7 Tips for Content Marketing Success in 2017

7 Tips for Content Marketing Success in 2017

Published in Uncategorized on 13th December 2016


In our current marketing climate, where “content is king,” many once successful SEO practices have become irrelevant or damaging to one’s site in light of improvements to Google’s ranking algorithm.

Once upon a time you could simply stuff a keyword in the title, subheaders, alt tags, slug, meta-description, and body of an article, and you’d land your content on the first page of Google. This type of SEO (keyword stuffing) hasn’t been in play for close to a decade, but many SEO tricks are still functional today – although it seems like a new article comes out almost daily on either Moz, Backlinko, or Quicksprout arguing that one practice or another is now obsolete.

Google’s attacks against old SEO methods have led many to cry, “SEO is dead.” While this is not true at all (SEO is alive and well), it is undeniable that SEO has changed. The difference is that SEO and content creation have become linked and entwined in new ways, as never before.

As we approach 2017 – a year where content marketing is predicted to play a larger role in digital marketing initiatives than ever before – it is helpful to take a look at some of the current trends in content marketing and what factors will lead a piece of content to rank highly.


Content Marketing Tips for 2017


UX signals reign king             

It is Google’s dream to grant their crawl bots the power to actually read and assess what content is useful and well written. While this ability is currently beyond the power of artificial intelligence, Google moves closer to achieving their goal every day.

Part of this evolution has been shifting away from semantic analysis and focusing more on user experience (UX) signals, such as bounce rate and time on page. For instance, if a user clicks on a search result page in Google, stays on the page for awhile and then goes on to another page on the same site, this tells Google that the content was most likely informative, useful, and authentic. This is what Google wants from their first-page content.

UX signals cannot be cheated, like keyword stuffing used to do, but instead relies upon the content actually being good and informative. As such, well-written content that provides a high utility will result in a higher ranking than uninformative drivel packed full of keywords.

In 2017, research and writing skills will hold a greater value than knowledge of SEO tricks.


Close measurement and analysis of content performance

Measurement and analysis will continue to play a vital role in a company’s content strategy. It is imperative that you track and monitor every piece of content to assess what is working and what is not.

You want to be aware of each piece of content’s impact on conversion, i.e., how and where the content fits into the “buyer’s journey” from the first click to final purchase.

You will also want to keep an eye on UX metrics to help inform you about how new and returning users interact with your content.


Video content will be more prevalent

As platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube continue to remain successful, video content will grow in importance as part of a company’s content marketing plan.

Live streaming will also continue to gain relevance, as demonstrated by Facebook’s adoption of live streaming features.

Video content is also great for boosting UX metrics, as a ten-minute video is much more successful as keeping a reader on the page for ten minutes than a 2000 word article.


Creative writing skills will beat out SEO tricks

Good writing skills will be more important than ever in 2017. The Internet has never been known for the caliber of prose that most of web writing demonstrates. But in an age where time on page and social shares play a larger role in search engine result pages (SERPs) rankings, writing skills will hold a greater value.

Captivating headlines, sub-headers, copy, and voice will keep people on the page longer, and this is what it’s all about. The Internet might have killed the newspaper star, but it will also resurrect him.


LSI still helps

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is an indexing that utilizes a mathematical technique to decipher patterns and connections between various search terms. In practice, LSI denotes those alternate suggested search terms located at the bottom of a Google SERP listing.

By sprinkling the LSI listings for a given keyword throughout an article, this helps Google better understand an article’s content.

This practice has been around for a while but is still very effective.


Backlinks

Having other high-quality sites or influencers link to your content is still a vital part of ranking well in the SERPs. There are thousands of articles on how to obtain backlinks on the web already, so I won’t bore you. But the general idea, in short, is to create content that highly influential people or companies in your niche are likely to share and/or link out to as a source.

This can be achieved by researching what kind of content high influencers have recently shared and/or linked to and using that information as inspiration to create something of high value. 


Social shares will become more important

 As was the case in 2016, social shares will continue to hold high value in 2017. To achieve success in this competitive space, it will be imperative that you put aside some money from your content marketing budget for social promotion.

The key here is to find influencers in your niche with high follower counts, who you can pay to share your content with their audience of loyal followers, thereby growing your audience and spreading brand awareness.

 

Photo credit: Undrey/Shutterstock

Why Your Company Should Be “Remote-Ready” (Even If You’re Not)

Why Your Company Should Be “Remote-Ready” (Even If You’re Not)

Published in Uncategorized on 13th December 2016


In 1979 Frank Sinatra said, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” He was referring to New York, but today, a more accurate statement might be, “If you can make it everywhere, you can make it anywhere.” In other words, if your company can work effectively with team members distributed across multiple locations, then it can work well in any environment.

In the summer of 2014, I moved from Moscow to open our office in NYC, leaving my team of developers behind in Russia. While I continued to lead the engineering team remotely, the transition taught all of us some important lessons.

When your whole team is sitting in the same room, it’s easy to assume that you don’t need processes like release management, documentation, regular meetings or reports. In that sense, going remote is like taking off the training wheels. The transition forced us to become more disciplined and ultimately made the company more efficient.

Developer, interrupted – little chats are big time wasters

 “Got a minute?” How many times do engineers hear that throughout the day? If one person has a question, it’s very likely that others do too. Pretty soon engineers are spending all day answering questions instead of writing code. Studies show that once a knowledge worker gets interrupted, it not only increases stress levels, but it also takes over 23 minutes, on average, to return to the previous task.

 Try a closed door policy

Frequent questions can mean knowledge isn’t being disseminated effectively. Are new employees starved for information or context because it’s trapped in email old threads? If that is the case, consider a team wiki or other central repository.

Get information out of Slack into email, where employees who are new to a project can easily go back and find what they need. Encourage document sharing by default, so a single updated version exists and can be easily referenced by everyone.

Keep in mind that software itself won’t solve your problems if your team doesn’t use it (or doesn’t use it properly). Slack, and similar tools, can be overwhelming if employees feel like they have to respond immediately or subscribe to every channel. Likewise, shared information repositories won’t be relevant unless they’re universally adopted as the canonical source for information. It’s absolutely critical for management to set the tone for this. If only some information makes it in, employees won’t bother checking. You want your database to be the Amazon of internal information, not the sidewalk sale of odds and ends.

