Posts By: Curator
Posted by Trevor-Klein
This blog is for all of you. In a notoriously opaque and confusing industry that’s prone to frequent changes, we see immense benefit in helping all of you stay on top of the game. To that end, every couple of years we ask for a report card of sorts, hoping not only to get a sense for how your jobs have changed, but also to get a sense for how we can improve.
About a month ago, we asked you all to take a reader survey, and nearly 600 of you generously gave your time. The results, summarized in this post, were immensely helpful, and were a reminder of how lucky we are to have such a thoughtful community of readers.
I’ve offered as much data as I can, and when possible, I’ve also trended responses against the same questions from our 2015 and 2013 surveys, so you can get a sense for how things have changed. There’s a lot here, so buckle up. =)
Who our readers are
To put all of this great feedback into context, it helps to know a bit about who the people in our audience actually are. Sure, we can glean a bit of information from our site analytics, and can make some educated guesses, but neither of those can answer the questions we’re most curious about. What’s your day-to-day work like, and how much SEO does it really involve? Would you consider yourself more of an SEO beginner, or more of an SEO wizard? And, most importantly, what challenges are you facing in your work these days? The answers give us a fuller understanding of where the rest of your feedback comes from.
What is your job title?
Readers of the Moz Blog have a multitude of backgrounds, from CEOs of agencies to in-the-weeds SEOs of all skill levels. One of the most common themes we see, though, is a skew toward the more general marketing industry. I know that word clouds have their faults, but it’s still a relatively interesting way to gauge how often things appear in a list like this, so here’s what we’ve got this year:
Of note, similar to our results in 2015, the word “marketing” is the most common result, followed by the word “SEO” and the word “manager.”
Here’s a look at the top 20 terms used in this year’s results, along with the percentage of responses containing each term. You’ll also see those same percentages from the 2015 and 2013 surveys to give you an idea of what’s changed — the darker the bar, the more recent the survey:
The thing that surprises me the most about this list is how little it’s changed in the four-plus years since we first asked the question (a theme you’ll see recur in the rest of these results). In fact, the top 20 terms this year are nearly identical to the top 20 terms four years ago, with only a few things sliding up or down a few spots.
What percentage of your day-to-day work involves SEO?
We hear a lot about people wearing multiple hats for their companies. One person who took this survey noted that even at a 9,000-person company, they were the only one who worked on SEO, and it was only about 80% of their job. That idea is backed up by this data, which shows an incredibly broad range of responses. More than 10% of respondents barely touch SEO, and not even 14% say they’re full-time:
One interesting thing to note is the sharp decline in the number of people who say that SEO isn’t a part of their day-to-day at all. That shift is likely a result of our shift back toward SEO, away from related areas like social media and content marketing. I think we had attracted a significant number of community managers and content specialists who didn’t work in SEO, and we’re now seeing the pendulum swing the other direction.
On a scale of 1-5, how advanced would you say your SEO knowledge is?
The similarity between this year’s graph for this question and those from 2015 and 2013 is simply astonishing:
There’s been a slight drop in folks who say they’re at an expert level, and a slight increase in folks who have some background, but are relative beginners. But only slight. The interesting thing is, our blog traffic has increased significantly over these four years, so the newer members of our audience bear a striking resemblance to those of you who’ve been around for quite some time. In a sense, that’s reassuring — it paints a clear picture for us as we continue refining our content.
Do you work in-house, or at an agency/consultancy?
Here’s another window into just how little our audience has changed in the last couple of years:
A slight majority of our readers still work in-house for their own companies, and about a third still work on SEO for their company’s clients.
Interestingly, though, respondents who work for clients deal with many of the same issues as those who work in-house — especially in trying to convey the value of their work in SEO. They’re just trying to send that message to external clients instead of internal stakeholders. More details on that come from our next question:
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work today?
I’m consistently amazed by the time and thought that so many of you put into answering this question, and rest assured, your feedback will be presented to several teams around Moz, both on the marketing and the product sides. For this question, I organized each and every response into recurring themes, tallying each time those themes were mentioned. Here are all the themes that were mentioned 10 or more times:
|Challenge||# of mentions|
|My clients / colleagues / bosses don’t understand the value of SEO||59|
|The industry and tactics are constantly changing; algo updates||45|
|My clients / colleagues / bosses don’t understand how SEO works||29|
|Content (strategy / creation / marketing)||25|
|It’s difficult to prove ROI||18|
|It’s a difficult industry in which to learn tools and techniques||16|
|I regularly need to educate my colleagues / employees||16|
|It’s difficult to prioritize my work||16|
|My clients either don’t have or won’t offer sufficient budget / effort||15|
|Bureaucracy, red tape, other company problems||11|
|It’s difficult to compete with other companies||11|
|I’m required to wear multiple hats||11|
More than anything else, it’s patently obvious that one of the greatest difficulties faced by any SEO is explaining it to other people in a way that demonstrates its value while setting appropriate expectations for results. Whether it’s your clients, your boss, or your peers that you’re trying to convince, it isn’t an easy case to make, especially when it’s so difficult to show what kind of return a company can see from an investment in SEO.
We also saw tons of frustrated responses about how the industry is constantly changing, and it takes too much of your already-constrained time just to stay on top of those changes.
In terms of tactics, link building easily tops the list of challenges. That makes sense, as it’s the piece of SEO that relies most heavily on the cooperation of other human beings (and humans are often tricky beings to figure out). =)
Content marketing — both the creation/copywriting side as well as the strategy side — is still a challenge for many folks in the industry, though fewer people mentioned it this year as mentioned it in 2015, so I think we’re all starting to get used to how those skills overlap with the more traditional aspects of SEO.
