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Sep

30

2015

Why Blog? The Benefits of Blogging for Business and Marketing

blog-benefits

I had a co-worker email me the other day asking for a blog post about the benefits of business blogging.

“It’s for a friend,” she said.

Sure it was.

I told her I’d shoot over one of our up-to-date blog posts about why businesses should blog and … I couldn’t find one. Whoops. Quite the meta mistake.

So I’m doing it now. If you’re trying to explain one of the core tenets of inbound — business blogging — to your boss, a coworker, your mom at Thanksgiving, whomever, then send them this post. I hope it helps.

For even more reasons why you should blog for business and marketing — and how to get started — download our free ebook here.

The Benefits of Business Blogs for Marketing

First, if you don’t know what a business blog is, this post, “What Is Business Blogging? [FAQs]” should get you up-to-date.

On the same page? Cool. Let’s move on to why you should use blogging as a marketing tactic.

1) It helps drive traffic to your website.

Raise your hand if you want more website visitors. Yeah, me too.

Now think about the ways people find your website:

  • They could type your name right in to their browser, but that’s an audience you already have. They know who you are, you’re on their radar, and that doesn’t help you get more traffic on top of what you’re already getting.
  • You could pay for traffic by buying an email list (don’t you dare!), blasting them, and hoping some people open and click through on the emails. But that’s expensive and, you know, illegal.
  • You could pay for traffic by placing tons of paid ads, which isn’t illegal, but still quite expensive. And the second you run out of money, your traffic stops coming, too.

So, how can you drive any traffic? In short: blogging, social media, and search engines. Here’s how it works.

Think about how many pages there are on your website. Probably not a ton, right? And think about how often you update those pages. Probably not that often, right? (How often can you really update your About Us page, you know?)

Well, blogging helps solve both of those problems.

Every time you write a blog post, it’s one more indexed page on your website, which means it’s one more opportunity for you to show up in search engines and drive traffic to your website in organic search. We’ll get into more of the benefits of blogging on your SEO a bit later, but it’s also one more cue to Google and other search engines that your website is active and they should be checking in frequently to see what new content to surface.

Blogging also helps you get discovered via social media. Every time you write a blog post, you’re creating content that people can share on social networks — Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest — which helps expose your business to a new audience that may not know you yet.

Blog content also helps keep your social media presence going — instead of asking your social media manager to come up with brand new original content for social media (or creating that content yourself), your blog can serve as that repository of content. You’re strengthening your social reach with blog content and driving new website visitors to your blog via your social channels. Quite a symbiotic relationship, if I do say so myself.

So, the first benefit of blogging? It helps drive new traffic to your website and works closely with search engines and social media to do that.

blogging-inbound

2) It helps convert that traffic into leads.

Now that you have traffic coming to your website through your blog, you have an opportunity to convert that traffic into leads.

Just like every blog post you write is another indexed page, each post is a new opportunity to generate new leads. The way this works is really simple: Just add a lead-generating call-to-action to every blog post.

Often, these calls-to-action lead to things like free ebooks, free whitepapers, free fact sheets, free webinars, free trials … basically, any content asset for which someone would be willing to exchange their information. To be super clear for anyone unfamiliar with how traffic-to-lead conversions work, it’s as simple as this:

  • Visitor comes to website
  • Visitor sees call-to-action for a free offer
  • Visitor clicks call-to-action and gets to a landing page, which contains a form for them to fill in with their information
  • Visitor fills out form, submits information, and receives the free offer

If you scroll down in this blog post, you’ll see a call-to-action button. In fact, 99.9% of the blog posts we publish have call-to-action buttons … and yours should, too. That is how you turn that traffic coming to your blog into leads for your sales team.

blogging-inbound-image

Note: Not every reader of your blog will become a lead. That’s okay. No one converts 100% of the people who read their blog into leads. Just get blogging, put calls-to-action on every blog post, set a visitor-to-lead conversion rate benchmark for yourself, and strive to improve that each month.

3) It helps establish authority.

The best business blogs answer common questions their leads and customers have. If you’re consistently creating content that’s helpful for your target customer, it’ll help establish you as an authority in their eyes. This is a particularly handy tool for Sales and Service professionals.

Can you imagine the impact of sending an educational blog post you wrote to clear things up for a confused customer? Or how many more deals a salesperson could close if their leads discovered blog content written by their salesperson?

“Establishing authority” is a fluffy metric — certainly not as concrete as traffic and leads, but it’s pretty powerful stuff. And if you need to tie the impact of blogging to a less fluffy metric, consider measuring it the same way you measure sales enablement. Because at the end of the day, that’s what many of your blog posts are. Think about the sales enablement opportunities blogging presents:

  • If prospects find answers to their common questions via blog posts written by people at your company, they’re much more likely to come into the sales process trusting what you have to say because you’ve helped them in the past — even before they were interested in purchasing anything from you.
  • Prospects that have been reading your blog posts will typically enter the sales process more educated on your place in the market, your industry, and what you have to offer. That makes for a far more productive sales conversation than one held between two relative strangers.
  • Salespeople who encounter specific questions that require in-depth explanation or a documented answer can pull from an archive of blog posts. Not only do these blog posts help move the sales process along more swiftly than if a sales rep had to create the assets from scratch, but the salesperson is further positioned as a helpful resource to their prospect.

4) It drives long-term results.

You know what would be cool? If any of the following things helped you drive site traffic and generate new leads:

  • Trip to Hawaii
  • Going to the gym
  • Sleeping

Good news, though! That’s what blogging does — largely through search engines. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you sit down for an hour and write and publish a blog post today. Let’s say that blog post gets you 100 views and 10 leads. You get another 50 views and 5 leads tomorrow as a few more people find it on social media and some of your subscribers get caught up on their email and RSS. But after a couple days, most of the fanfare from that post dies down and you’ve netted 150 views and 15 leads.

It’s not done.

That blog post is now ranking in search engines. That means for days, weeks, months, and years to come, you can continue to get traffic and leads from that blog post. So while it may feel like day one or bust, in reality, blogging acts more like this:

blogging_compounding_returns-1-1

So while you’re hitting your snooze alarm, surfing in Hawaii, and pumping iron, you’re also driving traffic and leads. The effort you put in yesterday can turn into hundreds of thousands of views and leads in the future.

In fact, about 70% of the traffic each month on this very blog comes from posts that weren’t published in the current month. They come from old posts. Same goes for the leads generated in a current month — about 90% of the leads we generate every month come from blog posts that were published in previous months. Sometimes years ago.

We call these types of blog posts “compounding” posts. Not every blog post will fit into this category, but the more evergreen blog posts you write, the more likely it is that you’ll land on one of those compounding blog posts. In our own research, we’ve found that about 1 in every 10 blog posts end up being compounding blog posts.

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To me (and hopefully to you), this demonstrates the scalability of business blogging. While you might not see immediate results, over time, you’ll be able to count on a predictable amount of traffic and leads for your business without any additional resource investment — the work to generate that traffic and those leads is already done.

If you’d like to learn more about the long-term impact of blogging and how to reap even more benefits from the blog posts that are ranking in organic search for your business, check out this blog post, “The Blogging Tactic No One Is Talking About: Optimizing the Past”

Secondary Benefits of Business Blogging

There are other reasons businesses might want to blog, but I think they’re smaller and stray from the core benefits of blogging.

For instance, I love to use our blog to test out big campaigns on the cheap — before we invest a lot of money and time into their creation. I also love to use our blog to help understand our persona better. And while this shouldn’t be their primary use, blogs also become great outlets through with marketers can communicate other PR-type important information — things like product releases or event information. It’s certainly easier to get attention for more company-focused initiatives if you’ve built up your own audience on your own property, as opposed to pitching your story to journalists and hoping one of them bites.

These are all great side effects or uses of a business blog, but they’re secondary benefits to me.

If you’re looking to start a business blog or get more investment for one you’ve already started, the reasons above are a great place to start arguing your case.

Are you already well underway when it comes to business blogging? Just starting out? Share your thoughts on business blogging below and what you’re looking to get out of it.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free business blogging guide

 
free business blogging guide

Sep

15

2015

How to Crowdsource a Blog Post Using Google Docs [Quick Tip]

running-from-car

When I’m walking around the city and I have to cross the street, I do this thing where I start looking both ways before I’ve reached the intersection. If there are no cars coming at that moment, I like to run across the street immediately instead of waiting to reach the intersection — otherwise a bunch of cars will probably be there by the time I get to the crossing signal.

Some people call that jaywalking. Law enforcement, for instance.

I call it efficiency.

The same can be said for a method of blogging my team has adopted: the crowdsourced Google Docs post. It’s an efficient way to curate the contents of a list post, drawing on the knowledge of many to fill in the knowledge gaps of the one.

Check out how it works — it’s quite simple — and try it with your team. You’ll shave off a significant portion of research time that goes into curation (more time than my jaywalking frees up), and make the process of writing list posts far more efficient.

Step 1: Figure out what you want to write about.

First, figure out the post you want to write — something that’s conducive to a group brainstorm. Usually these are list posts with an angle everyone can contribute to from their own experience.

For example, “X Shows You Should Be Watching on Netflix” would be a good post to brainstorm with my coworkers because I know a lot of them like to binge-watch Netflix shows, and they could contribute good ideas to the Doc that I wouldn’t have thought of. What’s not a great post for that group is “X Ways to Wean Yourself Off a Netflix Addiction” because, well, I don’t think any of us could profess experience to that.

Step 2: Set up your Google Doc.

Next, set up your Google Doc so it’s ready for people to brainstorm and plop down ideas. Keep it simple — providing just a couple informal columns to fill out will yield a wider breadth of results than several columns with very specific requests. The latter setup tends to seem daunting, and an incredible level of specificity makes ideas that fit the bill harder to conjure. 

Google doc screenshot

Step 3: Invite a bunch of people to it.

Once your document is set up, get the invites out. The more people you invite, the better — more points of view will make your curated list cover more manner of sin. Just go to the blue “Share” button in the top-right corner of your Google Doc, and put in the email addresses of people you want to include in your brainstorm. It’s also useful to include some context in the message box so people know why they’re receiving an invite and what they need to do.

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Step 4: Get the ball rolling.

Now, get started. Some people will jump in with ideas immediately, others may ponder for a bit. It helps to get the ball rolling by adding ideas in yourself — the more items you add to the brainstorm Doc, the more it’ll spur new ideas for other people. 

While you’re brainstorming, don’t worry about crafting your sentences perfectly, making spelling and grammar errors, or even adding duplicate ideas. Whoever writes the piece will edit for all these things later. Just think of this time as a brain dump.

Step 5: Curate the best ideas from the Google Doc.

After everyone seems to have exhausted their ideas and people start to leave the Google Doc, you should be left with a big collection of ides. Now it’s time to edit down your list. Delete the duplicate ideas, combine ideas that are dancing around the same themes, and come up with a list of the best stuff for your blog post.

Once you have that list, simply add the list items to your blog post — typically these are the headers in your post — and fill in the rest with prose.

And voila, you’ve found a way to crowdsource curation and minimize your overall blog-writing time. 

live webinar: INBOUND 2015 HubSpot product launches

Jul

21

2015

Content Marketing Strategy: A Comprehensive Guide for Modern Marketers

content-marketing-guide.jpg

I’ve written my share of blog posts about content marketing. I’ve also written a few ultimate guides in my time. But I’ve never combined the two — maybe because the prospect of trying to produce an in-depth version of the thing I do for a living seems too daunting. I mean, where do I start? And more importantly … where do I stop? 

I won’t pull any punches: I started, and it took a while to stop. That is to say you’re about to dive into a pretty in-depth post (that’s a nice way of saying “long”) about content marketing, one which you may want to bookmark to read later. But I think it covers most of the aspects of content marketing that modern inbound marketers need to consider, beyond the basics of simply writing content optimized for the web.

All that being said, we’ll plan on doing deeper dives on any subject matters covered below if you’d like them. Feel free to scan the following headers and let us know if there are any sections you think you need more help with. We’ll take it from there. 

What Is Content Marketing?

To explain how content marketing works, we first have to agree on a definition. Unfortunately, I might’ve sent myself on a fool’s errand — I went through dozens of different iterations of a content marketing definition (including the somewhat flippant “content marketing is using content for marketing”) and found none of them totally satisfactory. But I hate to let perfection get in the way of progress, so let’s just get something down on paper so we have a basis for discussion:

Content marketing is a marketing program that centers on creating, publishing, and distributing content for your target audience — usually online — the goal of which is to attract new customers.

The most common components of a content marketing program are social media networks, blogs, visual content, and premium content assets — like tools, ebooks, or webinars. Here are some scenarios to demonstrate the mechanics.

Scenario 1:

You run an accounting firm that specializes in tax preparation, and business was lagging this year. You want to do better next year, so you start a blog on your website and publish posts about some of the common tax-related issues your target customer faces. You write a few posts a week, and eventually those blog posts start to rank in Google and other search engines.

When tax season rolls around and people are Googling answers to their tax preparation questions, they stumble upon your blog posts, and realize you offer tax preparation services. Some of them keep doing their own tax preparation, but perhaps keep you in mind for next year; others throw their hands up in the air, decide to rid themselves of tax preparation headaches for good, and hire you — because you’re clearly way more qualified to do this than they are.

Scenario 2:

You’re Director of Marketing for an agency that specializes in design solutions for small businesses. You’re having trouble attracting customers, though, because keeping an agency on retainer seems like a luxury for a small business. So you decide to create some DIY design tools to help them, you know, DIY. You do some keyword research and notice about 2,000 people are searching for an “infographic generator” every month, so you decide to build one that people can use for free once — and if they like it, they can create more infographics for free if they provide a name and email address.

You create a few sample infographics and share them on social media so people see what the tool is capable of doing, and between that and the traffic coming from organic search, you start to get a few hundred people using it every month. A few of them like it so much they provide their name and email address so they can continue using it. Now that you have their contact information, you’re able to identify some people that would be a good customer fit and keep in touch with them, nurturing them into customers.

Why Businesses Need a Content Marketing Strategy

Those scenarios might have sounded like a lot of work to you, especially when considered alongside marketing programs that provide more immediate gratification — like list purchasing, PPC, or trade show marketing that deliver names and email addresses in mere minutes. Often, content marketing is used when businesses realize those programs are either ineffective, too expensive, not scalable, or all of the above. Here’s what I mean, using the “infographic generator” example above for demonstrations.

Let’s say you’re using PPC as your primary means of generating leads for your business. You need more leads, and decide to bid on the term “infographic generator” for $2 a click. At the end of your month-long campaign, you generated 1,000 leads and spent $10,000. Not bad. But what about next month? You have to spend $10,000 again. And again. And again. That is, if you want the leads to keep coming. In other words, when you turn the faucet of money off, leads stop coming out. The same concept applies with list purchasing, tradeshow marketing — anything where you don’t own the property from which leads are generated. Now let’s contrast that experience against, say, blogging.

You write a blog post about your infographic generator, and included a link to the tool in the post so people can try it for themselves. Let’s say the visitor-to-lead conversion rate is the same on this blog post as it was in your PPC campaign — 2%. That means if 100 people read that blog post in your first month, you’d get two leads from it. But your work is done now. And over time, that one blog post you wrote years ago will continue to generate leads over, and over, and over, every single month. And not just that blog post — every blog post you write will do the same.

blogging_compounding_returns-1.jpg

In other words, content marketing programs set businesses up for predictable, scalable, and cost-effective traffic and lead-flow that doesn’t rely on securing budget each month. It’s like an annuity.

Usually, businesses don’t completely cease all other marketing activities and switch to content marketing cold turkey. In fact, most veteran content marketing programs typically incorporate other marketing techniques to complement their content initiatives. But the impetus for most of the companies I’ve worked with to initiate a content marketing program has been the need for a more cost-effective, predictable, and scalable source of traffic and leads than what they’ve been receiving from their current marketing programs.

If you’re in the same boat, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about how to “do” content marketing.

Step 1: Figuring Out Who Should Lead Your Content Marketing

Content marketing requires manpower, so the first step is figuring out who is going to head up the program. There’s no one-size-fits-all for team structure — it depends largely on the size of your company, your marketing team, and your budget. But if we assume that those three things are interlinked, as they often are, I can provide you with some frameworks based off of other content marketing-focused companies’ structures. These should help you hire the right people, and have them “sitting” in the right spot in your organization.

The proxy for content marketing in the following charts is “Attract”, since content marketing is the top-of-the-funnel activity that attracts people to your business. “Convert” and “Close” refer to middle-of-the-funnel and bottom-of-the-funnel marketing activities, like email marketing, nurturing, sales enablement, marketing ops, conversion rate optimization, etc.

Startup, Marketing Team of 1, Little-to-No Content Marketing Budget

When you’re a solopreneur or have just one person dedicated to marketing, it’s pretty clear who runs content marketing — you’re a full-funnel marketer.

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In terms of your content marketing responsibilities, your job is to:

  • Create content — written and visual, long-form (often placed behind a form) and short-form (publicly available, like a blog post)
  • Optimize that content for SEO
  • Manage social media

SMB, Marketing Team of 3, Some Content Marketing Budget

When the marketing team starts to grow, who leads content marketing gets more interesting. With a team of three marketers, you can approach content marketing a couple ways. Either one person can own content marketing activities, while the other two own activities that align more with the middle- and bottom-of the funnel. Or, two people can own content marketing activities, while the third owns the rest.

For what it’s worth, HubSpot’s CMO recommends the latter

“The best way to help your sales team is to build brand awareness and create content that generates a lot of leads over time. An increase of twice as many leads means twice as many quality leads — as long as you have software that lets you filter those incoming leads efficiently. That’s how you build a successful sales and marketing machine,” explains Mike Volpe.

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At this stage, the work of the one or two content marketers on your team remains about the same as it does with a team of one — content creation, SEO, and social media. Even if you decide to dedicate two hires to content marketing as Volpe suggests, to bifurcate responsibilities between those two employees is premature. Both employees should contribute to all three responsibilities, and leadership of the content marketing program is shared between those employees.

Mid-size, Marketing Team of 9, Dedicated Content Marketing Budget

This is where things get really interesting. If you’ve got a marketing team of about nine people, the recommendation is still to over-invest in content marketing activities that grow the top of your funnel.

