Hi, good morning, great to see you here. I’m aware that I’m in an extraordinary position of power, as I’m the person that stands between you and your lunch. So let’s not delay!
I’m talking to you this morning about something that I’m really interested in, but first I’d like to introduce myself -
I have been a writer on the web since 2004. I’ve been a homepage editor at Yahoo and AOL. I’ve worked as a journalist for the BBC website. And for the past 9 years I’ve worked at my own company - Crocstar - writing content for websites and training other people how to do that too.
We work with the UK government, the UN on various programmes, (WFP, WMO), charities and large commercial organisations to help them with the way that they present information on the internet.
I’m going to talk to you this morning about how the digital age has a real impact on your work and why marketing your statistics is your job too. I’ll finish off by giving you five ideas on how you can get the best out of putting your work on the internet.
Let’s set the scene a little. I’m going to make an assumption here: You work with statistics. You collate them, interpret them, analyse them, publish them, understand them, use them. I get it - you love stats.
And you want to share this joy with the world. GOOD. The world needs you. You know this already.
But. Just publishing stats to the web isn’t enough.
I’m worried that this slide is going to make me extremely unpopular in the room!
You can’t just publish the stuff assume everybody saw it, and then forget about it,.
There is SO MUCH information out there that just publishing the content is not enough. You need to do more.
I want to show you around the digital landscape a little bit. Publishing content to the internet brings a whole set of challenges - and I want to show you a few of them so you get a feel for what the web is like and what you’re up against.
It’s not insurmountable, but you need to know what you’re dealing with so that your stats have the best start in life that they can.
That’s around 3.5 billion people. Online. Looking at information. Completing tasks. Paying bills. Chatting to friends. Finding information.
To clarify. There’s another 60% of the world’s population who are yet to get online. So you think it’s busy and confusing NOW? You just wait!
And that’s just on the part of the web that’s indexed. (http://www.worldwidewebsize.com/)
How many of you even look on the second page of Google results? Exactly. I’d rather re-Google (I’m trying to make that a word, by the way)and type a whole new question into the search box. And I’m guessing, so are you.
The first result in Google will get around 35% of the clicks. The next two positions will get around 20% and 10%. I’m sorry I can’t be more accurate (I promise I looked for the stats)
As for the rest of the page 1 and subsequent pages of results… I don’t know if you’ve heard the phrase: “The best place to hide a dead body is the second page of google search results…”
In 2010, the Microsoft Research group did an analysis of page visit durations for over 200,000 different web pages and around 10,000 visits. This chart is the outcome. So this is time along the bottom and up here on the side is the probability that the user will leave the page.
It shows that the first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users' decision to stay or leave. To get several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition - or what the content is about - within 10 seconds. Your writing needs to be extremely clear and focused.
Ok, it’s a small margin, but 53% of the world uses a mobile device to access the internet. Think about the size of your phone and the complicated format of statistics - whether they’re in tables, spreadsheets or PDFs. And now thing about what it’s like to look at those on a mobile. Incidentally - did you know that search engines - and often screen readers - aren’t able to read the contents of PDFs? You’re effectively hiding the information from the world, when you publish in that format.
Because the world just got busy. Very busy. And if you want your information to be found, and understood, you’re going to have to market it in the way that the world is now used to.
You need to help people FIND the content through all of the other stuff out there. Because if you don’t, somebody else will.
Let’s pause for a second and get existential. I’m half French, so this comes pretty naturally to me.
Let’s ask - WHY? Why are we here? Why should you listen to this? Why does this matter?
There are actually a few, really good, reasons why this is important.
A filter bubble happens when website algorithms work out what information a user would like to see based on signals - that’s things like location, past click behaviour and search history. There are up to 57 of these signals. The algorithm will then serve up personalised results. What happens next is that users become separated - or get further away - from information that disagrees with their viewpoint. Basically, it isolates them in their own cultural or ideological bubble. As well as the fact that these algorithms make these choices in the first place - the way they make those choices is not even transparent.
So if you want to reach people who you haven’t reached before, you’re going to have to change the way you present your stuff, otherwise they’ll pretty much NEVER see it.
This sounds a bit cruel, but I don’t mean it in a nasty way. We as humans are programmed to take short cuts. We skim read when we’re online and don’t read full sentences. We look for the bit that will answer our question as quickly as possible and IGNORE the rest. How much of a web page do YOU really read? You definitely don’t look at the adverts! In fact, research shows that people typically only read around 20% of the text on a page. And that’s if they’re interested! And we’ve already seen the dead bodies on page two of the google results.
You can’t rely on people to do the hard work to find information because they won’t.
Scrolling - lose your place Devices made to distract you blink less often - more tiring
There are countless examples about how statistics have told incredible stories. But if we’re not careful, it can go wrong.
For example, just last week in the UK - statistics on the number of deaths associated with air pollution in the UK were published. There was a claim that air pollution in the UK contributes to the shortening of the lives of around 40,000 people a year. You can imagine the hysteria and hype over such a claim.
You’ve spent all this time working on the stats - so you want to be in on the conversation around them. Don’t let some other organisation do that. And risk doing it wrong.
Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation at UK Statistics Authority, writes to Ken Roy, Head of Profession for Statistics at Defra group - it’s all getting a bit dramatic now - and says:
“Currently, it is unclear how you arrived at the upper and lower ranges for the combined estimate of mortality (44,750-52,500). Adding this information would aid understanding and interpretation of the figures.”
But look at what happened in one area in London - residents got together to put up air pollution measurement tubes. Are these people doing the right thing? They’re certainly motivated to do something - which is great - but are they well-informed?
BUT. Was the claim true? The BBC published a ‘reality check’ article.
They said the figure was a statistical construct, not a count of actual deaths. Confusing, especially if you don’t work with stats every day. Imagine if people were able to find, analyse and understand the complexities of these things for themselves.
We need people to be able to find and understand statistics so they can make informed decisions. This is more important now than ever.
Hans Rosling, who passed away recently, talked about the importance of sharing information.
In his TED talk ‘the best stats you’ve ever seen’, from 2006, he draws a diagram of the data buried deep in the earth. Covered by a layer of ‘the internet’, paywalls and passwords. Right at the top is the sun - which represents the public. In order to liberate - as he says - the data, it needs to be searchable.
In the talk he says: “Some countries accept that their databases can go out in the world, but what we really need is, of course, a search function. A search function where we can copy the data up to a searchable format and get it out in the world. And what do we hear when we go around?
“Everyone says, "It's impossible. This can't be done. Our information is so peculiar in detail, so it cannot be searched as others can be searched. We cannot give the data free to the students, free to the entrepreneurs of the world."
And then he says this.
What I’m saying isn’t new - Hans was saying it in 2006!
But it’s more important now than ever. We now have better search engines than ever, so it’s up to us to help them find the stuff.
Here are five ways you can improve the way you market your content on the internet.
It helps the information get found. Don’t just use not just the official name of the stats. That will be included in the content anyway, so repeating it in the title won’t add value.
Tell people what the stats are about, add some analysis or conclusion.
Use everyday words. The ones that people use - remember - the web works by people searching using key words - so in order to get found, you need to match your words with theirs. There are tools that can help you do this - like google trends or google adwords.
Write the analysis in plain English to help people understand it.
In 2012 Professor Trudeau, a legal professor in the States, wrote a paper where he showed the results of his research on people’s preferences for plain language. Staggeringly, he found that people with both lower AND higher levels of literacy and expertise PREFERRED it when things were written in plain language.
At the end of 2016 I joined up with Professor Trudeau to re-run the study. This time we went international and we had three times the number of respondents than the first study. The preliminary results back up what the first study showed - that people PREFER plain language.
The reason? People with higher levels of literacy and expertise typically have more to read in a day, and plain language means they can get through it more quickly.
A peek from that initial study
If you don’t do this, then other organisations will. You might think this doesn’t matter, but it does.
When people find YOUR information first AND they can understand it, it builds trust. Trust is the one thing that has been declining across the board in recent years. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer makes for grim reading:
“For the first time in 17 years, people’s trust declined in every kind of institution we asked about” “Largest-ever drop in trust across institutions of government, business, media and NGOs”
Want to make people trust you and your information? Then focus on make your content findable - it shows you care about your users and the quality of your stats and analysis. It also means you can be involved in the conversation, rather than being left out. People are coming to you, not using someone else’s interpretation.
This point is criminally ignored by almost every organisation. Honestly - don’t feel bad - but please do something about it.
Collect information on how your content is accessed - use the website analytics to help you do this. Look at several metrics together - so not just how many visits to the content, but how long people spent, what’s the scroll depth that they went to and even what page did they go to afterwards? There’s a whole heap of data waiting for you there. Although remember, analytics will tell you what happened but not why.
For that, you will need to talk to your users. Ask what they use the info for? What do they do with it - do they further interpret and analyse it? Mash it with other data? Create infographics or reports? What can you learn about the next step of the process? All this feedback is useful to you, as the person in charge of the first part of the statistics’ life.
And finally, learn as much as you can about user behaviour.
How we read online, what devices we use, how we search, all of that kind of stuff has an impact on how we - as the people at the start of the process - should be presenting that information. That’s not to say you will change how you prepare the stats or the analysis - but the way you publish it to the web may have to change.
There are some brilliant places to start this learning - for example the Nielsen Norman Group - whose research I have mentioned in this talk - do things like eyetracking studies where they look at where users look on a webpage. It really is fascinating stuff.
So in conclusion. The web is big. But it’s not scary, you may need to tweak your content so it’s able to be found and then understood.
I’ll be adding a blog post on this talk to the website, which is Crocstar.com - so for the slides, links and more, please head over there. Thank you.
Because reading online
is actually really hard.
Because statistics tell us
stories, if we let them.
Because you want to be in on
“Currently, it is unclear
how you arrived at the
upper and lower ranges
for the combined estimate
of mortality (44,750-
52,500). Adding this
information would aid
interpretation of the
“But this is what we would
like to see, isn't it? The
publicly-funded data is down
here. And we would like
flowers to grow out on the
net. And one of the crucial
points is to make them
Hans Rosling, 2006