How our readers read
With all that context in mind, we started to dig into your preferences in terms of formats, frequency, and subject matter on the blog.
How often do you read posts on the Moz Blog?
This is the one set of responses that caused a bit of concern. We’ve seen a steady decrease in the number of people who say they read every day, a slight decrease in the number of people who say they read multiple times each week, and a dramatic increase in the number of people who say they read once a week.
The 2015 decrease came after an expansion in the scope of subjects we covered on the blog — as we branched away from just SEO, we published more posts about social media, email, and other aspects of digital marketing. We knew that not all of those subjects were relevant for everyone, so we expected a dip in frequency of readership.
This year, though, we’ve attempted to refocus on SEO, and might have expected a bit of a rebound. That didn’t happen:
There are two other factors at play, here. For one thing, we no longer publish a post every single weekday. After our publishing volume experiment in 2015, we realized it was safe (even beneficial) to emphasize quality over quantity, so if we don’t feel like a post turned out the way we hoped, we don’t publish it until we’ve had a chance to improve it. That means we’re down to about four posts per week. We’ve also made a concerted effort to publish more posts about local SEO, as that’s relevant to our software and an increasingly important part of the work of folks in our industry.
It could also be a question of time — we’ve already covered how little time everyone in our industry has, and with that problem continuing, there may just be less time to read blog posts.
If anyone has any additional insight into why they read less often than they once did, please let us know in the comments below!
On which types of devices do you prefer to read blog posts?
We were surprised by the responses to this answer in 2013, and they’ve only gotten more extreme:
Nearly everyone prefers to read blog posts on a full computer. Only about 15% of folks add their phones into the equation, and the number of people in all the other buckets is extremely small. In 2013, our blog didn’t have a responsive design, and was quite difficult to read on mobile devices. We thought that might have had something to do with people’s responses — maybe they were just used to reading our blog on larger screens. The trend in 2015 and this year, though, proves that’s not the case. People just prefer reading posts on their computers, plain and simple.
Which other site(s), if any, do you regularly visit for information or education on SEO?
This was a new question for this year. We have our own favorite sites, of course, but we had no idea how the majority of folks would respond to this question. As it turns out, there was quite a broad range of responses listing sites that take very different approaches:
|Search Engine Land||184|
|Search Engine Journal||89|
|Search Engine Roundtable||74|
|Search Engine Watch||41|
|Quick Sprout / Neil Patel||35|
|The SEM Post||21|
|SEO by the Sea||13|
I suppose it’s no surprise that the most prolific sites sit at the top. They’ve always got something new, even if the stories don’t often go into much depth. We’ve tended to steer our own posts toward longer-form, in-depth pieces, and I think it’s safe to say (based on these responses and some to questions below) that it’d be beneficial for us to include some shorter stories, too. In other words, depth shouldn’t necessarily be a requisite for a post to be published on the Moz Blog. We may start experimenting with a more “short and sweet” approach to some posts.
What our readers think of the blog
Here’s where we get into more specific feedback about the Moz Blog, including whether it’s relevant, how easy it is for you to consume, and more.
What percentage of the posts on the Moz Blog would you say are relevant to you and your work?
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results here, as SEO is a broad enough industry (and we’ve got a broad enough audience) that there’s simply no way we’re going to hit the sweet spot for everyone with every post. But those numbers toward the bottom of the chart are low enough that I feel confident we’re doing pretty well in terms of topic relevance.
Do you feel the Moz Blog posts are generally too basic, too advanced, or about right?
Responses to this question have made me smile every time I see them. This is clearly one thing we’re getting about as right as we could expect to. We’re even seeing a slight balancing of the “too basic” and “too advanced” columns over time, which is great:
We also asked the people who told us that posts were “too basic” or “too advanced” to what extent they felt that way, using a scale from 1-5 (1 being “just a little bit too basic/advanced” and 5 being “way too basic/advanced.” The responses tell us that the people who feel posts are too advanced feel more strongly about that opinion than the people who feel posts are too basic:
This makes some sense, I think. If you’re just starting out in SEO, which many of our readers are, some of the posts on this blog are likely to go straight over your head. That could be frustrating. If you’re an SEO expert, though, you probably aren’t frustrated by posts you see as too basic for you — you just skip past them and move on with your day.
This does make me think, though, that we might benefit from offering a dedicated section of the site for folks who are just starting out — more than just the Beginner’s Guide. That’s actually something that was specifically requested by one respondent this year.
In general, what do you think about the length of Moz Blog posts?
While it definitely seems like we’re doing pretty well in this regard, I’d also say we’ve got some room to tighten things up a bit, especially in light of the lack of time so many of you mentioned:
There were quite a few comments specifically asking for “short and sweet” posts from time to time — offering up useful tips or news in a format that didn’t expound on details because it didn’t have to. I think sprinkling some of those types of posts in with the longer-form posts we have so often would be beneficial.
Do you ever comment on Moz Blog posts?
