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Traditional digital publishing wisdom has it that content frequency and volume are the keys to success online. A recently leaked content strategy document from AOL is based on this strategy, which is principally aimed at capitalising on search engine traffic by flooding Google’s index with keyword-rich content.

But a study by Yuri Lifshit for Yahoo Labs (see video below) shows that the opposite is true if you want to engage an audience. By analysing Facebook ‘likes’ on stories across 45 top content sites, Yuri has shown that it is the top stories that attract the majority of user activity.

According to this data the Guardian, NPR and Yahoo News can get half of their total engagement (as measured by Facebook likes) by publishing just one story per day. Data across all the publishers shows that one big story can capture 70-80% of your audience reactions in various ways. That’s a remarkable statistic.

This would suggest that successful social media optimization is about producing fewer stories, but spending longer on those stories to ensure that they are genuinely engaging.

According to the study, the majority of articles that create the highest engagement are opinion-based pieces.

This is in contrast with search engine optimization which is about producing as much content as possible in ever shorter time frames.

Are these two strategies mutually exclusive, or is there a way of combining the best of both approaches?

Read more analysis here from Nieman Journalism Lab’s lessons of the Like Log.

See the video below for an overview of the study.

The Like Log Study from Yury Lifshits on Vimeo.


We’ve seen this coming for some time. The traditional search algorithms, based on keywords and hyperlinks, are finally feeling the strain. Users are complaining of more ‘junk’ content in their search results, and more and more of us are getting the feeling that, whisper it, search sucks.


Because the search system pioneered by Google to sort the good stuff from the bad is open to abuse and manipulation. Black hat SEOs are getting better at keeping pace with Google’s algorithm changes, leading to defensive moves like Google’s recent attack on content farms.

The search landscape is looking more and more like a game of whack-a-mole, as Jeff Jarvis puts it: Google furiously adapts its algorithm to catch out the bad guys, the bad guys adopt new ways to counter them, and so it goes on.

Social is the new search

Search was the easiest and best way to organise the world’s information during the entire decade of the noughties. But there’s fast approaching a new paradigm, and many believe that the time has come for social to become the new search.

Facebook is the clear challenger here, largely because it has huge scale (600 million users and counting) plus, crucially, it’s built on users’ real identity.

Users of Facebook interact on the web with their real names, provide the platform with their real interests, and form real social connections with other users. This means that in all online interactions they are heavily incentivised to be genuine, honest, civil and useful to their friends and peers.

So links to content and other forms of recommendation on Facebook are much more likely to be trusted by other Facebook users. Social filtering has a real opportunity to be the new way we find content that we trust. Like is the new link.

Compared to the impersonal hyperlink-driven search engines, the social linking system is built on a framework that makes it much more difficult to spam.

Not only that but it looks like the economics of social advertising could challenge Google too. Recent feedback suggests that Facebook ads are doing a better job of getting brands in front of their target market than Google ads.

Of course this change is still in its early stages. Google has seen this coming for some time and has been busy ramping up the social elements of its search algorithm. And we’ve yet to see the Google Me social initiative that the search giant is rumoured to be working on.

But changes in the digital landscape have a habit of happening faster than we can predict. 2011 could well be the year we look back on as the radical turning point in how we discover and find information.


Co-founder and 'product guy' Larry Page is the new CEO at Google.

The news that Larry Page has taken over from Eric Schmidt as CEO at Google was unexpected but in retrospect not surprising.

The Guardian’s Technology Editor Charles Arthur points out that Google has a problem with execution and strategy, and that it now needs someone to speak singularly for the company, while Jeff Jarvis reminds us that this was always on the cards: ‘Schmidt was the prince regent who ruled until the boy king could take the throne while training him to do so. We knew that this would happen. We just forgot that it would.’

Google has expanded so much in the past decade that, like Microsoft before it, it now faces competition from areas that aren’t ‘core’ to its main revenue-generating product (ie search). That competition boils down to two companies: Facebook and Apple.

