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19 Awesome SEO Blogs and Websites You’ll Want to Bookmark

Search engine optimization (SEO) standards are constantly changing. Like social media, email marketing, and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), search engines are improving the way in which they deliver results to users every day.

To do this, they’re focusing on things like localization, page authority, click-through rate, and even searches that come from voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

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<p>As a marketer, it is critical to keep up with all of this news. Here’s our reading list of the best SEO blogs on the internet today to help you become a better marketer.</p>
<h2>19 of the Best SEO Blogs on the Internet Today</h2>
<h3>1. <a href=The Moz Blog

Moz has become the gold standard for SEO solutions and how-to articles. The Moz Blog’s team of contributors offers an article per day to help expand your knowledge of search marketing.

2. Neil Patel

Neil Patel and his team of talented marketers break marketing news from every end of the spectrum — SEO being one of them. And their videos are just as intriguing as their blog posts.

3. Search Engine Land

Search Engine Land is one of the best search engine blogs for in-depth news and analysis of the search marketing industry.

4. Search Engine Journal

From link building to the latest algorithm changes from Google, Search Engine Journal covers news and tactics related to the search engine marketing industry.

5. Search Engine Roundtable

For detailed discussion and explanations of the fine details of search engine marketing, Search Engine Roundtable has you covered.

6. SEMrush Blog

SEMrush’s blog is on the cutting edge of today’s SEO trends, offering advice on SEO through a variety of lenses — from app development, to social media, to voice search.

7. SEO Book

For reviews of the newest SEO tools to analysis of search engine changes, check out SEO Book.

8. Tubular Insights

Tubular Insights is a resource for marketers looking to learn more about online video’s impact on search engine marketing.

9. Yoast

Yoast is a training and website integration for those who want to learn how to optimize their website. Its blog covers tactics for improving SEO as well as user experience.

10. Biznology

This blog discusses many SEO-related issues, but has recently focused on content marketing and its connection to SEO.

11. DailySEOBlog

Are you a fan of sites that provide a tip per day? This might be the blog for you, offering tips and tricks to help support your search engine optimization strategy.

12. Distilled Blog

The team at Distilled provides insights and musings across digital marketing, using SEO as the vehicle for that conversation.

13. GeoLocalSEO

If local and mobile search is your interest, the GeoLocalSEO blog is a resource you should check out for tips and tricks related to the local and mobile search industry.

14. Google Webmaster Central Blog

When working in the search marketing industry, you must know what the search engines are doing. Google’s Webmaster Blog gives search marketers insights into the changes and updates to Google.

15. John Battelle’s Search Blog

A co-founder of WIRED Magazine and a search engine marketing pioneer, Battelle’s musings cover search and much more.

16. Content Marketing Institute

Content marketing is critical to SEO success. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) is a hub for content marketers to learn and share insight on SEO, storytelling, social media, and more.

17. SEO Copywriting

Copy is a critical part of SEO success. This blog goes into more detail than most about the best practices of SEO copywriting.

18. Search Engine Watch

This multi-author blog was recommended by several readers and covers a wide variety of search marketing issues.

19. SEO by the Sea

Founded by longtime marketer Bill Slawski, this SEO outlet digs deep into search engines’ own records to give you some of the meatiest news and analysis on the latest ranking criteria.

Find a headline you like? Bookmark a few of these blogs and get out ahead of your industry — your content is counting on you.

Skill Up

How to Fire Someone: A Step-by-Step Guide to Letting an Employee Go

To terminate is to bring to an end. And if you’ve ever had to figure out how to terminate an employee, you know things don’t get much harder or sadder. Most managers dread this part of the job more than any other.

And frankly, you should feel a little dread when parting ways with an employee — it’s what makes you human. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to ensure the conversation goes smoothly.

Due to feelings of guilt, uncertainty about the decision, legal concerns, and excuses by the team member, many managers don’t let poor performers go when they should (or at all). And when they do take action, almost every termination conversation is stressful.

But keeping poor performers on the team is a disservice to other team members, clients, the organization, and even to the employee in question. Lower standards are infectious and can bring down the aspiration level of other team members, and poor performers often incite resentment. Taking action puts other low performers on notice, helps managers meet goals, and ensures clients get the value and care they need.

Time and time again I have been told by colleagues and managers who have lost their jobs that the worst part wasn’t the termination itself but how the message was delivered. To quote one colleague, “The message was dropped like a bomb.”

When it is time to let a team member go, the process you use — while it does not change the result — significantly alters the experience and reduces chances of litigation. Knowing how to terminate an employee properly makes managers more confident and compassionate, and team members more accepting of the person’s exit.

1. Inform the human resources team.

Having made the decision to let someone go, review the employee handbook first. Make sure your grounds for termination are in line with company policy and that you’re ready to inform the right people beforehand.

Usually, the first people you notify of a firing are human resources (HR) and legal. Both teams will explain how to terminate the employee, and inform IT and security so they can disconnect the employee’s office equipment after they leave. Work with HR to calculate final compensation and/or severance, and collect all documentation and paperwork you’ll need for the employee’s departure (we’ll go over paperwork in Step 7).

Don’t have the termination conversation alone. Ideally include a colleague from HR or one of your peers as a witness during the termination.

2. Set up a meeting with the employee.

Once HR has been notified of the intended firing, set up a meeting with the employee. Having the meeting right away is ideal, but if their schedule simply doesn’t allow, it should be fairly soon after the meeting invitation. If asked what the meeting is about, use your discretion, but say that you prefer to flesh out the details during the meeting.

Or, if the discussion will be by phone, focus the exchange on when there will be adequate time to talk (we’ll talk about how to fire someone over the phone following the final step of this process).

If you have the choice, firing an employee is best done face-to-face in a private setting. This allows you to set a serious but supportive tone and present everything the employee will need to know — including any relevant paperwork about health insurance, severance, or unemployment.

3. Lead with the bad news.

The very first thing out of your mouth in the termination meeting should be to let the person know he or she is being let go. Offering too much context or lead-up before the firing itself might seem mature, but it can ultimately make the termination feel unofficial and leave the employee with too much to dwell on after they leave.

Do not rescind the decision to fire this person unless new and compelling evidence is presented. But don’t go looking for this information. You may let the employee offer their point of view, but it’s unusual for it to invalidate a firing at this point in the process.

4. Reference previous performance goals.

The fourth step in a proper firing process depends on something you were (hopefully) doing in advance of this meeting: tracking their performance and supporting them every step of the way. When letting someone go, it’s important that you politely allude to the warnings and guidance they were given at various points during their employment.

With enough coaching sessions, the termination meeting will have followed a ‘final consequence’ meeting, where you clearly spell out the objectives to be accomplished, the time frame in which to accomplish them, and most importantly, the consequence if the objectives are not met — i.e. the person will lose their job.

Document all of these coaching sessions in writing prior to the termination meeting. Don’t have documentation? Meet with HR and consider putting the person on a 30-, 60-, or 90-day performance plan before officially severing them from the company. This gives them a chance to actually improve, while providing you with the right paperwork if the person ultimately doesn’t.

The value of a performance improvement plan is, among other things, to ensure the employee doesn’t feel blindsided if they end up getting fired. In fairness to the person, termination should never come as a surprise (unless it’s due to an egregious act or part of corporate downsizing).

5. Keep your explanation short but specific.

When referencing the employee’s past performance, there’s a fine but important line between explaining why they’ve been terminated and simply making them feel worse. Keep your reason brief and clear.

For example, “We set [objective X] to be accomplished by [date Y] and unfortunately this wasn’t met.” More detailed feedback on this objective should have been given in performance reviews.

There are two reasons to keep the meeting short:

  1. You don’t want to get into an argument or long discussion. The decision has been made and is non-negotiable. While clear feedback is very important for growth, it should have already been given at this point.
  2. There’s no need to further hurt the person’s feelings. The employee may vent and ask questions, but just listen and repeat your concise message.

Don’t give a long list of failures. It will only pour salt in the wound, create resentment, and provoke an argument.

6. Listen and repeat your decision.

Despite your best attempts at making a termination quick and painless, you might still receive lengthy responses of rebuttals from the employee. That’s alright — they should feel willing to express themselves. What they shouldn’t feel is that the decision to fire them is still being made.

Listen to what your employee has to say and genuinely take heed in their feedback — this is probably a conversation you’ll have again in your career, and the employee’s viewpoint is valuable. But unless they offer any substantial evidence that there’s been a mistake, continue to reiterate that their employment is no longer needed.

7. Provide continued healthcare paperwork and related next steps.

Clearly define next steps with the terminated employee (yes, there are some important ones you need to take). The first is to clarify the effective date of termination; in many companies, this means immediately.

Then, communicate your severance policy, if you have one, and explain how the employee may continue their health insurance for a limited time after they leave. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 — commonly referred to as COBRA — allows terminated employees to extend their health insurance coverage after they depart. HR normally hands over COBRA paperwork during terminations, but it’s important that you show your awareness of this crucial step, too.

Once you’ve gone over each next step with the team member, identify who will accompany them back to their desk to gather their things.

8. Thank the employee for their services and wish them luck.

Your last step during a firing is to thank the person for the services. Don’t apologize, but say you wish things had worked out differently and extend best wishes for the future.

One last tip: Avoid Friday terminations. Monday is widely preferred because the employee can start making contacts more easily during the week.

Firing someone via a phone call isn’t ideal, but sometimes, the nature of their employment justifies it. Maybe they’re a remote employee who can’t easily travel to the office — and doing so just to lose their job would make the whole conversation even more off-putting. Perhaps they’re a freelancer for the company, and a short phone call is all that’s needed to take them out of your contractor rotation.

No matter the reason, there’s a right way to handle a termination over the phone.

1. Set up a phone meeting with the employee.

Just as you would for a face-to-face termination, make sure you set up a meeting with the employee in advance of the call — and make sure he or she is aware it’s taking place over the phone.

If you have the means, consider hosting the call via video chat instead, allowing you and the employee to see each other even if they’re not present in the room with you (it’s an integrity move, trust me).

As a gesture of courtesy, be the one to call the employee yourself, and let them know you’ll be the one to do so. Given the nature of the phone call, it’s more polite to do as much of the heavy-lifting to get the call off the ground, and having the employee call into their own termination can make you seem uninterested in what should have been a tough decision.

2. Have human resources present (and introduce them).

Make sure a member of your HR team is present on the call with you. But because the employee on the other end won’t know there’s three of you on the line, make sure you introduce the rep. HR will be speaking in this conversation, and having them randomly interject without the employee knowing they were in the room can seem rude and negligent.

3. Have next steps and healthcare paperwork ready to email to the employee.

Before you call this employee, work with HR to get the proper next steps and COBRA healthcare paperwork ready to email to them after the call ends. Getting fired gives an employee a lot to chew on, and giving them all the resources they’ll need to land on their feet is crucial when they’re not in the room with you to receive this information.

4. Lead with the bad news.

You heard this advice in the above steps to firing someone in person. Well, the same principle applies to a phone-based termination. Always begin with the fact that the company is parting ways with the employee, whether that employee is in the room with you or not.

5. Reference performance goals and give the employee the floor to respond.

Alluding to the employee’s past performance goals, and how they were not reached, is just as important on a phone call as it is in person. But because they can’t see how this conversation is unfolding, give the team member a verbal invitation to respond once you’ve informed them of the situation.

6. Inform them that you’ll be sending a follow-up email.

Pending any evidence by the employee that their employment shouldn’t end, reiterate that the company has agreed this is the best decision for both parties.

To minimize resistance even more, and to keep the phone call moving in the right direction, be sure to inform the employee that you (or HR) will be sending them a follow-up email with all the necessary paperwork confirming their departure. This is also your opportunity to send an electronic COBRA healthcare document, allowing the employee to sustain their healthcare coverage for a limited time after employment.

Does the employee has any belongings that are in the office with you? Ask the employee to confirm, and make a note on this email that you’ll mail each item to the employee at their desired address.

7. Thank the employee for their services and wish them luck.

Don’t linger too much just because it’s a phone call. It can be hard enough to bring conversations to a close over the phone, and while you want to give the employee time to react, you don’t want to leave too many awkward silences when they can’t see your reaction on the other end of the line (just another reason to have this meeting over video chat). Simply thank them very much for their services to the company and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.

While termination is often the best thing for both parties in the end, it’s hard for most people to recognize this at the time. What the steps above help you do is dismiss your employee as considerately as possible. Compassion and making sure nothing in the meeting is a surprise are the keys to avoid burning bridges.

Concerns about litigation have tempered termination conversations and added another dimension of stress to these already challenging conversations. Nevertheless, I think it is important to express at the conclusion that you regret things worked out as they did and wish the person success in the future. When thinking about how to terminate an employee, keep your message objective but your tone human.

I started with the definition of termination — to bring to an end. Professionally, that is what you are doing. But the emotional tone you set — one of caring and respect — will make a difference in the short- and long-run. No matter how bad the team member has been, show you have heart.

This blog post has provided information designed to help our readers better understand the legal issues surrounding HR. But legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we have conducted research to better ensure that our information is accurate and useful, we insist that you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is accurate. To clarify further, you may not rely upon this information as legal advice, nor as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular legal understanding, and you should instead regard this article as intended for entertainment purposes only.

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How to Delete Twitter [Easy Guide]

There are a few reasons you might be considering deleting Twitter. Maybe your friends don’t use it anymore. Perhaps you spend too much time on it, and believe you’d be more productive without it.

Whatever the reason, it’s easy to deactivate your Twitter account. Twitter even gives you a 30 day grace period to reactivate your account, in case you change your mind. However, it should be noted once the 30 days end, your account is gone forever.

If you’re ready to permanently delete your Twitter account, follow these five simple steps.

1. Once you’ve signed into your Twitter account, click your profile icon to find the drop-down menu. Within the menu, select “Settings and privacy”.

2. In the Accounts section, click “Deactivate your account”.

3. Click “Deactivate”.

4. Input your password, and click “Deactivate account”.

And that’s it! You’ve officially deleted your account (remember, you have 30 days to reactivate if you change your mind).

For more productivity hacks, check out “The Ultimate Guide to the Best Productivity Apps“.

How to Get More Engagement With Facebook Live

Want more people to watch, share, and comment on your live videos? Looking for tips on improving the quality of viewer engagement? To explore how to get more engagement with Facebook Live video, I interview Stephanie Liu. More About This Show The Social Media Marketing podcast is designed to help busy marketers, business owners, and […]

The post How to Get More Engagement With Facebook Live appeared first on Social Media Examiner.

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How Cognitive Computing Can Make You a Better Marketer

When Sophia, a robot who uses artificial intelligence to interact with humans (like Jimmy Fallon) visited my college last year, I was awestruck.

At first, I thought Sophia would have a similar intelligence level as a simple bot, like Siri, who can only hold basic conversations and address straightforward questions and requests. But when Sophia’s developer started asking her questions, she completely debunked my assumption. She was articulate, made animated facial expressions, and had a surprisingly quick wit.

Sophia’s ability to intellectually and socially interact with people seems like one of the most exciting advancements in artificial intelligence. But the thing is, she can’t actually understand conversation — her software is programmed to give scripted responses to common questions or phrases, creating an illusion that she’s naturally interacting with you.

If developers want to create computer systems that can actually interact with humans naturally, they need to program cognitive computing into its software, which is a technology that can understand, learn, and reason like a real person.

Cognitive computing can analyze enormous amounts of data in the same way humans think, reason, and remember, so the technology can provide data-backed recommendations to professionals who need to make high-stakes decisions.

For instance, teachers can develop a personalized learning track for each of their students, doctors can make optimal recommendations for their patients, and marketers can even use cognitive computing to craft more human-centric customer journeys.

Before we delve into how brands are applying cognitive computing to their marketing strategy, though, let’s go over what it exactly is.

Since cognitive computing can process massive amounts of data that no human could ever digest and imitate the human brain like no computer system ever has, the technology has amazing potential to amplify our abilities — not replace us — and help us make better, data-driven decisions.

Cognitive computing applications in marketing

As marketers, we always want to get better. Refining our process and strategy to solve our customers’ problems is our mission. But to understand which tactics actually work and which ones don’t, we usually need to analyze huge sets of complex data.

Data analysis can seem like a tall task, especially if you’re more of a creative marketer. But today, cognitive computing can crunch the numbers for you, helping you make better decisions faster, and hone important aspects of your brand, like brand voice, reporting, and customer support.

Brand Voice

Gauging your brand voice is one of the most challenging tasks in marketing. Tone is subjective, so while some of your colleagues might think your content reads like a punchy publication’s feature story, others might think it reads like clickbait.

With cognitive computing, however, you can literally plug your content into an algorithm, like Contently’s Tone Analyzer, and the technology will analyze and quantify your brand voice.

The IBM Watson-powered technology scrapes content for as much text as possible and assigns a numerical score to five traits — expressiveness, formality, sociability, empathy, and emotion — helping clients learn what their brand voice actually is. Contently’s clients also use the tone analyzer to help them emulate their favorite publications and find freelance writers who can write with their brand’s desired tone.

Reporting

In most enterprise organizations, specific marketing teams usually silo their data, making it hard for the department to track all their customers’ touch points and understand their true buyer’s journey.

The founders ofEquals 3, saw this prevalent problem as a business opportunity, so in 2015, they partnered with IBM Watson to launch Lucy, a cognitive computing marketing solution. Lucy helps Fortune 1000 companies access all their marketing data with natural-language queries on one platform, just like a search engine.

Once organizations feed Lucy their data, she can use AI and cognitive computing to instantly organize their information into specific reports, saving marketers countless hours from manual reporting and providing them with more transparency.

Customer Support

Digital assistants on our phones, like Siri, have pre-programmed responses to a limited amount of requests and questions, but customer support technology with cognitive computing capabilities can actually understand natural language, accurately answer people’s questions, and run customer support more efficiently.

For instance, Hilton Hotels first ever concierge robot, Connie, can help guests figure out the best attractions to go to, the best restaurants to dine in at, and even move and point her body to direct guests toward any spot in the hotel. All they have to do is ask Connie their question, and she can quickly help them out.

With Connie’s assistance, Hilton Hotel employees can ultimately provide better customer service by picking up more phones and checking people in faster.

Will cognitive computing move AI beyond hype and into reality?

Artificial intelligence is one of the most hyped technologies in marketing. But if teams can take full advantage of cognitive computing to serve prospects and customers in a more human way, AI will be as groundbreaking as everyone says it’ll be.

Why I Paid $25 to Take a Nap (And You Should, Too)

Blink twice if you typically sleep less than seven hours each night.

Go ahead. I’m not watching, or judging. But if you’re part of the one-third of U.S. adults who get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night — please, blink twice.

Did you do it? So did I.

I, too, am part of what Eleanor Morgan, chief experience officer at Casper — the ecommerce company known for its sleep products, including its famed memory foam mattress — calls the most “under-slept” developed nation (the U.S.) in the world.

This national epidemic of “short sleep duration” — the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) term for habitually getting less than seven hours of sleep each night — well, it’s resulted in what Morgan has observed as “a lack of joy and happiness related to sleep.”

The CDC calls it “frequent mental distress” — one of the many side effects of regularly getting an insufficient amount of sleep.

But it turns out that Casper — the company that admittedly started out as one that aimed to sell mattresses to millennials — wants to cure this epidemic. To democratize sleep. To make it okay — as it is in countries like Spain, Morgan uses as an example — to take a nap during the day.

Its answer to the nationwide sleep shortage is The Dreamery: a brick-and-mortar nap boutique, of sorts, located in New York’s SoHo neighborhood.

I decided to give it a try.

Naps for Hire

The Price Tag

I was able to tour The Dreamery this week as part of Code Commerce — a conference that centers around ecommerce and retail — where I had a quick look at Casper’s nap shop, and learned more about its mission and operations.

At The Dreamery, a 45-minute nap costs $25. It includes the option of changing into appropriately-themed navy blue pajamas with astrological patterns, grooming products to help your skin recover while you sleep, and access to the location’s lounge, where visitors can enjoy a range of snacks, beverages, and 30 minutes of free WiFi.

Dreamery-Gallery-LoungeA

The Dreamery lounge. Source: Casper

Your initial reaction might be, “There are people who pay for naps?” Don’t worry — you’re not alone, and I had a similar impression at first. Was $25 an inflated price tag for less than an hour of snoozing? Or was it a bargain?

To find out, I decided to go back to The Dreamery the next day and fully immerse myself in the nap boutique experience.

The Experience

That particular day, quieting my mind for even 45 minutes in an environment built specifically for sleep seemed hopeless. Just before arriving, I had gulped down a large coffee. I was away from home and preoccupied with what turned out to be an untrustworthy dog-sitter. And I didn’t have a ton of time to spare — after my $25 nap, I had meetings to get to.

But as I reentered the electric-star-studded entrance — late for my snooze appointment, of course — and received a calm, reassuring “It’s okay!” from the front desk attendant, my perspective began to slightly shift. “At least it’s pretty in here,” I thought.

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I opted for the pajamas — after all, I wanted the full experience — and after changing into them in one of The Dreamery’s “refresh rooms,” I was guided into the quiet area: a cool, dark room studded with more electronic stars and tent-like sleep pods sitting among ambient, chillout music.

Dreamery-Gallery-LoungeB copy

The Dreamery lounge. Source: Casper

Each nap pod is equipped with a Twin-XL-sized Casper mattress, with fresh sheets that are changed before every nap (part of what makes the experience “indulgent,” Morgan says).

There’s a light switch that nappers can use to darken the room before dozing off, and an outlet that can be used to charge their phones — of particular use if tuning in to one of the guided “sleepcasts” that Casper, in partnership with meditation app Headspace, developed specifically for naps.

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A nap pod at The Dreamery

Upon crawling into my pod, my decision to leave my phone in the locker provided became salient. I had forgotten that there was an outlet available, and being that my my phone is routinely the last thing I look at before bed (a bad habit that I know better than to engage in), being without it felt a bit unnatural.

 
 
 
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BRB. Doing a nap thing.

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I shut off the light and began stifling uncontrollable giggles. “This is so weird,” I thought. “What am I doing? Why am I in a pod, in a room with a handful of strangers, also napping in pods?”

I closed my eyes. If all else fails, I figured, I can use the time to brainstorm a work project without the distraction of phone notifications.

It was a nice thought, in theory.

Before I knew it, I was napping hard — woken up only once by the subway passing beneath the street where The Dreamery is located — and even recall having two dreams. (The name, it turns out, isn’t just for kicks.)

When the 45-minute allotted nap ends, visitors are gently awoken by a soft light inside of the pod that gradually brightens. “I don’t want to get up,” I whined to myself, feeling bad about how skeptical I had been of this place.

What Marketers Can Take Away From Casper’s Mission

I was sold. Would I pay $25 for another midday, work week nap? Absolutely — and I would recommend that others do, too.

It’s hard to take a break during the day — important and productive, but difficult to actually execute, given the human propensity to feel bad about stepping away from our responsibilities, even for a short period.

And as it turns out, that’s Casper’s end game — to curb that propensity to feel bad about taking breaks, especially when it manifests through a de-prioritization of sleep.

“As hard as that is to believe, the most interesting problem we’re trying to solve is not to sell more mattresses,” she explains. “The problem we’re trying to solve is, ‘How do we get more people engage with sleep?’ That’s what the Dreamery is about.”

“What might the world look like if people could take a nap during the day?”

– Eleanor Morgan, Chief Experience Officer, Casper

So if there’s any marketing lesson to be gleaned from The Dreamery experience — it’s to lean into the taboo. In the U.S., that’s one word to describe the idea of taking a nap in the middle of the work day. Sure, HubSpot has a nap room, but I would venture to say that it’s among a limited number of employers to provide such a benefit.

Casper is working to make that phenomenon — the North American siesta — less unthinkable, and more “aspirational,” as Morgan puts it. That’s why the company is looking to partner with a number of brick-and-mortar location categories, like workplaces and airports, to vertically integrate nap pods as on-site experiences.

I’ve always wondered why that’s not a “thing”: nap pods in airports, for example, especially after experiencing more flight delays than one person should.

The possibilities don’t end there, either. While stuck in traffic on my way to the airport this morning, for instance, I began to wonder if Casper might partner with Uber or Lyft to create an in-ride nap experience.

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Experiential marketing can be an extremely valuable device — especially when it’s mission-focused. It invites an audience to interact with a business, in an in-real-life setting.

By using participatory, hands-on, and tangible (but branded) experiences, businesses can show audiences not just what the company offers, but what it stands for.

Which is another lesson to marketers: In the process of figuring out what makes your business, brand, or product unique — and perhaps even taboo — lean into it, and create a remarkable experience around it.

What’s the meaningful movement that aligns with your product or service — one that people can and want to rally behind? Once that question is answered, figure out who it makes sense to partner with to develop and promote it.

“How do we shift that mindset around sleep and create a cultural movement?” asks Morgan. “Making that experience as delightful as possible is a priority.”

The Ultimate Guide to Blockchain

Do you remember where you were the first time you heard about bitcoin? I do. The year was 2013. One of my friends briefly mentioned bitcoin while discussing how advancements in technology made it much more challenging to create timely policy. He used bitcoin as an example because it was the currency of choice for Silk Road: the now-defunct drug trafficking website. Just a little over five years ago, bitcoin was primarily used in the dark corners of the internet to purchase illicit goods on the black market. With that knowledge, I pushed bitcoin to a dark corner of my mind … until recently when I saw that the Winklevoss twins had become bitcoin billionaires. Say what?

The price of bitcoin in June 2013? About $100. The price of bitcoin today? $11,392. Yes, I am suffering from an extreme case of FOMO. Thanks for asking.

I bet many of you have your own bitcoin story. Maybe you bought bitcoin early and sold it a few years ago when it started to see marginal success? Maybe you just heard about it a few weeks ago and felt like it’s too late to get in the game? Or maybe you’re just confused by all these headlines about cryptocurrencies, digital mining, and … CryptoKitties? Hey, I get you. My cat is very much alive and very much scratches my new couch.

But what if I told you the biggest opportunity for businesses of any kind is actually related to the technology that underlies bitcoin — known as blockchain. Blockchain, the public ledger that records all bitcoin transactions, is more than just a fad — it’s changing life as we know it.

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Don’t believe me? Follow along to learn more about blockchain and how it works, who’s using it, and the future of the technology. Feel free to email, bookmark, or jump to the section that interests you most.

All About Blockchain

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, this writer’s exaggerating — there’s no way this technology is “changing life as we know it.” While I’ve been known to occasionally have a flair for the dramatic, I promise that this is not one of those times. The uses for blockchain technology extend far beyond bitcoin. But what is blockchain?

These transactions get packaged into blocks, and each block gets verified by other users in the system by completing a math problem. Once a block gets verified, it cannot be altered and gets added to a chain of other permanent, previously verified blocks. The records held within these blocks form a blockchain, and the blockchain’s users all keep track of this record. It’s basically a giant, shared ledger, but in practice, it’s much more exciting than that. 

 Let’s say the hoverboard you bought last year isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — you feel much safer with your feet solidly on the ground. You could use a third-party seller like eBay to sell it. These sellers act as the marketplace that connects you (the seller) to potential buyers; they make money by charging fees. In this case, let’s pretend the buyer is from Germany. When you make a sale on eBay, the platform verifies the transaction with your bank and the purchaser’s bank. It also confirms your hoverboard and the end buyer both exist. But if you use blockchain technology to sell your hoverboard, you can cut out all the middlemen while still maintaining a safe, speedy, and secure transaction — even internationally. No eBay, no banks, no fees, and no exchange rate — it’s that easy. Now, some lucky kid in Germany can hover around with all their friends … or whatever it is you do on hoverboards.

History of Blockchain 

Before we dive into exactly how blockchain makes this possible, let’s talk about the history of blockchain. In October 2008, the secretive founder of bitcoin Satoshi Nakamoto introduced the world to peer-to-peer electronic payments. His cryptocurrency formed the world’s first blockchain. Because bitcoin’s software is open source, allowing anyone to see, reuse, and adapt the code behind it, it didn’t take long before users started modifying it for different purposes.

Early on, blockchain users mostly tried to make better versions of bitcoin. Litecoin, an alternative cryptocurrency developed by a former Google employee, aimed to provide faster transactions. Others, like the meme-inspired Dogecoin, were created for people turned off by bitcoin’s high price point.

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Namecoin.org developed one of the first uses of blockchain for something other than cryptocurrencies. The technology uses blockchain to register .bit domain names as an alternative to the primary domain name management system. Namecoin makes it extremely difficult for external players, like the government, to take control of websites. Because .bit domains get registered in a blockchain, they are nearly impossible to change without knowing the encryption key.

The next significant innovation came in 2013 when a small startup named Ethereum put out a paper outlining a way for developers to easily create entirely new blockchains without relying on bitcoin’s original code. Two years later, Ethereum launched their new platform, allowing users to expand blockchain’s functionality beyond cryptocurrencies.

Currently, companies and individuals are exploring how to use blockchain technology in healthcare, energy, supply chain management, and many other industries. But more on that later.

How Does Blockchain Work?

Although there are different ways to set up a blockchain, Harvard Business Review laid out five principles that all blockchains have in common. Firstly, all blockchains use a distributed database — this means that every user in a blockchain can access the complete database, including its past transaction history. This transparency allows users to verify any information they need and to complete transactions directly, without any intermediaries.

Secondly, any transactions or communications get conducted between peers. Each user stores records and sends information directly to all other parties in a blockchain. Because of this technology, intermediaries and central storage institutions, like banks, are unnecessary. Users have all the information they need to vet other users, otherwise known as nodes.

Third, although blockchains are transparent, each user associated with a blockchain can remain anonymous. To protect users’ identities, each user has their own unique “30-plus-character alphanumeric address” that they use in place of a name. Users can choose to share their identity or remain anonymous with their blockchain address.

The alphanumeric addresses are also used to verify transactions. You may have heard the term “mining” associated with bitcoin. When someone “mines” bitcoin they aren’t digging around in the earth in search of a bitcoin filled hard drive … except for that one time. Rather, here’s how mining actually works: When someone wants to make a transaction, and therefore add new record or “block” to the ledger, they first need to solve what is essentially a math problem. Computers use their computing power to “mine” for the answer, which is vetted by the network of users. If the answer is correct, the new block is added to the ledger. A token, also known as a coin, is generated when this occurs —almost like a receipt to prove it happened.

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Fourth, because blockchain uses a digital ledger, the entire transactional process can be automated using algorithms. For example, when you buy a house, you pay for a lot of other small costs like title registration, mortgage lenders, inspections, and legal fees. There are all these other people involved to provide access, regulate, and administer a sale from one person to another. But a lot of this complexity disappears with blockchain. You can record property data and even build in digital rules — called smart contracts — that, once fulfilled, allow the system to automatically transfer a property title or money for purchase.

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The fifth characteristic of blockchain is that, once a record gets created, it cannot change. When miners verify a transaction, that record is shared with every other party in the blockchain as part of the decentralized ledger. Part of each verified transaction is also used to generate the math puzzle for the next block in the chain. This means each transaction gets linked to the ones that came before it and all those transactions get stored across multiple computers with no single point of failure.

Blockchains can also be public or private. Both types of networks share the five characteristics listed here but have one major difference. A public blockchain is open to the general public and anyone can join, execute and verify transactions, and everyone maintains a copy of the decentralized ledger. The bitcoin blockchain is currently one of the largest examples of a public blockchain network. In a private blockchain, participation is limited to users who receive an invitation to join the network and are granted permission to enter. Think of it like the early days of Facebook when users needed email addresses from certain schools. Aside from the increased security offered by private blockchains, they are also much more cost efficient since much less computing power is required to verify transactions in a smaller network.

Still confused? I don’t blame you. Here are some talking points on how blockchain works for your next cocktail party.

  1. Blockchains are completely transparent. Any user can view any transaction from now until the end of time.
  2. All transactions get completed between individual users. Say goodbye to intermediaries.
  3. Even though blockchains are transparent, a user’s identity doesn’t have to be. All users are assigned a public address to use in place of a name during transactions.
  4. Because blockchains live online, we can use algorithms to automate future transactions — just like you automatically pay your Netflix subscription every month.
  5. Once a block gets added to a blockchain, it’s there forever — no ifs, ands, or buts.

Got it? Let’s move on.

Benefits of Blockchain

If you’ve stuck with me this far, congratulations are in order! Blockchainis complicated stuff. You may be thinking, if blockchain is basically just a new way to organize records, why are people so excited about it? Don’t worry! This is the part of the article where we talk about the benefits of blockchain and how it has the potential to change the world.

Blockchain Security 

One of the largest benefits of blockchain is its ultra-secure network. Because data transmitted using blockchain is inherently encrypted, it’s much more secure than the standard username-password security system. However, the real security benefits come from blockchain’s network of users.

Decentralized data stored using blockchain makes it extremely difficult to hack into because no “single point of failure” exists. What does all this mean? Let’s say you have all your documents backed up on a single hard drive. If that hard drive is lost, stolen, or destroyed, all of your documents are gone … forever. But if all your documents are saved on thousands of different hard drives, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever lose your data. That’s the power of blockchain security.

Under usual circumstances, to break into a blockchain, hackers would need to overwhelm over 50% of the network in less time than it takes to create a new block. The amount of computing power required to do this in most blockchain networks is tremendous. Larger networks are much harder to hack because they are more decentralized and have more computers working to verify transactions.

And it’s easy to detect when a block has been tampered with thanks to hash functions. Hashes from one block are added to the data in the next block. Anyone who tries to alter a block will end up changing the hash completely, setting off a red flag and disabling the block completely.

Blockchain also offers anonymity. Without blockchain, systems use a variety of information like names, addresses, card numbers, and social security numbers to verify transactions. All this personal information is vulnerable to being stolen. In a blockchain, only the private key matters.

Each blockchain user has two keys: a public key and a private key. Their public key is derived from their private key using a mathematical formula and then combined with other information to form their public address for transactions. Without the private key, it is impossible to verify transactions to the public address. This private key never gets shared with outsiders which means multiple complex formulas stand between a user’s private key and their public address.

You may be wondering if it’s possible to reverse the formula and uncover someone’s private key from their public key? The bad news is that it is possible. The good news is it would take the world’s most powerful computer 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (I don’t even know how to pronounce this number) years to figure it out. That’s way longer than the universe has even existed … so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Decentralization and Smart Contracts

The second benefit of blockchain comes from decentralization and smart contracts. Presently, smart contracts may represent the most powerful application for blockchain.

HubSpot’s Director of Acquisition and resident blockchain expert Matthew Howells-Barby states: “One of the more immediate ways in which blockchain technology is going to impact SMBs is through smart contracts. Smart contracts facilitate the creation of trustless digital contracts that can be used for all kinds of application – something that has never been possible before without a third party being involved. Imagine being able to create digital contracts with contractors that would automatically pay them once work has been completed to a satisfactory standard. This is one of the many applications that smart contracts offer.”

Essentially, smart contracts use blockchain to automate payments and transfers based on a predetermined set of conditions. Using smart contracts, you could automatically pay your electric bill once your electricity usage hits a certain amount. The transaction would be sent securely to the power company and verified using blockchain. No more late fees, no more stolen financial information — you would never have to think about scheduling a payment again.

Once again, as more and more transactions are automated using smart contracts, the need for middlemen and outside organizations will diminish. Because information gets distributed across the entire network, it’s extremely difficult for one group to seize control of it. Governments and individuals in positions of power will no longer be able to shut down sources they wish to repress because the information will exist on many computers across the network.

Speed and Efficiency

Third, blockchain is fast and efficient. Manual data entry is tedious and prone to error. Think about it. How many typos do you typically make writing an email? Most organizations maintain multiple record systems for different tasks. For example, an ice cream store may use one record to track the amount of ice cream and supplies they purchase, another to track hours their employees work, and another to track sales. Reviewing separate records takes up a lot of time. With blockchain, all this information gets stored and verified as it gets generated.

Blockchain’s verification speed has vast benefits. For example, a simple stock purchase can take up to a week to verify using current methods. Several forms, organizations, and a ridiculous amount of acronyms are involved in the process. With blockchain, there is no need for third-party verification because all the information needed to complete and verify the transaction gets included in the ledger. That means stock transfers can happen almost instantaneously instead of a full week later. Talk about some serious returns!

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Applications of Blockchain

Okay, so we’ve talked about what blockchain is, how it works, and the benefits of using it, but is anyone actually using this technology? Like really using it … not just for trying to get bitcoin rich? The answer is an enthusiastic yes!

According to Financial Times reporter Sally Davies, “[Blockchain] is to bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one.”

In simple terms, bitcoin is only one, tiny application supported by blockchain — there are endless possibilities for the technology. Let’s do a deeper dive on some other applications of blockchain.

FinTech

Payments and Cryptocurrencies

Let’s just get this out of the way — cryptocurrencies are indeed one of the most popular blockchain applications. I know, I know, I said I was going to talk about other applications of blockchain. I promise I will, but it’s impossible to talk about blockchain without taking a look at the application it was originally built for — bitcoin.

Partially because it was the first one and partially because it has the largest network of users, bitcoin is the most valuable cryptocurrency based on U.S. dollars. In fact, bitcoin has become so popular that stores, restaurants, and even bars are starting to accept it as payment. In larger cities like New York, you can live your life only paying in bitcoin, though it isn’t always the most practical approach. Bitcoin has also been used to cope with hyperinflation in Venezuela, as payment for online gambling, and for market speculation.

Because bitcoins trade on an open market, investors like the Winklevoss twins were able to make bets on future price movements. It’s impossible to know for sure, but it’s estimated that there were over 20,000 bitcoin millionaires at the start of 2018. But before you go investing in bitcoin, don’t forget that the cryptocurrency is also infamous for its massive price swings. Many lost fortunes speculating on the currency to the tune of $86.7 billion this year alone.

Other cryptocurrencies like RippleLitecoin, and Ethereum can also be used to send payments or for market speculation, but these cryptocurrencies have their quirks. Ripple is positioned to speed up international transactions and reduce transaction fees. The four seconds it takes Ripple to settle a transaction is faster than any other cryptocurrency and significantly faster than the expensive, multi-day process currently in use by most banks. For this reason, companies like American Express and Santander Bank have started experimenting with Ripple for international transactions.

Litecoin is also useful for payments but is focused more on the everyday stuff than on purchases across borders. According to its founder Charlie Lee“Litecoin is targeted more towards payments, faster transactions, and lower fees.”

The supply of Litecoins is four times larger than bitcoin and transactions also occur four times faster.

Then there’s Ethereum and its cryptocurrency Ether. The smart contracts built into Ethereum’s code allow for a wide range of deals to occur automatically once pre-negotiated terms get met. This is a major stepping stone for using blockchain in industries outside of FinTech.

Trade

These cryptocurrencies and, more importantly, the blockchain behind them will have a tremendous impact on trade. Faster verification times, reduction or removal of exchange fees, and elimination of errors will make domestic and international trade easier than ever before. By implementing blockchain within their internal financing unit, IBM was able to free up $100 million previously tied up in disputes. Imagine how much more could get done by using blockchain for the trillions of dollars in transactions that occur every day in the U.S. financial system alone.

Crowdfunding

Outside the worlds of insurance and international trade, blockchain will also create massive changes in the way businesses and startups raise capital. Sites like Kickstarter, founded in 2009, democratized fundraising by allowing just about anyone to find financial backing from a broad audience instead of traditional sources like banks and venture capital funds. There’s also a built-in insurance policy since payment only gets collected for projects that meet their funding goal. For this service and for connecting entrepreneurs to potential funders, Kickstarter charges a 5% fee. To date, the platform has raised over $3.4 billion in funds for various projects.

With blockchain, these fees get eliminated since a network allows for immediate verification and smart contracts allow transactions to take place only once a project is fully funded. Some artists and startups are already experimenting with blockchain crowdfunding in the form of ICOs or initial coin offerings. The virtual coins function the same way as bitcoin, and investors purchase these coins like shares of stock to invest in the business that offers them. However, unlike in the stock market, purchasing these coins does not mean a user purchased ownership rights — this makes ICOs an extremely risky investment.

Property and Identity

There are few things more important than protecting your identity and property records. Birth, marriage, and death certificates allow you to claim a variety of different rights, including citizenship, employment rights, and voting rights. Pretty important stuff, right?

But in many countries, personal and government records still exist only on paper. During the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, most of the country’s paper land registry files were destroyed, so there’s no way to know who owns what. This has opened the door for corruption and further loss. In the future, blockchain will provide stability during uncertainty.

In addition to being a digital fail-safe for important documents, blockchain is also an extremely secure identity management system. Think about how often you provide personal or financial information over the internet. Once a week? Once a day? Two hours ago when you bought those new boots during your lunch break? Hey, no judgment – I’m just looking out for your financial security.

Being able to accurately verify your identity is essential to all online transactions, but the data you provide can be vulnerable to attacks. Blockchain’s decentralized ledger and unique user addresses make it difficult for hackers to obtain your sensitive information.

Supply Chain

Thanks to smart contracts, many retailers are using blockchain to help simplify their supply chain processes. In early 2017, Maersk, one of the world’s largest container shipment operators, joined forces with IBM to create a digital blockchain-based supply chain system. The goal: To create a faster and more secure and cost-effective way to trade goods internationally. IBM stated, “The costs associated with trade documentation processing and administration are estimated to be up to one-fifth the actual physical transportation costs. A single vessel can carry thousands of shipments, and on top of the costs to move the paperwork, the documentation to support it can be delayed, lost or misplaced, leading to further complications.” Talk about a logistical nightmare.

With blockchain, all parties involved in the supply chain can access any necessary documents and view transportation events in real time. All of the supply chain information is accurate and secure because no individual party can alter the blockchain without permission from others in the network. This transparency helps reduce shipment time, money, fraud, and errors — getting consumers the goods they need from around the world.

Healthcare

Healthcare – yeah, it’s complicated. It’s so complicated and confusing that I often find myself skipping the doctors just to avoid the massive amount of paperwork and stress that comes along with visiting the office. Don’t look at the screen like that – I know you’ve done it too.

Thankfully, blockchain is here to save the day, aka our lives, or at least make them easier. Blockchain technology allows patients, insurers, and physicians to view and update medical records in a secure and timely fashion. This access to data can also help doctors recognize early indicators of disease or weakening health. According to a study from IBM, “healthcare organizations are moving fast and even seem to have a lead on the financial industry.”

Beyond just, you know, saving lives, blockchain can also help in other areas like reducing Medicare fraud, which cost over $30 million in 2016 and centralizing information from wide-reaching medical studies into a comprehensive database. Blockchain even makes it possible to pay for procedures based on outcomes instead of predetermined rates. In fact, Robomed Network is already using blockchain to do this for over 9,000 patients.

Energy

Once energy enters into an electric grid, it’s impossible to tell if it got generated by a fossil fuel plant, nuclear power, or a renewable energy plant. To track the amount of energy coming from renewable sources, power plants use a complex, expensive system.

Cutting out intermediaries, reducing errors, and building a decentralized record for the sources of renewable energy with blockchain would remove many of these barriers. But it doesn’t end there. Over the last several years, a new distributed grid has grown in size. This grid is comprised of solar panels on the roofs of homes and batteries from electric cars. When these systems produce more energy than they need, their owners can sell the excess power back to the power company, but it can take several months to see returns. LO3 Energy has begun experimenting with a blockchain powered microgrid in Brooklyn that lets users sell their excess energy to their neighbors. Because it’s easier to distribute electricity locally than to send it over long distances, decentralized blockchain microgrids could help prevent power outages and maximize energy use from distributed producers.

Investing in Blockchain

By now you’re probably thinking one of two things: Wow, blockchain is going to change my life or … I still don’t get it. That’s okay! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, blockchain is a tough topic to grasp, and it’ll likely be many years before the technology is widely adopted. Small- and medium-sized businesses should wait for blockchain technology to mature before worrying about how to adopt. However, there are some ways they can start experimenting with blockchain applications. In this section, we’ll walk through how businesses can start investing in blockchain in a smart, deliberate way.

According to Harvard Business Review, there are two factors to consider when thinking about how quickly new technology will impact a business: novelty and complexity. Novelty represents users’ familiarity with the application. The more novel or unfamiliar the technology is, the longer it’ll take to become commonplace. Complexity is the number of people needed to adopt an application for it to have impact. For example, a dating app is useless unless a lot of people create profiles. How annoying would it be to swipe left on on Chad 17 times before coming across an intriguing profile?

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These two criteria help inform executives of the roadblocks they might face and the effort needed to implement a specific blockchain application. Take a look at the chart above. Businesses that are looking for a low barrier to entry should consider implementing single-use cases of blockchain. Single-use cases have a low degree of novelty and complexity. So what exactly is a single-use case? Accepting bitcoin payments. HBR states, “… bitcoin is growing fast and increasingly important in contexts such as instant payments and foreign currency and asset trading, where the present financial system has limitations.” Accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment makes it easier for customers all over the world to quickly and securely purchase your products.

If you start accepting bitcoin as alternative payment, your business could then start experimenting with a blockchain application that is increasingly novel but still has a low level of complexity — a private blockchain ledger to record all transactions. Once you have a good handle on these more simple applications, consider using more complex blockchain applications like smart contracts. The possibilities for how blockchain can help improve business processes are endless — it’s just a matter of how much effort and money you want to invest in an application right away.

Conclusion: The Future of Blockchain

That was a lot. And it’s okay if you don’t understand all of the intricacies of blockchain or aren’t ready to start incorporating it into your business strategy just yet. It’ll take many years and buy-in from numerous different industries before blockchain becomes commonplace. And while we don’t recommend SMBs worry too much about blockchain just yet, it’s important to keep an eye on the emerging tech as larger enterprise businesses start developing more blockchain applications.

So the next time you find yourself sinking into a deep hole of depression because you didn’t scoop up bitcoin while the iron was hot, remember the most rewarding technology — blockchain — is still to reach its full potential.

How to Combine PDF Files for Free

Combining PDF files usually requires the purchase or download of a decent PDF reader. But when you need to quickly merge your files, and don’t have an advanced enough PDF reader on your computer, there’s a more efficient way of combining your files than buying and downloading software. There are free PDF merging tools online that let you merge your files with any device and operating system. We’ll list some of the best available below.

8 Online Tools that Can Merge PDF Files for Free

1. Combine PDF

Combine PDF lets you upload PDF and image files from your computer, Google Drive, or Dropbox, adjust their order, and download them as a single PDF document.

2. Sejda

Sedja lets you upload PDF and image files from your computer, Google Drive, and Dropbox, reorder them in any way you want, generate a table of contents, merge them into one PDF document, and save your document to Dropbox.

You can even scan physical documents with your phone, email them to Sejda, and they’ll merge and send your combined PDF document to you in a matter of seconds.

3. PDF2GO

PDF2GO lets you drag and drop PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and images from your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, and even the internet. You can also adjust the order of your files before you merge them into a single PDF document.

4. PDF Joiner

PDF Joiner lets you drag and drop up to 20 PDF and image files into its uploader, arrange their order, and merge them into one PDF document.

5. DocuPub

DocuPub lets you merge PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and images from your computer into one PDF document. Just make sure you upload them in your preferred order before you download your merged document.

6. SmallPDF

Small PDF lets you drag and drop your PDF files from your computer, Google Drive, or Dropbox into its uploader, rearrange their order, and merge them into a single PDF document. They also permanently deletes your files from their servers within an hour of upload to protect your privacy.

7. Soda PDF

Soda PDF lets you upload PDF files from your computer, Google Drive, or Dropbox, adjust the order of your files, and download the merged file onto your computer or send it to your email address.

8. Hipdf

Hipdf lets you drag and drop PDF files from your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Online, and Box into its uploader and arrange their order in any way you want. Their servers will also permanently delete your files within an hour of upload to maximize your security.

Social Media Image Sizes for 2018: A Guide for Marketers

Wondering how to optimize your marketing images for different social media platforms? Looking for a guide to help you make sure your image dimensions are correct? In this article, you’ll discover a guide to the optimal image sizes for nine of the top social media networks. #1: Facebook Image Sizes Facebook is a starting place […]

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Plan or Act? The Journey, Season 2, Episode 3

Have you ever put off launching a project because you don’t have all your I’s dotted and all your T’s crossed? Then watch the Journey, Social Media Examiner’s episodic video documentary that shows you what really happens inside a growing business. Watch the Journey In episode 3, Michael Stelzner challenges his marketing team to launch […]

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9 Breadcrumb Tips and Examples to Make Your Site Way Easier to Navigate

In the fairytale Hansel and Gretel, two children drop breadcrumbs in the woods to find their way home.

Nowadays, you probably don’t experience too many lost-in-the-wood experiences, but I’m willing to bet you’ve felt frustratingly disoriented on poorly designed websites.

In website design, breadcrumb navigation is a way to show your users their location and how they got there (similar to Hansel’s breadcrumbs). It also helps users find higher-level pages faster if they landed on your site from search or a deep link.

Jakob Nielsen, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, has been recommending breadcrumb navigation since 1995, and makes a strong point for them: “All that breadcrumbs do is make it easier for users to move around the site, assuming its content and overall structure make sense. That’s sufficient contribution for something that takes up only one line in the design.”

If your business’s website is multi-layered, you might consider implementing breadcrumb navigation to make your site easier to navigate. However, like any design element, there’s a right and wrong way of doing it. Here, we’ll explore nine tips and examples to ensure you’re creating the most effective breadcrumb navigation for your users.

Breadcrumb Navigation Tips and Examples

1. Only use breadcrumb navigation if it makes sense for your site’s structure.

Breadcrumb navigation has a linear structure, so you only want to use it if it makes sense with your website’s hierarchy. If you have lower-level pages that are accessible from different landing pages, using breadcrumb navigation will only confuse readers who keep accessing the same pages from different starting points. Additionally, if your site is relatively simple, with only a few pages, you probably don’t need breadcrumb navigation.

2. Don’t make your breadcrumb navigation too large.

Your breadcrumb navigation is a secondary tool to your primary navigation bar, so it shouldn’t be too large or prominent on the page. For instance, on DHL’s website, their primary navigation bar is large and recognizable, with columns like “Express” “Parcel & eCommerce” “Logistics”, etc. Their breadcrumb navigation is the smaller section below that reads, “DHL Global | > Logistics | > Freight Transportation”. You don’t want your users to mistake your breadcrumb navigation as the primary navigation bar.

3. Include the full navigational path in your breadcrumb navigation.

I Googled “Elon University Non-Degree Students” to reach this landing page, but Elon is smart to include the full navigational path, including “Home” and “Admissions”. If you leave out certain levels, you’ll confuse users and the breadcrumb path won’t feel as helpful. Even if users didn’t begin on the homepage, you want to give them an easy way to explore your site from the beginning.

4. Progress from highest level to lowest.

It’s important your breadcrumb navigation reads left to right, with the closest link to the left being your homepage, and the closest link to the right being the user’s current page. A study by Nielsen Norman Group found users spend 80% of their time viewing the left half of a page and 20% viewing the right half, making a strong case for left-to-right design. Plus, the link closest to the left will appear as the beginning of the chain, so you want it to be your highest-level page.

5. Keep your breadcrumb titles consistent with your page titles.

To avoid confusion, you’ll want to remain consistent with your page and breadcrumb titles, particularly if you’re targeting certain keywords in those titles. You also want to clearly link your breadcrumb titles to the page. If the breadcrumb title doesn’t have a link, make it clear. Nestle effectively labels its breadcrumb titles to match the page titles. “Areas of impact & commitment”, for instance, reads the same in the breadcrumb navigation as it does on the page.

Nestle also does a good job differentiating links from non-links with different colors — the links are blue, while the non-links remain gray.

6. Get creative with design.

The traditional breadcrumb navigation looks like this: Home > About Us > Careers. However, you don’t need to follow the traditional path if you feel a different design could appeal more to your audience, or look better on your site.

For instance, Target uses breadcrumb navigation in their product pages (because who wouldn’t get lost in the virtual shoe section?), but uses “/” symbols and simple black and grey text. In this case, the subtle design variation makes sense for their site’s aesthetic.

7. Keep it clean and uncluttered.

Your breadcrumb navigation is simply an aid for the user, and ideally shouldn’t be noticed unless the user is looking for it. For this reason, you don’t want to clutter your breadcrumb navigation with unnecessary text.

Eionet, for instance, could do without their “You are here” text. While meant to be helpful, the text clutters the page. With the right design, a breadcrumb navigation should be noticeable enough without an introduction.

8. Consider which type of breadcrumb navigation makes the most sense for your site.

There are a few different types of breadcrumbs you might use — location-based, attribute-based, and history-based. Location-based breadcrumbs show the user where they are in the site’s hierarchy. Attribute-based breadcrumbs show users which category their page falls into. Finally, history-based breadcrumbs show users the specific path they took to arrive at the current page.

Bed Bath & Beyond uses attribute-based breadcrumb navigation to show users which category their product page falls under, so users can click back to “Kitchen” or “Small Appliances” to peruse similar items. This type of breadcrumb navigation is most effective for Bed Bath & Beyond customers. When you’re creating a breadcrumb navigation, consider what’s most useful for your site’s visitors.

9. Know your audience.

Best practices in breadcrumb navigation urge web designers to place the navigation at the top of the page — but Apple, one of the most valuable companies of all time, defies this logic by putting their breadcrumb navigation at the bottom of their site. Ultimately, it’s critical you know your audience. Apple’s customers are typically tech-savvy, and would likely find the navigation if they needed it. Consider your customers’ needs, and implement A/B testing if you’re unsure.

Ultimately, breadcrumb navigation is an effective tool to make your site easier to navigate, but you want to follow design best practices to ensure you’re leveraging the tool’s helpfulness. For additional UX advice, check out “The Ultimate Guide to UX Design“. 

9 VR Marketing Examples That You’ll Want to Steal for 2019

I won’t lecture you on the importance of incorporating virtual reality (VR) into your marketing strategy.

What I will do, however, is share a few fun facts about VR and show you nine examples of this technology used for marketing a product or a brand.

  • By 2020, the economic impact of virtual and augmented reality is predicted to reach $29.5 billion.
  • By the end of 2017, the number of shipped units of VR software and hardware from Sony, Oculus, HTC, and others totaled $2.4 million, up from $1.7 million in 2016.
  • By 2020, the number of VR headsets sold is predicted to reach 82 million — a 1,507% increase from 2017 predicted totals.

VR is being adopted quickly, and adding it to your marketing channels is something you should definitely think about for the coming year.

What Is VR?

VR, short for virtual reality, is a form of interactive software that immerses users in a three-dimensional environment — usually by way of a headset with special lenses — to simulate a real experience. Ideally, VR allows people to simulate the experience in 360 degrees.

Numerous industries are now finding uses for VR in order to transport people to places they might otherwise have to travel to, or simply imagine. While movie companies, for example, are giving audiences the opportunity to experience the movie as if they’re a character in the scene, conventional businesses are now using VR to demonstrate and promote their products to potential customers.

Before we dive into some of the businesses that have found success injecting their marketing with a dose of VR, it’s worth noting that virtual reality has a few key differences from another term you might’ve heard before: augmented reality. Find out what these differences are in the video below.

Click here to take inspiration from the most remarkable marketing and ad  campaigns we've ever seen.

Seeking inspiration for your own VR marketing campaign? Look no further. Below are nine of our favorite VR marketing campaigns and how they served the company’s marketing strategy.

1. Key Technology: VERYX Food Sorting

Key Technology, a manufacturer and designer of food processing systems, created a Virtual Reality demo that would allow attendees of the Pack Expo food packaging trade show to experience a detailed, hands-on look at how the company’s VERYX digital food sorting platform works. It was part of a comprehensive B2B campaign to grow brand awareness among a target audience of food manufacturers, and VR gave participants a highly unique look at what exactly the process looks like inside of the machine.

While this 360-degree video doesn’t completely replicate the experience, it does indicate the differentiating way brands within such B2B industries as manufacturing can leverage VR to immersively demonstrate their sophisticated technologies and capabilities.

2. Defy Ventures and Within: Step To The Line

When my colleague attended Oculus Connect in October, the most memorable experience for her was, by far, the event’s VR For Good exhibit: a showcase of creative work that used Oculus and VR technology for social- and mission-focused ventures.

One such example of that work was Step To The Line: A short film (that was immersively viewed on a VR headset) documenting the lives of inmates at California maximum-security prisons. It was created by Within, a VR storytelling production company, in partnership with Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship and development program for men, women, and youth who are currently or were formerly incarcerated.

With this unique watching experience, viewers were able to uniquely see what life is like within the walls of these correctional facilities, from the yard, to the cells, to the conversations that take place there.

3. Limbic Life: Project VITALICS

For far too many people, injuries, age, and disease can diminish mobility and equilibrium to the point where walking ranges from extremely painful to nearly impossible.

That’s why the folks at Limbic Life created the Limbic Chair, in partnership with the VITALICS research being conducted by RehaClinic. Pairing this special chair with a Gear VR headset allows users to more intuitively move their bodies (thanks to the chair’s combined neuroscience-based and ergonomic design) while virtually experiencing day-to-day experiences with a rehabilitative use of their hands and legs.

While the research is still underway and no definitive conclusions have been drawn, my coworker had the opportunity to use the chair at the 2017 Samsung Developer Conference and speak with the chair’s creator, Dr. Patrik Künzler.

“Patients enjoy being in the chair and the freedom of movement it allows. They enjoy VR a lot, especially the flying games,” he told Samsung Business Insights. And not only can the VR technology help them physically heal, but it also contributes to emotional rehabilitation.

“When they get up from the chair,” Künzler said, “they’re in a good mood and feel happy.”

Learn more about the conceptualization behind the Limbic Chair from Künzler’s TEDxZurich talk below.

4. Lowe’s: Holoroom How To

Anyone who’s gone through the existential angst of being a first-time buyer knows the unfathomable power of paperwork and finances to undermine the fun of designing or decorating a new home.

That is, until you walk into one of 19 Lowe’s stores that features the Holoroom How To VR experience.

Some homeowners are lucky enough to pay a professional to renovate their home when it needs to be. For others — Lowe’s core buyer — the next stop is the world of do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvement, which comes with its own hefty dose of stress.

That’s why Lowe’s decided to step in and help out homeowners — or recreational DIY enthusiasts — with a virtual skills-training clinic that uses HTC Vive headsets that guides participants through a visual, educational experience on the how-to of home improvement.

5. Boursin: The Sensorium

One of my colleagues recently pledged to give up dairy — okay, 48 hours ago — and she already claims to miss cheese, a lot.

You can imagine her happiness, then, when she discovered that the cheese brand Boursin once created a VR experience to take users on a multi-sensory journey through a refrigerator to shed light on its products’ flavor profiles, food pairings, and recipe ideas.

The goal: to raise awareness among U.K. consumers of Boursin’s distinct taste and product selection.

While the VR installment was part of a live experiential marketing campaign, the rest of us can get a taste — pun intended — of the virtual experience via this YouTube video.

6. Adidas: Delicatessen

In 2017, Adidas partnered with Somewhere Else, an emerging tech marketing agency, to follow the mountain-climbing journey of two extreme athletes sponsored by TERREX (a division of Adidas).

And what good is mountain climbing to an audience if you can’t give them a 360-degree view of the journey?

Viewers were able to follow the climbers, Ben Rueck and Delaney Miller, literally rock for rock and climb along with them. You heard that right — Using a VR headset and holding two sensory remote controls in each hand, viewers could actually scale the mountain of Delicatessen right alongside Rueck and Miller.

This VR campaign, according to Somewhere Else, served to “find an unforgettable way to market TERREX, [Adidas’s] line of outdoor apparel & accessories.” What the company also did, however, was introduce viewers to an activity they might have never tried otherwise. Instill an interest in the experience first, and the product is suddenly more appealing to the user.

Check out the campaign’s trailer below.

7. Toms: Virtual Giving Trip

Toms, a popular shoe company, is well known for donating one pair of shoes to a child in need every time a customer buys their own pair. Well, this charitable developer found a new way to inspire its customers to give — wearing a VR headset.

The Toms Virtual Giving Trip is narrated by Blake Mycoskie, the founder and Chief Shoe Giver of Toms, and one of his colleagues.

As they describe the story of Toms’ founding, their VR experience takes viewers on a trip through Peru, where Blake and the shoe-giving team visit a school of children who are about to receive the shoes they need for the first time.

What Toms’ VR campaign does so well is something cause-driven organizations all over the world struggle to do: Show donors exactly where their money is going. Even without a VR headset, the video below gives you an experience that’s intimate enough to put Toms on your list for your next shoe purchase.

8. DP World: Caucedo Facilities Tour

DP World is a global trade company that helps businesses transport goods around the world. As the company opens new terminals, however, they need a way to show their customers what DP World’s property has to offer.

DP World’s recently opened Caucedo facility in the Dominican Republic is just one of several DP World properties that uses VR to promote its large and often mysterious ships and land masses as they suddenly appear in a community.

Is trade logistics a sexy industry? Not to everyone. But that’s exactly why a 360-degree tour of DP World’s terminal is so valuable here. Show people just how efficient, safe, and crucial these properties are to certain businesses — without making them put on a hardhat and walk through the port itself — and you can gain massive community support.

9. TopShop: Catwalk VR Experience

Just because you couldn’t attend TopShop’s fashion show during London’s Fashion Week doesn’t mean you couldn’t still “be there.”

TopShop, a women’s fashion retailer, partnered with Inition, an emerging tech agency, to give customers a “virtual” seat of their fashion show by wearing a VR headset connected to the event as it was happening.

The groundbreaking campaign put viewers right next to the fashion runway and the seats of the celebrities who were attending. Talk about making sure your brand is inclusive …

Check out the video below, recapping the experience.

Want to see how other emerging technologies will impact your marketing? Check out A Practical Approach to Emerging Tech for SMBs: AI, Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, IoT, and AR/VR.

marketing

Unriddled: Facebook’s Redemption, the ‘Meaning’ of Search Engines, and More Tech News You Need

The summer might be coming to an end, but the Big Tech community is still hot with news around Google’s meaning-based algorithm update, social media leaders’ upcoming Senate appearance, and more from just this past week.

Oh, and Facebook might be making a real difference against misinformation.

It’s our Wednesday tech news roundup, and we’re breaking it down.

Unriddled: The Tech News You Need

1. Google Search Adds ‘Meaning Variations’ to its Ranking Algorithm

Google has been slowly but consistently moving its search engine ranking algorithm to focus more on the intent of a person’s search and less on “exact keyword matching,” the term it’s known by in the SEO industry. Last week, Google gave the search engine its biggest update yet in that interest.

Years ago, Google issued “close variants” to make it easier for the search engine to understand searches if they included plural words and accidental misspellings. The company has now extended these close variants to the meaning of the keyword itself, allowing searchers to find the results they’re looking for even if they paraphrase their search or leave certain questions to be implied. Read full story >>

2. Big Tech to Appear Before the Senate

The Facebook user data breach by analytics firm Cambridge Analytica might be several months behind us, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress was just the beginning of the U.S. Government’s reaction.

On September 26, leaders from Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Apple are slated to appear at a Senate hearing focused on how each company is approaching the data privacy issues highlighted by Facebook earlier this year. The hearing follows similar appearances by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in front of congressional panels earlier this month.

“Americans are struggling to understand what’s being collected and how it’s used,” Sen. John Thune, a Senator from South Dakota, said in a report by Wall Street Journal. “We’re holding this hearing to help inform consumers and to determine where the federal government may need to assert itself.” Read full story >>

3. Facebook’s Assault on Misinformation Shows Improvement

It’s tempting to dismiss a company’s response after a crisis as lip service, but the action Facebook has taken to reduce the spread of misinformation since the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is showing some promise.

A recent study by Stanford University has found that content published by a list of 570 “fake news” pages on Facebook has seen a 50% reduction in user engagement since the 2016 election. This includes likes, shares, and comments. As a point of comparison, the study says, engagement with the same type of content on Twitter has largely stayed the same.

This decrease in engagement helps validate the efforts Facebook says it has taken to intercept misleading or propaganda content on its platform — whether or not it comes from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, as it reportedly had leading up to the election two years ago.

Although Facebook’s ability to actually curb misinformation was cited as “surprising” by Dipayan Ghosh, a fellow of public policy at Harvard, the company continues to journal its progress toward a better platform for its users. Most recently, Facebook announced it is hiring a Human Rights Policy Director to join the company. Read full story >>

4. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Acquires TIME Magazine

Earlier this week, Salesforce chairman and co-chief executive Marc Benioff and his wife agreed to purchase TIME Magazine for $190 million from Meredith Corp. — TIME’s owner for the last eight months. Benioff cites the magazine’s “tremendous impact” and storytelling ability as reasons for his family’s acquisition.

Although Benioff is buying TIME as an individual, not on behalf of his business, he joins a generation of technology leaders who’ve invested heavily in the U.S.’s largest publications. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013, and Steve Jobs’ wife Laurene Powell Jobs accepted a majority stake in The Atlantic just last year. Read full story >>

5. Twitter to Let Users Opt for Chronological Newsfeeds

There was a time when Twitter’s newsfeed displayed tweets from the people you followed in order of when the tweet was posted. (Those were the days … ). Then, in 2016, the company launched a core algorithm update that ranked tweets by the account’s perceived importance to you.

Twitter is now reportedly giving users the option to use either system when browsing content on their feeds.

Twitter plans to release this chronological ordering option “in the next few weeks,” at which time users can simply uncheck a box in their settings which normally serves to “show the best tweets first.” Seeing tweets in reverse chronological order is part of Twitter’s shift to giving people more control over what content they see on their timeline. Read full story >>

That’s a wrap for today. Until next week, give me a shout on Twitter with your questions and feedback, as well as which events and topics you’d like us to cover moving forward.

5 Ways Augmented Reality (AR) Is Transforming Retail

For the past few years, augmented reality (AR) has been discussed as a useful but far-fetched solution, particularly in retail.

However, partially due to the launches of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, augmented reality is no longer a future possibility for retail — it’s here. In fact, 75% of consumers now expect retailers to offer an augmented reality experience.

Brands that take advantage of augmented reality will be the brands that satisfy more customers long-term. 

While there are many ways AR will transform retail in the upcoming years, we’ve honed in on five in particular. Take a look at how AR is transforming retail, and then consider how you can incorporate AR into your own retail strategy.

1. Virtually Try On 3D Products

If you’re anything like me, a store packed with customers can deter you from trying on products, even if you really need a new pair of sneakers.

A few brands are using AR to combat this challenge. For instance, Lacoste’s LCST Lacoste AR app allows customers to virtually try on shoes — since its release, over 30,000 users have interacted with the products within the app.

lacosteImage courtesy of Engine Creative.  

Sephora, meanwhile, created a Virtual Artist App with Modiface to show Sephora app users how makeup products will look on their face via their phone’s camera.

By the end of 2018, it’s estimated mobile devices will account for 27% of all U.S. retail ecommerce sales. As holiday season approaches, busy shoppers will turn to brands like Lacoste and Sephora to ensure they like the look of a product before making an online purchase. By offering a comparable alternative to the in-store experience, you’re able to appeal to a larger demographic.

2. Look at 3D Products In Home

Oftentimes, an in-store experience doesn’t help customers visualize how products will fit and look in their homes. One of the biggest ways AR will transform retail is by offering customers the opportunity to see products in home before purchase.

For instance, Magnolia Market partnered with Shopify’s AR team to create an app that allows customers to see how the brand’s products will look in their homes. Augmented reality helps customers visualize Magnolia Market’s products to decide if the products match the existing furniture, or fit well in the room.

magnoliamarketImage courtesy of Shopify

Similarly, Home Depot released their Project Color app in 2015, which allows users to see how a paint color looks in a room. The AR technology considers lighting, objects, and shadows in the room, so you can get a realistic portrayal of how the paint color will look in real life.

Both Mangolia Market and Home Depot’s AR apps allow users to send images through text or on social media to get a friend’s opinion before making a purchase.

As more home improvement retail stores offer AR apps, it will become harder to compete without one. If you had the option of seeing one brand’s couch in your home before purchasing, or purchasing from another brand without knowing how it would look, which would you choose?

3. Gather In-Store Information

Nowadays, nearly 60% of shoppers look up product information and prices while using their mobile phones in stores. Augmented reality could provide a critical solution to meeting those shoppers’ needs.

There’s certain product information a shopper can’t ask a sales associate — questions like, “What do other customers think of this product?” AR can fill this gap. For instance, American Apparel created an AR app that allows customers to scan signs in-store and pull up product information, including customer reviews, color options, and pricing.

american-apparelImage courtesy of AmericanApparelTech.

Additionally, app users can watch videos of models wearing American Apparel products, or send products to a friend if they think the friend would like it.

While users are likely able to find this information online without an AR app, augmented reality helps bridge the gap between offline and online shopping, creating a more cohesive experience. To help your customers find what they need more effortlessly, you might consider using AR in-store.

4. Use Virtual Fitting Rooms

Fitting rooms, particularly during a busy shopping season, can be a deterrent for shoppers. Sometimes, a shopper might buy an item, try it on at home, and return it just to avoid the fitting room line. Other times, shoppers might decide the item isn’t even worth the hassle.

If you’re going to use AR, you’ll want to brainstorm how to make the lives of your customers easier. Topshop, for instance, partnered with AR Door and used Kinect motion sensing technology to create a virtual fitting room for customers in their Moscow store. By standing in front of the camera, customers were able to see how clothing items looked on their bodies without physically trying anything on.

topshopImage courtesy of ARDOORMoscow.

Similarly, Timberland created their own virtual fitting room in Moktow Gallery in 2014. Using Kinect, Timberland’s fitting room allowed customers to see how their bodies looked in certain outfits.

Ideally, AR can help you appeal to more customers, including shoppers who are rushed or frustrated by the crowds. To satisfy more people, you might consider incorporating virtual fitting rooms into your store.

5. Build Brand Awareness

Even though augmented reality is becoming increasingly mainstream, it’s still unique and surprising.

Retail stores that use AR in 2018 set themselves apart as especially innovative and modern.

For instance, Airwalk used geolocation and AR to create an “invisible” pop-up shop, promoting the limited-edition relaunch of the Airwalk Jim. To purchase the shoe, customers needed to download Airwalk’s app and go to a virtual pop-up store location.

Airwalk’s unusual and fun shopping experience resulted in $5 million in earned media, and the ecommerce store’s busiest weekend yet. Additionally, the campaign proved Airwalk as a relevant and forward-thinking brand. By understanding their core demographic, Airwalk was able to successfully build brand awareness using AR.

airwalk-1Image courtesy of LS:N Global. 

Ultimately, it’s important you consider how AR would best-suit your customers’ needs. To create a sustainable long-term strategy, you’ll want to avoid using AR simply for flair — consider how the technology can enhance your customer’s shopping experience, and you’re more likely to find lasting success.

How to Use Google’s Website Builder to Create a Free Site for Your Small Business

Even though the majority of consumers research, discover, and purchase products on the Internet, 60% of small businesses didn’t have a website last year. A lot of small business owners just don’t have the time or resources to develop their own websites.

Fortunately, in June 2017, Google decided to help out the backbone of the global economy by giving every business with a Google My Business account access to a free, intuitive single-page website builder. The tool is fully customizable, automatically updates with the account user’s GMB listing information, and works with AdWordsExpress.

If your small business wants to build a simple yet striking site in less than an hour, here’s a quick rundown on how to use Google’s website builder to create and customize your new site.

Customizing Your Free Google Website

Google’s website builder will automatically generate an initial website for you, pre-populated with your business’ name, location, hours, contact information, posts, catalogue, and photos.

The initial website is a template, so you can customize the theme, copy, photos, and language. Here are some screenshots and information about each element.

Theme

With eight themes to choose from, your website’s font and color scheme are fully customizable.

