Why I give away the secret sauce

“Why are you telling everyone how to do your job!? Won’t that mean they won’t hire you?

That’s possible. But the folks that I know and work with are, for the most part, scientists, nature centers, and people working to broaden inclusion in STEM. So, I want them to succeed. I want them to succeed even if they don’t give me money.

The purpose of my Unsolicited Advice Column is to help you assess if you need someone external to help with your website re-design, or if you can do it yourself. And it also makes the process of what I do more transparent, so you know what to expect if you hire me.

Awkward meeting

Is Linked in Useful for Biologists?

A lot of people asking about LinkedIn are actually motivated by this question:  “where online should I look for a job, or best position myself to find a job?”  If what you want is for people to find you and offer you a job out of the blue … that’s not gonna happen.

The vast majority of jobs are filled informally. People hire who they know, and who their connections know.  What you need to do is build up your network.

This is usually the part where eyeballs start rolling around; there is nothing worse than “networking” as it’s understood by a lot of scientists.  The image we have is a bunch of fake salespeople frantically exchanging business cards and marketing pitches. EW.

Guess what? You know how to network already. It’s called attending professional conferences.  Or giving advice on lab protocols. Or talking over seminar snacks. Or having a bunch of Twitter/Facebook friends.  Networking doesn’t have to be something you do in a suit.  In fact, let’s call it schmoozing instead of networking, to lower the creepy factor.

Schmoozing is the art of conversation, but with a purpose. Schmoozing is connecting with people, keeping in touch with them — and maybe, someday, benefiting from relationships with them. Schmoozing is investing  time and effort into establishing and maintaining career-related contacts.

These things are NOT schmoozing:

  • Talking only about yourself
  • Thinking only about yourself and what you want
  • Asking directly for a job
  • Beginning a conversation by handing out your resume

The idea is that the relationship is give and take. You share information with your friends that you know will be useful to them; they do the same for you.

A friend that only calls you once a year to find out if you have any job leads for them? Not much of a friend. Don’t be that guy.

Right, so this post was about LinkedIn, remember?

Yep, almost there. LinkedIn is a sort of portfolio/resume organizer. It makes you easier to find online, and creates a professional online identity.   If you are actively job seeking, it’s probably worth the hour or so it will take to set up a nice profile on LinkedIn.  Fill out the form to make an online resume. Link to any websites that are important or show your work. Connect to a few of your friends.

What happens next is up to you.

If you are an academic, and your goal is a home in Academia–you might find that other networking sites like Mendeley.com or Academia.edu are more helpful in making connections.

If you are thinking about working in industry or in non-profits, LinkedIn is very useful.  There are quite a few industry and professional groups that you can join, which immediately connects you to a whole bunch of people. Here’s some of the groups I’m in, for example: 


See the little lock next to some of these? You don’t have to show all of your groups publicly.

Being part of a group mostly lets you see what people with a specific interest are talking about.  But it also lets you know the NAMES and EMPLOYERS of the people that share your interest.

Want to work for the Nature Conservancy? Go to their website, and you have no idea who to address your cover letter to.  On LinkedIn, you can look to see who works there. And in what division.  And you can do a little investigation and maybe even figure out their phone number and email, and call and introduce yourself.

THAT is what LinkedIn is for. That is how I used a connection with a former graduate student  to connect me to a Google recruiter, and scored an informal interview.  Alas, it didn’t work out (I think I would have made an AWESOME collegiate recruiter; Google was less convinced). But I got way farther, and learned more, than I ever would have applying via the giant automated funnel that is the Google Online Application system.

I’ve also used LinkedIn to find past bosses to help verify employment, as well as just watch the careers of former students grow and develop.

If you try to use LinkedIn as a place to selfishly pump people for employment information, and ONLY that, then won’t work for you. LinkedIn is a handy database of people that you like, and that you occasionally may ask for a favor.  If you become a person that shares useful information freely, posting things that help others, you’ll find that people will gravitate towards you.

LinkedIn is based in Karma. To paraphrase a cliche, “don’t pay love back; pay it forward.”

That’s how you use LinkedIn.

[Important Warning: do NOT let LinkedIn access your contacts or address book. It will send irritating emails in your name for months to all your friends. LinkedIn Corporate is apparently not concerned with bad karma. ]

Keyboard with brackets

FaceBook vs Google traffic (again!)

A continual theme in my unsolicited advice is trying to figure out how best to get eyeballs on your content, and how Google and Facebook contribute traffic. It’s an ongoing back and forth between two giants.

graph of referrals from Facebook and Google in 2017

There are a few new bits of data to add to the ongoing discussion. Recode has 2017 traffic data, and it looks like Facebook’s new  policies of prioritizing families and friends in their feed led to a drop in referral traffic for news (and a corresponding increase by Google referrals).

An interesting, though not direct, confirmation of those changes in Facebook algorithm can be seen in this article from Neiman Labs; over 70% of articles in feeds are now from friends and families. News content: less than 10%.

There also has been an increase in traffic coming through the Google AMP service, or Accelerated Mobile Pages.  AMP is a competitor for Facebook Instant Articles, and they both try to do the same thing: serve up content from all over the web as fast as possible. With the caveat, of course, that you remain within the Facebook or Google Ecosystem when you consume those articles.

There is also an interesting new feature in Google’s Chrome browser. When you open Chrome, it will suggest news items for you (if you are an android user). This obviously leads to increased traffic for suggested web pages, but it’s too early to say much about how those pages are chosen or how much traffic it generates.

The ultimate take-home message for content creators is still the same: don’t ignore Facebook or Google. You have to optimize for both.

Google “Promoted” search results are…..terrible.

WSJ has a new long, wonky article about web traffic that is just the sort of thing I love.  And, like a lot of news about our online ecosystem, it’s a bit depressing.

When you search in Google, it often puts “featured snippets” or “knowledge cards” at the top of the search results. You may also see a list of similar questions under “People also ask.” The problem is that the answers are sometimes bogus, and sourced poorly.

graph showing increase of google answers
From WSJ

“A study this year by Stone Temple, a prominent analyst of the industry, showed Google’s search engine answered 74.3% of 5,000 questions, and on those answers it had a 97.4% accuracy rate. Both percentages are higher than services from AmazonInc., AppleInc. and Microsoft Corp.

Yet since Google handles trillions of queries a year, even a 2.6% error rate suggests Google serves billions of answers a year that are incomplete, irrelevant or wrong.”       [emphasis mine]

I’ve certainly seen this in action in queries about insect identification or pest control.

How NOT to control Fire Ants, via Google

screenshot from google
The suggestions from Google about controlling Fire ants are TERRIBLE

Here’s an example: Suggestions for controlling fire ants.  Gasoline and grits! That will end well.

Note that there is a tiny “report inappropriate predictions” box in the lower right corner — so this is an opportunity to tell Google that Kill It With Fire Is A Terrible Idea.

Let’s say you search for fire ants and grits; a common home remedy. The featured snippet tells you that instant grits will kill fire ants. NOPE.

(Here’s an authoritative article about what does and doesn’t work in home remedies. FYI: none of these are effective. )

screenshot of incorrect recommendation
Very incorrect featured snippet from Google Search

Note that again, there’s a tiny little feedback link at the bottom right of the Knowledge Card. Give feedback on both good and bad results for entomological results! Help Google do better.

screenshot of feedback form
Google Knowledge card feedback form

Google gives priority to responses that have detailed comments about why the suggested information is wrong, and links to better, more authoritative resources.

So the next time you search for something and get terrible results, take action!

Facebook Page Traffic: Still a Problem

I wrote earlier here about how traffic on non-profit Facebook pages is radically reduced because of algorithm changes. Some new data has been added from the Chicago Tribune:

Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse

To give you a sense of scale, the Trib has over 500,000 followers on Facebook, much larger than most non-profits or small businesses. And yet, here’s some of the traffic stats they shared:

From Chicago Trib

If you want a really thorough and wonky discussion of what this means, what Facebook recommends, and what to do next, check out this article. It’s not encouraging for those of us who manage pages with a much smaller audience.