Out of the Facebook/Apple/Google trinity, all of which are right now entering the battlefield for dominance in the future of  digital media, Google was the only one not led by the ‘product guy’. This is the same thing that’s dogged Steve Ballmer’s rein at Microsoft and may well be the reason why Microsoft are not part of this battle.

The product guy is responsible for the user experience

So what do I mean by ‘product guy’? This is the person (guy or gal)  who focuses relentlessly on the user. As Dorai Thodla says in his answer on Quora to the question What does being a product guy mean?: ‘The PMs responsibility is to continuously align user needs with the product evolution.’

Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) and Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook CEO) are outstanding examples of product guys. They’re inventors and visionaries who live and breathe their products.

Eric Schmidt, on the other hand, was never the product guy. No-one’s denying he’s done a great job over the past decade. But right now it’s critical that the person in charge at Google is focused on creating outstanding products that meet user needs.

It’s a positive move by Google. The only remaining question: is Larry Page still the right product guy for the job?


Click by Bill Tancer

I just finished reading Bill Tancer’s book Click: What We Do Online and Why it Matters. If you’re interested in web trends, search engine marketing, or you’re just curious about how people use the internet, it’s well worth a read.

Bill Tancer is the General Manager of Global Research at Hitwise. I had an account with Hitwise during my time as Online Group Senior Editor at Future Publishing, and I have to say it’s a great online intelligence service. Here in the UK they track traffic details of 8 million internet users (in the US it’s 10 million). That’s a big sample base.

Bill’s book Click shares many insights into online behaviour that he has gleaned from this valuable data. Highlights for me include:

  • The mystery of why teenage girls start searching for Prom dresses in January, way before the Prom season in May.
  • His insights into the celebrity worship syndrome that has driven so much traffic to the likes of PerezHilton and TMZ (I saw this phenomenon first hand when I worked on developing the MusicToob site).
  • The single statistic that ‘How to…’ queries account for 3% of all search queries in the US.
  • His insights into social media and the so-called ‘super connectors’ that can push aspiring music artists over the tipping point.

You can buy Click for a good price at Amazon and no doubt many other excellent places.

Have you read Click? Share your views in the comments below.


The new search deal between Yahoo and Microsoft is unsurprisingly drawing a lot of attention from the blogosphere and the mainstream press right now. But while it’s big news for these two companies, it also highlights the fact that they are several steps behind Google.

While the Yahoo deal provides Microsoft with a 28% share of search in the US (and just 7% in the UK), the search battle has moved elsewhere. Google has used its massive dominance in search, and the huge revenues it derives from it ($21bn in 2008), to fund innovation. Having conquered web search, there are new areas that Google now wants to attack, and in the search space the most important of these is real-time search.

There was another piece of news last week that sign-posts this new zeitgeist in search, and it didn’t involve Microsoft or Yahoo. This was the re-launch of Twitter’s home page.

Twitter's new homepage is all about real-time search.

Twitter's new homepage is all about real-time search.

Twitter is fully positioning itself as a Discovery Engine. Notice its new tag line?: ‘Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.’ This is getting close to Google’s mission statement: ‘To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’

In 2009 one of Google’s priorities is how to comprehensively integrate real-time search into its own listings, beyond the limited use of the Twitter API it currently uses. We know this because Google’s Vice President of Search Product and User Experience Marissa Mayer says so:

We think the real-time search is incredibly important and the real-time data that’s coming online can be super-useful in terms of us finding out something like, you know, is this conference today any good? Is it warmer in San Francisco than it is in Silicon Valley? You can actually look at tweets and see those sorts of patterns, so there’s a lot of useful information about real time and your actions that we think ultimately will reinvent search.

And in May 2009, at Google’s Zeitgeist conference, Google co-founder Larry Page had this to say about real-time search:

I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real-time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. Now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about real-time.

So while Microsoft and Yahoo arrive on the mainstream search battlefield, ten years after Google launched its groundbreaking search engine, Google’s troops have already moved on. Look out for a deal between Google and Twitter within the next 6-12 months.

In ten years time, if they’re still around, Microsoft and Yahoo will be regretting not fighting the real-time search battle sooner.

More blog posts on the Twitter homepage re-launch and real-time search: