" />

Search Engine Optimization Basics

Search Engine Optimization Basics

Learning the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t difficult

Learning the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t difficult, it’s time-consuming. SEO consultants can offer a variety of services but in the end, website owners will appreciate the optimization services they’re getting much more if they educated themselves on the fundamentals.

The nature of marketing websites has continually evolved from a focus on optimizing text to include an array of digital asset optimization such as images, audio, video and content delivery formats like RSS and mobile. Regardless, there continues to be a significant value in basic SEO.

In many cases, small businesses or small websites especially, there’s a lot the site owner or webmaster/developer can do to improve the search engine friendliness of the site, i.e. fundamental content optimization, before pursuing outside help. However, those that do end up outsourcing on-page optimization and link building often do so because of a lack of resources or the desire to leverage expert experience to avoid big mistakes that can end up costing more to fix than an SEO consultant in the first place.

For those individuals and organizations considering their own basic SEO, here are a few items for review:

  • Define clear and measurable goals for the site and take benchmark measurements
  • Keyword research – generate a glossary of keyword phrases that addresses both prospect needs and the content you’re publishing. Here is a list of the best keyword research tools as voted on by our readers
  • Content creation plan – Think of it as an editorial calendar for your website. You must PLAN on creating keyword sensitive content on an ongoing basis that adds to the user experience
  • Keyword mapping – Using a spreadsheet, map keywords to the page or category. Focus is important, 1-2 phrases per page
  • Keyword phrase order – Does the keyword order in the page match order in the query? Anticipate queries and match the word order: “luxury hotels Chicago” vs “Chicago luxury hotels”
  • Keywords and the buying cycle. Consider the content and where it fits within the buying cycle: Research, Consideration, Evaluation, Purchase
  • Keyword prominence (how early in the page content or title/meta description tag) – Guide: most important phrases high and to left
  • Write to inform and convert as your priority, not to rank. Title tags and meta description tags should be written with keywords in mind, but the focus must be on motivating the reader to click through or to perform some other desired action
  • Keyword in an alt text of images, particularly of images that link to another web page. Keywords should be relevant to the page being linked to
  • Filenames containing keywords are useful but do not change your entire site URL structure if you’ve already published another URL syntax
  • Use hyphens in file names, not underscores
  • HTML sitemaps listing links to all pages or top level categories on the site are still a good idea
  • Google Webmaster Central and Yahoo Site Explorer accounts can provide useful crawling and link information/resources
  • For bloated pages, try to place JavaScript and CSS data in an external file to speed page load and to move content up in the document
  • Implement and review web stats for trends, visitor behavior, content performance, referring traffic and optimization enhancement opportunities: Google Analytics, WebTrends, ClickTracks, Index Tools, HitsLink Enterprise

About Links:

  • Anchor text of interlinking site pages should include relevant keywords, not “click here”
  • Are all internal and external links valid? – Validate all links to all pages on the site
  • Employ a tree-like/organization chart linking structure with a minimal number of clicks to any particular page
  • Intra-site linking – Use appropriate links between lower-level pages. cluster links between subcategories
  • Linking out to external sites – Only link out to relevant, information-rich sites. Do not link to sites that do not add value to the visitor experience
  • Avoid exchanging links for the sake of improving rankings
  • Ensure link stability over time – Avoid “Link Churn”, i.e. changing outgoing links often

Linking tactics:

  • Employ a linking program to acquire incoming links from relevant websites by researching backlinks to high ranking competitor websites
  • Contribute articles using keywords in titles to industry publications – not article directories
  • Engage in blogger PR and online media relations with relevant industry websites
  • Submit keyword optimized press releases to search engine friendly wire services such as prweb.com, prnewswire.com, marketwire.com or pr.com
  • Submit the site to major directories – Yahoo directory, BOTW.org, DMOZ, Business.com
  • Leverage social networks and micro-blogging to promote linkable content
  • Diversify your link building tactics

A few things to avoid:

  • Don’t block your entire site from search engine spiders with a robots.txt during development and then forget to allow after publishing (believe me, it happens more often than you think)
  • Avoid all Flash, all Ajax, iFrames or anything that makes it difficult for a search engine to find and understand site content
  • Avoid more than 100 total links going out on any given page. Sitemaps can be broken up
  • Avoid JavaScript for navigation links. Use CSS for rollover or foldout menus instead
  • Avoid temporary (302) URL redirects. Use permanent redirects (301)
  • Avoid dynamic URLs with session ids, or URLs with more than three parameters and approximately 10 or so characters per variable
  • Avoid buying links from networks of blogs or sites of unrelated content. While we don’t have any particular issue with the idea of buying links as advertising, at TopRank, we prefer to “earn” links for the most long-term value and lowest cost per acquisition

This list is about a third of the checklist I’ve recently revised for our internal use on text-based SEO projects, but should offer small website owners ample insight into the variety of considerations with fundamental site optimization and link building. Interestingly enough, while things are constantly changing in the world of SEO, some things stay the same as you’ll see in this 2002 post from Brett Tabke, “Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone“.

A deep historical knowledge base combined with active engagement, testing, learning and analysis is what keeps web marketers savvy in the ways of SEO and depending on internal resources, it’s also why some companies are better off outsourcing SEO than handling it 100% their own.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

The Rise of the Chief Marketing Technologist

The Rise of the Chief Marketing Technologist

 
Marketing is rapidly becoming one of the most technology-dependent functions in business. In 2012 the research and consulting firm Gartner predicted that by 2017, a company’s chief marketing officer would be spending more on technology than its chief information officer was. That oft-quoted claim seems more credible every day.

A new type of executive is emerging at the center of the transformation: the chief marketing technologist. CMTs are part strategist, part creative director, part technology leader, and part teacher. Although they have an array of titles—Kimberly-Clark has a “global head of marketing technology,” while SAP has a “business information officer for global marketing,” for example—they have a common job: aligning marketing technology with business goals, serving as a liaison to IT, and evaluating and choosing technology providers. About half are charged with helping craft new digital business models as well.

Regardless of what they’re called, the best CMTs set a technology vision for marketing. They champion greater experimentation and more agile management of that function’s capabilities. And they are change agents, working within the function and across the company to create competitive advantage.

Before we describe the role in detail,
Let’s consider the forces that gave rise to it.

In a digital world, software is the chief means of engaging prospects and customers. A marketing team’s choice of software and how to configure and operate it, along with how creatively the team applies it, materially affects how the firm perceives and influences its audience and how the audience sees the firm.

As digital marketing and e-commerce increasingly augment or replace traditional touchpoints, the importance of mastering those capabilities grows. Digital marketing budgets are expanding annually at double-digit rates, and CEOs say that digital marketing is now the most important technology-powered investment their firms can make.

This rise in digital budgets is not merely a migration of spending from traditional to digital media. A growing portion of marketing’s budget is now allocated to technology itself. A recent Gartner study found that 67% of marketing departments plan to increase their spending on technology-related activities over the next two years. In addition, 61% are increasing capital expenditures on technology, and 65% are increasing budgets for service providers that have technology-related offerings.

The challenge of effectively managing all this technology is daunting. There are now well over 1,000 marketing software providers worldwide, with offerings ranging from major platforms for CRM, content management, and marketing automation to specialized solutions for social media management, content marketing, and customer-facing apps. Relationships with agencies and service providers now include technical interfaces for the exchange and integration of code and data. And bespoke software projects to develop unique customer experiences and new sources of advantage are proliferating under marketing’s umbrella.

Bridging Marketing and IT

In this new environment, the CMO and the CIO must collaborate closely. But executive-level cooperation isn’t enough; a supporting organizational structure is also needed. A company can’t simply split marketing technology down the middle, King Solomon style, and declare that the CMO gets the marketing half and the CIO gets the technology half. Such a neat division might look good on paper, but it leaves yawning knowledge gaps in practice. Marketing might not understand how to fully leverage what IT can offer, and IT might not understand how to accurately translate marketing requirements into technical capabilities.

Instead, marketing technology must be managed holistically. In a virtuous cycle, what’s possible with technology should inspire what’s desirable for marketing, and vice versa. The right structure will help marketing become proficient with the array of software it must use to attract, acquire, and retain customers. It will help marketing leadership recognize how new technologies can open up new opportunities. And it will allow marketing to deftly handle the technical facets of agency and service provider relationships in both contract negotiations and day-to-day operations.

The CMT’s job, broadly, is to enable this holistic approach. He or she is the equivalent of a business unit–level CIO or CTO. People in this role need technical depth—many have backgrounds in IT management or software development—but they must also be passionate about marketing. A common profile is an executive with an undergraduate degree in computer science and a graduate degree in business. Many CMTs have experience in digital agencies or with building customer-facing web products.

 

Most CMTs report primarily to marketing, either to the CMO or to another senior marketing executive, such as the VP of marketing operations or the VP of digital marketing. Many also have dotted-line reporting relationships with IT.

Acting as the connective tissue between different constituencies, these executives engage with four key stakeholders: the CMO and other senior marketing executives, the CIO and the IT organization, the broader marketing team, and outside software and service providers (see the exhibit “At the Nexus”). We will describe their interactions with these stakeholders in turn.

The CMO and other senior marketing executives.

The chief marketing technologist supports these executives’ strategy by ensuring technical capabilities and advocating for approaches enabled by new technologies. For example, Joseph Kurian, Aetna’s head of marketing technology and innovation for enterprise marketing, championed the use of “voice of the customer” software to collect user feedback across the company’s mobile and web interfaces. The software has improved customers’ digital interactions with Aetna—a key strategic priority.

 

 

The CIO and the IT organization.

CMTs facilitate and prioritize technology requests from marketing, translating between technical and marketing requirements and making sure that marketing’s systems adhere to IT policies. Andreas Starke, the business information officer for global marketing at SAP, is the principal point of contact between the two functions and streamlines the planning and execution of marketing technology projects. For example, he led the rollout of a shared automation platform to replace the disjointed systems used by previously siloed marketing groups.

Profile of a CMT

The broader marketing team.

The CMT ensures that the marketing staff has the right software and training. Brian Makas, the director of marketing technology and business intelligence at ThomasNet, saw that field sales reps and support staff were inefficiently coordinating their activities through weekly Excel spreadsheets. He jettisoned that time-­consuming process in favor of real-time views obtained through the company’s CRM system—and implemented the new protocol in just a week.

Outside software and service providers.

Here, the CMT assesses how well providers’ technical capabilities meet marketing’s needs, helps integrate the systems, and monitors their performance. Shawn Goodin, the director of marketing tech­nology at the Clorox Company, led the evaluation of six vendors for a platform that would optimize customers’ experiences across channels and devices and integrate consumer data across marketing, sales, and R&D.

The work of these CMTs shows just how open-ended this new role is—and why an executive fully at home in both marketing and IT is essential for the job.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

What Is Guerrilla Marketing?

 What Is Guerrilla Marketing?

The first Guerrilla Marketing book was published by Houghton Mifflin in l984. Today there are 58 volumes in 62 languages, and more than 21 million copies have been sold worldwide. The book is required reading in many MBA programs throughout the world. The author taught the topic at the University of California, Berkeley Extension Division. He lectures on it worldwide.

This describes guerrilla marketing:

“I’m referring to the soul and essence of guerrilla marketing which remains as always — achieving conventional goals, such as profits and joy, with unconventional methods, such as investing energy instead of money.

“Guerrilla Marketing started out a single volume and has since acted biblically by being fruitful and multiplying into a library of 35 books and counting, an Association, a lush website, an abundance of video and audio versions, an email newsletter, a consulting organization, an internationally-syndicated column for newspapers, magazines, and the Internet, and presentations in enough countries for us to consider forming our own Guerrilla United Nations.

The need for guerrilla marketing can be seen in the light of three facts:

Because of big business downsizing, decentralization, relaxation of government regulations, affordable technology, and a revolution in consciousness, people around the world are gravitating to small business in record numbers.
Small business failures are also establishing record numbers and one of the main reasons for the failures is a failure to understand marketing.
Guerrilla marketing has been proven in action to work for small businesses around the world. It works because it’s simple to understand, easy to implement and outrageously inexpensive.
Guerrilla marketing is needed because it gives small businesses a delightfully unfair advantage: certainty in an uncertain world, an economy in a high-priced world, simplicity in a complicated world, marketing awareness in a clueless world.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Valentus Specialty Chemicals Completes Second Acquisition

Huron Capital's Valentus Specialty Chemicals Completes Second Acquisition

DETROIT, April 14, 2016, /PRNewswire/ — Huron Capital Partners LLC ("Huron Capital") today announced its specialty coatings ExecFactor® platform, Valentus Specialty Chemicals, Inc. ("Valentus"), has acquired the floor finishes a business of Memphis, TN-based Precision Technology LLC. ("Precision").  Huron Capital formed Valentus in partnership with coatings industry veterans Ray Chlodney, John Ragazzini and Bob Taylor to pursue a buy-and-build initiative in the industrial coatings sector.  Valentus closed its first investment in December 2015 with the acquisition of coatings manufacturer National Paint Industries ("NPI"). 

Precision's floor coating business has a proven acid cure floor coating system which includes the Swedish Finish & Swedish Crown product lines and the Precision Polyurethane oil-based finish.  Lanny Trottman, founder, and owner of Precision will retain ownership of Precision's wood filler and wood patch products, maintenance products, and roller and brush products, which are not part of the transaction.  The floor coating business will move to NPI's facility in North Brunswick, New Jersey. 

Valentus CEO Chlodney said, "The NPI team has known Precision for a long time and has always thought highly of the business.  We are excited to add these products to the Valentus lineup as we look to expand our presence in the floor coatings market.  In partnership with Huron Capital, we are actively looking for additional complementary coatings companies as we continue to grow the Valentus platform."

Mike Beauregard, Senior Partner at Huron Capital, added, "This is the type of strategic add-on acquisition we envisioned when we created the Valentus ExecFactor® initiative, and we are pleased that it came less than four months after the first Valentus investment.  We are excited about partnering with Ray, John, and Bob, and will be looking to expand Valentus into additional geographies and new product lines."

About Huron Capital Partners LLC

Based in Detroit, Huron Capital is an operationally-focused private equity firm with a long history of growing lower middle-market companies through our proprietary ExecFactor® buy-and-build investment model. We prefer complex situations where we can help companies reach their full potential by combining our operational approach, substantial capital base, and transaction experience with seasoned operating executives. Founded in 1999, Huron Capital has raised over $1.1 billion in capital through four committed private equity funds and invested in over 100 companies, and our portfolio companies have employed over 11,000 people throughout North America. The Huron Capital buy-and-build investment model includes equity recapitalizations, family succession transactions, market-entry strategies, corporate carve-outs, and management buyouts of companies having revenues up to $200 million. Huron Capital targets both majority and less-than-majority equity stakes in fundamentally-sound companies that can benefit from the firm's operational approach to creating value. Huron Capital's sector focus includes business services, consumer products & services, specialty manufacturing and healthcare.

SOURCE Huron Capital Partners LLC

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Personalization & Search Engine Rankings

Personalization & Search Engine Rankings

 

 

 

 

Years ago, everyone saw exactly the same search results. Today, no one sees exactly the same search results, not on Google, not on Bing. Everyone gets a personalized experience to some degree, even in private browsing windows.

Of course, there’s still a lot commonality. It’s not that everyone sees completely different results. Instead, everyone sees many of the same “generic” listings. But there will also be some listings appearing because of where someone is, whom they know or how they surf the web.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pc: Country

One of the easiest personalization ranking factors to understand is that people are shown results relevant to the country they’re in.

Someone in the US searching for “football” will get results about American football; someone in the UK will get results about the type of football that Americans would call soccer.

If your site isn’t deemed relevant to a particular country, then you’ve got less chance of showing up when country personalization happens. If you feel you should be relevant, then you’ll probably have to work on your international SEO.

Pl: Locality

Search engines don’t stop personalizing at the country level. They’ll tailor results to match the city or metropolitan area based on the user’s location.

As with country personalization, if you want to appear when someone gets city-specific results, you need to ensure your site is relevant to that city.

Ph: Personal History

What has someone been searching for and clicking on from their search results? What sites do they regularly visit? Have they “Liked” a site using Facebook, shared it via Twitter or perhaps +1’d it?

This type of personal history is used to varying degrees and ways by both Google and Bing to influence search results. Unlike country or city personalization, there’s no easy way to try and make yourself more relevant.

Instead, it places more importance on first impressions and brand loyalty. When a user clicks on a “regular” search result, you want to ensure you’re presenting a great experience so they’ll come again. Over time, they may seek out your brand in search results, clicking on it despite it being below other listings.

This behavior reinforces your site as one that they should be shown more frequently to that user. Even better if they initiate a social gesture, such as a Like, +1 or Tweet that indicates a greater affinity for your site or brand.

History is even more important in new search interfaces such as Google Now, which will proactively present “cards” to users based on explicit preferences (i.e. – which sports teams or stocks do you track) and search history.

Ps: Social Connections

What do someone’s friends think about a website? This is one of the newer ranking factors to impact search results. Someone’s social connections can influence what they see on Google and Bing.

Those connections are what truly matter because search engines view those connections as a user’s personal set of advisors. Offline, you might trust and ask your friends to give you advice on a restaurant or gardening.

Increasingly, when you search today search engines are trying to emulate that offline scenario. So if a user is connected to a friend and that friend has reviewed a restaurant or shared an article on growing tomatoes then that restaurant and article may rank higher for that user.

If someone can follow you, or easily share your content, that helps get your site into their circle of trust and increases the odds that others they know will find you. Nowhere is this more transformative than Google+, where circling a site’s Google+ Page will change the personalized search results for that user.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

HTML Code & Search Engine Success Factors

HTML Code & Search Engine Success Factors

 

 

 

 

 

HTML is the underlying code used to create web pages. Search engines can pick up ranking signals from specific HTML elements. Below are some of the most important HTML elements to achieve SEO success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ht: HTML Title Tag

Imagine that you wrote 100 different books but gave them all the same exact title. How would anyone understand that they are all about different topics?

Imagine that you wrote 100 different books, and while they did have different titles, the titles weren’t very descriptive — maybe just a single word or two. Again, how would anyone know, at a glance, what the books were about?

HTML titles have always been and remain the most important HTML signal that search engines use to understand what a page is about. Bad titles on your pages are like having bad book titles in the examples above. In fact, if your HTML titles are deemed bad or not descriptive, Google changes them.

So think about what you hope each page will be found for, relying on the keyword research you’ve already performed. Then craft unique, descriptive titles for each of your pages. For more help about this, see our posts in the category below:

Hd: The Meta Description Tag

The meta description tag, one of the oldest supported HTML elements, allows you to suggest how you’d like your pages to be described in search listings. If the HTML title is equivalent to a book title, the meta description is like the blurb on the back describing the book.

SEO purists will argue that the meta description tag isn’t a “ranking factor” and that it doesn’t actually help your pages rank higher. Rather, it’s a “display factor,” something that helps how you look if you appear in the top results due to other factors.

Technically, that’s correct. And it’s one of the reasons we decided to call these “success” factors instead of ranking factors.

A meta description that contains the keywords searched for (in bold) may catch the user’s eye. A well-crafted meta description may help ‘sell’ that result to the user. Both can result in additional clicks to your site. As such, it makes sense for the meta description tag to be counted as a success factor.

Be forewarned, having a meta description tag doesn’t guarantee that your description will actually get used. Search engines may create different descriptions based on what they believe is most relevant for a particular query. But having one increases the odds that what you prefer will appear. And it’s easy to do. So do it.

Hs: Structured Data

What if you could tell search engines what your content was about in their own “language”? Behind the scenes, sites can use specific markup (code) that make it easy for search engines to understand the details of the page content and structure.

The result of structured data often translates into what is called a ‘rich snippet‘, a search listing that has extra bells and whistles that make it more attractive and useful to users. The most common rich snippet you’re likely to encounter  reviews/ratings which usually includes eye-catching stars.

While the use of structured data may not be a direct ranking factor, it is clearly a success factor. All things being equal, a listing with a rich snippet will get more clicks than one without. And search engines are eager for site owners to embrace structured data, providing new and easier ways for less tech-savvy webmasters to participate.

Structured data has been around for quite some time in various forms. But recently search engines have begun to rely on it more with the advent of Google’s Knowledge Graph and Bing’s Snapshot.

This element debuted in the previous edition of the periodic table, and in this edition, we’ve increased the weight, as we see it becoming more important in the future.

Hh: Header Tags

See the headline up at the top of this page? Behind the scenes, HTML code is used to make that a header tag. In this case, an H1 tag.

See the sub-headlines on the page? Those also use header tags. Each of them is the next “level” down, using H2 tags.

Header tags are a formal way to identify key sections of a web page. Search engines have long used them as clues to what a page is about. If the words you want to be found for are in header tags, you have a slightly increased chance of appearing in searches for those words.

Naturally, this knowledge has caused some people to go overboard. They’ll put entire paragraphs in header tags. That doesn’t help. Header tags are as much for making content easy to read for users as it is for search engines.

Header tags are useful when they reflect the logical structure (or outline) of a page. If you have a main headline, use an H1 tag. Relevant subheads should use an H2 tag. Use headers as they make sense and they may reinforce other ranking factors.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Is learning useless stuff good for you?

Is learning useless stuff good for you?

We often require all students to learn things they may never need like latin, calculus, advanced trigonometry and classical literature. The implicit assumption is that learning difficult things is intrinsically good. It trains your brain. It makes you smarter.

True? Or false?

I worked on this assumption for the longest time. As an undergraduate, I took 6 courses per term instead of the required 5. I also took an extra year to graduate, doing the equivalent two majors. I probably took more college courses than 99.9% of the college graduates.

Why did I take all these courses? Because I was convinced that learning about all sorts of things would make me smarter. Many people think it works this way. That’s why we taught people Latin for a long time. In education, that is called transfer: learning something will help you learn something else, even if it is barely related. Does it work? We have reasons to doubt it:

Transfer has been studied since the turn of the XXth century. Still, there is very little empirical evidence showing meaningful transfer to occur and much less evidence showing it under experimental control. (…) significant transfer is probably rare and accounts for very little human behavior. (Detterman)

Caplan is even more categorical:

Teachers like to think that no matter how useless their lessons appear, they are teaching their students how to think. Under the heading of Transfer of Learning, educational psychologists have spent over a century looking for evidence that this sort of learning actually occurs. The results are decidedly negative.

These authors are not saying that learning French won’t help you learn Spanish. They are not saying that learning C++ won’t help you learn Java. Transfering does work, trivially, when there are similarities. Rather, they are saying that learning projective geometry won’t make you a better Java programmer. They are saying that learning fractal theory won’t help you be a better manager.

This has troubling consequences because, for many people, whatever they learned in college or in high school, has very little to do with what they do for a living. Does a degree in journalism makes you a better program manager today? You can legitimately ask the question. Yet employers are happy to assume that a degree, any degree, will help people do a better job, irrespective of the similarities between the job and the degree. For example, Tom Chi explains how his training in astrophysics made him a better business manager. From astrophysics to management? Really?

Can we at least hope that college students improve their critical thinking with all these literature, mathematics and philosophy classes? Roksaa and Arumb looked at the score of students on critical thinking tests as they progress through their studies:

A high proportion of students are progressing through higher education today without measurable gains in critical thinking.

The students have learned skills. It is difficult to go through years of studies without learning something. But this knowledge and these skills do not necessarily transfer to something as basic as critical thinking.

My point is that students might be onto something when they refuse to learn for the sake of learning. We look down at people who refuse to learn mathematics because it appears useless to them. We think that learning some mathematics would be good for them the same way we used to think that learning latin was good for the minds of little boys. We might be wrong.

But this has also a practical consequence for all of us: don’t bother learning skills “just in case” unless you do it for fun. If you want to be a better software programmer, just practice programming. This also means that if you want to acquire practical skills, a school might not be the best place to go: a degree in English might not turn you into a better novelist.

Another consequence is that you should not assume a transfer of expertise: if someone succeeded at one thing, you should not assume they will succeed at something else. If a famous baseball player starts a software company, wait before investing.

How to learn efficiently

I am convinced that much of the gap between the best college students and the worst is explained by study habits. Frankly, most students study poorly. To make matters worse, most teachers are incapable of teaching good study habits.

Learning is proportional with effort

Sitting in a classroom listening to a professor feels like learning… Reading a book on a new topic feels like learning… but because they are overwhelming passive activities, they are inefficient. It is even worse than inefficient, it is counterproductive because it gives you the false impression that you know the material. You can sit through lecture after lecture on quantum mechanics. At some point, you will become familiar with the topics and the terminology. Alas, you are fooling yourself which is worse than not learning anything.

Instead, you should always seek to challenge yourself. If some learning activity feels easy, it means that it is too easy. You should be constantly reminded of how little you know. Great lectures make it feels like the material is easy: it probably is not. Test yourself constantly: you will find that you know less than you think.

Some students blame the instructors when they feel confused. They are insistent that a course should be structured in such a way that it is always easy so that they rarely make mistakes. The opposite is true: a good course is one where you always feel that you will barely make it. It might not be a pleasant course, but it is one where you are learning. It is by struggling that we learn.

On this note, Learning Style theory is junk: while it is true that some students have an easier time doing things a certain way, having it easier is not the goal.

There are many ways to challenge yourself and learn more efficiently:

  • Seek the most difficult problems, the most difficult questions and try to address them. It is useless to read pages after pages of textbook material, but it becomes meaningful if you are doing it to solve a hard problem. This is not news to Physics students who have always learned by solving problems. Always work on the toughest problems you can address.

  • Reflect on what you have supposedly learned. As an undergraduate student, I found that writing a summary of everything I had learned in a class was one of the best ways to study for an exam. I would just sit down with a blank piece of paper and try to summarize everything as precisely as possible. Ultimately, writing your own textbook would be a very effective way to learn the material. Teaching is a great way to learn because it challenges you.

  • Avoid learning from a single source. Studying from a single textbook is counterproductive. Instead, seek multiple sources. Yes, it is confusing to pick up a different textbook where the terminology might be different, but this confusion is good for you.

If sitting docilely in a classroom is inefficient and even counterproductive, then why is it so common a practice? Why indeed!

Interleaved study trumps mass study

When studying, many people do not want to mix topics “so as not to get confused”. So if they need to learn to apply one particular idea, they study to the exclusion of everything else. That is called mass (or block) practice.

Course material and textbooks do not help: they are often neatly organized into distinct chapters, distinct sections… each one covering one specific topic.

What researchers have found is that interleaved practice is far superior. In interleaved practice, you intentionally mix up topics. Want to become a better mathematician? Do not spend one-month studying combinatorics, one-month studying calculus and so on. Instead, work on various mathematical topics, mixing them randomly.

Interleaved practice feels much harder (e.g., “you feel confused”), and it feels discouraging because progress appears to be slow. However, this confusion you feel… that is your brain learning.

Interleaved practice is exactly what a real project forces you to do. This means that real-world experience where you get to solve hard problems is probably a much more efficient learning strategy than college. Given a choice between doing challenging real work, and taking classes, you should always take the challenging work instead.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

 

 

Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques

Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques

Some students seem to breeze through their school years, whereas others struggle, putting them at risk for getting lost in our educational system and not reaching their full potential. Parents and teachers want to help students succeed, but there is little guidance on which learning techniques are the most effective for improving educational outcomes. This leads students to implement studying strategies that are often ineffective, resulting in minimal gains in performance.      

 

 

What then are the best strategies to help struggling students learn?

Fortunately for students, parents, and teachers, psychological scientists have developed and evaluated the effectiveness of a wide range of learning techniques meant to enhance academic performance. In this report, Dunlosky (Kent State University), Rawson (Kent State University), Marsh (Duke University), Nathan (University of Wisconsin–Madison), and Willingham (University of Virginia) review the effectiveness of 10 commonly used learning techniques.

The authors describe each learning technique in detail and discuss the conditions under which each technique is most successful. They also describe the students (age, ability level, etc.) for whom each technique is most useful, the materials needed to utilize each technique, and the specific skills each technique promotes. To allow readers to easily identify which methods are the most effective, the authors rate the techniques as having high, medium, or low utility for improving student learning.

Which learning techniques made the grade? According to the authors, some commonly used techniques, such as underlining, rereading material, and using mnemonic devices, were found to be of surprisingly low utility. These techniques were difficult to implement properly and often resulted in inconsistent gains in student performance. Other learning techniques such as taking practice tests and spreading study sessions out over time — known as distributed practice — were found to be of high utility because they benefited students of many different ages and ability levels and enhanced performance in many different areas.

The real-world guidance provided by this report is based on psychological science, making it an especially valuable tool for students, parents, and teachers who wish to promote effective learning. Although there are many reasons why students struggle in school, these learning techniques, when used properly, should help provide meaningful gains in classroom performance, achievement test scores, and many other tasks students will encounter across their lifespan.

To succeed, adopt the post-industrial view

From time to time, students ask me whether such degree or certificate in computer science will help them get a good job. There is no shortage of studies showing that degrees lead to good jobs. That might be true, but there are also many young (and not-so-young) people who are depressed by their career. This sad state of affairs comes, I believe, from an industrial viewpoint. People seek “certifications” of all sorts, just like factories seek to get “certifications” for their products.

Maybe getting a computer science degree from a leading school feels like “ambition” or “a quest for excellence”, but it is so only if you adopt an industrial viewpoint. In truth, you are more or less going through the motions.

The problem is summarized nicely by Vivek Haldar:

I’ve been a TA for a number of CS classes while in grad school, and I’ve conducted many interviews for software engineer positions. Just from my narrow anecdotal window, it is amazing how many CS students just want to figure out the bare minimum to pass the class; and how many grads do not have a decent grasp of elementary algorithms and data structures, and are not comfortable with code.

Vivek is trying to be nice: he knows that there is more than just anecdotal evidence. Too many students assume that taking a couple of programming classes is all you need to be a developer.

In an industrial universe, we seek standardization. You are either a software developer, or you are not. If some well-known school says that you are a competent software engineer, then you are. Conformism is preferred to an initiative. Going beyond the call of duty is for suckers: do what you are asked, no more. You can also expect the next 5 years to be like the previous 5 years. All you have to do is to be consistent.

In a post-industrial world, you have to adopt different strategies:

  • Instead of seeking a “certificate” that supposedly show that you know how to behave nicely and get work done… start getting actual work done and behave nicely. Then tell the world about it. The certificate or degree becomes just one element in a wide portfolio.

  • Instead of waiting to be told what to do, start figuring out by yourself what you should do. Please don’t wait for a professor to tell you how to build a software application. Go out on your own and figure it out. Better yet: figure out how to get paid for it.

  • Never assume that skills in demand today will be in demand tomorrow. Go learn a new programming language even if no professor told you to do so.

If you behave as a cog in the machine, you will be treated as such, and you are likely to learn to regret it.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Is Inbound Marketing a Waste Of Time and Money?

Is Inbound Marketing a Waste Of Time and Money?


Need to figure out whether inbound marketing fits in your marketing mix? 
Here’s some inbound marketing advice for small businesses.

Inbound marketing is a term coined and evangelized by the founders of HubSpot (a company that develops and markets inbound marketing software) that refers to a strategic use of content in lead generation and sales.

The concept is simple — businesses should use blogs, video, podcasts, guides, ebooks and other types of content to attract new customers. Proponents of inbound marketing claim that this is an easier, cheaper, and more effective way of getting business.

Inbound marketing is usually contrasted with outbound marketing or traditional marketing that consists of buying TV and radio advertising, direct mail campaigns, and other forms of offline marketing. Traditional marketing is seen by inbound marketers as expensive, ineffective and difficult  to measure.

Today inbound marketing has become ubiquitous and many small businesses are allocating more and more of their marketing budgets towards inbound marketing initiatives.

Are there better ways to spend your hard-earned small business marketing dollars?

Inbound Marketing Advice for Small Business

While content marketing shouldn’t be neglected it should take a backseat to a number of strategic business  and marketing strategies and methods.

Focusing on customer experience, referral marketing, increasing brand awareness would all be better choices for spending marketing dollars for most small businesses.

Why?

Because those strategies executed at the same level of competence simply produce a better return on investment in most markets.

There Is Only One Gary Vaynerchuk

Some inbound marketing aficionados will point out that doing content marketing right will propel you to stardom. Gary Vaynerchuk did it — so can you.

This is the first misconception. Practically all small businesses will miss the mark on creating remarkable content and in the process they will waste valuable time and money.

Most small businesses are simply not capable of creating content that will make anyone think twice about sharing it.

At the end of the day — how many wine bloggers do you know?

Inbound Marketing Is Not Free

Producing content, tweeting, blogging and running inbound marketing campaigns costs money or time. Let’s not forget the training costs, opportunity costs and the cost of tools.   

Inbound marketing tools are relatively expensive.

Yearly costs of using the market leading inbound marketing platform like Hubspot for a somewhat established business start at more than $12,000 per year. However, this platform is powerful and its list of features includes everything from keyword suggestions and social media monitoring to landing page creation tools and email lead nurturing.  

But it creates no content.

Great content can make a big impact on your bottom line, but this can come at a substantial cost. Creating comprehensive guides, impactful infographics, producing video and other types of remarkable content can cost thousands of dollars.

If you are like most small business owners content creation is not among your core competencies, and as a result you might find yourself in a situation where you are investing a lot of resources without acceptable returns.

Sometimes Inbound Marketing Is A Waste Of Resources

Content should always be a part of your marketing strategy. However, there are markets where serious investments in content marketing make no sense. Local niche markets like office cleaning, civil engineering or corporate catering are simply not compatible with inbound marketing.

Understanding how your market behaves online and online can save you a fortune.

Customer Experience (Not-Content) Is The One True King

Zappos didn’t become a billion dollar company because they were producing great content about shoes. They became a billion dollar company because they delivered amazing customer experience, and customers couldn’t resist telling their friends.

And what did Zappos use as the primary tool to amaze their customers? Telephone.

Instead of trying to minimize the number of calls they get (much like every other eCommerce business)  Zappos embraced every phone call as an opportunity to create a personal connection with their customers.  Zappos created an army of rabid fans, sales went through the roof, and they got acquired by Amazon for 1.2 billion dollars.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to provide a customer experience that beats expectations for your industry. Finding low-cost ways to personalize, accelerate or personalize your customer experience will go a long way towards increased loyalty and improved profits.

A simple way to improve customer experience design would be to talk to your customers regularly about their experience with your business, identify “pain points” and eliminate those systematically.

Your website can be a useful tool for improving customer experience. This is where content comes into play. You can engineer your content to enhance customer experience just by interviewing your customers. This may result in higher conversion rates and lower customer acquisition costs.    

Remember That You Customers Are Assets

Inbound marketing philosophy is centered around acquiring new customers using some content. If fully adopted as a sole marketing strategy it would limit the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

Small businesses would benefit more by adopting a broader, more strategic approach to marketing that revolves around relationship building, customer experience, and integration of offline and online channels.

Before you make a heavy investment into inbound marketing make sure that:

  • Your customer experience defies industry expectations
  • You measure all important business and marketing metrics.
  • You have a way of communicating with you customers long after they made their last purchase.
  •  Your referral strategy is effective and results are predictable.
  • Your partnerships with complementary businesses produce results.
  • You developed a customer centric culture obsessed by delivering value to customers

Should I Abandon Inbound Marketing?

No.

Inbound marketing should be aligned with your overall marketing strategy as a major part of your online marketing. Content that’s useful to your targeted market can introduce new prospects to your brand but it can also help validate your company in the selection process. Great content can also help reshapes someone’s buying criteria, and compel them to pick up the phone and call you.

But heed this inbound marketing advice for small business: most small businesses can make a greater impact on their bottom lines focusing on other aspects of their marketing strategy before making a serious commitment to inbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing

Turn strangers into customers, and then promoters of your business.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing works by attracting potential customers to your company website. Once they arrive, inbound tools are deployed to convert those qualified visitors into leads, and ultimately customers who will promote your brand.

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing

Traditional outbound marketing, such as TV or radio advertising, can be an annoyance to potential customers. It's also famously inefficient. Inbound is the antidote, because with inbound your ideal customers come to you, on their own time and by their own will. That makes for happy customers.

Step-by-step Guide to Inbound

Attract-Phase-Inbound-StrategyAttract

You don't just want any old traffic to your website, you want the right traffic. You want potential customers who have a passion for the area you operate in. To identify these people we create buyer personas, being holistic, semi-fictional representation of your ideal customers. Your buyer personas are the identities around whom your entire business is built. Here's how we use inbound marketing to attract them.

  •  

  • Blog posts tailored to answer the questions are buyer personas are asking online.

  • Website pages optimized to attract buyer personas and convert them into leads.

  • Social media posts designed to develop your brand voice and drive traffic to your best content.

Convert

It's not enough to just draw a new visitor to your site. The important part is to convert that visitor into a sales lead, by collecting their details through a form. To make that happen, you'll need an enticing offer in the form of value-added content, which appeals directly to your buyer persona. Here's how the conversion stage plays out.

  •  

  • A new visitor lands on your website, where they are greeted by a Call-to-Action button (see foot of the page) that promotes a value-added content offer. This might be in the form of an ebook, or whitepaper, or perhaps a live webinar.

  • Upon clicking the Call-to-Action, the visitor is directed to a landing page. It's there you place a form to capture their details, which must be filled out in order to collect the offer. The moment the form is filled your visitor becomes a lead and enters the sales funnel.

  • The final step sees the lead directed to a Thank You page, where they will be given the offer promised.

Close

So you've attracted your ideal customers and converted them into leads.  Now you need to transform those leads into paying customers. These are the tools we use to close a deal and refine our methods at every stage.

  •  

  • Segmented, personalized email campaigns that nurture customers through their buyer's journey.

  • Marketing Automation tailored to the lifecycle stage of each lead.

  • Analytics to provide closed-loop marketing ROI, generating weekly reports that speak to our successes and where to focus in the future.

 

Delight

The buyer's journey continues after a deal is done. Inbound marketers should set out to delight their closed customers to the point where they want to promote your brand, and potentially serve as evangelists, afterward. Return business is never bad either, along with the opportunity to upsell to an existing customer or client. Here are a few methods we use to delight our customers at Hüify.

  • A Calls-to-Action Strategy that changes based on the lifecycle stage of a customer and their specific buyer persona. We create a customized experience for every visitor to your website.

  • Social Media deployed to provide customers with real-time customer service.

  • Email and Marketing Automation provides existing customers with outstanding content when they need it, as well as introducing new products and features that will benefit them. And it's far less intrusive than a sales call.

 

Major Themes In Inbound Marketing

Content Creation
Targeted content that answers your customer’s basic questions and needs.

Lifecycle Marketing 
Each customer stage requires tailored marketing actions from company.
 
Personalization
As you learn more about your leads, you can personalize your messaging to their needs.
 
Multi-channel
Inbound marketing is multi-channel by nature because it approaches people where we find them.
 
Integration
Publishing and analytics tools work in harmony, allowing you to focus on remarkable content.
 

We don’t just want to get your company amazing results. We want you to understand why our methods work and help you learn to love them as much as we do. Start now and request a consultation to get a free inbound marketing plan for your business. 

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

 

Ecosystem for all Entrepreneurs