Top 10 Free Keyword Research Tools

Editor’s Note: This post originally published in February 2011 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

When it comes to SEO and any branch of digital marketing, keyword research is incredibly important. It plays into knowing your audience as well as the user behavior that drives them, which ultimately dictates your online performance. Without spending adequate time doing keyword research for your industry, market, and audience, much of your SEO efforts will just be blind guesswork.

But like many digital marketing practices, keyword research services and software can be really expensive, costing as much as a few hundred dollars per month. The good news is that there are plenty of free keyword research tools available for brands to better understand how their users are searching for products and information online.

The following tools may be free or offer free trials, but they certainly don’t skimp on value. Using them, you can identify the best keywords for your industry and searches, identify the highest points of keyword competition and therefor better understand your competitors, and get the information you need to drive up your search engine rank. To get started, check out these 10 free keyword research tools.

  1. Google AdWords: Keyword Planner

This is probably the most widely used keyword tool around, and it’s totally free of charge other than what you pay Google if/once you start advertising through AdWords. This keyword research tool provides estimated search volume on Google’s network for each keyword and phrase, and it provides tons of keyword suggestions. In it, you can compare keyword trends and create a plan for targeting specific keywords and phrases. The Keyword Planner will help you prioritize which keywords you should be targeting while helping you discover new keywords you didn’t already know.

  1. SEMRush

SEMRush will give you data on the top 10 keywords that your competitors are receiving traffic on for paid and organic search. With this tool, you can find the right keywords for SEO and PPC campaigns, gather phrase matches and related keywords, and get long-tail keywords. As an added perk, you can get information on multinational and multilingual online environments. This will help you enrich your web content and ad copy while giving you hard data behind the keywords you’re targeting. There is an option to upgrade after the free 14 day trial period.

  1. Google Correlate

Yet another tool from Google, only this one is often overlooked. Google Correlate is helpful because it shows you which keywords get searched for together. It’s not always feasible to rank for the top keyword of industry, because it’s expensive and likely dominated by a more prominent business. But by using this tool, you can find related keywords that people are searching for and create content or develop advertising strategies that cater to those related terms. Overall, Google Correlate will help you grow you keyword list and cast a bigger net.

  1. Alexa

The Alexa tool will let you see search queries of a competitor and the percentage of traffic it brings to the website. All you have to do is enter the URL in the site information area, and Alexa will retrieve details on keywords and search analytics on the specified domain. You can get a lot of keyword research done in the free 7 day trial, but after that you’ll have to upgrade to a paid version.

  1. Moz Keyword Explorer

It should come as no surprise that SEO powerhouse, Moz, has a wildly popular and effective keyword research tool. The keyword finder offers intuitive suggestions that factor in a number of metrics, as well as a full SERP analysis. Using this one tool will help you discover and prioritize all the keywords you need to boost your search rank and get insights about your competition. You can get full access to Keyword Explorer with Moz Pro for a free 30 day trial.

  1. Keyword Tool

With the free version of this tool, users can generate up to 750+ long-tail keyword suggestions for every search term. It’s considered one of the best free keyword tools and a competitive alternative to Google Keyword Planner, because it works so well for SEO and content creation. The tool can also be used to research keywords internationally, for advertising, and more.

  1. Uber Suggest

This tool is nice, because there’s actually a “KeywordEverywhere” extension for Chrome and Firefox that gives you keyword volume, CPC & competition data for free. Uber Suggest lets you sort by country and where on the web you’re researching keywords, like images, shopping, YouTube, or news content. For generating keyword ideas, the tool works well and helps users with a word cloud and trend data. Plus, it was recently acquired by digital marketing expert Neil Patel, and there are even more free features coming soon.

  1. WordStream

All of WordStream’s software and services aim to take the guesswork out of online marketing, so you can expect nothing less of their keyword tool. There’s even a “nichefy” filter that works well for specific industries/niche targeting. The keyword tool is free, but users get 10 keyword searches up-front, then one free keyword search per day going forward.

