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The Protolabs Cool Idea award offers recipients funding and manufacturing support for groundbreaking ideas and business plans.
Past winners have included a flatware company for people undergoing chemotherapy and a device for astronauts to use on the moon.
Even if you’re not a Protolabs award recipient, you’ll need to take several crucial steps to turn your great idea into a business.
This article is for entrepreneurs and anyone interested in founding a business based on an innovative idea.
At the heart of every groundbreaking business is a great idea. Original concepts that address real-world problems in innovative, compelling ways create products that meaningfully improve customers’ lives. However, having a great small business idea isn’t enough on its own. It takes time, organization, materials, and often a substantial financial investment to transform a great idea into a successful business.
The Protolabs Cool Idea Award aims to help innovators start their businesses. The organization’s work over the past decade offers budding entrepreneurs a glimpse into exactly what it takes to turn your idea into a product and set up your business for success.What is the Protolabs Cool Idea contest?
Protolabs — a provider of computer numerical control (CNC) machines and injection-molded parts — awards a manufacturing grant called the Cool Idea Award to innovative entrepreneurs who address underserved needs. Winners receive awards worth up to $250,000 and the manufacturing and promotional support that can be challenging for entrepreneurs and small business owners to establish independently.
Protolabs offers grant recipients assistance from its expert engineers to help optimize creative business ideas for manufacturing, including:
Access to the company’s CNC machining
Sheet metal fabrication
Injection molding services
Widespread promotion through the Protolabs network
The company created the Cool Idea program to stimulate innovation by helping deserving products move past the idea stage to actual market viability. The contest focuses on concepts that fall into one of the following categories:
Student-led ideas emerging from universities
Projects that come from nonprofits or mission-driven startups
Medical devices for use among patients or in hospitals
Concepts that support environmental sustainability, reduce waste, or address climate change
So far, over 40 inventions spanning various industries have won the Cool Idea award. Here’s a look at two extraordinary winners:
Flatware for cancer patients: Don Ladanyi, of Westlake, Ohio, was chosen as the first-ever recipient in 2011 for TruFlavorWare, his nonmetallic, organic, taste-inert flatware that aims to make food taste better for chemotherapy patients and others with elevated sensitivities to metal and plastic flavors. Ladanyi developed the idea for TruFlavorWare after dining with chopsticks and realizing how bamboo’s neutrality enhanced the food’s flavor. TruFlavorWare is currently sold via Amazon, Walmart, and other major retailers.
Space suit accessory: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s (ERAU) Spacesuit Utilization of Innovative Technology Lab students received a recent Cool Idea award for their otherworldly Luna Modular Operations Tool Holster (LunaMOTH) concept. The LunaMOTH is designed for astronauts to use while working on lunar surfaces. This space suit accessory lets users easily remove and replace tools from their utility belts — even when working on the moon. Its unique oblong shape helps it remain operational and accessible even under extreme conditions while covered in lunar dust, or when the user has limited visibility and mobility. Protolabs has supported this effort by digitally manufacturing parts for the LunaMOTH.
Did You Know?
Business grants like the Cool Idea Aware are excellent ways to raise funds for your small business, especially in the early development stages. Depending on your business’s needs, many nonprofit, private, and government grant options are available.A cool business idea is only the beginning
You can’t have a great product without a cool idea, but a cool idea isn’t enough on its own. The Protolabs Cool Idea winners all must present fantastic, original concepts. However, they also must have a sturdy foundation for their product’s development and success.
In most cases, Protolabs intervenes near the end of a product idea’s development, offering an extra boost to bring it into the world and the hands of the people who need it — whether they’re chemotherapy patients, astronauts, or anyone else.
In addition to addressing a social, medical, or environmental need, Protolabs Cool Idea applicants must already have the following:
Business plan: Protolabs Cool Idea applicants must present a complete business plan that elucidates the product’s anticipated funding, existing plans for scaling production and distribution, and a marketing plan.
Viable product prototype: Protolabs also must verify that it has the correct tools to manufacture the end product, so applicants’ devices must be past the prototyping stage. They must have designed and tested a prototype and considered what ongoing product production might resemble. For example, before working with Protolabs, ERAU students had already designed, tested, and redesigned LunaMOTH many times using different materials, sizes, and environments.
The Protolabs process offers meaningful guidance for anyone trying to breathe life into a business idea.How to come up with a cool business idea — and make it a company
Maybe you want to bring a new product into the world but can’t think of an idea that excites you. Perhaps you already have a winning idea but can’t quite bring it to the next level.
