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  1. 7 LinkedIn Habits to Earn You More Connections

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    LinkedIn is one of the most viable social channels for building more professional connections. Whether you’re looking for new job opportunities, business partners, external resources, mentors, clients, or employees, LinkedIn is one of the best online places to find them. Still, the “fishing” approach to LinkedIn, which involves setting up a profile and then waiting for something meaningful to happen, is practically useless. If you want to reap the full benefits of the social channel, you need to stay active in the community and work hard to build your base of connections.

    Implementing these seven regular habits will help you increase the number and quality of your connections on LinkedIn:

    1. Tend to your profile.

    articleimage1285 Tend to your profile

    Filling out your profile completely and accurately is one of the most important first steps in engaging with LinkedIn—it’s so important that by now, virtually everybody knows it. But most people view this as a once-and-over-with strategy, as if their careers never grow or change. If you want to successfully build new relationships, you have to revisit and update your profile often. Depending on the pace of your business, perhaps monthly. Review what you’ve said about yourself. What’s changed? Do you have a new job? New responsibilities? New skills or interests? Keeping your profile up-to-date will help introduce you to new groups faster and make sure all your new contacts know who you are in this moment.

    2. Connect with everyone you know (or meet) in real life.

    articleimage1285 Connect with everyone you know

    This is a first step that often gets neglected. You might have reached out and connected with everyone in your department, or maybe everyone in your company, but what about people you’ve worked with in the past? Or people you’ve gone to school with? All of these are valuable connections that will help you establish a foundation on the social media platform. Then, make it a habit to connect on LinkedIn with everyone you meet in real life, whether they’re new employees, new clients, or professionals you’ve met at networking events.

    3. Participate in group chats regularly.

    articleimage1285 Participate in group chats regularly

    LinkedIn Groups are one of the most valuable social tools available online. Get involved with as many groups as you are comfortable with, with the understanding that the only way to be successful in a Group is to participate regularly. Choose Groups that are relevant to your skills and industry, but don’t shy away from the Groups with lots of members, even if they’re overly general in topic. When someone asks a question, jump in with your answer. When two people spark a debate, choose a side and state your opinion. Make yourself known in the community.

    4. Ask for advice.

    articleimage1285 Ask for advice

    Asking for help is one of the best ways to build an initial bond, at least according to Ben Franklin. Pose a question to a Group (or maybe just to your connections) that requires a response, such as asking for advice on a certain problem you face. Odds are overwhelming that someone, potentially someone else looking for new connections, will drop in and dispense that advice to you. Not only will you walk away with more practical knowledge, but you’ll have a group of new people who are aware of you and your position.

    5. Like and share things.

    articleimage1285 Like and share things

    Liking and sharing is cheap. All it takes is the click of a button, which makes it far easier than even typing out a question or a response. People share content and material on LinkedIn all the time, and it’s in their best interest to achieve as many engagements as possible. If they see you’ve liked or shared their material, they’ll think of you warmly, and they’ll also be more likely to share material of yours in the future. Again, this is a habit to increase your exposure—the more times people see you engaging, the more influence you’re going to gain.

    6. Reach out to LinkedIn members you’ve touched.

    This is a critical step in building connections—the actual request. You don’t want to reach out and try to connect with people you’ve never met before. Doing so can give you a bad reputation, and might even get you flagged as a spammer. Instead, reach out only to people you’ve already contacted on the platform, even if it was just a passing gesture like a shared piece of content. Mention the touchpoint in your request, and make it a point to reach out to as many “touched” people as possible.

    7. Post content and insights.

    You have to be an active contributor to the community if you want to earn a greater reputation. That means producing your own content and insights, and giving them to the community. Share articles from your personal blog or new conclusions you’ve reached both in a Group setting and on your personal profile. People who like what they read of yours will naturally reach out with you for a connection.

    Once your number of connections has increased, more doors will open to you. You’ll have more options in terms of clients (or employers, or employees, etc.), and you’ll have far greater influence in the industry. The content you share will have more eyes on it, the posts you make will carry more impact, and anyone doing background research on your level of authority will see that you have more. With virtually no downside, there’s no reason not to start implementing these habits immediately.

  2. 5 Original Research Ideas for Low Budget Whitepapers

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    Whitepapers are some of the most valuable types of content you can produce. Chock full of details, exceeding in length, and born from original research, they’re custom-made to appeal to serious potential clients, attract ample links, and boost your authority. With the right information and the right writer, it’s a simple matter to create an appropriately long, detailed, well-written whitepaper. The problem usually comes from that third distinguishing characteristic: the original research part.

    Original research means you’re doing all the work yourself, which makes it both a strength and a weakness of the strategy. It’s a strength because no other companies or individuals have sought to engage in this research before, but it’s a weakness because it takes significant time (or money, or both) to conduct this research. Some research ventures take months of careful planning and execution and hours of compiling to generate meaningful statistics.

    Fortunately, you don’t have to commit to that level in order to create a solid, well-researched whitepaper. There are alternative strategies you can use to conduct the research necessary for a reasonable whitepaper without spending all your marketing budget or wasting countless hours of time:

    1.Surveys.

    articleimage1284 Surveys

    Surveys are one of the most practical and available means of gathering data, and because they’re so open-ended, they can be used for almost any purpose. Let’s say you’re a B2B company looking for some insights about your demographics’ needs—for example, if you’re in human resources, you could investigate the hiring needs of businesses in your target vertical. In this case, you could put together a survey and send it to decision makers in those relevant companies.