This was another new question this year. Despite so many sites are removing comment sections from their blogs, we’ve always believed in their value. Sometimes the discussions we see in comments end up being the most helpful part of the posts, and we value our community too much to keep that from happening. So, we were happy to see a full quarter of respondents have participated in comments:
We also asked for a bit of info about why you either do or don’t comment on posts. The top reasons why you do were pretty predictable — to ask a clarifying question related to the post, or to offer up your own perspective on the topic at hand. The #3 reason was interesting — 18 people mentioned that they like to comment in order to thank the author for their hard work. This is a great sentiment, and as someone who’s published several posts on this blog, I can say for a fact that it does feel pretty great. At the same time, those comments are really only written for one person — the author — and are a bit problematic from our perspective, because they add noise around the more substantial conversations, which are what we like to see most.
I think the solution is going to lie in a new UI element that allows readers to note their appreciation to the authors without leaving one of the oft-maligned “Great post!” comments. There’s got to be a happy medium there, and I think it’s worth our finding it.
The reasons people gave for not commenting were even more interesting. A bunch of people mentioned the need to log in (sorry, folks — if we didn’t require that, we’d spend half our day removing spam!). The most common response, though, involved a lack of confidence. Whether it was worded along the lines of “I’m an introvert” or along the lines of “I just don’t have a lot of expertise,” there were quite a few people who worried about how their comments would be received.
I want to take this chance to encourage those of you who feel that way to take the step, and ask questions about points you find confusing. At the very least, I can guarantee you aren’t the only ones, and others like you will appreciate your initiative. One of the best ways to develop your expertise is to get comfortable asking questions. We all work in a really confusing industry, and the Moz Blog is all about providing a place to help each other out.
What, if anything, would you like to see different about the Moz Blog?
As usual, the responses to this question were chock full of great suggestions, and again, we so appreciate the amount of time you all spent providing really thoughtful feedback.
One pattern I saw was requests for more empirical data — hard evidence that things should be done a certain way, whether through case studies or other formats. Another pattern was requests for step-by-step walkthroughs. That makes a lot of sense for an industry of folks who are strapped for time: Make things as clear-cut as possible, and where we can, offer a linear path you can walk down instead of asking you to holistically understand the subject matter, then figure that out on your own. (That’s actually something we’re hoping to do with our entire Learning Center: Make it easier to figure out where to start, and where to continue after that, instead of putting everything into buckets and asking you all to figure it out.)
Whiteboard Friday remains a perennial favorite, and we were surprised to see more requests for more posts about our own tools than we had requests for fewer posts about our own tools. (We’ve been wary of that in the past, as we wanted to make sure we never crossed from “helpful” into “salesy,” something we’ll still focus on even if we do add another tool-based post here and there.)
We expected a bit of feedback about the format of the emails — we’re absolutely working on that! — but didn’t expect to see so many folks requesting that we bring back YouMoz. That’s something that’s been on the backs of our minds, and while it may not take the same form it did before, we do plan on finding new ways to encourage the community to contribute content, and hope to have something up and running early in 2018.
|More case studies||26|
|More Whiteboard Friday (or other videos)||25|
|More long-form step-by-step training/guides||18|
|Clearer steps to follow in posts; how-tos||11|
|Bring back UGC / YouMoz||9|
|More from Rand||9|
|Improve formatting of the emails||9|
|Higher-level, less-technical posts||8|
|More news (algorithm updates, e.g.)||7|
|Shorter posts, “quick wins”||7|
|Quizzes, polls, or other engagement opportunities||6|
|Broader range of topics (engagement, CRO, etc.)||6|
|More about Moz tools||5|
|More data-driven, less opinion-based||5|
What our readers want to see
This section is a bit more future-facing, where some of what we asked before had to do with how things have been in the past.
Which of the following topics would you like to learn more about?
There were very, very few surprises in this list. Lots of interest in on-page SEO and link building, as well as other core tactical areas of SEO. Content, branding, and social media all took dips — that makes sense, given the fact that we don’t usually post about those things anymore, and we’ve no doubt lost some audience members who were more interested in them as a result. Interestingly, mobile took a sizable dip, too. I’d be really curious to know what people think about why that is. My best guess is that with the mobile-first indexing from Google and with responsive designs having become so commonplace, there isn’t as much of a need as there once was to think of mobile much differently than there was a couple of years ago. Also of note: When we did this survey in 2015, Google had recently rolled out its “Mobile-Friendly Update,” not-so-affectionately referred to by many in the industry as Mobilegeddon. So… it was on our minds. =)
Which of the following types of posts would you most like to see on the Moz Blog?
This is a great echo and validation of what we took away from the more general question about what you’d like to see different about the Blog: More tactical posts and step-by-step walkthroughs. Posts that cut to the chase and offer a clear direction forward, as opposed to some of the types at the bottom of this list, which offer more opinions and cerebral explorations:
What happens next?
Now we go to work. =)
We’ll spend some time fully digesting this info, and coming up with new goals for 2018 aimed at making improvements inspired by your feedback. We’ll keep you all apprised as we start moving forward.
If you have any additional insight that strikes you in taking a look at these results, please do share it in the comments below — we’d love to have those discussions.
For now, we’ve got some initial takeaways that we’re already planning to take action on.
There are some relatively obvious things we can take away from these results that we’re already working on:
- People in all businesses are finding it quite difficult to communicate the value of SEO to their clients, bosses, and colleagues. That’s something we can help with, and we’ll be developing materials in the near future to try and alleviate some of that particular frustration.
- There’s a real desire for more succinct, actionable, step-by-step walkthroughs on the Blog. We can pretty easily explore formats for posts that are off our “beaten path,” and will attempt to make things easier to consume through improvements to both the content itself and its delivery. I think there’s some room for more “short and sweet” mixed in with our longer norm.