In either case, taking a few practical steps can help you become one of the next great innovators, even if you aren’t working with a company like Protolabs.1. Find a market niche to inspire your innovative idea.
If you’re unsure where to start, try to identify problems or pain points a new product or service could address. Become a keen observer of your daily life and ask the following questions:
What hurdles, small or large, do you face each day?
Is there something in your home, on your commute, or in your office that needs improvement?
If you’re focused on your workplace, what issues have you or your coworkers experienced recently
Answering these questions will help you identify a market niche and determine how to reach it with your product.
Use Google Analytics to help identify an underserved niche market or a market laden with unsatisfactory offerings. After identifying a market in need, fine-tune an offering that solves its issues.Trust your cool ideas, and don’t be afraid to fail
Protolabs recognizes the value of pursuing a great idea. Not all of its grant recipients’ ideas have taken off in their unique markets or entered the mainstream but all were worthwhile. Participants gained valuable insights they can apply to their next great idea.
Treat your own great ideas with the same grace and care. If you let the fear of failure stop you before you even begin building your concept — let alone iterating on your idea — you risk missing out on something great. But if you take the time to nourish your cool ideas with the time, infrastructure, and resources they need, they could transform into a vibrant business.
Chad Brooks contributed to the reporting and writing of this article.
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There are many ways that educators can interrupt inequities and build equitable schools. We can disaggregate classroom and school data to see which groups of students are thriving in our school and which are not.
An examination of our history and social studies curriculum reveals large gaps in a commitment to equity. There are gross distortions in the depictions of some groups of people — particularly of people of color — and there are entire histories that have been left out of our history books, again, particularly the histories of people of color. We will not have equitable schools until a great many experiences are included in history texts and curriculum.
We can incorporate instructional practices that are culturally responsive. We can reflect on our teaching practices and identify our own implicit biases. We can examine the curriculum we offer students — we can look at what we teach and what we don’t.
I want to share a story, a very true story, that has been omitted from history and collective memory for far too long. Of the many stories I could choose from (unfortunately, there are far too many) I’m telling this story because so few know it.The Tulsa Greenwood Massacre
Had you walked through Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood in 1921, you would have seen an economically thriving African American community within a segregated city. You would have seen restaurants and clubs, furniture stores, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and schools. You would have seen lovely, large homes inhabited by people, many of whom had left the South and settled in Oklahoma where there was land, where lynching was less widespread than in the South, and where there was work.
Many African American men, willing to tolerate the filthy and dangerous oil fields, prospered in the oil boom. Because of this community’s prosperity, the African American Greenwood neighborhood was unique in the United States.300 Killed, 8,000 Left Homeless
And then on Memorial Day, 1921, Tulsa’s white citizens attacked the Greenwood residents. Thousands of armed white men invaded the neighborhood, indiscriminately killing people, looting their businesses and homes, and burning their community to the ground. The city government provided machine guns and bayonets to the rampaging white Tulsans, as well as airplanes. The attackers flew over the neighborhood, shooting at the residents and bombing their homes and businesses.
Within a few days, an estimated 300 African Americans were killed, 8,000 Greenwood residents were left homeless, and almost 2,000 buildings were burned to the ground. Survivors were rounded up and interned by the National Guard. Many of the homeless spent the following year living in tents pitched in the ruins of the neighborhood.Erased From History
Soon after, the story essentially disappeared. It was buried so deeply that people who were born and raised there, including mayors and district attorneys, said they had never heard of the attack until recent decades.
The survivors were traumatized. Terrified that their children would fear another massacre, they did not speak of what had happened — not with each other and not to their children. The survivors rebuilt, but Greenwood never returned to its former prosperity.Transforming Curriculum: Inclusivity
This event, known in most places as the “Tulsa Race Riot,” is omitted from far too many history books. While Pearson mentions the event in its textbooks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw-Hill do not. It was not until 2012 that students in the Tulsa Public Schools began learning about the “Race Riot.”
If we are to build truly equitable schools, the story of the Greenwood Massacre – and other similar events – must be included in our textbooks and curriculum. Silence implicitly condones the perpetrators and shames the victims. Silence, denial, and omission also prevent us from having the conversations that our country needs in order to reconcile with our past and heal our traumas.
It is an act of social justice to include the histories of those who have not had access to the power and resources to tell their own stories. Educators committed to equity can find ways to include this history – and others that haven’t been told – and they can find ways to invite their own students and their families to tell the stories they want to tell about who they are and their histories.