Copy

In the edit tool, you can choose from a variety of CTAs to place on your website. You can also edit your website’s headline, description, summary header, and summary body. In the summary body, you can bold, italicize, underline, hyperlink, number, and bullet any of your text.

Photos

In the Photos tool, you can upload up to nine photos, product images, or other pictures to the section on your website directly below the summary body. You can also upload your own cover photo to your website.

Language

You can write your website’s copy in over 60 different languages.

Section Order

Unfortunately, you can’t change your website’s section order, but your site will be laid out in a logical and engaging fashion.






With their free website builder, Google has helped millions of small business owners bypass the challenges, time, and costs that hindered the development of their own websites and, ultimately, their business. If you’re looking for a free and simple way to grow your online presence, Google’s Website Builder can help you too.

How to Create Social Media Images With Google Drawings

Want to create social media images without purchasing expensive software? Looking for a solution you can access from any computer? In this article, you’ll learn how to create professional-looking images using Google Drawings. Why Use Google Drawings? Google Drawings was originally built to help businesses create flowcharts, website wireframes, mind maps, and other types of […]

The post How to Create Social Media Images With Google Drawings appeared first on Social Media Examiner.

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How to Use Creative Commons to Find Free Images

Many beginning bloggers turn to the image search in Google. But pictures found in this way are almost always subject to restrictive copyright terms.

Creative Commons was created as an alternative to restrictive copyright laws, and allows authors and creators (of images, animations, music, and more) to license their works for distribution and further use.

 

In this blog post, we’ll explain what each Creative Commons license means, how to search for images under these licenses, and how to attribute images that were published under one of these licenses to the original author.

Click here to download our free ebook on easy fixes to common business  blogging mistakes.

So, what do these Creative Commons licenses look like, and what types of permission do they give to those who want to reuse or republish a licensed image?

Creative Commons Licenses

If you choose to use a Creative Commons-licensed image on your blog, be sure to check the terms of the license. Most images require only that you attribute the work to the original author, but some licenses include additional restrictions.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of Creative Commons licenses available to publishers.

Attribution

This Creative Commons license offers the most opportunity for sharing and republishing. Under this license, you are allowed to redistribute, modify, and build upon the original work as long as you attribute the work to the image’s original author (learn how to properly attribute images to their respective authors further down in this article).

You must also be careful not to imply that the original author has endorsed you in any way through your use of their item.

ShareAlike

Under the ShareAlike license, you can redistribute, modify, and build upon the original media as long as you attribute it to the original author and publish it under the same license — in other words, the ShareAlike license.

The image must not be placed under any different or more restrictive terms for re-use than those established by the original author.

NoDerivs

The NoDerivs license is short for “No Derivative Works.” Under this Creative Commons license, only exact copies of the work may be used and shared, but no derivative or altered versions of the work.

In other words, there is no modifying, remixing, or building upon the original media under this license.

NonCommercial

The NonCommercial license allows you to modify and build upon the original media, but it cannot be redistributed for commercial purposes.

Business bloggers: Pay attention to this license. Although blogs by themselves are not a revenue stream, they can serve to support a revenue-generating business. Therefore, it’s best to avoid media under this license if you’re publishing to a company blog, unless the media’s author says otherwise.

NonCommercial-ShareALike

This hybrid license carries the rules of the NonCommercial and ShareAlike licenses at the same time.

When reusing these types of Creative Commons images, you can redistribute, modify, and build upon the original media as long as it’s not for a commercial purpose, you attribute the media to the original author, and you republish the image under the same NonCommercial-ShareAlike license as the original.

NonCommercial-NoDerivs

NonCommercial-NoDerivs is the most restrictive license an artist can use on their work. Under this license, you’re not allowed to modify, remix, or build upon the original work nor publish it for commercial purposes.

If you’re publishing a NonCommercial-NoDerivs image to a personal website, you’re required to display the media as you found it and attribute it to the artwork’s original author.

Licenses for images and other works might be designated as simply Attribution-Noncommercial” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”>Attribution-NonCommercial, Attribution-ShareAlike, or some further combination of license terms. Always check the terms of the work you are planning to use just to be certain that you’re complying with the specific wishes of the author.

How to Give Creative Commons Attribution

As you can tell from the license descriptions above, more often than not you’re required to attribute the original image to its author.

1. Identify the license on your chosen image.

To do so, start by typing in a search term that describes the image you want. When you find one, take a moment to learn what the terms of the license is for the image and insert it into your post. For images on Flickr, you’ll see this license labeled on the bottom-righthand corner of the image, as shown below (this is the Attribution license).

Image of Boston on Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution license

Image by: Emmanuel Huybrechts

2. Note how this work was redistributed.

Unless otherwise stipulated by the image’s author, there are two ways to appropriately attribute him or her to your redistributed version:

  • “Image by [name of author].” If you haven’t modified or built upon the original image, this phrase — or something like it — is all you need to give proper credit.
  • “This image was modified from [origin of image] by [name of author].” If you have modified the image from its original version, it’s courtesy to say so in your attribution note.

3. Link back to the origin of the image.

Once you’ve identified the license of your image and written out an attribution line that reflects it, all you have to do is hyperlink the author’s name or the origin of the image to the landing page from which you first downloaded it.

How to Use Creative Commons Search

Images that have been made available for use through a Creative Commons license can easily be found on Flickr or Wikimedia Commons.

You can also search Google for images that carry a Creative Commons license by configuring your advanced search settings the following way:

  • Navigate to Google Images and select “Tools” on the right, just below the search bar.
  • In the options that appear, click “Usage rights.”
  • In the dropdown menu that appears, select the license that suits your needs.

Google makes it easy to filter your image results by each of the licenses described above. In Google Images, you have four options:

creative-commons-image-search-google

“Labeled for reuse with modification” generally produces images under the Attribution and ShareAlike licenses. “Labeled for reuse” produces every license. “Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification” produces the NonCommercial license, and “Labeled for noncommercial reuse” produces the NoDerivs license.

If you’ve read this far, we have one last gift for you: Creative Commons Search. This handy database allows you to set the platform in which you want to conduct an image search and automatically filter by Creative Common license.

Now that you have everything you need, get to searching! The author of your next republished image is counting on you.

Beth Dunn is a member of the Inbound Marketing Consultant team at HubSpot. Beth also blogs at www.bethdunn.org and An Accomplished Young Lady.

Why We All Need to Pay Attention to Amazon Advertising

Digital ads have been discussed quite a bit over the past year, and not always in a positive light.

Ads, for example, were at the foundation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when a voter profiling firm was charged with improperly harvesting and using Facebook users’ personal data in order to sway votes in political elections. That data was allegedly used to create ads that would influence voters.

And yet, the advertising business is booming. Case in point: Amazon.

At day two of Code Commerce — a conference that centers around ecommerce and retail —  Andrea Leigh and Ben Winters of Ideoclick — a company that works with manufacturers to optimize online sales — spoke to the rapid growth of Amazon’s advertising platform.

According to Winters, Amazon advertising has quickly become the third-largest digital ad platform (sponsored product ads began appearing in 2012), behind Facebook and Google. And while it hasn’t yet surpassed the later, Winter says, Amazon’s ad revenue is growing at 5X the rate as Google’s.

So what does this mean for advertisers? We dug into what Amazon advertising looks like today, what it could look like in the future — and what retailers advertising on Amazon or thinking about it should do to optimize their efforts.

What Amazon Advertising Looks Like Today

Users may have seen evidence Amazon’s growing ad platform while browsing the site. According to Recode — as well as Leigh and Winters — the company is “stuffing” its search results with ads. 

Consider that 54% of product searches on the internet take place on Amazon, according to Winters. Now, the first three listings that appear in those search results — “which take up the whole screen above the fold — everything visible before you scroll,” as Recode‘s Roni Molla writes — all consist of ads.

And it makes sense why Amazon would give advertisers this plum real estate. People are more almost certain to buy something that appears on the first page of results, Leigh says — so much so, “you could bury a dead body on the second page, because nobody goes there.”

Let’s look at what happens, for example, when we search for “dog food”:

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 4.13.40 PM-1

As Molla pointed out, there’s nothing visible before scrolling down that isn’t an ad. 

And this means that there’s precious little organic real estate on that first page, and a lot of competition for it — leading to what Leigh calls a “pay to play” situation.

“This is a bad time to be a manufacturer on Amazon,” Leigh adds. “The squeeze is there.”

In fact, she even asserted that Amazon is sometimes “predatory” in its advertising practices. That limited real estate we mentioned earlier? Amazon uses some of it for its own private label ads, withholding the space from advertisers and sometimes going so far as displaying these ads on product detail pages for competing products.

The Data Game

And regardless of whether facets of Amazon’s ad strategy is “predatory,” , Winters says it makes sense for Amazon, considering the amount of data it has on user preferences and buying behavior. It knows where to display those ads to get the most return.

As for user data, Amazon is also expanding its collection methods, in part with its Go stores. The store’s “walk-out technology,” enables customers who have downloaded the Go app to add the items they want to a bag and leave, with the help of sensors.

But here’s the thing about that sensor technology: Not only does it read what you’re putting in your bag to buy, it also measures which products you pick up, observe, and then put back — mimicking the ecommerce browsing experience, but in real life.

And this powerful hybrid of on- and offline behavioral user data could make Amazon’s ad targeting even more powerful in the future — both for advertisers and its own purposes.

The Bottom Line

So what does this mean for marketers and SMBs — especially those who don’t necessarily have the ad spend available to “pay to play”?

If you ask Leigh — which we did — it turns out that advertising may not be the end all, be all for smaller manufacturers. Not at first, anyway.

To figure out how to make Amazon advertising work for them eventually, she advises manufacturers to look at where they have a larger or engaged audience.

“If you have a social following, or do a lot of events, you can send that audience to Amazon,” she says. “We call that ‘juicing the flywheel.’”

There are also some lessons to be learned from search optimization here, especially when it comes to knowing what your target buyers are searching for on Amazon.

Keywordtool.io, for example, has its own resource specifically for finding Amazon search keywords, and can help retailers understand what their target buyers are searching for.

Once you do find the right keywords — and garner an ad spend — Leigh recommends being as specific as possible.

“The majority of searches on Amazon are very specific, like ‘probiotic for elementary-aged children’,” she says. “And they have a really high conversion.”

She was firm that an ad budget isn’t a prerequisite to success on Amazon.

“You don’t have to buy advertising on Amazon to be effective,” she says. “I think there are other ways to grow on Amazon, especially if you have a good following.”