Four Things About #fakenews


Another quarter has rolled around and I’ve written some more random opinions for MarketLeader magazine. As per last quarter, if you’re a WARC subscriber you can read it on their website but they allow me to stick the ‘original submitted version’ on here, as long as it carries the disclaimer “Unedited Version” and the credit “Reproduced with permission of Market Leader, the strategic marketing journal for business leaders. To subscribe visit© Copyright Warc and The Marketing Society.”

As a special bonus for BETC blog readers the ‘original submitted version’ omits a typo that was introduced in the version printed by Market Leader. Spot it and you might win a prize. (You won’t win a prize)

Here it is:

#fakenews is a cultural blob that incorporates the feelings that everyone is lying, that shouting is truth and that feelings trump facts. It’s not well-defined, it’s not easy to poke at, that’s probably its power. But I thought it was worth exploring because we’re all in the business of explanation and persuasion and we’re doing that in a #fakenews world. And, of course, it’s all our fault.

1. We Are The Problem

Ev Williams knows quite a lot about the internet. He was in at the invention of Blogger and Twitter. He did an interview with the New York Times recently and diagnosed the #fakenews problem like this: ”The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.”  What Mr Williams doesn’t have to say, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of, is that the mechanism that drives this behaviour is advertising. The internet rewards attention with cash because of advertising. We built that model. We didn’t build a model that rewards high quality content or trust-worthy media owners or decent editorial environments. We attempted to abstract all that away, reducing our metrics to disembodied qualities like ‘eyeballs’ and ‘clicks’. We forgot that there were people involved and that our decisions had consequences. It’s understandable, of course, we tried to create a complex, global, interactive media ecology from scratch in a dozen years or so. We were bound to get it wrong. Print newspapers have had several hundred years to sort it out and they’re not much better. But, this is where we are. Advertising is what makes it economically sensible for smart people in Macedonia to make up lies about US politics and put them on the internet.

2. It’s Just Going To Get Faker

The problem now is that all the news is just going to get faker. Machine learning is not far from making it trivially easy to generate, for instance, video of anyone saying anything. Look at the University of Washington’s Synthesising Obama project; they can take a piece of audio combine it with a bit of talking head video and make an entirely plausible video of Obama saying a thing he never said. That, of course, has been possible for a while with special effects and clever technicians, the problem now is that we’re a few years away from it being a 69p app on your phone, something you can do to anyone. This will be an annoyance for politicians and celebrities, but they’ll be able to prove the untruth through detailed, probably expensive evidence of being somewhere else at the time. But what happens when someone uses it to produce evidence of the staff in your shop abusing them? or of a sales person promising them an impossible deal? What happens when technology weaponises fraud and abuse? It’s going to be a mess.

3. The opposite of Fake is Open. And detailed. And boring. Not short sentences.

We’re also going to have to abandon some of the rhetorical styles of sales and marketing. I used to work at Nike’s advertising agency and we use to joke that our key advantage was that we could ‘fake authenticity’ better than anyone else. There are, or were, clear, well known stylistic, rhetorical flourishes that made communications feel ‘true’. Simple, blunt language. Plain-spoken-ness. Regular demotic speech. Short sentences. But that’s how Trump talks too. That’s how #fakenews is spread. That’s what Goop do. If you want a ‘trusted brand’ you’ll have to a) (obviously) be trust-worthy and b) be detailed and precise about explaining yourself. It will feel too long and too boring, it will feel like too much work. But the slogans aren’t working. Not everyone will read the detail but they’ll like to know that it’s there. Hopefully this will spell the end of the empty brand manifesto. All those short sentence. Saying nothing. At length. With that music.

4. Pay attention to the bottom of the page

Part of that detailed work will be at the bottom of your website where the caveats lurk. Clear, honest Terms and Conditions might be the best way to fight #fakenews. You’re probably rewriting them anyway because of GDPR so perhaps you could pay extra attention and really make them sing. Innocent smoothies made the words on the back of the bottle a competitive landscape, maybe GDPR will do the same for terms and conditions. 

(If you want to get a head start on thinking about this stuff have a look at what the design consultancy IF have put together at


Russell Davies is chief strategy officer at BETC, a contributing editor for Wired, and a relentless mucker-about on the internet. Follow @fourthingsabout on Twitter for a stream of links and articles related to this quarter’s topic.


2017 Social Media Specs


By Sarah Malvin, Junior Strategist

With the social media space in constant flux, it can be difficult to keep up with the ever-changing specs for each channel. For those who know the numbers by heart, that’s very impressive. For everyone else, here is a quick cheat sheet with the most frequently used dimensions for visuals that are cropped as close to perfect as you can get.


2017 social media network specs


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Our work: Steakation campaign

Son of Steak Steakation logo

Summer. Seems like a distant memory. But back in the sunshine season, did you spot our campaign for Son of Steak?

There’s loads to do in Nottingham during the summer and Steakation (yep, that one’s ours) drew visitors to the city – and the restaurant – for a day out. By showing proof that they’d made the most of any city centre attraction, all lucky, hungry Steakationers landed 20% off food between 12 and 6pm, boosting trade at these quieter hours.

After coming up with the initial Steakation concept, we designed an identity and created marketing material including flyers and social posts. We also made a cow, which we took to Nottingham Beach for the day to promote the new campaign and spread the word. Known as Eddy Bull, he’s now a permanent restaurant fixture.

Read more about our Son of Steak here, or take a look at our work for their social media channels. We’ll leave you with Eddy.

Son of Steak cow, Eddy Bull

The post Our work: Steakation campaign appeared first on we think.

“Fresh Thoughts” from Legal Sea Foods

Following a string of somewhat controversial ads, our new “Fresh Thoughts” campaign brings together humor and wit in an otherwise not-so-funny seafood sphere. This new campaign targets seafood enthusiasts that are willing to chuckle for a change.

Seafood is known to be one of the greatest brain foods, and the new ads that ask if “squid sign their name in ink” or if “jellyfish [would] taste good with peanut butter” give suburbanites something to think about on the T.

View all the print ads:


Why This Company Implemented A Learning Sabbatical For Its Employees

A sabbatical doesn’t have to involve traveling to a far-flung location.

Here at Buffer, we believe in constant experimentation and self-improvement. You might know this if you’ve followed along with our experiments in self-management or making regular changes to our vacation policy to try and find the best fit. This time, we’re experimenting with teammates taking a learning sabbatical.

Read Full Story

Understanding the German Federal Election Results

By Axel Wallrabenstein, Chairman, MSL Germany What is the election result? Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in yesterday’s German federal election. However, with losses of 8.5% her position is weakened, and this is likely to be her last term as Chancellor. Following their worst result in post-war history (20.5%; -5.2%), the Social Democrats […]

The post Understanding the German Federal Election Results appeared first on MSLGROUP’s Blog Critical Conversations: Critical Conversations.

Our newest regional leads have arrived in APAC

Stephen Tompkins and Haruna McWilliams have spent their careers working all over the world. Before joining Essence Singapore as our head of media activation in APAC, Stephen held roles in New York and Beijing. Haruna spent time in the US, UK, and Japan before taking the role of APAC regional strategy lead, a newly-created position here. Together they will help us continue to expand our presence in the Asia-Pacific region, with Stephen overseeing our social, display, and search teams and Haruna further developing our strategy offering there.

They say it’s about the journey, not the destination, but as we continue to forge a new path in APAC, we’re happy Stephen and Haruna have arrived at our Singapore office.

Learn more in Marketing.

Technical SEO Audit Checklist for Human Beings: September 2017 Update


Updated September 13, 2017. Changes include:

  • Made each line easier to understand
  • Added pointers for going straight to the relevant reports in each tool#
  • Changed which tool to use for some rows
  • Added more Google references
  • Removed a couple dubious lines (site speed, HTTP/2)
  • Removed superfluous timing column
  • Removed whole sections that made the audit less MECE
  • Fixed cases where some cells would say “Incomplete” and others wouldn’t

Thanks everyone who has provided feedback over the last year!

Technical audits are one of the activities that define SEO. We’ve all done them. But audits are only as valuable as their impact. Whether you’re a practitioner or an agency partner, your job really begins when you finish the audit. You must take your recommendations and make them a reality. Distilled thrives on this “effecting change” mindset.

Yet the (long, laborious) audit has still got to be done. We sift through crawls, consider best practices, analyze sitemaps—the list goes on.

But we’re committed to the technical audit. So if we’re going to audit a site, why not do the audit in a way that makes the fun part—making change happen—much easier?

The challenge

With that in mind, we asked “Can we design an audit that helps make real change happen?” The result is an aware technical audit checklist. It considers the underlying problems we’re tackling (or trying to prevent). It makes technical audits faster, more effective, and more impactful.

Read on for more about how to put the checklist to use. Many on our team find it self-explanatory, though, so if you want to get cracking have at it! And then let us know what you think.

Every great audit starts with a checklist!

There are lots of technical checklists out there. A good technical audit inspects many things in many places. Checklists are perfect for keeping track of this complexity. They’re simple tools with lots of benefits. Checklists are:

  • Comprehensive. Without a checklist, you may still discover the obvious technical problems with a site. Using a checklist ensures you remember to check all the relevant boxes.

  • Productive. Working without a checklist takes more effort. At each stage you have to decide what to do next. The checklist answers this question for you.

  • Understandable. Unfortunately an intern can’t osmose your intuition! Rigorously defining your work with a checklist lets you delegate audits.

This checklist is better

Technical SEO has one purpose: ensure site implementation won’t hurt search visibility. Everything we uncover leads back to that point. This defines the scope of the audit.

Beyond that, many folks break down technical to-dos by where they need to look or what tool they need to use. They might look at all on-page elements, then move on to all sitemap issues. That’s a valid way of approaching the problem. We’ve got an alternative.

We look ahead to the conversations we’ll have after we’ve done the audit. Consider this (realistic) statement: “We’re concerned that important content isn’t indexed because URLs aren’t discovered by crawlers. Submitting a sitemap to Search Console might help fix the problem.”

This is a coherent technical recommendation. It explains why to make a change. It has 3 parts:

  1. Outcome – important content isn’t indexed.

  2. Cause – URLs aren’t discoverable by crawlers.

  3. Issue –  we haven’t uploaded sitemaps to Search Console.

That’s the difference: you’ll see this is exactly how we’ve structured the checklist. Take a moment to jump over and inspect it with this model in mind. By now you’re probably getting the idea—this isn’t just a technical checklist. It’s a also a tool for communicating the value of your work.

The structure encourages completeness

Each row of the checklist represents a problem. By including the right problem at each level, we also make it as complete as possible, without adding redundancy. The principle of MECE (“Mutually Exclusive, Comprehensively Exhaustive”) is what makes it work. At each level of analysis, we:

  • include all possible problems, and

  • ensure problems don’t overlap.

Let’s illustrate, using the highest level of analysis. The checklist as a whole is investigating whether “we have a technical problem with our site that is reducing search visibility”. There are 3 reasons we could lose search traffic because of a technical issue:

  • there is a technical reason good content isn’t indexed, or

  • there is a technical reason indexed content doesn’t rank for desired terms, or

  • there is a technical reason site content isn’t well-presented in search.

These represent all the possible problems we could be dealing with (“comprehensively exhaustive”). They also don’t overlap (“mutually exclusive”).

By applying the same way of thinking recursively, we expose all sub-problems in these areas. Then we list all issues that could be causing these sub-problems. This makes the checklist as thorough as possible, without redundant checks that could slow us down.

A few pointers

Getting started

This checklist template is available to the public. When you open it, you’ll discover that you only have “view” permissions for the master document. To use it, you’ll first want to create a copy:

Marking status

Mark each issue with Pass, OK, or Fail:

  • Pass means you have no concerns.