To learn more about the Greenwood massacre, see the Greenwood Cultural Center. If you visit Tulsa, be sure to visit the Greenwood Cultural Center, and walk through the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, which opened in 2014 and has several memorials dedicated to those who were murdered in the riot.Resources
For more resources on expanding your curriculum, check out the following:
The incredible success that entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs were able to have without completing higher education programs established a sentiment that earning your degree might not be necessary to make it big in the startup world. Although schooling has always been an important part of learning tricks of the trade for fields like accounting, marketing, and medical, entrepreneurs have traditionally felt like the higher education funding programs and curriculum available didn’t quite fit their needs. Fortunately, universities and scholarship providers across the nation are starting to hear aspiring entrepreneurs’ cry for support.
Over the past few years, universities, colleges, and technical schools have begun installing programs and resources designed specifically to fit the needs of entrepreneurial-minded students. Many have gone beyond simply adjusting curriculum or adding courses and have created entire buildings specifically for entrepreneurial-focused programs.
Here are four ways higher education is working to become a major player in the future of the startup world.1. On-Campus Incubators
Business incubators have been in schools across the U.S. since the 1950s. Although their traditional roots of providing aspiring business owners with the tools and resources they need to get started have not changed, the type of businesses they focus on has begun to change.
Incubators are now more focused on businesses within the tech sphere, which caters more to the startup world.
Schools are listening to what their students are asking for and providing entrepreneurs who are interested in the startup world with the guidance, materials, and programs they need to get a leg up in the industry.
The Simone Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology provides students with degree programs and curriculum designed specifically to nurture entrepreneurial minds and build upon tech-focused business models. The center takes on students at all levels to provide them with the resources and guidance they need to take their ideas to the next level.
Another on-campus incubator the startup world is excited about is the Harvard Innovation Lab. The program provides innovation challenges, cross-university courses, and startup launch labs to help Harvard students build and launch their startups while completing their coursework to earn their degrees.2. Creative Scholarships
Scholarships have traditionally been awarded based on academic achievement or participation in collegiate sports. Although these are both fantastic routes for some students to take as they look for options to fund their higher education efforts, many entrepreneurial-minded students have different interests and talents in the tech sphere that don’t fit within these areas. This is why the addition of creative scholarships over the past few years has helped more entrepreneurs pursue their goals of earning a college degree.
Scholarship programs like the video gaming scholarship at Ohio University, the robot competition scholarship from FIRST, and the Intel Science scholarship for research projects provide alternative routes for tech-minded students to fund their schooling with their unique talents.3. Entrepreneur Housing
Some schools have taken their incubator programs a step further in providing not only specific programs and resources for entrepreneurs, but special housing as well.
The Lassonde Institute at the University of Utah offers up entrepreneur housing that allows students to literally live at the office while they work to bring their ideas to life. The $45 million dollar residential building houses 400 students who earn their spot through an application process.
Georgetown University also offers student housing for entrepreneurs who would like to experience living where they work during the first year of their college career.4. Venture Competitions
One of the most difficult steps an entrepreneur is tasked with on the journey to bringing an idea to life is securing funding. Although this usually involves getting their foot in the door with VCs and crafting an amazing pitch to sell them on an idea, some schools are helping their entrepreneur students make this process a bit easier by setting up venture competitions.
Boston College hosts an annual venture competition where students submit their business plans to be reviewed by a panel of judges. The selected winners receive prizes of up to $15,000 in funding to help them get a solid start on growing their ideas into profitable businesses.
USC Marshall has a competition designed specifically for female entrepreneurs. The Marshall Women’s Pitch Competition accepts submissions from teams of current students who go head-to-head in a pitch-battle. The group of talented students who win this competition are also awarded up to $15,000.
Higher education and entrepreneurism are two things that have never seemed to go hand-in-hand in the past. Although there are many successful business owners who have completed their studies while growing their businesses, it seems like some of the most well-known of the bunch left school before they earned their degrees. Fortunately, schools and the programs that support them are changing things up a bit in hopes of becoming a bigger influence on this generation’s biggest names in the startup world.
The mobile app revolution has made it so easy to use your smartphone. You can download apps that will help you eat healthily and maintain a healthy diet to make your life easier. You can also download apps to help you budget or with other common chores. These apps were created by people who saw a problem and devised a solution using modern technology. Perhaps you are one of those people who are interested in creating an app for themselves but don’t know where or how to begin.