Get it in writing

Another problem with sidebar chats is that they don’t leave a paper trail. Items agreed on orally can be forgotten or misunderstood, despite both parties thinking that they were on the same page. This leads to more ambiguity down the road.

Besides being time-wasters and unreliable sources of information, these off the cuff conversations rarely get captured anywhere, so they don’t grow the institutional knowledge of the company. Other employees or managers can’t audit the decision-making process and therefore can’t understand how a particular decision was reached.

Using collaboration software, like Confluence or Jira, help employees capture conversations while imposing some structure on the communication itself. Employees can chime in when it’s convenient and new members of the team can get up to speed by following the comment thread. Whether you use dedicated software or simple Google Docs, documenting your decision-making will save you a ton of headaches later.

Long Distance Relationships

Just like adding nodes to a network, adding people to a team increases complexity and overhead for everyone, and the effects of bad habits and sloppy procedures can become magnified exponentially. Don’t wait until things are at the breaking point to formalize project management, communication, and engineering processes. When I began managing my team from the other side of the world, we were forced to sort out all of those things right away. It was sink or swim. We began using JIRA and Confluence way more aggressively to track specifications and software issues. Had we done it sooner, the company would have reaped the benefits of less stress and increased efficiency.

Accountability: Results (and only results) Matter

It may seem counter-intuitive, but working in a distributed fashion can yield better results than having a team onsite.  Once you have the frameworks in place, you’ll realize how much easier it is to scale. And doing the work to decouple one employee from the office lays the groundwork for others to work remotely too. This also means you’re no longer restricted to hiring from a particular geographic area – and this is a tremendous advantage, both for access to talent and salaries. Instead of paying high salaries in places like San Francisco, you can offer a better quality of life to employees in less expensive areas.

When your team is remote, showing up at a desk every day isn’t enough. In fact, it doesn’t matter at all. Take the time to set objective, quantifiable KPIs and OKRs. This type of “results only work environment” allows each employee to work in whatever style suits him or her, without worrying about subjective evaluations.

Of course, this relies on everyone being accountable and able to properly manage their own time. In reality, most senior-level employees are already good at this. For those team members that need more structure , try assigning specific hours to be online or having employees in the same area work together in a small office or co-working space.

Meetings Make a Comeback

Meetings are often seen as the bane of productivity – especially by engineers. But when you’re several thousand miles away, online meetings serve as your real-time lifeline to each other. Think of them as quality time, like coming home for the holidays.

And like a trip home, remote meetings need to be planned in advance to accommodate everyone’s schedule – even when it’s just a one-on-one. This encourages participants to come prepared, since it’s more difficult to casually push back or rearrange meeting times. It also discourages random interruptions since participants schedules are clearly blocked off ahead of time.

Sight and Sound

When you’re trying to mimic face-to-face communication over long distances, aesthetics matter. Remember, this is the only real-time contact you’ll have with most of your teammates.

The technical quality of videoconferencing and other internal communications is often an afterthought, but it can have a noticeable effect on the engagement level and emotional connection of your team. You don’t need a TV studio, but paying attention to a few small details can provide major improvements. For example, for video conferencing apps like Google Hangouts or Skype, make sure each person is at his or her own computer. Forcing a group to huddle around a laptop causes people to disengage and can bifurcate the group into what feels like “local” and “remote” members.

Having each participant use a headset, or earbuds with a microphone, reduces crosstalk and provides the clearest sound. Aim for the fidelity of a high-quality podcast and avoid the speakerphone tunnel sound that fatigues listeners and makes them want to disconnect.

Lighting is important too. No one likes looking at a grainy image of face lit by the cold blue light of a laptop screen. As a courtesy to your team members, turn on some decent lighting, even if it’s just bouncing a desk lamp off a nearby wall.

During your meeting, try using a shared document as both an agenda as well as collaborative note and sketch pad. This not only provides a detailed takeaway of the points discussed, but it also provides some visual reinforcement and structure to the conversation.

Slack is Great, But Find Some Overlap

Slack is wonderful, as long as everyone on your team agrees how it will be used. For workers in different timezones, that usually means using it asynchronously (i.e. not expecting an immediate response). Allowing for different response times prevents the aforementioned disruptions, but it also means that it can be inefficient for in-depth conversations. When you need a detailed discussion, schedule a meeting and work things out.

Your team should try to find at least two hours per day when everyone is online simultaneously. Schedule all of your meetings during these precious hours. This can be mean getting up early or staying up late for collaborators on opposite sides of the globe, but for some issues there’s no substitute for connecting in real-time. For everything else, send detailed messages or document the specifics in a collaboration tool like JIRA or Confluence.

Most importantly, schedule two or three trips per year for your team to meet in person. A change in environment can help shift employee mindsets from day-to-day operations to long-term strategic thinking. But don’t discount the need to have some bonding time as well. Participating in non-work activities together reminds everyone that there is a real human being on the other end of that Slack window and that you’re all on the same team.

Get “Remote-Ready”

Working in a distributed environment actually made us more efficient. And while our processes didn’t come together overnight, they made our company more disciplined and more flexible.

Even if you’re not planning on going distributed anytime soon, preparing as if you were can help you spot inefficiencies and fix bad habits before they become ingrained. And being location-agnostic will give your company more flexibility in the future.

Image from faithie/Shutterstock.com

The 5 Most Important Qualities You Must Have in Your CTO

The 5 Most Important Qualities You Must Have in Your CTO

Published in Uncategorized on 11th December 2016


The long road to the success of your startup begins with building the right team that would preserve your business through all the usual ups and downs that a startup faces during the early stages of its development. Though sometimes underappreciated by many first time entrepreneurs, the CTO’s role might be the most critical position in your company during the initial product and business development phase. The importance of finding the right person for this position is hard to overestimate. During the initial stages, this person alone might make or break all your future chances of success.

Without a doubt, the best-case scenario is to have an experienced technology co-founder who has already had multiple successful product launches under her belt, deep technological expertise, great managerial skills and business acumen. But what if you don’t have such a person on your team? Should you hold off until you find one? Should you settle for less so that you can move forward quickly?


