The CDC Zombie Apocalypse Post

image from the original CDC zombie apocalypse post

A Social Media Success Case Study

(Editorial Note: The CDC post mentioned in this post has been removed from it’s original location.  However you can still read it on the Internet Archive here. Be patient, the link takes a while to load.)

In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a quintessentially staid and stolid government bureaucracy, did something quite unexpected.  They explained how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.  Yes, a zombie apocalypse. On May 16th, 2011, a blog post authored by Ali S. Khan, CDC Director of Preparedness, appeared with the strange title Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.  Readers didn’t quite know what to think.

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

Of course the CDC had not totally lost its grip on reality.  Nor were Zombies a real threat.  The CDC was merely using a clever – and tremendously successful – method to attract attention to its annual push for disaster preparedness.  According to an excellent account and blow-by-blow timeline on The Benshi, the unexpected post was the brainchild of two CDC employees, Catherine Jamal and Dave Daigle, who were searching for a way to motivate people to do some disaster preparedness at the beginning of the hurricane season. Soon the post was generating incredible viral publicity (Writer Randy Olson reported that the CDC media analyst Cision valued the P.R. at $3 million), being featured on The New York Times, Fox News, the Huffington Post, Time Magazine and hundreds of websites.  In less than a week the post had received 963,000 page views. If you read the post, I think you’ll agree that it was indeed moderately clever, but certainly nothing breathtaking.  So what was the secret to it’s success? I think it has to do with three things:

  1. They tapped into a powerful cultural meme: Zombies.  AMC’s show The Walking Dead and countless zombie movies beat a path and the CDC followed it.
  2. They did something unexpected.  What do you expect from the CDC?  I know what I expect: dry warnings about the flu and smoking and HIV and reports of medical research.  No one expects anyone there to have fun with anything.
  3. They followed up well.  In fact the campaign is still generating traffic 3 years later and you can still embed zombie-flavored CDC code on your website (in fact, we’re showing you some of their embeds below).  They’ve added a zombie poster, zombie educator tips, and more.

Return of the Zombies

Of course there are consequences.  In 2012 the CDC was once again enmeshed in zombies, but this time repeatedly, and incredulously, trying to debunk the rumors that the dreaded zombie apocalypse had actually begun (see the Huffington Post report here).

The Zombie Preparedness List

Oh, and by the way, in case you’re curious, the following is the list of the most important items to have on hand for when the undead are unleashed:

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
  • Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
  • Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
  • Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
  • Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
  • Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
  • First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

For a full disaster preparedness checklist, the CDC has a less humorous, but certainly more complete page.

Infographic: 10 Tips to Keep Visitors 20 Seconds

This infographic is a companion to a blog post we published that gives some easy-to-understand tips that anyone can put into practice to make sure their web content has the best chance of engaging site visitors quickly.

 Info graphic, tips for writing engaging web content


Here’s a snippet of the infographic:


Feel free to embed this infographic on your site.  Here’s the code:

In Internet Marketing, 10 Will Get You 20

woman with clock to illustrate point for web copywriting article

How to Keep a Visitor on Your Site Long Enough to Make Them a Customer

According to Internet usability guru Jakob Nielsen, the first 10 seconds are crucial to your online success.  Here’s what he says:

If the Web page survives this first — extremely harsh — 10-second judgment, users will look around a bit. However, they’re still highly likely to leave during the subsequent 20 seconds of their visit. Only after people have stayed on a page for about 30 seconds does the curve become relatively flat.  Source:

When he talks about “the curve,” he means the rate at which users leave your web page.  The drop-off is highest in those first 10-30 seconds.  If you can engage your visitor for a scant half a minute, your chances of being able to communicate your full marketing message improve dramatically.

If you’re a business owner who can’t afford to hire a “guru” to write your web copy, simply keep a link to these tips handy and you’ll be on your way to that magic “conversion” moment when a visitor becomes your customer.

10 Tips for Writing Effectively for the Web

  1. Info graphic, tips for writing engaging web contentYour headline is the key.  Make your headline powerful.  Your headline is the key not just to the first 10 seconds, but the first 3.  Spend time with it.
  2. Understand your visitor.  Before you even get started with point number 1, do some research on who your target audience is.  Research doesn’t have to be hard.  Try asking some of your existing customers or website visitors (for example with an easy online survey) why they came to your site.
  3. Focus on visitor intent.  Once you understand your ideal visitor, and why they came, you’re ready to craft a message that addresses their specific wants and needs.  If you match that “why” you stand a better chance of getting them to ask “how do I buy?”
  4. Engage them.  No one wants to hear your elevator pitch.  People don’t like to be preached at, and make no mistake, a lot of sales talk comes off as preaching.  Instead, involve your visitors with a hook or a question.  Sort of like we did with this blog post, right?
  5. Make it clear.  If you confuse your visitor you might as well give up on them.  And you’re not a good judge of what will confuse them.  Why?  I guarantee that you’re too close to your product or service.  This doesn’t mean you should stop writing your own copy.  Just make sure you share it with at least 5 people outside your organization and see if your written content is immediately clear.  Remember, it has to be clear in seconds.
  6. Don’t fight their eyes.  People have predictable ways of visually taking in your content.  Don’t get so creative in your layout that you ignore typical user behavior.
  7. Use the golden “F.”  Eye tracking studies have shown that people scan a page in an “F” pattern.  They start at the top left, move across then down.  Their eyes stop going across the page as they go down looking for something interesting.  Make sure your important points are top and left.  This is also known as the “golden triangle.”
  8. Go lean.  Too much text puts eyeballs to sleep.  Even if you have a lot you need to say, break it up into short paragraphs and lots of headings.  Better: try always to say what you need to with fewer words.  The Gettysburg Address is not the most famous speech in American oratory because it’s long.
  9. Use bullet points.  Remember those eye tracking studies (see tip 7)?  Well they also show that people invariably will scan bullet points.  Make sure you use bullet points to present the things that are most important to your visitor.  (Use these bullets to match their intent, as indicated in tip #3)
  10. Neuroscience is your friend.  Use it when selecting images.  Part of “writing” for the web is making sure that you include some visuals.  (If people wanted nothing but text they would all have the 1995 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica on their shelf.)  But more than a pleasing image, use a shot with some persons face looking at the visitor.  Reason?  From the time we are babies we are wired to look at faces and eyes.  Naturally you want to make the face relevant to your content.  Example: If you’re marketing a car show the face of someone driving it, or standing by it, or sitting in it.

Get the Infographic

As a visual reminder of these 10 tips, we’ve created an infographic, 10 Tips to Keep Visitors 20 Seconds, that will help you to quickly remember them and apply them whenever you write for the web.  Follow these tips and you’re well on your way to breaking that 10-second barrier and connecting with your next customer.

SEO vs. Internet Marketing, Which One do You Need?

SEO: An Acronym We’ve Learned to Live With

picture of the word SEO to illustrate search engine optimizationThere’s no doubt about it, SEO is a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) that has stuck.  The letters SEO stand for “Search Engine Optimization.”   I suppose I should clarify: at least in my circles it does.  Depending on your career choice it could also stand for Sewage Enforcement Officer, and many SEO’s do seem to shovel a lot of, er, well, sewage.  But that’s the subject of another blog post I suppose.

However, even when it comes to the world of Google, Bing, Yahoo and “the rest,” I believe that most people use SEO a little too freely.  In my 10+ years of experience as a search marketer and web developer, I’ve noticed that “SEO” has become shorthand for something that goes beyond the realm of search engine optimization.

Let’s start with the gritty task of defining Search Engine Optimization.  If you come to this blog post with a business-person’s mindset, you might think that it has something to do with making a search engine as good as it can be – in other words, “optimum.”  Ah, but there you would be wrong.  The term has nothing to do with search engines doing a good job, and has everything to do with you showing up well on the search engine results pages.  In this context, SEO means making your site perform at an “optimum” level in search results when compared to your competitor’s websites.

A Definition of SEO

Here’s what web dictionary Webopedia has to say about SEO:

Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.  (Emphasis is mine)

I would tend to agree with the above definition.  Unfortunately, that’s not usually what a company needs in order to succeed on line.  Or at least let’s say it’s not the only thing that a company needs on line.

Let me use a real life example from one of my clients.  In this case the client has a high-performing website devoted to a very specific market niche, namely workplace safety training.  In the 4th quarter we had a number of popular pages, but I want to discuss the 3rd most popular page, as illustrated in this screen capture from Google Analytics for that period:

picture of google analytics screen capture


Great SEO, Lousy Business Results

By the standards of Webopedia, this page had a great SEO return.  I’ll tell you right away that the client’s site ranked number 1 for a highly competitive term that landed directly on this page.  So their visibility on search was terrific.  Not only that, but the net result was a large number of visitors.  High ranking placement in the search engines, an increase in the amount of visitors.  Isn’t that what Webopedia was talking about?  Doesn’t that seem like an SEO success story?

Hold on there for a minute.  Here’s the proverbial rest of the story.  The search term that this page ranked highly for was “whistle.”  And the page itself showed nothing more than the following picture:

 Whistle illustrates the value of a broad SEM strategy


What does the whistle have to do with my client’s business?  Absolutely nothing.  So what happened with all those visitors that followed the search result to my client’s website?  Right.  Absolutely nothing.  They bounced.  Actually it was worse than nothing, because bounces and short engagement can actually hurt your long-term performance in search results.

Beyond SEO: the Crying Need for Web Marketing

This illustrates the difference between SEO and Web (or Internet) Marketing.  Web marketing doesn’t care about search engine visibility or visitors…UNLESS they bring more results to a client’s bottom line.  For this reason most businesses really need an Internet Marketing professional who knows how to do SEO as merely one part of the service he or she offers.

In my experience, most businesses need the following services more than they need a merely mechanical approach to search engine visibility:

  • Definition of their Website value proposition
  • Market research in the form of “Keyword Research
  • Conversion rate optimization
  • Engagement strategies
  • Allocation of marketing dollars to achievable priorities

The list could go on and on.  Suffice it to say that your business most likely needs SEO as only one of several Internet marketing services.  (If you’d like a bit more explanation about each of the above terms and how it might affect your business, please give us a call.)

At this point naturally I’d like to sound the horn for Horizon Web Marketing.  Unlike companies that care only about search engine visibility and traffic, we care about whether you succeed online.  Isn’t that what you’re really after?


SEO or Web Marketing? Is There a Difference?

Otherwise Known as “What’s in a Name”?

Indian Guru ponders SEO and Web MarketingAfter long hours of contemplation and meditation, discussion, disputation, and argumentation, and finally after consulting a guru in a lonely cave in India, we decided on a new name for our business.  We are now “Horizon Web Marketing.”  Whenever a business takes the risk of re-labeling themselves, a hundred different conflicting priorities emerge.  As well as alternate choices.

As a company, we are heavily focused on SEO, or Search Engine Optimization (if you’d like a brief introduction to SEO, check out this video and transcript).  So the obvious question might be, why not “Horizon SEO”?

The Limitations of the Term “SEO”

This is what opens up the philosophical discussion of where Internet is taking today’s business marketplace.  Obviously search engines (read “Google”) have had a key role in driving Internet traffic and dollars, so it’s no wonder that the process of optimizing a site for better visibility in search engines has become a popular, controversial, and hotly contested profession.  However increasingly it’s obvious that the term SEO, while still very valid, is a bit too limiting to describe what we need to do for our clients.

Instead of making this blog post overly long, I’d like to take a look at just one example that we were discussing around the digital water cooler today (in other words in a Skype conference call): the complementary areas of usability design and search engine optimization.

Relevancy, Authority, and now Engagement

Increasingly Google, and no doubt Bing as well, is not just looking at things like authority and relevancy in determining how much or little they want to push your site up in the search engine results pages (SERPS).  In addition, Google is looking at the quality of the content on the site.  And in their quest to better identify the “quality” websites in a set of search results and favor them, Google will look at metrics that express “engagement,” which is basically how engaged a typical site visitor is with your website.

This brings us to usability.  Your site might be highly relevant to a search term, but filled with pages and pages of densely packed and confusingly organized text.  If this is the case the fact that your page is relevant to the visitors search will mean little, because they might click away, screaming, when they see your encyclopedic content.

Or if a visitor comes to your site and can’t see the point, can’t take action, can’t wait for the page to load, or experiences any other engagement killers, you’ve lost them.  This will then, in theory, disfavor your site in the eyes of Google.

Web Marketing: the Correct Paradigm

Therefore, (and I am getting to the point now, really) when we work with a client we can’t just focus on traditional SEO techniques, we also have to work with our clients on non-SEO factors such as usability.  It seems like the best way to describe the broad spectrum of what we do for a client as “Web Marketing.”  Thus was decided our naming question.  Well, that along with a coin toss by the Indian guru.