  • OK means the issues doesn’t seem relevant currently.

  • Fail means something appears to be wrong.

When you update an Issue, the grade for the Cause and Outcome will also be updated. If any Issue’s score is Fail, the Cause and Outcome will also Fail.

Find what you’re looking for quickly

People new to search engine optimization can still start using this sheet. We’ve now added a “Start Here” column to make it faster than ever to get started.

For new users of some of these tools, it might not be clear where to find relevant information. The “Start Here” column points you to the exact place you can find the details you need.

Understand what’s at stake

If you’re the person analyzing the audit after it’s done, you want to get a high-level picture quickly. Use the structure of the sheet to simplify that view by filtering the Issues rows.

Filtering for Outcomes and Causes gives you a quick-and-dirty summary of a site’s strengths and weaknesses. This is the first thing I look at when I see a completed audit!

Filtering related tasks

If you’re the one doing the audit, you want to get it done as quickly as possible. Take advantage of the structure of the sheet to group things

Take advantage of the structure of the sheet by showing only the issues you’re inspecting right now. Try filtering by the “Where” column—for “Google Search Console”, for instance. This will let you grade all Issues for that tool at once.

We want to learn from you, too

This checklist is a living document. We appreciate any feedback you have. Feel free to jump in the comments section here or find me on Twitter: @BenjaminEstes.

Interested in working with us?

This audit is an example of the way Distilled approaches consulting. We aren’t limited to SEO—we also help our clients with marketing strategy, content design and production, paid search, and more. If our approach sounds interesting, please reach out!


Connect the dots

“Alexa. Jeopardy!”

Mary and I play the New York Times Mini Crossword every morning. Jeopardy every night. We don’t play for fun. We play to win, and therein lies DNA for future brand experiences.

I remember walking on the Boston Common last summer, a family meet-up and movie night. The Common was set-up with Capital One’s summer concert experience, so I wandered over to take a look. What I discovered was that only a few people were listening to the main stage music, fewer still in the VIP area. Everything had been set-up perfectly, but not many were engaged.

My phone buzzed. The brood was hungry. Still, I thought it a perfect time to show off some of what I do. Even if not well attended, we were standing in a well-designed and well-funded sponsorship activation.

“Take a look at these brand experiences,” I declared pointing at GEICO’s Airstream, LL Bean’s Pop-up Tent and Red Bull’s eighteen-wheeler, all of whom surrounded the Main Stage.

“Each of these are million dollar experiences,” I added.

The kids, not all that interested, remained glued to their phones deep into finding Pokémon Go! rewards.

“Dad, take a look around. What do you see?” my son prompted.

Scanning the Common, I noticed hundreds of people searching for something.

“They’re all playing Go!” he offered, showing me his virtual world. There might have been as many people wandering as there were watching the concert. For now, Go! is gone, but that moment sticks with me.

In a world where we are all literally looking at one screen or another 30% of the day, we now naturally combine the addictive nature of social media with our daily lives. As we walk, talk, and work, we’re no looker looking at each other or our surroundings, and yet we are engaged, much to the chagrin of anyone over forty. A hundred years ago, the radio was frightening too.

Today, we’re talking to our computers in earnest. Alexa, Siri and the others are in our cars, homes and heads. They offer a new kind of experience, a conversational one, featuring some of the same dopamine hits as the ones kids were chasing last summer.

I love Alexa, talk to her every morning and every evening. I love Facebook, post pictures and essays daily. I love the NY Times Mini, compete with all the generations of my family for fastest time. This is all social, competitive, and fun. The brands who mix it up and mix it in will win.

When I say “Alexa. Jeopardy!”, the music starts and Alex Trebek announces, “This! Is Jeopardy.”

I say, “This is life!” These, the new brand experiences. And the companies who connect the Dots are going to win.

The post Connect the dots appeared first on Jack Morton.