Is there a shortcut?

Decision-making under pressure is never a good idea. However, for an early stage business, it is easier said than done. Being under pressure from potential investors, competitors and eternal thirst, an entrepreneur thrive to move forward quickly. It is a fairly usual case when lacking sufficient technological and product development expertise, and after a long and fruitless search for a proper CTO candidate, the entrepreneur settles for a young software engineer, techie geek or just a friend of a friend for the interim CTO role.

Does that sound like the right decision that will keep your R&D on track at least until you find a good fit? I’m afraid it doesn’t.

Based on my experience from working with many early stage companies, compromising on a CTO can lead to a total collapse of the product development process and eventually your startup; failed business objectives, subpar product characteristics, and performance, waste of a budget, loss of labor hours and deployments that take forever. In most cases, this is not something your early-stage startup will be able to live through.

It requires a lot of experience in order to take your business idea and translate it into the product vision, functional specifications, development milestones and product architecture. It takes the experience to make some hard choices on features’ priorities, internal shortcuts, and even hacks to make it work within the existing budgetary and time limits. All this, while keeping – his or her eyes and ears open, constantly communicating with the rest of the team and even soliciting for customer feedback. This is not easy but these are the basic skill sets you will need in your CTO.  


What it takes to be the right CTO

It goes without saying that the technology and product development expertise are important for a CTO. However, there is a full set of qualities that a proper CTO should have which are essential for the success of your startup. So let’s take a closer look at each quality and discuss why you should care deeply about each and every one of them.


1. Product vision

An average developer could be skillful in technical terms but she might not have enough experience to be able to create a product strategy for your business. A CTO must see the whole picture, including the business side.  She should be able to take your business ideas and initiatives and transform them into a real working product.

The right CTO will be able to form a focused, achievable vision of your product from the prototype to the MVP, to the first production version and beyond. She should fully understand and care deeply about:

  • Who the end users are, what their problems are and how the product resolves them.
  • What features and to what extent should it include at every stage.
  • Decide what shortcuts can be made in order to reduce costs and meet important deadlines.

If your CTO does not have these qualities, then all you will end up with -is a product that does not fulfill its promise, a broken budget, unmet deadlines and plenty of excuses.


2. Management skills and people’s person

A CTO’s job implies that there are more managerial responsibilities than technical ones. The CTO is responsible for the whole R&D management process. This includes:

  • Managing the company’s development resources.
  • Choosing the most cost-effective development solutions.
  • Vetting new candidates for the developers’ team.

However, even with limited financial incentives, a strong CTO must be able to fire up the developers with her vision, charisma, and expertise. Talented people are attracted to talent and oftentimes are willing to sacrifice a fat paycheck for being a part of something bigger. Only a talented and experienced leader can create such affection.   


3. System architecture and UI/UX

Any product has internal system architecture and external user interfaces. A good CTO has to be able to form a qualified opinion on both:

  • What is the proper internal architecture that allows you to launch fast and scale rapidly? Where should you draw the line between quick and dirty beta version and clean and modular production?
  • What are the programming languages, frameworks and 3rd party modules that are required in order to build the product? This decision should be based on something more substantial than just personal preferences or, worse yet, personal ignorance. This will have a strong and long-lasting impact on the development strategy for years to come.
  • What are the right screen and user flows that would translate into high user retention and monetization? How to optimize UI, deal with the usability issues and facilitate user feedback?  

Those are the daily questions that CTOs face and your CTO should be able to provide a good answer.


4. An executive with strong and well-rounded credentials

Your CTO will be facing your partners, customers, and potential investors on a daily basis. If you think you can take care of all external communication yourself, think again. There will be technical issues that your partners would prefer to resolve with the “tech guy” directly. Your potential investors may want to evaluate his or her competency and not just technical ones. Your customer may want to discuss some potential features, general feasibility, and a development timeframe. You need an executive with strong presentation and communication skills, who can articulate and sell your vision to the world. A software engineer will simply not cut it.    


5. Partner and team player

Your business will likely take years to bear fruit and there will be numerous ups and downs which you will need to overcome as a team. It is critical that you feel you are able to communicate clearly and openly with your CTO, which you will do on an hourly or daily basis. You should actually like the person, you should trust your CTO with your money, your ideas and your business. This is more than just a friendship and will oftentimes feel more like a marriage. Not many people will fit this role. It will take months or even years to find a good fit. Who has time for that? 


Is there a viable alternative?

Well, the bad news is that finding the person who will satisfy all these requirements is extremely hard. You don’t have sufficient funding to pay for such a talented player and these guys usually have plenty of options to choose from. Besides, even if you find the right candidate, both of you will need some time to adjust to each other and to make sure that you fit well together. Remember, you are looking for someone who will go hand in hand with you for years to come.

It might take a year or more to find the right match, but what if you don’t have that much time?

The good news is, however, that there is a viable alternative that can buy you more time to find that perfect CTO without delaying your product development progress. Since your priority is to develop an MVP as soon as possible, you have the option to cooperate with a strong product development company, which can offer its services as a technology partner.

Granted, your company won’t be able to operate without a resident Technical Officer for long, as a good CTO is vital for any technology startup. However, luckily, in most real-life scenarios, no CTO is actually better than a bad CTO. Being aware of your shortcomings and acting appropriately is better than putting your trust, money and the future of your company in the hands of a random person.  

Partnering with the right company will require a diligent selection process on your side. It takes experienced product and project managers that are able to work with you and your customers. A full range of product development services has to be readily available within the company to design, develop and support the product throughout its life cycle from a functional prototype, through the MVP and on to the production version.

Having the right technology partner will give you the required amount of time that you need in order to find the right CTO while also moving forward with your plans. Furthermore, your technology partner may even be able to help you with identifying the right candidate.


How does it work?