  1. Wordtracker

Wordtracker is great for SEO research, because it has an SEO competition metrics feature as well as a SERP comparison. The tool pulls together an extensive profile of relevant keyword information across the user’s designated territory. You can use it to find related terms and assess the difficult of the competition, all right from the tool. Users can try a free 7 day trial, with account options starting at $27/month after.

  1. Bing Keyword Research

All the data from Bing’s keyword tool comes from organic search rather than paid search or search advertising data. This is important, because it exposes users to the most natural keyword ideas and highly accurate numbers. Through the tool, you can generate keyword suggestions for all the markets you serve and in a wide range of languages.

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User Responsibility in a Time of Misinformation

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Google’s new API, Perspective, that filters hurtful comments from the open comments section on publisher’s websites. The goal of the tool is to enhance user experience by making the comments section more suitable for productive, diverse, non-trolling discussions. The API is no doubt a response to the growing problems of online trolling and the widespread “fake news” pandemonium across the internet. That’s likely the same motivation behind Google’s recent effort to flag upsetting and offensive content online.

The Problem of Misinformation

There’s a growing problem among users to seek out information online that reinforces their opinions. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it becomes problematic when used to reinforce radical, untrue, or discriminative opinions. This is especially true of user behavior within the last couple of years, as global climates have become tense due to terrorism and political affairs among countries aggressively polarized (think: the U.S. presidential election of 2016).

As a direct result of this polarization, users began producing and seeking a flux of information that reinforced their opinions, arguments, and beliefs. While there has never been a greater need for accurate content online, the reality is that the production of and user demand for wildly polarized, radicalized, and one-sided content has crowded out factual, proven, trustworthy information.

Think of it like this: In the month leading up to the presidential election, you likely saw content in your Facebook feed with titles like, “Proof that the Majority of Muslims in the U.S. are Working for ISIS” or “Hillary Clinton Kicked a Navy Seal.”  Unfortunately-and embarrassingly-highly polarized and clearly false news headlines similar to these were the most shared and viewed content pieces online.

As a result and consequence, that’s the type of information that ranks at the top of search results. This is a problem, because in response to user behavior, the algorithms are ranking extremely low quality content under the most reliable content.

Google Adds to Guidelines for Quality Raters

Google has had quality raters (10,000+ contracted individuals) for a long time. They conduct actual searches on the web based on the real searches Google sees from its user, and try to identify issues with websites. More likely than not, Google uses the quality raters’ finding for future updates and algorithms. When the quality raters go through and try to understand and evaluate web page content, they use the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines provided by Google. The comprehensiveness guidelines, which are roughly 160 pages long, outline in detail how the quality raters are to evaluate websites. The guidelines account for nearly every aspect that factors into the quality of a website, including reviews, advertisements, quality of page content, and much more. Based on these guidelines, the quality raters flag different issues on websites/pages.

Now, the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines also includes an “Upsetting-Offensive” content flag. As defined in the guidelines, upsetting and/or offensive content is typically:

  • Content that promotes hate or violence against a group of people based on criteria including (but not limited to) race or ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality or citizenship, disability, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
  • Content with racial slurs or extremely offensive terminology.
  • Graphic violence, including animal cruelty or child abuse.
  • Explicit how-to information about harmful activities (e.g., how-tos on human trafficking or violent assault).
  • Other types of content which users in your locale would find extremely upsetting or offensive.

These examples from the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines demonstrate how the uspsetting-offensive content flag works:

Again, the end goal is to improve user experience and point users in the direction of the most reliable, factual, highest quality pages in response to search queries.  At the end of the day, Google just wants to make the internet a safer place. Just like Perspective, this effort is not about prioritizing certain beliefs, opinions, or views over others, just as it is not a form of censorship. Rather, it’s about improving user experience for everyone by improving the kind of content we are presented with when we conduct searches.

