Engage Your Audience. That's What We’re Here For.

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Website CMS vs marketing automation tool... what's the difference? [Strategy Sitdown]

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Jul 30, 2014 10:30:00 AM

In this edition of Strategy Sitdown, we answer the question: "I've heard of content management systems and marketing automation systems but I'm not sure what the difference is. Do I need both?"

If you have a question for us, you can ask it here. We'll answer it in a future edition!


Thanks for joining us for today's Strategy Sitdown. Today's question comes from Kevin in Lexington. Kevin asks, "I've heard of content management systems and marketing automation systems, but I'm not sure what the difference is. Do I need both?"

Excellent question, Kevin. Let's kind of break it down here and define what each one is. Then we'll kind of talk about some different scenarios. Content management system or CMS for short is a software application that powers your website and allows you to manage it. Pretty simple. It lets you do things like change text, upload photos, upload videos, move stuff around sometimes, post blogs, post press releases, post events.

It really gives you or any non-technical person control over the basic day-to-day management of the website, primarily the content of the website. Hence the name content management system. Every modern website should be build on a CMS. Some popular CMSs include Joomla, Accrisoft, Freedom, Sitecore, WordPress, Ektron. There's a ton of CMSs out there.

At the basic level, they all basically let people manage website content. They do have some marketing tools sometimes. You will have some modules that do marketing activities here and there. Generally, a CMS is built toward managing the content.

Now, a marketing automation platform or marketing automation system is something like a HubSpot, Eloqua, Marketo, Infusionsoft. What these systems do is they automate certain aspects of your marketing tactics to give you greater levels of efficiency, better data, better reporting. Kind of putting a bunch of tools from marketing context all in one toolbox so to speak.

A marketing automation system will let you do things like manage your social media accounts, also run your blog sometimes, run e-mail marketing campaigns, let you do keyword research for search for SEO, build landing pages, things like that. Maybe have metrics and lots of reporting and data and contact management. That's more of what a marketing automation tool does.


Now, the question you also as is, "Do you need both?" It depends. Like many things in marketing and technology, it really just depends on your situation. If your website is primarily built to serve constituents, convey information, conduct some transactions and your marketing strategy is really not built around bringing more traffic to your website or built on online tactics, you may not need marketing automation. You may just need a good, robust CMS that powers your website.

Some good examples would be government agencies primarily don't need marketing automation as much because they're really focused on just transactional interaction and serving constituents. Some nonprofits as well, although I would argue that nonprofits need to market more a lot of times.

Organizations that are really focused on just transactional serving of constituents without a need for a lot of marketing and growth can get by with a CMS. Organizations that do want to market and grow, which is actually the vast majority I would think, can make good use of a marketing automation tool like HubSpot for example to bring traffic to their website, to run their in-bound marketing campaigns to really provide the toolbox behind the tactics necessary to generate traffic and leads and more sales.

I really like to see both combined. I really like to see a website built on a good, robust CMS then using something like HubSpot to kind of wrap around it so a marketing agency like us or a marketing team in house can use those tools appropriately to build and run a good in-bound marketing strategy.

That's really kind of how it breaks down. Most good CMSs are about eighty, ninety percent great content management and a little bit of marketing tools. Most really good marketing automation systems, again like HubSpot, are about eighty to ninety percent really good marketing tools but about ten, twenty percent of robust CMS. They're not going to go very deep in terms of complex directories, complex transactional tools, things like that.

That's why I really like to see often organizations combine both. You really get the value from each one working together. I hope that helps. Great question, Kevin. I really appreciate it. Thanks everyone for joining us today. Have a great day.


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Topics: inbound marketing, cms, content management, Strategy Sitdown

But we've already done a lot of this work!

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Jul 29, 2014 1:30:00 PM

I know what you're thinking when you consider engaging with a digital agency.

You explore the possibility of a fit, you like what you see, you talk about next steps, it looks like it's time to go through a planning process.

The agency talks about putting together a strategy, identifying personas, doing keyword research, and setting goals. It's a paid first step before executing an Inbound Marketing program and it's the prep work that's necessary for setting a strong foundation.


But here's what you're thinking and what you might even say out loud:

"But we've already done a lot of this work!"

This reaction is understandable. We talk to a lot of organizations that have spent a good deal of time in planning meetings and have done what you would call marketing prep work. So why should you have to pay for marketing strategy all over again?

Here's why:

Experienced agencies follow a proven process.

I don't know about you but I hate going to the doctor. When I get seriously ill (which rarely happens) I will do everything I can to avoid going. I will take silly herbal supplements to try to get better (which my wife, who is a PA, makes fun of), I will Google stuff to try to find remedies, I'll self-diagnose on WebMD (like a dummy) until I finally realize that maybe I need to make an appointment with my doctor.

When I get there, does she care about all the research I've done? Nope. She had a process backed by years of education and experience. Does she charge less because I went through a bunch of steps on my own before coming in? Nope. She has a process. Does she give me a discount because I tried to fix the problem on my own first? Nope. She has a process.

Her process involves a proper diagnosis and proper treatment based on what she knows will produce the best outcome. After all, she's the expert.

The prep work you do may not be what's needed.

I know it's tempting to read some articles on marketing, talk things over with your team, and then do your own internal analysis of your situation thinking you're good to go. However, did you remember to conduct extensive keyword research? Do you have a deep understanding of how your website structure integrates with your marketing strategy? Do you have years of case studies to help you make decisions so you don't reinvent the wheel?

When your customers come to you, they are seeking your expertise because you are the experts. You want them to trust you and folow your advice. Now put yourself in the shoes of your marketing agency. Make sense?

Most people jump into tactics too early

Strategy before tactics takes discipline. It's really tempting to do a little bit of prep work and then jump into tactics only to declare three months later that they are "not working."

Your agency knows what the right process is for developing a viable long-term strategy. Take a step back and allow the process to work.

Marketing is a profession and a business area that has the unfortunate curse of looking easy, which is why everyone tries to go the DIY route. However, in the hands of an expert team, it can boost your business results and get you closer to your goals.

By trusting your marketing agency to do the right strategy and planning, you're setting your organization up for success.

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Topics: inbound marketing

SpiderOak is Dropbox for the paranoid [Quick Tip]

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Jul 28, 2014 10:00:00 AM

For organizations that value efficiency, redundancy, and business continuity, Dropbox is a standard. It allows seamless file sharing across multiple computers with lots of great features.


But while Dropbox is reasonably secure, what about organizations with a need for a higher level of security, such as health care and financial services?

SpiderOak has got your back. SpiderOak is an online file sharing service similar to Dropbox but with an added emphasis on privacy and security.

SpiderOak is HIPAA, FINRA, and FERPA compliant and boasts of a "zero-knowledge" policy of your data.

According to SpiderOak: "Zero-Knowledge' privacy means the server never knows the plaintext contents of the data it is storing. Never. Therefore, the data is never at risk of being compromised or abused by either internal threats or external hackers."

Learn more at the SpiderOak website. If you are in a highly-sensitive industry like health care, financial services, or other industries with a need for a high level of security as you share files, SpiderOak may be worth a look.

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Topics: productivity, FINRA, HIPAA, FERPA, Quick Tip, cloud, security

How to create compelling and effective website content [Digital Exec]

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Jul 25, 2014 10:30:00 AM

Content is the fuel behind great marketing and a great website. How you craft your content can make the difference between a dissatisfied website visitor and a warm prospect.

Since content is so important, we sat down with SpinWeb's Content Developers, Serena Acker and Stephanie Fisher, for a discussion.

We cover tips and guidelines for structuring content, how to write with depth, how to target keywords for SEO, and more.

Steph and Serena are absolutely brilliant, so I know you will enjoy this episode.

Subscribe to the Digital Exec podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.


Michael Reynolds: Hey, everyone. Michael Reynolds here with SpinWeb. Welcome to the Digital Exec. We're glad you're here. I'm here today with Serena Acker and Stephanie Fisher. Steph, how are you today?

Stephanie Fisher: I'm doing great. How are you guys?

Michael Reynolds: Great. Serena, thanks for joining us. You doing well?

Serena Acker: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Michael Reynolds: My pleasure. So good to talk to you. Steph and Serena are content developers here at SpinWeb, and our topic today is specifically on content. They are both a wealth of knowledge, so it should be great. Our topic specifically is how to create compelling and effective website content. We're kind of categorizing that not just in website, but also in marketing content because marketing content is typically also on the web in the form of blog posts, articles, guides, eBooks, things like that. So we're kind of categorizing website content as all of the above. Just a little quick 5 to 10-second introduction on each of you. Serena, let's start with you. What is your background?

Serena Acker: I graduated with degrees in communications and public relations, then I worked in the print industry for about 5 years. Then, I went into project management, and freelance writing for a while. I've just learned inbound marketing in the last couple of years with SpinWeb.

Michael Reynolds: Awesome. Thank you. Steph, how about you?

Stephanie Fisher: Well, I went to Ball State, and I got a degree in English and creative writing. Then, I kind of did a little bit of everything. I worked for a software company. I worked for the university for a little while in the grants department, and I did some marketing there. I did some support of the software company and then worked for a couple of other places doing marketing, online marketing and website management kind of stuff. So I've done a little bit of everything, and then I've been with SpinWeb for 3 years doing content, account management, and a couple of other different things on the marketing side.

Michael Reynolds: Great. Thanks. Well, Steph, let's start with you. First thing I want to ask is: what do you love about writing?

Stephanie Fisher: What do I love about writing? I'm a creative person, and I really enjoy being able to just create a story. I like to research. That's one of the things that I really enjoy about writing, especially marketing kind of copy: just diving into a subject that I really don't know much about and kind of learning as much as I can about it in order to get the essence of it and tell a good story or help write some good copy for our marketing clients to help them connect with their clients and customers. I think, for me, words are just ... That's what I'm good at. I'm much better at sitting down and writing out all my thoughts than I am at really kind of saying them out loud.

Michael Reynolds: Here I am forcing you to say them out loud.

Stephanie Fisher: I know. I know.

Michael Reynolds: I appreciate that.

Stephanie Fisher: I'm out of my comfort zone, out of my comfort zone here.

Michael Reynolds: No, no. No worries. We're very casual here. Serena, let's ask you: what do you think makes ...? I know it's a very broad question, and we can certainly dig into some specifics, but you're welcome to either start with some don'ts or some mistakes, if you want, to kind of illustrate the point, or maybe some dos. But what are some things that make website content compelling? Maybe not even just the marketing side of things, but just starting with just general website copy, what do you think makes it compelling?

Serena Acker: One of the things that I like to really focus on and start with is a compelling headline or a title of the blog post. I think that really catches the reader's eye, and it's going to be more tempting for them to click in, so that's something I love to focus on. Beyond that, I really try to make it easy on the reader's eye, and so using bolds to draw the eye down. You want to use italics. You use bullet points when possible. Choosing the right words. I love how Stephanie said telling a story, so it's not just here are the words and the things that are important to us, but really making it engaging and useful for the end reader.

Michael Reynolds: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense, and I'm glad you mentioned headlines because I see kind of a spectrum of headline philosophy or strategy, I guess. I'm kind of making that up, but on one hand, you've got the really boring headlines where it's just there's no life in it. It's just kind of like blah. Here's the noun that we're going to put in the headline or some text. On the other hand, you've got the Upworthy and the Clickbait headlines, where you kind of sell your soul, and it's really contrived and convoluted. Where on the spectrum do you like to fall when writing, let's say, an article, a blog post, or content on the web?

Serena Acker: Somewhere in the middle probably. It's not black and white. I like to have a keyword in there if it needs to be in there and if it's descriptive, but I'm also not going to keyword stuff. But I also want to make it interesting and engaging. A good example, I think, is for one of our clients, I wrote a blog post about mobile food trucks that go around, and so I think the title, the working title that was given to me as the idea was, "Indianapolis Food Trucks."

I was like, "Okay. Well, I think we can do better than that." I think I ended up with something like, "Hot, Fresh, and On the Go: Indianapolis Mobile Food Trucks," or something like that, again, something a little bit more fun. Yeah, it had the main idea in the title, but something a little bit more engaging.

Michael Reynolds: You bring up a good point about keyword stuffing in search because I often see so many titles; they're obviously obsessing over search and keywords to the point where they're very robotic and difficult to read and don't really read like you would actually speak. Steph, I know you've got a lot of also some SEO background here, so what's the fine line between targeting a keyword effectively and making it sound awkward?

Stephanie Fisher: Yeah. I think I agree with Serena. You've got to find that balance between making it engaging, making it grabbing. You want to grab people's attention, but you don't want it to sound fake, so the Clickbaiting titles are just outrageous. You've got like, "Something you'll never believe is going to happen," and kind of a mystery.

Now, for our clients, that would be ridiculous to try to do, so it's that balance of this is going to be something useful. This is going to be something that you need or something that's going to help you, the quick tip or, like, eight reasons to change your ... I don't know ... lifestyle. That might be a little over the top, but yeah, I think you have to kind of balance that. You have the keyword in there just because you do need that SEO bump, but you don't want to just focus on that.


Michael Reynolds: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. When it comes to structuring and building a website, unfortunately, I see a lot of organizations that treat content as an afterthought, and they worry so much about the design and the structure at first, and they just kind of want to drop in the content. I want you both to kind of weigh in on this, but let's start with Serena. At what point do you feel that it's appropriate to start discussing, planning, and generating content for a new website?

Serena Acker: Early on. I love to be part of as many early-on meetings as I can just to get to know the customer and what it is that they're looking for. The better I can get to know the client, the better I can write something that's going to engage their user. I love to have the focus be on the client's customer and always keeping them in mind as I'm doing my writing, but I don't think it's ever too early to be involved in the website design process with content. It's my number-one priority obviously.

Michael Reynolds: I assume Steph agrees.

Stephanie Fisher: Totally. Yeah, you have to know ... First of all, you have to know what your business goals are going to be and what those main call-to-actions are going to be on the home page that are going to bring in those leads that you need. That's the whole point of having a website is you want people to take action, be able to find their content, and a lot of it has to do with just the structure of the content and those call-to-actions themselves.

Michael Reynolds: For whoever wants to jump in on this first, what are some mistakes you see in, let's say, marketing content specifically because that's where I see a lot more ... and mistakes might be a strong word, but at least some issues, some problems, things that end up being problematic and cause content to be less effective? Whether it's a blog post or an eBook or a download or something, what are some issues you see where you just look at that and say, "Oh, they shouldn't have done that, or they should do this better."?

Stephanie Fisher: I'll jump in. I think the main thing is when people try to sell too hard. They just try to talk all about their services, their products, buy this, do this, instead of trying to provide content that the user wants and is looking for, instead of trying to have a conversation with their customers and build up that good will. I think that's a major mistake, is just being too hard-selling.

Michael Reynolds: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's a good one.

Serena Acker: I agree with Steph. I think my biggest pet peeve is when people just have too much text. They need to boil it down. You get to the heart of the matter. It also really annoys me when people take the same print from a print publication, the same copy, and just paste it on their website, thinking, "Oh, this is marketing words that have been used for us, so it can translate to the web," but that's really not how it works. So I warn people against using too many words; don't put 20 pages of text on your webpage. Boil it down to what's important, and  don't just transfer the content from print to web because it's very different.

Michael Reynolds: Well, you also make a good point about the rules are different from print to web. In print, obviously, you can offer more text. Obviously, reading a book or a magazine article, there's a different kind of context you're in, but you're right. On the web, the attention spans are much shorter. So what are some ...? I know there's some basic rules that great writers follow in terms of how they structure content, whether it's bullet points or when to bold things or how to structure things. What are some quick takeaways that we can learn from both of you that help our audience understand how to write great web content? Are there some just basic tips that you follow? I'll throw that to you, Steph, first.

Stephanie Fisher: Okay. Sure.

Michael Reynolds: You're both so polite. You're not jumping in yet.

Stephanie Fisher: Yes, so polite. Yeah. I think, for sure, there are different schools of thought, but I think short paragraphs, for one thing, are key. I mean, I've seen some blogs that go as far as just doing one sentence, and then that's a paragraph is a sentence. They have lots of white space. So, you have to have a lot of white space, short paragraphs, lots of visual cues for the eye to quickly get down the page, like Serena was saying: bullet points, numbered lists, lots of ... I like to use different headlines, subtitle styles to kind of differentiate and break up because a lot of people just skim as they read through a blog post or a website, and so they want to just get the main points. Those are some of the big ones. Another thing I've been doing lately is linking long phrases, so instead of just one word or two words, making a really long link because then people are more likely to click on it.

Michael Reynolds: Ah, so instead of just one word, you make like half the sentence a link.

Stephanie Fisher: Like, a whole phrase, exactly.

Michael Reynolds: Okay, got it, got it. Yeah, that's a good point. Also, again, with your search background, do you do that sometimes also to create the proper anchor text for search?

Stephanie Fisher: Right, yeah. You want to get the right phrase or the right keyword in there, too, but sometimes people just will do ... They'll just do one word, and I think putting a longer phrase in there is helpful, especially for clicking, but also for the anchor text.

Michael Reynolds: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Serena, anything you would add to that?

Serena Acker: I loved what she said, obviously, about formatting and the really short sentences. I think I would add to add a visual. Yes, content is incredibly important, but I do think that there needs to be an image with a blog post. Obviously, I think there needs to be a call to action at the end, hopefully helping them to make the next step, to click on another resource within your company, and it all works together. Content is number one, and that's the most important thing, but you want to have a good design. You want to have a good font. You want to have a good image, a good call to action, and it all works together.

Michael Reynolds: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Agreed. A couple more questions here before we wrap up. Tell me a little bit about depth of content. I know we've had conversations about this, all three of us, numerous times in the past about how to write content that actually has depth. The reason I bring that up is because I just had a conversation recently with someone and kind of explained that it’s really easy to do inbound marketing badly.

It's really easy just to throw up some blog posts, scratch together some eBooks, write some really basic fluffy content, throw it on the landing page, and then you think you're doing inbound marketing, but the content's so bad and so shallow that you're really not going to get much traction. Tell me about how you approach content with depth, either one here who wants to jump in.

Stephanie Fisher: I can just jump in. With some of the longer formats that we do, like eBooks and guides, I always start with doing my own research, but then I always interview at least 2 or 3 content experts in that subject because I'm not always the content expert in the subject, so I will try to work with our clients to identify who would be a good person to interview for this. Then I put together an outline.

I work really closely with the client and with their contacts to get really deep into the material because they're going to know what their readers and their customers need to know and the information they need to know. If I just go out and try to write that on my own, just with doing a little bit of internet searching, I'm not going to get as deep into the content as those experts are going to, so I always try to make sure that I'm working with those kind of folks.

Serena Acker: I can speak to more shorter form. I think when it comes to blogs, we don't want to publish something that's usually less than 600 words. Admittedly, when I first started, that was a struggle for me to sometimes push it to that 600-word mark. But really, Michael, you've been really helpful in helping me visualize sitting down with the end user, whoever's going to be reading this blog, and to have a conversation with them and to help make it understandable for them.

If I ever get stuck at a point where I'm writing, I always ask myself the question, "Why? Well, why is that?" and to try to keep going deeper and deeper into those layers to try to get more information that's helpful for them. Sometimes, I feel like I'm overly explaining something, but we want to make it easily understandable, so that's kind of how I approach blogs.

Michael Reynolds: Yeah. Thank you, Serena. Well, let's wrap up with just one last question that I hope won't be too broad or too in depth, but really I want to kind of get your perspective, both of you, on what's the purpose behind web and/or marketing content. Is it to invite the user to take an action? Is it to inform them, to educate them, or to spark a thought process? Is it to get them to click something? Is it all of the above? What are some of the high-priority purposes behind online content that you see? We'll start with Steph.

Stephanie Fisher: Yeah. I mean, you named quite a few. Like you said, the content doesn't have to be just a single purpose. It can serve lots of different purposes. One might be just to engage your user. Especially more social-media content would be more like having that conversation. Then, your blog content and your web content, that's going to be really useful for organic search traffic, bringing in new clients.

The whole point of your website is to get new business, to be a place where people can go for information on whatever it is that ... whatever tools you have, whatever services you provide. So getting that information out to people really ... People are out there searching. They're searching for answers to their problems, so you're in a position with your business to answer those problems, and you can do that with content on the blog. That's one of the main ones.

Serena Acker: Sure. I would say that you want to become an industry expert in your topic, and so when you do that, you're going to build trust with your constituents. You're going to increase sales, because they're going to trust you and come to you for answers and then go, "Wait. What is this company about? Oh, I really trust them. They know their stuff," and so it's going to help you rank better with search and, in the end, just get more customers, like Steph said, which is kind of the whole point of having a website.

Michael Reynolds: Right on. I lied. I have one more question, and here it is. It's because we get this question, I feel like, a hundred times a week because, as many of our listeners know, we do inbound marketing services for organizations and that involves also writing content for them, which is what you two are great at.

Whether it's working with us or their agency or an outsourced writer, whoever that is, I would say 99% of the time, one of the concerns that organizations have is they say, "Well, we're experts in this particular line of business that we do. How can you possibly learn our business well enough to write for us?" The short answer is, "Well, we're good at it, and we do it, and it works, and we see the results," but that's not always as in-depth of an answer as people want, so let's start with Serena. What would you say to people who ask that question or have that concern?

Serena Acker: Try us.

Michael Reynolds: Well, besides that. Let’s think conceptually, so we're not too self-serving here.

Serena Acker: Sure.

Michael Reynolds: Let's say you're someone thinking about outsourcing writing to someone in a marketing context. How would you address that?

Serena Acker: Sure. We use a process of getting to know the client really well, and it's not like I'm just going to go out and start writing things before I even have a conversation with you. I'm going to get to know you. We're going to build buyer personas, so we know who we're even writing the content for. I'm going to target those people. I'm going to interview your sales people. I'm going to talk to your industry experts, do research on my own. It's a process, and I understand it can be hard to kind of hand over those reins of control, and I get that it would be easy to think, "You don't understand the medical field. There's no way you can write about it," but we can, competently. We do.

Michael Reynolds: Steph, anything you'd add?

Stephanie Fisher: Yeah. I would just say that that's what writers do, and you can think of it like journalism. Journalists don't always know everything about what they're writing about, but they go in, and they do all of the work and all of the research and the on-the-ground kind of work to learn as much as they can and to work with the people who do know what they're talking about. Then, the writer's ability and talent is to take that and to put it into the kind of format, especially with what we do with the marketing format; we know how that works. So we can take your content, your expertise, put it into a great format to put on the website.

Michael Reynolds: Well-said.

Stephanie Fisher: That's what we're good at.

Michael Reynolds: Thank you. Is there anything else either of you would like to add that we haven't discussed before we wrap up?

Serena Acker: I don't think so. I think we covered it all.

Stephanie Fisher: Yeah. I think we're good.

Michael Reynolds: All right. Excellent. Good to hear. Well, thank you both so much for joining us. Great discussion. I hope it offered some insight to our audience on how to write great content for web and marketing contexts and kind of behind the scenes how it works, as well. Thank you both, and thanks to everyone for joining us today.

If you're listening via podcast, thank you so much. Keep on listening. You can visit us online at SpinWeb.net. If you're watching, thank you so much, and you're welcome to subscribe by clicking below to the iTunes or the Stitcher version of the podcast if you'd like to take it with you on your smart phone. Thanks again for joining us. Have a great day, and we'll see you next time.

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Topics: content, inbound marketing, digital exec

[Quick Tip] Do I need that robots.txt file?

Posted by Stephanie Fisher

Jul 24, 2014 1:30:00 PM

do_i_need robots.txt-

Using a robots.txt file used to be standard operating procedure for SEO. But is that still the case?

First, let's just make sure we all understand what a robots.txt file is, according to this standard definition:

Website owners use the /robots.txt file to give instructions about their site to web robots; this is called The Robots Exclusion Protocol. The "User-agent: *" means this section applies to all robots. The "Disallow: /" tells the robot that it should not visit any pages on the site.

There are two important considerations when using robots.txt:

  • robots can ignore your robots.txt. Especially malware robots that scan the web for security vulnerabilities, and email address harvesters used by spammers will pay no attention.
  • the robots.txt file is a publicly available file. Anyone can see what sections of your server you don't want robots to use.

So don't try to use it to hide information.

Now, the question at hand. Do you really need to have a robots.txt file?

According to our developer Sam, nope. 

"I would recommend not having a robots.txt file. Those files manipulate crawlers or bots when they go through and index your site. I would not change or try to manipulate those crawlers, so they can just do what they natively do when indexing a site."

Sam's word is good enough for me, but for those of you out there who need a little more convincing, here's what Google has to say.

Google's John Mueller (@JohnMu) confirmed in a Google Webmaster Help thread and even recommended to one webmaster they remove their robots.txt file "completely."

I would recommend going even a bit further, and perhaps removing the robots.txt file completely. The general idea behind blocking some of those pages from crawling is to prevent them from being indexed. However, that's not really necessary -- websites can still be crawled, indexed and ranked fine with pages like their terms of service or shipping information indexed (sometimes that's even useful to the user :-)).

Pretty simple. You don't need to worry about having robots.txt.

Any questions? Share your comments and thoughts below!

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Topics: seo, website

Why Nobody Reads Your Corporate Blog (from Go Inbound Marketing 2014)

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Jul 23, 2014 9:41:00 AM

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at Go Inbound Marketing 2014, the biggest Inbound Marketing event in the Midwest.

It was a great event with lots of excellent speakers. My presentation was "Why Nobody Reads Your Corporate Blog" and I had a great experience sharing my presentation with the audience.

Below is the video of my presentation followed by the transcript. I hope it helps you optimize and improve your business blog. Enjoy!

[Note: if you're interested in booking me to speak at your event, visit michaelreynolds.com for more information.]


Good morning. Real happy to be here. I'm Michael Reynolds with SpinWeb. We're talking about blogging. I'm not going to give you a whole big spiel about my company because you can find us online, and our website does all that for us pretty well, so look us up. You can grab this slide deck any time you want, now if you want or whenever, at SpinWeb.net/goinbound. You can download it there. It works fine on mobile, so you can always grab the slide deck there if you want to later.

A little bit about me. I appreciate the kind words, Jeremy. Those who know me know I love sushi a lot, like, a lot, so anybody ... sushi lovers in here? Miyagi’s in Indianapolis is my favorite, 96th Street. If you're not from Indy, go check it out if you get time. It's amazing. Get the diablo roll. It's fantastic. I also play the cello. I play tennis. Obviously, I'm a marketing and tech nerd, and again, our website's there. We do inbound-marketing websites and app development.

We are talking about blogging, specifically why nobody reads your blog. Now, if you have an awesome blog and none of these takeaways apply to you, great. You can rest assured that your blog is fantastic. You're doing great. Good to go. That's awesome. However, I'm hoping that some of you will have at least two or three takeaways that you can use as kind of a tune-up to your business blog. This is really thought of as really a tune-up to make sure that you can kind of move the knob, move the needle, turn the volume up on a couple things, and really optimize your blog to be more effective for you.

HubSpot tells us some good metrics, some good stats that business blogging works. It makes sense. It leads to more website traffic, more leads. How many of you here are with companies that publish a business blog on a regular basis, by a show of hands? Oh, not as many as I would hope. Okay. How many of you are tired of marketing people telling you you're supposed to blog? Ah, there we go. Thanks. Yeah. So, sorry, it works. We're going to keep telling you to blog. You don't have to. There's other things you can do, but when it comes to inbound marketing, there's a lot of tactics involved when you're putting a strategy together, and blogging is a really good foundation for all of it.

It's a really good common foundation that kind of ties the pieces together, that really builds a good content foundation, and generates leads and generates business, and we have proof. HubSpot has tons of case studies that ... Here's our own. These are our leads from our own blog, actual sales from our blog. We have metrics showing this stuff works, that we actually have business from our blog, so it works. It may not work for everybody, but it works for us, and it works for a lot of people we work with, so I really believe in it.

How many of you here have tried blogging, but it didn't work, so you gave up, by a show of hands? A few. I see some heads nodding. Thank you for being honest. Some of you are lying. You’re not raising your hand. That's okay. I see this a lot. People say, "Oh, well, these marketing people shout at me to blog all the time. They say I'm supposed to blog and write articles once a week, and this will magically bring the inbound-marketing fairies to my doorstep, and I'll make a bunch of money." Right?

You blog for maybe a couple months, try it out, and you throw up your hands and say, "Well, it didn't work. I didn't get leads. I didn't get website traffic. Nobody's reading it." There may be some reasons for that, and hopefully, some of these things may ring true, and you may be able to have some takeaways here that can help your blog be more effective and perform better. Hopefully, that's the case here.

Why is nobody reading it? One, your blog is boring. Don't be offended. Some of us have boring blog posts sometimes, even us. I see a lot of blog posts written from the standpoint of a highly technical, really smart person writing content that is meant to teach. It's meant to educate, but it's written in such a way that it's so thick and so technical and so formal, and it goes through five layers of approval. A committee has to approve it, and the board has to approve it, and by the time it gets out there, it's just so boring. Nobody wants to read it, right?

The tone I recommend taking with your business blog is think of yourself sitting down with a friend over dinner explaining a complex concept. You wouldn't use super-formal language. You wouldn't use really thick complex terminology. You would just speak like a human, right? That's the tone you want to take on your blog. That is what gets people to actually want to read it and digest the information. Don't make it boring. Think about talking to your best friend over dinner. That's really the tone for them to take.

Next, your blog is a secret. Nobody knows about it. Obviously, I think most of us know that it's good to share your blog posts on social media. Share them more than once, though. A lot of times, I see organizations that post a blog, and maybe it's automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. Then they just kind of say, "Well, I've done my job. It's out there. That's it, right?" No, share it multiple times. Put it in your editorial calendar. Go back to previous blog posts that get a lot of attention and maybe are great topics. Bring them back so often, and share them over and over again. Not too much, but put them in your schedule.

Email them to clients. This is big. I see a lot of organizations that may have decent content, but no one in the company is sharing it. No one in the company cares. They're sharing it on social media, but there's sales people out there trying to make sales and trying to engage with prospects that are not sharing blog posts with prospects. Prospects ask tons of questions. Those all make great topics for your business blog, so why not take previous articles, apply that to your sales process? The sales people can have this huge library of blog posts they can then share with prospects to answer questions and demonstrate expertise and thought leadership.

Make sure your customer-service people use them. Customer-service people have to answer the same question all the time, right? Write a blog post; answer the question. Put that in your library. Put that in your customer-support system, so they can just send a link very quickly. Save them time. Make your customer-service process more efficient. Make sure people know about it. Don't keep it a secret. There's lots of avenues beyond just social media that you can use to share a blog post.

You don't do keyword research. This is not ... Well, let me take that back. I think it's fun because I'm a nerd. Allison, part of our team back there at SpinWeb, also thinks it's fun because we're nerds, but it's not fun for everybody. But it's pretty important because this keeps your blog tuned in the right direction. If you're doing keyword research, you're going to find search terms and phrases that your target market, based on personas, are searching on, and that gives you really good information to decide what topics to write about.

If you haven't done keyword research, there's some really nice tools to help you. There's a free one that Google has called Keyword Tool, so if you google Keyword Tool, you're find it. Use that. Ubersuggest, if you've never used it, go bookmark Ubersuggest right now. It's amazing. You can type in one or two-word phrases that apply to what your target audience searches on. It'll bring back sometimes hundreds of variations, and you can then plug those into your keyword tool.

We use HubSpot, for example, and you can get all sorts of data on what the most popular terms are, and that's the kind of stuff you want to go after. This is what helps you align your blog content with search and gets found on search. Those graphs I showed you at the beginning where we're showing leads and sales coming from a blog, they usually find us on search because we align our blog posts with the right keywords.


Maybe your blog lacks imagery. Maybe it has good content and good text, but there's never any photos. When you share your blog posts on social media and there's no photo or imagery there, it's kind of bland. Nobody wants to click because it's just kind of competing with everything else on Facebook, which includes pictures of kittens and all sorts of fun things, and your blog post has no imagery. That also applies to rich media. Embed videos. Embed media that goes with it and adds context.

One of my favorites: your authors are not people. What do I mean by this? Well, some people, they get really hung up on hiding behind their company name on their blog. They post an article, and it says, "Hey, blah, blah, here's the title. Author: Acme Corporation." Who wants that? Your blog should be written by a real person. By the way, Google agrees. Google agrees because they want you to tie authorship from your blog post to your Google Plus account.

So if you're not publishing your articles as real people, make sure the by-line says Bob Smith or whatever the name is there as a real person, links to their profile, and in your Google Plus profile, make sure that that person is correctly linking themselves as a contributor to your website via Google Plus. That way, Google knows where the authorship is, and then when you get found on search, you've got a nice little head shot next to the post, as well. It makes it look nice and results in higher click-through rates. So make sure your authors are people. It also humanizes it, so people actually feel like they're talking to a real person. That's important.

Maybe you're telling too many campfire stories. Campfire stories are posts that are, "When I was a kid," or, "Once upon a time, I did this," or, "Here's a story about a thing one time." They just drone on and on about this story, and they might get to a point eventually, but you may not get there because you're so tired of hearing this drawn-out campfire story. Sometimes, that will work, but I caution against doing this as the theme of your blog. You want to start posts with things like "how to" or "the best way to" or "is it bad to" or "why does." You want to teach. Don't reminisce. Teach.

The most effective blog posts, in general, that I've seen, always with exceptions, but in general with our clients, are ones that teach a concept, a very specific concept that solves a problem. Look for those problems that your prospects are trying to get answers to. Zone in on that; answer that question, and teach in that post.

Maybe your titles are vague. If you're Seth Godin, you can get away with a vague title all day long because you're Seth Godin. Am I right? But I'm not Seth Godin. Most of us aren't. We need to be very specific and very descriptive. So industrial stuff or business stuff or here's just kind of a topic out there as the title, that's not really going to get much attention. Now, I don't recommend selling your soul and doing Upworthy-style titles like, "This three-year-old started singing in public, and you'll never believe what the crowd did next." That's kind of selling your soul.

I wouldn't go that far, but I would try to be very descriptive and very specific: "how to do a thing by doing something else" or "the secret to" or "why a thing" or "getting the most out of something." Be very specific and tell people exactly what they're getting. People don't like to be surprised, or they don't like to think, "Well, that's vague. I'm not sure what I'm going to get if I click on that, so I'm not going to spend the effort." Tell them what they're going to get. Be specific.

Maybe you post once every three months. Let me get some hands up again. How many of you manage your ... or are with a company that publishes a blog, and you publish it once a week or more? Okay, good, quite a few. A few less hands, though; some of you are a little more sporadic. So that's good that you're publishing at least once a week or more. Now, again, there's always exceptions. Jeremy touched on some of this. It's not always about quantity. It's about quality, as well. There's different variations, but in general, if you are running a successful inbound-marketing program, you want consistency, and publishing on a consistent basis will help that. HubSpot again has data proving that blogging frequency does affect customer acquisition. HubSpot's crazy. They blog multiple times a day. It blows my mind, so it does help.

Maybe you make it hard to subscribe. I see a lot of great business blogs. They have some good content, but I go to put in my email address to subscribe, and I can't find it. I'm like, "Well, all right, I guess I don't know when they're going to put the next one out." A lot of people subscribe via email, via RSS, via email, via social media ... Oh, yeah, email and email, right? I harp on this because it's such an afterthought sometimes to so many companies. They don't have a way to subscribe via email.

By the way, this doesn't just apply to your blog itself. It applies to other parts of your website. For example, every time someone downloads an eBook or a form or fills out some form on your website, have a little checkbox there that says, "Would you like to subscribe to our blog?" “Yeah.” Check. Not everyone will check it, but we find that over half of people do check it when they download something from us, and we get a lot of subscribers to our blog that way just because it's an impulse-buy kind of thing. That's why you buy that candy bar at the check-out line. It's right there in front of you. Why not, right? So allow people to impulse opt into your blog. It'll really grow your readership from every landing page, every form you have.

Maybe you're selling too much. Maybe you're this guy. You don't want to sell on your blog. You want to occasionally link to things that help your company, but in general, you want to teach. You want to be very authentic and solve the problem. Don't sell. There's other places and times to sell in the process in inbound marketing. Blog is typically not your touch point to sell on.

Maybe you don't exchange guest posts. Again, Jeremy touched on this a little bit in terms of reaching out to influencers. It's really good to reach out to influencers, partner with them, have them write for you, you write for them. It's not an SEO trick. Google's clamped down on that for SEO tricks, but it's good for amplifying your audience: getting their audience to share your stuff; you share their stuff. It's a win-win, so find influencers to partner with.

Maybe you're not spending any money on it. Maybe you're this guy, and you say, "Well, my blog should be good enough on its own." Well, again, Jeremy talked about this before. Facebook has really clamped down on organic reach. Other social properties are probably not far behind, so take advantage of services like Outbrain, like [Print or Post 00:13:27], like Twitter audiences. Go ahead and spend a few bucks, and distribute your blog on paid media sources, as well. Outbrain's great because you can plug your RSS feed into Outbrain, and it'll just automatically just find readers for you in different media sites, and you can bring in some traffic that way and really kind of boost and accelerate your readership.

Now, all these things are things you could do today to fix very inexpensively usually with the exception of this one. If your website's ugly, that's going to take a little bit of an investment. I always like pictures of puppies, and they tend to please a lot of people, but if your website's ugly, this is going to play a part. If you have a website that is not mobile, not responsive, not mobile-optimized, it is ugly, not working, there's plenty of studies out there that have data showing that this affects conversion rates. It affects how people interact with your website. If your website's ugly, you've got to fix it. Otherwise, you're not going to gain trust. People are not going to subscribe. You're not going to gain readership.

I promised [inaudible 00:14:30] I’d speed up a little bit and be quicker because we're close to break, and I do not want to keep you from break, so with that, I hope that's given you some takeaways. I hope it really helps you kind of tune up your business blog and really help to kind of fix a few things that might be going wrong. Hopefully, it helps you optimize and really broaden your readership, help your blog be more effective, and hopefully, it's useful to you. Again, you can grab the slide deck online at SpinWeb.net/goinbound. It's a short form. It'll work on mobile. Grab it there. Always happy to follow up later, so thanks so much. I appreciate your time. Thank you.

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Topics: blogging, events

7 Simple steps for creating effective web forms

Posted by Stephanie Fisher

Jul 22, 2014 1:30:00 PM


One significant priority for many websites is to gather information. Both corporations and non-profits typically have a need to create forms for their constituents to fill out and return, such as surveys, application forms, and registration forms

There are also the forms we put on offer download pages or landing pages to capture new leads.

We're glad to see that web forms are replacing old, outdated Word doc forms from yesteryear. 

It's not hard to create a user-friendly, effective web form. You just need to keep a few things in mind about your audience and your goals. So let's go over these guiding questions to help you create an effective web form for event registrations, collecting leads, or gathering constituent information.

1. How much information do you really need?

The easier it is for someone to complete a task, the more likely that person is to do it, which means a higher rate of conversion. Ask yourself how much information from your potential lead do you really need?

2. Are you looking for more lead volume or higher quality leads?

If you are offering a download, be intentional about how much information you ask for on the form. If you want more lead volume, keep the form short and perhaps only ask for email address, first name, and last name. If you want fewer but higher-quality leads, consider asking for more information.

3. Can you use auto-fill lead forms for repeat visitors? 

It can be frustrating for visitors to come back and fill out additional landing pages on your website and have to type in their information all over again. Make sure you save their information so that your other landing pages automatically fill in data they've already submitted. This removes friction from the process and increases the chances that they will submit the form.

4. Would you be comfortable giving as much personal information as what you're asking of your visitors?

If your form asks or requires personal information (gender, identification numbers, blood type, social security numbers of firstborn children!) then be prepared for a low conversion rate. 

5. Is the quality of the offer or reason for filling out the form valuable enough to make it worthwhile for your user?

If you're asking for information of visitors filling out your form, they may be willing to hand it over if you have a valuable enough offer. For example, if you are the Massage Therapy Foundation and you're offering a high-quality guide with several research case studies, then you can probably get more information about your visitors since they really, really want that download. With that information, you can then segment your email lists for even more effective communications.

6. Does my form and landing page look legit, safe, and secure?

Visitors to your site will be much more likely to hand over their information to you if your website looks professional and inspires trust. 

7. Which form gets more conversions or higher quality leads depending on your goals?

It's always a good idea to do a little A/B testing on your forms to see what factors lead to higher conversion rates. You can set up two landing pages with forms. Here's a great example of A/B testing from HubSpot:

"Scenario A (You Need More Leads): Test a landing page using a longer form against the same landing page using a shorter form (or test multiple form length variations). When analyzing your A/B test, you should be looking to see how the various forms affect conversion rates. The hypothesis is that you will be able to gather more leads from your shorter forms, but if not, another landing page factor may having a bigger impact on your landing page's conversion rate (remember -- form length isn't the only factor). If this is the case, spend some time optimizing other elements of your landing page such as copy, layout, and offer and see if those changes positively impact your page's conversion rate.

Scenario B (You Need Higher Quality Leads): Run an A/B test on a landing page that tests longer forms but puts more of a focus on the different types of fields you include. When analyzing your A/B test, you should be looking for indicators of lead quality. The hypothesis is that your conversion rate will likely go down, but that you'll notice leads that are higher in quality and easier to qualify right off the bat. You'll likely need to consult with your sales team about their perception of the quality of the leads you produced from specific landing page variations to help you settle on the right number -- and types -- of form fields."

The next time you need to create a web form, follow these steps and see those conversion rates climb! 

Do you have forms on your website that you need to convert to web forms? Do your current web forms follow some of these best practices? You can always go back through your forms and update them, do some testing, and see what factors make the difference for your organization. Let us know if you get better results with these tips!
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Topics: marketing, optimization, inbound marketing, web design, analytics

How to drive engagement with online quizzes [Digital Exec]

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Jul 18, 2014 10:30:00 AM

There are plenty of ways to engage your audience online. Blogging, social media, and video are all effective tools in your Inbound Marketing toolbox.

But have you considered quizzes?

Join us for this episode of The Digital Exec as we talk with Josh Little, Head Quizzard at Qzzr, to learn how to drive engagement with online quizzes.

Subscribe to the Digital Exec podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.


Michael Reynolds: Hey everyone, Michael Reynolds here with SpinWeb and welcome to The Digital Exec., a marketing insights show for business leaders. I'm here today with Josh Little from Qzzr. Josh, how are you today?

Josh Little: I'm so good. Thanks for asking.

Michael Reynolds: Awesome. Glad to talk to you.

Today, I'm really excited about our topic because it's a lot of fun and the tool that you've created is a lot of fun as well. I've been using it in our marketing campaigns with great success. You've got a company called Qzzr. Q-Z-Z-R dot C-O is your website.

I want to ask you a few questions today about how people can drive engagement with online quizzes but first, a thirty-second intro, who you are and what your role is at Qzzr, Josh?

Josh Little: Josh Little, I'm the Chief Quizzer at Qzzr. I don't know what that means but that means I keep the thing going and make sure the product works and customers are happy. The Founder of Qzzr and I have been building Qzzr now for about seven months and we've been in the market for three to four months and just been growing.

My role is to kind of just spread the gospel of Qzzr and evangelize Qzzr with the world.

Michael Reynolds: Love it and your beard is getting much more impressive every time I see you.

Josh Little: Thank you.

Michael Reynolds: I have to note it. Let me jump in first and ask you some basics. What is an online quiz? What have we seen day-to-day on social media that we can kind of point to and say "That's the kind of online quizzes that we're talking about here?"

Is it those things like "What Game of Thrones character are you?" or "Test your knowledge of this city or that city." Is that the kind of stuff that you are focused on when you say "online quizzes"?

Josh Little: Yeah, absolutely. In the last six to twelve months you've not been able to go on a Twitter or Facebook feed without seeing these quizzes. There are quizzes on sites like BuzzFeed that you've seen or Zimbio. In fact, the number one article on New York Times last year was a quiz and it was launched December twenty-first.

It only had ten days to get that number one status and it was that dialect quiz that you've maybe seen or these quizzes like "Which State should you actually live in?" "Which Disney princess character are you?" Those are the quizzes that we're talking about. That's what Qzzr allows you to create, online quizzes similar to those but instead of launching them on those sites, you can launch them on your own site for your own blog, brand, product, or cause.

Michael Reynolds: Right, okay. Great, so why quizzes? Obviously we do inbound marketing, we've been a marketing agency for a very long time. We have a lot of things that go into that, like content creation, blogging, video, social media, so why quizzes? What role can a quiz play in marketing campaigns?

Josh Little: The whole goal of a marketer is to engage the audience and to engage a client, to really feed them with whatever they're looking to be fed with. To help educate them, ultimately. People have used over time hieroglyphics and paper and billboards and display ads. There's been this renaissance as a constant over time. Years ago that happened with surveys and polls and video.

It just happens to be quizzes has been discovered as a really engaging way to educate someone and people love it. Quizzes are a survey that people volunteer to take, that they tell the truth and show it to hundreds of their friends. They've turned out to be very effective in terms of a content medium.

More effective sometimes than infographics or video or anything else that can be created because quizzes really by nature, feedback the individuals that are taking them. For instance, a survey is all about me feeding you. If you give me a survey, I'm feeding you, right?

That's why people have to beg "Please take my survey. It's only going to be thirty seconds" or "it's only two questions." A quiz, you don't really need to beg, you just have to throw out an interesting topic: "Which Game of Thrones character are you?" "I don't know, I've always kind of wondered that."

Along the process it's me feeding myself. Even if it's a graded quiz, it's me getting feedback on where I measure up. "Am I a gearhead or not? Am I a candidate for Lasik surgery or not? In fact, I've always wanted to know that." A quiz kind of has this bi-directional value prop so it's not just this one-way sort of channel. It's not just me telling you my thing, it's you discovering for yourself what is valuable for you about this topic.

Then getting at the end, some sort of result. Whether that's a score or a measurement or an outcome. If I'm taking a quiz, I get a result at the end. Those are a few swatches of why I think they're so meaningful to people and this is a super unsubstantiated fact that I actually just heard in a meeting this morning. It could be totally wrong, I probably shouldn't even release it but somebody was saying-

Michael Reynolds: I like made-up facts, it's okay.

Josh Little: These are made-up facts. I'm just going to say, this could be a made-up fact by someone else but they're pretty reputable. They said the number one display ad of all times was actually a quiz. I was going to look that up, I haven't had a chance today so that just suggests that people want engagement. They want to play. They want to be involved and not just showered with information.

Michael Reynolds: You kind of touched on this briefly and the thing I want to cover is, when I look at online quizzes, usually they're ... again, I always go back to "What Game of Thrones character are you?" I usually skip those, I'm not very interested. I'm usually in kind of a business mindset. I've got stuff to do, I want to stay productive. I don't think I take too many of those quizzes that are more of the pop culture kind of stuff.

You touched on some nice ways that businesses can use quizzes as self-assessments or ways to engage people in a certain type of fact-finding mission that can actually bring their audience closer to their product or service as well. Do you see a lot of that happening too?

Josh Little: Absolutely. In fact, it's what I'm most excited about as a former educator and creator of the world's foremost social learning platform and owner of an agency that's created training platforms for Fortune 500 companies, that's running in my blood. I want to take this frothy medium of quizzes ... "What Disney princess character are you?" I would never take that, well actually I took that quiz but I don't tend to click on those quizzes.

I'm more excited of translating that frothy sort of medium into real business value. That's what we're trying to do is help people understand that under the hood of a quiz is actually a decision engine. You can create a decision engine for any term anyone has through your product life cycle or through your sales cycle.

Any decision that they have to make, you could help them make that through discovering a quiz. We just saw Lime Ricki, who's a swimsuit company, launch a "Which swimsuit should I wear this summer?" quiz which turns out to be a tongue-twister. They're helping their customers understand, instead of looking through thousands of swimsuits on my site, take this quiz; tell us about your size, tell us about your preference, where you go swimming, where you want to hang out and we're going to show you the best swimsuit for you. In fact, at the end we're going to give you fifteen percent off, click right here for an offer.

That's been very successful with them. When you look at that for a swimsuit company, now what if I'm an optometrist? I already mentioned the "Are you a candidate for Lasik surgery?" quiz or "Which eye disease do I have?" or "Which sort of frames would look great on my face?" You could start riffing title after title that would be beneficial. Even for like a small-town optometrist, they could launch some quizzes that could help their customers either make decisions or go out beyond their customer base and gain those new fans and followers.

Michael Reynolds: Yeah, I like that. Obviously you might have to be careful with some of the medical advice-centered stuff but I do like the idea of "Which frames are the best for you?" "Are you a candidate for Lasik?" Stuff like that. How do you know which type of quiz is right for your business? For example, you've mentioned things like which character are you or which so-and-so are you or there's other quizzes that are more assessment-based. Maybe you get a percentage or a score at the end on how well you did.

Josh Little: Mm-hmm.

Michael Reynolds: What are some guidelines? If someone's saying "Okay, I would like to start using quizzes tactically in my marketing strategy. When do I use them? How do I use them? How do I decide what my outcome is?


Josh Little: Yeah, that's a great question. The obvious one is like you said, the which blank are you? Everyone kind of goes to that because it's an easy one to make and it's fun. People expect that to be the most engaging, the highest traffic quiz that they'll ever create. In reality, those do pretty well in terms of getting out there but really one of the tips here is they have to be congruent with the content that's already on your site.

Content that's interesting to your channel. For instance, if you created "What Disney princess character am I?" Just because that did well on BuzzFeed doesn't mean it's going to do well on your financial management blog. It really falls flat. Even though it got like one point five million people to take it on BuzzFeed, that's what people are trying to do on BuzzFeed. That's the job they're hiring a quiz to do, is just entertain.

Michael Reynolds: Yeah, BuzzFeed is there to help you waste time at work.

Josh Little: Yeah, waste time at work, wait 'til five o'clock, exactly. If I'm on this financial management blog, the job that I'm hiring this blog to do is help me become better at managing my finances so the quiz ought to be really more focused at "Are you ready for retirement?" or "Do you have enough invested?"

Some of those more relevant problems that the quiz could solve or even "Do you know your facts about the..." I'm going to do terrible at riffing on financial management concepts but "Do you know the hottest stocks out there?" It could be a graded quiz on different stocks or different symbols.

Michael Reynolds: "Do you know which mutual fund is right for you?" Stuff like that.

Josh Little: Yeah, absolutely. We've seen actually graded quizzes are some of the top quizzes that have been launched. Some of the quizzes that have gotten the most traffic, the highest conversion rates, are actually graded quizzes so that's really validating to us. Because it helps us kind of shine the light. What we're doing is translating this frothy medium into real business value. That's working for people so it's been fun.

Michael Reynolds: I don't mean to put you on the spot. I'm not sure if you have an answer to this unless you're in these industries but you mentioned two industries that are extremely regulated, one is medical and one is financial. Both highly regulated so I would imagine putting a quiz online that helps people guide them toward the right mutual fund would be not necessarily in compliance and they have to be really careful of that.

Have you ever worked with any organizations that are very stuck in compliance and they have to be very careful about the type of self-assessments they put out there? Do you have any advice?

Josh Little: That's a good question. I'm trying to think of a really good example though because we've had a few but obviously those industries don't tend to be early adopters and right now with Qzzr what we're seeing a lot of are early adopters. It's more in the retail and the consumer world. ESPN's launching a quiz today. It's more like publisher, more consumer-based world.

Michael Reynolds: Yeah. Basically, the same advice with a lot of the times is basically, check with your compliance department, make sure you're not overstating any deliverables and I think there's probably ways to make that work still.

Josh Little: Yeah. What I found is the clients that we've worked with that have compliance issues, they know way more about their compliance needs than we do. From a HIPAA standpoint or 508 compliance on web properties and all that stuff. They know the regulations and we just work with them to make those happen.

Michael Reynolds: What about boring industries? I talk a lot about, people talk to me oftentimes about their industry being too boring to do a lot of interesting marketing, whether it's manufacturing, whether it's legal or whether it's selling a widget that goes in a machine, whatever it is. They say "My industry's too boring to do a lot of this inbound marketing stuff. It's not going to really work."

What would you say to, quote, boring industries that might be interested in using quizzes or online assessments like this in their marketing?

Josh Little: I don't want to make a blanket statement about this, but we've seen some amazing results in boring, very niche-y topics. For instance, we had a quiz which is "Which sub-genre of linguistics should you be in?" Which, if you were to ask me, I'm going to guess about thirty-five people are going to take that quiz.

We know the person who launched it through a friend of a friend, I'll spare you the story. Anyway he thought like, wildest dreams, if a thousand people took this quiz it would be so awesome and it's just passed like seventy thousand takes on it. Which is insane and he's put no promotion behind it, he launched it on his personal Facebook channel.

That's an extremely niche-y, I feel boring but linguists will probably argue otherwise, right? To linguists, that's it. That's the coolest quiz they've ever seen and they're taking it and they're sharing it with all their linguist friends and it just kind of starts to take off.

Michael Reynolds: Love it, love it.

Josh Little: We've seen another one kind of like that. "Which Connecticut town is your true home?" was the title of the quiz. Again, Connecticut's a small state, who's going to take that? A guy in Connecticut made that quiz, launched it on his personal Facebook page. It had only ninety-three people had taken it in the first twenty-four hours. The post actually got zero likes, six comments and it just raced past sixty thousand people who have taken that quiz.

All through just social media shares, he's put no promotion behind it. That's why I say, I don't want to make a blanket statement like "Go make quizzes for your very boring topic and they're going to just take off." Because it's not the case, we've also seen people launch quizzes and get a few hundred people to take them.

For some topics that might be okay because a few hundred people could equal a few dozen leads, which for an optometrist a lead could be very valuable. For many businesses, one lead is worth the effort.

Michael Reynolds: Right, right.

Josh Little: A quiz can sort of deliver on that.

Michael Reynolds: That's awesome. I think before we wrap up, is there anything else, any advice that you would give to people if they're thinking about integrating, I won't say a quiz strategy, but I guess these tactics of using quizzes in their marketing strategy? Any advice we haven't covered? Anything you'd like to leave our audience with?

Josh Little: Yeah, maybe a couple of things. I think one of the things, I don't know if I'm actually battling it or not, helping people understand. I've just talked about quizzes that have gotten in the millions of responses and just taken off and blown up on social media. I think what I want to communicate is that, that's cool and that's great that that happens but it doesn't need to happen to create a valuable result for your business or your organization.

If you can help one person make a decision that you didn't have to physically talk to them about or have a support question to answer for them, that's a win. If you had a quiz out there that could help people make a decision on your website or help them better understand what product it is they want, even if that was one or two or three people, that's a win, right?

Quizzes don't have to go out and get millions of people taking them to be successful in terms of a workhorse for your business or for your need so I would say that first. Secondly, I've already said what we're most interested in is trying to translate that, the exciting frothy medium of quizzes into real value and I would say, try to think about what it is you're actually trying to do. What it is you're trying to move.

For some people, they just want more eyeballs on their website. They just want more traffic. A quiz can do that, that's one of the three jobs people hire a quiz to do, which is drive traffic. A quiz is great at doing that because when you launch a quiz and let's say you have an email list of ten thousand people. You launch a quiz to that and you get the standard, whatever, twenty, thirty percent open rate of an email. Then three thousand people let's say, take your quiz.

Of that, you might get twenty, thirty percent that share that quiz so now we're down to nine hundred to a thousand people that have shared that quiz on social media. They just shared that with three to five hundred people each, of those three to five hundred people, we're talking conversion rates here and I don't know if this is a big numerical jumble, but I can see it really clearly in my mind.

Now of those three to five hundred people, maybe thirty to fifty click on that quiz, come back and the quiz starts to go outside of your email list so if you're really only touching those ten thousand people what you actually do is touch ten thousand people plus nine hundred to a thousand people who have shared it beyond your email list.

Those people can all come back now, experience your brand, experience this quiz and then at the end of that quiz you can start to capture that value by either asking for a lead, capturing the lead either saying "Are you interested in more information about SpinWeb? Are you interested in more information about financial management from my organization?" or whatever that might be.

You can capture the lead or you can drive them to an offer to another site and say "Hey, download our free eBook" or "Take this coupon for your next visit" or "Purchase this pair of shoes today." Whatever that is. I'm trying to make a point here which is, think about the end result of what you'd like to accomplish. Which is, actually just want more new customers and then start to work backward from that. "How could I find more new customers? What would they need, what would be interesting to them content-wise?" Then the quiz topics start to flow.

Then maybe, I'll just make one last point. Where people tend to sort of get stuck is, "Oh that's cool. I love quizzes. I want to make one. What would the topic be?" There's kind of just a series of questions and they're a little bit common sense. The place I recommend to start is, what topics are already working? Go look at your blog. What are the best articles that you have? What are the most shared articles? Go to your Facebook page. What are the most commented posts? What are those topics?

Start with those and start riffing around those and you can use the common "What blank am I?" or "Which one of this?" Using pictures, "What is this?" quiz. A graded quiz that you could show pictures. I don't know why I'm stuck on financial management for the moment but if you were showing "What is this stock symbol? What is this stock symbol, what is this stock symbol?" And choosing those.

Michael Reynolds: I like the idea of looking for that end result and I agree, that's what marketing's all about. It's about providing and delivering a result and driving revenue so that's great advice, excellent. I can also vouch for the effectiveness of quizzes. We actually, obviously, we are a customer of Qzzr, we started using it recently.

We had a client that only had a couple hundred people in their database to start with, just getting started. Launched a quiz on the blog and it was taken over a thousand times and completed over six hundred times so it was basically a sixty percent conversion rate to completing that quiz. That is a very obvious case of just what you described, where it reached a couple hundred people via email but those people shared it enough to really expand that audience much, much larger than the original list.

It really drove tons of traffic to the website and was extremely successful right out of the gate. It was just a very simple "How well do you know this city?" kind of quiz. One to ten questions, get a score at the end. There were some interesting, kind of obscure questions, some cultural references to the city and all kinds of stuff so a lot of fun to make and very, got a lot of engagement as well so I can vouch for that actually happening. I was happy to see that.

Josh, I really appreciate your time, I really appreciate the insights. Let's have the quick couple minutes on, we've talked a lot about Qzzr already, I think your product is fairly straightforward. You provide a way to make quizzes but anything else that you'd like to tell our audience about Qzzr? What makes it great? What makes it easy to use? What are some success stories? Let's hear the short pitch on Qzzr.

Josh Little: Qzzr is basically a simple quiz tool. You can create your own quizzes online, in minutes. It actually takes you longer to think about the content or search for images than it actually does to build the quiz and then at the end you can embed them anywhere. You can embed them on your site or your blog and they're fully responsive. They work on any device - mobile, tablets, computers so you don't really have to worry about any of that.

We also have a couple of the world's best designers behind the product of Qzzr so the number one bit of feedback we get is the quizzes just look awesome. They look beautiful so they make your content look amazing from the beginning. We help you figure all that out so it's super simple to make a quiz.

There's actually a free plan. You can go sign up to our free version of Qzzr, create as many quizzes as you want, get millions of people to take them. Once you want to start capturing leads or offers or redirecting shares back to your site, that's where we feel the value is created from the quiz or you're extracting value from the quiz, so in the paid plans we'll allow you to do those things. We give you some freebies from the free account, just to try those things out.

We're really trying to create a quiz platform for the whole long tail because there's a handful of large publishers out there, The New York Times and BuzzFeed and now Huffington Post just launched their own quiz tool but they've made their own tool. We can't use those tools. We're trying to create the tool for everyone else in the world to use on their own site, blog, or brand.

Michael Reynolds: It's a great tool. It's absolutely beautiful, just like you said. I love using the tool, it's phenomenal. Very user-friendly, very easy and I love it so I recommend everyone give it a shot. Qzzr is at Q-Z-Z-R dot C-O so definitely check it out. Sign up for the free plan and give it a shot.

Josh, real pleasure talking with you. Great to connect with you as always, really appreciate your time so thank you.

Josh Little: Yeah, thank you. The pleasure's all mine.

Michael Reynolds: Thanks everyone for joining us, we will see you next time.

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Topics: inbound marketing, interview, digital exec, quizzes

Googlebot now runs JavaScript (and why you should care)

Posted by Serena Acker

Jul 17, 2014 1:30:00 PM

The internet is full of dynamic websites (some of which we were proud to help create) that make use of JavaScript.

Recently, Google announced that it will now be executing JavaScript (JS), which essentially means that they have expanded its capability to render richer websites. In layman's terms, this means that Google will see your content more like you do as the end user since it is now executing JS and applying CSS.


But before we get into the dirty details of this change, let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

What is Googlebot?

Googlebot crawls the web (which is why it's often referred to as a "spider) in order to discover new content and get it indexed on search engines. It's called a "bot" because it's a self-regulated system that runs automatically much like a robot. Googlebot scans information all over the web with an absurd amount of computers to help index content. It uses an algorithmic process which helps determine which sites to crawl, how often, and how many pages to fetch from each site.

Previously, Googlebot didn't run JavaScript, meaning that it didn't "play well with others," in that sense. It's significant that it now executes JavaSript because content can now be added more easily to websites. For example, if you have dynamic JavaScript-generated content on your site, it previously wasn't seen by Googlebot (depending on how the web page was built). 

This change will allow developers more flexibility when building a single page application (i.e. Googlebot can now see the content of that app).

What does this mean for you, our beloved clients?  

Several things, really:

  • It gives us more flexibility to create apps for different organizations and helps that content get more fully indexed.
  • It makes the jobs of developers a whole lot easier because they have more flexibility.
  • It means more opportunities for your content to get indexed so that may help with search visibility.

Bottom line: You no longer have to worry about how you structure JavaScript-driven content. Because Googlebot is running JS, Google will be able to index it just like other content. And we happen to think that this is great news! 

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Topics: google

Best cheap or free photo editing tools for marketing directors

Posted by Stephanie Fisher

Jul 15, 2014 1:30:00 PM


Last week I gave you some great tips on where to find free or cheap stock photos. Continuing with the theme of perfecting your website and social media images, we're going to explore some of the free tools for lightweight photo editing.

All of these apps are insanely easy to use right in your web browser, so you don't have to download or install any software and you can use it from any computer. And, they're all free or downright cheap. I know that's music to your ears, all you marketing directors and social media coordinators.


This is my go-to editing app when I don't have access to Photoshop. Pixlr is a light web app that has a surprisingly robust set of features, similar to Photoshop. The toolbox and movable windows are also very similar. 

You can't save as PDF and it usually never works to save a layered file and then be able to open it and edit again, in my experience. If you're mostly cropping, resizing, adding layers and text then this app will do the trick.



I love this tool for creating screenshots on a device. PlaceIt lets you take any website or photo you upload onto a photo of an iPhone or tablet or desktop. There's a variety of devices and backgrounds to choose from. Here's an example I created a while back for this post on responsive design.


I used a blank or white background for mine so that I could add my own text later. It's just a really simple way to do it. PlaceIt now puts a watermark on the images that you download for free, but for a very low price you can buy a larger, non-stamped image.

Awesome Sceenshot

I use this handy app as a Chrome extension quite a bit. It lets you easily screenshot your entire desktop or just a portion of it, and then you can add arrows, boxes, text, and other annotations to the image before downloading it. For free! Awesome Screenshot has a handy blur tool as well so you can quickly blur out any private information that is in the screenshot (like I did below with my username in the corner).




Fotor is similar to Pixlr but it has some really nice presets, if you want to do some enhancing and beautification. The layout of the program is really simple and smooth, too. It's less like Photoshop and more like a well-structured web app. One of the handy features is the Cover Photo section, where it has a selection of social media cover photo templates so you can design and crop the perfect cover photos for your social media channels.



Simple Image Resizer

Sometimes, all you need to do is resize an image and be done. Bookmark this Simple Image Resizer and the next time you need an image 50% smaller, or a new dimension size, just upload your image and input your new specs, and voila. Your image is resized. Couldn't be any simpler.



This photo editing tool is also very popular. It's dead simple to use, and has a nice selection of beautiful fonts to choose from if you need to add some pretty text to your image. Like the other apps mentioned above, you can use Picmonkey in your browser so there's nothing to install, update, or download. 


Do you have any favorite web apps for image editing? Share them in the comments below!

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Topics: photography, content

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