Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How Search Engine Optimization is Impacting the Way We Look Up Information on the Internet

A simplified way to look at search engine optimization
Lets start off with a simple hypothetical scenario. I decide that I no longer like the cleaning service I use on a weekly basis for my apartment. The logical move is to conduct a Google search for “cleaning services in College Park, MD.” This search is going to provide thousands of different links to sites, some relevant, some not so much. However, what I and everyone else who conducts the same search will click on is basically a guarantee. According to Eric Siu of the search engine journal, out of the 100 billion global searches conducted each month, 35% of users will click on the pages located in the first, second, or third positions. Furthermore, “75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.”

These stats, among many other factors, are what attract companies to search engine optimization (SEO). In its most basic definition, search engine optimization is maximizing the number of visitors to a website by ensuring that the site remains high on the list of results returned by certain searches. Whether the company is adept in fulfilling your needs is not necessarily a factor in whether it will be listed at the top. According to Dan Kaplan, founder and CEO of Periscope UP, a SEO firm in Baltimore, MD, there are over 200 different factors that go into ranking a website. Search engine optimization works to capitalize on as many of these factors as possible, and get your site to the top of the list. An important fact to note about search engine optimization is that most of the people that it affects have no idea that it is taking place. Up until a few months ago, I just assumed that the best links were the ones that went to the top of my search. Thus, the strategy walks a fine line between an ingenious strategy and an unethical form of stealth marketing.

Professor Hank Boyd on how technology has paved the way for search engine optimization:

Search engine optimization trumps social media in terms of driving traffic, for now

Social media is portrayed by mainstream media as the most effective way to promote something or someone. However, search engine optimization has achieved much more success on a consistent basis. According to a study by, search is the number one driver of traffic to sites, beating social media by 300% (insert pie charts). In addition, social media was much higher in terms of bounce rate, which is the frequency with which a reader leaves a site. The explanation for this lack of effectiveness for social media is that people do not necessarily go to Facebook or Twitter to have content marketed to them. As the pie chart below illustrates, social media is still attempting to gain legitimacy as a driver of external traffic.

sources of external traffic towards websites

With search engines, the user is looking specifically for certain products or services, thus they are more likely to stay engaged and click on more links. Despite the lack of effectiveness of social media as a whole, Facebook and Twitter are both present in the top twenty traffic sources to pages, coming in at number four and eight respectively. These results indicate that over the coming years we should see a rise in popularity for using social media as a traffic driver. With social sharing and the ability to link content freely, people may turn to social media to get their information.

Devices are seen as the wave of the future for search engine optimization

Predicted volume of Desktop searches vs. mobile searches

When asked about the topic, Dan Kaplan said that “mobile completely changes the way we search,” and “by 2015, half of all searches will be on mobile devices.” This comes as no surprise to anyone who owns a smartphone. These days, instead of estimating how many grams of fat are in my Panera bread sandwich, I can simply look it up while I’m sitting down to eat it. Or better yet, when I'm in the store deciding if I'm getting a good price on a pair of shoes, I can go on my phone and compare prices from hundreds of stores in a matter of minutes. The possibilities are endless with mobile devices, simply because we are virtually never detached from technology. The way we search for content on a mobile device is quite different than the way we would on a desktop pc or laptop. Since we are typically on the go and need timely responses, the probability that we will click on the top link skyrockets. Beyond that, having a relevant title to the search is crucial, as we will most likely go for the link that seems to fit our need the most. Thus, it is that much more important for sites to be at the top of the results, or at least on the first page.

Professor Boyd on the importance of changing your approach to advertising for mobile devices:

So where does search engine optimization go from here?

For something like search engine optimization that has to continuously adapt in order to stay relevant it is difficult to truly predict what will come of it in the future. However, one thing is for sure: just like the internet, SEO is here to stay and will have a huge impact on how we conduct business. As technology advances, so too must the strategies SEO firms use. One thing that we can almost certainly expect to see is the integration of social media within search engine optimization, as opposed to the two acting as competitors. This is especially the case for mobile devices, where Facebook, Google, and any other web service is only a touch from your finger away. In the next coming years, we should see impressive technological advances in the way we search for information on the web.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Digital Divides and the Future of Technology.

Access to technology is something that people of my generation have come to under value over recent years. It is not that we do not appreciate it, it is more that it has become such a staple in every facet of our lives that the thought of not having a computer or smartphone is almost unheard of. However, this representation is only of upper-middle class white America, and does not account for the rest of the nation that is struggling to pay for food, none the less a personal computer. Thus, it is hard to deny that there is a “digital divide” or “participation gap” in the U.S., considering blacks and Hispanics make up a relatively large part of the population. This divide is not only counter-productive for the nation as a whole when it comes to technological advancement, but is also harmful to the economy.

These days, most companies have turned to online resources when hiring, so those who are unemployed and can’t afford advanced technology, are more likely to stay unemployed because they are one step behind the rest of the competition. Also, many jobs require knowledge about at least some form of technology, and those who have not had access to certain programs may be at a disadvantage. In terms of social media, which has become one of the most important aspects of the digital revolution, having access to your device at all times is crucial, so those with only temporary access are not able to take advantage of these diverse websites.

Over the next 3-5 years, it is possible that the digital divide may indeed widen, especially with companies producing new and advanced products at an alarming rate. Recent mobile trends will unfortunately play a large role in worsening the divide. Dropped calls and slow download speeds are something every smartphone user experiences at some point in the life of their phone. Usually, the quality of the phone is directly correlated to the issues one experiences with it. Studies show that when compared to whites, Hispanic/African-American people experience these issues at a much frequent rate. Reason being that the phones that minorities can afford do not come with the amenities of the more expensive options. So even if they can manage to acquire a smartphone, it is more than likely that they will not be able to operate at the same pace as others and thus will be at a disadvantage.

My prediction for the future in terms of the mobile audiences is that they will ultimately expand to more users, but the digital divide will most likely grow. The reason for this is that while companies are finding ways to produce phones for cheaper while not sacrificing some of the key benefits, they are also making great strides in advancing what is already considered advanced technology. So there will continue to be progress in technology and it will be accessible to more people, but the gap will continue due to even more complex technical advancements. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Citizen Journalism: Amateur Experience, Professional Quality

Since smart phones were invented, they have completely revolutionized the way society communicates, receives information, and goes about spreading news over a wide spread area. With one single device in your hand, we have access to pretty much anything we can dream of. It has not always been like this with smartphones though. The early versions, most notably the blackberry, focused more on the ability to email and message your friends, and there was a certain exclusivity behind it as well, almost like a club. Originally, the costs of these phones were through the roof, discouraging most Americans from attaining one. These days, with the unfathomable advancements made in technology, not only are smartphones better, faster, and stronger, but there is a wide range of pricing options, thus eliminating the exclusive club and replacing it with an all accepting club.

 These days, if you don’t have a smartphone, you’re pretty much out of the loop with what’s going on in the world. With global news available with the tap of a finger, the speed with which we receive and digest information has increased exponentially. Additionally, in the past, there has never been a forum for normal citizens to post news and share it with the world. Now, with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, as soon as you upload a picture, your entire social network knows about it. Although, while facebook and twitter are key, youtube is without a doubt the most used and efficient way of sharing information, and it is in video form none the less. Anyone with access to a computer can upload something to youtube at no cost, and within days, that video could be sent to millions of people. It is these improvements, all combined together, which have led to the evolution of citizen journalism.

Besides the education and experience, there isn’t much else that sets apart a professional journalist from a citizen journalist. Obviously the quality of the work is much better when a news station or paper delivers news, however with the increase in quickness of our computers and mobile devices, we now crave data every second we are awake. Even in the company of others, Americans cannot tear their face away from their phone. In the words of Harmon Leon taken from an Article in the Huffington post, “the cell phone has dramatically changed the face of journalism; that face is one of the citizen who wields his mobile device and captures news as it happens-instantly trumpeting the story to the world via social media.” Even famous journalists such as Katie Couric have recognized citizen journalism as a legitimate form of reporting, as evidenced by this Video.