Although you have an idea for a solution, you may not have the skills or knowledge to design and create your mobile app. You need to find the right mobile app development companies or developers to help you make your idea a reality.
You need to make sure that you are dealing with an experienced and knowledgeable person who can help you through the entire process. It can be hard to find the right mobile application development company with so many companies available. We have put together a list of steps to help you make the right choice.Analyze Your Budget
App developers will likely ask you how much money you are willing to spend on your mobile app idea once you have told them about it. This is where you build trust with your mobile app developers. Therefore, it’s important that you are honest about the amount you will spend. Do your research about the market before you start looking for a developer team. Next, you will need to create a budget that is closer to the market price. Once you’ve done this, negotiate a fair contract with the developer. You should not exceed your budget.Review Past Accomplishments
You can ensure that you are working with the right people by looking at the past work of mobile app developers. Although it is not necessary to interview past clients about their work satisfaction, this does not mean you should. You can check the reviews on the agency’s page and then test the apps they have created in the past if you are short on time. This is a good way to make sure you don’t deal with an agency that won’t do the job well despite all the effort you put in. Mobile applications are easy to download and take very little time. You only need to pull out your phone to complete the required steps before you settle on a developer.Analyze The Packages Offered
Search for a Step-by-Step Process
It is as easy as it sounds. It is important to check with your agency to see if they have a set of steps they follow for clients. The best mobile application development agencies will give you an overview of their approach to the task. The process typically includes a Mobile App Blueprint, which outlines the entire process from the beginning to the end. This will allow you to understand the reasons you made the app and the audience you are trying to reach.Compare With Other Agencies
To get the best from each developer, you need at least three other developers on your team. You don’t want to stick with one agency and miss out on better deals. Comparing agencies allows you to find the best deal for you and offers multiple benefits.Research
It takes patience and focuses to find the right app developers who will create a complete application for your company. No matter what case it may be, once your app is launched, you must ensure that you receive value for money and customer satisfaction.
You’ve just come up with a new phone but it is just as good as a telephone with no apps in it. So what apps can make your phone a productive gadget? The app store is filled with millions of apps. Each minute we find a new app being launched. You surely can’t check out each and every app by downloading them.
As an entrepreneur’s phone, your device should reflect what you believe in: productivity. As we spend hours on phones, it becomes vital for us to have only the best of apps on our gadgets. Take a look at these apps used and recommended by some powerful entrepreneurs.Top 5 Apps That Entrepreneurs Totally Love Bumble Redefining Socialising
Bumble enjoys the reputation as a woman led entrepreneurial venture. With entrepreneur Whitney Wolfe Herd becoming world’s youngest self-made billionaire, the company enjoys spotlight among startups and businesses.
Not just Whitney’s net value, but her position among socialites also jumped. Bumble is a relationship program that is now popular among all age classes. Program refers to itself as a’feminist dating program’. The program puts girls at the middle of matches and conversation.
The girls driven program lets girls decide when to start the conversation. With a couple of straightforward swipes, users may fulfill like-minded men and women who may interest them. app includes video and voice calling both.
Also read: Top 5 Automation Tools to Streamline Workflows for Busy IT TeamsGlitch-ify Your Gallery
Glitch lab app is a photo editing app yet it is not your regular photo editor. Program is enjoyed by entrepreneurial giants like Kylie Jenner. If you’d like your images to appear brightly colored or trendy, then Glitch is only the ideal program for you. You will find over 100 effects which come in using the program.
The majority of those being you might have a exceptional editing platform to your own pictures. The program gives its users the ability to maintain control. The ease and a number of effects brings users from all possible niches.Everything You Read In Your Pocket
With a huge number of monthly customers, you can trust the program to be secure. It has a web interface which could be discovered on Chrome, Firefox or some other browser.
Program wants its customers to have a smooth scanning experience and possess a very clear track of connections which are being stored. The moment you store hyperlinks, they are sometimes regarded as a grid or list.
Also read: Best Video Editing Tips for Beginners in 2023Say Hello To Trello
Trello is an app that proves to be an easy tool for helping team members collaborate and work together on projects.
But do not confuse the program to be helpful for only do the job. You can do virtually anything on the program. Be it developing applications or even.
If you’re reading this, I don’t particularly have to convince you of the importance of search engines. You know this.
Your paychecks are the manifestation of research and analysis.
We as humans want answers.
