'Selfie with Daughter'; India's villages lap social media; and a bit of politics

Much water has flown down all rivers in the world in the last two weeks, more so in India due to torrential rains. We at Indian Top Blogs were busy categorising blogs in the best blogs’ directory and then examining blogs for our creamy layer, the Platinum List of blogs. Busyness notwithstanding, we must share social media happenings with our visitors.

Another political indiscretion

This time it was from Ram Madhav, a General Secretary of the ruling BJP. 

It only proves that politicians, however mature, fall prey to the lure of social media and then rue their hasty action. 

On June 21, when the world celebrated International Yoga Day, it was a proud occasion for the Indian government, which had piloted it in the UN, cajoled people to participate in a big way, and organised a grand yoga event in New Delhi. And a senior leader of the ruling party thought it proper to draw public attention through Twitter to the absence of the Vice President at the IYD event. It was (rightly) interpreted on social media and elsewhere that the dig from this gentleman was because the VP is a Muslim. 

The fact, which was later clarified by an embarrassed government, was that VP was not invited to the event because he is higher in protocol than the PM who was the chief guest.

When the opposition lashed him and  #IStandWithHamidAnsari started trending on Indian social media, Ram Madhav had to apologise and withdraw the tweet.


It appears that any discussion on social media, especially India, has to have a mention of @NarendraModi.  

After he exhorted people to post on social media a picture with their daughter, and suggested to tag it with the hashtag #SelfieWithDaughter, this has gone viral worldwide. This is very significant not only for bonding with daughters, but especially for societies where daughters are discriminated against.

Social media is growing fast in Indian villages

A report published by IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India) brought out recently says, social media user base has doubled in the last one year in India’s rural areas while it has grown by 35% in urban areas. However, rural user base is still only a sixth of the total. (total social media users = 143 million; urban = 118, rural = 25 million)

Some more interesting figures come out in the report:

  • The top four metros account for almost half of the social media users.
  • Facebook leads the pack, with 96% of urban users accessing it. Next come Google Plus, Twitter and Linkedin.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the users of social media are college going students and young people.
  • Two-thirds of social media users do social media engagement through mobile phones.
  • Commenting on blogs is the third most popular activity among social media users!

Bobby Jindal's social media journey: we'd have a watch

It will be interesting to watch how Bobby Jindal fares on social media, and how Indians react to his speeches. 

His dissociating himself with Indians has already been seen with contempt by the Indian social media: we saw a rather uncharitable hashtag #bobbyjindalissowhite on him trending for sometime in Indian social media space.

So much is happening in social media field, which is worth sharing. Will you like to visit this link?: Social Media Discussions on Indian Top Blogs

Write great 'search description' for your blog post

In the last two posts, we talked about (i) having attractive and SEO-friendly titles of blog posts and (ii) different types of ‘descriptions’ for blogs and posts and their importance. In the current one, we’d talk about best practices in writing description – especially 'search description' for individual posts.

A good ‘search description’, as the name would suggest, helps in discovery of the post on which it is given. The post becomes more readily available to visitors who land in that page from somewhere else, searchers looking for articles on that theme and search engines scouting for relevant keywords. That leads to more traffic, especially targeted traffic. We have written more on this in the previous post, and so let's jump to 'description'.

What constitutes a good ‘search description’?

  •  Like other forms of meta description on a website, it should not be bigger than 150 characters (including spaces) and not in any case over 160. So, you need to put all that you want to say about the blog / post in this size limit.
  • It should summarise the subject of the post or pick up the most important highlight(s) of the content. It should give facts that the first lines of post will not have. It may also have facts that are very relevant but will be missed by search engines if not brought forward. Google advises: “…author, date of publication, or byline information. This can give potential visitors very relevant information that might not be displayed in the snippet otherwise. Similarly, product pages might have the key bits of information—price, age, manufacturer—scattered throughout a page.”
  • It should have expressions for which you want the post to be found when people search for those keywords. However, you should not stuff the description with keywords; similarly, you should not repeat keywords.
  • The description should make sense to humans and should not just be a listing of search terms or highlights. It should flow naturally, in the form of full sentences or clauses. Google advises such search expressions: A blog about social networking and web design. / A journal of my year in Paris. / Healthy southern-style cooking.
  • Look at the image below to see how Google gives a search description on its own search sites (and then these come as snippets when you search for 'Google'):

Put 'description' meta tag on your blog for better search visibility

In the last post, we discussed how to give blog posts a SEO-friendly URL while giving them an attractive title that visitors see. In the present article, we'd discuss how to easily put a description to the post so that it gets more search engine visibility and search relevance. 

You might have noticed that in search results, you get 'snippets' of what the post is about. That comes from 'description' of the post. The description thus helps search programmes as well as human searchers in finding relevance of particular post to search keywords.

A proper description not only helps the blog / post come high on search pages but also increases the chance of searchers clicking on the link.  

Adding Description to blog posts in Blogger

In Blogger, you have four ways to give a description to the post, and all with similar or different purposes.

1. Go to Settings. Under Basic, you'll find Description. If you click on Edit next to it, you get a text box where you can type a nice description of the blog. This comes just below the title and is visible to visitors. Look at the top of this very page that you are reading and you'll  find 'Blogging tips,...' written just below the title. Remember, this is description of the BLOG.

Point 2: adding meta description to blog
2. Go to Settings and then Search preferences. Under Meta Tags, you find Description. Next to it, you find 'enable search description' and then Edit. Click on it and you are offered a text box in which you can put another description of the blog. This description is not for your visitors but for search engines and those searching content on Google, Yahoo or some other search engine. Again, this description is for the BLOG.

Enabling this 'search description' does one more thing. It offers you the facility to give a search description for individual posts! Read point 3 below.

Point 3: adding search description to post
3. Go to the post editor (where you compose or edit posts). If you have enabled 'search description' as mentioned above, the right hand column will have a link Search Description. Click on it and give a decent description to the BLOG POST. This description is for visitors as well as search engines!

4. Go to Template and then Edit HTML. Put a meta tag 'Description' manually. But let us not play with it, especially when Blogger gives you a safe and easy way to put a description meta tag on the blog as well as posts.

'Description' in Wordpress blogs

1. Go to Site, then Settings and then General. It gives you the option to put a Tagline to the blog. The tagline comes under the title of the BLOG. 

Point 2: adding excerpts to a Wordpress post
2. Go to post editor, and look for Screen options on the right top of the window. Click on it and you get an Excerpt text box. Give a nice description to the post and that's it. Your post now has a description meta tag.

What do you lose if you don't put description(s) in the blog and its posts?

Almost nothing, except that you lose a golden chance of telling visitors, searchers and search engines what the blog and the post are about. If you don't put the meta tags (point 2 above), search engines use the first few words of the article. If these do not make much sense, search engines try to interpret the content of the post. In both these cases, what they see (and show as snippets after the search results) may not be the way you would like them to do.

It is known that Google doesn't use description meta tags for ranking blogs but there are other search engines too. They do not disclose their ranking / search algorithms. If we go by Google's statements and research done by SEO experts, Google also seems to give preference to it in search results, in some unstated way.

Previous post in this series: Catchy titles for visitors and search engines
Next in this series: What is the best 'search description'?

Catchy versus search-friendly titles in blog posts

It is always good to give catchy, attractive titles to posts. However, such titles often do not suite the purpose of search engine optimization (SEO). You should therefore write an attractive title for visitors while composing another title for search engines. The second one has to be matter-of-fact and search engine friendly in terms of keywords. Due to this, this title is most often boring to read, and so should not be seen by visitors.

If you think this duplicating of titles is a bad practice, let's assure you that this is a legal trick, and in fact encouraged by Google and Wordpress, the two blogging platforms that account for over 80% of all blogs.

We’d discuss how to apply two titles to Blogger and Wordpress blogs. If you have an independent blog that you tweak through some other CMS or by yourself, you need to change meta tags [In that case you already know more than us ;) ]

Post heading and permalink in Blogger

Blogger gives an easy option to implement a post title different from that seen by visitors.

Do this small experiment: Compose a post in your blog, and in the post editing window, type the following title for the post: Ladies, learn to make a rocking beauty blog in ten minutes. look for 'Permalink' in the right column. Click on it and you get two options: 'Automatic Permalink' and 'Custom Permalink'.

Blogger's post editor
Look at the URL of the post against Automatic Permalink; you’ll see an automatically created URL for your post consisting of the following: blog name, month and number of post and the title of the post. In this example, the title of the post comes like this: ladies-learn-to-make a rocking-beauty.

While the title of the post would catch attention of women wanting to make a beauty blog, the permalink (or URL, which search engines would read) does not identify at all with the topic of the post. Do you think a woman Googling for a blogging advisor for beauty blog would see this post in her search pages? The chances are as good as nil.

So, what we’d do is to click on the lower option, i.e. Custom Permalink and write something like this: make-beauty-blog. This is short, crisp and eminently SEO friendly permalink for the blog, isn’t it?

Two types of post titles in Wordpress

You can achieve this in Wordpress by editing the post title itself. Wordpress calls the last part of permalink as 'post-slug'. What you need to do is type the relevant keywords in the box at the end of 'Permalink'. In the example given in the image below, we have the post title How I built a blog that I sold for $5,000 and it automatically generated a post slug how-i-built-blog. We have put a new slug profitable-food-blog to bring the essence of the post into it.

Wordpress's post editor

By the way, in both these blogging platforms, there is an option to give ‘description’, which helps searches as well as search bots. We’d talk about this in the next post.

Indian blogging platforms and blogging communities

A. blogging platforms

We have the huge blogging portals, Wordpress and Blogger. Add to them Tumblr, LiveJournal and others - and you don't have to go any further to look for a free blogging platform. If you want to have a blog with more frills and features, you can go to paid ones like TypePad or open your own website / blog.

There are country-specific blogging platforms but India has none in English worth listing here. But there are some closed blogging platforms, usually of major media houses, which either have their own staff blogging or they invite celebrities to blog through them. One rather good such platform was of IBNLive; however, after departure of its earlier editorial bosses, it has decayed. We list below the most active and reputed, but closed, blogging platforms in India:

B. blogging communities

There are some portals that allow others to open blogs with them; they create a community of bloggers who can easily share content and interact among themselves. One big advantage of opening a blogs in such a portal is that you have a captive audience of people with similar interests and so you can have good blog engagements. In addition, sometimes the portal administrators may offer prizes for good content, orgainse competitions, and give other incentives to bloggers. Some such communities  also allow you to link your other blog with the community blog.

Like forums and blogging platforms, blogging communities often come up with a bang but crash sooner or later. We could spot only two buzzing blogging communities of English bloggers in India:

  • Blogadda [A community portal for bloggers, which brings bloggers to brands, organises contests, helps in promoting blogs. You need to register yourself.]
  • IndiBlogger [Blogging community portal. Also organises blogger meets, ranks blogs according to an 'Indirank' and brings out a directory. You need to register yourself.]

Criticism on social media and the price people pay for it

Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi has not got relief even from the country's  Supreme Court. It has upheld the lower court sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment on Badawi.

You can read this post on the crime (sin?) Badawi committed.

It was being hoped that following massive outcry and some diplomatic activity, Badawi would get at least some reprieve.

One optimistic interpretation of the SC order making round on the net is that it has not called for public lashing. 

The only thing that can save Badawi from this cruel punishment is a royal pardon, but that is also not very probable, say people with a deep understanding of the Arabian way of life.

Jagendra's Facebook page
In India, a social media journalist, Jagendra Singh, is reported to have been burnt alive by a police officer for a Facebook post against an elected leader of a prominent political party in Uttar Pradesh state. 

In his reports, Jagendra had accused the MLA of illegal mining and land grabbing. 

Singh's family claimed that the MLA had also implicated him in a false case. However the police say, there was a case against Jagendra Singh and he committed suicide when the police tried to arrest him.

Jagendra had served many papers in the state and was of late active on his Facebook page, Shahjahanpur Samachar, named after his city.

Following protests, a case has been registered against a Minister (whose name Jagendra took before dying) and a policeman.

Political suicide on social media: one more example

Social media has been claiming politically indiscreet heads again and again. This time, it was the turn of a spokesman of the ruling party of Rajasthan.

Kailash Nath Bhatt should have known the risks of posting one's 'personal' thoughts on the Facebook timeline. We are surprised that he didn't know that publicly commenting the government's decision to provide high security to their mentor (the RSS supremo) was not expected of a political leader, much less a spokesman. No wonder, he was made to resign.

Companies and people, beware of the growing social media nonsense

When we started writing this piece, we thought we'd analyse how social media was bulging into a bubble and why it would burst and hurt the gullible. However, as we studied research papers and reports and examined the social media scene, we felt that social media is yet not a bubble and it might not cause mayhem if it really bursts soon; we were faced with the way social media is mal-functioning. The major ones that we noticed:

One, the fake numbers.
You start a discussion among friends about social media and are likely to be flooded with fancy numbers about how many likes their leader or star’s Facebook page has got, how many followers their Twitter accounts have, and so on. Part of it is true, but a big part is either fake or artificially jacked up - mostly for the sake of vanity or to show that one is bigger than the competitor. Before the 2014 general elections in India, many politicians' social media accounts got thousands of visitors overnights - and from places remotely interested in Indian politicians. Even @NarendraModi's Twitter account has numerous followers that are apparently not spontaneous and therefore suspect. We see reports about some popular Brands using unethical means to show how they are popular in the social media. If people and brands are investing in fake following, it is like fooling themselves - you don't get any goodwill or returns from such followers, do you?
(But the social media giants themselves are faking their numbers: do you know how many accounts and pages there are of Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram? You will never know the real numbers.) 

Two, huge real numbers - so what?
Getting thousands of followers or likes do not mean proportionately more business. Brands and politicians may use fully ethical SEO practices to get more likes / followers but that SEO influence would hardly translate into action when it comes to purchase or donation or enrolling for a class or voting. So, in all likelihood, the hype created by marketing guys or back-end teams may serve their own purpose and a significant part of investment in social media might be continuously going down the drain.

Three, the dead numbers.
Even in blogs (which are supposed to be taken more seriously than other social media platforms), we have found that there are blogrolls with dead blogs, questions in comments that have not been answered, directories and reviews of blogs that have long vanished. As we shared earlier with our visitors, at one time, we had more than 50 thousand Indian blogs in our database, and out of them only less than ten thousand were blogging in months. 

Four, the sleeping numbers.
Most followers of politicians have been found to be inactive. People might get influenced by some campaign or SEO tricks and follow you, but then they switch off unless you keep them engaged. Even in personal accounts (these are supposed to more intimate, isn't it?), Facebook friends are found to ignore the stream of posts from friends except for the ones they are curious about.
On social media, friendships seem very transient; people come, survey, take an action (e.g. click on 'g+' or 'like' button) and forget that account.

Five. The tech fuddle.
You search for a simple term like "how to get traffic to website" and get thousands of results that take you to shops that claim to get you millions of hits and great business. They have presentations to trap you into believing that all others have been fooling you so far and only this shop has a miracle formula that would get you millions of dollars. In companies, tech guys brandish jargons to prove how ignorant you are and how you will mint millions by following their technical advice. Some smart consultants and companies would give you social media analytics and trends and what not - that convinces you of your follies and the need to spend more, but 90% of that might be crap. 
The game is played almost everywhere offline, online and on mobile. Some of these also tell you later that whatever gains you made in the recent times were because you bought their product / service or followed their advice. The sums people and companies waste on this self-serving field is enormous.  

Six. What drives the social media?
A large part of social media is driven not with the intent to get digitally social but other intentions. Such intentions (vanity apart: browbeating opponents in politics or other spheres, spreading hatred, crime networking, pornography etc) give social media the wholesale numbers, but these also lead to social media being snooped by intelligence agencies, blocked by governments, used by criminals for trapping people - all actions and reactions against the very spirit of 'social' media.

Seven. The chances of the bubble bursting.
It also seems that investors have posed too much faith in social media companies. Some of them are riding the crest, having grown thousand-fold in a few years and having rewarded investors handsomely - and there has to be consolidation. We also see occasional huge volatility in their shares, as any rumour that lasts a few hours is able to badly rattle traders and investors. We are also seeing numerous start-ups from young grads with starry eyes. As the space will get more crowded, it might lead to consolidation, even bloodbath. In addition, the hype created during IPOs and the astronomical PEs (price to earning ratios) of beyond 100 are not sustainable and would bruise if not butcher retail investors one day.

Enough of theoretical discussion, no? Let's see what is the takeaway from this all. Go for social media in a big way but know its limitations. Don't fool yourself with numbers and don't get fooled by jargon. Focus on quality links and quality engagement (e.g. with your customers and potential customers).