            While the video definitely highlights some of the best moments in the history of citizen journalism, I feel that one event in 2008 changed citizen journalism from a laughed about term to a respected field, and that is the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. With an event as drastic and impactful as the one in Mumbai, it was necessary for the world to understand exactly what transpired, when it transpired, and how it transpired. Just minutes after the attack, pictures from citizen journalist throughout the city were being uploaded to different social media sites, illustrating the wreckage and destruction that had taken place. As journalists continued to upload pictures and even give details on the exact location and time of these attacks, thousands of people began to follow the situation on these sites as opposed to waiting for the regular news outlets. Not only were the citizen journalists quicker with their updates, they were also able to provide information that typical reporters would not have access too. 

As stated by Andy Heath in an Article  for a freelance photojournalism site, “It was a vivid reminder that the Internet has made well-placed amateurs and independent journalists more powerful than ever before.”   Everything that Mr. Heath says is in that statement is on point, but one term he mentions holds true as possibly the key component of citizen journalism, and that is the part about being in the right place at the right time. One could devote their free time to always being ready with their phone to capture a special moment, but unless you are actually there, experiencing what is happening when these pictures are taken, then the point of citizen journalism is lost. The best part to me about this type of reporting, is that you feel everything that the journalist is feeling. Not only are they taking a picture of the attacks in Mumbai, they are actually in the middle of it, fearing for their lives, but still maintaining enough control to accurately capture a glimpse of the current state of the world. That is what makes citizen journalism so special.  

**Here is an additional clip that shows some of the reports by citizen journalists from Mumbai.

Friday, September 21, 2012

DIgital Media's affect on Electronic Dance Music

One of the categories that is most influenced by digital media is the electronic dance music (EDM) industry. Sometimes even referred to as this generations, “Rock-n-Roll,” EDM has swept America up in its sound and good vibes unlike anything we’ve seen since the late 60’s. This type of music has been around for decades, but with new technology and ambitious young producers, the sound has evolved. More importantly, with digital media, there is now a way for these artists to spread their music throughout the world with one click of button. With thousands of different producers in many different sub-genres, it is hard as a listener to get a complete knowledge of all the unique types of music that is being created. That is where the site, “Dancing Astronaut” comes into play.
             Dancing Astronaut is in its simplest terms a music blog, with around 10 or so bloggers posting new music that has been circulating the world wide web. However, it is much more than just song posting; on their staff is a number of photographers (seven are listed on the site) who attend different shows and festivals and post pictures to the site, as well as journalists who attend festivals and provide a unique 1st-person, unbiased experience from the performance. What makes the site so successful is the respect that big names in the industry have for the writers, thus making the fans trust them as well. All of the content is placed in a “list” format in which the different posts are highlighted by a brief preview on the specific post and with a full article if you decide to proceed further. This allows for swift scanning through the website for those who knows what they are looking for, but also an easy process for those that are new to the site. (Here is a example post regarding a festival that includes pictures and captions: Electric Zoo Recap)
            What truly sets this website apart from the hundreds of other music sites is that they cover every sub-genre of the mass EDM world, giving the reader a unique experience every time they visit the website, and allowing Dancing Astronaut to appeal to a much wider range of users. Another interesting aspect of the site is in depth interviews they conduct with DJs of all styles, mostly including songs of the interviewee to introduce readers to new sounds.  A final aspect of the site that digital media has played a huge part in is the news and updates the site provides regarding incredible events on all corners of the globe, some are large festivals, others are intimate club events. With this, readers can listen to a song they posted on the site a few minutes ago, and then look around and find out where that DJ is playing next.
(An article on a pressing issue in the EDM world with comments from a top DJ: LBL Button Pushing Comments
(An article featuring an up and coming DJ in a interesting sub-genre: Andy C Interview)
            Basically, Dancing Astronaut provides the internet with a one-stop site for users to find out about the news in the EDM world and the most recently created music from internationally known DJs. The reason that it is so superior to other sites of its kind is because there is no need to go to other sites if you have Dancing Astronaut, as you can find virtually everything you need to know right there.

Here is the link to the homepage:

If you want to see a website that is similar but does not execute as well as Dancing Astronaut, check out: