BOSTON, September 11, 2001, and JERUSALEM, September 11, 2011 — I was driving a U-Haul truck from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston through downtown and then to Cambridge when I was stuck in the center neighborhood of Beacon Hill. The historic streets had always been extremely narrow and prone to traffic jams. So, I waited. It was a morning just like any other, I had thought, except that I was busy transporting my belongings to my Boston University dormitory in preparation for my senior year as a twenty-year-old journalism major.
And then a neighborhood garbage-man knocked on the driver’s window of the truck. “Can you believe what those fuckers just did?!” “What happened?” I asked. “Turn on the radio!” he shouted before walking away and throwing trash into his truck with all the rage of someone who had just seen a loved one die.
I tuned the radio to a news channel, and I drive throughout the city, making several trips to move boxes back and forth while listening to the news before settling in. My temporary roommate, a senior in ROTC, was glued to the television, chain-smoking and knowing that he would likely be shipped somewhere after graduation. I called my mother in tears from a payphone since she worked in a skyscraper in St. Louis, and I did not know until later that her building had been evacuated just in case. I worried that my four-year-old brother would be traumatized by whatever he was seeing on television. I had little idea what was happening until I had dumped my boxes in the room and could watch television until late that night. I spent the next few weeks listening to too much Moody Blues’ music about war and peace and hope and worrying while I heard — false, as it turned out — a news item that there was a bomb scare at the Copley Mall not far from my BU residence.
Now, why am I telling this story on my marketing blog and not my journalism one? Well, part of me feels that 9/11 will always be a part of my persona. I remember it far more than the Berlin Wall falling when I was nine and the Soviet Union collapsing when I was twelve. And part of me, I think, applied my September 11 memories to my idealistic calling of first becoming a professional Boston journalist and newspaper editor and then moving to Israel and starting a career in Internet marketing after the economy tanked and I was laid off. (See here and here for my thoughts on the event itself.)
Yes, I am idealistic about SEO and online marketing.
As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once wrote, the Internet has given rise to what he called the “super-empowered individual.” In geopolitical terms, one person — even a fanatic living in a cave in Afghanistan — can now exert as much power as a traditional nation-state. In business terms, one guy with an idea and a website can overtake the giants of his industry if he markets himself and the site in the right way. Essentially, the Internet has leveled the playing field — and, to me, that is both exciting and frightening.
Of course, there are positive and negative implications of what can be termed mass-democratization. But one of the main positives is the ability to access and communicate information that, in my opinion, is more and more accurate. And everyone benefits when there is more (accurate) communication. This is where SEO comes into play, and it is where people who know SEO and Internet marketing can communicate their ideas to help the world in general so that events like the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks never happen again.
And that’s why I am writing this essay here. I am currently watching the U.S. news networks’ coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 on Israeli cable, and when I get upset, I write.
How SEO Analysis Can Help Society
How can you know what a person — or what people as a whole — really think? That is a question that has befuddled pollsters, statisticians, and marketers since time immemorial. Traditional methods have always been less than effective, and that is why they always contain margins of error.
When I was in high school, the teachers asked everyone to fill out anonymous surveys on drug use to determine how much of a problem it was. Many people I know lied one way or the other simply because they thought it would be funny. If you hold an extreme political opinion, either on the far left or far right, will you always tell a survey taker what you believe? Many people, I’m sure, do not. And in scientific studies, the so-called observer effect is well known.
But from my years of Internet marketing — either through offering SEO-consultant services or working for start-ups, companies, and agencies — I have come to believe that SEO-keyword research, perhaps unexpectedly, is the most objective form of consumer research that exists because there is no direct observer that influences the person in question. There is simply what search queries he types into Google. (Yes, I know that one’s search history is stored and accessible by various authorities at various times, but the vast majority of people do not think about that issue when they search online.)
Here is an example, although one in a negative context. Say that a person in the United States, God forbid, is a neo-Nazi. He may never tell a pollster or sociologist that he hates black people, but I am sure that he often searches Google for phrases like “why black people are evil” and so on. It is just one example of how SEO analysis reveals the truth, so to speak, of the demand in the market.
Here is a positive example. One of the first things I noticed after moving to Israel was how much the country utilizes “green energy” — particularly solar energy, since it is a desert here and all. All apartment buildings and homes have solar-powered water heaters on their roofs:
Although I never want to inject politics into my marketing writings, I must admit that I do believe in green energy (currently, the practice is not economically viable in the United States on a grand scale and needs government subsidies until it is ready for the bona-fide free market, but that is an issue for another time and place). Still, this sector — as well as the racism example above — is an example of how SEO analysis can help society and influence politics.
Say that keyword research reveals that, on average over the long term, 3% of searches involving “black people” are racist in nature and that 25% of searches for “green energy” are positive. This establishes a baseline. Government officials, sociologists, and others can monitor general search queries to look for changes that, say, are more than one standard deviation greater or lesser than the baseline. If this would occur, the following conclusions could be drawn and the following questions could be asked:
- The percentage of racist queries involving black people has risen to 10% this year — why is this happening, what does it mean, and how can this be addressed?
- The percentage of positive queries relating to green energy has fallen to 15% this year — why are people becoming skeptical of the sector, and how can this be addressed?
Something similar can be done for any topic, subject, or query imaginable (wherever you are on the political spectrum). Even September 11.
So, out of curiosity, I did such keyword analysis on search terms involving “9/11” and “September 11.” (Largely because I cannot sleep while remembering the events of that day.) I wanted to see the so-called “sentiment analysis.”
First, I downloaded hundreds and hundreds of keywords relating to the topic in Google’s Keyword Tool. Then, I sorted them by general theme based on for what people seemed to be searching:
- Video, Pictures, and Audio
- Objective Information
- Conspiracy Theories
- Memorials and Remembrances
- Terrorism and the Hijackers
- 9/11 Quotes
- Survivors and Their Stories
- 9/11 Firefighters
In addition, I segmented the search volume by global monthly-searches as well as U.S.-based searches and U.K-based ones. I was interested to see how the sentiment would change in global, U.S.-specific, and U.K.-specific searches. The full keyword file is here (please comment or e-mail me if you have problems downloading the Excel sheet). Here were the overall results:
I must make one note: the percentages do not total 100% because I removed many keywords that were too painful (mainly relating to people looking for specific, graphic photos). I also admit that I am not a statistician by trade; I generated this report merely to illustrate my idea. I welcome any other attempt by anyone to take my idea further. Based on the sentiment analysis, several questions come to mind:
- Why, ten years later, are a plurality of people searching for 9/11 information on video, pictures, and audio; news reports; and conspiracy theories rather than, say, Islamic terrorism and happy stories about survivors?
- Why are the British people who are searching online for 9/11 information more likely to be conspiracy theorists than the world in general and the United States specifically?
- What trends would one see if such research were conducted that was localized to additional countries throughout the world and in the native languages of their peoples?
- Lastly, what is the importance and relevance of such information, and how can it be used to benefit the world?
I admit that I do not have a concrete answer to the last question. I merely want to pose the question so that SEO-analysis experts, political scientists, and others who know more than I can take the principle and do more research. As I have been watching all of the remembrances of September 11 tonight, I just wanted to do something productive that combined both my writing and marketing ability. (And, perhaps, to help to exorcise the demons of that day.) I just felt that I could help a little by showing how one of the semi-newest industries in the high-tech world today can help the world at large.
An individual can only do so much in the long-term aftermath of such a tragic event, and one does what he can. Please feel free to share this post — and especially its ideas — as you wish.
Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.