Taking the lead on all aspects of a new product requires a well-defined multiphase approach

  1. Setup. Your technology partner will assign a dedicated development team to your project which will be led by an experienced product manager.
  2. Product definition. Just as your CTO would do, your dedicated Product Manager will gather the business requirements, identify the main actors, user flows and transform them into the development requirements. They will also help you define an MVP.
  3. Planning and management. With years of experience and multiple successful projects under their belt, your dedicated team will identify the technology stack to be used, define the roadmap and milestones which are critical to your startup. The tasks will be efficiently split- between developers. They will define the shortcuts to reduce initial costs.
  4. Development. They will provide you with development resources, depending on your current needs. In any case, they will be able to scale up when you need it most and scale down when funds are tight. That’s why you should be looking for a partner who provides a full range of services, from A to Z. Even if you don’t need it now, you will – in the future as your business grows.
  5. Release. A technology partner will ensure that your product is launched on time and within the budget.

Succeeding with your startup is going to be a long ride. Make sure you fully realize all the options available to you to make this ride fruitful from the very start.

 

Photo credit: ScandinavianStock/Shutterstock

Why the Traditional 9-to-5 Job No Longer Makes Sense

Why the Traditional 9-to-5 Job No Longer Makes Sense

Published in Uncategorized on 11th December 2016


When Sweden introduced the 6-hour working day, workers from all around the world nodded with approval. They wish their employers would do the same for them. Most employers, on the other hand, are not particularly thrilled with the idea. Aren’t you supposed to get the maximum out of each employee you have? How are you supposed to get better results if you reduce their time at work? Well, the point of this project was to motivate the workers to get more done in less time, and that’s exactly what happened.

Who thought of the 8-hour working day, anyway? In fact, the 40-hour weekly working time started as a movement for labor rights, and it was known as the short-time movement. The campaign was started by Robert Owen, who thought of the slogan: “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” That was a big idea… for the 18th century. How comes we’re still sticking to it?


Flexibility Makes Sense

It’s time to rethink our opinions about the 9-to-5 working day.

Rob Aucoin, a career advisor from Careers Booster, explains that this principle doesn’t work for modern-day workers and bosses. “When we are asking our employees to be creative, we can’t limit their creativity within 8 hours a day. What if you’re dealing with a person who would work brilliantly at night? One of my best employees needs to rest multiple times during the day, due to hypothyroidism. If I force her to give her best from 9 to 5, I’ll only lose a valuable worker. When I allow her to be flexible, she follows her own rhythm and delivers each and every project on time.”

The 9-to-5 job schedule doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. We’ll give you few reasons to back up that claim:


1. We Manage Energy, Not Time

According to famous business book author Tony Schwartz, an employer needs to learn how to manage four types of energy:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Mental

Remember: you’re managing people, not machines. People’s energy moves cyclically, so you can’t expect them to be at the pick of their mental energy cycle for 8 hours straight.


2. People Need Breaks

Be honest when you speak from your own experience: can you stay focused on the work for 8 hours straight? No; that’s why you give yourself breaks. Of course, your employees also get a break during working time. But, guess what: they need more breaks.

Here’s another important thing we can learn from Tony Schwartz: people’s minds can stay focused on a given task for 90 minutes. After that, they need a 20-minute break before they continue working. If you’re really confident that you’ll stick to the 8-hour working day, then you would have to allow your employees to take more breaks.


3. Routines Don’t Make Sense

You get up at the same time every single day. You have your breakfast, get dressed, and head off to work. There, you see the same faces and deal with the same tasks. You wait for the break, and you continue working. You get home at the same time. Sooner or later, you start wondering: is this what life should be like?

Routines are boring. Creative people, in particular, prefer viewing their days as blocks of time, and they like having space for hobbies throughout the day. They will cover the task successfully if they are the right people for the right job. However, they will appreciate a boss who allows them to be creative when it’s convenient for them.


4. Your Employees Don’t Perform Equally

You expect your customer support agents, creative employees who work on projects, and accountants to work during the same hours in a day. Most other companies have 9-to-5 working hours, so you assumed that was the optimal interval for maximum results. There’s a problem, though: you can’t treat all individuals in the company equally.

Different activities require different levels of focus, and different mental and physical effort. That’s why a goal-based approach is more effective.

Best Buy implemented a goal-based policy in 2006. The ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) allowed the employees to work from anywhere, whenever they wanted. As long as they were getting the job done, the company was satisfied. When the company decided to end this policy in 2013, it was because they needed more employees being present in the office. Still, the program was proven to be very effective in terms of setting objectives and delegating tasks. The employees were motivated and the objectives were met.


5. Creatives Don’t Like Structure

Are you dealing with marketers, writers, or other employees whose main task is to be creative? Well, you need to understand that they don’t have a creativity button. You cannot expect a writer to produce high-quality promotional content within the same working hours, every single day.

When you want to use the full potential of a creative worker, give them the pieces of the puzzle and the deadline. Then, allow them to work whenever they want to, as long as they meet that deadline.


6. Independence Is Important

Creative workers don’t like structure, but they are not afraid of responsibility. Assuming you’re dealing with great employees who achieve top-notch results, you already know that when they accept a task, they will get it done.

However, creative people need their personal space. They need a certain level of independence, which allows them to infuse their character into everything they produce. That’s why you need to give them some space.

If you were thinking about creating an outsourced team, there’s no reason to be afraid of failure. When you make the working time more flexible to your employees, you’ll be surprised with the results they achieve. The important thing is to clarify the goals and deadlines, and pick the right people for the tasks. Then, observe the results and act as necessary.

 

 

Photo credit: designer491/Shutterstock

Why Content Matters: Understanding the New Approach to Commerce

Why Content Matters: Understanding the New Approach to Commerce

Published in Uncategorized on 10th December 2016


In this digital world of websites, social media, video blogs, etc., the importance of good content cannot be undermined. Companies that do not give priority to content creation, will, and often do, fail in achieving their marketing goals.Long gone are the days when companies could simply launch a product or service through a press release and some print advertisements.

Today, organizations use a variety of digital promotional strategies including social media marketing activities, blogs, video and photos to build an online presence.

Since they now rely more than ever on social media channels to share and release marketing messages, it has become imperative that the content an organization puts out is good enough to attract, convince and retain a customer’s attention. If the content posted across social media is authentic and relevant, it can help the company create a good reputation and can even generate more trust and loyalty among the customers

Some of the key benefits of having excellent content include:

  • Higher engagement rates

  • Higher response rates

  • Relevant and timely interactions

  • More word-of-mouth exposure

  • One-on-one connection with customers

  • Greater conversion rates

  • More effective and clear communication

  • Competitive edge

  • Greater customer loyalty

  • Greater brand awareness and retention

  • Greater market penetration

  • Improved marketing message

The value of content will continue to increase. According to the 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America report, 88 percent of business to business (B2B) marketers are using content marketing.

