Research & Insights

By Zoe Vance, August 26, 2011

Crowdsourcing and SEM (now with even more cat pics)

Every modern business wrestles with the elusive lady that is the search engine and the potential she offers to connect with customers. Google and Bing make it easy for anyone to buy keywords and drive customers to a website, but what keywords are our customers searching for? Would a sales manager frustrated with the average 70-80% accuracy of business listings bought from data providers search for “crowdsourcing,” “address checking,” or something else entirely? Since we’re a crowdsourcing company, we had to try crowdsourcing the solution …

In the last two weeks of my summer internship at CrowdFlower, the marketing team challenged me to generate the widest range of search engine seed terms that could be used in SEM keyword tools to generate “hot” search phrases. For those of you who’ve dealt with SEM, you know that thinking of seed phrases to plug into these tools can be a painfully frustrating and surprisingly difficult task. (For those of you who haven’t and don’t believe me, try right now to describe what your company does — or anything for that matter — in 10 significantly different ways.)

Keyword tools are based on your thought process, which takes care of the customers who are thinking in the same way you are, but what about all the people of a different mindset who are trying to find your solution? For example, if I were looking for pet grooming services, depending on my thought process, vocabulary range, and amount of sleep the night before, I could search anything from “pet grooming salon” to “quality feline hair cuts” to “kitty bad hair day.” The challenge was to understand the full breadth of how the crowd approaches a certain problem, essentially the perfect task for the crowd.

crowdsourcing seo crowd sourcing seo


crowdsourcing sem

I set up the job to have the contributor imagine working for a business that could use CrowdFlower’s services (whether or not they know of them) and then have the contributors write search queries they would use to find a solution to their problem on the Internet. I created numerous versions for each scenario, varying both the industry jargon and the background we gave the contributor, so that I could fully mimic the knowledge and background of a real customer, and thus elicit as wide a range of responses as possible. I then ran a second job to rate those queries to identify quality results worth pursuing. Finally, I took those quality terms and fed them back into a keyword generator tool, making sure that we had the full range of potential search phrases optimized to what people would search for the most.

crowd sourcing sem An unspoken secondary challenge was “Can you become a full-fledged crowdsourcing ninja before you leave?” This final job I ran was by far the most challenging because crowdsourcing content generation requires a seemingly daunting use of CrowdFlower’s automated workflow system, which uses gold units and an active, real-time peer review system. I successfully passed this final test, with the help of our in-house content generation team.


crowdsourcing sem

The keyword gen job yielded really interesting results. There were some genuinely clever and alternative thought process seeds, some that we were already using, and some that were borderline ridiculous. My personal favorite keyword seed though, as the office intern, had to be “how to find an intern” — the obvious solution to all life’s problems.