- The bulk of our audience does more than just SEO, despite a full 25% of them having it in their job titles, and the challenges you mentioned include a bunch of areas that are related to, but outside the traditional world of SEO. Since you all are clearly working on those sorts of things, we should work to highlight and facilitate the relationship between the SEO work and the non-SEO marketing work you do.
- In looking through some of the other sites you all visit for information on SEO, and knowing the kinds of posts they typically publish, it’s clear we’ve got an opportunity to publish more news. We’ve always dreamed of being more of a one-stop shop for SEO content, and that’s good validation that we may want to head down that path.
Again, thank you all so much for the time and effort you spent filling out this survey. Hopefully you’ll notice some changes in the near (and not-so-near) future that make it clear we’re really listening.
If you’ve got anything to add to these results — insights, further explanations, questions for clarification, rebuttals of points, etc. — please leave them in the comments below. We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation. =)
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Social Networking Site Isn’t Liable for User’s Overdose of Drugs He Bought Via the Site–Dyroff v. Ultimate Software
[It’s impossible to blog about Section 230 without reminding you that it remains highly imperiled.]
This opinion is a contender for the most interesting Section 230 ruling of 2017. It deals with the troubling situation of user-to-user online drug sales; it discusses the thorny language of what it means to “develop in part” content; it decisively rejects the latest anti-Section 230 theory that data mining and targeted content recommendations somehow foreclose the immunity; it emphatically rejects a “failure to warn” workaround to Section 230; and the judge embraces Internet exceptionalism. My apologies for the length of this blog post, but there is a lot to unpack in this opinion. If you’re a Section 230 enthusiast, this case deserves your careful attention.
This case relates to a now-defunct service called “Experience Project,” run by Ultimate Software. The service allowed users to share their first-hand experiences anonymously “with the least amount of inhibition possible. The greater the anonymity, the more ‘honest’ the post….” The experiences were topically threaded, so a user could create an “I love heroin” thread and other users could post messages in the thread. As of May 2016, it had over 67 million “experiences shared.”
The victim, Wesley Greer, became addicted to opioids after suffering a knee injury. (These facts are recited by the court based on the complaint). He went to rehab 5 times. In August 2015, he searched Google to find heroin, and the search results led him to the Experience Project. He paid money to buy the right to post on the site, then posted to a group “where can i score heroin in jacksonville, fl.”
A dealer, under the username “Potheadjuice,” allegedly repeatedly offered to sell heroin in Experience Project groups such as “I love Heroin” and “heroin in Orlando.” Law enforcement knew about the dealer’s Project Experience activities. They arrested him twice in stings via the site. The dealer replied to Greer’s post, and the Experience Project emailed Greer a notification of the reply. Through communications on the site, Greer got the dealer’s phone number. They met in person, and Greer bought fentanyl-laced heroin. Greer died the next day due to fentanyl toxicity.
The plaintiff is Greer’s mom. The complaint alleges that the Experience Project:
(1) allowed its Experience Project users to anonymously traffic in illegal deadly narcotics;
(2) allowed users to create groups dedicated to the sale and use of such illegal narcotics;
(3) steered users to “additional” groups dedicated to the sale of such narcotics (through the use of its advanced data-mining algorithms to manipulate and funnel vulnerable individual users to harmful drug trafficking groups on Experience Project’s website);
(4) sent users emails and other push notifications of new posts in those groups related to the sale of deadly narcotics;
(5) allowed Experience Project users to remain active account holders despite (a) the users’ open drug trafficking on Experience Project’s website, (b) Ultimate Software’s knowledge of this (including knowledge acquired through its proprietary datamining technology, which allowed it to analyze and understand its users’ drug-trafficking posts) and (c) multiple law-enforcement actions against users related to their drug dealing on the Experience Project website;
(6) exhibited general and explicit antipathy towards law enforcement’s efforts to curb illegal activity on Experience Project’s website; and
(7) received numerous information requests, subpoenas, and warrants from law enforcement and should have known about drug trafficking on its site by its users, including — by the time of her son’s death — [the dealer’s] sales of fentanyl-laced heroin.
The Experience Project moved to dismiss the complaint on Section 230 grounds, except for the failure-to-warn claim, which it moved to dismiss on its elements. The court grants the entire motion to dismiss.
Section 230 Immunity
The court runs through the standard three-element test for Section 230:
Provider/User of an Interactive Computer Service. This was undisputed.
Publisher/Speaker Claims. The court’s discussion here is a little confusing, but the court says “courts have rejected plaintiffs’ attempts to plead around immunity by basing liability on a website’s tools” (cites to Gonzalez and Fields) before summarily concluding “Ms. Dyroff’s claims at their core seek liability for publishing third-party content.”
Based on Third Party Content. The plaintiff alleged the Experience Project developed the dealer’s content because “(1) its tools, design, and functionality abetted the content, at least in part, by recommending heroin-related discussions and steering Mr. Greer to [the dealer’s] posts; and (2) Ultimate Software is not merely a passive conduit for its users’ posts because it knew that Experience Project was an online market for drug dealers and users, and it shielded the bad actors through its anonymity policies and antipathy to law enforcement.”
The plaintiff continued that development occurs when the site “materially manipulates that content, including by passively directing its creation or by improperly using the content, after the fact.” [Huh? What does it mean to “passively direct” content creation, and how is that a “material manipulation” of the content? Doesn’t every UGC website do this? What does it mean to “improperly” use content? I’m not sure any of these allegations are grammatical, but I am sure none of it makes any sense.]
The plaintiff further explained that the Experience Project:
used “data mining” techniques and “machine learning” algorithms and tools to collect, analyze, and “learn[ ] the meaning and intent behind posts” in order to “recommend” and “steer” vulnerable users, like her son, to forums frequented by drug users and dealers. By identifying interested users and using its “recommendation functionality” to steer them to drug-related “groups” or “online communities,” Ultimate Software kept the users “engaged on the site” for Ultimate Software’s financial gain (through online ad revenues, gathering more valuable user data, and other means). This system — combined with Experience Project’s anonymous registration and its email-notification functionality that alerted users when groups received a new post or reply — “created an environment where vulnerable addicts were subjected to a feedback loop of continual entreaties to connect with drug dealers.”
None of these arguments work. The court responds flatly: “Ultimate Software is not an ‘information content provider’ merely because its content-neutral tools (such as its algorithms and push notifications) steer users to unlawful content.”
The court explains: “making recommendations to website users and alerting them to posts are ordinary, neutral functions of social-network websites” (citing Roommates.com, Gonzalez, Cohen and Fields). Furthermore, “it is the users’ voluntary inputs that create the content on Experience Project,” not the proprietary algorithms. So “even if a tool facilitates the expression of [harmful or unlawful] information, it is considered neutral so long as users ultimately determine what content to post, such that the tool merely provides a framework that could be utilized for proper or improper purposes” (cites to Goddard, Carafano, Klayman v. Zuckerberg). This “result holds even when a website collects information about users and classifies user characteristics.”
The court summarizes: “the Experience Project website’s alleged functionalities — including its user anonymity, algorithmic recommendations of related groups, and the ‘push’ email notification of posts and responses — are content-neutral tools.” Therefore, Section 230 protects the Experience Project from all of the plaintiff’s claims except the failure-to-warn claim.
Section 230 also applies despite allegations that: the Experience Project knew/should have known that users were selling drugs onsite; it shielded drug dealers from law enforcement (an allegation partially belied by the dealer’s repeated arrests due to onsite stings); and it had an onsite statement about the interaction between anonymity and law enforcement. The court says that the Experience Project’s “policy about anonymity may have allowed illegal conduct, and the neutral tools facilitated user communications, but these website functionalities do not ‘create’ or ‘develop’ information, even in part.”
Failure to Warn
Two relatively recent Ninth Circuit rulings—Doe No. 14 v. Internet Brands (the ModelMayhem case) and Beckman v. Match.com—held that Section 230 didn’t immunize failure-to-warn claims. Those rulings were troublesome on multiple fronts. First, the “risk” that allegedly triggered an obligation to warn was third party content or actions—exactly what Section 230 should immunize. Second, it seemed unlikely that online services have any positive duty to warn their users of potential harms, so the failure-to-warn workaround meant plaintiffs would still lose, just after higher litigation costs for everyone. Third, it’s unclear how online services would satisfy any obligation to warn. Either they would use broad, general, and unenlightening warnings, or they may have to issue warnings every time they hear from law enforcement or a private citizen that a member has engaged in malfeasance online or off, which for a site like Facebook would result in many, many warnings per hour (and lots of potential defamation claims by the warned-about users).
Fortunately (?), between this ruling and the denouement in the ModelMayhem and Beckman cases, it’s emerging that the failure-to-warn claims against UGC sites in fact aren’t tenable, so indeed they impose extra costs for no extra benefit.
Lack of Special Relationship. The court summarizes the legal standard: The Experience Project “can be responsible for its nonfeasance (its failure to act) if (1) it had a special relationship with a third-party actor and thus had a duty to control that actor, or (2) it had a special relationship with Mr. Greer and thus owed him a duty to protect him. The plaintiff argues that like any business, Ultimate Software has a ‘special relationship’ with its customers that creates a duty to warn them of known risks.”
The court considers the ModelMayhem and Beckman cases on remand. I don’t believe I blogged either remand ruling, and my apologies for missing them. In both cases, the district courts on remand held that the online services didn’t have a special relationship with their customers and therefore no duty to warn. The court says the cases “support the conclusion that a website has no ‘special relationship’ with its users.”
The plaintiff argued that online services are the 21st century equivalent of offline businesses with physical premises, which owe a duty to invitees. The court rejects the offline analogy:
If the court followed this approach, it would render all social-network websites potentially liable whenever they connect their members by algorithm, merely because the member is a member. This makes no sense practically. Imposing a duty at best would result in a weak and ineffective general warning to all users. It also “likely [would] have a ‘chilling effect’ on the [I]nternet by opening the floodgates of litigation.” Also, the court is not convinced that a bricks-and-mortar business (such as a bar where people meet more obviously) is a good analogue to a social-network website that fosters connections online. For one, allocating risk is (in part) about foreseeability of harm and the burdens of allocating risk to the defendant or the plaintiff. Risk can be more apparent in the real world than in the virtual social-network world. That seems relevant here, when the claim is that a social-network website ought to perceive risks — through its automatic algorithms and other inputs —about a drug dealer on its site.
Even if Experience Project knew about the dealer’s onsite activities, the court says: “that knowledge does not create a special relationship absent dependency or detrimental reliance by its users, including Mr. Greer,” and the plaintiff didn’t allege that. The plaintiff will likely allege “dependency” and “detrimental reliance” in an amended complaint.
Malfeasance. The prior discussion dealt with the Experience Project’s “nonfeasance.” With respect to the Experience Project’s alleged malfeasance:
use of the neutral tools and functionalities on its website did not create a risk of harm that imposes an ordinary duty of care. A contrary holding would impose liability on a social-network website for using the ordinary tools of recommendations and alerts. The result does not change merely because Experience Project permitted anonymous users.
Assumption of Risk. The assumption of risk defense is unnecessary after the court’s held that the Experience Project has no duty to warn. The court nevertheless tries to discourage the plaintiff further:
If it were to reach the issue, it would likely hold that the doctrine operates as a complete bar to his claim because Mr. Greer — who initiated the contact with [the dealer] by his posts on Experience Project and then bought drugs from him — assumed the obviously dangerous risk of buying drugs from an anonymous Internet drug dealer.
The court’s dismissal is without prejudice, so the plaintiff will likely try again. However, I don’t see how the plaintiff can allege better facts to overcome Section 230. And even if the plaintiff alleges better facts on the failure-to-warn claim, the court’s skepticism about the assumption of risk suggests a win isn’t likely there either. Maybe the plaintiff will find more receptivity on appeal, but this well-constructed opinion will pose a major hurdle.
What Does It Mean to “Develop in Part” Content?
Section 230 defines an “information content provider” as anyone who “creates” or “develops” content “in whole or in part.” The develop-in-part language is vexing. What does it mean to “develop-in-part” content, especially as something different from “create-in-part”? We don’t know. Read literally, the statutory language could mean that any defendant that “developed” 0.1% (or less!) of allegedly tortious/criminal content should not get Section 230 protection. Because we aren’t sure what it means to “develop” content, this 0.1% standard potentially means that lots of defendants could unexpectedly find themselves without Section 230 immunity. Thus, the “develop-in-part” provision could be the bomb that blows up Section 230.
Since the statute’s passage, courts have had the ability to read “develop-in-part” quite broadly. However, until the Roommates.com case, we saw very little attention paid to this provision. The Roommates.com case raised the visibility of this drafting trap, but it hasn’t changed the results in most cases. That may be in part because the Roommates.com opinion indicates that the defendant loses Section 230 protection only if it “develops-in-part” the alleged illegality of the content. If it just developed-in-part other aspects of the content, but not the illegal part, arguably the Roommates.com opinion steers the case towards a defense ruling.
Sorta consistent with this line of reasoning, this case seems to treat content “neutrality” as a complete defense to allegations that the defendant “developed-in-part” the content. (More on “neutrality” below).
In the statutory debates over SESTA and the Wagner bill, some folks—including people I consider to be Friends of Section 230 (FOS230)—have been encouraging Congress and courts to pay more attention to the develop-in-part provision. Because of the powerful implications of “develop-in-part,” I think this is a dangerous idea. Inviting courts to interpret “develop-in-part” more broadly has a real risk of backfiring. Instead, I think rulings like this get it right.
“Data Mining” Doesn’t Defeat Section 230.
In the last year or so, I’ve seen a new anti-Section 230 argument swirling (e.g., 1-800-LAW-FIRM’s suits over social media sites allegedly providing material support to terrorists and works by Profs. Julie Cohen and Olivier Sylvain). The argument basically goes like this: Section 230 was enacted at a time when websites were dumb. As websites have gotten smarter, including collecting and analyzing user data and deploying personalization algorithms, Section 230 no longer protects them because the services are doing something Congress never expected. If this argument doesn’t make sense to you, it’s perhaps because I did a bad job retelling it; but more likely, it’s because the argument doesn’t make any sense at all.
The 1-800-LAW-FIRM complaints have teed up the data mining issue, but it hasn’t made a difference in those cases. Indeed, those opinions didn’t really engage with the argument. In contrast, this ruling squarely and unambiguously rejects it—in such a persuasive way that I expect other courts will follow it. This attempted Section 230 workaround has heated up quickly, but it will quickly and quietly fade away as soon as the next anti-Section 230 meme-fad emerges.
Success of “Neutrality” Defense.
The term “neutral” or a variant appears in the opinion 17 times. However, like the Roommates.com opinion that launched its usage in Section 230 jurisprudence, the court never defines “neutrality.” That omission is unsurprising because the “neutrality” construct is nonsensical. As I’ve explained repeatedly, online service and their tools are never neutral and are always biased. Even an attempt to be “balanced” is a form of bias. That means that any legal test predicated on a tool’s “neutrality” is stacked against defendants.
Not surprisingly, when courts have explored a defendant’s neutrality, it creates the preconditions for bad results. For example, in JS v. Village Voice, the court transmogrified the test to say “Backpage did more than simply maintain neutral policies prohibiting or limiting certain content.” Huh? “Neutral policies” are an oxymoron, so every online service would fail that legal standard.
In contrast, this case is a refreshingly defendant-favorable application of the “neutral tools” principle from Roommates.com. Were the Experience Project’s tools “neutral”? Of course not. For example, the site was built on a normative bias in favor of anonymity, and that normative bias laid the foundation for mischief that contributed to Greer’s death. Still, the court held that its tools were neutral.
Perhaps “neutrality” in this context really means something more like “not biased toward illegal content or actions.” Reframing the “neutrality” doctrine to say that would actually improve the doctrine’s clarity quite a bit.
The “Failure to Warn” Exception to Section 230 Doesn’t Work.
The ModelMayhem case sparked a failure-to-warn boomlet of cases. As this ruling lays out clearly, online services don’t have an inherent “special relationship” with their customers, so they won’t have a duty to warn, and the Section 230 workaround doesn’t work. If the appellate courts affirm these rulings, as I expect they will, the failure-to-warn fad should wane.
Embrace of Internet Exceptionalism.
The court says “Risk can be more apparent in the real world than in the virtual social-network world.” There are many circumstances where this is true. A bartender can easily do a visual, aural and olfactory check of a customer’s sobriety. A retailer’s checkout clerk can easily do a visual inspection of a customer’s age and demand a form of ID in borderline cases.
But are there circumstances where the opposite is true? A drug dealer could peddle drugs in obscure corners of a Walmart premise where employees and security guards aren’t watching, whereas an online service could set up a dumb word filter for the word “heroin” (or all Schedule 1 drugs) that would automatically flag any heroin discussions taking place in the virtual premises.
Perhaps the court means that a dumb word filter lacks the context that might be apparent in physical space. The filter could flag the instances of the word “heroin,” but the exchange of messages won’t provide all of the context about whether a drug deal is about to go down (especially if the users exchange phone numbers and take the conversation beyond the online service’s premises). And, of course, dumb word filters are easily circumvented with codewords, new slang and deliberate misspellings, while it’s harder to cloak activity in the physical world.
So, I think the court is right to embrace the Internet exceptionalism between the lack of duty in virtual premises despite the offline duty to invitees, but this aspect could have benefited from more exposition.
What Should the Experience Project Have Done Differently?
This case is extremely similar to an (uncited) case involving Topix, Witkoff v. Topix, also involving the online matching of a buyer and seller of illicit drugs that led to an overdose. Section 230 protected Topix as well, so the opinions reach the same legal result.
Yet, the fact that these tragedies keep occurring make me wonder what, if any, steps sites like Topix and the Experience Project should take to reduce the number of victims. In particular, any site encouraging site-wide anonymity should know that its “more honest” posts will also come with illegal behavior. Section 230 may allow these services to avoid liability, but it doesn’t eliminate their responsibilities to their community and to society generally. It’s probably time for our community to have a public conversation about what steps online services like Topix and the Experience Project should take regarding the online sale of illegal drugs.
Source: Eric Goldman Legal
Try these tips to make your small business’ Instagram merry and bright
Thanksgiving kicked off the start of the 2017 holiday season, and as the winter holidays near, there’s a huge opportunity for your local business to connect with your loyal followers and new customers.
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms, with over 800 million users. More and more consumers are turning to this platform to decide which new local businesses they want to explore — especially during the holidays.
Try these 5 things on your local business’ Instagram to get more holly, jolly customers at your store this season:
Your customers love feeling festive! The holidays are associated with warm feelings, like love and joy. Encourage your customers to associate those feelings and the season with your brand. Try running a seasonal campaign and create a custom hashtag for it. Get creative and have fun with it!
People are deciding where to buy gifts for their loved ones during this time of year, so get your loyal fans and new customers to think of your business while shopping. Show off your products on your page.
Let your customers know how special they are to you and your business by wishing them a happy holiday! You can keep it simple, be playful, or a combination of the two. Your customers will appreciate it.
User-generated content is the gift that keeps on giving — your customers are happy with your business so they post about it, and in turn, your business has new photos to share on its Instagram page. Make sure you give your customers credit for their photos!
As people are doing their holiday shopping, they’re actively seeking out discounts and specials, like free gift wrapping. Use your Instagram page to let your customers know they’ll be getting a deal at your business! You can also encourage people to follow your Instagram page for special promotions they won’t find anywhere else.
Want more Instagram resources? Check out these blog posts:
Source: Main Street Hub
Posted by MiriamEllis
You own, work for, or market a business, but you don’t think of yourself as a Local SEO.
That’s okay. The forces of history have, in fact, conspired in some weird ways to make local search seem like an island unto itself. Out there, beyond the horizon, there may be technicians puzzling out NAP, citations, owner responses, duplicate listings, store locator widgets and the like, but it doesn’t seem like they’re talking about your job at all.
And that’s the problem.
If I could offer you a seat in my kayak, I’d paddle us over to that misty isle, and we’d go ashore. After we’d walked around a bit, talking to the locals, it would hit you that the language barrier you’d once perceived is a mere illusion, as is the distance between you.
By sunset — whoa! Look around again. This is no island. You and the Local SEOs are all mainlanders, reaching towards identical goals of customer acquisition, service, and retention via an exceedingly enriched and enriching skill set. You can use it all.
Before I paddle off into the darkness, under the rising stars, I’d like to leave you a chart that plots out how Local SEO fits in with everything you’ve been doing all along.
The roots of the divide
Why is Local SEO often treated as separate from the rest of marketing? We can narrow this down to three contributing factors:
1) Early separation of the local and organic algos
Google’s early-days local product was governed by an algorithm that was much more distinct from their organic algorithm than it is today. It was once extremely common, for example, for businesses without websites to rank well locally. This didn’t do much to form clear bridges between the offline, organic, and local marketing worlds. But, then came Google’s Pigeon Update in 2013, which signaled Google’s stated intention of deeply tying the two algorithms together.
This should ultimately impact the way industry publications, SaaS companies, and agencies present local as an extension of organic SEO, but we’re not quite there yet. I continue to encounter examples of large companies which are doing an amazing job with their website strategies, their e-commerce solutions and their paid outreach, but which are only now taking their first steps into local listings management for their hundreds of physical locations. It’s not that they’re late to the party — it’s just that they’ve only recently begun to realize what a large party their customers are having with their brands’ location data layers on the web.