With schools, libraries, and sources of record all closed or operating by appointment only, we’re doing the best we can: we’re asking Google.
— Amanda Guinzburg (@Guinz) July 8, 2023
Here’s the thing: Why do you trust search engine results?
As SEO professionals, we tend to have a bit more discerning eyes.
We can spots the more subtle (than dinosaur gender black) elements don’t seem quite right.
It’s what our clients pay us to do.
It’s more important than ever for clients to know and curate how they are represented in search results.
Silly things happen.
What do we do when misrepresentations contort from silly to intentional deception?
What do we do when the fundamental structure of a political system is under threat of disinformation?What Is Disinformation?
Disinformation is false or misleading information that is spread deliberately to deceive.
The information spread is false with the intent to harm a person, social group, organization, or country.
It has a sister, mal-information.
Mal-information uses information-based in reality in a context intended to inflict harm.
Google publicly addressed the grandeur of government-backed phishing.
Smaller but equally as threatening are attempts to alter maps so people can’t find their polling station.
The SERPs themselves are a battlefront.Search Engine Manipulation & Disinformation
SEO-savvy propagandists can spread disinformation – and even muddy up the search results in many ways.
Introducing ambiguation: Think flooding the web with the wrong address or phone number for a competitor’s business location.)
Google Bombing: Think the effort lead by Savage Love author/host Dan Savage against Rick Santorum in the 2004 elections in which Savage encouraged listeners to help him rebrand the literal meaning of Santorum.
302 Hijacking (which is not supposed to work anymore): A temporary redirect is set up on one site to another, allowing the redirecting page to begin ranking for the target page’s keywords.
Typosquatting on domains and social profiles: This includes the impersonation of famous people. (Thank you blue checkmarks!)
Plus hundreds of other tactics and sneaky tricks.
You could argue the entire webspam team is dedicated to fighting disinformation, but there’s another Google team you might not be familiar with.
Jigsaw is a unit within Google that forecasts and confronts emerging threats.
As part of their efforts to research and document disinformation, they paired with Atlantic Council’s DFRLab to create a Data Visualizer tracking disinformation.
“Search engine manipulation” is listed in Google’s glossary of methods, but no data is available on actual attacks.
The absence is notable, particularly when paired with the disclaimer modal that pops up when opening the tool.
Endorsement and transparency have never particularly been strong suits for Google when it comes to search engine marketing.
It seems a fair response in light of the sordid history of SEO, when it comes to manipulation.Deep Fake Strategies Pioneered by SEO
Have you heard of Dr. Bukkake, the renowned facial expert?
The name is enough to be a red flag in 2023, but back in 2008, this persona became an SEO legend.
Dr. Bukkake was a fictional *ahem* “facial dermatologist.”
The character had a website complete with fake research and a fake research fund.
Real medical sites and funds linked to it!
The doctor was created by an SEO seeking to drive traffic to a porn site client.Deep Faked Experts
In July 2023, U.S. Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner published an article from Oliver Taylor.
The student from England’s University of Birmingham already had bylines in the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel. He seemed credible.
The article accused London academic Mazen Masri and his partner Ryvka Barnard, of being “known terrorist sympathizers.”
Marsi, best known for his role in an Israeli lawsuit against surveillance company NSO, was taken aback and denied the claims. He never had a chance to confront his accuser though.
His University has no records of such a student. Taylor gained enough credibility to be seen as a reputable author by pitching articles over email.
These are the same strategies I used back in 2010 when I worked as a link outreach manager.
When my cold-call pitches worked, the articles never used my real name or photo.
Instead, the agency I worked for attributed them to personas they could continue to bolster after I left.What Black Hats SEO Can Teach Us About Manipulating Sources
Technically, the gentleman kind enough to hop on a call with me doesn’t do black hat SEO – it’s gray.
Gray enough that I’ll simply refer to him as “K.”
I tell K about the article I’m working on and shared the details of Oliver Taylor.
K specializes in local SEO and online reputation management (ORM).
His voice sounds like a grin as he says, “Here’s the thing. ORM can be manipulated. People can be faked.”
Fake personas are part of his everyday tactics.
He introduces me to This Person Does Not Exist and SpeechLeo for user images and voices.
MugJam is a new favorite tool. It allows K to make fake video reviews with unique faces and voices.
Google puts a great deal of credibility behind video reviews because they foster user trust.
K explains how MugJam uses Amazon poly to fake the voice.