    Creating a survey is easy—free tools like SurveyMonkey exist as intuitive interfaces that can be used by anybody to create surveys of any length or complexity. Distributing it to the relevant parties is usually the hard part. You can do this by tapping your existing network of clients, partners and other professionals, or by branching out on social media. If you continue to have problems, you can compensate people for their time—which costs a bit more, but is still less expensive than most other original research methods.

    2. AB Tests.

    articleimage1284 AB Tests

    AB tests are similarly inexpensive, but there are two limiting factors that may prevent you from using it as practically as surveys. First, they are far more limited in scope—you can conduct a survey about anything in the world, but you can only run an AB test with tangible items, such as products, websites, or designs. Second, they necessitate a limited input of information. Whereas a survey may aggregate data from thousands of people, your AB test only covers one trial.

    Still, if you have a question or hypothesis that an AB test can serve, it’s a viable and efficient system. Plus, if your AB test serves your business in some direct way (such as AB testing ads in a live environment), you won’t have to dedicate any additional spend to it.

    3. Observable Engagements.

    articleimage1284 Observable Engagements

    The word “observable” is the key to understanding this method. Rather than probing various people or environments for certain pieces of information, you’ll only be perusing what already exists. Don’t just look for new facts and statistics—that would quality as secondary research, and would render your attempts for originality useless. Instead, look for data you can ascertain on your own. For example, if you’re writing a whitepaper about how many manufacturing businesses currently have websites with social integrations, you can look up all the manufacturing businesses in your area, determine which ones have websites, and look to see which of those have social integrations. It’s a more manual, more time-intensive process, but it’s also completely free.

    4. Case Studies.

    articleimage1284 Case studies

    Case studies are individual stories about clients, customers, or instances that your audience may not already be familiar with. The most common application here is taking a client and examining its growth from before they got involved with your business to after that involvement, but there are also variables you can experiment with. Case studies do offer valuable insights, and they’re relatively easy to secure (as long as you have clients in good standing), but they suffer a sometimes-debilitating weakness; they only examine one or a handful of instances. While the average reader may not think much of this distinction, you’ll forfeit any ability to make general conclusions or global insights based on the data you acquire, and you may earn fewer links as a result.

    5. Company Data.

    articleimage1284 Company Data

    Last but not least, depending on the size of your company, you can search the depths of your records to come up with some aggregated metrics. For example, you may have a handful of clients using one particular strategy (strategy A), and a handful of clients using another (strategy B). If you notice that strategy A tends to work really well in the short-term, but strategy B works better in the long-term, you can publish a whitepaper documenting those results and collecting general information from your clients across the board. Unfortunately, businesses large enough to have access to this type of client information generally have a big enough budget to fund more intensive original research projects, rendering this strategy inaccessible to many small business owners.

    Try using one of these research possibilities as the foundation for your next whitepaper. It will still demand your full attention, lots of time, and lots of effort, but the burden of research will be far more manageable overall. Consider adopting the same method for future whitepapers; upon repetition, you’ll be able to develop a skillset and familiarity for that specific method, and in time, you’ll become even more efficient at using it. The more efficiently you can produce whitepapers, the greater ROI you’ll be able to earn from them.

  3. 7 Ways to Measure Your Reader Engagement

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    Reader engagement is one of the most important qualities you’ll optimize in a content marketing campaign, yet the very term “engagement” is a little fuzzy. It’s a buzzword thrown around by content marketers and advertisers alike, and it’s generally accepted to refer to the level of interest or sentiment felt by someone as he/she encounters your material.

    As far as I’m considered, the engagement factor separates the real potential customers from the window shoppers. Engagement, the conscious emotional or intellectual connection a user has to a given story or feature, is therefore a fairly reliable metric for the health of your campaign and the power of your content. But an “emotional or intellectual connection” is difficult to measure directly.

    Instead, we have a series of different snapshots you can take to indirectly measure your overall reader engagement:

    1. Comments.

    articleimage1275 Comments

    The first metric is one of the easiest to measure, at least if you have comments enabled on your blog. For a user to leave a comment, they generally have to feel passionate about what they’re reading. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time or effort, but the vast majority of online readers never leave comments. Motivating even one comment is a sign that your content is reaching your audience effectively. Don’t only look at comments on your blog itself, though—syndicate your article on various social media channels and see if people comment there. Generally, the more comments you attract, the more engaging your content is.

    2. Social shares.

    articleimage1275 social share

    Looking at social media once again, you can measure your reader engagement by seeing how many people have shared a particular article to their friends and family members. Hopefully, you’ve got social media share buttons installed on your blog (if you don’t already, it’s time to do that). The easier you can make it to share your content the better. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on people taking their own initiative, or rely on your followers sharing a link your posted. However you approach the situation, more shares is a general indicator of greater reader engagement. Most people won’t think of sharing something unless it strikes a strong chord with them.

    3. Email signups.

    articleimage1275 email signup

    If you’re blogging regularly, you should have at least one regular email blast going out to your loyal readers as a “recap” of your most valuable posts (and a few blasts with special offers and promotions from your brand). I’ll assume you’re doing this, and that you have a location to sign up for emails located somewhere visible on your blog. With this in place, you’ll be able to directly measure how many people were impressed enough by your content to sign up for future updates. If a reader is sufficiently engaged, he/she will sign up for more.