2) Inheriting the paid vs. organic dichotomy
Local SEO has experienced the same lack-of-adoption/awareness as organic SEO. Agencies have long fought the uphill battle against a lopsided dependence on paid advertising. This phenomenon is highlighted by historic stats like these showing brands investing some $10 million in PPC vs. $1 million in SEO, despite studies like this one which show PPC earning less than 10% of clicks in search.
My take on this is that the transition from traditional offline paid advertising to its online analog was initially easier for many brands to get their heads around. And there have been ongoing challenges in proving direct ROI from SEO in the simple terms a PPC campaign can provide. To this day, we’re still all seeing statistics like only 17% of small businesses investing in SEO. In many ways, the SEO conundrum has simply been inherited by every Local SEO.
3) A lot to take in and on
Look at the service menu of any full-service digital marketing agency and you’ll see just how far it’s had to stretch over the past couple of decades to encompass an ever-expanding range of publicity opportunities:
- Technical website audits
- On-site optimization
- Keyword research
- Content dev and promotion
- Brand building
- Social media marketing
- PPC management
- UX audits
- Conversion optimization
Is it any wonder that agencies feel spread a bit too thin when considering how to support yet further needs and disciplines? How do you find the bandwidth, and the experts, to be able to offer:
- Ongoing citation management
- Local on-site SEO
- Local landing page dev
- Store locator SEO
- Review management
- Local brand building
- Local link building
- And abstruse forms of local Schema implementation…
And while many agencies have met the challenge by forming smart, strategic partnerships with providers specializing in Local SEO solutions, the agency is still then tasked with understanding how Local fits in with everything else they’re doing, and then explaining this to clients. At the multi-location and enterprise level, even amongst the best-known brands, high-level staffers may have no idea what it is the folks in the in-house Local SEO department are actually doing, or why their work matters.
To tie it all together … that’s what we need to do here. With a shared vision of how all practitioners are working on consumer-centric outreach, we can really get somewhere. Let’s plot this out, together:
Sharing is caring
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Let’s imagine a sporting goods brand, established in 1979, that’s grown to 400 locations across the US while also becoming well-known for its e-commerce presence. Whether aspects of marketing are being outsourced or it’s all in-house, here is how 3 shared consumer-centric goals unify all parties.
As we can see from the above chart, there is definitely an overlap of techniques, particularly between SEOs and Local SEOs. Yet overall, it’s not the language or tactics, but the end game and end goals that unify all parties. Viewed properly, consumers are what make all marketing a true team effort.
Before I buy that kayak…
On my commute, I hear a radio ad promoting a holiday sale at some sporting goods store, but which brand was it?
Then I turn to the Internet to research kayak brands, and I find your website’s nicely researched, written, and optimized article comparing the best models in 2017. It’s ranking #2 organically. Those Sun Dolphins look pretty good, according to your massive comparison chart.
I think about it for a couple of days and go looking again, and I see your Adwords spot advertising your 30% off sale. This is the third time I’ve encountered your brand.
On my day off, I’m doing a local search for your brand, which has impressed me so far. I’m ready to look at these kayaks in person. Thanks to the fact that you properly managed your recent move across town by updating all of your major citations, I’m finding an accurate address on your Google My Business listing. Your reviews are mighty favorable, too. They keep mentioning how knowledgeable the staff is at your location nearest me.
And that turns out to be true. At first, I’m disappointed that I don’t see any Sun Dolphins on your shelves — your website comparison chart spoke well of them. As a sales associate approaches me, I notice in-store signage above his head, featuring a text/phone hotline for complaints. I don’t really have a complaint… not yet… but it’s good to know you care.
“I’m so sorry. We just sold out of Sun Dolphins this morning. But we can have one delivered to you within 3 days. We have in-store pickup, too,” the salesperson says. “Or, maybe you’d be interested in another model with comparable features. Let me show you.”
Turns out, your staffer isn’t just helpful — his training has made him so well-versed in your product line that he’s able to match my needs to a perfect kayak for me. I end up buying an Intex on the spot.
The cashier double-checks with me that I’ve found everything satisfactory and lets me know your brand takes feedback very seriously. She says my review would be valued, and my receipt invites me to read your reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook… and offers a special deal for signing up for your email newsletter.
My subsequent 5-star review signals to all departments of your company that a company-wide goal was met. Over the next year, my glowing review also influences 20 of my local neighbors to choose you over a competitor.
After my first wet, cold, and exciting kayaking trip, I realize I need to invest in a better waterproof jacket for next time. Your email newsletter hits my inbox at just the right time, announcing your Fourth of July sale. I’m about to become a repeat customer… worth up to 10x the value of my first purchase.
“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”
– Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn
There’s a kind of magic in this adventurous mix of marketing wins. Subtract anything from the picture, and you may miss out on the customer. It’s been said that great teams beat with a single heart. The secret lies in seeing every marketing discipline and practitioner as part of your team, doing what your brand has been doing all along: working with dedication to acquire, serve and retain consumers. Whether achievement comes via citation management, conversion optimization, or a write-up in the New York Times, the end goal is identical.
It’s also long been said that the race is to the swift. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch appears to agree, stating that, in today’s world, it’s not big that beats small — it’s fast that beats slow. How quickly your brand is able to integrate all forms of on-and-offline marketing into its core strategy, leaving no team as an island, may well be what writes your future.
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Today it is absolutely essential for companies to establish and maintain positive online reputations. This can take a considerable amount of time and effort, and the unfortunate fact is that it can all come crumbling […]
Source: Search Reputation