It is estimated that 76 percent of marketers will produce more content in 2016. B2B marketers are also more interested in creating more effective content and want to know more about visual content, repurposing and how they can tell better stories.

Good content is useful in numerous marketing activities including social media posts, blogs, eNewsletters, website articles, videos, white papers, infographics, webinars and webcasts, presentations, reports, eBooks, magazines, books, mobile apps, podcasts, games and so on. Thus, creating exciting, relevant and up-to-date content is the key to successful marketing and social media campaigns.

Here are a few specific reasons how good content can help marketers perform better:


Good Content Attracts Customers

By creating relevant and informative content, you can attract more customers and can also come across as an expert in your respective field. Insightful and helpful content actually reflects how good you are at what you do. If you can successfully achieve this, your customers will definitely turn to you and remain loyal. Pump paddle boards, an e-commerce site, for example, has created customer loyalty by providing valuable how-to guides. When you can provide answers and teach people new things, they will stick with you for years to come.


Good Content Helps Gain Trust

Once again, if you know what you’re talking about, customers will trust you. Since customers today have open access to information from numerous sources, it is imperative that you give them first-hand information that is both accurate and relevant. This way you gain their trust and improve your reputation


Good Content Won’t Get You Blocked

When online marketing initially began, marketers spent a great deal of money on paid advertisements. However, those did not bode well with consumers. Statistics show that in 2015, nearly 200 million people installed an ad-blocking software. This does not mean you can’t reach customers anymore but it does mean that one effective way of doing it is by using good content as consumers are more open and welcoming to informative and intelligent content.


Good Content Provides Growth

No doubt getting good content is a challenging task. There are so many similar websites, so many similar products and services that making your message stand out from the rest are not easy. However, if you can successful achieve this, there is no doubt that you will be able to get more attention and more exposure and your online product or service will experience growth. Content marketing experts estimate that leaders in the world of content marketing experience 7.8 times more site traffic than non-leaders. The better your content, the more traffic you will generate.


Good Content Paves the Way for Owned Channels

More and more companies now rely on owned social media channels to share and release marketing messages. Owned social media channels are company-owned communication groups which they have more control over. In this way, companies can directly interact with their audience and communicate information about new products and services, changes, promotions and discounts, upgrades etc. The public thus gains access to first-hand information about their desired product or brand. In addition, having your own channels can help marketers reach more customers and enable them to push their marketing message more effectively.

Overall, it is evident that the better your content, the better your business results will be. Investment in this particular aspect of marketing can result in long-term benefits that greatly outweigh the costs.

 

 

Photo credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

5 Ways to Launch a Successful Kickstarter

5 Ways to Launch a Successful Kickstarter

Published in Uncategorized on 10th December 2016


Crowdfunding has exploded as an opportunity for companies to raise money before ever putting together a product or having to worry about manufacturing costs. This also works as a way to engage with customers, presell units, and gain press/marketing exposure all with relatively little resources upfront.

Recently, four college freshman launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their new product, Band.it. What started as an idea while they were still in high school became an overnight sensation. They didn’t have degrees in business or engineering, nor did they have enormous funding behind them. These are the five steps they followed to make $10,000 in 24 hours — from their dorm room. 


1. Get your ducks in a row

Crowdfunding is commonly misconstrued as a sales platform, but in reality is a story platform. People can’t see and feel the final product before they invest, so it’s a risk. They pledge money to you because they want to be a part of something greater than the product. You need to tell a story.

Everything that went on behind the scenes of the creation of your product is your story, and it needs to be recorded. It is the most important aspect of your campaign. It will draw people to fall in love with you, and ultimately, support your campaign. Some questions to ask yourself before your launch is this:

  • Who is the project for?
  • Where do they mainly spend their time online?
  • What is the most cost effective and exciting way to grab their attention?
  • How long will the campaign run? (A longer campaign does not necessarily mean more money)
  • What is your launch date? (For example, if your product is a new pool toy, don’t launch in December)


2. Obtain a mass number of contacts 

The more people you inform about the campaign the better. Cold emailing can be daunting but also can prove to be one of the most effective forms of spreading the word. It could potentially bring in your largest backers. However, DO NOT mass email people. This turns folks away completely. Personal emails that play to the interests of your contact take time, but they pay off in the end.


3. Plan your pre-launch

Having email templates to send out before and after your launch saves a lot of time and stress. Simply place in personal information to these templates when it’s time to send them out and you’ve knocked out a huge piece of communication for your Kickstarter.

Consider planning a launch party ahead of time. This sounds like a ritzy corporate event but it doesn’t have to be. The Band.it crew hosted one in their dorm commons area and fed everyone chicken tenders from their dining hall. What matters is that you can spread the excitement of your campaign to those who have supported you most throughout the process.


4. Plan your content marketing

A strong social media presence is key to a successful Kickstarter. Facebook, in particular, allows you to make drafts that you can schedule ahead of time. Also, find out what time you’ll reach the biggest audience on social media. For instance, some studies say that the ideal time to post on Instagram is Wednesday at 5 p.m.

To ensure this content campaign goes off without a hitch, you can use platforms such as Hootsuite to schedule your content, posts, etc. all ahead of time. This means that once you are live you can focus on promoting the campaign and not on figuring out what you need to post and tweet each day. Using these platforms also allows you to learn more about what your potential customers are saying about you, engage with them, and see what type of content they are most likely to respond well to. Hootsuite premium even offers a service that creates and schedules content for you automatically, but it’s not free.


5. Set your stretch goals

Most explosive campaigns all utilize “stretch goals” or added features beyond just the original goal. These come in handy to “re-excite” your backers after you reach your first goal. A good campaign will smash through its original fundraising goal within 24 to 48 hours, but this means that for the remaining bulk of the campaign you seem more like an e-commerce platform and lose the power of having a group effect. Throw out an update of an exciting stretch goal and you can completely recreate your campaign.

