Category Archives: Research Methods (Spring 2014)

A Kickstarter campaign that speaks to my caffeine addiction

Think about all the worthy causes and great innovations that aren’t funded just because the idea doesn’t happen to occur to someone with deep enough pockets. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter make financially unattainable ideas suddenly possible, through the help of generous strangers who can securely donate a lot or a little to the campaigns that most interest them.

Kickstarter.com‘s homepage features both staff-picked and local campaigns.

Birmingham Kickstarter

I don’t particularly care to contribute to a documentary about hippos (far right), but I dug further into the Birmingham campaigns to see if there were any causes I’d like to donate to. In the Birmingham category, only seven campaigns are currently open, with one already more than fully funded. None of these projects — poetry workshop, exercise invention, mobile juicery, cat watercolors, pin-up photography, the hippo documentary and a board game (which was the fully funded one) — made me want to contribute money.

On the full page of Birmingham results, many — probably even most — of the closed campaigns were music related. I’m fully aware of how old this makes me sound, but I don’t know a whole lot about Birmingham’s local music scene. (I used to be cool, honest.) So I wouldn’t be interested in donating to bands with which I am unfamiliar. And being a grad student with a full-time job (as many of my classmates are), I don’t have a whole lot of extra time to sink into shows. I do, however, think it’s awesome that these budding artists have a platform that allows them to appeal to their fans; maybe they can only contribute a few dollars each, but those dollars add up in a crowdfunding situation. Judging by the number of successful Birmingham music campaigns, it works.

Moving on. Next, I decided to explore by category rather than location to see if I could find a cause I’d like to contribute to.

kickstarter staff picks

I browsed the design category, and LOOK AT WHAT I FOUND:

IT'S MAGIC. Somebody give these people a Nobel Prize.
IT’S MAGIC. Somebody give these people a Nobel Prize.

It’s the K-pod — a converter that makes “any coffee maker into a K-Cup brewer.”

Genius. Because guess what happens when your Keurig breaks? You’re stuck with tons of K-Cups, as well as a sour taste in your mouth for Keurigs, which is why you don’t just buy another. That’s a true story.  I love my Kitchen Aid coffee maker, and many times I do want to brew a whole pot of coffee. But sometimes, I just want one cup.

Now: Coffee lovers, unite! We must make this K-pod thing happen. Go forth and crowdfund!

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Googling Julie McKinney: No surprises in search — thank goodness

This week’s assignment: Google yourself.

I won’t lie — I’ve done it before. In fact, I search my name fairly regularly just to make sure there’s not anything out there about myself that I didn’t know about. My name isn’t as common as John Smith, but it’s also not as unique as names of many people I know. I think it’s important for me, especially as a digital media professional, to be well aware of how I rank in search and with what. I’m fortunate that there aren’t any criminal Julie McKinneys out there (or at least any with better SEO than me), and I’m glad that I found myself near the top of Google’s search results for my name.

After the link to LinkedIn’s directory of all Julie McKinneys (a list on which I am fourth), the next three links go to my profile on AL.com, which shows the posts, photos and comments I’ve published on the website.

Julie McKinney Google results
Also, the photo in the image results with the red background is me.

After that, there are social profiles for Julie McKinneys who are not me, a link to a Facebook directory of Julie McKinneys (a list on which I’m first), and three more social links to non-me Julies.

The bottom half of the first page.
The bottom half of the first page.

I was somewhat surprised to find other multiple other Julie McKinneys’ social accounts ranking higher than mine. Then I realized that on all my social media profiles, my name includes my maiden name — Julie Clark McKinney. On AL.com, my byline reads “Julie McKinney | jmckinney@al.com” because I dropped Clark to keep my byline from wrapping to a second line. So Google is just trying to most closely match my search, especially since I included quotation marks. Note: When I discarded the quotation marks, the results on Page 1 were very similar, but also included two Google+ posts I’ve made in place of the other Julie McKinneys’ social accounts.

On Page 2, I found two more links related to my work. Without launching into a long explanation, AL.com has sister sites that allow you to comment using your AL.com account, so my profiles on Gulflive.com and Mlive.com also showed up (even though it’s the same account as my AL.com one linked on the first page). And still none of my direct social media links.