    4. Conversions.

    articleimage1275 conversion

    You might consider an email signup to constitute a “conversion,” but I’ll assume that you actually have a separate signup or purchase that you’d rather have. For example, you might have people signing up for a free whitepaper download, or an e-commerce integration that pushes your main products. Either way, you can use your conversion rate to indicate how strongly your content can motivate your inbound visitors. This is one of the fuzzier metrics we’ll be using, as conversions can be influenced by a number of factors and you might earn conversions from non-readers, but still—if your conversion rate grows with all other things being equal, it’s a good indication of your engagement growing.

    5. Time spent on page.

    articleimage1275 time spent on page

    This is the first of our final three metrics, all of which can be found in Google Analytics. First, drill down on the Behavior tab until you find a few URLs associated with articles on your blog. You should be able to see the average amount of time a user spends on these pages—generally, the more time a user spends on a page, the more engaged he/she is with the content on that page. If your blogs are attracting users for a longer period of time, they’re likely more engaging than the other pages of your site.

    6. Bounce rates.

    Bounce rates, on the other hand, indicate low engagement. The higher the bounce rate of a given page, the more likely it is that your readers find the page disinteresting or disengaging. You want your users to be so engaged that they can’t help but stay on your site for longer. If you come across the paradoxical situation of a high time spent on a given page but a high bounce rate, average these values with the other pages of your site to establish a clear conclusion.

    7. Repeat visitors.

    Finally, take a look at the amount of repeat traffic you get—Google will break down your “new” visitors in the Acquisition section, but also take a look at your direct visits. Obviously, attracting new visitors is never a bad thing, but your total number of repeat visitors should steadily increase as your engagement continues to be positive.

    If you’re seeing high and growing numbers for the majority of these metrics, then pat yourself on the back. You’re cultivating an atmosphere of positive engagement, and your readers are greatly interested in your material. If you encounter low or stagnant figures more often, however, you’ll need to take a critical look at how your content attempts to grab the attention of your readers, and make substantial improvements to your overall approach.

  4. 7 Ridiculously Simple Ways to Increase Reader Loyalty

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    Reader loyalty is one of the most important—and yet most elusive—features of your content marketing campaign. If your readers are loyal, they’ll keep coming back for more, and almost every new reader you get has a strong chance of becoming a permanent addition to your audience. Without that loyalty, your readers will be nothing more than temporary blips on the radar, showing up once with no intention of ever coming back.

    The problem is that writing “good” content isn’t enough to encourage reader loyalty. In fact, loyalty is earned through a variety of different factors, few of which perform predictably or straightforwardly. Still, there are several tricks you can use to increase your readers’ loyalty:

    1. Establish clear branding throughout your content campaign.

    articleimage1270 Establish clear branding throughout your content campaign

    This should be a given for your content marketing campaign, but in case it isn’t, take corrective action immediately. Every piece of content you produce should clearly demonstrate your branding. For example, in your infographics, you can use your brand colors and your logo in the presentation. In your videos, include a clear acknowledgement that your brand was behind their creation. In your written articles you’ll have to be more subtle—evoking your brand voice in the tone and focus of your writing—but it’s still essential to include. Anyone reading your content should immediately be able to recognize it as one of your brand’s own; otherwise there’s nothing differentiating you from your competitors.

    2.Get involved in the comments section.

    articleimage1270 Get involved in the comments section

    Reader loyalty is a relationship, and relationships can only develop through conversation. Your written articles are one-sided conversations, and although they can serve as a great jumping-off point, they offer little to no interactivity that can keep your audience engaged. To start actual conversations, turn to the comments sections. Invite your readers to contribute as often as possible, and if people aren’t talking, make it a point to start conversations yourself. The more you talk with your readers, the closer they’ll grow to your brand, and the more likely they’ll want to come back for more.

    3. Host recurring features.

    articleimage1270 Host recurring features

    One-off articles can and should always be a part of your content cycles, but recurring features are one of the easiest ways to invite readers back to your blog, especially if they’re new. Take, for example, a detailed piece you’ve written on the state of marketing on Twitter. By splitting that piece into two or three smaller pieces and extending the title of the first to simply say “part one,” you’ll immediately pique the interest of your readership and inspire them to come back to check on the status of the inevitable “part two.” Going a step further, you can also feature weekly content formats—such as a weekly interview or weekly infographic.

    4. Make yourself easy to find on social media.

    articleimage1270 Make yourself easy to find on social media

    Few people visit individual blogs to get updated. Instead, they rely on the content that’s shared on social media. But not all people use the same social media platforms, and not all will go out of their way to find you on those platforms. That’s why it’s your job to make it easy for your readers to get involved with you socially. Claim your profiles on as many platforms as possible, and update them regularly, especially when you have a new post to submit. Similarly, you’ll need to include your social icons prominently on many pages throughout your site, and make it easy for people to share your work to their own social profiles (this will also increase your audience volume in addition to reader loyalty).

    5. Offer guest posting spots.

    People feel closer to organizations and groups when they feel that they’re an active member in the community. Getting your readers to contribute directly to you blog can make them feel even more tightly connected with it—and you’ll get the added benefits of new content and additional promotional outlets. You can be as selective or as open as you’d like, depending on the goals and direction of your brand, but it’s worthwhile to pursue at least occasional community-drawn guest posts.

    6. Create a network of your own posts.

    One way to get your readers to immerse themselves in your brand further is to create an easily navigable network of your own posts. You can do this by including embedded links in each post that link to other posts that elaborate on your points. While you don’t want to bog down your posts with obnoxious links pointing all over your site, showcasing your history as a content marketer and guiding readers to additional value can help breed loyalty and increase their perceptions of you as an authority.

    7. Reward your loyal readers.

    articleimage1270 Reward your loyal readers

    Direct rewards never hurt. Let your ongoing readers know you appreciate them by offering promotional giveaways, discounts, or even contests on your blog. this will keep your readers involved, give them value and incentive to keep coming back, and will make your brand seem more friendly and appreciative as well.

    None of these tricks will, individually, suddenly turn all your readers into fierce brand loyalists. However, if implemented together and implemented consistently, they should have a significant impact on your reader retention levels. Because every company and therefore every audience has different needs and unique qualities, it’s impossible to make any steadfast prediction on how your readers will behave. These tricks will get you started, but the rest of the burden in understanding and meeting your readers’ needs rests on your shoulders.

  5. 5 Essential Truths About User Experience Design

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    User experience is one of the most important aspects of any online business or online marketing strategy. Strictly defined, user experience is the sum total of a user’s impressions, feelings, and thoughts as he/she navigates your platform (for the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to a website as the target for user experience design, though any number of interactive platforms could be a worthy substitute). Making a user happy, giving him/her easy, convenient directions, and eliciting feelings of comfort and familiarity are quintessential to a positive user experience.

    So what value is a great user experience? First and foremost, it gets a user to stay on your site for longer, and increases the likelihood that he/she will come back. Second, it increases the likelihood that he/she will tell others about the experience, peripherally increasing your traffic. Last but not least, it can affect your standing in other areas of the Internet—for example, great user experiences are correlated with higher search engine rankings, and if your user experience ratings are high, you’ll be more likely to establish relationships with other major players in the industry.

    Without a solid UX design in place, your strategy will immediately fall apart. That being said, it’s important to understand some core truths about UX design before plunging in:

    1. It’s more than just aesthetic design choices.

    articleimage1259 it’s more than just aesthetic design choices

    First is a core misconception about UX design, and it has to do with that pesky word “design.” When people think about design, especially when it comes to web design, they think of aesthetic choices like coloration, layout, structure, and so on. While these are all important to user experience, UX design and web design are not intrinsically the same. Web design can have all kinds of motivations—for example, you could make the most beautiful site possible, or make a site that only cares about funneling people to conversion. A successfully designed site from a UX perspective might be beautiful and have elements of conversion optimization, but its primary focus is always the user’s interaction.

    Plus, most UX design includes more than just the “aesthetic” part of design. There’s also sitemapping, branding, navigation, and similar subjects to consider.

    2. Successful design choices aren’t always rational ones.

    articleimage1259 Successful design choices aren’t always rational ones

    This is a hard concept to accept, because we’d like to imagine that the world always behaves rationally. Because user experience depends on the instincts, intuitions, first impressions, and emotions of the individual user (none of which are standardly predictable), some of the best UX design choices are inherently irrational.

    Let me illustrate with a simple example. Imagine a navigation bar with a horizontal layout. It might make sense that your user’s eye is drawn to the leftmost item first, as most American users read from left to right. But you might discover in testing that the middle item is usually the first seen and first clicked. Depending on your priorities, this could demand a redesign. In UX, you can’t trust your instincts—you can only trust the tests.

    3. It’s not easy.

    articleimage1259 It’s not easy

    On the surface, UX seems like it would be a fun, relatively easy experience. It might seem like designing an amusement park, adding new features that look fun and experimenting with different combinations until you find the perfect layout. But the reality is, UX is a hard, tedious, and arduous process. As we saw in my previous point, your instincts and beliefs are constantly called into question by real data, and in many cases, you’ll end up with a product you don’t subjectively “like” because it happens to work best.

    The unpredictability of users makes the process even more difficult. You might find that a portion of your audience loves your site, but another portion hates it—what do you do then? The unfortunate answer is usually, start from scratch.

    4. Users are everything.

    articleimage1259 Users are everything

    In other ways, UX design is really quite simple. In theory, it can be reduced to a single process: find out what your users want and give it to them. Your users are the only thing that matters—it doesn’t matter what your company wants, what you want, or what the design award organizations want—if your users are happy, you’ve been successful. If they aren’t, you’ve failed. Conducting surveys and tests can help you uncover what people are actually thinking and feeling, but that human factor is still the simplest and yet most complicated part of the whole process.

    5. It demands ongoing attention.

    articleimage1259 It demands ongoing attention

    UX isn’t something you do once. It isn’t a phase of the web design and development process that you go through, settle on, and then ignore for the remainder of your online marketing campaigns. It is a constantly ongoing process. New technologies emerge, new competitors grow popular, and user needs constantly change. If you want to build (and keep) a successful UX design, you have to learn from and adapt to those changes. It’s an ongoing process that can’t be abandoned.

    When it comes to UX design, your best bet is usually working with an expert. That means recruiting an outside consultant, hiring an in-house expert, or working with a professional agency. Taking it upon yourself to handle all the UX changes to your site will likely end up in disaster, or at least unmet potential. It really is the most important element of your business as it stands online, so don’t underestimate it.

  6. Why Your Customer Communication Demands Multiple Channels

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    articleimage1247 Why Your Customer Communication Demands Multiple Chanel

    Customer communication is one of the most important aspects of your business. Your customers will dictate the success of your enterprise—keep them happy and informed, and they’ll keep coming back to you for all their needs, telling their friends about the pleasant experience. Make a misstep, however, and you could permanently lose a potentially lifelong follower.

    Communication is the key to retaining this level of satisfaction. No matter how perfectly constructed your business is, something is eventually going to go wrong—you’ll miss a shipment, you’ll send out a defective product, or your service won’t go as anticipated. When those things inevitably do go wrong, communicating quickly, politely, and accurately is the only way to remedy the issue.

    We’re entering a new era of customer communication, and adequately preparing for the transition can position your company for great success.

    The Old Model of Customer Communication

    articleimage1247 The Old Model of Customer Communication

    For decades, most businesses have worked to turn their customer communication strategy into gigantic funnels, one for inbound communications and one for outbound communications. At the mouth of the inbound funnel, the entirety of the customer base would be ushered into one channel for further service. For example, a company would have a single “customer service” phone number that would accept all requests, no matter their intentions. This number would be listed on product packaging, promotional materials, emails, catalogs, ads, and would be given out to anybody who inquired using a different channel.

    Similarly, the majority of outbound communications would occur in a concentrated medium. For example, a company would work to ensure that every customer was signed up to receive email blasts, and then rely on the power of those emails to reach the entirety (or majority) of its customer base.

    The advantages of this model are clear; by concentrating all your effort into one channel, you save time and money and produce a much more efficient system. You can invest exclusively in your inbound customer hotline, making new hires and establishing new processes, and eventually, your team will become masters at handling inquires.

    But there are also disadvantages to this system. Because there is no redundancy, a failure in this line of communication is an instant and non-rectifiable failure across the board. Because you can never be sure that you’ve made this channel available to the entirety of your customer base, you’ll have a few stragglers that never realize its benefits.

    Why the Funnel No Longer Works

    articleimage1247 Why the Funnel No Longer Works

    Today, the disadvantages to the funnel-based system have outnumbered the advantages. Too much has changed, both from a communications technology and from a customer needs perspective, to allow this approach to continue.

    Take, for example, the sheer number of communication channels available. In a world once exclusively dominated by in-person visits, direct mail, and phone calls, a funneled approach could be feasible. However, once you add in emails, online directories, instant messages, video chats, and about a thousand different social media platforms, that once-narrow path becomes much wider. Ostensibly, these channels are so diverse in function, advantages, and disadvantages, that it would be inefficient to forward each one to a singular final destination.

    Along with this, consider the fact that each individual customer has different communication preferences. A high school student might only use apps like Snapchat and Instagram to communicate with his/her peers. A young adult might rely mostly on emails, but jump on Facebook from time to time. A senior might prefer more traditional means of communication, or direct human contact. Each demographic and each individual will have unique preferences, so funneling them all to one communication channel will instantly alienate the majority of them.

    The sheer availability of technology has also created more problems for the funnel approach. The majority of modern users have a smartphone in their pocket at all times, capable of using multiple forms of communication instantly and reliably. This has created a generation of users that demands instant answers to common inquiries. If they are forced to go through multiple steps, or are forwarded to different communications channels, they may become impatient and abandon the process altogether.

    The Multi-Channel Approach

    articleimage1247  The Multi-Channel Approach

    The best approach for the modern era is to capitalize on the number of channels that are available. It’ll take some extra work up front, and in some cases, more managerial expenses, but the flip side is that you’ll be able to please a larger percentage of your audience a larger percentage of the time. At the end of the day, your customers’ happiness is all that matters.

    If you’re looking for a checklist of channels to make available, this one can get you started—but be sure to add your own preferred mediums to the mix:

    • Printed how-to guides and troubleshooting documents
    • Online troubleshooting and searchable FAQ sections
    • Customer forums (with official moderation)
    • Blogs and video tutorials
    • Email (both inbound and outbound)
    • Customer ticket logging
    • Phone lines
    • Instant messaging onsite or through Skype (or a similar program)
    • Video chatting
    • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.)

    Begin your strategy by offering as many mediums as possible, but do monitor their progress over time. You’ll likely find that some of your channels perform better than others, and some are flat-out duds. Feel free to eliminate the duds in favor of routing those expenses to your more popular channels. Having a multi-channel approach doesn’t mean you have to invest in all those channels equally—it just means you have to make those channels available.

  7. How to Decrease Bounce Rates With Simple Onsite Tweaks

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    Bounce rates are frequently seen as a plague for websites. Indicating the portion of your audience who leaves your site without taking any further actions, high bounce rates mean you’ll see fewer conversions, lower rates of engagement, and ultimately, a lower ROI for any traffic generation strategy you implement. Fighting against these sometimes-inevitable stragglers can be a long, difficult battle, but as you make iterative progress, you’ll start seeing higher levels of user engagement, and of course, more conversions.

    Fortunately, you don’t have to make a massive investment or completely overhaul the architecture of your site to accomplish this. You can reduce your site’s bounce rates with cumulative, non-intensive tweaks:

    Set Proper Expectations

    articleimage1243 Set Proper Expectations

    Your first job is to make sure the users who visit your site have a reason to be there. It makes sense that if a user isn’t interested in what you have to offer, he/she will leave almost immediately. Accordingly, you’ll need to ensure all your page titles, meta descriptions, and offsite brand associations are all aligned with your actual purpose—that means no optimizing for keywords. Instead, focus on highlighting who you are and what you do best. The rest should take care of itself.

    Make Your Content Specific, Readable, and Entertaining

    articleimage1243 Make Your Content Specific Readable and entertaining

    Your onsite content needs to be readable—we’re talking a middle school reading level vocabulary and a conversational tone—or you’ll alienate the majority of your users. It also needs to be specific, telling users exactly what they need to know as early as possible in each respective piece. The entertaining factor also can’t be underestimated—create a vibe that keeps your visitors reading. These content qualities should extend throughout your entire site—not just your blog.

    Get Rid of Pop-Ups and Annoying Ads

    articleimage1243 Get Rid of Pop-Ups and Annoying Ads

    It’s tempting to include advertising on your site, especially some for your own products and services, but there’s a fine line between useful and annoying. Hammering your visitors with frequent or unavoidable pop-up ads is a sure way to influence bounces. Obnoxious ads on the side of your pages could also alienate your users.

    Make Your Important Pages More Prominent

    There are probably a handful of key pages you want your customers to visit, such as a sale page for an e-commerce platform, a contact page for a B2B company, or a blog for a heavily invested content marketers. Your goal should be to make these important, informative pages as prominent as possible both in your site’s overall navigation and internally, with frequent callouts.

    Remove Clutter

    Minimalism is underrated when it comes to web design. It might be tempting to load up your website with “helpful” materials, such as a prominent, well-described search bar, a list of popular posts, advertising, and baroque designs to fill in the gaps, but realistically, the less you include the better. Minimalistic designs keep your users focused, and help prevent them from leaving your site altogether.

    Decrease Page Loading Times

    articleimage1243 Decrease Page Loading Times

    The speed of your site is important—some users will leave immediately if a site doesn’t load in the first several seconds of the attempt to access it. Reducing your load times, however you can, is essential. Lower your image sizes, streamline your design, eliminate any hosting issues, and keep your information cached and clear. This is especially important for mobile users.

    Interlink Heavily

    articleimage1243 Interlink Heavily

    Keep the pages of your site tightly interlinked. Each page of your site should link to at least one other page, and every page should have multiple links pointing to it from other pages of your site. This will keep your users venturing deeper and deeper into your world, and as a pleasant side effect, this process can also increase your search ranking. Sites with tightly connected page networks tend to have higher domain authorities.

    Guide Your Users With Visuals and Content

    If you find your users are dropping off at a certain point, try directing them to new areas with visual cues or verbal instructions with content. For example, you could include an arrow that points to a subsequent page, or include text in your article that tells users to “read more about it here.” This will naturally lead them to remain onsite.

    Target Your Audience More Specifically

    Your bounce rate could stem from your content speaking too generally about a topic or about your industry. You have a specific target demographic, so do everything you can to target that group in your writing, design, and offers. If you’re unsure how to do that, conduct more market research and user surveys to guide your improvements.

    Offer an Internal Search Feature

    Onsite search bars are easy to install no matter what type of site architecture you use. This will help your users find exactly the information they’re looking for, and will prevent bounces that occur out of frustration or the inability to find meaningful content.

    As you learn more about how your users are using your site and what’s important to them, you’ll be able to make an educated guess about which new features will excite them or which current features are frustrating them. As such, optimizing for lower bounce rates is an effort in knowing your customer as much as it is an art of website development. Read into user behavior metrics in Google Analytics, conduct user surveys regularly, and don’t be afraid to experiment. The more you learn, the better you’ll get, and the fewer bounces you’ll have to deal with.

  8. 7 Fundamentals at the Heart of Any Successful Marketing Strategy

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    Marketing is both an art and a science, and because of the plethora of technologies and resources available to business owners today, it’s become one of the most flexible and diverse pillars of business development in the modern era. With countless channels, countless options, and financial tiers for any conceivable budget, no two marketing strategies can ever be identical.

    Still, despite the tremendous diversity of marketing campaigns available to business owners and marketers, there are a handful of fundamentals that are pivotal for success in every situation. No matter what type of marketing campaign you’re pursuing, be sure to pay careful attention to these seven core principles:

    1. Do Your Research.

    articleimage1241 Do Your Research

    No marketing strategy can be successful if it’s built on a person’s instincts. Instincts can be good—they can help inspire your creative side and give you direction when you’re staring down a difficult crossroads—but if your instincts contradict objective evidence, it’s usually better to side with the objective evidence. Research gives you access to this objective data, which you can then use to make significant, wise decisions about your campaign. For example, if you know that 80 percent of your audience made purchasing decisions on social media, but only 10 percent made them in response to direct mail, your choice to pursue social media marketing over direct mail ads will be substantiated.

    2. Know Your Customer.

    articleimage1241Know Your Customer

    Before you launch a campaign, get intimately acquainted with your target audience. First off, your target audience can’t be “everyone.” Going broad with your audience selection may seem like a good choice because it maximizes your potential number of customers, but it also reduces the specificity and effectiveness of your message. Effective messages are ones that are carefully researched and targeted to a specific type of person. Know your demographics well in advance, and plan your campaign around them. Think about who they are, what they like, what’s important to them, and perhaps most importantly, how they think and make purchasing decisions.

    3. Stay Consistent in Your Brand.

    articleimage1241 Stay Consistent in Your Brand

    Your brand should remain at the core of all your marketing initiatives. It is the identity of your company, and the persona that your customers will bond with over time. If you stray from the voice, image, or values of your brand even once in a campaign, you could alienate your target audience or cause our loyal recurring customers to question their devotion. Spare yourself the trouble—before launching your campaign, evaluate your message, your channel, and your direction in terms of how well it fits with your already established brand. If you’re just getting started and you don’t have a well-established brand, your first priority should be to correct that brand.

    4. Know Your Channel’s Advantages and Disadvantages.

    articleimage1241 Know Your Channel’s Advantages and Disadvantages

    Each marketing channel is wholly unique, and few marketing channels are objectively better than others. Instead, each channel has distinct advantages and disadvantages that make them better for some companies and worse for others. For example, PPC advertising tends to skew toward consumer-direct brands, while LinkedIn marketing favors B2B companies. Twitter is effective at broadcasting concise messages, but email marketing is better for more detailed revelations and offers. The trick is to use each marketing channel in your arsenal to its greatest strength, and make up for its weaknesses by complementing it with other strategies.

    5. Budget Effectively.

    articleimage1241 Budget Effectively

    Effective marketing campaigns are ones that have a positive ROI, or return on investment, with the investment being the amount of money you spent on the campaign. For example, if you spend $1,000, a positive ROI would give you $1,001 or more in new sales as a result of your efforts. The best way to maximize your ROI is to ensure each dollar you spend is useful. Overspending is a common problem—many new marketers dump money into campaigns they don’t understand very well, believing that marketing will turn that money into more money. But underspending is also a problem; there are many campaigns that can run well on a low budget, but cutting your resources too thin can render your campaign ineffective.

    7. Measure Everything.

    Data is what drives marketing campaigns forward, and it’s what’s going to tell you whether or not your campaign was effective in the first place. But you can only look at data that you had the forethought to measure, and many new marketers neglect to gather meaningful data from their campaigns. Be sure to include tracking scripts or other forms of measurement for as many factors as you can, including how much you’ve spent, how many options you’ve utilized, how many impressions, clicks, visits, and conversions you’ve received, and so on. Even if you don’t use all that data, at least you’ll have it on standby if you need it.

    8. Analyze, Adjust, Repeat.

    Finally, you’ll want to take some time after the campaign to look at your performance and evaluate your results. You may find that your campaign was ineffective, generating a negative ROI. However, this presents a valuable learning opportunity; what factors led to the campaign’s ultimate failure? In success or in failure, you’ll be able to objectively see the strengths and weaknesses of your campaign, and you’ll be better positioned to launch similar campaigns in the future. It’s an ongoing process of improvement, so don’t be discouraged if at first you don’t succeed.

    Apply these fundamentals to any marketing campaign you initiate, and chances are, you’ll find at least some level of success. As time goes on, you’ll grow more experienced, and you’ll be able to recognize less perceptible, subtler changes that need to be made for your campaigns. But your priority, whether you’re working on your first or your thousandth campaign, should be these fundamentals.

  9. How Your Employees Can Increase the Power of Your Brand

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    articleimage1235 How Your Employees Can Increase the Power of Your Branding

    A corporate brand can only succeed when it is supported by the people behind it. Oftentimes, startups rely on the charisma of their respective founders and entrepreneurs to drive the power of their brands forward, but once a company hits stable grounding, the relative charisma of the CEO takes a backseat to the general state of the brand (with some rare exceptions). At that point, most marketers shift their focus to communicating to their target audience with a singular, unified, corporate brand voice unaccompanied by any individual personality.

    There’s one major problem with this approach: people don’t trust brands. People trust people, and given the choice between listening to a branded message and one from a personal acquaintance, they’ll listen to the acquaintance almost every time. In the modern worlds, brands are seen as progenitors of deceit. They are seen as faceless, corporate tools designed solely to sell to consumers, and consumers are therefore skeptical of branded messaging. You’ll still find success in adhering to a consistent brand message and leaving your brand at the center of your marketing and advertising campaigns, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of potential.

    What’s the answer? You need to rely on that peer-to-peer trust evident in human connections while still maintaining the image of your brand. To do that, you’ll need your employees to step up and increase the power of your brand through their own personalities.

    Encourage the Active Sharing of Branded Content

    articleimage1235 Encourage the Active Sharing of Branded Content

    Your first strategy is a simple one, especially if you already have a strong content marketing strategy in place. By the time your company hits a stable growth stage, content should be a no-brainer—you should be producing regular articles and materials weekly, with syndication on your brand’s social media pages. However, the organic reach of your syndicated content on social media is not what it used to be, and it’s getting smaller. Plus, people are far less likely to click on an article shared by a corporate brand than one shared by someone they happen to know.

    This step is easy. Simply send out a memo (or regular reminders) that encourage your employees to share any materials posted on your brand’s social media pages on their own individual accounts. For example, when a new landmark article gets published on your company’s Facebook feed, ask your employees to share that article on their own Facebook accounts. Even if only a handful of people follow your instructions, you’ll greatly increase the visibility and reach of the article, and you’ll end up with more interested potential fans as well.

    Highlight Personalities on Your Site and Social Media

    articleimage1235 Highlight Personalities on Your Site and Social Media

    Your next step will require more ongoing work from your marketing department. Start by fleshing out a “team” page, or some other section of your website that shows off the individual personalities that make up your company. Include a headshot and bio of each one, and encourage your staff members to write their own descriptions. Doing so will infuse your site with more personality, and will make your brand seem more trustworthy.

    Once that’s done, your job is to follow up that approach on your social media channels as often as possible. Take pictures of your employees hard at work, having fun on break, or engaging with each other in team events. When a potential customer checks out your social feeds, they should get a glimpse of what your team looks like and how they interact on a regular basis; it adds a personal touch to your brand, and gives a face to an otherwise corporate shell. You can also pass off control of your social media accounts to various employees on a rotating basis; doing so injects new personality and diversity into your brand.

    Help Develop Personal Brands on Social Media

    articleimage1235 Help Develop Personal Brands on Social Media

    Personal branding is one of the best marketing-by-proxy strategies out there. Essentially, the individual members of your team will work to improve their own reputation and authority in the industry through content, networking, and social media. For example, your lead engineer might start his own blog and engage in outside interviews, slowly building an independent audience. This is mutually beneficial; the employee becomes more recognized and more valuable in the industry, and the company’s brand becomes more authoritative and trustworthy as a result.

    One or two personal brands are sometimes enough for the boost in authority, but if you can get your entire team working on this, the benefits will be enormous. You’ll even get more links to your company’s website and more SEO authority, ranking you higher for online searches.

    Reward Active Networkers

    articleimage1235 Reward Active Networkers

    Finally, encourage all of your employees to network as often as possible. List upcoming networking events in the break room, and offer compensation for any networking events that require payment for admission. You can even hold your own networking events in the office after-hours. The more your employees mingle with other professionals in your area, the greater your company’s reputation and visibility will grow—you might even get a few direct leads out of the deal.

    Over time, with these strategies in place, your employees will serve as brand ambassadors and enhance the collective power of your brand. This is a way of creating a tight network of interpersonal connections that lead back to your brand, and let your audience know that at the heart of your company is a team of real people.

  10. 7 Ways to Mitigate Negative Business Reviews

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    In many ways, Yelp and other local review sites have been a blessing for local businesses. They offer a convenient, popular outlet for you to list your information, engage your customers, and collect feedback, all while steadily increasing your rank in Google. Of course, positive reviews are the ideal you strive for—they’ll make you more visible in both Yelp and Google, and will help convince new customers to come to you—but no matter how hard you try, you’re bound to get a negative review on occasion.

    When you get a negative review, don’t panic. They’re a natural part of the system, and you might not have done anything wrong. Occasional negative reviews definitely won’t kill you, and if you react to them in the right way, they might even help you out. Try these seven strategies to mitigate the effects of a negative business review:

    1. Respond Quickly.

    articleimage1212 Respond Quickly

    There are a few reasons why you’ll want to respond quickly. The first is somewhat obvious; the longer a negative review goes without being responded to, the angrier your negative reviewer might become. Second, if a negative review is left unattended to for longer than a few days, dozens or hundreds of people might get to read it without ever seeing the other side of the story. This could leave them with a negative impression that could have been avoided with a prompt response. Finally, in the event that the negative review sets off a chain reaction of other negative reviews, a fast response proactively cuts off the opportunity.

    2. Respond Appropriately.

    articleimage1212 Respond Appropriately

    Emotional reactions or poorly worded responses aren’t going to cut it, nor are obviously automated messages. If you want to make any kind of meaningful impact with your response, you’ll have to be calm, professional, logical, personal, and well-spoken. Take the time to draft out a response, then set it aside and review it later once you’ve established some distance. This will help you emotionally cool off, and will give you the chance to make edits if necessary. You’ll only get one chance to make a good impression with your response, so take it seriously.

    3. Explain the Situation.

    articleimage1212 Explain the Situation.

    In your response, it’s important that you explain the situation. In colloquial language, you might call this giving “your side of the story.” However, it’s important that you don’t see it this way; implying this is your side of the story means that it’s you against your customer. Instead, try to see you and your customer as working together to find an amiable solution to a mutual problem. You can do this by illuminating the situation with details or facts the customer may not have had when writing his/her review, such as your cancellation policy or the level of chaos in your business on that particular day. Contextualize the negative review as much as possible, while acknowledging what he/she is saying.

    4. Apologize.

    articleimage1212 Apologize

    A simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way. Even if you feel that you did nothing wrong as a business, it’s important to apologize in some form, such as by saying “I’m sorry we did not meet your expectations” or “I’m sorry to lose you as a customer.” This shows that you have genuine regret as a business, and that you care about the feelings of your customers, even when they’re no longer your customers. Without an apology, you may appear stubborn and dissuade others from doing business with you.

    5. Offer Compensation.

    articleimage1212 Offer Compensation

    Offering compensation is ideal, but it doesn’t have to be monetary compensation, nor does it have to be a specific amount. You can offer a refund for the customer’s purchase or a discount on future orders, but try to think outside the box. Offer compensation in the form of another recommendation that the customer may find more helpful, or simply promise that their next experience with your company will be better. All you have to do is find some way to give them something positive in exchange for their recent negative experience.

    6. Learn from the Feedback.

    Even if the review was written in a shoddy, unintelligible mess by someone with little emotional stability, there’s probably a grain of truth in the review. Every negative review, even the offensive ones, have something that you can learn from as a business. It may highlight a policy that needs to be updated, showcase a staff member who needs re-training, or demonstrate some other potential improvement that can make your business better.

    7. Influence More Positive Reviews.

    Finally, don’t forget the overwhelming power of positive reviews. If you can influence just three positive reviews from your standing customer base, you can easily outweigh the potential negative impact from that one bad seed. Once you’ve handled the negative review situation to the best of your ability, focus on overshadowing it gradually with the positive force from your more loyal customers. Hang signs that encourage people to review you on local review sites, talk to your customers and subtly suggest the review process, and above all, try to perfect your customer service.

    If you follow these seven methods of negative business review mitigation, you’ll save yourself from the worst effects of such events. Remain patient and treat these types of reviews for what they are—opportunities. Even the most vicious reviews can be turned into something positive, so never let one get the better of you.

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