I’m equal parts impressed and horrified at the ease of the process.
“How can I spot a fake review like this?”, I ask.
“Fake voices sound tinny,” he says. “Listen for the s and th sounds.”
These sounds are known as “splosives” in audio engineering.
Robotic audio smooths it out.For Every Door Google Closes, Black Hats Find a Window
While Wikipedia was once the black hat go-to for manipulation, Google’s partnership and crackdown on the tactic required black and grey hats to evolve.
They didn’t have to go far.
Why go through the trouble of manipulating the Knowledge Graph when you can simply bind keywords to an entity via a knowledge panel result?
The weakness was known and talked about by SEO professionals for years.
The share link contained parameters for the Knowledge Graph ID of the entity and the original query.
By manipulating the q= parameter, you could associate that knowledge graph with any keyword.
K shares with me how he used the vulnerability to disambiguate the knowledge graph.
“Imagine I tied the keywords “dance studio” to Not a Robot. Google’s no longer confident in what Not a Robot does. You drop the entity below the confidence threshold and it drops from SERP.”
He shares over a screenshot from an ambiguation “experiment” he ran on a rival SEO agency.
The tactic was effective and the loophole only closed earlier this year.Vulnerabilities Are a Technical Requirement
K’s new favorite trick is baking information in the data layer of images using Google Cloud Vision API or Google Lens.
He’s placed 10-15,000 word articles in the metadata.
This information is invisible to humans but as long as he spoofs the correct required data points, Google sees the image as a direct upload of a Pixel device and passes the keyword-stuffed data directly to the index.
I ask K how this is possible. He says he’s leveraging Google’s assumed trust in image publishers.
“Is Amazon a trusted authority? Azure? What about Google?” There’s no check-in place for this kind of manipulation.
Assumed trust in a source allows K to leverage iframe stacking, nesting hidden manipulative data in trusted sources.
“For Google – if they’re going to target iframes, YouTube is built on iframes. If you destroy iframes you dismantle YouTube. It is a calculated risk.”
In the years I’ve spent as a Product Owner, I’ve had similar conversations with my C-levels during roadmapping and risk analysis.
There is always risk in digital. We simply place our bets on the best path forward.
Search engines are vulnerable to disinformation because of technical dependencies and assumed trusted sources.
What about the human aspect?The Psychological Operation of Targeting Audiences
Imagine someone pings you with a job posting.
Specialist wanted for strategic target audience research, messaging and content creation, and media planning. Ideal candidate to measure success in using campaign KPIs including conversions and content reach.
If you’re an SEO and you’re reading this, you’re likely qualified.
We identify audiences, create cohort analyses, and generate content that initiates an action or behavior. The next lines of the posting read:
This isn’t an SEO job.
This is ELI5 for Psychological Operations…
The military conveys selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.
Luckily for me, I happen to know a current-day SEO with experience in Army Psychological Operations.
“Our motto was verbum vincent – Victory through words.”
When asked why the job required him to be airborne, he explained that as tactical PSYOP, his team would jump from planes into the conflict zone and place speakers to ground playing tank noises so any people listening would hear tanks, pinpoint position, and affect their movement.
The tactic is known as “shaping the battlefield.”
By controlling the narrative, his unit could control supply movements and lure out enemy combatants.
Remember Seal Team 6?
Did you know that teams 4 and 5 don’t exist?
By jumping ahead in their naming pattern, enemy combatants would assume there were two more yet undetected teams.*
The PSYOP process looks the same to an SEO workflow:
Identify audiences (target audience research).
Create messaging that speaks to the audience language, culture, and what moves them.
Identify which media will be most effective in reaching them.
Create content that initiates an action or behavior.
Measure in KPIs.Personalization & the Echo Chamber of Biases
SEO and PSYOP understand the same principles of leverage.
Changing minds is hard, but it’s easy to reinforce an existing narrative or escalate an existing feeling into a stronger one.
It’s about personalization.
This valuable marketing tool is a cornerstone of search engines.
It’s also built by design to reflect people’s biases.
— Carolyn Lyden (she/her) (@CarolynLyden) July 24, 2023
Confirmation bias is important because it may lead people to hold strongly to false beliefs.
Readers are more likely to believe information that supports their beliefs than conflicting information provided by evidence.
In fact, presenting a logical and factual counter-argument frequently reinforces misheld beliefs.
This is known as the “backfire effect.”
“What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs.” – You Are Not So Smart — The Backfire EffectEscalation Tactics
Disinformation blends so seem so well because often there’s been a systematic effort to discredit credibility organizations.
People are more inclined to accept an alternative view that fits a preexisting narrative.
A simple one is the audience’s sense of self-worth.
Comforting messaging telling the audience “You’re not wrong” and “You’re a good person” are readily welcomed by almost anyone.
It’s easy to escalate from here.
It’s not a big leap to shift a bias from “You’re not racist” to “You’re not racist but these people over here will call you a racist and make you lose your job if you say black.”It’s ‘Us vs. Them’
One of the goals of Psychological Operations is creating a distrust of the “other” and a stronger sense of trust in your own tribe.
The internet makes it easy to virtue signal but our social media soapboxes make it easy to mark users as receptive to targeted messaging.
The controlled narrative corral readers into a false dichotomy – choosing sides based on their in-group.
This is How masks became politicized.
This is why I had to explain to my grandparents that my participation in BLM marches did not mean I was a leftist radical rioter.Patron Saints of Cancel Culture
The fear of censorship – even of inaccurate information – is a strong form of social manipulation.
“They’re just like you saying X. Saying X isn’t that bad, is it? You could be next.”
It’s worth noting that the mastermind behind Trump’s “Death Star” campaign runs a self-titled agency offering Search Engine Marketing.
The implication here is that the politically incorrect, conspiracy theorists, and free thinkers are under attack.
Humans have a basic hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs and safety are the foundation.
Most marketers are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs even if it’s not by name.
Sherman is familiar with it from his time in PYSOP.
“The further down Maslow’s list you go, the more you hit lizard brain. This is why content that makes readers angry outperforms.”
We can see the user actions off and online.
Videos of confrontations between protestors and counter-protestors.
Unwarranted aggression by anti-maskers against employees attempting to enforce a store’s policy.
High-arousal emotions are the key to making content go viral.
It cultivates real fear – a heavy sense of imminent and possibly physical threat.
The tactics are inherently neutral but they’re inherently manipulative.
Their scale and reach are unprecedented.Preparing for the Keywords You Never Saw Coming
In July 2023, Google saw an unprecedented number of queries related to Wayfair.
The spike wasn’t the result of a viral campaign.
It was due to viral influencers who were live streaming on Instagram that they had purchased a $17,000 desk from Wayfair.
And that they expected a child victim of human trafficking to be delivered in it.
With conviction and charisma, the influencer looked into the camera saying, “This cannot be stated as false until it is proven false.”
It was definitely false but factual accuracy did not hinder the conspiracy theory’s reach.
The audience investigating the online furniture store was hungry for alternative answers.
Content was quickly generated to meet demand.
Frankly, all it takes is a headline to convince most readers.
Users rarely read articles word by word.
Instead, they scan the page and pick out individual words and sentences.The Strategic Value of Illusory Truth
Have you heard of the illusory truth effect?
It’s the tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure.
Even if every page in that SERP is a meager two sentences, those sentences match the user intent better than any other content out there.
If my goal is to discredit sources of information and provide alternative facts in order to amplify existing fears, I’d see strategic value in leveraging a well-known name, combining it with a shocking exposed secret.
Hungry content sites and search engines would take care of the heavy lifting from there.
This vulnerability is important enough to have a name: data voids.Data Voids: Exploiting Search Engine Results Through Missing Information
The term was coined by Microsoft program manager Michael Golebiewski in 2023 to address the serious security vulnerability.
Data voids occur when obscure search queries turn up few or no results.
With little to no existing search volume or competition, ranking for the term is a low lift effort.
A single viral query that kicks up a user’s emotional response is swiftly a gateway to expose people to falsehoods, misinformation, and disinformation.
The exploit effort multiplied by auto-play, auto-fill, and trending topics until everyone is talking about it even though no one knows what it means.
According to a 2023 paper by Data & Society, an independent nonprofit research organization, there are five types of data void queries:
Breaking News: The production of problematic content can be optimized to terms that are suddenly spiking due to a breaking news situation; these voids will eventually be filled by legitimate news content, but are abused before such content exists.
Strategic New Terms: Manipulators create new terms and build a strategically optimized information ecosystem around them before amplifying those terms into the mainstream, often through news media, in order to introduce newcomers to problematic content and frames.
Outdated Terms: When terms go out of date, content creators stop producing content associated with these terms long before searchers stop seeking out content. This creates an opening for manipulators to produce content that exploits search engines’ dependence on freshness.
Fragmented Concepts: By breaking connections between related ideas, and creating distinct clusters of information that refer to different political frames, manipulators can segment searchers into different information worlds.
Problematic Queries: Search results for disturbing or fraught terms that have historically returned problematic results continue to do so, unless high quality content is introduced to contextualize or outrank such problematic content.
I’m asking you earnestly: How do we prepare for the keywords we can’t see coming?
If you figure it out, please tell me how.Compounding the Void With User Knowledge Gaps
We work with a platform designed for mass reach that humans rely on for factual information in their daily lives.
Here’s what these users may not understand:
Experts can be manufactured.
Assumed trustworthiness is a blindspot for manipulation.
Vulnerabilities are prioritized by their calculated risk.
Personalization amplifies confirmation bias.
Humans by nature are susceptible to targeted messaging.
Fear, anger, and distrust are desired outcomes of misinformation.
It’s more important than ever for companies to help protect their customers and their brand from disinformation as well as to understand how they appear in search.
This is why you need to pay attention.
This is why your company needs to pay attention.
There’s a dollar value behind this.
Get it prioritized.What Can the SEO Industry Do to Fight Disinformation?
There’s a long pregnant pause when I ask Sherman this question.
“I don’t know. So many of vulnerabilities are baked into our infrastructure, technology, and biology.”
There are no fool or future-proof options here, but there are places we can start.1. Tell Everyone You Know How Search Engines Work
Call a family meeting.
Set up a town hall.
Schedule a lunch and learn.
Be obnoxious about it.
This is your time to shine for good, SEO Twitter.2. Befriend a Journalist
Extend an offer for your professional insights.
Send them the link for Google’s SEO Skills for Journalists course.
Re-extend your offer again with the knowledge that Google’s course bolsters that offer’s perceived value.3. Check Facts
Bookmark Google’s Fact Check Tool or BuiltWith’s Trust API.
If information can’t be proven, be skeptical.
Ask yourself a few questions about what you’ve read or heard.
What was the goal in creating this content?
Is it emotionally charged or divisive?
Who benefits from this?
You use marketing tactics for a living.
It’s time to recognize when they’re being used on you.4. Vet Contributors & Sources
You wouldn’t want to link to the next Dr. Bukkake, would you?
Take Google’s verification courses.
You’ll learn time-saving methods to verify the authenticity and accuracy of images, videos, and reports.5. Talk to Your C-Level, Stakeholders & Security Teams About Data Voids
Does your team have a response plan for a data void exploit?
If not, are they prepared to accept Google’s passive Darwinism strategy?
Eventually, information will catch up to the manipulation.
But how long will that take?
What is the monetary impact of the conspiratorial association? (If you create a plan, please share it with me.)6. Take Security Seriously
At a minimum, enable 2-step verification for yourself and all company accounts.
If you are a public figure or are a person who is critical to elections, consider enrolling in Google’s Advanced Protection Program.
Learn how to spot phishing and test your knowledge with Jigsaw’s Phishing Quiz.
If your password is older than six months or you’ve used the password on multiple sites, go update it.
I’m not kidding.
This article can wait.7. Implement Fact-Checking Markup
Not prioritized in your workflow?
Google now uses BERT to match stories with fact checks.
Include a link to the Fact Checkup Markup Tool for a faster turn around on any development work required.8. Learn How to Create Content on Falsehoods Without Amplifying Them
In December 2023, the American Press Institute held a two-day summit with the goal of defining strategies for truth-telling in a time of misinformation and polarization.
Tactics include being strategic on when to cover the issue. A hot trending topic can be tempting to jump on but it also can lend validity.
If you create content about bad information, start and end the piece with a factual statement – a “truth sandwich.”
API’s strategic report includes ways to address criticism, correct mistakes, and other critical new skills required for content creation.9. Be Kind to One Another
Turn off the caps lock.
Anger, anxiety, and distrust are the goals of misinformation.
You might not be able to change Uncle Jim’s mind about politics, you can change how he views conversations with those who hold opposing beliefs.
This is powerful.
Civil, compassionate discourse disrupts the “it’s us vs. them” narrative.
There is no happy path.
There are no easy answers.
The good news is that is exactly the sort of riddle that likely lured you into SEO.
You are curious.
You are clever.
This your time to shine.
*My statement about Seal Team Six isn’t true, but didn’t you want to believe it? Verbum vincent, my friends.
All screenshots taken by author, September 2023
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