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With five employees dedicated to content marketing, it’s now time to bifurcate responsibility. Here’s how you can break it down:

  • Blogging: Two employees
  • Long-form/premium content: One employee
  • SEO: One employee
  • Design: One employee

At this stage of growth, there’s likely a CMO or other head of marketing to whom all these employees report. Thus the CMO should be leading the content marketing program, though the day-to-day activities will be carried out by the team of five.

Large/Enterprise, Marketing Team of 18, Sizeable Content Marketing Budget

With a marketing team size of around 18, your content marketing team will be staffed with all the same roles — bloggers, long-form content creators, SEO specialists, designers — just multiplied. Aim to have three bloggers on staff, and two employees for each of the other roles. It’s wise to have one of those bloggers have expertise in editing, too, so there’s someone dedicated to maintaining content quality as output increases.

At this stage of growth, it’s also time to assign dedicated leadership to your content marketing team — unless you want two dozen people reporting to the CMO. Many organizations hire a Director of Content, VP of Content, Chief Content Officer, or Editor-in-Chief to lead the entire content marketing team. This individual sets the vision for the team, secures budget, hires the right talent, contributes content ideas, solves for growth, and helps coordinate with other leaders across the marketing organization so content marketing doesn’t become too siloed.

Screen_Shot_2015-07-02_at_11.55.59_AM.png

Some companies may have marketing teams of far more than 18. Here at HubSpot, for example, we have a team of nearly 100. Even so, we stick to a team structure quite similar to the structure an 18-person marketing team might use — with one modification. Design is broken off of the Content Team, and relegated to a separate team. This might make sense for your organization, too, if you find that:

  1. Designers need to fulfill requests for employees on every team — making them more full-funnel marketers than dedicated top-of-the-funnel marketers.
  2. You’ve hired content creators that are capable of doing some design on their own — simple things like laying out ebooks, creating social images, or doing some basic front-end design work.
  3. Your content marketing budget includes room for an agency retainer, or contracted design work from third-parties as needed.

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If you’d like to check out more corporate org charts to see where notable companies place their content marketing team, download The Free Guide to Organizational Structures.

Step 2: Hiring for Content Marketing

So you’ve seen some content marketing team structures and the different job titles you might hire for. What do these people do? And how do you hire the right people for the roles? To get you started, here are some sample job descriptions, along with the skills and qualities ideal candidates will possess.

Your specific needs might vary — for instance, perhaps you need subject matter expertise in your writers, or coding experience from your long-form content creators. Or perhaps your titles differ, and your “content creators” are actually “content strategists”, or your “social media manager” is really a “specialist.” Make edits as you see fit, but these frameworks should be helpful in getting you started if this is your first time hiring for any of these positions.

Blogger

We are seeking a savvy wordsmith to join our blogging team. Candidates must have a knack and love for writing and a comprehensive understanding of the industry. The blogger will be expected to sustain and develop the company’s voice across all blog content. 

Responsibilities:

  • Writing various types of articles on a wide range of topics for our blog.
  • Providing feedback to other contributors, and editing other writers’ content.
  • Optimizing content for search engines and lead generation.
  • Conducting analytical projects to improve blog strategies/tactics.
  • Growing blog subscribers and expanding the overall blog’s reach.

Requirements:

  • A passion and strong understanding of the industry and our business’ mission.
  • Exceptional writing and editing skills, as well as the ability to adopt the style, tone, and voice of our business’ various types of content.
  • An analytical mind and interest in using data to optimize/scale blog marketing strategies and tactics.
  • Excellent organizational skills to work independently and manage projects with many moving parts.
  • 2-3 years of marketing and content creation experience.

Long-Form Content Creator

We are looking for a prolific and talented content creator to write and produce various projects and blog regularly, to expand our company’s digital footprint, awareness, subscribers, and leads. This role requires a high level of creativity, attention to detail, and project management skills.

Responsibilities:

  • Creating 1-2 free resources each month to drive leads, subscribers, awareness, and/or other important metrics (examples include ebooks, whitepapers, infographics, guides, etc.).
  • Blogging on an ongoing basis in support of your other projects and to attract site visitors through search, social, and our email subscribers.
  • Growing our subscriber base by providing them regular, helpful content that’s in-tune with their needs.
  • Collaborating with designers, product marketing, sales, and external influencers and industry experts to produce relevant content that meets the needs of both key stakeholders and our audience.
  • Convincing others that your creative ideas are worth investing time and effort in. This role is at the core of the marketing team, and others will rely on your work every single day.

Requirements:

  • BA/BS degree or equivalent working experience.
  • Past experience producing content for the web specifically, as well as channel-specific knowledge (blog, SlideShare, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • Past experience building audiences either online or offline.
  • A dual-minded approach: You’re highly creative and an excellent writer but can also be process-driven, think scale, and rely on data to make decisions.

Social Media Manager

We’re looking for a social media manager to grow our followers, engage and retain them, and help convert them into leads, customers, and active fans and promoters of our company. You should have command of best practices and trends in social media marketing, enjoy being creative, and understand how to both build and convert a digital audience.

Responsibilities:

  • Building and managing the company’s social media profiles and presence, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, and potentially additional channels (Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, etc.).
  • Creating shareable content appropriate for specific networks.
  • Listening and engaging in relevant social discussion about our company, competitors, and/or industry.
  • Running regular social promotions and campaigns and track their success, ranging from Twitter chats, to Google+ Hangouts, to LinkedIn conversations.
  • Working alongside other marketers and content producers to help distribute content that educates and entertains our audience.
  • Driving consistent, relevant traffic and leads from our social network presence.

Requirements:

  • BA/BS degree or equivalent work experience.
  • Active and well-rounded personal presence on social media, with a command of each network and their best practices.
  • Excellent communicator and creative thinker, with an ability to use both data and intuition to inform decisions.   

SEO Specialist

You will be responsible for identifying and executing on opportunities to improve our company’s and our content’s search ranking for key terms.

Responsibilities:

  • Managing both on-site and off-site SEO for the company.
  • Collaborating with bloggers to create high-quality content around important, relevant terms.
  • Managing organic search engine performance and set goals based on traffic, clickthrough rates, and conversions.
  • Staying up-to-date with the latest trends and changes with SEO and major search engines.

Requirements:

  • BA/BS or equivalent working experience.
  • Thorough knowledge of current search ranking and optimization factors, and key algorithm updates.
  • Proficient in web analytics and keyword tools.
  • Experience with data-driven SEO analysis and optimization.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.

Designer

Responsible for the creation and maintenance of both our marketing assets and content created to support the product and other marketing goals. From concept through execution, this candidate will improve our user experience by bringing our brand to life and keeping it consistent across all our various touchpoints.

Responsibilities:

  • Helping bring new ideas for design and content creation to the team using your expertise and eye for great design.
  • Collaborating with long- and short-form writers to help their content come to life.
  • Scoping and creating templates for our team to be more efficient in their postings on social media, the blog, email, and other channels.
  • Managing other design needs such as presentations, signage, and trade show collateral as needed.

Requirements:

  • BA/BS or equivalent working experience.
  • Past work either as an in-house designer or at a marketing agency. (We require work samples to apply for this position.)
  • Experience designing assets that are mobile-, tablet-, and desktop-friendly.
  • Expert in Adobe Creative Suite or similar technologies.
  • Knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript a major plus.

Step 3: Acquiring Proper Content Marketing Tools & Technology

The good thing about content marketing is that once you have the right person (or people) on your team to do it, you’ve got just about everything you need, save some of the basic tools and technology you need to publish content.

I personally prefer things simple, so I think of content marketing technology solutions in terms of “need it” or “nice to have.” Nice-to-have technologies are things like competitive intelligence tools, market research tools, or software that clues you in to real-time trends. Experiment with these on a rolling basis — most will offer a free trial so you can validate it. But first, make sure you’re set up with the core technologies every content marketing team needs.

CMS

At HubSpot, we use … well, we use HubSpot at HubSpot. It comes with a CMS called the Content Optimization System, which allows you to create and publish content quickly in a format that’s web-friendly. Whether you use HubSpot or another CMS, you need some CMS so your content marketing team can easily set up a blog, add blog posts, and add website pages without having to get help from IT or developers.

Analytics 

You’ll need some analytics for your website and blog so you can measure your content marketing performance against your goals. Some content marketing teams rely on Google Analytics, others rely on more robust closed-loop solutions that make it easy to tie content marketing activities at the top of the funnel to revenue. I recommend the latter if you want to use metrics to prove the success of your content marketing program so you can secure more budget and grow the team. If you’re looking for an easy way to share numbers across your organization, look into DataHero. This tool integrates with the HubSpot software and allows you to track, visualize, and share your analytics through customized dashboards and charts. 

Project Management Software

With the pace of social media and the frequency of blogging, not to mention that many of your content assets will be used across multiple campaigns and teams, a lightweight project management tool is critical. I recommend using a free software called Trello, which helps you organize your content, set deadlines, attach files, and collaborate with multiple teammates. Another great tool for keeping content projects organized from planning to publishing is Zerys — a content marketing tool with a built-in marketplace of professional writers. 

Design Software 

Visual content plays a big role in the success of a content marketing strategy. We’ve found that The Adobe Creative Suite will set content marketers up with everything they need to lay out ebooks, design infographics, create social images, etc. The team will find themselves in InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat pretty frequently. For a free alternative, try Canva. This simplistic software makes it easy for designers of all levels to create quality visual content such as presentations, cover photos, ads etc. 

As I mentioned earlier, these are simply the core technologies you should look for when you’re just getting started. As you scale, there are a lot of other tools and software that are sure to make your job easier

Step 4: Creating Content

We have the team. We have the technology. Now we have to actually start “doing” the content marketing. In this blog post, we can’t cover every manner of sin when it comes to creating content, but we can go over 1) the types of content assets a content marketing team could be creating to demonstrate the breadth of the opportunities available to the content marketing team, and 2) who should be involved in creating those assets.

Blog Posts

Predictably, blog posts are typically written by the bloggers. However, if your team is large enough to have someone dedicated to creating gated assets and premium content — things like ebooks and tools — they should also write blog posts to help promote those assets. SEO specialists will also work closely with bloggers, as blog posts are often a company’s best opportunity to improve organic search rankings. As such, bloggers should be writing posts that help improve the site’s SEO, and drive organic traffic and leads. Their editorial should be informed by keyword research, and optimized for SEO.

Types of Blog Posts to Write:

  • How-to – Posts that teach readers how to do something; these typically perform very well in organic search if they align with long-tail search terms.
  • List Posts – Curated examples that can be informative, and thus also rather search-friendly, or simply entertaining.
  • Thought Leadership – Posts that explain fundamental shifts in an industry, or ask the reader to rethink convention wisdom.
  • Newsjacks – Timely content that either reports on industry news, or finds unexpected tie-ins with popular news items.
  • Infographics/SlideShares – Blog posts that primarily use visual content to tell a story.

Premium or Gated Assets

Premium or gated assets are typically longer form, and/or more time-intensive pieces that don’t exist on a blog. They might be used to generate leads or contacts, or for brand-building purposes. These are typically created by the dedicated long-form content creator if your team is large enough to have one, but sometimes bloggers get involved too, as blog posts are good testing grounds for what performs well and is thus worth investing in.

Types of Premium Assets to Create:

  • Ebooks – An incredibly popular format, typically presented as a PDF and redeemed behind a form.
  • Research Reports – Often presented as a gated PDF, or an ungated microsite.
  • Webinars – Though time-intensive, webinars may feature a guest speaker who brings his or her own audience, which can help broaden the top of the funnel. Recorded versions of webinars can live behind a landing page to extend their lifespan.
  • Tools & Templates – Because they’re extremely utilitarian in nature, tools and templates often prove to be incredible for long-term lead generation despite the upfront resource-investment required. 

Visual Content

Regardless of team size, it’s common for visual content to be created by nearly everyone except, perhaps, the SEO specialist. While designers will do the bulk of the advanced creative work, bloggers, content creators, and social media managers will all get involved in lighter-weight design. Often, designers will also create templates for the writers on the team so they can be more independent — like creating ebook templates so premium content can be laid out by just about anyone with an InDesign license.

Types of Visual Content to Create:

  • Infographics – These can be embedded in blog posts, and shared on social media.
  • SlideShares – Some social media managers focus a lot of energy on SlideShare as a channel, and create content exclusively for it. 
  • Video – Whether for YouTube or a blog post embed, short videos for the sake of entertainment or education can help you diversify your content portfolio and improve your SEO.

As your content marketing team grows, who creates what content becomes more specialized. But even as the largest team size, a lot of overlap exists between each role, and if it becomes less pronounced in the creation of the content, the opposite is true when it comes to distribution of the content.

Step 5: Distributing Content

Content distribution is what I consider the “marketing arm” of content marketing — it’s all about making sure the content you create gets found by the widest audience possible. This is the step a lot of content marketing teams skip, and I think I have a couple ideas why:

Theory #1: The mere act of publishing content on a regular basis does a lot of the “distribution” work for you — if you consider search engines a distribution channel. (Which I do, considering how often people use them to find content.) If you create content on a regular basis that are informed by keyword research and optimized for search, Google takes care of the rest of your content distribution plan.

Theory #2: A lot of the content marketing teams are made up of writers, rather than marketers. In my experience, writers are less interested in marketing their content, and more interested in just writing cool stuff. Same goes for designers — often, they would rather spend time creating something beautiful and functional than marketing it.

Excuses aside, if a content marketing team is stopping short at content distribution, they’re only doing half their job. It’s content marketing, after all. So let’s explore the most valuable channels you have at your disposal for distributing your content.

Search Engines

While it’s true Google can do a lot of the distribution work for you, it hinges on making smart decisions with your content strategy. In other words, Google might distribute the content you create, but it might distribute it onto page 32. Your job is to make sure as much content as possible appears as high up on page one as possible. This means your writers should be working closely with your SEO specialist to determine what keywords to go after — ideally a combination of long tail terms and head terms, at an appropriate level of competitiveness given your domain authority and how aggressively you can go after the terms. Of course, that content should also be optimized for on-page SEO to improve its chances of ranking highly. 

Social Media

The content you create should be shared on the social networks on which you’re active. (And if you’re not active on any, this is one of the reasons to get started.) Moreover, Google’s algorithm considers social signals as one of its most important ranking factors — socially shared content is a vote of approval, or at the very least importance, so it makes sense Google would consider it when deciding whether a post should rank well in organic search.

Your social media manager should also invest in growing your presence on social networks so that the content you share reaches an ever-growing audience. Consider the amplification of a piece of content shared on a Facebook page with 100,000 fans, versus 1,000 fans. The fans’ networks work to help your content spread — so the larger their networks, the better your content’s distribution. 

Email

Email lists are marketer’s most treasured assets — and they’re a smart way to drive traffic, conversions, and re-conversions on your content. Invest in growing your blog email subscription list for an incredibly valuable distribution arm alongside your sales lists.

Social Ads & PPC

Digital advertising isn’t inherently bad. In fact, targeted spend can help certain pieces of content get unprecedented amplification when you find an efficient CPC. If it seems like this feeds into the initial problem that drove you to content marketing in the first place, consider this use case for paid content distribution:

You’ve written a blog post that has wide appeal beyond just your target audience. You test promotion of that blog post via a paid Facebook ad, and find that the CPC is lower than your typical paid expenditures, and is driving 40% more site traffic than those typical expenditures. Even so, when you turn off that budget you lose that traffic … right? Right. But you still received a huge influx of traffic that, even if none of them convert to leads, might have spurred either inbound links or social shares — both of which will help bolster your SEO.

Promoting every piece of content with paid budget is untenable, but finding opportunities to do it efficiently may help you improve organically, too.

Step 6: Measuring Your Content Marketing

There are a host of metrics to look at when you have a robust analytics solution, but having too many goals to live up to tends to result in prioritization difficulties. I recommend content marketing teams have 2-3 metrics they measure, and perhaps some secondary metrics each sub-team can measure to help understand when there are different levers to pull. Here are my recommendations:

Content Marketing Team

Team-wide, the content marketing team should be focused on site traffic and leads. Leads because they are a top-of-the-funnel metric that can be tied to revenue, and traffic because more visitors mean more conversion opportunities.

Blog

As a major part of any website, and as an asset that lends itself to being a traffic lever, I recommend new blogs measure themselves on traffic and subscribers. As a blog matures and has grown traffic at a predictable rate, fold in a lead generation goal.

Gated Assets

As the assets that were created to generate leads, measure, well, the leads generated per offer. If you’re in a very sales-focused company, opportunities influenced is another strong metric.

Social Media

Because the reach of a social network is so critical to the strength of social as a content distribution channel, measure the number of followers/fans on each of your most important social networks.

It’s important to do regular reporting — I recommend monthly — on each of these metrics so you know where your growth levers lie. Regular reporting also helps you identify negative trends or plateaus early-on so you can address them before they become bigger issues. Most importantly, however, tracking the success of your initiatives makes it easy for you to repeat what works, eliminate what doesn’t, and promote the success of your content marketing program so you can justify its expansion, and its seat at the modern marketing table.

Was this guide helpful? What other topics would you like to see us cover? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Jul

7

2015

How to Cite Sources & Not Steal People’s Content on the Internet

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The best content marketers aren’t afraid to share. Share content. Share links. Share ideas. Share data.

The thing is, sometimes marketers get a little protective of their stuff because there are less-than-scrupulous people out there who take content and then try to pass it off as their own. All that hard work, and none of the credit. Not cool, less-than-scrupulous people. Not cool.

But sometimes it isn’t a matter of people being jerks — they might just not know how the internet “works.” You’re supposed to share content, but you’re also supposed to give credit where credit is due.

To make attribution easier, download our set of royalty-free stock photos here — no attribution required.

So to clear up any confusion and ensure you (and anyone you do business with) is following generally accepted internet sharing etiquette, this post will outline how to cite internet sources. 

How to Cite Sources in Blog Posts & Long-Form Content Assets

Blogs are hotbeds of source attribution issues, probably just due to the sheer volume of content the format offers. Gated and long-form content assets are prone to the same attribution issues, too, but perhaps to a lesser extent since the volume is typically lower, and turnaround times longer. So let’s walk through a couple common scenarios bloggers come across and figure out how to address them — but bear in mind you can apply these attribution methods to your long-form content assets, too.