But I did find that there’s apparently an actress named Julie McKinney. Although according to IMDB, her career has been rather short, I’m still going to give myself cool points for ranking ahead of an actress.

Julie McKinney the actressOn Page 3, I found a Julie McKinney who was a 2012 Republican candidate for District 51 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, another who is an insurance agent in California and another collection of my profile pages on AL.com’s other sister sites.

My Google+ profile finally made an appearance on Page 4. It’s interesting that the profile I’m least active on is the social account that ranked first — but of course not surprising since this is Google we’re talking about.

When I changed my query to “Julie Clark McKinney,” the full first page was me (mostly social media profile links), including the image search results preview.

Julie Clark McKinney Google results

Since I do keep an eye on my name in Google (and I have Google alerts set up for my name, just to make sure), I was not shocked with my findings this week. But it’s always good to check again!

Update, Feb. 26 at 10:40 a.m.: I just realized that I didn’t try Googling my email address. When I search for my work email, jmckinney@al.com, I get all work-related links. This makes sense, because that email address is included in my AL.com byline. When I search for my personal email address, juliecmckinney@gmail.com, I get my Google+ account, as well as several blog posts to my Blogger and WordPress blogs. If you notice, my blog URL has juliecmckinney in it, too.

Did you have any surprises after Googling yourself?  Do any “celebrities” share your name?

Fun with apps: How Amazon is even more awesome than I realized

I’m a frequent Amazon shopper, but for some reason, I had never downloaded the Amazon app. I have bought items on Amazon using my phone, but I guess I accessed Amazon.com through Safari instead of using the app. I downloaded and explored the app today, and it has earned a permanent spot on my phone.

When the app opens, “Search” and “Shop by Department” options are at the top, followed by a few select products (which were different each time I opened the app as a guest), and sign-in and more navigational tools at the bottom. When I sign in with my Amazon account, those promoted products change to products recommended for me based on my account’s history.

amazon homepage
Obviously, I buy tech stuff on Amazon. The baby food house ad freaks me out a little.

Other than swiping left through the “Wireless Accessories,” this is all you can see on the home screen of the Amazon app. I love the simplicity of it compared to the home page of Amazon.com. Amazon has so much to offer that they could have gone overboard listing products on the first screen in the app, but instead they kept it minimal and emphasized the search features.

And the app has some really cool search features. If you’re browsing, shopping by department is probably easiest. When you’re looking for something specific, there’s the search button at the top and the bottom, just in case you missed one or the other. But here’s where it gets cool: When you tap the search button, in addition to typing in your query, you also get the option to “Scan it” or “Flow.”

amazon search

 

You can probably imagine what “Scan It” does — and it does it very well. I tested it by scanning several items in my pantry, and the app correctly recognized the bar code so quickly, I couldn’t even take a screen shot of the barcode scanner.

Flow, I wasn’t familiar with. When I clicked Flow, it suggested that I focus my camera on a book, DVD or game, so I pulled this book off my bookshelf.

amazon flow
See those bluish dots? Those were moving around on the screen and fixated on the text — I guess so it could “read” the title — before the book result showed up at the bottom. WHAT IS THIS SPACE AGE WE LIVE IN.

I’m not sure how useful this would be within my own home. If I’m “flowing” books, movies or games in my house, that probably  means I already own them. But this is like the Shazaam for shopping out in the world. It allows you to quickly look up products on Amazon to compare prices. I can see the same use for the barcode scanner, in addition to just reordering items you’ve run out of.

Obviously, “Cart” and “Wish List” are useful items, but I won’t go into those since they’re self-explanatory. But I have to share the empty cart message:

Those Amazoners are so clever.
Those Amazoners are so clever.

And here’s what the “More” menu holds:

amazon more menu

Of course I had to check out the deals, and it being Amazon, there are lots of them. At first I didn’t think they were very well organized, but then I noticed an option to “Refine” the deals by category, which makes it much easier to see if there’s a deal on something I’m interested in.

Amazon is somewhat famous for its reviews, and I often look at Amazon’s reviews for a product even when I’m not buying it from Amazon. So what Amazon app would be complete without reviews on each product page? I hope you’ve heard of the reviews for Haribo Sugar-Free Gummy Bears

Hahahaha.
Hahahaha.

Last gushing point: I love the “One-Click” buying option. I realize this is also available on desktop, but I appreciate it even more on my phone. Once I’m signed in and have verified all the things I have to verify, being able to buy something without typing things as important as shipping addresses and credit card numbers using my phone’s keyboard is awesome.

Thanks, Amazon! Loving the app. Now get those drones running.

Trying out Second Life: Flying practice, kind tour guides and ocean-view pools

This week’s grad school adventures took me to Second Life, a 3D world where people create avatars to interact with each other and build homes, other buildings and fantasy environments. I’ve played my fair share of video games, but I’ve never been a PC gamer, so it took me some time to get adjusted to changing from flying to walking to running using my computer’s keyboard.

The first thing I did was pick an avatar. I played with the custom clothes for at least an hour before getting frustrated and choosing an already-put-together avatar that at least shared a few of my own characteristics — brown hair and the most normal looking clothes I could find.

Then, I was ready to explore. When looking at destinations, I chose a category that claimed it was beginner-friendly — a good thing since I was still occasionally running into walls.

second life school

One of the places included this Second Life schoolhouse, which had dozens of these informational boards laying out the basics of Second Life and explaining some of the lingo.

Then I practiced my flying around this zoo.

second life zoo

After I felt I had my movements pretty much under control, I headed over to another beginner-friendly place that actually had other people in it so I could make some new friends.

But I must have still looked pretty awkward, because the first person I got to talk back to me immediately asked if I was new. I told him I was, and he offered to show me around a bit. Here’s how he introduced the virtual world: “Basically in this life, you can do anything that we can do in real life.”

My new friend had been a Second Life resident (what the program’s users are called) since 2006. He had a premium account, which allows you to own land and build your own house, and he said he had actually built two. We teleported to one of his homes, which overlooked a beach and had a pool and very nice virtual furniture inside. My friend was a designer in Second Life who actually sells his virtual goods to make real money. He told me that I could do this, too, with some practice. I told him that he greatly overestimated my Second Life skills.

I don’t see myself spending a lot of time in Second Life, but my experience this week was not an unpleasant one. The people I met were either as clueless as I was (probably because I was mostly hanging out in the newbie spaces) or very kind, like my temporary tour guide. And as we’re facing another round of wintry weather here in Alabama, at least some version of me got to swim in this pool!

second life pool

Survey results: How you get your news and what it means

Last week, I created a survey intended to measure news consumption habits and then wrote about why I wanted to know and what I hoped to find out. A week and a day later, here are the results.

A total of 47 people took my survey — 16 males and 31 females. Here’s the age breakdown:

  • 18-34 —  34 people
  • 35-49 — 8 people
  • 50-64 — 4 people
  • 65 or older — 1

I asked respondents where they live, thinking that I would be able to study differences in news consumption habits by region. But since 78.72 percent of my respondents live in the Southeast, I’m afraid any differences I notice in other regions would not actually be representative of those regions. Here’s the location breakdown:

  • Southeast — 37
  • Northeast — 4
  • Midwest — 2
  • West — 2
  • Southwest — 0
  • Outside the continental U.S. — 2

I also asked for the highest level of education completed since I would imagine that there’s some correlation between education level and desire to be informed on current events and issues. But again, my results were skewed. It seems my social media connections are well educated (and spoiler alert: everyone keeps up with news in some form or another). Four completed some college; 31 hold a bachelor’s degree; and 12 have earned a post-graduate degree.

One person exited the survey at this point, after completing the basic demographic section. You’ll notice a few other questions that were skipped (it shows you at the top of the charts), but those were sort of random; there were no more mass skippings of questions.

Now, for the more interesting stuff. First, I asked about access/subscriptions to various media.

Eight subscribe to a newspaper; 22 subscribe to a magazine; 21 have no print product subscriptions.

Eight subscribe to a newspaper; 22 subscribe to a magazine; 21 have no have print subscriptions. That means a total of 25 people in this survey subscribe to at least one print product, and obviously a few of those people subscribe to both a newspaper and magazine.

digital products“None” was not in the vocabulary for those answering the digital product question. Forty-four said they have a smartphone; 31 have a tablet; 43 have a desktop or laptop computer.

I realized in analyzing these results that I never asked about access to the internet; because I am so plugged in, I just assumed everyone is. That was not a smart survey-maker move, but based on the fact that all respondents said they read news online at some point, I can assume that even if my respondents don’t have access to the internet in their own homes, they have access somewhere.

Moving on.

TV habitsTwenty-seven said they watch local TV news; 27 watch national TV news; 14 do not watch news on TV at all; and two don’t have cable or satellite TV.

I decided to look further into the two without cable, because based on the people I know who don’t have cable, this tends to be an indicator of someone who’s actually very plugged in (and gets their TV content online) rather than meaning that these people don’t like technology. My suspicions were confirmed. One person without cable had print subscriptions, as well as a computer, tablet and smartphone. While he consumed news both online and in print daily, he was more likely to access content in each category digitally. The other mainly consumed news on her computer, tablet or smartphone — and very occasionally on the radio. Both of these respondents were in the 18-34 range.

radio habitsTwenty-nine respondents said they listen to radio news in the car, with radio listening habits dropping off steeply after that commute time. Four listen at home, and three listen at work. Thirteen people said they don’t listen to news on the radio at all, and one (the “other” response) said he only listens to podcasts.

Next, I asked about how often respondents used each type of media. I don’t think that online received the most daily readers will surprise anyone, but the actual numbers might. Thirty-one people said they read news online every day. TV and radio were tied for the next highest daily number at nine each, and print was last with three.

Also notable is that zero people said they never read news online, which is the only medium in this survey that can claim that.

news habits typeLast, I asked a series of questions to determine whether people’s habits varied depending on the category of content.

news habits categoryIn looking at the individual responses, I noticed a number of users chose either mobile or computer across the board.

Based on these results, I would say that sports broadcasters could be awarded the most successful category in the TV world. My and my husband’s habits certainly follow this trend. When watching specifically news on TV, it’s 95 percent SportsCenter and 5 percent local or national news. Otherwise on TV, we’re watching our shows.

Lest you think the older respondents were responsible for the non-digital choices, let me assure you that the print, TV and radio news seekers were varied, and the older respondents in this survey seem comfortable with consuming news digitally. Without access to enterprise-level Survey Monkey or better math skills, I didn’t see any strong correlations between age and digital vs. more traditional media, although this would not be the case when looking at a more complete picture of the population. I must note that the people who took my survey likely got to it because they’re my friend on Facebook, follower on Twitter or follower of my WordPress blog, so all my respondents are likely at least somewhat digitally savvy.

Did anything about these results surprise you? Are there any details I didn’t go into that you’re wondering about? Tell me in the comments!

Paper, TV, radio, internet? Whether one, none or a combination, share how you consume news

How do you get your news?

A large part of my job as AL.com’s statewide community engagement specialist is understanding our users. We want to know what readers want from our news organization and how they want it. The problem is, that’s not a thing you can figure out once and expect it to forever be the same. Our readers’ behavior is constantly changing, as technology evolves and as people adapt to new technology (or, in some cases, not).

Although surveying people about their news consumption habits is not a new idea, it’s still valuable, and one can expect the results to change over time, even if the exact same people are surveyed each time. I don’t consume news the same way I did five or ten years ago. I’ve always been a tech lover, but in recent years, I’ve moved to almost exclusively reading news online — during work hours that means on my laptop, and outside that, I read almost everything on my iPhone or iPad.

How have your news consumption habits changed?

To help paint a picture of the most current news consumption habits, I created a short online questionnaire using SurveyMonkey. First, I ask for basic information: Age, gender, location and education level. The survey would not be useful if I didn’t have personal factors to correlate with the news consumption behaviors that I ask about next.

The second page of the survey asks some simple questions about the respondent’s relationship with print products, TV and radio news, and computers and mobile devices. Then, I use a scale-style question to ask about how many times a week the respondent uses the various media.

Last, I ask about differences in types of content versus the medium. For example, when I read business stories, it’s almost always during my work day, when I’m in front of a computer. However, I often read news on my phone. While I may not always have a computer around, my phone is always within my reach. My news apps’ push notifications tell me when something big is breaking, and I also get a lot of my news from my Twitter app, so it’s natural for me to click through and read the full stories on my phone.

I’m sure I’m not the only person whose habits vary depending on the category of content, so I am interested to see how others prefer to consume different types of stories. The categories I included are news, business, sports, entertainment and living.

So now that you’ve read all about my survey, why not take it? I’ll report my findings here on my blog next week!

Honda’s SEO and the keywords they’re missing

Honda Accord SportThis week, I took a stab at what keywords Honda might want to target for their website. I recently bought a Honda Accord (and I love it), and I tried to think of some of the more generic things I searched for in doing my vehicle research as well as specific terms that include the Honda brand, which Honda would obviously want to target. I kept in mind that Honda sells more than just cars; they also make generators, boats, ATVs, motorcycles and more.

Because users who search for long tail keywords are more likely to make a purchase, I included more detailed phrases than just “cars.” However, Google frowns upon companies with websites targeting superlatives, so I stayed away from things like “cars with best mpg” or “cars with best resale value,” even though these were popular search terms and certainly among some of the phrases I searched when car shopping. These phrases usually took me to review sites and blogs, which I don’t believe I’m alone in trusting more than a company calling itself “the best” anyway.

  • Honda
  • Honda Civic
  • Honda Accord
  • Acura
  • Fuel efficient cars
  • Hybrid cars
  • Motorcycle dealer
  • ATV
  • Quiet generator
  • Honda Marine

I included a few specific models as keywords because they were the most searched terms of Honda’s vehicles, and obviously Honda would want to rank highly for their own popular products. Honda.com or one of its pages (such as automobiles.honda.com/civic-sedan) currently ranks first organically for all of its own branded terms.

Honda keywords for Google
I didn’t include “Honda” in this Google Trends graph because it was so popular that it dwarfed the rest of the chart. Just trust me that “Honda” is way up there, and you can see the rest of this chart better because I left it out.

I also included fuel efficient cars and hybrid cars because many drivers are concerned with helping the environment and their bank accounts by filling up less often. The need for good gas mileage is one that Honda can meet, so they should target users searching for that. Honda has a right rail ad for “hybrid cars,” they don’t show up organically on Page 1. There’s no trace of Honda on Page 1 results for “fuel efficient cars.”

Fuel efficiency keywords for Google

Honda is currently on the first page for “ATV,” so I wouldn’t mess with what they’ve got going with that. But they’re not ranking highly for personal watercraft, generator or motorcycle, so I suggested making those keywords more specific.

Here's a comparison I did for longer tail keywords than just "boat" or "watercraft." As you can see, Honda Marine is actually what a lot of people search for right off the bat.
Here’s a comparison I did for longer tail keywords than just “boat” or “watercraft.” As you can see, Honda Marine is actually what a lot of people search for right off the bat. (The second term is “honda marine” and the last is “personal watercraft.”)

Here are the actual keyword meta tags that Honda’s homepage has listed: honda cars motorcycles watercraft atvs engines generators acura Honda Cars Atvs Engines Generators Motorcycles Watercraft Acura HONDA

And here’s the description: Honda.com – the official site for Honda cars, motorcycles, personal watercraft, ATVs, engines, lawn mowers, generators, marine motors, and Acura cars.

Honda-HTML
This is the top portion of honda.com’s HTML.

Notice in Honda’s keywords they have repeated some of the same phrases — first in lowercase letters and then capitalized. It may help Honda to remove the duplicate words from their keyword meta tags and instead add some of the keywords I suggested.

On honda.com, excluding the photos and logos, here’s how many times the keywords I suggested are used:

  • Honda – 16
  • Honda Civic – 0
  • Honda Accord – 0
  • Acura – 6
  • Fuel efficient cars – 0
  • Hybrid cars – 0
  • Motorcycle dealer – 0 (“motorcycle” appears twice)
  • ATV – 1
  • Quiet generator – 0 (“generator” appears once)
  • Honda Marine – 0

At the very least, Honda might consider adding its vehicle models to the menu on honda.com,  as well as targeting searchers looking for hybrid or fuel efficient vehicles. I noticed that honda.com does have an “Inspiration” section that includes things like “Safety” and “High Mileage Hondas: Mile Makers.” This could be a good spot to add something about fuel efficiency or even Honda’s good resale values.

What have you Googled while car shopping? How could car sellers use that information to better serve you?