How to Keep Your Team Motivated and Productive This Christmas Season

How to Keep Your Team Motivated and Productive This Christmas Season

Published in Uncategorized on 9th December 2016


The festive season is approaching, and along with it comes a whole host of performance management issues HR departments need to be wary of. The Christmas period is an exciting one for many, but it can also be a very stressful time; one where employees feel a mounting frustration for not being at home with their loved ones. Whatever the reason, managers everywhere are likely to notice the season’s impact on productivity and performance.

According to a recent MetLife review, December is the most stressful month of the year for 42 percent of workers, who have a hard time dealing with the complicated work-life balance and issues that arise from colleagues taking time away from work. Absenteeism tends to be on the rise at this time, and employees may appear distracted and unmotivated. Though you too might be feeling the pull of the holidays, it is necessary to keep in mind the company’s bottom line.

Regardless of the time of year, managers must keep employees performing to a high standard and achieving their goals. This might sound like a challenge, but there are certain steps that can be put in place to keep everyone motivated and excelling. 


Organize one-on-ones to discuss performance highlights of the year

With the year drawing to a close, December is the perfect time to organize one-on-ones with your employees and discuss how they felt they performed over the past twelve months. You could discuss their personal development plans, goals, and SMART objectives, which will give them added inspiration to perform and excel. During these meetings, remember the importance of recognition of employee engagement and performance.

According to one study, 70 percent of employees who receive appreciation for their efforts state they are happy with their jobs, compared to 39 percent of employees who don’t receive any form of recognition. 


Set clear expectations for the Christmas period

If you notice your employees’ attentions are wavering and they are appearing indifferent about their roles, you need to act immediately. It has been shown that workplace apathy is infectious, so put an end to it swiftly with a clear indication as to what you and the company expect from your employees at this time of year. Set expectations and, as long as they are reasonable, your workforce will likely stay on track and complete tasks.


Provide festive snacks and treats

Having festive food on offer is a simple way to demonstrate to your employees you are thinking of them and you are appreciative of their efforts. It’s a great form of recognition, and according to one study, 60 percent of employees believe company-provided food makes them more productive and feel more valued. Small gestures like this go a long way to comforting and motivating your workforce. When planning your freebies, don’t forget the coffee, the benefits of which are widely discussed. Coffee can boost long-term productivity, increase attention spans and improve focus.   


Reward hard work and motivate performance with a bonus

Christmas can be a costly time of year, and it’s also a time when people take stock of their lives and accomplishments. With another year gone, employees are evaluating their role in the company, remembering their efforts, and wondering whether or not they are being appreciated. For this reason, if your performance management system has an incentive scheme that incorporates bonuses, Christmas is the perfect time to give them out. After all, the promise of a well-earned and generous sum of money on the last working day before Christmas is a fantastic motivator for employees to hit their targets.


Consider experimenting with flexible working

Flexible working has recently been declared the most desired workplace perk, with more than 50 percent of US workers stating it was their top perk. One study shows 41 percent of employees list flexible working as the main reward they keep in mind when looking for employment. Without a doubt, flexible working is more important now than it ever has been. If your company hasn’t encouraged a flexible working environment in the past, the Christmas period might be the perfect time to experiment and introduce concepts such as flexitime.

Allow certain workers to work from home, if their role permits it, or relax on your strict start and end times. Be clear about how many hours you expect your employees to work and allow them, within reason, to decide when they stop and start. You might be surprised at how effectively employees manage themselves and the impact this has on morale. You can also consider relaxing your dress code, assuming your employees aren’t in customer-facing roles. This allows your workforce to really get into the spirit of the festive season. 


Don’t forget the Christmas party

Having an annual office party, or simply a dinner out with your colleagues, is a great way to bring everyone together and create a sense of community. Knowing they have a treat coming up will inspire employees and keep them motivated. Set aside a budget and invest in your team’s morale, as this will no doubt repay itself in terms of overall company productivity.

 

Photo credit: nito/Shutterstock

How to Stay on Top of New Tax Filing Deadlines

How to Stay on Top of New Tax Filing Deadlines

Published in Uncategorized on 8th December 2016


Death and taxes are the only two guarantees in life. But new filing deadlines, which generally take effect for the 2016 tax year and thereafter, will certainly sway how the latter influences small businesses going forward.

Efficiency is a major catalyst for moving many of the existing deadlines. Partnerships and S corporations are known as “flow-through” entities, meaning any due date changes for these commodities gives individual owners time to plug that filing information into their April 15 income tax returns.

On the flip side, C corporations have no tie-in to an owner’s individual tax return, so the deadline has been pushed out another month. Small businesses need to stay abreast of these new cutoffs – as well as the pertinent details that go along with them – to keep their companies in the loop compliance-wise.


Mark your calendars

Get ready to see a noticeable shift in your business’s tax filing schedule. The following date changes are among the most common for calendar-year small businesses and startups:

  • C corps: This is the biggest change for early-stage startups, which are typically Delaware C corps. Small businesses can now file a month later, meaning their new due date is April 15.
  • Partnerships: Partnerships now must file their Form 1065 a month earlier by March 15.
  • S corps: The filing deadline remains the same at March 15.
  • FBAR: If your business has a foreign bank account, pay particular attention to this new deadline; the previous due date of June 30 has been changed to April 15.

Deadlines for allowable extensions will also look a bit different. Every business files an extension at one point or another, but it’s vital for founders to understand which one applies to their respective tax situation. Note that calendar-year C corps, partnerships, and S-corps can file for an extension of time to file until September 15.

We normally don’t see many early-stage companies that transition from a calendar year to a fiscal year. But the IRS does allow C corps to adopt the fiscal calendar as long as they meet the requirements to move off of a calendar year.

All of the dates listed here are based on a standard calendar year that begins January 1. For companies on a fiscal calendar, it’s important to shift these altered deadlines to align with the first day of that year.