Citation Scenario #1:

Let’s say you’re quoting another blogger in your post — hey, sometimes you literally couldn’t have said it better yourself. First of all, you have to actually quote them. Don’t just take their words and adopt them as your own; they took time to think of that explanation.

But there’s still some internet etiquette that goes along with quoting someone other than just throwing some quotation marks around their statement. Here’s an internet-friendly way to quote someone in your content (taken from an old blog post of ours):

how to cite on the internet

Not only does David Meerman Scott get credit for his quote, but his company is mentioned with hyperlinked text to his website. An added bonus is the link to his Twitter handle — by no means necessary, but certainly a nice gesture. Aside from mentioning the person’s name, it’s also nice to provide them with an inbound link — either to the page from which you drew your quote, or to another meaningful page on their site.

One thing to keep in mind when quoting text from someone else’s website is that many companies have content usage guidelines that will let you know how, or if, they want you to use their content. Take a look at HubSpot’s content usage guidelines to get an idea what these might look like, but in a nutshell, they’re the guidelines laid out to try to ensure you use the right stuff in the right way. For example, one of the notable parts of our content usage guidelines is that you can quote our content on your website, but only up to 75 words; this is to prevent duplicate content issues that would impact both our own organic search rankings, and the other website’s. So when quoting content from another source, do a quick check to see whether they have similar guidelines to which you should adhere.

Citation Scenario #2:

Now let’s say you have data you’d like to cite in a blog post. What do you do? This:

citing data

The copy around the statistic not only gives credit to the company that published the data, but eMarketer also receives a link back to their site. That link, however, should not just go to their homepage. Point that link to the actual page on which that data lives. This is for the benefit of the reader, too, so they can dig into the research more if they’re so inclined.

Citation Scenario #3:

There’s one final caveat to your blog post/long-form citations that is just a matter of proper internet etiquette. If you found a quote, article, or data point via another website, it’s nice to indicate that in the copy. For example, if you’re newsjacking and you found the story via another website, give them a nod that they’re the ones who broke the story originally. Or, if you’re reading a blog post and there’s a particularly compelling quote contained therein from an industry influencer, it’s nice to give credit to the blogger that called that out. You might phrase it like this:

“Today we learned via the <link>New York Times</link> that <link>Twitter</link> is hiring a new type of CTO — their first ever Chief Tweeting Officer.”

The NYT link should head to the article they published on the subject, and the Twitter link should head to their blog post or press release announcing the news.

Make sense? Alright, on to social media.

How to Cite Sources in Social Media

When you’re sharing someone else’s content in social media, the approach you take to give proper credit changes depending on the social network. Here’s the breakdown:

To Cite Someone’s Content on Twitter:

Simply include a “via @username” somewhere in the tweet. If you’re retweeting someone’s content but you edit their original tweet, be sure to change “RT” to “MT,” which stands for “modified tweet.”

To Cite Someone’s Content on Facebook:

Facebook makes it pretty easy to give credit when you’re sharing someone else’s content right from their own timeline — they have a ‘Share’ button ready and waiting for you, and they make it easy to see the originating URL, originating sharer, as well as the names of people who shared it.

facebook_share_1.png

If you’re citing content from elsewhere on the web, but want to give attribution to another person or company, you can find that person/company on Facebook and link to their Facebook Timeline in the status update. It’ll look like this (note the WordStream hyperlink in the image below).

Screen_Shot_2015-06-29_at_3.37.19_PM.png

If you’re sharing content from another source and they don’t have a Facebook page, then the link to their piece of content will suffice.

To Cite Sources on LinkedIn:

Proper source attribution on LinkedIn is simple. Just include the link to the content you’re citing in the update, and mention the person or company name.

To Cite Sources on Google+:

On Google+, it’s customary to include the name of the person or company whose content you’re citing in the text of your update, because you can then link to their Google+ profile, much like you would do on Facebook. Simply include a + or @ and their Google+ name — they’ll pre-populate just like they do on Facebook.

To Cite Sources Content on Pinterest:

Pinterest is all about content sharing, so it’s no wonder proper source attribution is built right into the platform with their “Repin” button. When you go to repin content, however, sometimes the original creator has included a URL, hashtag, or other indicator of authorship. Don’t edit that link out — it’s poor form.

And marketers, beware. If you include your link in the “Description” section of your pin, you may get flagged as a spammer.

How to Give Credit to Guest Authors and Ghost Writers

Maintaining a blog takes help, sometimes from guest authors or ghost writers. If you’re using a ghost writer, you don’t have to give credit to that author. That’s the whole point. They’re ghosts. You can’t see them.

But if you’re publishing a post from a guest blogger, you certainly should be giving them credit for their efforts. In a few ways, actually. Here’s what you should be doing to give an e-nod to those writers:

  • Provide space somewhere for the guest blogger to get not just their name mentioned (as a byline, ideally), but also the company they work for. 
  • Give them space to include a short bio that describes what their company does — this usually accompanies their byline or a separate author profile page. Many sites allow guest authors to include an inbound link to their website within that byline, too.
  • Let them include at least one contextual link within the body of their blog content, too. Some sites allow more than one link within the body of the content, but the minimum should certainly be one.

Some companies also outline very detailed guest blogging policies. If you’re concerned about mitigating the differences of opinion on some of these issues, make sure you write out your own detailed guest blogging policies for your website so expectations are set up front.

How to Cite Images and Visual Content

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know we’re behind sharing the wealth when it comes to visual content marketing — and we love it even more if you can give credit to the original artist properly. Here’s when you need to give credit, when you don’t, and how to do it.

To Cite Visualizations, SlideShares, and Infographics:

If you’ve found an infographic or visualization on another site that you’d like to feature on your website, you should treat it similar to how you’d treat citing any other content on your website. Simply include a link to the original source’s website where that visual lives, and include their name in the text.

infographic citation

You should also try your best to uphold image quality when republishing their visual content — if the website has embed code for that visual, use that code. This is why we try to make a point of creating embed code when we create visuals (and why we love that YouTube and SlideShare make it easy to grab embed code). It makes sharing easier for those that choose to republish the visual, and helps them maintain the quality and resolution in the process. If embed code isn’t provided, you can also include instructions like “click to enlarge” for static images — this helps ensure the visual fits the width of your website, but still provides a good reader experience.

To Cite Sources Within a SlideShare, Infographic, or Visualization:

And what happens if you hired a designer to create something for your site — how do you give credit to the designer? Well, it depends on the terms you’ve worked out together. You could hire a ghost designer (kind of like ghost writers) so that the content looks like it was designed in-house by your company. In that case, you don’t have to worry about attributing the design work to anyone. If, however, you’ve agreed to give credit to a designer, there should be some space in the visual (not a lot, but some) that gives them credit for their work. Here’s an example of how we gave credit to the designer in one of our infographics — check out the bottom left:

Screen_Shot_2015-06-29_at_3.59.13_PM.png

And what happens if you cite content from other sources in your infographic? Use that bottom section for that, too. Here’s an example:

Screen_Shot_2015-06-29_at_4.07.19_PM.png

If the list of source URLs is getting too unwieldy, you can also set up a URL to send people to for the sources:

Screen_Shot_2015-06-29_at_4.05.59_PM.png

And remember, if you’re creating a SlideShare, you have the benefit of being able to make links clickable within the SlideShare. If you’d like instructions for doing that, check out this blog post — but this means that you can treat source content in a SlideShare with the same level of respect you treat source content in a blog post or elsewhere on your website.

How to Cite Photographs and Other Images:

Much like your infographics and visualizations, how you cite photos and images featured on your website depends on where you sourced them. When you buy stock imagery, it’s license free. You bought it, you own it, and you can do what you want with it.

But many marketers are trying to find images for content such as blog posts, and don’t want to pay for a stock photo every single time. Some people go to Google Images and simply find an image they like … thing is, all those images have varying levels of permissions. So while it may be okay that some of them are used on your blog or website, that’s not universally true of all of them.

Some marketers have started to use Creative Commons to deal with this issue because they have filters that let you select images you can “use for commercial purposes” and/or “modify, adapt, or build upon.” Unfortunately, you can’t always trust those filters — users have been known to upload photos and images that perhaps they have the license to use, but you do not. So if you want to be totally safe, I recommend purchasing a license to a stock photo site. There are also some free stock photo sources, like HubSpot’s free stock photos and Death to the Stock Photo, that you can check out if you’re on a tight budget.

The Caveat (There’s Always a Caveat, Isn’t There?)

Of course, some people who have content online, including some marketers, don’t want to share content at all and will get very upset if you do so — even if you give them full and generous credit for it, links and all. What happens when you share content from them? Well, it’s possible they’ll contact you to take it down. Or, if they have the resources, they’ll send a lawyer to do so. If that happens to you, I recommend respecting the fact that they don’t want to share data, quotes, visualization, etc. — it’s probably not worth the headache to fight it. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

80 royalty-free stock photos

 
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Jun

23

2015

Why Buying Email Lists Is Always a Bad Idea (And How to Build Yours for Free)

throw-away-money

You need people to email, and you need them quickly. Oh, and if you could get them pretty cheap, that’d be great, too.

That’s the mindset many marketers find themselves in when they’re on the phone with a list-purchasing company: We need new people to email to feed our sales organization. Acting on that moment of desperation, however, can cause them more long-term (and short-term) harm than good.

Yes, thousands of contacts are a credit card swipe away, but your email marketing program — a critical part of a well-rounded inbound marketing strategy — will seriously suffer. Curious why buying email lists is a legitimate email marketer’s kiss of death? Read on. Plus, we’ll give you a list of squeaky-clean and effective ways to build your email marketing list in lieu of list buying.

Learn more about how to build an effective email list by downloading our free email marketing ebook here.

Methods of Acquiring an Email List

Before we get into the pitfalls of purchasing an email address list, let’s review three of the most common ways marketers acquire contact lists:

1) Buy an email list.

You work with a list provider to find and purchase a list of names and email addresses based on demographic and/or psychographic information. For example, you might purchase a list of 50,000 names and email addresses of people without children who live in Minnesota.

2) Rent an email list.

Also working with a list provider, you identify a segment of people to email — but you never actually own the list. As such, you can’t see the email addresses of the people you’re emailing, so you must work with the provider to send out your email.

3) Own an opt-in email list.

Someone voluntarily gives you their email address either online or in person so you can send them emails. They may pick certain types of email content they wish to receive, like specifically requesting email alerts when new blog posts are published. Opt-in email addresses are the result of earning the interest and trust of your contacts because they think you have something valuable to say.

When it comes to rented or purchased lists, you may come across vendors or marketers who say, “This email list is totally opt-in!” This means that the people on the list opted in to an email communication from someone at some point in time — like the list provider, for example. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that they opted in to receive email communications from your business. This is a critical distinction, and the next section of this post will go into more detail on why this type of “opt-in email list” (should be read with air quotes) is not a good idea for your email marketing program.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Email Lists

So now that I’ve told you a few ways to acquire email lists, I’m going to tell you why you should acquire them through method number three above — the opt-in method in which you generate your own list of email contacts.

Reputable email marketing vendors don’t let you send emails to lists you’ve bought.

If you’re using email marketing software now or plan to in the future, you’ll find that reputable companies will insist that you use opt-in email lists. You might be saying, “I’ll just use a non-reputable email marketing vendor.” Alas, ESPs on shared IP addresses that don’t require customers to use opt-in email lists typically suffer poor deliverability. Why? One customer’s ill-gotten email address list can poison the deliverability of the other customers on that shared IP address. You’re going to want to hitch your wagon to the light side of the email marketing force if you want your emails to actually get into inboxes.

Good email address lists aren’t for sale.

Unless your company is in the middle of some M&A action, you’re not going to come across high quality email lists you can purchase. If it’s for sale, it means that the email addresses on it have already been ripped to shreds by all the other people who have purchased that list and emailed the people on it. Any email addresses that once had value have since been spammed to the ends of the earth.

If someone actually had a good email list, they’d keep it to themselves because they don’t want to see the value of those email addresses diminished by letting other people get their hands on it. Think about it — would you sell or share the email addresses of those who have voluntarily opted in to receive email from you? I didn’t think so.

People on a purchased or rented list don’t actually know you.

I referenced this earlier, but it’s worth going into some more detail on this subject. Rented and purchased lists are sometimes scraped from other websites which, I think we can all agree, is a dirty way to acquire email marketing contacts. But let’s say they’re not scraped and are acquired through considerably less sketchy means — list purchase and rental companies may tout that those lists are opt-in. Sounds great, right?

Not really, because it means that the contacts have opted to receive emails from, say, the list-purchasing company — not your company. Even if the opt-in process includes language like, “Opt in to receive information from us, or offers from other companies we think you might enjoy,” the fact is that the recipient has never heard of your company, and does not remember opting in to receive emails from you. That means there’s a really good chance a lot of the recipients will mark you as “Spam” because they don’t recognize you or remember opting in to communications from you … which takes us to our next point.

Your email deliverability and IP reputation will be harmed.

Did you know that there are organizations dedicated to combating email spam? Thank goodness, right? They set up a little thing called a honeypot, which is a planted email address that, when harvested and emailed, identifies the sender as a spammer. Similarly, things called spam traps can be created to identify spammy activity; they are set up when an email address yields a hard bounce because it is old or no longer valid, but still receives consistent traffic. Fishy, eh? As a result, the email address turns into a spam trap that stops returning the hard bounce notice, and instead accepts the message and reports the sender as a spammer.

If you purchase a list, you have no way of confirming how often those email addresses have been emailed, whether the email addresses on that list have been scrubbed for hard bounces to prevent identifying you as a spammer, or from where those email addresses originated. Are you really willing to risk not only your email deliverability, but also the reputation of your IP address and your company? Even if you find the light after purchasing or renting email lists and decide to only email those who have opted in with your company, it will take you months (or maybe years) to get your Sender Score up and rebuild the reputation of your IP.

Because you’re not annoying.

How do you like it when you get an email in your inbox from a company you’ve never heard of? I bet that’s not the kind of company you want to work for or marketer you want to be. If someone didn’t ask to hear from you yet, it doesn’t mean they won’t want to hear from you later. It’s your job to prove to them — through helpful content and valuable offers — that they should stay up to date with your company via email. If you force your email content on anyone too early, even if you know in the depths of your soul that they’re a great fit for your products or services, you risk preemptively losing their trust and their future business.

How to Grow an Opt-In Email List

So what should you do instead? Grow an opt-in email list. We’ve already written a post of clever ways to go about doing this, which you can check out here. But below are the basic best practices that have a very big bang for their buck when it comes to consistently growing an email list.

1) Create gated assets so there’s a reason for people to give you their email address.

Webinars, ebooks, templates, etc. — these are all good long-form, premium content assets that people may find valuable enough to give over their email address. The more gated assets you have to put behind landing pages, the better — a wider variety of content will make it easier for you to attract a wider swath of people.

2) Create useful tools.

If ebooks aren’t your jam, create tools instead. I don’t recommend a one-or-the-other approach, necessarily, but if you have more dev talent than writing talent, this may be a more attractive option for you. For example, we created Marketing Grader (formerly Website Grader, HubSpot’s first tool) — which is free to use, but prompts you to input an email address. We also took a similar approach to a more recent tool, the Blog Topic Generator.

3) Promote those gated assets on your marketing channels.

Now that you have some gated assets that can capture email addresses, spend a considerable amount of time making sure the world knows about them. You have plenty of channels at your disposal — social media, PPC, and email are common ones to turn to. But none will provide lasting returns quite like your blog. Consider this scenario:

You promote your new gated assets by blogging about subject matters related to the content assets you’ve created, and then put CTAs that lead to the asset’s landing page on every one of those blog posts.

Now let’s say, hypothetically, your blog posts get about 100 views per month, and your visitor-to-lead conversion rate on the blog is about 2%. That means you’d get two leads from a single blog post each month.

Then, let’s say you write 30 blog posts a month. That means you’d get 60 leads in a month — 2 from each blog post. Now keep doing that for a year. The work you did to blog that first month will continue to drive leads throughout the year. That means you’re actually getting 4,680 opt-in contacts a month by the end of a 12-month period because of the compounding effects of blogging — not just 720 opt-in contacts (60 leads*12 months).

blogging_compounding_returns.jpg

4) Run creative email marketing campaigns.

Most people don’t think of email as a lead- or contact-generating channel. But because people forward helpful emails to colleagues or friends, it can actually expand your database if you simply make forwarding or sharing email content easy for recipients. Include calls-to-action in your emails that make sharing an obvious choice for recipients, particularly with your most useful assets.

If you already have a pretty large database, you also likely have some contacts that have gone quite stale. If so, I recommend running a re-engagement campaign that can help you both scrub your list and prevent the kind of spam and IP issues I addressed earlier, as well as reawaken old contacts that might have forgotten about you, but would actually be great fits for sales. If you want help structuring a send like that, check out this blog post.

What else do you do to generate legitimate, opt-in email addresses for your email marketing program?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free ebook: how to grow your email list

 
free ebook: how to grow your email list

Jun

3

2015

Content Marketing for “Boring” Industries: 10 Tips for Creating Interesting Content

content-marketing-boring-industries-cat

Ever start writing a piece and wonder if anyone’s even gonna read it?

Not to make you paranoid, but … you should be paranoid.

Chartbeat conducted a study in 2013 that indicates most readers are only getting about 60% of the way through a piece of content. The other 40% of the stuff you wrote? Well, you could’ve gone home early that day. (You can read more about that study here.)

So why are people only reading a little more than half of the content they click on? If I was a betting woman, I’d probably lay some money on short attention spans — but I don’t think writers can place all the blame on an increasingly distracted readership. Writers need to shoulder some of the blame, too, if we’re putting out stuff that is just painfully, dreadfully, mind-numbingly boring.

Some writers are given a stacked deck when it comes to business writing. Content creators working in “sexy” industries (travel, tourism, food, culture) don’t have to dig too deep to write something interesting. But what about those of us in more … ahem … “boring” industries?

Well, I know a thing or two about boring industries. (Sorry boss, but software isn’t the sexiest topic.) Here are some of the tricks I’ve picked up along the way — both from my own experimentation and from reading the content others in our industry publish — that helps transform a snooze-worthy topic into a more engaging read. 