The “Highly Meets” Rating

Sometimes users deliberately search for offensive content, perhaps to understand another side of an argument or simply to see the offensive content. In such cases, the goal is to return relevant, authoritative, and credible information. Here’s an example of how that works:

Per the guidelines, when the user’s query seems to either ask for or tolerate potentially upsetting, offensive, or sensitive content, they will call the query an “Upsetting-Offensive tolerant query”. Google and the quality raters will assume that users have a dominant educational/informational intent for upsetting-offensive tolerant queries, and the results will be rated on the “Needs Met” rating scae assuming a genuine educational/information intent.

The Impact on SEO

It’s important to note that flagging a page as having upsetting or offensive content doesn’t immediately result in a ban or penalty. The findings of quality raters remains used in the same way it always has been: a collection of “training data” that Google will use for future algorithms. When the quality raters see and flag a lot of problem recurring within a specific industry or in response to certain searches, Google coders use that information for future updates and algorithms so that the search engine will be able to auto-identify upsetting-offensive material.

That being said, it’s entirely possible that some flagged websites will later be internally reviewed by Google and result in a penalty or demotion. For instance, some manual penalties on websites have come about as a result of quality rater findings. Though the purpose of quality rater findings is to accumulate data for future updates, it is by no means a stretch to suspect that some upsetting-offensive content flags will impact the SEO of certain websites.

User Responsibility in a Time of Misinformation

These steps towards having more credible and reliable comments sections and search results are exciting. As users, we all stand to benefit from having access and exposure to the best possible content out there, so we can continue to learn, share, and produce ever-improved ideas.

However, the need for such tools speaks volumes of current user/search behavior. If the top search results we see are “news sources” that are eye-level with tabloids, what does that say about the kind of content we consume? Google has contracted over 10,000 people to flag racial slurs, graphic violence, and content that promotes hate and violence against entire groups of people based on race, religion, gender, citizenship, etc. But what does the overwhelming prevalence of that material say about what users are putting online?

All users have a responsibility as both consumers and producers of content to be both pragmatic and respectful in their online communities. We can’t blame online platforms for blind partisanship, irresponsible speech, or inappropriate content, because the algorithms of Google and Facebook have nothing to sort and rank without our user behavior.

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5 Out of the Box Ideas to Get More Reviews

Reviews have a lot of value for brands, especially when it comes to smaller businesses. What other buyers are saying about your business is often the make or break factor for future customers. This is especially true now that so many users look for recommendations. Surveys seem to indicate that, despite some issues with fake or paid testimonials, reviews are still important to consumers:

  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 40% of buyers form an opinion of a business after reading just 1-3 reviews
  • 72% of buyers will take action only after reading a positive review

Reviews play an important role in SEO as well, because the constant generation of unique content (reviews) from a wide range of users (customers) has a positive impact on website rank. In fact, reviews can have an impact of up to 10% on a business’s search ranking.

It’s important to be ethical in your pursuit of accumulating business reviews, which is why paying people to write or post fake reviews isn’t the best method. Luckily, there are some unique ways to generate more reviews from customers without being shady about it. Here are 5 ideas to get you started.

  1. Check-in Perks

It’s not quite a full review, but it does turn heads towards your business. Having customers check-in when they’re in your store and mention something about their experience is a great way to gain exposure across a broader network. It’s also a good way to foster customer loyalty and keep regulars coming back.

Real life example: One of my favorite pizza places has check-in Tuesdays. If you check in at the pizza location on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and say something about pizza, you get a discount on your meal or a free drink. Now, pizza is a standing option for lunch on Tuesdays.

Any business can employ a similar tactic, whether it’s a freebie or a discount, and see more return than it costs.

  1. Text Reviews

Half of the battle is finding a way to reach customers where they’re at. It’s easy for customers to ignore an email or forget to visit the Yelp or Google Reviews page of a business, so where do you find them? One great way to streamline the review process is to follow-up via text message.

Real life example: I recently tried out a class at a new yoga studio, which required the usual sign-up information (name, email, cell phone number). The day after the class, I received a text message asking to rate my experience on a scale of 1-10. Sending back a number was quick and easy, so when they replied asking me to write a few words about a review, I didn’t hesitate. Two texts later and the yoga studio had both a rating and review within 24 hours of a purchase.

If your customers are people on-the-go, try finding a way to reach them where they’re most likely to engage. If you can eliminate any steps from the review process, your chances of getting a review go up.

  1. Find the Naysayers

One of the best kinds of reviews a business can get is one from a customer who was initially skeptical of the service or product. If you can turn your most skeptical buyer into a customer with a positive experience, then their testimonial has potential to convince other on-the-fence customers of your value.

Real life example: I don’t care for subscription service businesses, such as Blue Apron, Fab Fit Fun, or Hello Fresh, because they seem like a waste of money for things I could purchase myself. A friend of mine shares this opinion, but tried cosmetic subscription service, Ipsy, and loved it. Because she is also skeptical of subscription services but had such a positive experience, I decided to sign up and try a product I didn’t even know I wanted.

Buying is a social experience, and customers will consider the past experiences of others to influence their future buying. Getting your naysayers to sing your praises will bolster your brand’s value in an authentic and convincing way.

  1. Links and Buttons in Email

Most brands and businesses send emails to subscribers with promotional information, coupons, store updates, and other brand happenings. If you’re already regularly sending emails, why not add review buttons to the bottom? Subscribers who receive these emails mostly look for coupons and discounts, giving brands a perfect opportunity to get more reviews.

By adding a link to your brand’s Yelp profile or Google Reviews, you can naturally build review writing into the body of the email. To really incentivize writing reviews, try offering a discount for those who share their experience.

  1. Attach Reminders to Bills & Receipts

If you’re a business with a storefront location, attaching review reminders to bills & receipts can be an effective way to follow up with your customers. A simple line at the bottom of the receipt that asks for their opinion of your service and/or products shows that you value customer input and want feedback.

Trying adding a line at the bottom of receipts that says something like, “How’d we do? Tell us about your experience at xyz,” or “We want to hear from you. Give us feedback at xyz.” Most buyers look for and expect to see businesses seeking feedback in this manner.

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The Best 10 Slack Communities for Digital Marketers

At this point, just about everyone knows what Slack is. In case you don’t, Slack is a super tool and champion of office communication. It brings all the communication (chatting, office-wide announcements, document sharing, polls, etc.) of your office into one seamless and easy to use interface, and serves as a productivity product.

Moreover, it serves as a collaboration product by creating communities and channels for like-minded individuals. While Slack is used by entire organizations and offices, the broader Slack communities bring people from all over the world together by organizing them around a single topic.

What do Slack Communities have to offer?

A lot, really. In Slack communities, you can learn, network, and even bounce ideas of other people in similar fields. This is especially helpful for marketers, influencers, and online pioneers, because the collaborative nature of Slack helps you find what and who you’re looking for in half the time. Plus, users and community members can respond and react immediately.

If you’re a digital marketer using Slack, try checking out these communities. If nothing else, you’ll learn something and make some new connections in the process.

  1. Online Geniuses

Right now, Online Geniuses is one of the biggest marketing Slack communities (over 2,000 members). Members network and talk about all things SEO and digital marketing related, from small niches to powerhouse PPC experts.


As you can probably put together by the name, this community focuses on inbound marketing topics and practices. Conversations bloom around SEO, content strategy, linking, and other trends relevant to inbound marketing.

  1. Conversion World

This community is all about getting to, driving, and encouraging conversions. The conversations in Conversion World tend to be data-driven and analytics-backed, so bring your top geek game to join in on the discussion.

  1. Marketers Chat

Marketers Chat brings together marketing professionals across a broad range of disciplines, including mobile marketing, PPC, SEO, bloggers, and more. It’s a diverse community in which you can expect recommendations for tools, tips and tricks of the trade, and to make connections with affiliate marketers.

  1. Designer Hangout

User experience is a fast moving and integral part of how marketers are able to relay their message to their audiences. The members of the UX Guide Slack community understand that, and pull together UX designers, researchers, and professionals from all over the world to discuss the latest and greatest in UX. The slack channels within the community are localized, so you can speak with UX innovators near you.

  1. Buffer

Buffer is a community of marketers who mostly work with social media platforms and campaigns. It’s a good community to find resources, get feedback or encouragement, and connect with other social marketers.

  1. Growmance

Members of the Growmance community are quick to feedback and participate in open discussions about growth marketing. It’s easy to insert yourself into conversations in this community, and you can gain valuable insights and connections from other members.

  1. SaaS Community

This community is specific to the software as a service community, specifically founders and practicing professionals. In it, members exchange knowledge and experiences, as well as ideas and best practices for SaaS development.

  1. Backlinks

If you’re trying to grow as a blogger or online networker/influencer, this Slack community is probably the most helpful. Members are all looking for similar things in terms of creating valuable professional connections and growing backlink profiles in an effective, meaningful way.

  1. Grey Fedora

It’s a small Slack community, but one in which you’re likely to learn something new. A self-proclaimed community of “hustlers, hackers, and hipsters aiming to connect and reach their ultimate goals,” you can expect nothing less than some marketing inspiration from the musings and conversations that take place.  

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10 Factors that make for an Awesome User Experience

One of the most important factors of a strong online web presence is how well users are able to interact with your site. Whether your users are on desktops, mobile devices, or tablets, the experience your website provides is directly related to conversions and overall online performance. Despite the undeniable importance of user experience, we often see that it’s a factor most overlooked.

Sometimes it’s simply that a few changes and updates need to be made to help a website perform better. In other cases, it’s that a website is outdated and needs to be completely revamped. Regardless of where you’re at with your own website, checking these 10 elements of user experience will help you identify weak spots and identify avenues for growth or improvement.

  1. Page Speed

After a user clicks on your website, you have about 1/10th of a second to make an impression and push them closer to a conversion. There are millions of websites online, so if the load speed of your site takes too long, it’s highly likely that a user will bounce from your page and find another website. Test your site speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. If you find that it’s lagging, talk to your web developer about improving it.

  1. Mobile-Friendly

Ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly and has a design that’s responsive across all devices is imperative to online success. This is especially true now that shifts in search behavior reveal a huge rise in the number of mobile searchers compared to desktop. You can see how your site performs by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly test.

  1. Contact Information (CTA) Buttons

According to a recent study, 44% of website visitors will leave a company’s website if the contact information or phone number isn’t displayed and 51% of people think “thorough contact information” is the most important element missing from company websites. For mobile optimization especially, you should have easy to find contact buttons that clearly illuminate a path for your users to reach you.

  1. Instinctive Navigation

In the most successful web designs, users instinctively know where to click and how to navigate through a website. An important part of facilitating that intuitive use is having a readily displayed and user-friendly navigation menu that maps out your site. Ideally, it will direct users to the most important parts of your website in as few clicks as possible.

  1. Brand Logo Linking

In keeping with navigation, linking your home page to the displayed logo of a website is an important detail not to miss. One study showed that, after reaching a site via a referral site, 35% of visitors will click on the company’s logo to reach the homepage. It’s an intuitive part of user behavior and an easy user experience detail for websites to have.

  1. Short Forms

Form fields are an important part of the conversion process for many companies. If a user wants to request more information or download something off of a website, then a simple form field should request and require their contact information. That being said, having too many form fields will turn users away. Try to limit your form fields to the basics: name, email address or phone number, and reason for stopping by.

  1. Advertisements/Pop-Ups

There’s a fine line between too much and just enough when it comes to ads. For an example of a company that crosses that line, look no further than Forbes. Users are first directed to a page with a quote of the day, as well as an advertisement on the right, that they must stay on for a countdown of 3-5 seconds. Upon clicking on an article, users will see an advertisement in the header, on the right side of the page, and mixed in with the content. While I love Forbes and the content they produce, I avoid their website at all costs, because I know I can expect a poor user experience. Make sure your ads are not intrusive and don’t cross the line.

  1. Auto-Playing Media

This is also along the lines of making sure ads and pop-ups aren’t ruining the user experience of your site. Media–in ads, as part of your website content, or elsewhere–should not play without user interaction. If the user doesn’t click on or hover over the media, it should not play! If media does play without user interaction, you’ll end up being the website that users promptly close out of to escape unwanted audio.

  1. Site Search Feature

An internal site search bar can help keep users on your website longer. If the navigation menu fails to show a user what they’re looking for, an internal search feature can be the last stop. This is particularly effective for users searching for something specific. Adding a site search feature in the footer of your website or next to the navigation bar will give users another way to browse your site.

  1. Visual Appeal

Aesthetics matter, especially online. Adobe’s studies show that 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive, and that when given 15 minutes to consume content, two-thirds of people would rather read something beautifully designed than something plain. The color, balance, layout, and images your website has all play a hand in the overall look and feel.

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Generating Backlinks With Pinterest

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December of 2011 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Backlinks are still a major part of SEO and an integral part of organically raising search engine rankings. Yet the practice of collecting and generating backlinks seems as tedious and easy to mess up as ever. Since search engines now prioritize topic relevance and user experience so highly, no longer will the washed-up, Free-For-All (FFA) backlink practices cut it.

Comment spam is also well on its way out of the SEO repertoire; following Google’s ‘do or die’ philosophy is a pain, yet a necessary evil, and the task of exposing your content and/or website can feel a lot like running in place. Fortunately, the success of so many platforms and channels provides a perfect opportunity to generate backlinks. Pinterest is a perfect example of a platform that’s had a lot of success in a short amount of time, and with a tactical approach, you’ll have an opportunity to gather bunch of backlinks, in a short amount of time, while boosting your site’s worth in the process.

If you’re wondering why you should even bother putting together a Pinterest strategy when you already have other social channels, here are a few compelling facts:

  • There are 150 million active users on Pinterest; 176 million registered users total
  • 55% of U.S. online shoppers pick Pinterest as their favorite social media platform
  • 47% of U.S. online shoppers bought something as a result of a Pinterest recommendation
  • The half-life of a Pinterest Pin is about 1,600 times longer than a Facebook post

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Pinterest is the golden goose of free marketing for businesses. It’s the perfect platform to share content, get backlinks, and participate and exist among your audience. With the implementation of a few best practices, your business can strategically use a Pinterest presence for SEO.

Some things to keep in mind about generating backlinks on Pinterest:

  • Images are paramount in establishing the feel of an article or product when a visitor comes to your site.  Having poorly tagged images is firstly embarrassing, and secondly costs you organic rankings.  Pinterest is a visual platform, and the images you use bridge the gap between users and your content/products/website/whatever. To generate backlinks on Pinterest, you’ll need to make sure you have appealing, eye-catching images attached to Pins.
    • Choose the ‘create new pin’ option and enter the URL of your website or blog.  From there, Pinterest will scan your site and yank all available images (even affiliate banners) for you to choose from. Once you select your image, the page it came from will automatically be appended to the image.  Give your image a small description that includes the keyword of the page where the image lands and a direct link to the page. You’ll earn 2 deep backlinks that will bolster the credibility of your site-and that’s just from one Pin.

Bad Pinterest Image:

  • Like any social platform, optimizing your profile is an important part of earning high quality backlinks. With a half-completed profile, you run the risk of looking fraudulent or lacking in credible. Users should have access to plenty of your business or brand information simply by viewing your profile.
    • Start by making sure your username is concise and easy to follow. It should reflect your brand or business and will ultimately serve as your keyword, so make sure it’s congruent with the identity you want to have and maintain on Pinterest. The About, Location, and Website fields should all be filled with your current brand information, and a relevant profile picture should be added as well.
  • The Pinterest boards you have should be a fully functioning archive of links, visuals, and concepts that reflect the values and offerings of your brand. Pins/Repins from users are nice, but getting a user to follow you depends heavily on the kind of content you populate your boards with.
    • Create several well-themed boards and populate them with a diverse array of Pins, both from your site and elsewhere. The goal is to relate to your audience and exist among users, so search for keywords that are relevant to your industry and Pin content that your users would want to see and that inspires and complements your brand.

Remember, when used correctly, Pinterest has a lot of potential as a resource. It’s an ideal platform for generating backlinks, but it’s also a highly trafficked, user-friendly place to position your brand as an authority with your audience.

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Google Launches New Troll Filtering Tool-What You Need to Know

The internet is a place where many things can happen. People use it to inspire, motivate, organize, inform, and debate. But like all powerful outlets with minimally regulated environments, the internet has also become a place where disagreements can quickly turn into verbal sparring and even harassment. The removal of face-to-face contact and the anonymity provided by a screen and keyboard emblazons some users to unleash on one another, or rather, troll one another.

In case you’re unfamiliar with trolling:

Since the rapid takeoff of social platforms and the recognition of deeply problematic issues like cyberbullying, trolling has become as ingrained in the culture of online users as any other part of the internet. Some platforms, such as Yik Yak, seem to exist for the sole purpose of trolling, and online users can now expect the comments section of any shared post or news article to be flooded with deliberately offensive, provocative, and unproductive comments.

Trolling Hinders User Experience

Though the problem of trolling existed long before, it’s seemed to sky rocket in the past few years. A deeply controversial presidential election, growing concern surrounding international affairs, and an infectious fear of terrorist activity have all had a pernicious influence on online communities. The nature of trolling has only been made worse by the widespread sharing of actual fake news, as well as a more recently led witch hunt that promotes the defamation of prominent and reputable news source.

This, perhaps, is the inspiration behind the development of Google’s newest API, Perspective (API stands for Application Programming Interface-a set of instructions that tell developers how to integrate to an existing piece of software).

What is Perspective?

Perspective is an API made for publishers to incorporate into their websites. It cross-checks user comments against a human-generated database of comments that have been listed as offensive. As a user is leaving a comment, Perspective compares it to the hundreds of thousands of offensive comments in the database and then delivers a “toxicity” score on a scale of 0-100.

As it applies to the API, toxicity is defined as how likely a comment is to offend another user or cause someone to leave a conversation:

Working from this definition of toxic and the databases full of examples of such comments, Perspective will give feedback to commenters and website moderators in real time, like this:

Publishers will receive notification of comments that reach their toxicity threshold, and can then decide what to do with them.

Is this Google’s version of censorship?

The answer to this question might take some time to reveal itself. The API, only just launched at the end of February, does give publishers the power to determine their own toxicity threshold. Publishers can decide on a toxicity threshold of comments scored at 59 or 99, and the actions taken in response to such comments are also made at the publisher’s discretion.

Rather than being an application that censors conversation by way of placing a higher value on certain topics, the goal of Perspective is to improve conversations; part of improving conversations is making sure users aren’t driven away from the conversations in the first place, and thus the basis of Perspective was born.

Who’s using Perspective?

Since Perspective is so new, it has only been launched in partnership with a handful of highly reputable publishers, including the New York Times. Having won more Pulitzer prizes (119, to be exact) than any other news organization and being a leading producer of content across all cultural spheres (politics, art, opinion, international affairs, and more), the New York Times makes for a perfect test pilot for Perspective.

For the New York Times and platforms like it, the hope is that Perspective will facilitate diverse discussion, expand viewpoints, and provide a safe and respectful platform for their readers’ voices to be heard.

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