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10 Steps to Achieving Work-Life Balance: Small Business Edition

Wed, 09/18/2013 - 06:00

When you run your own business, having a personal life tends to placed on the back burner, and not just when you’re first starting out. Cultivating a balance between running your business and living your life is essential to the health of your company. Without time to relax and socialize, you may miss opportunities for the kind of creative growth that leads to truly successful business ideas.

Here are 10 ways to achieve and maintain the work-life balance you’ve been longing for.

1. Do less

You don’t have to do everything at once, and you certainly don’t have to get everything finished today. By setting small, achievable goals (like finishing two important items instead of seven or eight), you’ll get more done by doing less. With fewer tasks to focus on each day, you’ll be able to give each job the undivided attention it deserves. The quality of your work will improve and you’ll feel less burnt out.

2. Set an end time

When you’re your own boss, it’s easy to get caught up working nights and weekends and everything in between. Decide on an end time, like 6 p.m., and stop working at that time each day. You’ll be inspired to get more done during the day in order to finish before the clock runs out, and you’ll actually have time (and energy) for a personal life in the evenings.

3. Stick to a schedule

Whether it’s weekends off, taking a mid-week “weekend” every Wednesday, or getting into the office at 10 a.m. each day, a set schedule will greatly improve your work-life balance. Use the time off to reconnect with family and friends, enjoy your favorite activities, or just relax. Make sure that your schedule allows for ample time away from work.

4. Commit to socializing

When setting plans to see friends and loved ones, you may be tempted to let work dictate your level of commitment. “I’ll see how much I get done” tends to be the answer of many entrepreneurs when asked to commit to a social event more than a few hours in the future. Force yourself to give a firm “yes,” then stand by that commitment. Treating fun, non-work events like important appointments ensures that you’ll show up and get some all-important face time with people besides your team and clients.

5. Maintain boundaries

If you make yourself available to clients 24/7, they’ll come to expect it. Set boundaries and office hours, and stick to them no matter what. You don’t have to return phone calls or emails within an hour every time. Setting a standard can help set expectations; for example, you could inform clients that you’ll get back to them within 24 business hours.

6. Really be “out of the office”

Do you often find yourself out with friends but constantly fielding calls or checking your email? Next time, turn off your phone and leave it in your car, or assign one of your friends as the “phone police” and make sure they enforce your no-phone rule while out. After all, you won’t receive the benefits of socializing if you’re working during that time.

7. Take breaks

A 10-hour workday doesn’t need to mean working for ten hours straight. Take frequent, short breaks to maintain energy and focus throughout the day. And yes, that includes taking a few minutes to call your spouse or answer a personal email. A few minutes of personal time during the workday is perfectly acceptable and normal.

8. Personalize your workspace

You spend a lot of time working, so make sure your work environment is inspiring. Bring your dog to the office (if appropriate), buy yourself a plant, and fill your space with photographs or artwork that makes you happy.

9. Take vacations

Solopreneurs may not have assigned vacation days, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a break! Check in with your regularly employed friends and be sure you’re taking a similar amount of days off each year.

10. Stay organized

It’s impossible to maintain work-life balance when you’re buried under paper clutter. Keep your workspace organized with a service like Shoeboxed, which will scan and digitize your receipts and paper documents for you. With a clean desktop and an organized office, you’ll be better able to leave work behind at the end of each day.

How have you achieved a work-life balance?

This post contributed by Emily Farrar. Farrar is the Lead Customer Advocate at Shoeboxed, the fastest way to turn a pile of paper receipts into digital data for effortless expense reporting and bookkeeping.

© 2013, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Find Your Company’s Hidden Marketer

Tue, 09/17/2013 - 06:00

Wearing many different hats is a part of any small business, but as you expand and grow, allowing members of your team to take on additional tasks can help free up time for work only you can do. As you become more aware of the value of your own time, you’ll want to hand off some activities to motivated and capable employees; and marketing—a time-consuming but essential activity that always benefits from diverse personalities and perspectives—may well be at the top the list. You may well have a marketing star hidden in your organization: here are a few tips for uncovering him or her and bringing out their natural Mad Man.

Experiment by spreading marketing responsibility around

“You just have to give everyone the opportunity,” explains Stella Fayman, CEO and co-founder of Matchist, a startup that connects freelance web and mobile developers with companies looking for talent. By having everyone in her organization working on a wide variety of projects, she’s better able to analyze people’s motivation and ability in many different tasks.

“When we started blogging, we created a Google doc that listed the topics for each blog post, who would write each one, the date it published, and then a checklist of places to do outreach,” Fayman recalls. Her entire staff had to blog at least once a week, and they’d compete to see whose post got the most traffic.

Remember that marketing reaches across your business and talent pool. It isn’t just about writing content or promoting products on social media. It includes marketing research, public relations, advertising and graphic design. Knowing the specific strengths of each of your employees can help you determine where they can best plug into your overall marketing strategy. Let each person take a crack at writing content, pitching in on various social media platforms, speaking with clients, organizing events, and/or giving suggestions for your overall marketing strategy, and keep track of the results.

Create a process

“When your team experiments with writing blog posts or different types of tweets, you should track what works and make a process document out of it. Then you can delegate more easily to your employees, because you have a process written out,” Fayman says.

A process document improves efficiency and eliminates the need to constantly teach new employees the same thing over and over. It also speeds up the learning curve, getting employees up to speed on what’s working across the company and making it easier for them to dip a toe in the marketing field.

Gauge interest

Whether one of your employees can pitch in on marketing activities isn’t strictly about talent, but also about how invested they are in those specific projects. “You can tell if it’s something they really enjoy doing,” Fayman said, so even if one of your employees is fairly good at content marketing or speaking with clients, for example, they may not be the best person to work on it if the interest isn’t there. “It’s not worth it to try to force them to do something,” she explains.

Conversely, if someone is very motivated and enjoys marketing, you can work with them to get their skills up to par, either by providing a mentor and additional resources, or by offering feedback and helping your employee set goals to work towards.

Just don’t try to do everything yourself. It can be tempting to redo work you’ve assigned that’s not up to par, but defeats the purpose of delegating activities. Instead, allow people a second chance to improve upon their work by explaining specifically what needs improvement. This helps them develop and grow, as well as improve upon a valuable skill that you can then rely on them to provide for your business with more precision the next time.

Start small

Before throwing an employee into the deep end, give them the opportunity to hone and refine their skills by working on tasks that are relatively low-risk. This will help them build confidence and improve their performance, preparing them for increasingly challenging marketing activities where the stakes are higher.

Balance individual voices and brand consistency

“I think a mistake a lot of small businesses make is to look at what competitors are doing, instead of finding their own unique voice,” Fayman says. Instead of having employees read big brand blogs in your industry and try to emulate their style, encourage employees to find their own individual voice.

Allowing for individuality, however, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t stay consistent with what your company as a whole is doing, so it’s important to set parameters and clear expectations. Do you expect your content marketing to be conversational and casual, or a bit more formal? Are you looking for data-driven posts, or for opinions? Letting your team know what the non-negotiables are and where there’s room for individual flair is key.

​“When you’re delegating, you have to allow people to take ownership of the project. Allowing them to have some creativity makes it feel like it’s their own, which makes the project more pleasant, fun and motivating,” Fayman says.

She encouraged each of her employees to maintain their distinct voice, so long as the content was valuable to readers, honest and transparent, and included links to good sources. “Some of our team members had more of a sense of humor,” she said, such as Rishi Kumar’s post on why investors care about the most useless slide in your pitch deck. Other posts included more technical information, such as Tim Jahn’s post on the difference between a domain name and hosting. These posts were radically different but were both acceptable, since they met the criteria described above.

Assess performance

We mentioned gauging employee’s motivation and engagement in different marketing activities as a key indicator of who should continue working in this department. Setting clear expectations and goals and analyzing customer engagement, conversion and sales will help the hidden marketers in your company rise to the top.

 This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at

© 2013, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Facebook Rolls out Ad Format Improvements

Mon, 09/16/2013 - 09:46

In an effort to make Facebook ads more engaging and appealing, the company announced early last week they’ve rolled out a larger ad format. Ad specs are consistent across ad placements, making it easier for advertisers, who previously had to upload different images sizes for different placement types.

Image courtesy of Facebook

Facebook’s Ad Product Guide outlines the most significant changes including:

  1. Larger images: Image sizes were increased in many ad units to give advertisers more room to display their brand or products. Facebook recommends that you use images that are at least 1,200 pixels wide so the image shows appropriately on all ad placements.
  2. Can use same ad images: You can use the same ads image for desktop and mobile News Feed.
  3. More consistent ad elements and formats: This includes: standardization of text truncation rules, clear recommendations for the best image sizes and character counts, and more precise details about when and how much additional content is pulled into an ad

To learn more, check out the updated Ads Product Guide, which has all of the new details on the Facebook ad formats. You can also Like Facebook’s Marketing page to keep up-to-date on changes.

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Become a Master of Productivity with IFTTT [VIDEO]

Mon, 09/16/2013 - 06:00

Do you feel that everyday should have 30+ hours in it? Yeah, we do too. It seems like there are always a few little things that you just can’t seem to check off your ever growing to-do list. Did you send enough tweets? Connect with new followers? Luckily there’s a tool that can help you with all those things and tons more.

“If This Then That,” or better known as IFTTT, is the ultimate tool for anyone looking to save time and have the Internet do the heavy lifting for you. How? With IFTTT, the service allows you to connect two applications together based on defined, specific parameters known as triggers. You use different triggers, such as a tweet or Facebook post to create “recipes,” which help you become more productive. ex: “When a I make a sale on Etsy, send me a text message,” or, “When I update my Facebook page profile picture, update my Twitter profile picture.” Once you start creating recipes, it becomes fun trying to think of cool new ways to have IFTTT do the work for you.

Here are some popular IFTTT recipes to get you started. Stephanie Buck also wrote an article on Mashable titled, “10 IFTTT Recipes to Optimize Your Business,” for even more ideas.

In this video, we show you how to set up an IFTTT recipe to get email alerts whenever a new job is posted on Craigslist.


Have any IFTTT recipes you use to be more productive? Share away in the comments!

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What’s New Weekly: Twitter’s IPO and Super Cool App GameGuy [VIDEO]

Sat, 09/14/2013 - 06:00

We’re back with another episode of “What’s New Weekly.” In this episode, we share the breaking news of Twitter’s impending Initial Public Offering and highlight a cool new app called GameGuy that tells you when your NFL game returns to live action.


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VR Email Tests That Could Boost Your Results, Too

Fri, 09/13/2013 - 06:00

Here at VerticalResponse, our marketing team has a motto, “Don’t Guess, Test.” Testing is crucial to anyone’s marketing success. Finding the right subject lines, formats, images, templates, wording and offers to maximize customer engagement and sales helps drive your business. Testing keeps your marketing tactics from becoming stagnant or outdated. And, just because a specific tactic has worked in the past doesn’t mean there aren’t different ones that can be tested. While it’s important to do your own testing, there’s plenty to learn from others. So here are three things we’ve put to the test and their revealing results:

1) Benefit-Driven Subject Lines - Crafting the right subject line for an email can be tricky. One email test we conducted pitted two different subject lines against each other to see how the order of certain words affected the open rates. The email, which offered free email credits with a purchase, was sent evenly to two groups of prospective customers who had not yet made a purchase. The two subject lines were:


Our test showed that by putting the offer of “Get 900 Free” first, we had a 1.5x higher open rate. This makes sense, as folks may be more likely to open an email when the first thing they see is a free offer rather than the action they must take to receive the offer. From this and other similar tests we learned that a benefit-driven subject line, offering something first rather than requesting an action first, can increase engagement (and sales!). Learn more about writing successful subject lines in our free guide, “Savvy Subject Line Writing for Success.

2) Keeping it Simple - As marketers, we’re never ones to be short on words, but including too much information in an email can sometimes backfire. That’s why simplicity in an offer/promotion, or announcement email can be very effective. While you want your message to be clear, several of our email tests showed a higher percentage of customer responses and purchases when we kept the email short and to-the-point. In fact, some emails we sent were trimmed down to the point of just including a subject line, a pre-header, and a brief two sentence explanation of the offer or news and an easily clickable call-to-action button to take them to a webpage for more information. So the trick then becomes being clear and concise and giving just enough information to interest your customers. Then, link to your website or some other content with additional information. Below are two examples of a longer copy email vs. a short copy email.

Complex Email:


Simple Email:

3) Adding that Personal Touch - When sending to a large list, adding a small personal touch can do a lot to increase your click through rates. Rather than using the impersonal “Dear Customer” or “To Whom it May Concern,” using a customer’s first name in the salutation can help get attention and draw your recipients into your message. We’ve tested multiple emails with and without the first name field, and our results have consistently shown that in promotional emails specifically, using the personalized merge fields has increased clicks and opens. VerticalResponse makes it easy to merge data, like customer first names from your mailing lists. Learn how in our simple tutorial: How To Personalize an Email.

These examples are just a few of the many things that can be tested in an email. Run any interesting email tests of your own? Share your findings in the comments – They may just inspire our next blog post.

© 2013, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Google Updates Webmaster Tools, Now Showing More Backlinks

Thu, 09/12/2013 - 10:10

At SES in San Francisco this morning, Matt Cutts, of Google announced that since last night, Google Webmaster Tools is now showing more back links and a better diversity of links that are available to download. Previously, he said that links were sorted A-Z and the first 100,000 links were given. This has been a very frustrating point for many SEOs and webmasters trying to dig themselves out of a Google Penalty. This is great news for many webmasters who have larger amounts of back links and are unable to rid themselves of toxic or poor quality links. For a example, at VerticalResponse, the 100,000 links would only be around 10-15% of the total links pointing to our site, according to Google.

Matt said an official Google blog post will be up within the hour and we will keep you updated with that. Here is a tweet from SES San Francisco, right after Matt’s announcement.

NEW INFO: Google Webmaster Tools has radically improved links they show to webmasters via @mattcutts #SESSF cc/ @dannysullivan @rustybrick

— Chipper Nicodemus (@chipnicodemus) September 12, 2013

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The Ultimate Twitter Profile [Infographic]

Thu, 09/12/2013 - 07:00

Whether you’re the cream of engagement crop on Twitter, or just getting started, knowing how to put your best tweets forward is essential for social media growth. But crafting retweet-worthy content isn’t the only key to unlocking the kingdom of Twitter engagement. Sporting a savvy profile and understanding Twitter dos-and don’ts will also make you stand out from the birds of a feather.

So what does a sharp Twitter profile look like, and what are the top-notch best tweeting best practices? We’ve compiled all this information for you in our Ultimate Twitter Profile mockup/infographic below (click the image to zoom in). Read, repeat and retweet:

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Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

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How to Choose Vibrant Photos for Your Content

Thu, 09/12/2013 - 06:00

You’ve just finished creating a masterful email campaign for your business. It has a punchy headline, a crafty message and error-free copy. After hours of writing and editing, you’re ready to push the launch button. You just need to grab a quick stock image to go with it and suddenly you find yourself stuck. None of the photos looks like a good fit. You start questioning the size and subject you had in mind.

Emily Nichols, an interactive director at a Des Moines advertising company, says this scenario plays out in many small businesses.

“Somehow in the digital world, images have become an afterthought,” she adds. “People love to say, ‘Content is king,’ but people who say that treat images like an ugly step-sister. Images and content should share the same weight, especially when it comes to email or social media campaigns.”

Nichols, who specializes in creating visual content such as infographics for the ad agency LessingFlynn, says the success of an email or social media campaign is directly linked to the quality of both the text and the images.

“A viewer is more likely to click on the content if their eye is drawn to an attractive image,” she says. “If a picture is worth a thousand words in the print world, it’s worth even more in the digital world. The internet is a visual medium and the sooner a small business realizes that, the better off their campaigns will be.”

There are plenty of how-to tips to get your content to stand out, but there isn’t as much attention paid to selecting and using good images. Nichols offers these tips to make sure your images are just as good as your content.

Use original photos whenever possible

Using generic pictures from a stock site is okay but, Nichols says, original photos always work best. If your campaign talks about a new product, having a picture of it is key. By taking that picture yourself, the image and content will align even better.

Finding photos for abstract topics

There will come a time when you’re dealing with an abstract topic, like marketing, and can’t come up with any image you can take yourself. When you’re stuck, Nichols says it’s time to turn to stock images. However, that doesn’t mean you should use the first generic image you find. Nichols advises people to use broad search terms when sifting through images online to get the biggest selection. Think outside the box and try to find a picture that tells a story on its own.

Size matters

Save the picture in your editing software to the size you want. Size will vary depending on your layout. Nichols also suggests setting the resolution at 72 ppi, which is a web standard. With the size and resolution set, when you upload the picture, it won’t look blurry or get cropped into an odd thumbnail, (as seen on Skittles’ Facebook page) where the company name is cut off.

Draw the eye

Every picture should have a focal point. A photo, like this shot taken at the Tour de France (Photograph by John Berry/Getting Images), doesn’t draw the eye to any one particular point. The viewer doesn’t get much from the picture, Nichols says. To ensure the photo you take has a focal point, show it to a coworker and ask them to identify the first thing they see. If their answer isn’t the intended focal point, use another image.

Utilize vibrant colors

Every image you use should be a vibrant display of color, Nichols says. This image of a bird courtesy of The Nature Conservancy not only has a great focal point, but it also showcases an array of colors. You can use photo-editing software or apps to enhance the colors of the photos you want to use.

Edit to enhance

When it comes to editing photos, the rules can get a little murky. Some people believe any form of editing is wrong, but Nichols say there’s more to the argument than that. Her rule of thumb is to edit a picture to enhance it, not alter it. In other words, edits such as color correction and red eye removal are okay. When you start cropping people’s faces out and replacing them with others, that’s crossing the line.

This post contributed by guest author, Lisa Furgison. Furgison is a media maven with ten years of journalism experience and a passion for creating top-notch content.

© 2013, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Quality vs. Quantity? Content Marketing Pros Pick Sides

Wed, 09/11/2013 - 13:42

While attending Content Marketing World (#CMWorld) in Cleveland this week, we had the opportunity to attend an all-star panel discussion called, Quality vs Quantity: How Much Content is Enough? How Good Does it Have to Be?  

The content marketing pro panelists included:

The panel, (and this was no shy panel), was moderated by Michael Brenner from SAP. They passionately, and at times, heatedly debated content marketing topics including the hot topic as to whether quality vs. quantity is most important. To answer that, here’s a recap of the discussion, and then you can choose what side of the fence you’re on.

Quantity vs. Quality – Which is better for content marketing?

Joe: Quantity. You can create something awesome, then have to go back and take 3 months to create your next great thing. What happens during that time?

Marcus: Quantity. What is “good”? Today, someone might like it, tomorrow not so much. It’s intimidating for people who are too afraid to create content because they think it must be epic. Let quantity lead to quality. Content marketing is not launching a rocket. Just do it.

Heather: Quality. If your content is full of noise and is crap, people will run from it (bounce). It’s a balance.

Rob: Quality. Your company content standards and quality guidelines will dictate what is good. It’s an on-going process. You learn from what you’ve done and you can do more from there.

What is the main objective of content marketing?

Rob: We recently surveyed 200 marketers, and they replied that engagement, then brand awareness followed by lead generation are the main objectives.

Heather: The power of content marketing is lead generation. Content Marketing fuels the sales funnel.

Joe: Marketing’s job is to get the sales team enough leads and let them sell. Generate awareness.

Marcus: Your company’s job (and that of your content) is to be the best teacher and facilitator for your customers.


Should Content Marketing Be Forced to Prove ROI (Return on Investment)?

Marcus: Yes. If we ever want this industry to move forward. *Note: His blog has generated over $2 million in sales for River Pools and Spas. That’s some compelling ROI.

Heather: Everything is measurable. If we use the right data, we should be able to prove ROI for our content efforts.

Joe: How many shipwrecks do lighthouses prevent? Who knows? Yes, content marketing will need to prove ROI, but revenue can’t be the only metric we measure.

Rob: Yes, most marketing efforts are required to provide some measurable return.


How Much Should We Spend on Design? How Pretty Does it Need to Be?

Heather: Your content needs to be readable, recognizable, searchable and shareable.

Rob: It must be relevant and digestible.

Marcus: Perfection is the death of all good things in marketing. It can be good enough.

Joe: Pretty gets shared and consumed, but balance it.


Brand Standards – How Much Should We Focus On Them or Break the Mold?

Joe : I quit my job because of so much focus brand standards.

Heather: We get brand fatigue because we see everything we produce. We have to experiment. Don’t be afraid to switch it up.

Rob: It depends on what brand you are. Red Bull may be able to take more risks than a B2B company. You won’t get quality if you don’t have brand standards.

Marcus: I’m going to tell a story….there’s a cloud computing company with twelve employees. We spent an hour brainstorming questions their customers have about their product. Then we had all twelve employees spend 90 minutes for three days answering every question in the form of blog posts. It didn’t matter that the posts were from twelve different people because the content was so useful.

As you can see, even within the panel, there were mixed opinions about quality vs. quantity and on many of the other issues we face as content creators. What’s your take? Agree with one of the panelist? Or have a different point of view? Share in the comments.

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Surf’s Up! Don’t End Summer without These Email Calls-to-Action

Wed, 09/11/2013 - 06:00

Summer is winding to a close, but there’s still fun to be had; warm days and maybe even a beach getaway. But before that next big swell diverts your attention, let’s take a deeper look at various call-to-action (CTA) examples you should include in your emails. What exactly is a call-to-action? It’s basically what you’re trying to get your readers to do through your email. Want them to make a purchase? Download a whitepaper? Watch a video? Donate to your organization? These are all illustrations of a call-to-action, which are extremely important since they’re the enticing key to a click and/or a purchase.

We’ve written blog posts about CTAs, hosted webinars, and even have a free tool for creating CTA buttons since we know they’re a must-have in your emails. So, here’s a breakdown of what an effective CTA look like, and what makes it that way. Plus, we’ve shared a few summer-inspired ones from our own inboxes to help get your own creative juices flowing.

Before we plunge into our examples, here are a few things to remember about creating effective calls-to-action:

  1. Be clear and concise – Use one or two CTAs per email and be specific about what you want your readers to do.
  2. Use action verbs (Read, Buy, Subscribe, Learn, Donate, etc.)
  3. Links are important – Link exactly where you want readers to go

Here’s an email I received recently and it has all the elements of a successful call-to-action.

  1. Super subject line – Since this email example and call-to-action above from Orbitz is about summer, incorporating SPF into the subject line is fitting, fun and catchy. Plus, it hints at the call-to-action by mentioning a promo code.
  2. CTA text – In this email, the call-to-action is also accentuated in the entire body of the email, which means the reader knows exactly what they’re expected to do. In this case, they’ll get a 15% discount on hotel rooms by using the promo code. Short and sweet!
  3. CTA Button – A CTA button gets the same message across as the text of your email, but in a smaller amount of space. I love that in this example, Orbitz brought back the SPF theme from the subject line for their CTA: “Gimme that SPF.” And, since the reader knows the promo code involves SPF it makes the wording for the button a bit easier, and shorter.

Takeaways: This email gets straight to the point with what the reader is expected do, and does it in a really fun way. Don’t underestimate the power of an amusing subject line or CTA button – very eye catching! Plus, the word “gimme,” though maybe not grammatically correct, is an action verb and tells the reader exactly what is expected of them, or better yet, what they’re going to get.

To contrast the lively and sales-oriented CTA above, we’ve got one that’s a bit more serious. This next email also uses call-to-action in a marketing sense (“Receive our updates”) but still implies what they need the reader to do. This email is from a non-profit and they want their readers to take action for their cause, and not just by clicking on a button. They really have one call-to-action in the email; to support the non-profit, and they give the reader a few ways to do that.

Takeaways: Again, the use of action verbs is vital – “Voice your support,” “Sign our Petition.” And again, they’re very clear and concise what the reader is expected to with the info in the email.

While “Shop Now!” is effective, it’s also used by nearly everyone. Both of our email examples had creative and different CTAs; here are a few more that get to the point but in an unexpected way:

Take Survey
How To…
Click to Redeem
Confirm Now
View Our Fall Menu
Explore This Blend (coffee email)
Customer Favorites
Grab A Seat
Get All The Info
Get Cookin’
Get The Deal
Enroll Now
Look Inside

And of course, there are many more CTAS, including benefit-oriented (Save 40% Now). Spend a little time thinking about what you need your readers to do once they receive your email, and then brainstorm words that will most convey that action. Try mixing things up a bit from what you usually write and see if you get a better engagement or click through rate. Sometimes a fresh word or approach is all it takes to get your email readers interested! Cowabunga!

Have you seen fun call-to-actions lately? What are your favorites? Have any that really work for you? Share below in the comments!

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Overview: Apple’s Unveiling of the iPhone 5S and 5C

Tue, 09/10/2013 - 14:38

Well, it’s another sunny Tuesday in Cupertino, California and once again Apple, the mammoth tech giant, has the smart phone world in a lather. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, started his highly anticipated announcements with the really boring good stuff including info about the iTunes Festival series headlined by Lady Gaga, the new updated Apple Stores, an update to iWorks and a rehash of iOS7, which will be released on September 18.

But, we all know the real reason everyone tuned in was the unveiling of new iPhone(s). And this time around, it’s not just one new iPhone introduction, but two: the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C.

iPhone 5S

The iPhone 5S, which Apple is calling “most forward-thinking phone anyone’s ever made,” features some incredible new upgrades including:

New Processor

The new iPhone 5S’s foundation has been totally overhauled. The most eye-catching change comes from the new A7 processor. Without making your mind explode due to all the incredible tech specs of this new processor, we can just let you know that it’ll be faster and will have incredible capability when it comes to graphics. In fact, according to Apple, the new A7 processor will be more than twice as fast as the A6 (processor in the iPhone 5) with a 40X CPU performance bump and graphics that’ll be 56x faster. And, it’ll be backward compatible so all those current apps and games that you love will still be able to work on this new phone.

(Photo courtesy of c|net)

Apple has also integrated a new motion sensor in the phone called the M7. In conjunction with the A7 chip, the M7 monitors motion from the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass. This could be a prelude to the rumors of Apple’s suspected iWatch and will be key to taking health and fitness apps to the next level. It was mentioned at the announcement that Nike will be building a new app leveraging this new architecture in the iPhone 5s.

Phone Colors

The new iPhone 5S will be available in Silver, Gold, and a new Space Gray. Black will no longer be available as it scratched too easily in earlier phones.

(Photo courtesy of c|net)

Battery Life

Apple claims that you’ll be able to see 10 hours of battery life from LTE browsing, Wi-Fi browsing, watching video or 3G talk time. They also claim your battery will last for 40 hours of music listening and can stay in standby for 250 hours. Even though this isn’t much of an increase from the iPhone 5, it’s impressive considering the new processor, which will usually draw more battery power.

(Photo courtesy of c|net)


Even though the camera on the iPhone 5S is still only 8 megapixel, there were some rather cool updates. Included in the new phone is a 5-element, Apple-designed lens with f/2.2 aperture, a “TrueTone” flash, which gives you truer colors and even a 120fps slow-motion camera.

(Photo courtesy of c|net)


One of the really cool and high tech features of the new iPhone 5S is the TouchID. This technology allows you to use your fingerprint to unlock your phone. It reads your fingerprint at a very detailed level. Apple stated it scans at a 500 ppi resolution and it scans the sub-epidermal skin layers with 360 degree readability. We are talking cool future-esque stuff here. The TouchID intriguing part is that it can be used for iTunes purchases too.

(Photo courtesy of c|net)

Price & Availability

The price of the iPhone 5S is exactly the same as the iPhone 5, when it first launched. It’ll be $199 for the 16GB version, $299 for the 32GB version and $399 for the 64GB version. All of these prices are with a 2-year phone contract. The phone will be released on September 20, 2013 in several countries including the United States, United Kingdom, China, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and Singapore.

iPhone 5C

The iPhone 5C, which hit the rumor mill recently, is Apple’s attempt at the more entry-level market. It’s also a direct attempt to compete with the lower end Android phone market which is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s made of hard-coated polycarbonate as stated by Apple because they don’t want people to think it’s made out of plastic. You decide for yourself. In essences, it’s an iPhone 5 that comes with iOS7. They also come in some cool colors.

Cool Colors and Cases

The 80s have returned and they are taking over the iPhone.

(Photo courtesy of c|net)

And the mix and match cases are cool too. It reminds me of the good old Swatch Watch days.

(Photo courtesy of c|net)

Pricing & Availability

The price of the iPhone 5C is a little lower for a new iPhone but most talk around the blogosphere was the hope that Apple would have a free phone with a 2 year contract. Not the case. The cost is $99 for the 16GB version and $199 for the 32GB version. All of these prices are with a 2 year phone contract. Apple did announce there will be off-contract pricing for the 5C of $549 for the 16GB version and $649 for the 32GB version. Ouch! That’s not very inexpensive when you look at it that way. The phone will be available for pre-order on September 20, 2013.

Watch the full keynote here.

Do you plan on getting an iPhone 5S or 5C? What’re your thoughts on the new phones? Share away in the comments.

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How to Conduct Great Interviews for Even Greater Content

Tue, 09/10/2013 - 06:00

Adding outside voices to your content marketing strategy can keep your emails, webinars, social and /or blog posts fresh and diverse, while providing your readers with another perspective of your industry. Whether you’re interviewing thought leaders or highlighting successful clients, interviewing or featuring others can build trust, credibility and authority for your brand, and allow you to contribute to an ongoing conversation. Tap into a symphony of voices in your content, and you’ll not only help answer your readers’ most pressing questions, but establish yourself as an industry leader in the process. We spoke with Andrew Warner, founder of the website Mixergy, where he masterfully interviews proven entrepreneurs about how they built successful companies. He provided the following tips for getting outside voices to dish for your audience.

Ask questions to which you really want to know the answers

If you land an interview with a leader in your industry, it can be tempting to focus on what they’ve accomplished in an attempt to impress your audience with the size of their success. Don’t let that stop you from going deeper, and from delving into issues you’re dealing with yourself.

​“All those questions that are really painful for you are more interesting, because you’ll have a spin on them that’s unique to you, and since you’re really experiencing it, it becomes more meaningful,” says Warner. Your genuine curiosity and knowledge of the pain points in your industry makes it easy for you to pinpoint when an answer seems incomplete.

Warner did this himself when he interviewed author and thought leader Seth Godin.

​“I said, ‘Seth, you want us to build a tribe, but I can’t even get anyone to come to my site. What do I do?’ And in that question, by getting real with him, he was able to give me a really useful answer,” Warner recalls. ​The advice was particularly useful not just to his viewers, but to Warner as well. “I realized that I shouldn’t keep measuring myself by how many people are following me today, I should judge myself by whether I show up each day and whether I’m speaking my mind every day, and whether I’m being curious every day…and that helped me build a following.”

Don’t over-prepare

Warner recalls when he had spent so much time prepping for a video interview at one point, that it actually had a negative impact. “I read the book, I was prepared, I understood the book so well that as he was answering, I interrupted him to finish the answer for him! I over-prepared and forgot it was not about what I know, it’s about what the guest knows,” he said.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the basic background research on someone’s career or prepare questions and discussion topics in advance, but it does mean that you’ll want to ask the kind of questions your readers would be interested in, the kind that generate surprising and interesting responses.

Similarly, don’t try to impress the person you’re interviewing with your knowledge. Let them impress you and your audience.

Provide client case studies

Interviewing people who use your product or service is great for building brand awareness, so long as you’re offering valuable content instead of a prolonged sales pitch or long-form testimonial.

​“See if there’s something you can teach that will work outside of your product, and will be valuable to someone who may never sign up for the product at all,” Warner advises.

​For example, bestselling author Ramit Sethi has a series of case studies of clients who have dramatically increased their income, as a soft advertisement for an online course. Visual Website Optimizer has a series of case studies showing ways clients used their A/B testing tool and benefited from experiments conducted using their program. And of course, you can always check out the VerticalResponse case studies.

​“Now, that’s an ad [case study], but because they taught us what this client did and we were able to take that approach, that mindset, and those tactics and use them anywhere, it was useful on its own,” Warner explains.

Want to know how to write an excellent customer case study? Refer to our blog post: Gain More Credibility with a Customer Case Study

Do you conduct interviews to incorporate into your own content marketing? Have any tips to add to this list? Share them in the comments.

 This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at

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Intro to Remarketing Lists for Search Ads

Mon, 09/09/2013 - 06:00

Back in July, Google released Remarketing List for Search Ads out of beta along with Enhanced Campaigns. RLSA for short, allows you to tailor your search campaign to better target people who have visited your site before. Because these people have shown interest in your site, they can be considered more of a high value prospect, essentially worth more than other potential visitors due to the interest they have already expressed.

Unlike traditional Remarketing List, which allows you to show ads to people who have visited your site, RLSA gives you the unique ability to re-target users who have visited your site as they are actively searching for what you offer. This is both valuable and effective because it combines both user intent and context. According to the Google Adwords Blog,with RLSA, “you can modify your search ads, bids, and keywords based on visitors’ past activities on your website.”

For example, you can set bid modifiers to increase bids for past site visitors who visited certain pages or completed specific actions on your site, like spending a certain amount on a page, number of pages viewed, or an abandoned shopping cart. By showing users a relevant ad based on their previous actions, they have a higher chance of converting at a much lower cost than if they had potentially clicked on your ad again after performing a search query. RLSA can also be helpful because it allows you to better utilize broader keywords that may not perform at an optimal level within your regular search campaigns. Below are 3 ways that you can utilize RLSA Campaigns.

Effectively target and utilize broad match keywords with RLSA campaigns

In paid search, you may come across multiple keywords that although may bring in traffic, are just not affordable to compete for at a strong average position. With RLSA campaigns, you can target these keywords and only appear for those keywords when you reach people on your Remarketing list making it much more affordable and cost effective to show your ads for those particular keywords.

Omit specific audiences from seeing your paid search ads

By adding certain audiences to a negative Remarketing list, you can prevent your ads from being shown to that specific audience. For example, you can choose to weed out visitors who have already completed a purchase or taken some other desired action like signing up.

Move leads through each buying stage or cross sell other offerings

More often than not, potential buyers, or “leads”, will get caught at certain buying stages or at different stages within the “conversion funnel”. Maybe they signed up for your offering, but haven’t verified their account leaving them stuck in conversion limbo. By exposing this audience to an incentive like a promotion or a discount, you may get them to convert. Additionally, you can target someone who bought specific products with other products that complement what they’ve already purchased.

RLSA Campaigns are an effective way to amp up your remarketing efforts, as well as capitalize on otherwise missed opportunities. Once your Google Remarketing Tag and lists are set up, it’s easy to pick and choose which audiences should receive specific messages.


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What’s New Weekly: Spirit for Twitter and My Kids’ Adventures [VIDEO]

Sat, 09/07/2013 - 07:00

We’re back with another episode of “What’s New Weekly.” In this episode, we highlight a cool app called Spirit that allows you to schedule tweets to delete after certain period of time on Twitter (watch the video to find out why you  might want to do this), and a cool new online magazine called My Kids’ Adventures.

As always, look for a new episode every week.


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Twitter Lead Generation Cards: A Look Under the Hood [VIDEO]

Fri, 09/06/2013 - 06:00

Twitter released Lead Generation Cards to a limited number of advertisers back in May 2013. Now, Twitter Lead Generation Cards are open to everyone, including small and medium sized businesses who advertise on Twitter. These enhanced Twitter Promoted Tweets provide the ability to capture a name, @username and email associated with a Twitter account to enhance the reach of any business.

In this short video, we discuss detail about what a Twitter Lead Generation Card is, how it works, and how you can easily build one for your own business.


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Turn Customers into Advocates

Thu, 09/05/2013 - 06:00

Humans are social creatures, and as such, we are far more likely to read books, watch movies or visit restaurants recommended by someone close to us than we are to stumble across them on our own. Some people go so far as to seek out the opinions of their friends before making even a simple buying decision. That’s why a glowing review of your product or service from a customer to one of their friends can be more effective than any marketing campaign—or serves as a great complement to one. But how do you turn lukewarm customers into raving fans, who will sing the praises of your business offerings to anyone within earshot? Here are some key strategies that can turn your customers into advocates, both in person and online.

Let your personality shine

“To get people to like you on Facebook, they have to actually like you, and I think that’s something that’s often overlooked by brands,” says Laura Roeder, founder of LKR Social Media, a series of online training courses that teach small business owners how to set up and leverage social media marketing. “There’s no way to trick someone into becoming a customer advocate. They have to genuinely love your business and love your brand, and in order for that to happen they have to feel like they have a relationship with you,“ she adds.

That involves being more personal and sometimes more vulnerable than a lot of businesses want to be. After all, “you can’t have a personality that someone can connect with if you don’t have any personality at all,” Roeder points out. Anything that you’d feel comfortable discussing with a casual acquaintance is okay fodder for sharing in your communication, and readers may relate to you more when you post pictures, for example, or share small details from your life.

Addressing (or ignoring) negative comments

Getting criticism online is an unfortunate reality of putting yourself out there, but it’s important not to get caught up in random people who aren’t customers complaining about your posts or your business. “When you do turn your customers into advocates, they do a lot of that work for you. You’ll find that you often don’t have to go in and address certain concerns because your customers will pop up before you even get a chance to and say, ‘That’s not right’ or ‘That’s not accurate,’” Roeder says.

However, customers are also looking to see whether you react positively to online haters or lose your cool. Roeder always advises small business owners not to engage. “If it’s comments on your blog and your Facebook page, you are welcome to delete them. There is no law saying you have to keep them up, and if it’s just people being negative and making the space not fun for anyone else, there’s no reason you need to keep it there.” Use your best judgment in these cases because some folks frown upon deleting comments, etc. and it can back fire on you.

On the other hand, it can be a good idea to publicly address legitimate concerns.

​“If it’s a more valid criticism that doesn’t feel like someone just being hateful, then you probably do want to answer it, and that adds cred to your business. But that’s a different beast than what happens on the Internet with people just criticizing you for no reason at all,” says Roeder.

Although she has many customer advocates, Roeder never directs her fans to negative posts written about her. “I have seen things written about me on other blogs and I have seen…comments defending me, but I would never add fuel to the fire by linking to the post and saying, ‘Go over there and tell them that they’re wrong and what you think.’”

Ask for shares, but avoid gimmicky campaigns

Leverage people’s excitement for your product and content by asking them to help spread the word on social media. “Asking people to share something on Facebook or asking them to retweet is something you don’t want to abuse,” Roeder says; so don’t include requests on every single piece of content you put out there. Save it for the important ones.

You’ll want to steer clear of gimmicky tactics, though. “A lot of people will have campaigns where you have to email five friends for a gift,” she describes. “I try to avoid stuff like that.”

​Trying to pressure people into emailing five friends to get a gift doesn’t create a great user experience. “ Sometimes they’ll even do things like make up fake email addresses, or they will email their friends but with the caveat that ‘I had to do this thing because I wanted a free gift, and you can get a free gift, too,’” Roeder explains. “It doesn’t come across as very genuine. Instead of trying to think of a little trick to get people to share, make something great and make it easy to share with social media buttons; make it easy for people to post on Facebook, post on Twitter and Pin on Pinterest.” Having great content is far more important than gimmicks or tricks.

Explain why you’re excited

Instead of just asking for shares, make sure to let people know why you’re so excited about what you’re asking them to share or retweet, whether it’s a new program or a blog post you think solves people’s biggest problems. Letting people know that a new blog post is one of the best you’ve written, and will really help people with a legitimate problem they are struggling with is surprisingly effective.

​“Be genuine and say, ‘I really think this is a great post and I think people really need it. If you agree, and if you find it useful, please use the Facebook share function and share it on your timeline and share it on your page,’” Roeder recommends. “People appreciate a genuine ask, and people will share things they find useful.”

This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at

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4 Questions to Ask Yourself When Creating a Survey

Wed, 09/04/2013 - 06:00

You know you need to know your customers. Check. You also know that surveys can be a great way to get information. Check. You know how to create an effective survey. Not-so-much-of-a-check? Don’t be intimidated. Creating an effective survey is pretty simple, just keep these things mind and you’ll be rich with customer insights in no time.

What’s my goal?

You’re thinking about creating a survey because you want information about, or from your customers. But, have you thought about what specific pieces of information you want?

Are you just trying to get to know your customers or prospects better? Do you want specific information (like, “Do you plan to shop for a new car in the next 6 months?”) that will allow you to take action? Do you want feedback on your existing products or services? Determining your ultimate goal will help hone your survey.

What should I ask?

This is an art unto itself. The possibilities of what to ask in your survey are virtually endless, and specific to your business and goal. Think about what information will help you reach your goal, and ask questions that will elicit that information. For example, if my goal is to choose a new flavor of coffee for my café, income level is probably irrelevant.

To get objective information, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when creating your questions.

Good questions:

  • Ask non-leading questions: “How would you rate our customer service?” is much more objective than, “We have award-winning customer service. How would you rate us?”
  • Ask for only one piece of information: “Are you satisfied with our price and quality?” is really two questions.
  • Don’t presume facts: “What don’t you like about your current gym?” assumes the respondent is a gym member.

Check out more great advice for crafting a good survey at our help site.

I also like to add a couple of demographic questions when I create surveys for VerticalResponse, such as “how many employees do you have?” and “what industry are you in?” While it may not relate to your specific goal, it’s helpful in creating a total picture of you customers and prospects.

You also need to decide what type of questions you want to ask.  The two most basic types are multiple choice and open-ended.

If there are a limited number of possible answers to a question (“What day of the week do you shop for groceries?”), or you believe you know most of the likely responses (“What is your favorite flavor of our ice cream?”), multiple choice makes it quick and easy for the survey-taker.

Of course, there are many additional question types, such as rank order and differential scales, that are a bit more complex but can yield more detailed insights. has good review of different types of questions and pitfalls to avoid.

An important, often overlooked aspect of creating a useful question is, make sure your response options are not overlapping. Using the example of shopping for a car from above, if I want to know when you plan to buy a new car, giving options of 0-3 months, 3-6 months, and 6 months-12 months can lead to poor data. Someone planning to shop in 6 months could choose either 3-6 months or 6-12 months. Your plan for communicating with someone making a purchase within 3 months (the low end of one option) should be very different than someone who won’t be ready for a year (the high end of the other option).

How will I administer the survey?

You have a goal, and you’re armed with relevant questions. Now what? There’s always the good, old-fashioned paper survey you hand out or send in the mail. It’s simple to create and administer, but you have to tabulate all the data by hand and may get a low response due to folks having to mail it back.

An easier way to get your customers’ insights is through an online survey tool like the VerticalResponse survey tool or SurveyMonkey. Most survey products will guide you through creating your survey and give you a web link you can share through email or on your Facebook page. Best of all, you get built in reporting, so your data is right at your fingertips.

What do the results mean?

It’s tempting to get your results and think, “Woo hoo – I’m done!” After all, you now should have a better understanding of your customers. But don’t stop there – this is where the rubber meets the road. What actions can you take based on what you’ve learned?

Have you learned that your customers are time-crunched? Your marketing message can highlight how your product or service saves time. Do they want a wider selection of products? Follow up to find out specifically what they want. Did someone mention a bad customer service experience? Make it right for them. Take your new-found insights and take action with them.

What’s the most helpful piece of information you’ve gleaned from a survey?

© 2013, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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What Google’s Latest Panda Update Means for Your SEO

Tue, 09/03/2013 - 06:00

When Google’s so-called Panda update dropped in 2011, it turned the world of search on its head: quality, not keywords, would dominate from here on out and content would be king. Now Google has updated its algorithms again—call it Panda 2.0—and every marketer and small business needs to adapt once more…but this time Google is making it trickier by refusing to go public with its changes. We chatted with search experts to find out what you can do to make sure your company’s content and search strategies are firing on all cylinders.

The biggest difference between the original Panda update and the latest iteration is Google’s public silence: the search giant officially released virtually no details of the update, but the search marketing community is abuzz with talk of ongoing changes and rampant speculation about what it means for search optimization.

While details of the update are hard to come by, our experts all agreed that quality, audience and user experience are more important than ever. Here are some specific suggestions any small business can follow.

1. Focus on overall marketing, not just search optimization

“If you are devising a way to do anything that is built exclusively for links, and that strategy becomes popular in the search engine optimization community or the marketing community, at some point, Google is going to figure it out and devalue that technique,” says Ryan Evans, founder of public relations firm BiteSize PR . “Google’s job is to rank the best sites in the world for a given query. If whatever you’re doing isn’t the best content, you’re going against what they have a $300 billion interest in maintaining.”

Dan Reno, SEO director at online marketing agency Be Found Online, agrees.

“If you’re ever going to recommend something that could be affected so significantly by just one Google update, you’re probably doing several things incorrectly,” he says. “A lot of it comes down to common sense. If what you’re doing doesn’t have an impact somewhere else, or [would] be viewed as a viable marketing tactic for other reasons, chances are you’re probably barking up the wrong tree,” he adds.

Instead, consider SEO as just one facet of an overall marketing goal. Web content should draw attention and help individual readers, rather than just build search engine rankings.

2. Create valuable content

If you’re a business owner looking to draw attention to your products or services, you may have considered writing guest posts for high traffic sites in exchange for a backlink or two, either within the text or in your bio. But before you whip up these posts, you’ll want to make sure that they are remarkably useful for the reader, and that each post is individually crafted for the site where it will be posted. Writing similar posts for multiple sites isn’t recommended.

Writing a high quality guest post for a website in exchange for a backlink can be a good strategy to build awareness of a product or service, but Google now warns against “large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.” Translation: don’t spam the Web with copies of your product pitch masquerading as an op-ed. That doesn’t mean that you can’t include a link back to your site with a high quality guest post, but it does mean that writing posts that are similar to one another for the specific purpose of getting backlinks is not advisable.

“If the intent for the guest post is greater than just getting a link back to that site, in most cases you should be in the clear, because there should be greater benefit than just that link; it should be adding value,” Reno explains.

3. Use “nofollow” for links Google may consider unnatural, including those in press releases

Many business owners include links to their own sites when distributing press releases en masse through newswires or other paid distribution services. But as Google continues to devalue what they consider “unnatural” links, they recommend using a “no-follow” attribute when embedding anchor text on press releases, which essentially tells search engines to ignore the link for SEO purposes and prevents your business from being penalized for seeding so many links around the Web.

The no-follow tag should also be used for links where money or products change hands—giving out free samples in exchange for reviews with a link to your product, for example, or paid links included in a directory service.

“That’s not really a change for Google, because they’ve always stated that if there’s a link to another site that’s considered to be an advertisement or there’s a business relationship between properties, then a no-follow be used,” Reno explains.

4. Backlinks aren’t everything

Receiving media attention from credible sites is far more important than a one-off backlink to your site.

“A physical book doesn’t have a link,” Ryan Evans points out, “but if the audience is relevant, it could be a good media opportunity. If you build relationships, do a lot of research, write really compelling content and have a great design, you’re going to rank better over time [in search results].”

The best way to receive that attention, and the links to your site that go with it, is by creating valuable content, says Evans. For example, his firm, BiteSize PR, recently received a natural link from Spin magazine to a post Bitesize put together on the 100 greatest publicity stunts of all time.

5. Links serve your readers

“Google has said you should never sacrifice user experience for SEO,” Reno explains. But leaving out links can be just as bad for your audience as stuffing your posts full of them. “By not linking, you are not contributing to a positive user experience, which Google has also said that they frown upon. Not linking to someone because you’re afraid you’ll get penalized by Google is a little bit silly,” he adds.

Should you be concerned about existing links that look bad to Google?

“If you were involved in any kind of spun content ratings and haven’t already been penalized or cleaned that stuff up then, yeah,” Reno says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t really spend too much time being worried about existing backlinks, just try to focus on quality going forward.”

This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at

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RIP Google Keyword Tool – What to Use Instead

Mon, 09/02/2013 - 06:00

No need pop the bubbly for this retirement: Yet another beloved Google Tool has been axed in its prime, (anyone remember Google Reader?). The Google Keyword Tool has long been the standard for anyone in the SEO, SEM or content spaces, but early this week we received news that Google pulled the plug on the Keyword Tool. If you still want access to Google’s keyword data, you have the option to sign up for an Adwords account to use the new Google Adwords Keyword Planner. Google has a nice post that explains the differences between the two tools.

If you feel at a loss, don’t worry, we’ve got your back. The good guys at Internet Marketing Ninjas compiled a deep list of “12 Free Keyword Tools to Replace Google’s Keyword Tool.”

Here are our top three favorites:

1. Ubersuggest – This is a keyword powerhouse. Plug in a few relevant words (for your business) and Ubersuggest will give you hundreds of results.

2. SEMRush – This is a great replacement for larger sized businesses that were “power users” of the Google Keyword Tool. SEMRush provides a huge amount of organic data from both Google and Bing. They provide competitive results and even CPC data for the SEM folks out there.

3. Bing Webmaster Toolbox - Don’t forget about Bing, “the other search engine.” They provide the same type of data, but simply just for Bing. The numbers might be smaller, but the trends will be the same.

We’re sad to see the Keyword Tool go, but there are plenty of great tools to keep you on top of your keyword game. As Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a-changin‘” and we’re keeping track so you don’t have to. Stay tuned to the VR Marketing Blog for more on Google and Bing’s changes in the future!

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