How to ready yourself

So what do you need to be thinking about now so you have everything in order come tax season? Here are four items you should discuss with your tax pro:

  1. Figure out how your company will be affected. Your staff accountant should consider the following questions for your company: Did you file as a corporation in this calendar year? If not, when? Conversely, if your business ceased operations, when was it dissolved? Is your company on cash-based or accrual-based accounting? Will the company be profitable this tax year? Just 6 percent of the file under corporate tax regulations, so it’s important to have an upfront conversation with your tax accountant on whether those codes apply to you. It goes a long way toward preventing headaches – and unnecessary tax penalties – down the road.
  2. See how you’ll be affected at a state level. All of these changes are at the federal level. Your tax deadlines in the state – and possibly city – realm are not directly affected by this regulation. If you’re not sure what your state or city tax liabilities are, speak with an accountant as soon as possible.
  3. Rest easy regarding more shifts. Usually, the only changes that come to tax deadlines, both business and personal, are due to deadlines falling on a weekend or federal holiday – and even then, the date shifts only a day or two. Seventy percent of respondents to a Thomson Reuters survey expect even more regulatory information to publish within the next year, despite the deadline changes above taking a literal act of Congress to put into place. There are no other big changes on the horizon, but rest assured that you will know about it when it happens.
  4. Mind your extensions. The new law, of course, allows for extensions when needed. If you think you will need to file one, speak with your tax professional before the first deadline has passed so the proper paperwork can be filed with the IRS. Again, all of these deadline shifts were put into place to make the tax-filing process for business owners an easier one. Don’t let the new deadlines cause you to miss filing an extension. We always see companies that have forgotten or ignored their taxes because they “don’t have the time” or they’ll “do it later.”

As with most cases in life, the IRS will not take “I didn’t know” as an excuse. Stay on top of your filings to avoid penalties, interest, and additional fees. The tedium of filing your taxes isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; in fact, it’ll be coming sooner than expected for the small businesses affected by these new deadlines.

What’s important is knowing about these changes and managing your tax compliance reporting accordingly.

 

Photo credit: one photo/Shutterstock

The Digital Shift: Embracing New Technology and Engaging Your Employees

The Digital Shift: Embracing New Technology and Engaging Your Employees

Published in Uncategorized on 8th December 2016


Hot topics like big data, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and machine learning aren’t merely buzzwords. They’re factors contributing to a profound change in the business landscape and, consequently, the way small- to medium-sized businesses operate within that landscape.

While many businesses have focused on these changes externally to position their brands, focusing on how these trends can be leveraged internally can help businesses tackle a different opportunity when it comes to employee engagement. Sites that publish salaries and reviews have flattened the compensation market. Sites like LinkedIn put your team members up for sale – they’re presented with new opportunities on a daily basis whether they’re looking or not. Some companies are addressing this by offering innovative benefits and cool perks; however, even that has become more of a norm, and you’ll always risk being outpaced by the Googles of the world.

Sites like LinkedIn put your team members up for sale – they’re presented with new opportunities on a daily basis whether they’re looking or not. Some companies are addressing this by offering innovative benefits and cool perks; however, even that has become more of a norm, and you’ll always risk being outpaced by the Googles of the world.

No matter what industry you’re in, if you’re an SMB looking to scale up, you need to make sure you’re fostering the right culture to retain and grow the talent that will get you there. Leveraging some of the same advantages technology has enabled with your external sales and marketing can translate nicely into building engagement with your employees by introducing a “digital culture.”


Introducing a Digital Culture Is Not a Light Switch

There are three main reasons why some companies find it difficult to leverage more digital technology within their organizations. First, “new and improved” to some people can feel like “change and work” to others. When digital aspects are introduced into a job function that has existed for years without them, the benefits to users aren’t always obvious. For instance, rolling out instant messaging, which is supposed to make collaboration easier, may feel like just another thing to monitor and respond to that didn’t exist before.

Some employees are simply set in their ways. Putting tools like document management systems or portals in place to automate or simplify common tasks takes time. Tagging and uploading a document to SharePoint or Dropbox – so everyone in your company has access to it anywhere – sounds like a major improvement over saving multiple versions and recreating content that already exists somewhere else. However, it necessitates a behavioral change. Your team has instinctively been doing things a certain way, and it needs to be retrained to adopt a new process.

Lastly, technology creates exposure. Digital innovations create more transparency, and that poses challenges within an organization. The activity of individuals contributing content, posting to message boards or updating content suddenly exposes more interactions and conversations. This can create feelings of competition in some, as there will be early adopters heavily participating compared to others who are great performers but aren’t as comfortable with the transparency. Key players in your organization who are contributing outside of the digital tools but not participating as much digitally may feel like they aren’t getting recognition.

All three challenges mean one thing: To successfully integrate new technologies into your workplace, employee engagement must become a priority.


Grabbing Engagement With Digital

Here are a few considerations for successfully integrating digital into your culture:

1. Look at what works outside of your business, and apply that inward. Currently, Americans spend nearly 20 percent of their time online on social media channels. We’re being mechanically trained to process information in the form of images, feeds and channels – and in many cases, the content we consume is targeted specifically to us.

SharePoint is not Facebook (though Facebook’s new enterprise platform, Workplace, is giving SharePoint users another option), but consider what social media elements can be incorporated into your enterprise technology and workflows. For example, you can imitate live feeds by integrating a document management system with your internal messaging tools. You can create channels of relevant content, show what documents are trending, and provide opportunities for teams to engage with organization-wide content.

Likewise, pay attention to the techniques advertisers use to insert their messaging into social media. You can mimic those by placing the information you want to communicate to your team alongside areas where team members spend the most time.

2. Involve your organization in the process. Process innovation depends on your employees. Ask different teams at all levels about their jobs, what could be better, and what interests them. Your deployment should feel like an answer to their needs, not an initiative being forced on them.

When digital technology doesn’t contain employee-centric components, it can feel like just one more thing the company is doing to get more work out of employees. Balancing the corporate benefits captured by productivity tools with fun, useful employee features takes the focus away from the corporate agenda and makes your digital initiatives feel more like a benefit than a new tool to use.

3. Clearly communicate your “why.” It’s not enough to tell your employees they have to start using a new tool simply because everyone else is. Communicate the business objectives that come along with that adoption. These can include:

  • Consistency. Increased internal digital communication is helpful in maintaining consistency of voice across your organization’s collateral and sales materials.
  • Collaboration. More digital interaction naturally leads to more collaboration. Sharing becomes a part of the job, so seeking and getting feedback no longer requires scheduled meetings. It can be done ad hoc through instant messaging tools.
  • Quality. A byproduct of increased collaboration is higher-quality work. This isn’t just a boon for your external brand; it can also have a major positive impact on employees’ job satisfaction.
  • Talent. Increased brand loyalty and overall engagement within the company will help you not only keep your best talent, but also attract more.