Download real examples of remarkable content marketing in “boring” industries here.

Content Marketing Tips for “Boring” Industries 

1) Remember that helpful things are rarely boring. (Even if they are, objectively, pretty boring.)

Be genuinely helpful. That’s a trite and exhaustingly overstated tip, but the point stands that “boring” content isn’t actually boring to the people that need it. In other words, if you’re writing educational content, then it’s interesting to those whose question you’re answering — bells and whistles be damned.

For example, if someone needs an answer to a mundane question like how to unclog a toilet, how to negotiate a lower cable bill, or how to refinance a home, content that answers that question is incredibly interesting — or at the very least, it’s not actively boring. If you’re worried you don’t have the writing prowess to make a boring topic interesting, focus instead of making the most educational piece of content possible.

2) Eliminate business babble, and write like you speak.

You establish professionalism by providing solid advice, not by sounding like you got hit in the face with a briefcase. Write naturally, removing business babble that makes it more difficult for readers to understand what you’re saying. Let’s do a little translation to demonstrate:

Look for a provider who delivers scalable marketing software solutions to adapt to the diverse and evolving needs of organizations from SMB to enterprise across all industry verticals.

Huh? How about …

Look for a marketing software provider that addresses the needs of companies of all sizes, and that serves all industries.

Ultimately, those two statements say the same thing; but isn’t the second easier to read? Why make life harder for people?

3) Write with specificity.

At the intersection of being helpful and eliminating business babble lies writing with specificity. Your content will be far more helpful if you’ve taken the time to think of specific angles, scenarios, and examples that relate to your reader. You’ll be able to do this more easily if you have defined personas because you’ll have identified readers’ pain points during the persona creation process. (If you haven’t created buyer personas yet, read this blog post to get started.)

What’s the difference between a generic piece of content and a specific, detailed one? It all starts with the topic. Let’s take this very blog post as an example. In retrospect, I could have written something like “Best Practices for Blog Copy” or “How to Write Good Blog Content” — but that’s so broad and generic that it applies to everyone, and yet nobody at all. Instead, I came up with a specific angle on those topics after hearing time and again from leads and customers that their industry is way too boring to write blog content about. Instead of talking generically about what makes good blog content, this post addresses one specific facet of blogging that has presented itself as a recurring problem to our audience.

So yes, maybe this post excludes a segment of our audience who sells puppies or promotes supermodels — they probably don’t struggle with making their content interesting because it inherently is. But by addressing a specific problem that hits close to home to many of our regular readers, this post is far less likely to be glossed over.

4) Let your sense of humor show.

Infusing a light, humorous tone throughout your content can help add some life to an otherwise boring topic. Bonus: It can make it more fun for you to write, too. Don’t be afraid to crack a joke, be a little colloquial, or draw upon silly pop culture references. If it’s natural and doesn’t detract from your content’s meaning, a lighthearted tone can keep your audience’s attention for much longer.

5) Use relatable analogies to explain complex concepts.

If you work in an industry some might deem boring, consider that “boring” might simply be code for “confusing.” A great example is physics: There are plenty of people willing to watch Through the Wormhole and listen to Morgan Freeman explain Dark Matter. But would they be willing to read an article from a PhD on the same subject matter? Probably not … unless she had a knack for explaining concepts in terms novices can understand. (Reading it in Freeman’s deep, soothing timbre wouldn’t hurt, either.)

If you work in a similarly complex industry and market to people who aren’t subject matter experts, consider introducing new concepts to readers through relatable analogies that explain things in terms they can understand.

For example, though not as complex as Dark Matter, some businesses are still unclear how inbound marketing works. To make it easier to digest, we’ve come up with several analogies that put it into relatable terms. One of my favorites? “Blogging is like jogging: You have to do it consistently and over a long period of time if you expect to see results.” (For more marketing analogies, check out this blog post.)

6) Edit for brevity.

If your topic isn’t inherently interesting, people will be even less willing to devote time to it. Invest in an editor who can say what it takes most people to say in 100 words, in 20. The less time it takes to get through a paragraph, the less likely you are to experience reader drop-off.

This becomes even more important if you consider the rise of mobile readers. Consumers spend 60% of their internet time on mobile devices, meaning content that’s difficult to read is even more likely to be abandoned. An easy-to-read mobile experience doesn’t include just responsive design; a speedier reading experience with less scrolling is important, too.

7) Give readers little mental breaks.

Part of not boring your audience is simply not making them feel overwhelmed. That means any written content has to look easy to read, even if it’s well-written and fascinating. Break up your text into smaller, more easily digestible chunks so readers feel capable of tackling a more difficult piece. This is particularly important if, even after editing for brevity, you’re still left with a necessarily lengthy piece.

For example, I used big, bold headings in this post because it lets readers scan over each section and read only those that apply to them. You can also make use of bullets, numbered lists, images, and other formatting devices to help dense content (in subject matter, at least) look less overwhelming for readers.

I’ll level with you: In an ideal world, none of these formatting devices are necessary because the writer has crafted a narrative so fascinating and expertly executed readers can breeze through it effortlessly, regardless of subject matter complexity. However, we know the real world isn’t always ideal. In those cases, lean on formatting.

8) Tell your story visually, or via different mediums.

describe the imageInstead of words, many content creators rely on visuals to tell a ho-hum story. For example, we’ve accumulated quite the library of blog posts and ebooks about closed-loop marketing.

Riveting, I know.

But sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is why we eventually developed this visual to help explain it more succinctly.

Keep in mind there are mediums outside the blog post, too. For instance, we’ve recently launched a podcast (called The Growth Show) because we’re aware not everyone is apt to read a blog post to learn about business growth. Similarly, we invest in video, interactive content, GIFs, tools, reports, and other asset types and mediums that help us communicate concepts in the least boring and most accessible way possible.

9) Interview inherently interesting people.

Speaking of podcasting …

Who wants to hear a talking head spout facts? Not many, which is why broadcast news has used the interview for years to grab their audience’s attention. Bring on an authority figure or celebrity who can speak to a particular subject matter, and you’ll have more eyes and ears than if you tackled the subject matter yourself.

We turn to experts in blog posts from time to time, and every week on our podcast — not just because we know our audience likes to hear from people other than us, but because other people know things that we don’t.

So, does your industry have a superstar that would strike your audience’s fancy? Get them on the horn so their celebrity can help add some spice to your content.

Pro Tip: There’s a good chance some of your readers are subject-matter experts and would be willing to provide quotes or interviews every so often. You could solicit their opinion to help feed your content and show appreciation for their participation in your community. (And because, hey, people love to see their name in lights.) The easiest way to do this is to tap into your social networks to crowdsource answers to questions you’d like to feature in your content. Just make sure to publicize the content once it’s written and let your contributors know when their answers will be featured.

10) Shock people’s pants off.

You know what’s only mildly interesting (unless you’re a marketing geek, in which case it’s awesome)? Lead generation via social media. You know what’s way more interesting? Knowing that LinkedIn is 277% more effective at generating leads than any other social network.

You guys. That is way more effective.

If you can take a relatively “blah” topic and find a surprising facet of it around which to center your content, your audience will be hooked.

You don’t need to rely solely on data points to shock people, either. If you have the stomach for it, you could take on a bit of controversy, too. We do this every once in a while. Ever read our blog post telling the USPS to stop encouraging direct mail? Yeah, readers came down on all sides of that issue, and not all of them were the author’s. That’s alright. At least people were reading about and interested in industry issues, which is the whole point of creating all this content, anyway.

Are you a marketer in a “boring” industry? How do you make your content interesting?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

content marketing examples in boring industries

 
examples of remarkable content in boring industries

May

27

2015

How to Write a Resume: The Ultimate Checklist of Resume Tips

resume-checklist.jpeg

I can’t think of many tasks people dread more than writing a resume. There are so many little things you need to add, rephrase, check, double-check, triple-check … and somehow, your resume still goes out with your name as Corey Ridon from HubStop. It’s anxiety-inducing, is what it is.

So, I did what I do when I’m anxious. I made a list about all the little stuff you need to do when you’re writing and editing a resume.

Check it out — and best of luck with your job search.

(P.S. If you’re working on a marketing resume specifically, then use these free templates to get you started.)

The Ultimate Checklist of Resume Tips

I’ve divided all the must-do tasks into four sections, and did my best to order them chronologically. Some could probably exist in more than one section or be completed in a different order, so I just ordered items where I thought they most naturally fit during the resume-creation process.

Is Your Resume Professional? Things to Check:

 Is your email address professional? (e.g. sara@gmail.com vs. sarabearlovespie11@gmail.com)

 Is your email address from a professional and current domain, like Gmail? (Outdated domains can be a red flag for tech-savvy companies.)

 Does your resume’s storyline align with your LinkedIn profile? (Hiring managers will probably check out both, in tandem.)

 Have you included links to social profiles and a personal website, if relevant?

 Have you audited your social profiles to ensure no unprofessional content is available?

 If you have your hiring manager’s name, have you customized any communications that address him or her?

 If you’re sending your resume over as a Google Doc, have you granted the recipient the proper permissions to view it or opened up permissions to everyone?

Is Your Resume Well-Written? Things to Check:

 Have you included your basic contact information, including name, address, email address, and phone number? 

 Are you writing in a tone that matches the tone of the company to which you’re applying? (For instance, while still writing professionally, you might use a different tone when applying for a tech startup versus an analyst firm.)

 Have you customized your resume for the specific job you’re applying to?

 Do you have a clear objective at the top of your resume that is company-focused, not applicant-focused? (If not, that’s alright — but in lieu of it, do include a “Key Skills” section that summarizes who you are and what you can offer the company.)

 Have you included both accomplishments and responsibilities under each job? (Both should be easy to ascertain when scanning your resume.)

 Have you used metrics where possible to better illustrate your success?

 Do you illustrate career progression? Is it clear that you were promoted, gained additional responsibility, or switched jobs laterally to acquire more skills?

 Have you listed not only the name of companies, but a short description of what that company does?

 Have you included your tenure at each company?

 Have you included relevant information about your education?

 Have you added anything that points to your personality or interests outside of work?

 Does your unique value proposition shine through? (I.e. something that makes you stand out from other applicants, or highlights that you’re uniquely qualified for the position.)

 If relevant for the position, have you included links to a portfolio or samples of your work?

 Have you included reference names and contact information, or simply, “references available upon request”?

Is Your Resume Properly Formatted & Designed? Things to Check:

 Have you used some sort of template so the layout of your resume is visually appealing and easy to read?

 Is your resume too creative? (For instance, if you’re applying for a creative position and have formatted your resume as an infographic … is it really simple enough to read, or is it best to save that creativity for your portfolio?)

 Have you selected a good font? (Check out this infographic for some guidance on what makes a good resume font.)

 Have you made use of common formatting conventions that makes content easier to read, like bullet points and header text?

 Has your formatting remained consistent across all positions? (For example, if you’re bolding job titles, are all job titles indeed bolded?)

 Are your margins even?

 Are all items properly aligned? (For example, if you’ve right-aligned dates, are they all lining up in tandem with one another?)

 Are all links you’ve included clickable?

 Have you converted your resume to a format that allows all recipients to read it as intended, without downloading specific fonts or needing special software? (A PDF format is recommended.)

Is Your Resume Edited & Polished? Things to Check:

 Have you included keywords in your resume? (If you’re submitting to an automated system, it might be critical to getting past filters. Be sure your resume directly reflects some of the software and skills mentioned in the job description.)

 Have you edited for brevity? (Try to keep to about one page per ten years of job experience, if possible.)

 Have you edited out irrelevant job experiences?

 Are sections of your resume in the order that best highlights your skills and what you have to offer the employer? (For instance, if you’re a recent grad with internships in different fields, you might separate your most relevant experience from “other” experience instead of ordering everything by date.)

 Have you edited out generic action verbs for more specific ones?

 Have you made use of a thesaurus to prevent monotony?

 Have you found more professional-sounding alternatives to unprofessional-sounding terms? 

 Are your special skills all truly special? (While speaking a foreign language is indeed noteworthy, these days, it might not be that noteworthy to say you’re proficient in Microsoft Word or capable of using email.)

 Have you done a sweep for annoying jargon or business babble? (Everything should be clearly articulated so it’s easy for the hiring manager to quickly understand what you do.)

 Is everything 100% true? (If you write that you’re fluent in a foreign language on your resume, you should be prepared to speak that language during your interview. If you say you like baking, you should be ready to answer which dishes you like to bake.)

 Have you done a spell check and grammar check? 

 Finally, have you asked a friend who hasn’t read your resume before to provide a final glance for errors, inconsistencies, or confusing phrasing?

If you’ve gotten this far and checked every box, you should be ready to send that resume in. Oh, and good luck in your search. (P.S. We’re hiring.)

10 free marketing resume templates

May

21

2015

How to Create a Writing Style Guide Built for the Web [Free Template]

writing style guide template

Businesses pump out content at a staggering rate these days — and as that volume increases, more inconsistencies are bound to creep in. Whether due to lack of clarity about the style in which you’d like to write or disjointed communication across the multitude of content creators in your organization, failure to decide upon and document accepted editorial guidelines is a recipe for inconsistent messaging.

That’s why at some point, most companies accept that they’ll need to develop a writing style guide: a document that indicates the basic rules of writing we’ll all agree to follow (like whether I should’ve capitalized the “a” after the colon in this sentence).

(Answer: If you write content for HubSpot, you should not capitalize the “a.”)

But wait … if that’s the case, why would I capitalize the “If” in that last parenthetical? Because “If you write content for HubSpot, you should … ” is a complete sentence, thus warranting the capital “If.”

(Download our free writing style guide template to create a custom style guide of your own.)

If you found that train of thought terribly banal, you might think writing style guides are the most boring things in the world and have a burning desire to click away right about now. Au contraire, mon frère. The existence of a writing style guide is what saves you from finding yourself embroiled in a debate about whether there should be spaces before and after an ellipses, whether you capitalize “for” in a title, or when a number must be written out in full.

In short: If the writing style guide bores you, just imagine how insipid that debate will be. The existence of a style guide means you can simply have the style guide handy as your little writing rulebook without having to sit through debates about blockquotes.

In an effort to help you get started with your own style guide, this blog post will walk you through the essential elements of a brand writing style guide so you can create one for yourself.

If you want a bit of a head start, you can also download the writing style guide template we’ve created here

Feel free to customize the template to fit your needs.

Before we begin, a note on what your writing style guide will not do …

It can be tempting to create the most comprehensive style guide of all time. But when documents get incredibly long, it can become a little hard to use on a day-to-day basis. Aim for “comprehensive, yet usable” by intentionally cutting some sections. The most common sections that people are tempted to include, but which I recommend exist in another document, are:

  • Notes on content operations. Things like submitting content to your editorial team, requesting a slot on the editorial calendar, or revision cycles.
  • Recommendations for creating SEO-friendly content.
  • Nitty gritty rules around logo usage or other visual style guide elements (though we will discuss a few basics on graphics and formatting in this post).

Your editorial style guide will simply guide writers by providing a set of standards to which they must adhere when creating content for your website. It eliminates confusion, guesswork, and debates over what boils down to a matter of editorial opinion among grammar and content geeks. If you’re ever unsure whether something should or should not exist in your written style guide, fall back on usage to inform your decision. If it’s too long to be usable, cut it down; if it’s too short to answer the most common questions, beef it up.

Now, let’s break down exactly what information to include in a comprehensive editorial style guide so you can go create one for your company.

What to Include in Your Writing Style Guide

Section 1: Style Manual

Style manuals are reference books that tell writers how to handle grammar, punctuation, and any special use cases. Most businesses adopt either the AP Stylebook, or the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s up to you to decide which manual you’d like your company to follow.

You can purchase online subscriptions to these manuals for your employees to reference, the login for which you should also include in this section of the editorial style guide to make access simple. You might find employees are more likely to reference these tools when provided with an online subscription that contains a search function, instead of a paper book through which they have to flip to find their answers.

While these style guides provide a good reference point for basic grammar rules, you’ll probably want to make some exceptions to the rules therein for the sake of branding, tone, and style. Use this section of your editorial style guide to outline those exceptions, and also to highlight some of the rules that commonly arise when writing for your company that people should commit to memory — regardless of whether it is aligned with or against house style. For example:

  • What do you capitalize? Do you capitalize the name of your product? Are there certain prepositions you want capitalized in your title despite your stylebook’s recommendations?
  • What do you abbreviate? How do you punctuate those abbreviations? Would you type “a.k.a.” or “aka”? “Okay” or “O.K.”? Or “OK”?
  • Do you use an Oxford comma?

Listing answers to common questions like these in the first part of your editorial style guide will give people an easy resource to reference that will save you time and encourage consistency. Feel free to continue adding to this list as more confusions arise and get resolved during the content creation process. You’re creating your own style guide, so feel free to borrow different rules from different style guides. The important thing is that you use the same rules consistently throughout all the content you create.

Section 2: Commonly Troublesome Words

Most companies have terminology that’s specific to their industry, and not all of that terminology has a universally agreed-upon spelling. For instance, if you write a lot about digital marketing like we do here at HubSpot, you’ll find a lot of inconsistency around the spelling and capitalization of words like these:

  • ebook vs. Ebook vs. e-book
  • ecommerve vs. e-commerce
  • internet vs. Internet
  • website vs. web site
  • Facebook Like vs. Facebook like
  • Retweet vs. re-tweet vs. reTweet vs. ReTweet

… And on and on and on. Instead of debating how to spell, capitalize, or hyphenate these words, include a section in your style guide called “Commonly Troublesome Words” so writers can easily look up the proper spelling of these words according to your house style guide. If you’re using the style guide template provided earlier in this post, you’ll find that section already exists in there. If you write a lot about marketing or digital trends, I think you’ll find we’ve gotten a pretty good head start in there for you. (If you work in a different space, you should customize it for your industry, of course.)

Advice for Global Companies

If you have global readership and create content for specific, same-language markets, you should include notes on whether you change spelling for those markets or retain your house style.

For example, if marketers from HubSpot’s Dublin office write a blog post, should American editors change their spelling of “favour” to “favor”? “Internationalise” to “Internationalize”? These questions should be answered in your style guide, and the “Commonly Troublesome Words” section is a logical location to do that.

Similarly, if you are creating content in different languages, style guides should be created for each different language.

Section 3: Style and Tone

This section of the editorial style guide should address something less concrete than grammar rules, but arguably more important: how your content should sound to the reader. Can writers use the first person? How do you feel about the use of industry jargon? Think about the words you would use to describe your content in an ideal world. Which of these adjectives do you want your content to evoke?

  • Conversational?
  • Educational?
  • Academic?
  • Funny?
  • Controversial?
  • Irreverent?
  • Artistic?
  • Objective?
  • Sophisticated?

You might think you want your content to be all of the above, but force yourself to prioritize just a few. Explain why it’s important to achieve this style and tone in your content, and provide examples of content (excerpts are fine) that are successful in doing so — particularly if those excerpts exist on your own site already. If there are stylistic characteristics your content absolutely should not have, this is the section in which to include that information, too. Again, examples of what not to do are helpful here for the sake of comparative illustration.

When deciding on style and tone, be sure to consider your target audience and buyer personas in the process. Which style and tone would resonate best with them? This brings us to our next section …

Section 4: Personas

Buyer personas are inextricably tied to style and tone, so it’s important to include this section either before or after the “Style and Tone” section of your style guide. Why is it so important to include personas? Because the style and tone you adopt should be informed by your target audience, i.e. the people that will be reading all this stuff you’re writing. 

That being said, the personas in your editorial style guide don’t need to go as in-depth as the personas created by your sales and marketing teams. (Those might include detailed information like objections that arise in the sales process and how to overcome them, or tips on identifying these personas “in the wild” or when you get them on the phone.) The personas in your editorial style guide should be more brief, simply pulling out the highlights that concisely explain who your target audience is, their pain points, how they like to be communicated with, the value your company provides, and a picture to give writers a visual to keep in mind when creating content.

Including personas in your style guide really comes in handy when you’re working with freelance writers. If you’re doing a good job with freelance writer management, you’ll provide ample context to inform the content they’re writing. A persona, and how that informs tone and writing style, should always be included when kicking off a new freelance writer engagement.

Section 5: Graphics and Formatting

I know, I told you earlier not to get into the nitty gritty with visual guidelines. This is still true. Your design team or agency should create a separate brand design style guide that addresses more nuanced visual … things. (Can you tell I’m not a designer?)

You should, however, add a little information to your written style guide if your writers are ever responsible for creating visual assets and/or copyediting visual assets created by designers. Here are some common questions that may come up that will impact writers or editors:

  • Where can writers source images, and how do they properly attribute them? 
  • When should images align to the right, to the left, or in the center?
  • Should text wrap around images?
  • What are the RGB and hex codes for your text and headers?
  • What typefaces can be used?
  • Can writers use italics, bold, or underlining? If so, is usage limited to certain occasions, like bolding headers and hyperlinks?
  • Which kind of bullets should be used (square, round, or other), and how should they align with the rest of the text?
  • How should numbered lists appear: “1”, “1.” or “1.)”?

Many of these graphical elements can be preset in your content management system, but they can be easily overridden when writers copy and paste content from elsewhere with formatting attached — or by an overzealous writer with a flair for design. Outline these expectations in your editorial style guide, and refer those with more advanced needs to your brand style guide.

Section 6: Approved and Unapproved Content

Great content often cites research and data from third party sources. Make your writer’s job easier by providing approved industry resources from which they can draw — and, even more importantly, resources from which they cannot draw. Break up this section of your editorial style guide into two sections: recommended and approved industry resources, and “do not mention” resources.

The information in the “do not mention” section should include competitors and unreliable resources, and it should also mention controversial topics and opinions that should be avoided at all costs. For example, many companies strictly prohibit any mention of politics or religion in their content, or have provisions that explain when it is acceptable to include and how to frame the discussion. Similarly, many companies work within certain legal restrictions, in which case this section of the style guide might provide instructions for receiving legal approval before publishing a piece of content.

This is the section of your editorial style guide to explain the intricacies of such controversies as they relate to your brand so you can prevent reputation management catastrophes.

Section 7: Sourcing

With great research comes great responsibility … and a lot of choices, unfortunately. Clear up the confusion around how to properly cite research by deciding on one methodology and documenting it in your editorial style guide. Explain how to create footnotes, references, links to external sites, or even bibliographies if they are relevant to your company.

This section of your editorial style guide doesn’t need to be long. Just write down the rules and provide some examples of proper citations so writers can easily attribute their sources properly.

Use Examples to Show What’s Right and Wrong

Every section of your editorial style guide can benefit from real life examples of the concepts you’re explaining, whether you include those examples on the same page or as an appendix at the end of the guide.

For example, when talking about proper formatting, include a visual example of a well-formatted blog post with callouts that detail why the elements therein are successful. If you’re discussing grammar usage, provide an incorrect example, and then mark it up to show how a writer could fix it to align with your editorial style guide.

Bridging your requirements with proper executions from your actual website will help illustrate these concepts more clearly and cut down on follow-up questions and instances of exceptions to the rules you’ve laid out.

If a tree falls in a forest, will anyone use my style guide?

If you put in all this work to create a comprehensive style guide, it’d be a real bummer if no one used it.

Here’s the truth: Some people just aren’t going to use it, no matter how easy you make it for them to do so. So just … accept that. But after you’re done grieving, there are a few things you can do to increase the likelihood of adoption:

  • Involve other people in its creation from the get-go. No one wants to be the Grammar Czar. And if you do, I promise you no one you work with thinks its cute. Instead of mandating the rules your entire company must use when writing, get a few people together to help create the style guide as a group. Ideally, this little committee will span more than one department to increase the likelihood of widespread adoption.
  • Make it easy to find and use. Our style guide is available on our internal wiki so it’s easy for people to find, bookmark, and Ctrl+F to get answers to questions quickly. Make yours similarly easy to access and use.
  • Keep updating it. Your style guide is intended to be a living document. As new questions arise, make it easy for writers to ask questions about proper usage and get a resolution — and make sure that resolution is reflected in an updated version of the style guide. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free writing style guide template

 
free writing style guide template

May

5

2015

Ready, Set, Register: The Agenda for INBOUND 2015 Is Out

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My decision to attend a conference usually comes down to one thing: The agenda.

(Unless it’s somewhere warm. When there’s sun and sand I care way less about agendas.)

The HubSpot events team has had a light version of the INBOUND agenda up on the website for some time now, but I’m very pleased to share that as of today, that light version got some meat on its bones. If you’ve been waiting to see some more session-level or speaker details before registering, head on over to the INBOUND site and peruse the session list now.

We’ll continue to add even more speakers and sessions to what you already see. Just think of it as more goodness.

This year, there will be several different tracks and subject matters customized to the ever-widening swath of attendees, including (but not limited to):

  • Keynote Addresses: Inspirational speeches that’ll light a fire under your toosh
  • Ideas & Experiences: Higher level, forward-thinking content about inbound marketing and sales trends
  • Hacks, Tips & Tricks: Practical, tactical sales and marketing content that’ll leave you with something actionable to take home with you
  • Grow With HubSpot: HubSpot demos and case studies that let you dig into the software first-hand
  • BOLD Talks: Short but powerful talks from exciting people that will both challenge and educate
  • Executive Track: Executives talk strategy and share how their roles have evolved in an inbound world
  • Partner Track: Agency leaders and HubSpot partner agencies explore strategies to grow and scale agency business
  • Training: HubSpot Academy training that will get you or your employees up to speed on any and all parts of the inbound methodology (Note: There is an additional cost for this. You can learn more here.)

You can identify which track is best for you and go full force down that path, mix and match along the way, or if you’re attending with colleagues, consider splitting up for a few sessions so you can soak in different sessions and compare notes later. Or just hang out by the food trucks and ask other people what they learned. Expense the food and call it networking. 

We hope to see you in Boston from September 8-11. You’ll know you’re at the right place when you see the flaming orange signs. Can’t miss it.

(P.S. Have no idea what INBOUND is? Click here to learn all about the event. Or, if you prefer the tl;dr version: It’s HubSpot’s annual marketing conference, hosted in Boston, with lots of intelligent speakers and attendees from all over the world. You should come.)

register for inbound 2015

Apr

30

2015

The Social Media Content Calendar Template Every Marketer Needs [Free Template]

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We have a 9 a.m. meeting? Yikes! Hold on — let me just click around the internet like a maniac to find something for the morning tweet. 

Sound familiar? Scrambling for social content is not a new phenomenon. We have meetings. We run late. Things come up. And it’s really hard to get any meaningful amount of work done when you have the next social media update looming over your head every 30, 60, or 90 minutes. It all moves so fast that you might periodically feel a case of the vapors coming on, which is why pre-scheduled social media content should be your new best friend.

A few years ago, we created a social media content calendar template to help, which we recently updated to be better, faster, stronger, and just generally prettier. You can fill it in at the same day and time every single week to prep for the following week’s social media content. That means when you burst through the office doors at 9 a.m., you won’t be in panic mode looking for something to push out to your Facebook fans — you already took care of that last week.

Download the free social media content calendar template here. Then learn how to use it in this post.

This blog post will walk you through exactly how to use the template to stay on top of your social media content planning for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

(Note: HubSpot customers can also schedule content through Social Inbox, or use this spreadsheet to organize their content and subsequently upload it to Social Inbox. Detailed instructions for doing this exist in the cover sheet of the template.)

How to Use the Social Media Calendar to Plan Your Content Schedule

When you open up the social media content calendar template, you’ll notice the bottom of the Excel spreadsheet has several different tabs, most of which are dedicated to a specific social network.

social-media-calendar-excel-tabs.png

The reason you’ll want a different worksheet for every social network is simply that every social network is a little bit different. You can’t just craft one, single social media update and use it across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. You can certainly promote the same piece of content across all six of those networks, but that doesn’t mean you’ll craft your update in the same way for every single one of them. (In fact, you may even want to add additional tabs if you’re active on other networks, like Quora or YouTube.)

This following sub-sections will walk you through how to fill out each of the four tabs you see in this template — the updates for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. But before we get to that, let’s just walk through the “Monthly Planning Calendar” so you know what that’s for.

Monthly Social Media Schedule 

The tab “Monthly Planning Calendar” provides an overall snapshot of your monthly social media campaigns. It’ll help you coordinate better with other stakeholders, not to mention keep all the moving parts straight in your own mind. Here’s what it looks like:

social-media-calendar-month-view.png

There are three sections to take note of when you edit this template for your own purposes. First, the color-coding key: These are the types of content or campaigns around which you might coordinate, like ebooks, webinars, blog posts, product launches, and so on. Though only some of these might be relevant to you, they’re there to indicate what you may want to put in there — so be sure to edit these categories to align with your own campaigns.

The other two sections you’ll need to edit are the Month and Year at the top of the calendar (duh), as well as the cells below each day of the week. In those cells, you should enter the type of content you’ll be promoting that day and color-code it to align with the campaign it’s supporting.

Instead of deleting all the content in this spreadsheet each month, I recommend copying this worksheet twelve times over, and creating a separate sheet for each month. (If that gets to be too overwhelming, you can always save those tabs as a separate file.)

Planning Your Scheduled Tweets 

Alright, now let’s get to the social media content. This section will be the lengthiest, because all subsequent sections will draw on the instructions we go through here. So if you read one section in this whole post, make it this one.

Let’s say you want to add some tweets to your scheduling template. Skip over to the “Twitter Updates” tab, where you’ll see this:

social-media-calendar-twitter-updates.png

The first four columns, “Day,” “Date,” “Time,” and “Date & Time” are there for your convenience, and if you choose to use a third-party app for pre-scheduling your tweets (like HubSpot’s Social Inbox), then these columns will be useful. For now, just fill in the date on which you’d like your updates to publish to Twitter, and the time at which you’d like them to go out. The “Date & Time” column will automatically change based on what you input in the previous two columns.

Now, let’s move over to the “Message” column. Here, input the copy you’d like to appear in your tweet, bearing in mind you should cap it at 116 characters to allow enough room for a link, and at 115 characters to allow room for an image. (Read this blog post for a full character count guide.) This spreadsheet will auto-calculate the number of characters you’ve entered to keep you on-point, turning yellow when you’ve reached 95 characters, and red when you’ve reached 116 characters.

After you’ve composed your tweet, paste the URL you’d like to include in your tweet in the “Link” column. Be sure to include UTM parameters so you’ll know whether all of these tweets are actually driving traffic, leads, and customers. This is an important step to remember if you’d like to be able to demonstrate ROI from social. You can also use the “Campaign” column to add an associated campaign, which helps which more robust tracking and reporting.

Finally, in the “Image” column, attach the tweet’s image (if you have one). For Twitter, we recommend images that are 1024 x 512 pixels. (Click here for a full cheat sheet of social media image sizes.) If you’re having trouble attaching your image to the spreadsheet, follow these steps:

Step 1: Right-click the cell in which you’d like your image.

Step 2: Click “Hyperlink,” then click the “Document” button, and finally, click “Select” to choose your image.

Step 3: In the “Choose a File” window, select the image from your computer and click “Open.”

Step 4: You’ll now see the image attached to the “Insert Hyperlink” screen. Feel free to edit the “Display” text to change the file name, then click “OK.”

Note: This process is simply for organizational purposes. If you decide to upload the spreadsheet to your social media publishing software, it will not attach — you’ll have to do that with your marketing software. If you’re a HubSpot customer, details for how to bulk upload your Twitter content to Social Inbox can be found within the downloaded template.

Planning Your Facebook Updates

Now, let’s talk about how to set up your Facebook content in advance with the template. Navigate on over to the tab in your template labeled “Facebook Updates.”

social-media-calendar-facebook-updates.png

Facebook updates work similarly to Twitter updates, with the exception being bulk uploading your content is not possible in Social Inbox.

The first three columns, “Day,” “Date,” and “Time” are there for your convenience. Head on over to the column labeled “Message” and input the copy you’d like to appear in your status update, corresponding to the days and times you’d like those updates to run. Then, move to the “Link” column and input the link you’ll be, you know, linking to in the update. (Don’t forget that tracking token.) If you’d like the update to be tagged to a certain campaign, include this in the “Campaigns” column. Finally, attach an image just like you did with your Twitter updates — if you’re using one, we suggest you edit it to be 1200 x 900 pixels. (Click here for a full cheat sheet of social media image sizes.)

Planning Your LinkedIn Updates

LinkedIn updates are the most unique, because you have both Company Pages and Groups to consider. To demonstrate the difference between Company Page updates and Group updates, let’s navigate over to the column labeled “Title (For Group Discussions Only).”

social-media-calendar-linkedin-updates.png

LinkedIn Groups let you post a few kinds of updates, one of which is called a “Discussion.” You will only fill out the “Title (For Group Discussions Only)” column if you’re looking to post a Discussion to your LinkedIn Group — because Discussions are the only update you’ll be posting that requires a title. If you’re not posting a Discussion to a LinkedIn Group, you don’t need to fill out this field, because your update will not have a title.

You’ll fill out the next column, “Message,” for every type of update you post, whether it’s for a Company Page or a Group. Simply input your copy into this column, and then navigate to the next two columns, “Link” and “Campaign” to input the URL to which you’re directing readers with the tracking token you’ll use to track activity, and the associated campaign if one exists. If you’d like to use an image for an update, attach it per the instructions laid out in the “Twitter” section. We recommend editing the image to 700 x 520 pixels.

Planning Your Instagram Posts

Now, let’s move on to how to set up your Instagram photos and videos in advance with the template. Navigate on over to the tab in your template labeled “Instagram Updates.”

social-media-calendar-instagram-updates.png

Instagram updates work similarly to Facebook updates, in that content can’t be uploaded in bulk to Social Inbox like it can with Twitter.

The first three columns, “Day,” “Date,” and “Time” are there for your convenience. Head on over to the column labeled “Message,” and input the copy you’d like to appear in your post’s caption, corresponding to the days and times you’d like those updates to run. Keep in mind that although Instagram captions can be up to 2,200 characters long, they cut off in users’ feeds after three lines of text. The exact length of these three lines depends on the length of your Instagram handle. (Read this blog post for a full character count guide.)

Next, move to the “Link for Bio” column and input whichever link you plan to put in the bio when you publish the accompanying Instagram post. (The reason you’d put a link in your bio and not the photo caption itself is because clickable URLs aren’t allowed anywhere except the single “website” box in your bio. See #13 in this blog post for more on how that works.) Oh, and don’t forget that tracking token.

If you’d like the update to be tagged to a certain campaign, include this in the “Campaigns” column. Finally, attach an image just like you did with your other social media updates — we suggest you edit it to be 1080 pixels x 1080 pixels. (Click here for a full cheat sheet of social media image sizes.)

Planning Your Pinterest Updates

Alright, now let’s go over how to set up your Pinterest pins in advance with the template. Navigate on over to the tab in your template labeled “Pinterest Updates.”

social-media-calendar-pinterest-updates.png

Pinterest updates work similarly to Facebook and Instagram updates, in that content can’t be uploaded in bulk to Social Inbox like it can with Twitter.

The first three columns, “Day,” “Date,” and “Time” are there for your convenience. Go to the column labeled “Message,” and input the copy you’d like to appear in your pin’s description, corresponding to the days and times you’d like those updates to run. Then, move to the “Link” column and input the link you’ll be, you know, linking to in the update. (Don’t forget that tracking token.)

If you’d like the update to be tagged to a certain campaign, include this in the “Campaigns” column. Finally, attach an image like you did with your other social media updates — we suggest you edit it to be 735 pixels x 1102 pixels.

Planning Your Google+ Posts

Finally, we come to Google+.

social-media-calendar-google-plus-updates.png

Start in the “Message” column, and input your status update. Then move over to “Link” column, where you’ll input the link to which you’re directing readers. If you’d like the update to be tagged to a certain campaign, include this in the “Campaigns” column. If you’re attaching an image, you could use multiple different sizes, but 960 pixels x 960 pixels works best. (Click here for a full cheat sheet of social media image sizes.)

Content Repository (Or, Where to Source Social Media Content)

This template also provides you with a tab called “Content Repository,” which should help you keep track of all your content and maintain a healthy backlog of fodder to make sourcing social media content easier.

social-media-calendar-content-repository.png

As you create more assets, you’ll likely want to resurface and re-promote those pieces down the line, too. To ensure you don’t lose track of all of that content, record it on this tab so you’re never at a loss for what to publish on social. If the content you’re promoting isn’t evergreen, be sure to include an expiration date in the column marked “Expiration” so you don’t promote it when it’s jumped the shark.

This tab will also help you maintain a healthy balance of content: A mix of your own content and others’, a mix of content formats and types, and mix of lead generation content vs. MQL-generating content vs. traffic-friendly content.

Don’t Forget

Whether you use this spreadsheet to plan your content out in advance or upload to a third-party app, you’ll still need to supplement these updates with one the fly content. Breaking news hits? Whip up a quick update to share it with your network. Someone in your network tweets something interesting? Give it a retweet with some commentary. Got a fascinating comment on one of your updates? Respond with a “thank you” for their interaction or an additional follow-up comment. Coming up with and scheduling your social media content in advance is a huge time-saver, but it should go without saying that you still need to monitor and add to your social presence throughout the day.

Finally, we encourage you to experiment with your social media publishing. This template provides publishing dates and times for each social network, but you may find those are way too many updates for you to fill, or perhaps too infrequent for your booming social presence. You should adjust your social media publishing frequency as needed.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

free social media content calendar template

 
free social media content calendar template

Mar

20

2015

How to Write Catchy Headlines and Blog Titles Your Readers Can’t Resist

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It’s one thing to write great content, but it’s another thing to get it read and ranked — which is where nailing the title comes in. 

Titles are what sell the content. They represent it in search engines, in email, and on social media. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the most common questions we get is around crafting titles.

Download this free report to get even more data-backed tips on writing catchy titles and headlines.

How long should my headline be? What words should I use? What words should I avoid? Should I optimize it for search or social? Or both? 

Luckily, we’ve come up with a simple formula for writing catchy headlines and blog titles that you can reference from here on out. So let’s just dive right in, shall we? 

A Foolproof Method for Writing Catchy Titles and Headlines 

1) Start with a working title.

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of coming up with a perfect title, start with a rough draft: your working title.

What’s a working title, exactly? A lot of people confuse working titles with topics. Let’s clear that up:

Topics are very general and could yield several different blog posts. Think “raising healthy kids” and “kitchen storage.” A writer might look at either of those topics and choose to take them in very, very different directions.

A working title, on the other hand, is very specific and guides the creation of a single blog post. For example, from the topic “raising healthy kids,” you could derive the following working titles:

  • “How the Right Nutrition Can Strengthen Your Kids’ Bones”
  • “A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Your Child’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Well-Being”
  • “X Recipes for Quick & Healthy Dinners Your Teenagers Will Gobble Up”

See how different and specific each of those is? That’s what makes them working titles instead of overarching topics. It’s also worth noting that none of those titles are perfect — they should just be specific enough to guide your blog post. (We’ll worry about making it clickable and search-friendly later.)

2) Stay accurate.

Accuracy is critical when trying to finesse a title because it sets clear expectations for your readers. While I’m sure lots of people would love to click into a post that said “10 B2B Companies Killing Facebook So Freaking Hard They Don’t Need Any Other Marketing Channel” … it’s a little bombastic, no?

Unless, of course, you truly did find 10 B2B companies rocking Facebook that hard. And you could confirm that all 10 of them had stopped using other marketing channels. First and foremost, your title needs to accurately reflect the content that follows.

One way to ensure accuracy? Add bracketed clarification to your headline, like we did in this blog post:

Bracket_Clarificaiton.pngIn a study of over 3.3 million paid link headlines, we found that headlines with this type of clarification — [Interview], [Podcast], [Infographic], etc. — performed 38% better than headlines without clarification. Again, it’s all about setting clear expectations. Thanks to the brackets, these readers knew exactly what they were getting themselves into before they even clicked. 

So if you remember nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: The most important rule of titles is to respect the reader experience.

If you set high expectations in your title that you can’t fulfill in the content, you’ll lose readers’ trust. 

Accuracy encompasses more than just hyperbole, though. With the example working title above, you’d also want to confirm all of the examples are, indeed, B2B. Or even that they’re all companies — instead of, say, individual bloggers that target B2B audiences. See what I mean?

3) Make it sexy.

Just because you have to be accurate doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to make your title pop. There are a lot of ways to make a title sexier. 

Of course, all of this hinges on understanding your core buyer persona. You need to find language that resonates with them, and know what they find valuable. (Haven’t created or refined your buyer personas yet? Download this free template to create your own buyer personas for your business.)

Once you’re armed with knowledge of your buyer persona’s preferred style, try testing out some of these tips for making your headlines a little sexier:

  • Have some fun with alliteration. The title and header in this blog post, for instance, play with alliteration: “Foolproof Formula” and “Writing Wonderful.” It’s a device that makes something a little lovelier to read, and that can have a subtle but strong impact on your reader.
  • Use strong language. Strong phrases (and, frankly, often negative ones) like “Things People Hate,” or “Brilliant” pack quite a punch. However, these must be used in moderation. As one of my coworkers likes to say, “If everything is bold, nothing is bold.”
  • Make the value clear. As we mentioned above, presenting the format and/or contents to a reader helps make your content a little sexier. According to our research, templates tend to be particularly powerful for CTR: We found that adding “[Template]” to our titles got the most average views of all bracketed terms.
  • Make it visual. Is there an opportunity to include visuals within your post? Make that clear in the title. Our research revealed that headlines featuring the word “photo(s)” performed 37% better than headlines without this word. 
  • Focus on the “whos,” not the “whys”. Want to intrigue your audience? Focus on the “who”: Headlines including the word “who” generated a 22% higher CTR than headlines without it.

Let’s try an example: Let’s say you’re writing a post titled, “15 of Our Favorite Brands on Snapchat.” How might we punch up our accurate-but-boring working title? Here are some options:

  • 15 Brilliant Brands Who Are Killing It on Snapchat
  • Snapchat Success: 15 Inspiring Brands Who Just Get It
  • 15 Must-Follow Brands That Are Seeing Snapchat Success

4) Keep it short.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long or short your title should be. It depends what your goals are and where your headline will appear.

Do you want this post to rank really well in search? Focus on keeping the title under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results. Are you trying to optimize your title for social sharing? Check out this handy character count guide for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest

However, according to our own analysis at HubSpot, headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average. As for Facebook, headlines with either 12 or 14 words received the most Likes.

headline-length-vs-social-shares-2.png

Additionally, headlines with eight words had a 21% higher clickthrough rate than the average title, according to the folks at Outbrain

The lesson? It’s always a good idea to run a few tests to see what works best for your particular audience. 

Let’s say I was writing this blog post: “Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong.” To shorten it, I would simply try to rephrase it and cut out extraneous words. For instance, I might do something like this:

  • Before: Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong
  • After: 10 Stats That Prove Social Media Isn’t Just for Kids

See? It’s that easy. Try sounding out the title in your head to make sure it’s easily digestible for your readers. The less of a mouthful you can make your titles, the better.

5) Try to optimize for search and social.

I say “try” because sometimes, trying too hard to optimize for these things can make your title sound strange. Remember: You want to optimize your title for your audience above all else, but if you can optimize for both search and social, then that’s great.

The secret to thinking about all three at once? Focus on keywords that you know your audience is already searching for, then look into the search volume for those keywords. (Read this blog post to learn how to compare search volume on keywords.)

Once you have a keyword in mind, you’ll want to be sure to place it as closely as possible to the beginning of your headline to catch your reader’s attention. (Again, you should keep your headline under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.)

Another important consideration? Make sure you’re headlines are tweetable: “The 120-130-character range is the sweet spot for high clickthrough rate, according to an analysis of 200,000 tweets with links. This leaves enough space for people to include a short comment if they choose to manually retweet you,” explains my colleague Lindsay Kolowich.

Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m writing a post titled, “X B2B Companies Using Facebook in Cool Ways.” Looks like there’s some wiggle room to optimize it without compromising clarity, right?

If the goal is to rank for the term, “Facebook Marketing,” I’d recommend something like this:

“New to Facebook Marketing? Here Are 10 B2B Companies Doing It Right”

This new title works for a few reasons:

  • It’s 56 characters long. This means that it’s short enough to not be cut off in search engines and it’s short enough to be retweeted.
  • The keyword is in the beginning. By moving “Facebook Marketing” to the beginning of the title, we’re ultimately increasing the odds that we’ll grab our audience’s attention.
  • It’s human. I wasn’t kidding when I said you should focus on optimizing for your audience first. This title presents both a pain point and a solution all wrapped up in one.

(Read this blog post for more on optimizing your content for SEO.)

6) Brainstorm with someone else.

Once you’ve refined your title using the tips above, it’s time to come up for air and connect with another human. Title brainstorming is an essential part of the process.

Here at HubSpot, we spend a decent amount of time and brainpower coming up with our titles. The final step before scheduling a blog post is pulling another member of our team into a back-and-forth title brainstorm in a chat room. One member of the duo will post the title they recommend into the chat pane window. The other person will then refine that title even further, or suggest other title angles. After several back-and-forths, the duo will agree on the title that’s accurate, sexy, concise, and SEO-friendly.

Only when both parties agree on a title do we schedule our post for publishing — which can take as little as five seconds and as long as ten or so minutes. While that seems like a long time, it’s essential to putting our best foot forward with each post we publish.

(Check out this article for even more helpful group brainstorming tips.)

I hope this has been a helpful walkthrough on crafting titles. Share your tips in the comments, won’t you?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free report on writing catchy titles & headlines

 
free guide to effective title and headline writing

Mar

18

2015

Fantastic Copywriting Examples: 13 Companies With Truly Creative Copywriters

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You all know the Old Spice guy, right?

The years-old “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign was memorable for many reasons, but one of them was that it gave Old Spice a voice — voice that came through in every video, commercial, tagline, Facebook update, tweet … you name it.

And do you know who is behind all of that marketing collateral?

Copywriters. The ability to find the exact right words to tell your company’s story isn’t an easy feat, and it’s even harder to do so consistently. Download our free guide to copywriting here to learn how to be a better copywriter yourself.&nbsp;

So when we come across companies that are doing it successfully, we think their copywriters deserve a pat on the back (and a raise?). Take a look at some of the companies we think have stellar copywriting, and if you’re looking, maybe get some inspiration for your own brand, too.

13 Brands That Are Skilled at Writing Copy 

1) UrbanDaddy

UrbanDaddy has mastered the art of getting me to open emails. And when I click into them, they don’t disappoint. 

This is the copy from an email they sent me with the subject line, “Fun.”:

urbandaddyemail

There are a couple things in this email that caught my eye.

First of all, there’s no long preamble. The writers get straight to the point — a wise choice for something as simple as a rubber band gun lest the reader feel cheated reading sentence after sentence for something so common.

Secondly, take a look at the purposeful sentence structure. This copywriter eschews conventional grammar rules by combining run-on sentences and traditional product promotion copy in sentences like:

Lock and load with Elastic Precision, a Kansas City-based workshop that manufactures high-powered weaponry except not at all because they actually just shoot rubber bands, now available online.”

Keep reading, and you see a conversational tone that mildly mocks the silliness of the product, but also loops the reader in on something kinda fun.

And then, of course, they close with badgers. And how can you go wrong with badgers?

Best of all, UrbanDaddy’s unique tone is found in every single piece of copy they publish — from emails, to homepage copy, even to their editorial policy:

urbandaddyeditorialpolicy

This company clearly knows its audience, which jokes to crack, and has kept it consistent across all their assets.

2) Moosejaw

Not many brands are brave enough to touch the actual products they’re selling with unconventional copy … but Moosejaw isn’t afraid to have a little fun. 

The outdoor apparel outlet store uses humor as a way to sell their products without being overly forward about it. By appealing to people’s emotions, they’re more engaging and memorable.

Here are a few examples:

moosejaw-hedgehog-fastpack.png

moosejaw-out-dry-backpack.png

Same goes for the call-to-action buttons that show up when you hover your mouse over a product photo — like this one, which reads, “Look This Cool.”

moosejaw-look-this-cool.png

Does their brand voice carry over to the product descriptions, you ask? See for yourself:

moosejaw-maverick-mandy.png

moosejaw-tent.png

If you think the brilliant copy stops at their homepage, think again. They extend it to their return policy, too. Here, they do a great job of not sacrificing clarity for humor. Their copywriters successfully made people laugh while still being helpful.

moosejaw-return-policy.png

3) First Round Capital

While a sign of great copywriting is making people smile, another is making people feel understood. The copywriters at First Round do a phenomenal job at letting the value of their offerings for their customers sell themselves.

For example, they hold over 80 events every year connecting their community together. Instead of just explaining that they have events and then listing them out, they begin that section of their website with a simple statement that hits close to home with many entrepreneurs: “Starting a company is lonely.”

first-round-events.png

Using words like “imperfect,” “safety net,” and “vulnerable” encourages readers to let their guards down and feel understood by the brand and their community.

Plus, you’ve gotta love that last line about stick-on name tags. Those things get stuck in my hair.

4) Trello

Do you know what Trello is? If the answer is no, then behold the copywriting on their website. Their product description — like most of the copy on their site — is crystal clear:

trellohomepage

And then check out how clear this explainer content is:

Trello Basics

Some of the use case clarity can be attributed to how smart the product is, but I think copywriters deserve some credit for communicating it clearly, too. They call it like it is, which ultimately makes it really easy to grasp.

And I couldn’t write about the copywriting talent at Trello without including the microcopy on their log in page:

trello-login-ender-1.png  trello-login-dana-1.png

Each time you refresh the login page, you see a different, equally clever example email belonging to a fictional character, like Ender from Ender’s Game and Dana Scully from The X-Files — a great example of nostalgia marketing. This is a small detail, but nonetheless a reminder that there are real humans behind the website and product’s design. Delightful microcopy like this kinda feels like I just shared a private joke with someone at the company.

5) Velocity Partners

No post from me about excellent copywriting would be complete without mentioning the folks at Velocity Partners. A B2B marketing agency out of the U.K., we’ve featured co-founder Doug Kessler’s SlideShares (like this one on why marketers need to rise above the deluge of “crappy” content) time and again on this blog because he’s the master of word economy.

What is “word economy”? It’s taking care that every word you use is the right word. It means getting your point across concisely and not dwelling on the details when you don’t have to. In a world of shortening attention spans, this is the ultimate goal when communicating your message.

And since we’re talking about word economy, I’ll shut up and let you check out one of Kessler’s SlideShares for yourself:

The Search for Meaning in B2B Marketing from
Velocity Partners

Whereas SlideShares are typically mostly visual, Kessler’s is heavily focused on copy: The design stays constant, and only the text changes. But the copy is engaging and compelling enough for him to pull that off. Why? Because he uses simple words so his readers understand what he’s trying to say without any effort. He writes like he speaks, and it reads like a story, making it easy to flip through in SlideShare form.

The copy on Velocity Partners’ homepage stood out to me, too. Check out, for example, how humble they are when introducing their case studies:

Our_Work_Velocity_Partners.png

I also like how casual and honest they kept their email subscription call-to-action. The header is especially eye-catching — and it plays off of the popular SlideShare about crappy content we mentioned earlier.

velocity-partners-opt-in-form.png

In fact, Velocity Partners’ Harendra Kapur recently wrote a blog post on what goes in to great B2B writing — starting with this disclaimer, of course.

velocity-partners-blog-post.png

6) Intrepid Travel

The copywriters at Intrepid Travel, a Melbourne-based adventure travel company, are on this list because they understand where the intersection of interesting and informational lies.

I love seeing copy that is totally and utterly functional — that delivers critical information, but is so pleasant to read that you actually keep reading. Quite a feat on the internet these days.

Take a look at their company description, package names, and package descriptions below for some examples of this fantastically functional copywriting in action:

intrepid-travel-homepage-copywriting.png

intrepid-travel-latest-blog-posts.png

Of course, they do benefit from quite a lovely subject matter, but still — hats off you to, Intrepid Travel.

7) Cultivated Wit

The copywriters over at the “comedy company” Cultivated Wit do a great job of embracing their own brand of quirk throughout their site. They already have one of the best “About” pages in the game, but their delightful copy is spread throughout their site — sometimes in the most unexpected of places.

For example, take a look at the copy around contact information at the very bottom of their homepage:

cultivated-wit-contact-us.png

This section of the homepage is an afterthought at best for most companies. But for these folks, it was an opportunity to have a little fun.

They also have two, unique email subscription calls-to-action on different pages of their website. They’re very different, but both equally funny and delightful. Here’s one from the homepage:

cultivated-wit-homepage-copy.png

And one from the “About” page:

cultivated-wit-newsletter-cta.png

8) Cards Against Humanity

You may or may not be familiar with Cards Against Humanity, the self-declared “party game for horrible people.” It’s a card game — one that’s simultaneously entertaining and inappropriate. The copywriting on the cards themselves are guaranteed to make you laugh.

The brand voice is very distinctive, and can seem a little abrasive, and even a little offensive. But that’s their whole shtick: They’re not trying to appeal to everyone, and that’s perfectly okay. What they do do a great job of doing is appealing to their target audience.

One look at their FAQ page and you’ll see what I mean:

cards-against-humanity-dumb-questions.png

Here’s a sneak peek into some of the answers to these questions. You’ll see they make fun of both themselves and the reader — which is exactly what the card game is about.

cards-against-humanity-uk-edition.png

cards-against-humanity-ship-foreign.png

cards-against-humanity-questions.png

9) R/GA

With the exception or UrbanDaddy, I’ve been focusing a lot on site copy so far, so I wanted to check out some examples of excellent social media copywriting.

I know you all like to see some more B2B examples in here, too, so I surfaced one of the best examples of the holy grail: Twitter copy, from a B2B company, that’s funny. Behold, some recent highlights from the R/GA Twitter account:

10) innocent

Check out U.K.-based drink makers innocent, and you’ll see a language, style, and tone that matches their philosophy, product, and even their branding and design. It’s all just clean, straightforward, and simple. And believe it or not, simple is a really, really hard thing to nail in copywriting.

This stands out best on their “Things We Make” page. (Isn’t that page name even beautifully simple?)

innocent-smoothies.png

innocent-kids.png

This same straightforward-but-charming copywriting philosophy extends to their site navigation:

innocentnav

Their meta description is pretty awesome, too:

innocent-meta-description.png

And my personal favorite:

bananaphone

11) GymIt

I’ve always loved the copy at GymIt. In fact, I check their site and social profiles all the time to see if they’ve freshened anything up. Luckily, they’re no one-trick pony. They continue to keep their site fresh with captivating copy.

Here are some of my favorites, all of which hit on the pain points of gym-goers that they try to solve — and actually do solve with their customer-friendly policies.

gymit1

I can vouch for that one. I know how much of a hassle it is to move far away from your gym — and how refreshing it must be to be able to walk in and just … quit.

All of this rolls up to their philosophy, espoused eloquently on their “About” page, that gyms should just be about working out:

gymit-description.png

Talk about having an understanding of their core audience. The copy both in its value proposition and across its marketing materials reflects a deep understanding of their customers.

And how did their copywriters choose to make sure everyone knew what this new gym franchise was about if they didn’t read that “About” page? This tagline:

gymittagline

Doesn’t get much clearer than that.

12) ModCloth

ModCloth is a brand that has always had an excellent grasp of their buyer persona, and it comes through in their pun-filled copywriting. All of their products are silly plays on words — check out this screen grab of some of their new arrivals, for example:

modcloth-new-arrivals.png

Dive into their product description copy, and it’s equally joyous, evocative, and clever — just like their customers. Often, it’ll also tell the story of what you’ll do while wearing their items:

modcloth-product-description.png

After reading their descriptions, one can imagine what their life would be like if they owned this product. That’s Copywriting 101, but so few brands can actually pull it off like the folks at ModCloth do.

13) Ann Handley

When it comes to building up your own personal brand, it can be easy to get a little too self-promotional. That’s where the copywriting on your site can make a big difference.

On Ann Handley’s personal website, she added bits of microcopy that shows that, despite her many accomplishments (like being a best-selling author and award-winning speaker), she still doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Check out her email subscription call-to-action, for example:

ann-handley-subscribe-cta.png

What other brands have great copywriters? Share with us in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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Feb

11

2015

A Data-Backed Approach to Hating Valentine’s Day

fingers-valentine-180901-edited

Whoever said “love hurts*” was on to something. While most think this Saturday is all about cozying up to that special someone, the romantically miffed are a pretty vocal crowd that, thanks to social media, can drown out a lot of the lovey-dovey-warm-and-fuzzies.

With that in mind, Talkwalkera social data intelligence company, pulled some data on two popular holidays — Anti-Valentine’s Day and Single Awareness (or Appreciation) Day — for those not interested in celebrating February 14th staring longingly into their beloved’s eyes. Whether you’re in love, in like, or #foreveralone, this data should give any Anti-Valentiners what they need to forget about Cupid this Valentine’s Day.

(*It was Nazareth.)

A Data-Backed Guide to Hating Valentine’s Day

Step 1: Pick which Non-Valentine’s holiday you want to celebrate.

If you don’t want to celebrate Valentine’s Day, there are two other popular holidays to choose from: Anti-Valentine’s Day and Single Awareness Day. Whether we’re talking about Anti-Valentine’s Day or Single Awareness Day, it seems that women are most concerned about it and actively write about it on the web:

Demographics_Anti_Valentines_Day_(1)

Demographics_Single_Awareness_Day_(1)

Another interesting fact about the people celebrating Single Awareness Day (S.A.D.)? They’re not all that sad. While the name of the event might make you think of a day where people gather to sob together, Talkwalker’s share of sentiment shows that only 10% will be bummed out, while the rest is either happy about the situation or not feeling any particular joy or sadness.

share_of_sentiment_for_single_awareness_day

Step 2: Select your hashtag of choice to follow and interact with.

Whether you’re a V-day-hater or just need a mental break from all the in-love couples, hop on and follow these hashtags, which were identified as the most popular:

  1. #AntiValentinesDay
  2. #foreveralone
  3. #singlelife

Step 3: Use the right lingo.

If you want to fit in immediately with the Anti-Valentine’s Day crowd, mirror their language. Here are the emotions you’re most likely to see reflected in those conversations:

top_emotions_for_ANTI_valentines_day

Step 4: Troll your ex.

Huffington Post’s article on “10 Anti-Valentine’s Day Cards That Are Perfect For Your Ex” has had some serious social engagement. Join in on the fun and send your ex a passive aggressive card.

Huffington_Post_Anti_Valentine_Day_Article_(1)

Step 5: Realize February 14th isn’t that big a deal and the people celebrating Anti-Valentine’s and S.A.D. are having a pretty good time with it.

Check out the reach and engagement on these posts, for example:

Humorous_tweets_2

Humorous_tweets_3

Humorous_tweets_4

Humorous_tweets_5

How are you celebrating February 14th, if at all? Share your plans in the comments. Keep it PG.

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Feb

10

2015

How to Make a QR Code in 4 Quick Steps

qr-code-on-phone

“Really? We’re talking about QR codes?”

Fair reaction. For a few years now, QR codes have been one of the technologies at the center of the popular “___ is dead” trope we marketers love to argue. We’ve even debated it ourselves on this blog. But if there’s one thing this back-and-forth shows you, it’s that there sure isn’t a consensus — just scroll down to the comments on that post and you’ll find the efficacy of QR codes still hotly contested. Do some more research on the data behind it, and you’ll find it can support either claim if you really want it to: QR codes are dead; long live the QR code.

So this post is to help marketers who are interested in experimenting with QR codes, anyway. Keep reading to learn how to create your own, and how you can increase the chance of consumers scanning them.

To learn more about how to create and use QR codes effectively, download our free guide to QR codes here.

How Do QR Codes Work? The Basics …

QR Codes, short for “quick response” codes, are little black and white squiggly barcodes that usually look something like this:

qr-code

(I say “usually” because they can be different colors and shapes, but you get the picture.) You’ll often find them on direct mail, signage, billboards, maybe even in commercials. 

Originally designed in Japan for the automotive industry, marketers adopted the barcodes because of their large storage capacity and ability to translate additional information to consumers beyond what creative and/or packaging could convey. If a consumer sees a QR code somewhere, they can take out their mobile device, open up a QR code scanner, and “scan” the barcode to gain access to additional information, like so:

scan-qr-code

So if you wanted to promote, say, a podcast series on an advertisement at a bus stop, you could create a QR code that sends scanners to your iTunes page. Make sense? Cool.

How to Create a QR Code

The QR code creation process is pretty straightforward. Here’s how to get started.

1) Select a QR code generator.

There are tons of QR code generators out there, but a few of the post popular include KaywaGOQR.me, Visualead, and QR Stuff. Some things to look for when choosing a QR code generator are whether you can track and analyze performance, if it allows you to design a code that’s unique to your brand, and if it is compatible with common QR code readers.

2) Design and link it up.

The fun part of creating QR codes is customizing the design of the codes to your brand. Want your code to look like your logo? Go for it. Want it to reflect your website’s design scheme? Should be no problem.

To demonstrate how easy it is, let’s select one of the QR code generators above and do a walkthrough together. I’ll select GOQR.me.

Step 1: Select what type of content you want your QR code to send the consumer to — we’ll choose a URL for this example.

url

Step 2: Insert the content (in this case, a URL).

qr-code-generator

Step 3: Check out the preview, customize as desired, then download and/or embed where needed.

qr-code-preview

Quite simple, right? Of course, you can customize your QR code further — adjusting the colors, adding a logo, creating social options, and more.

3) Test the QR code.

In all the excitement of creating your first QR code, don’t forget to check to see if the QR code “reads” correctly, and be sure to try more than just one reader. A good place to start is the free tool Google Goggles, which takes a picture and then tells you what link or item it “reads to.” Another great free tool is QR Code Reader, which automatically takes you to whatever it “reads.” Apple’s Passbook also offers a built-in QR code reader on iOS 7, so you should test to make sure your code is readable there, as well.

4) Track and analyze performance.

Just like any marketing campaign, you should follow up on any collateral or campaigns using QR codes to see whether they’re actually working. How much traffic comes from each specific code? Are people scanning your code but not redeeming their offer once they get to the landing page? Or are they not even compelled enough to scan your QR code? Knowing this will help you troubleshoot and adjust your poorly performing QR codes to more closely mirror those that work well. I recommend you include a UTM tracking code on your URL so you can better measure performance — this is particularly important if you use closed-loop marketing analytics, and are used to more in-depth reporting on your campaigns.

QR Code Best Practices: Some Important Do’s and Don’ts

Now that you see how simple the QR code creation process can be, let’s talk about some best practices that’ll help increase the likelihood your QR code actually gets used.

QR Code Do’s

1) Do put QR codes in places where scanning is easy, and there’s enough time for the consumer to actually scan the code. While you may often see QR codes on billboards and TV commercials, they’re not exactly the most user-friendly locations. Think of places and mediums where consumers have the time to scan the code, and, ideally, a Wi-Fi connection as well.

2) Do mobile-optimize the page to which you’re sending people. Consumers will be on their phone when scanning the QR code, so they should be brought to a page with a positive mobile experience.

3) Do offer a call-to-action (CTA) with the code — that is to say, tell people what they’re supposed to do when they see the code, and what they’ll receive if they do it. Not everyone knows exactly what a QR code is, and those that do won’t be motivated to scan it unless they’re sure there’s something worthwhile on the other side. 

QR Code Don’ts

1) Don’t require a special QR code scanner. Your QR code should be app-agnostic so anyone can scan your code with any reader. A lower barrier to entry makes success more likely for you and the user. 

2) Don’t use a QR code just for the sake of using one. For instance, it’s common for marketers to think, “How can I bridge the offline experience with the online experience? Uhhh … QR code!” That’s not wrong … but it’s not always right, either. If you have content that makes sense to deliver to a mobile user, and you have an appropriate vehicle to do it (see #1 in the “Do” section above) it’s more likely your QR code will drive results. For example, in South Korea, grocery store chain Tesco drove tremendous national business growth by using QR codes in subway stations (I guess they have mobile service in their subway stations) to let riders order their groceries while they wait. It’s a great example of using QR codes for the right end-goal, at the right place and time. This article from Search Engine Journal has some more examples of good times to use QR codes, as well

If after reading this you’re not convinced QR codes are the right move — or you just want some additional ways you can connect the offline world to the online world — consider also adding a short, memorable URL people can type in easily on their mobile phones in your creative. 

The future of QR codes could also mean an evolution — augmented reality apps certainly stem from the same concept, after all. Consider the AR News App, which lets readers augment a newspaper story into a child-friendly article by downloading an app and hovering over stories with a special marker (sounds pretty close to a QR scanner, doesn’t it?). It may be that QR codes aren’t quite dead, but just the first step in a long evolution.

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

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Jan

22

2015

10 Incredibly Weird Mobile Apps You Can Actually Download

mobile-app-732467-edited

From RunKeeper to Lyft to FlightTonight, there are plenty of mobile apps that are practical, functional, and just plain good ideas.

There are also addictive games that, while not my cup of tea, keep millions of people transfixed on otherwise dreary commutes in and out of work.

And then there’s a bunch of weird apps that make you go “hmmm.” Whether they seem hilariously niche, totally useless, or you’re just shocked there’s a market for them, the apps in this post might make you curious enough to download. 

(And you can do so guilt-free — because they don’t cost a cent. Enjoy.)

10 Weird Mobile Apps You Won’t Believe You Can Download

cuddlr1) Cuddlr

A location-based social networking app called Cuddly lets you find people in your area to cuddle with. Cute or creepy? You be the judge.

Cost: Free

OS: iOS only, Android coming soon

Download here for iOS.

detivational2) Demotivational Pics

Keep that frown upside down. Make a bad day worse with an app that reminds you just how crappy things can be.

Cost: Free

OS: iOS & Android

Download here for iOS; here for Android.

matey3) Carrr Matey

Forgot where you parked your car? This app can tell you — in a pirate voice.

Cost: Free, matey.

OS: iOS & Android

Download here for iOS; here for Android.

bathroom4) Places I’ve Pooped

I mean … the name really says it all. Mark your territory, literally and digitially, with this map of where you’ve done your business.

Cost: Free

OS: iOS & Android

Download here for iOS; here for Android.

runpee5) Run Pee

Wondering whether now is the time to relieve yourself of that red slushy you just sucked down? Run Pee will tell you when you can run and pee without missing anything big in the movie. Incredibly weird. Incredibly useful.

Cost: Free

OS: iOS & Android

Download here for iOS; here for Android.

catpaint6) Cat Paint

You know what this picture needs? More cat. Cat Paint helps you add more cat. 

Cost: Free

OS: iOS

Download here for iOS.

pimplepopper7) Pimple Popper

If you find pimple-popping therapeutic, this app makes a gross little game out of it.

Cost: Free

OS: iOS & Android

Download here for iOS; here for Android.

yo8) Yo

An app that does one thing: says “Yo” to someone else. #yolo

Cost: Free (thankfully)

OS: iOS & Android

Download here for iOS; here for Android.

spirit9) Spirit Story Box: Ghost Hunting Tool

This app speaks ghost. Use it to get a translation of what the ghosts that are definitely around you right now are saying. 

Cost: Free

OS: iOS

Download here for iOS.

paper10) Paper Racing

You know what would make bathroom activities more fun? Competition. Race your friends to see who runs out of toilet paper first. There are no winners in this game.

Cost: Your dignity; but it’s otherwise free.

OS: Android

Download here for Android.

I came across a lot of other weird apps curating this post, but these were the ten I found strangest. What about you? Share your weird app finds in the comments.

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Dec

30

2014

The Funniest SNL Commercial Parodies of the Year

hader-705379-edited

Whether SNL is having an on- or off-year, one place they always shine is commercial parodies.

Personally, I think they had an “on-year” this year — but whether or not you agree, you’ll have to admit they produced some laugh-out-loud fake commercials. I figured most marketers’ minds would be geared more toward New Year’s Eve planning than campaign planning today, so I compiled a round-up of the best SNL commercials of 2014 as a little light-hearted respite for you in the office today.

And it’s about commercials, so you can justify it as loosely work-related. Right?

(Warning: Some of these videos might be NSFW.)

The 5 Best SNL Commercial Parodies of 2014

1) Jim Carrey’s Lincoln Ad Spoofs

Steeped in a faux-profundity the SNL writers capture perfectly, Jim Carrey spoofs the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ads in my personal favorite commercial parody of the year. (Bonus: There’s an Allstate parody woven in around minute 2:08.)

2) Swiftamine

Dr. Doctor explains a medical condition affecting millions … which serves as the best explanation I’ve heard for why legions of 30-something men vehemently defend the addition of the Taylor Swift canon to their iTunes libraries.

3) JoS. A. Bank Cleaning Product

Calling out JoS. A. Bank’s marketing strategy and product quality, SNL draws a biting parallel in this spoof that ends with a hilariously modified tagline.

4) CNN Pregnancy Test

Aside from the SNL writers’ creativity with the pregnancy test/CNN parallel, my favorite thing about this video is that the ad that played before it was for actually for a pregnancy test. 

5) The Group Hopper Preview

A commercial parody list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of a movie preview. This looks like every commercial for a YA-novel-turned-movie you’ve ever seen. 

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Dec

18

2014

Business Advice From the Richest People in the World [SlideShare]

business-advice-from-richest-people

I used to work near the waterfront in Boston. At lunchtime, I’d head down to the benches by the harbor with my coworkers (now two of my greatest friends), and we’d look out at all the fancy boats docked there.

“What am I doing wrong in my career that I don’t have one of those?” my friend joked. We repeated that refrain often, as all of us love the ocean and boat ownership was — in our estimation — the height of luxury.

Fast forward to today. I still don’t have a boat (and sadly, my office is no longer near the ocean). But I still wonder what those people did to become so financially successful that they could afford one of those luxury vessels. Were they trust fund babies? Did they invest wisely? Did they get in early on something huge?

In a paltry stab at getting to the answer, I researched some of the words of wisdom from a few of the richest people in the world in 2014 — at least, according to Forbes — and compiled them below. I tried to select people who made their way in business, not those who inherited their way onto the list.

(And while I hope these are good for a peppy pick-me-up while typing away at your laptop, I doubt these morsels of motivation will propel someone so far into success as to land on Forbes’ 2015 “Richest Persons” list. But who cares? Business success is a relative term.)

Business Advice From the Richest People in the World from
HubSpot

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Dec

3

2014

Bye-Bye Clip Art: Here Are 25 Works of Microsoft “Art” We’re Gonna Miss

clip_art_computerMiddle school book reports will never be the same.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced they’re getting rid of Clip Art in favor of Bing image search. Apparently, nobody used Clip Art — not even hipsters being ironic — so it was time to say goodbye.

Gizmodo’s Mario Aguilar put it best: “Farewell Clip Art. We didn’t know we missed you until you were gone.” As a hat tip to a youth spent trolling the Clip Art image library for just the right image to adorn the upper left-and right-hand corners of my student council nomination flyers, I’ve compiled some of my favorite ClipArt images, with their accompanying search terms.

Microsoft Clip Art: Bidding Adieu to the Best of the Best

Businesses, Businesswoman

businesses,_businesswoman

Businesses, Businessmen, Concepts

businesses,_businessmen,_concepts

Numbers of different shapes and sizes, representing math

numbers_of_different_shapes_and_sized,_representing_math

Construction

construction

Dental care, Dental hygiene

dental_care,_dental_hygiene

Animals, Easter, Easter bunnies

animals,_Easter,_easter_bunnies

Thanksgiving illustration of pilgrim family with a turkey

thanksgiving_illustration_of_pilgrim_family_with_a_turkey

Astronomy, Earth, Galaxies

astronomy,_earth,_galaxies

Appliances, Bread, Food

appliances,_breads,_food

Balloons, Celebrations, Hats

balloons,_celebrations,_hats

(I think I remember this from several birthday party invitations.)

Computers, Computing, Diskettes

computers,_computing,_diskettes

Three colored balloons and three colored presents

three_colored_balloons_and_three_colored_presents

Eye care, Eye exams, Males

eye_care,_eye_exams,_males

Blueprints, Building plans

blueprints,_building_plans

Flying party streamers and confetti

flying_party_streamers_and_confetti

Businesses, Computers

businesses,_computers

Cybart, C-clamps

cybart,_c-clamps

New Year’s celebration with champagne, Balloons and confetti

new_years_celebration_with_champagne,_balloons,_and_confetti

Autumn, Cornucopias, Food

autumn,_cornucopias,_food

 Board meetings, Businesses

board_meetings,_businesses

Forklifts, Heavy machinery

forklifts,_heavy_machinery

Businesses, Businessmen

businesses,_businessmen

A Christmas tree with wrapped presents

a_christmas_tree_with_wrapped_presents

Carnivals, Celebrations

carnivals,_celebrations

Smiling sun illustration

smiling_sun_illustration

Even if we can’t get Clip Art from Microsoft, we can still use these 25. Which will you miss most?

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Nov

13

2014

Setting Goals: Should You Even Bother?

dart-boardI’m a big planner. I like to think of all the things I want to do — this month, this year, eventually — and figure out how to make them happen. 

For a while, most of those things didn’t actually happen, though. (I guess you could say I was more of a dreamer than a planner.) But as I learned more about effective goal setting, more and more of those plans came to fruition. I was able to take dreams, ground them in reality, and set a plan in motion to reach my stated goal.

But not all of those goals made it to the "Achievement: Unlocked" stage. While I was able to hit my goal of "paying off credit card debt," I was never able to hit my goal of "getting better at personal finances." 

You may say, "that’s because your finances goal wasn’t specific!" You’re right — it wasn’t. But that’s not the only reason I hit the former and not the latter.

I did some research into effective goal setting, and it’s a lot more nuanced than just setting specific, measurable goals. In fact, I stumbled upon many unintended consequences of goal setting — particularly in a professional context, though the principles can be carried over to personal scenarios, as well.

This isn’t to say I’m initiating a call for the end of goal setting in the workplace. On the contrary, proper goal setting has done me quite a lot of good and contributed to significant personal and professional development. But perhaps a call to "handle with care" is, indeed, in order.

The Basics of Good Goal Setting

Before diving into the nuances, let’s start with what some research from psychologist Richard Wiseman about how to set goals. He recommends that you should:

1) Make a step-by-step plan. Breaking up a big goal into smaller, manageable chunks makes your plan more achievable. It also gives you little bursts of confidence as you knock things off the list, propelling you forward and closer toward achieving your goal.

2) Think about good things that will happen if you achieve your goal. Fair enough. Positive thinking is probably helpful, even if it does feel a bit touchy feely. He does warn not to generate elaborate, unrealistic fantasies here — if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, refrain from taking the mental leap to quitting your job to become a supermodel.

3) Reward yourself when you make progress. Again — use reason. If you lost your first pound, your reward should not be a pepperoni pizza.

4) Record your progress. Writing things down helps make your goal real, which leads to accountability. 

5) Tell other people about your goal. Much like recording your progress, telling other people about it can help make you more accountable to it.

(I personally prefer not to tell people about my goals right away, because I find myself less likely to actually initiate the process of achieving my goals. There’s some evidence to back that up; some people get a feeling of satisfaction from the social acknowledgement of telling others about their goals, which mimics the feeling of actually achieving the goal — to the point they feel they don’t need to even do it.) 

Wiseman also warns against some poor goal setting techniques. Among other things, he recommends not doing things like seeking motivation by comparing yourself to others that have achieved similar goals; thinking about negative consequences of not achieving the goal; or using willpower to meet your goal.

But is this list enough to set good goals and achieve them?

Probably not.

That’s nothing against Wiseman. Research from University of Scranton indicates only about 8% of people reach their New Year’s goals. Wiseman himself found only 10% of people in a study he conducted reached their stated goals — though those that did certainly skewed toward following his methodology. So what’s going wrong?

Well, one problem could be that the goals themselves aren’t good goals. Ideally, goals should also help propel you forward — make you better and better even when you’re not in pursuit of that specific goal. I think of these as "performance-enhancing goals" or, as Sebastien Bailey described it in his Forbes article, "performance-boosting goals." In other words, the goals you set will make you an all-around better person or, in a corporate setting, a better performer.

In addition to specificity, Bailey recommends that worthy goals are ones that are also difficult and group-centric.

"The research supports Locke’s original goal-setting theory," Bailey writes. "Difficult goals lead to higher performance than easy ones … The ideal is a stretch, not a strain — difficult but not dauntingly impossible." Bailey also found that researchers have investigated the performance of individuals with group-centric goals versus ego-centric goals, and that only the group-centric goals contributed to improved performance.

"Ego-centric goals actually had a detrimental effect on the group’s performance, because individuals weren’t invested in the group’s success. Ego-centric goals also meant individuals competed for resources, which undermined the group as a whole."

Okay, so if you do all that — set specific, difficult, group-centric goals that follow Wiseman’s framework — presumably a lot of people would start meeting their goals. But (like me) you’ve probably heard at least some of this stuff before. And (like me) you’ve also probably not hit a lot of goals. It’s hard for me to believe that so many people’s struggles to hit goals can boil down to not following these frameworks to a T. Are there other forces at work?

Why People Don’t Meet Goals

If you’re following all these recommendations and still missing goals, there are some concrete ways to turn things around.

For example, big goals take a long time to achieve — which means the path is fraught with missteps. A lack of feedback could cause people to get diverted somewhere along that path, resulting in disappointment and demotivation such that the goal is never met (or meeting it is significantly delayed).

There’s research to back this up. Bailey cites a study in his Forbes article from Chhokar and Wallin in which biweekly feedback on study participants’ progress toward their goals improved their performance — which then dropped once the feedback ceased.

Along the same lines, it’s possible your goals are being sabotaged by someone else. If your goal is indeed group-centric, it’s likely your goal will require a certain dose of teamwork. But as anyone who’s ever worked on a team knows, teamwork can just as often be a poison to progress as it is a support system. Cites Bailey:

"Experiments have found that when people work alone, they perform better than when they think they’re working as part of a group. When in teams, people think they can get away with not pulling their weight, because their team mates’ productivity will compensate for it. High-performing team members then see their peers getting away with laziness and reduce their own input accordingly."

In other words, your goals could be hindered because no one is putting the kibosh on the underperformers. In a professional setting, this may come down to forces outside an individual’s control — like management. For personal goals, you could be that underperformer. Which gets us to the other issues at play when considering why people fail to meet their goals — the psychological underpinnings of goal setting.

Psychological Implications of Goal Setting

I started looking into this because of a podcast I listen to regularly, Stuff You Should Know. They recorded a great episode on how to set goals — they tipped me off on Wiseman, in fact — but my impression coming away from the episode was that the hosts were kind of down on goal setting. The sentiment was that as a nation, Americans were just too goal-obsessed, and it’s at the expense of simply being satisfied with where they are.

As an avid goal-setter myself, the sentiment resonated. Am I setting these goals at the expense of my happiness? Is it better to be on a constant path of self-improvement, or to be satisfied with where you are?

I certainly can’t answer that in this post — or, probably, at all — but I did find other people talking about the unintended negative consequences of goal setting. Behavioral science expert James Clear elucidated the predicament nicely in an article on Entrepreneur:

"When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, ‘I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.’ The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. ‘Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.’"

Clear recommends a way of dealing with that — focusing on the subgoals like we talked about earlier, so you boost your confidence with small microsuccesses. But even with that solution, the underlying implication that you’re not good enough remains. Some might suggest a less goal-obsessed approach might end up incentivizing the right behavior, anyway, because people are happier and more confident. In a way, this is what Clear suggests later in his article.

"We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals. When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time."

Possible Unintended Consequences of Workplace Goal Setting

If the idea of eroding your confidence or that of your employees doesn’t do much for you, there could be other unintended negative consequences with improper goal setting. One Harvard Business School study identified additional side effects associated with goal setting, which they listed as:

  • A narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas
  • A rise in unethical behavior 
  • Distorted risk preferences
  • Corrosion of organizational culture
  • Reduced intrinsic motivation

Additionally, companies that adopt the Jack Welch methodology of setting "stretch goals" for employees — goals that are virtually unattainable by design in order to shake employees out of their ruts, and achieve more than they would have with a more realistic goal — could be doing their companies more harm than good in the long term.

Aubrey Daniels, a pioneer in performance management and clinical psychologist, presents studies that show when employees fail to reach their stretch goals, there’s a performance decline afterward because of the disappointment they feel upon not reaching goals they worked so hard to achieve.

Some of this has to do with the way goals are measured. By design, they must be objective — you either hit that goal, or you didn’t. In other words, there is no A for effort, no matter how close you came or how hard you worked. It’s logical to expect a subsequent decline in performance due to the demoralization that may set in after facing that realization.

But these stretch goals can also lead to desperate behavior. Researchers have noticed that often stretch goals are employed as a last ditch effort in times of crisis. More importantly, stretch goals can encourage dishonest or unwise behavior simply because employees are desperate to hit an unattainable goal.

This is all to say that if you think ’tis better to set a goal and miss than never to set a goal at all — you may want to examine your goals more closely before nailing your proclamation to the office doors.

To goal or not to goal?

So. Setting goals. Should you even bother?

As with many aspects of performance management and organizational behavior, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach one can adopt. With goal-setting in particular, there are too many moving parts to consider: how employees are motivated, team dynamic, management’s capabilities and involvement, and, of course, the goal itself and your plan for achieving it.

This isn’t to say we should eradicate goals in the workplace. Despite the brief existential crisis a few paragraph up, I still believe in the merits of setting goals. I also think that doing it correctly can be quite the bother — but a bother nonetheless worth doing. The podcast I referenced quoted a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Adam Galinsky, that summed up my hesitations nicely:

"Goal setting has been treated like an over-the-counter medication, when it should really be treated with more care, as a prescription strength medicine."

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Nov

7

2014

The Top 20 LinkedIn Pulse Articles of All Time

li-pulse"All time" here is like a year or so. Pulse isn’t that old.

But that’s been plenty of time for the platform to enjoy a veritable landslide of digital musings from ninjas and gurus from here to world’s end. As with any open content platform, there’s going to be some hogwash to sort through, but LinkedIn does a nice job at surfacing the good, relevant stuff into your News Feed.

And luckily for me, they also make it pretty easy to sort through the entire archive of Pulse articles based on their popularity. How convenient for a blogger writing about the top Pulse articles of all time. Heh.

So, here are the top 20 LinkedIn Pulse articles "of all time" as ranked by LinkedIn Pulse, themselves.

#1: How Successful People Stay Calm, Dr. Travis Bradberry

Views: 2,867,000 Likes: 27,655 Comments: 3,345

"Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression, and obesity, stress decreases your cognitive performance. Fortunately, though, unless a lion is chasing you, the bulk of your stress is subjective and under your control. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances. This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is intermittent and not prolonged."

Read the rest here.

#2: 6 Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away: How to Recognize Them in Yourself and Change Them, Kathy Caprino

Views: 2,791,840 Likes: 3,995 Comments: 923

"People are toxic to be around when they believe that everything that happens in life is a direct assault on them or is in some way all about them. The reality is that what people say and do to you is much more about them than you. People’s reactions to you are about their filters, and their perspectives, wounds, and experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re the worst, again, it’s more about them. I’m not saying we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback. I am saying that so much hurt, disappointment, and sadness in our lives comes from our taking things personally when it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of others’ good or bad opinion of you."

Read the rest here.

#3: 11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader, Dave Kerpen

Views: 2,721,388 Likes: 26,915 Comments: 7,498

"The world is more complex than ever before, and yet what customers often respond to best is simplicity — in design, form, and function. Taking complex projects, challenges, and ideas and distilling them to their simplest components allows customers, staff, and other stakeholders to better understand and buy into your vision. We humans all crave simplicity, and so today’s leader must be focused and deliver simplicity."

Read the rest here.

#4: Caffeine: The Silent Killer of Success, Dr. Travis Bradberry

Views: 2,073,439 Likes: 5,391 Comments: 2,677

"Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state, your emotions overrun your behavior."

Read the rest here.

#5: The No. 1 Career Mistake Capable People Make, Greg McKeown

Views: 2,023,066 Likes: 12,360 Comments: 4,809

"Capable people end up doing lots of projects well but are distracted from what would otherwise be their highest point of contribution, which I define as the intersection of talent, passion and market (see more on this in the Harvard Business Review article "The Disciplined Pursuit of Less"). Then, both the company and the employee lose out."

Read the rest here.

#6: Three Things I’ve Learned From Warren Buffet, Bill Gates

Views: 1,924,957 Likes: 11,641 Comments: 4,368

"He says a shareholder has to act as if he owns the entire business, looking at the future profit stream and deciding what it’s worth. And you have to be willing to ignore the market rather than follow it, because you want to take advantage of the market’s mistakes — the companies that have been underpriced."

Read the rest here.

#7: 10 Things to Do Every Workday, J.T. O’Donnell

Views: 1,873,362 Likes: 9.686 Comments: 3,196

"You don’t wait to do the work until you get the dream job — you do the work in order to get the dream job."

Read the rest here.

#8: The One Thing Successful People Never Do, Bernard Marr

Views: 1,850,236 Likes: 9.948 Comments: 3,123

"You could argue that every experience of failure increases the hunger for success. The truly successful won’t be beaten — they take responsibility for failure, learn from it, and start all over from a stronger position."

Read the rest here.

#9: Stop Using These 16 Terms to Describe Yourself, Jeff Haden

Views: 1,744,502 Likes: 7,360 Comments: 3,329

"Do you describe yourself differently — on your website, promotional materials, or especially on social media — than you do in person? Do you use cheesy clichés and overblown superlatives and breathless adjectives? Do you write things about yourself you would never have the nerve to actually say?"

Read the rest here.

#10: Affiliate Marketing: Grow Your Sales, Monetize Your Traffic, Frank Ravanelli

Views: 1,738,515 Likes: 682 Comments: 86

"No matter from which perspective you approach affiliate marketing, you need to remember its golden rule: SUCCESS = Traffic * Conversion Rate * Earnings."

Read the rest here.

#11: 9 Things Successful People Won’t Do, Dr. Travis Bradberry

Views: 1,597,550 Likes: 12,447 Comments: 1,486

"When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something that they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or accomplishments take that away from them."

Read the rest here.

#12: The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them, Laszlo Bock

Views: 1,593,501 Likes: 10,423 Comments: 3,016

"A good rule of thumb is one page of resume for every ten years of work experience. Hard to fit it all in, right? But a three or four or ten page resume simply won’t get read closely. As Blaise Pascal wrote, ‘I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.’"

Read the rest here.

#13: 9 Qualities of Truly Confident People, Dharmesh Shah

Views: 1,536,671 Likes: 12,683 Comments: 4,527

"First things first: Confidence is not bravado, or swagger, or an overt pretense of bravery. Confidence is not some bold or brash air of self-belief directed at others. Confidence is quiet: It’s a natural expression of ability, expertise, and self-regard."

Read the rest here.

#14: 8 Things Productive People Do During the Workday, Ilya Pozin

Views: 1,533,591 Likes: 10,160 Comments: 2,420

"While no one likes admitting it, sheer laziness is the No. 1 contributor to lost productivity. In fact, a number of time-saving methods — take meetings and emails for example — are actually just ways to get out of doing real work. "

Read the rest here.

#15: 10 Reasons You Have to Quit Your Job in 2014, James Altucher

Views: 1,464,370 Likes: 8,271 Comments: 2,736

"People spend what they make. If your salary increases $5,000, you spend an extra $2,000 on features for your car, you have an affair, you buy a new computer, a better couch, a bigger TV, and then you ask, ‘where did all the money go?’ Even though you needed none of the above now you need one more thing: another increase in your salary, so back to the corporate casino for one more try at the salary roulette wheel. I have never once seen anyone save the increase in their salary. In other words, don’t stay at the job for safe salary increases over time. That will never get you where you want — freedom from financial worry. Only free time, imagination, creativity, and an ability to disappear will help you deliver value that nobody ever delivered before in the history of mankind."

Read the rest here.

#16: Stop Using These 30 Phrases at Work, Bernard Marr

Views: 1,351,228 Likes: 3,808 Comments: 7,626

"Are your meetings buzzing with so much management lingo that you find it hard to get to the real meaning of what is being said? The problem I have with these phrases is that they sound so pretentious and often are counter-productive because they irritate people so much and deflect from the real meaning."

Read the rest here.

#17: The Top 5 Things You Should Never Do At Work, Kathy Caprino

Views: 1,350,900 Likes: 6,804 Comments: 2,474

"Literally the biggest lesson I’ve learned in business is that success is all about relationships. It’s truly about who you know, and how they feel and think about you (and how you make them feel). I’m not saying that your amazing talent and skill aren’t important. Of course they are. I am saying that we don’t thrive and succeed alone. We need other people. And these people are not just our former bosses — they are people who reported to you, teamed with you, shared coffee and drinks with you, took training sessions with you, got yelled at alongside of you, and weathered tough times with you."

Read the rest here.

#18: How I Hire: Focus On Personality, Richard Branson

Views: 1,325,996 Likes: 14,992 Comments: 4,497

"Some managers get hung up on qualifications. I only look at them after everything else. If somebody has five degrees and more A grades than you can fit on one side of paper, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right person for the job. Great grades count for nothing if they aren’t partnered with broad-ranging experience and a winning personality."

Read the rest here.

#19: The Most Important Interview Question of All Time – Part 1, Lou Adler

Views: 1,287,366 Likes: 7,170 Comments: 1,987

"The details underlying the accomplishment are what’s most important. This is what real interviewing is about — getting into the details and comparing what the candidate has accomplished in comparison to what needs to be accomplished."

Read the rest here.

#20: The 3 Questions People Always Forget to Ask in an Interview, James Caan

Views: 1,242,923 Likes: 3,805 Comments: 1,307

"It is important to show any prospective employee that you are the type of person who is ambitious and is looking to move their career forward. No one wants to take on an individual who is going to be content to coast and you need to show that you are not coming along just for an easy ride. Any ambitious and forward-thinking company will be looking for like minded individuals."

Read the rest here.

What do you think of their ranking? Leave your favorite in the comments — especially if it didn’t make their top 20. Yet.

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