them, or we slap a silly hashtag on the end of tweets to add a little more information, but the number of people actually using hashtags to organize and sort through the constant tidal wave of new tweets is actually quite low.

It isn’t that Twitter’s users aren’t smart enough to use hashtags more efficiently, but it is difficult to make hashtags a very useful sorting device without going through a middleman. Twitter’s search engine can let you broadly search hashtags, but if you want to actually make sense of the mess you most likely need an extra tool to help you out.

Ann Smarty from Search Engine Journal pulled together five such tools to help Twitter users everywhere turn hashtags into a vital part of their information consumption every day. If you want to be smart with your hashtags, these tools are the best place to start.

1. Twitter Chat

twitter-chat-tool

When Twitter began using hashtags, it didn’t take long for users to figure out that the tags can be used to create a conversation between numerous people. Rather than directly messaging an individual, you are able to put a topic or “chat title” in the form of a hashtag so users are able to create a real discussion. But, the conversation was still cluttered and not well laid out for the average reader.

TwChat allows you to take those hashtags and monitor them in real time. It also lays the tweets in a more cohesive way, so that you can more quickly read and understand the conversation. Best of all, it is super simple to use, free, and doesn’t require downloaded software.

2. TagDef

TagDef

Originally, there was an unspoken rule that hashtags should be easy to understand at a glance. Obviously, this rule has fallen apart over time. Hashtags tend to be a combination of slang, inside jokes, and promotional material that makes no sense without context.

With the help of TagDef, you won’t have to worry about not being caught up with the latest American Idol hashtag or the slang younger people are using to keep up with the meaning behind hashtags popping up in your feed. The tool lets you search a hashtag and get the meaning instantly. You can also edit and add your own meanings. TagDef acts like Urban Dictionary exclusively for hashtags (and potentially a little less focused on profanity).

3. Hashtags

Hashtags Tool

Hashtags gained its reputation as the largest hashtag database on the web, but there is much, much more there. The site includes analytics, how to articles, blog posts, a chatroom, a forum, a hashtag dictionary, events, trending hashtags, popular hashtags (long-term), and even more.

4. Tagboard

tagboard

Of course, hashtags aren’t limited strictly to Twitter. The history of hashtags goes all the way back to IRC chats, but they have spread to nearly every major social networking platform out there. Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and Vine have all implemented the organizing tool. Tagboard takes hashtags from across all those different platforms and displaying them all on one page. You can even use it as a social network dashboard, allowing you to like, share, or retweet as you desire without ever having to leave the site.

5. Hashtagify.me

hashtagify

There is no rule you have to use only one hashtag per post. In fact, many add three or more hashtags on a large number of their posts, but it can be hard to see how they are related from Twitter’s site. Hashtagify helps you see how different hashtags are related and their usage patterns, as well as offering in-depth analysis in their pro version. They also have active breakout alerts, so you can always be the first to know about the new cool hashtag.

Derek MullerDo any reading about online marketing, and you will almost certainly be told how important social media is to your brand’s online presence. A great social media presence has repeatedly been shown to increase organic traffic and brand perception, but as the platforms have become more populated and competitive, there has been a large shift towards a pay-to-play business model.

Facebook is most notable for this, as they have been the largest social media platform a significant time and they have made the largest changes towards monetizing their service. Sure a business can put up a page and do the slow grind to gain followers one or two at a time through great content and engagement with their audience, but brands looking for significant visibility on the site only have a few options and they all cost money.

To get any exposure on the largest social media platform, brands have to acquire likes for their pages. There are two ways to do this. Despite being expressly against Facebook’s terms of conditions, there is still a market for people who are willing to outright pay for likes.

As Derek Muller explains, these paid likes come from “click farms” in developing countries, where people are paid to like pages by the thousands. But, they are fairly easily identifiable and can get profile owners in trouble.

Alternatively, Facebook offers advertising for your page specifically aimed at increasingly likes “organically”. The problem is, these likes don’t appear to be much different from the likes you would purchase from a click farm.

Derek Muller used his Veritasium YouTube channel to show that Facebook’s way of acquiring “legitimate” likes is actually almost identical to the click farm methods, and both are equally useless. But, paying Facebook for it might actually cost you more.

You see, Veritasium used a free Facebook advertising offer to see if it might expand their social media audience. Within hours, they had netted nearly three times the number of followers, but over time Muller noticed the engagement on Veritasium’s content hadn’t improved with the new likes. In fact, it seemed to go down.

After some research, Muller discovered the bulk of his new likes came from the same countries notorious for click farms. The “users” liking his page had also liked thousands of other pages with seemingly no logical pattern. But, there was no going back. There is no way to delete these empty likes in bulk.

If that was all the only issue, it would be a moderate annoyance and newsworthy hole in Facebook’s advertising method. But, it manages to get worse. These fake likers don’t just provide an inflated picture of how many people appreciate what you are putting out. They actually hold you back.

When you share something on Facebook, it is only shown to a small sample of your followers. Depending on how those viewers respond, Facebook might then distribute your content to even more people. But, if your content isn’t getting liked, shared, or commented on, it will usually sink out of visibility very quickly.

If you have a ton of empty likers, they make up a significant number of those seeing the initial distribution of your content. Since these profiles don’t actually engage in any meaningful way, they can actually prevent interested followers from seeing any of your content. You might as well be speaking to a comatose audience, while your actual fans wait just outside the door.

There is a solution, but of course that costs you even more. To get your content shown to the parts of your followers that are actually interested you have to pay to have your content targeted to them in ads. Facebook makes money twice off of you, and you gain very little in the long run.

Facebook has yet to comment on the issue, but these raise some big questions about the social media platform’s advertising methods as a whole. While social media can still be a great tool for those looking to grow their brands, you might look towards other sites such as Twitter. Until Facebook addresses these massive issues in their service, advertising on their platform may not be worth your resources.

Source: Shawn Campbell

Source: Shawn Campbell

It is no secret that nearly every big brand is on Twitter these days, and plenty of smaller businesses are learning to take advantage of the platform every day. But, there are plenty of ways you can mess up when trying to connect with your audience on one of the largest social media platforms around. As a new study on how top brands use Twitter shows, the biggest mistake you can make is simply neglecting your account.

The study from social media analytics firm Simply Measured showed that 92 percent of brands are tweeting an average of 12 times a day, and 98 percent of the top brands in today’s market are regularly active on Twitter.

In fact, consumers seem to be downright eager to follow brands on Twitter, as audiences for the top brands have grew by 20 percent in the last quarter of 2013. Over half of the brands have more than 100,000 followers each.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how often you tweet if you aren’t sharing things that excite the community and encourage engagement. As Marketing Land notes, the tweets with photos or links are more likely to receive activity than the traditional 140 character updates. But, it might be a surprise to see just how much better they perform. Simply Measured says tweets with photos or links see 150 percent more engagement than the brand averages.

Twitter-Links-Types-That-Generate-Engagements-Simply-Measured-600x330

Images see even more engagement than links by a large amount, with an average of 210 engagements per tweet. That absolutely dwarfs the 27 engagements on average for a bit.ly link.

You can download the full report from Simply Measured’s website.

As social media has grown there has been a consistent debate as to whether Google considered social signals when ranking websites. There have been several studies suggesting a correlation between strong social media presences and high rankings on the search engine, but there are many reasons they could be related. Well, Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, may have finally put the question to rest with his recent Webmaster Chat video.

According to Cutts, Google doesn’t give any special treatment to websites based on social information. In fact, sites like Facebook and Twitter are treated the same as any other website. The search engine doesn’t do anything special such as indexing the number of likes or shares a page has.

Cutts explains that Google did at one point attempt to index social information. Barry Schwartz suggests Matt is referring to Google’s real time search deal expiring with Twitter. There was a lot of effort and engineering put into the deal before it was completely blocked and nothing useful came to fruition. Simply put, Google doesn’t want to invest more time and money into it only to be blocked again.

Google is also worried about crawling identity information only to have that information change long before Google is able to update it again. Social media pages can be incredibly active and they may not be able to keep up with the information. Outdated information can be harmful to people and user experience.

But, you shouldn’t count social media out of your SEO plan just because it isn’t directly included in ranking signals. Online marketers have known about the other numerous benefits of social media for a long time, and it is still a powerful you can use to boost your online presence and visibility.

A strong social media presence opens up many channels of engagement with your audience that can make or break your reputation. It can also drive huge amounts of traffic directly to your site and your content. By reaching out and interacting with your audience, you make people trust and value your brand, while also encouraging them to explore your site and the content you offer. Google notices all this traffic and activity on your site and rewards you for it as well.

You can see the video below:

Pinterest is quickly becoming one of the most popular social media networks out there. Over the span of a few short years, Pinterest has become more active than almost any platform available aside from Facebook and Twitter and it shows no signs of slowing.

This has attracted the attention of many businesses and marketers hoping to showcase their brands and engage their audience, but many brands don’t want to do the heavy lifting to become a popular Pinterest presence. Rather than build from scratch, a fair number of professional Pinterest accounts have turned to purchasing Pinterest followers and re-pins in an attempt to create their pages appear more active and increase their visibility.

A screenshot of one such site

The practice shouldn’t be foreign to anyone familiar with social media. Markets have popped up where people can purchase Facebook likes and Twitter followers, and every newly popular platform will likely have to deal with these types of issues. But, the big question every business owner has is: “Will buying Pinterest followers and re-pins benefit my business?”

The reason these types of artificial follower markets become so popular is that they do exactly what they say in the short term. It is true that unfamiliar visitors will be more likely to follow pages that appear active and popular among the community. But, there are plenty of downsides to trying to manufacture a facade of activity and engagement.

As with most other social networks, Pinterest uses an algorithm to determine the visibility of pins and profiles based on popularity. John Rampton coined the term Pinrank for the algorithm in reference to Facebook’s old Edgerank algorithm. When your posts draw lots of activity, Pinterest increases your visibility and shows your pins to more people. Likewise, if your nobody is interacting with your pins, you will become less relevant.

While purchased followers and re-pins can trick the average visitor into believing your content is popular, Pinrank sees right through your shenanigans.

The best case scenario for those purchasing pins is a quick surge in popularity, followed by an immediate decline as real followers come to see that your content isn’t relevant or important. As that happens, your Pinrank will naturally fall despite your seemingly huge number of followers.

The worst case scenario ends in being entirely banned from Pinerest. Only a few accounts have been banned so far for the blatant violation of Pinterest’s Uses policy, but Pinterest is entirely aware of the shady tactics rising in popularity and there will likely be quite a few more bans in the future. Even if you’ve invested months of real work into cultivating your Pinterest page, all of that can be gone in an instant if you are purchasing followers.

In the end, buying Pinterest followers won’t benefit you anymore than buying property on the moon. More than likely, it will hurt your brand and it’s reputation more than any upsides you will ever see from the practice. All it is really is an attempt to cheat the system.