If you believe that a key to growing your business is your ability to retain and attract the best talent, you need to be building your brand and loyalty inward. Employee engagement isn’t a new concept; however, introducing a digital culture to achieve it might be. It also works.

The Small Business Path to Success in a Penguin 4.0 World

The Small Business Path to Success in a Penguin 4.0 World

Published in Uncategorized on 7th December 2016


Google has made yet another algorithm change with its Penguin 4.0 update. While it’s one of the thousands of changes it conducts each year, this one outweighs any of the other, more minor updates.

Businesses can leverage Penguin 4.0 in their favor, however, as long as they understand the subtleties the new update entails.


Google Penguin’s wobbly path

In April 2012, Google cracked down on websites benefitting from links from contrived or “unnatural” outside websites. In perhaps the first ever move by a business to leverage the intelligence of the “crowd,” Google decided that it wouldn’t rank websites based on its own opinions. Instead, it focused on the respect given a website by other websites. A link was viewed as a vote of confidence from a peer, non-profit or complementary business. The number of backlinks told Google of the website’s value in the eyes of its community. For webmasters and business owners, backlinks from outside websites quickly became ranking gold — until the black-hats came in, sucking all the legitimacy out of Google’s paradigm-shifting method of attributing value. 

One famous case of gaming Google’s backlink-fueled ranking system involved JCPenney. Normally squeaky clean, the retailer hired a maverick SEO firm that helped it quickly rise to the top of SERP for a large number of keyword terms. In the holiday season of 2011, Penney’s dress, bedding, furniture and area rug pages got all the clicks. 

JCPenney’s quick success caught the eye of  New York Times investigative journalists who began exploring just who was providing this amazing amount of “link juice.”  They followed Penney’s backlinks to websites about everything from exotic diseases to dogs to diamond drills to bathroom tiles, all subjects that had nothing to do with household goods and haute couture. 

Miffed (we imagine), Google rolled out Penguin 1.0 in April of 2012. Google employees began manually checking backlinks, evaluating them not only for the quality of the sites they came from but for their relevancy to the page they linked to. Expensive and cumbersome, the labor-intensive program was doomed to obsolescence.


The disproportionate impact of Penguin 1.0 on small and medium businesses 

In 2012 when Penguin 1.0 first hit, webmasters and businesses scrambled to “disavow” or separate themselves from shady backlinks. But Penguin crawled pages separately from the regular algorithm. Further, where the Google algorithm runs every few days, Penguin ran once only every six month or a year. If a business disavowed a backlink, their hard work only got recognized when another iteration of Penguin came out to recrawl and reindex pages. Dependent on fewer keywords and SEO dollars, small and medium-sized business struggled under Google’s Penguin-inspired penalties. 

Understandably, search specialists and business owners pushed for Penguin to be automated and incorporated into the overall algorithm that crawled sites every few days. They wanted their attempts to fix their issues recognized in a timely manner.  But even the super-coders at Google needed years to automate the complicated process.

As of September 23, 2016, Penguin 4.0 has been incorporated into the regular Google algorithm that crawls and indexes websites several times each week.

This move spurred great cheers from the white-hat businesses and SEO firms working hard to get backlinks from other websites through the power of their useful, robust quality content and attention from legitimate news sources and directories. Case in point: Moz CEO Rand Fishkin says, “Time to cheer for Google!” Filled with original, insightful content and well-earned backlinks, Moz wasn’t surprised when its rankings went up in the weeks following the update. Black hat SEO firms and the companies that hire them haven’t been so enthusiastic.   


Penguin 4.0 changes and impact on smaller businesses

Real-time updates

With Penguin 4.0 integrated into Google’s core algorithm, both penalties and recoveries now roll out automatically (fast) rather than manually (slow: months or years). This means that small and medium-sized businesses can get impacted pages ranking higher more quickly, bringing in the revenues they need to make it from season to season.

Today, as Google’s algorithm re-crawls and re-indexes every day or so, changes to the backlinking structure will be recognized and rewarded in “real time” or at least under a week. Many have already reported improvements in rankings.

There’s a tricky part to Penguin 4.0’s integration into the overall algorithm, however.  Site owners will no longer be informed if they’ve been penalized. They must be alert to indirect signs like drops in either organic traffic or rankings of targeted keywords (even branded ones.) Regular audits (weekly) and quick action to remove bad backlinks before Penguin 4.0 even recognizes them can dodge penalties before they occur.

Bad backlinks only impact the page linked to, not the entire domain

In a move to make their algorithm more specific and “granular,” Penguin 4.0 now penalizes only the page a bad backlink refers to rather than the entire website. The good part of this change is that the one bad backlink won’t erode the entire site and the link juice it provides every page. 

On the other hand, these “micro-penalties” will be harder to track. Therefore, business owners and search specialists will have to audit ALL subdomains and important pages more regularly.

Even more of a focus on quality content AND backlinks

Just as Panda forced businesses to create meaningful content that added to conversations and displayed authority (and grammar skills), Penguin 4.0 will force them to seek backlinks from meaningful websites like news outlets, respected directories and quality relevant sites.

Even though Penguin 4.0 finds and penalizes bad backlinks within days, those conducting frequent audits can remain one step ahead by catching them before Google does. 

Look out for links that: 

  • appear in your blog comments with inordinate praise
  • come from countries or states where you don’t do business
  • originate from sites filled with spam (poor and keyword stuffed writing) and duplicate content
  • use the same linking word (as you can see in this article, the links to Moz and SEMRush are contextual and include words around the business names or avoid using the name all together)

Google is only going to rank the most relevant, legitimate and value-filled websites at the top of its search results. The introduction of Penguin 4.0 may make it easier for small and medium sized businesses to crawl out of rankings holes from the original penguin update, but this doesn’t mean that SMBs should stop focusing on producing high-quality, relevant content and collecting meaningful backlinks.

Photo credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock