The choices we make when we build startups

We’ve recently reached the point with Buffer where I’ve started to think about a lot of key higher level choices. As a CEO these can be difficult decisions to make. I’ve been taking time to reflect and luckily I also have an awesome co-founder I regularly bounce these decisions off and an incredible team whom I sometimes get together with and have discussions about our direction.

Regardless of all the support I’m lucky to have, these decisions can sometimes be overwhelming to make. It’s easy to feel a lot of pressure due to the potential impact and consequences of the choices. One decision will literally take you down a completely different path than another.

The choices to make when building a startup

It’s interesting for me to look back at some of the key choices which have made a huge difference to how Buffer looks today. Here are some that come to mind:

  • being a distributed team (spread across 16 cities in 5 continents) rather than having everybody in the same city and office
  • not raising a Series A (and having no investors on our board) when the usual cycle came around after our $450k Seed
  • doing retreats 3 times a year (the last two were Pattaya, Thailand and Cape Town, South Africa)
  • choosing to not have a sales team and instead focus on self-serve and word of mouth marketing
  • serving small businesses rather than large enterprise customers
  • establishing cultural values early and being disciplined about living to them

The questionable impact of each choice we make

The interesting thing about all of the choices I’ve shared above that relate specifically to Buffer is that there are examples of companies succeeding by making the opposite choices in each case. It’s incredibly difficult to say that each choice specifically played any role in any success we have had.

That isn’t to say that the choices haven’t changed the type of company we are. I think they have absolutely shaped what Buffer is today. However, if you were to try and attribute these choices purely to success (maybe take revenue as the metric), then I think we could probably be just as successful with different choices.

Ev Williams has a great example of this around the famous Google 20% time and whether we can say that this contributed to their success:

Google is one of the most successful companies ever. Google gives its employees the ability to spend 20% of their time on whatever they want. Therefore, 20% time is a great idea. Is it? Or was Google successful because they’re brilliant engineers who solved the right problem at the right time—killing it despite the lack of focus “20% time” causes? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

Let’s not always try to tie choices to success

One of the best books I’ve recently read around company culture is Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke. Bakke was the founder and CEO of AES which earned $8 billion in revenues and employed 50,000 people. A fascinating detail is that they achieved this with a highly unusual business philosophy and company culture.

One of the core values that Bakke set in place at AES was Fun. His quest was to create the most “fun” workplace ever. In his journey to fulfill this vision, he found that some supported him and others didn’t. Most notably, he mentioned that several board members had been very skeptical of his approaches but supported him a year later when AES had some of it’s fastest growth. Bakke argued that the value of Fun should not be tied to success nor failure:

I kept saying that our values were not responsible for the run-up in our share price and should not be blamed for any downturns in the future.

This was a point that took me a long time to understand. If we don’t attribute our choices to success or failure, how can we assess if we are on the right track? I think in this case, the point is that our values should hold true in either case, and we should stand by them.

This is the approach we have started to take at Buffer with our cultural values such as Happiness and Positivity or Defaulting to Transparency. I can’t say that creating a company where everyone is happy is something that will make us more successful, and I can’t say that being fully transparent about revenues, user numbers, salaries and other details helps us grow faster than other companies. These are simply values we have chosen to live by.

Even choices like serving small businesses rather than enterprise customers, or being distributed rather than having a single office are decisions which will be difficult to assess at any time. If we fail eventually, I don’t think we could easily tie it to a single one of these choices, and if we succeed we would be wrong to say it was because of these decisions. I think, therefore, the key is to use our intuition and make the changes we feel are right - both in order to succeed, and also to create the place we want to work.

Photo credit: DennisM2

Rebuild 2014 Report

I’m typing this from a café in San Francisco, but just 24 hours ago I was sitting in the Indiana History Center, listening to Julie Ann Horvath give a talk about people.

And just 48 hours before that, I was halfway across the globe, back home in Osaka. So it’s certainly been an eventful couple of days.


When Justin and Tony approached me about speaking at Rebuild, I was both honored and terrified. I had never spoken at a “real” event before (defined as one where people actually pay to hear what you have to say). In fact, I had never even attended a conference like this before (yes, I’ve lived a very sheltered life).

But the fact that you’re now reading these lines is proof that public speaking didn’t kill me, and I actually quite enjoyed the experience, in no small part thanks to the amazing Rebuild crew.

I also got to meet a lot of really great people, both among the speakers (some of which I had known for years online, yet never met) and attendees.

The Talks

To give you a feel for what the event was like, here’s a quick recap of the talks (I’m sure videos will be uploaded soon as well):

Mig Reyes took the stage first to start things off. His talk was a mix of autobiographical insights and thoughts about design, centered around the theme of not letting yourself be constrained: don’t pay attention to titles, move fast, and make ugly things.

After Mig, Benjamin Dauer talked about his work at NPR, and designing for listening. He had a very nuanced message about designing interfaces that fade away to let the user enjoy the experience, and tied it all back to his own love of music.

The third speaker was Julie Ann Horvath. Her talk was very different and very personal, more monologue than presentation. She shared some of the lessons she learned working with all kinds of people (some good, some bad), and reminded us that being passionate about your work shouldn’t be an excuse to treat others badly.

After the break, Morgan Allan Knutson took the stage to talk about his work at Dropbox and the concept of invention. Looking back, I’m not sure I remember what his talk was actually about. But I do remember that it was beautifully illustrated and extremely funny.

Sketchnote by @chrisbasham

Sketchnote by @chrisbasham

After that it was my turn to speak. In contrast to the other speakers, my talk wasn’t very autobiographical or personal at all. It was basically a 45-minute introduction to Meteor, centered around a step-by-step walkthrough of building a simple Meteor app.

I can imagine the material probably felt a bit dry for a large part of the audience, especially compared to the other speakers, but I think overall it was a good idea to have at least one technical talk.

I was followed by Rachel Andrew, who talked about her experience running 2-person bootstrapped company Perch. Nearly every point she made mirrored my own experiences running my various projects. Which hopefully means we’re both doing something right!

The day was concluded by Michael Lopp, who gave an amazing talk about Stables and Volatiles (people, not chemicals). He kept the audience captivated for the whole 45 minutes, and I’m still in awe of how good of a speaker he is.

Thoughts on Speaking

Overall, I would definitely call my first real public speaking experience a success. I didn’t stumble too much during my talk (as far as I can remember), and although I’m still convinced I put the vast majority of the audience to sleep, a few people at least did tell me they enjoyed my talk.

I want to improve, though, even though speaking (public or otherwise) isn’t really something that comes naturally to me (I’m more the quiet, reserved type).

So if you’re holding a conference and want someone to put your audience to sleep with 60 slides filled with 12-point code, I’m your man! Oh, and did I mention you’ll also need to fly me in from Japan?

Episode 52: We survived Microconf 2014

Brecht and Scott are back from Microconf 2014 and pulled together a quick review of what were the highlights for us. Amazing to meet everyone, so many good ideas, tactics, and guidance. Also a big thank you to Rob Walling and Mike Taber for pulling this group of people together!


  • Annielytics – Great guidance on how to properly use Google Analytics
  • – non-spammy internet marketing classes
  • Chase Reeves – Funniest guy we met at microconf

The post Episode 52: We survived Microconf 2014 appeared first on Bootstrapped with Kids Podcast.

A Beginner’s Guide to the New Facebook Power Editor

Using Facebook Ads Manager is fine if you’re just starting to advertise on Facebook, but soon you’ll want to graduate to a more effective, advanced way to manage your ads – the Facebook Power Editor.

The Facebook Power Editor is a free plugin that lets you bulk-edit your ads and a lot of other cool stuff you can’t do in the Ads Manager. It’s optimized for Chrome, so avoid using it in other browsers.

Of course, there already are some great guides on how to use the Facebook Power Editor, but given the tool’s new and improved interface as well as Facebook’s new ad structure, I thought it would be useful to create a guide that explains how to use the Facebook Power Editor of 2014.

In this article, I’ll give you an overview of the Facebook Power Editor, show you how to create an ad with it, and explain the perks of using the Power Editor over the Ads Manager.

Introduction to the Power Editor

When you first open the Facebook Power Editor, you might feel a bit like this:


(Image source)

Don’t fret. The Power Editor actually is going to make your life a whole lot easier once you get comfortable using it.

Let’s start with an overview of the most important sections in the Power Editor:

Download Campaigns and Upload Changes: The first thing you’ll want to do in the Power Editor is download all of your campaigns, ad sets, and ads from the Ads Manager so that you will have your past and current campaigns ready to edit.


The Download to Power Editor and Upload Changes buttons might be the most important buttons in the entire tool. If you forget to download your data before working in the Power Editor or you forget to upload it after you’ve finished, you stand to lose important information and possibly a lot of new work. So, make a habit of hitting Download to Power Editor every time you open the tool and Upload Changes when you finish working.

Left Pane: The left pane lets you filter the data displayed to the right according to your campaigns, ad sets, and tags.


List View: When the Ads tab is selected, the list view displays all ads for the campaigns or ad sets selected in the left pane. When the Ad Sets tab is selected, you’ll see all ad sets corresponding to the campaign selected in the left pane; and when the Campaigns tab is selected, you’ll see all campaigns related to the campaign category selected in the left pane.


Workspace: The workspace is where the action happens. It displays editable fields for your ads, campaigns, and ad sets, depending on what you’ve selected.


Campaigns, Ad Sets, and Ads Tabs: Click on these tabs to cycle through your information for the campaigns, ad sets, and ads related to what you’ve selected in the left pane.


There’s much more to the Power Editor than these sections, but I wanted to point out the areas you’ll be using most, in order to help you get comfortable using the tool.

Creating an Ad with the Power Editor

Okay, time to dive in and create your first ad in the Power Editor.

1. Create a Campaign

Let’s imagine you run a website that sells digital educational products on health and wellness. One of your main Facebook advertising objectives is to increase the number of downloads of a comprehensive ebook you’ve put together on green smoothies and juices.

The first step in creating an ad with the Power Editor is setting up a campaign. Click Create Campaign in the top left corner, name your campaign, and select your preferred buying type.


Next, choose the objective for your ad campaign – in other words, what it is you want to accomplish with your ad – such as page likes, website conversions, or event responses. Take a look at the handy table that Facebook created to show which types of ads qualify for each objective.


(See the original table here under “What objective should I use for my ad type?”)

Since the success of your green smoothie ebook ad campaign will be determined by the number of times the ebook is downloaded as a result of the ad, choose the Website Conversions option as your campaign objective.


2. Create an Ad Set

Facebook recently introduced a third level to its campaign structure: ad sets. This means that the primary function of a campaign now is to establish an objective for your groups of ad sets and ads; meanwhile, ad sets allow you to target distinct audience segments and control separate schedules and budgets for your ads within each campaign.


Facebook explains the new campaign structure like this:

Let’s say you’re the owner of a small hotel chain. You may have a few different advertising objectives:

  1. Drive traffic to your website to increase reservations
  2. Increase brand awareness
  3. Promote weekly offers

With the new campaign structure, you’ll begin by creating a campaign for each objective. Next, you can create ad sets representing the audiences you want to reach in each campaign. For instance, in the campaign built around driving traffic to your website, you might want to create one ad set for people who are on your email list, and another for people who’ve expressed interest in attractions near your hotels.

Finally, you’d create ads for each ad set. You can create multiple ads within each ad set, making sure each ad is targeted to the same audience while delivering different images, links, video or ad copy. This can help you learn which ads are resonating with each audience and, in turn, create better-optimized campaigns.

To create an ad set, click on the Ad Sets tab in the top-level menu, and then click Create Ad Set. A pop-up window like the one below will appear.


Continuing with your goal of driving ebook downloads, link the ad to your “Green Smoothie Ebook Downloads” campaign and title your ad set so that it describes your target audience.

Once you click Create, use the workspace to set your budget for this ad set and determine the start and end date.


3. Create Your Ad

Now it’s time to create your ad. Click over to the Ads tab, and then select the Create Ad button in the top left corner. Chose the campaign and ad set you want to associate your ad with, and then name your ad.


After clicking on Create, you’ll be taken to a workspace for creating ads that includes the following three sections: Creative, Audience, and Optimization & Pricing. Let’s take a look at each one.

Creative: This is where you will build your ad. First, scroll down a bit and select the Facebook page for which you want to create an ad.


Next, you’ll need to decide if you want to create an ad from a page post or use a domain ad. Let’s look at the difference between the two:

The page post ad is what it sounds like: an ad created from a Facebook page post that can appear in your target audience’s news feeds or in the right column.


Domain ads show up in the right column only and take the user to a separate website when clicked on. You might think these are spammy and that no one would click on them, but test one out against a news feed ad before making any final judgments about their effectiveness. The results might surprise you!


(Image source: Qwaya)

Let’s start with a page post ad.

The Power Editor allows you to either turn a previously published post into an ad or create a new, unpublished post that will function as an ad. Let’s go with the latter for now. Click Create New Unpublished Post and enter the relevant information for your green smoothie ebook.


  • The URL you want to send people to after they click
  • The text that will appear in the post
  • A call-to-action button (if you want)
  • The link headline
  • The display link
  • The link description
  • Your image


(Note: the default ad type is a link which probably is what you’ll use most often, but you also have the option to create an ad out of a photo, a video, a simple status update, or an offer.)

In order to track the downloads generated by your Facebook ad, you’ll need to create a conversion tracking pixel, which is a snippet of code that tells Facebook when someone has converted.


Select Leads from the drop-down menu, and then name your conversion-tracking pixel.


After creating the conversion tracking pixel, place the JavaScript code snippet between <head> and </head> tags in the webpage where you wish to track conversions. Since you’re tracking ebook downloads, you’ll want to place the code on the page where your contact arrives after filling out the form to download the ebook.


For more on conversion tracking pixels, check out this step-by-step guide by Facebook expert Jon Loomer and this one by Wishpond.

Last, but definitely not least, decide where you want your ad to show up and on which kind of device you want it to be displayed. For example, if your landing page is not optimized for mobile, then be sure to show your ad only to people who are using Facebook on a desktop computer.


Pro tip: split test optimal ad placement by creating one ad that shows up only in the news feed and another that appears only in the sidebar, and then compare the results.

Audience: Nice! You are finished with your creative. Now it’s time to define the audience you want to show your ad to. Switch over to the Audience tab and start by determining the age range, gender, and language of your target audience. You can get even more specific by clicking on More Demographics, where you can specify things such as what school your target audience went to, their education level, and their relationship status.


Now, for the fun part: under Interests you can insert things your target audience is interested in so that your ad gets in front of the right people’s eyes. You also can explore Facebook and Partner Categories, which I’ll talk more about in a bit.

For more on creating audience segments for you ads, check out the articles below:

Next, tell Facebook if you want to target users who already like your page, event, or app; users who don’t; or users whose friends are connected to your page.

Optimization & Pricing: Finally, in the Optimization & Pricing tab, choose your preferred payment structure: cost-per-click (CPC), cost-per-1,000 impressions (CPM), or optimized cost-per-1,000 impressions (oCPM).

Here’s an explanation of the difference between CPC, CPM, and oCPM and how to choose between CPM and oCPM. Check out this post for more on each type of bidding, and for general bidding best practices.

Great! You’ve just created your first ad with the Power Editor. Remember, this is just one of the many kinds of ads you can create. Check out Qwaya’s guide to Facebook Ads to see a full list of each ad type, a brief description of how each one works, and their image dimensions. Then, play around with the different campaign objectives to better understand what you can do with each one.

Reporting with the Power Editor

I’ll leave a full-fledged overview of Facebook ad reporting for another post, but I do want to point out that you can access Facebook’s reporting tool by clicking on the Ad Tools drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the Power Editor. This will take you to the Reporting section of the Ads Manager.


Also, you can edit the columns that appear in the list view of the ads workspace by clicking on List Settings and checking off the metrics you want to have on hand.


The Perks of Using the Power Editor

The Ads Manager has been improved a lot recently, but it’s still no match for the Power Editor. Below are a few features and benefits available only in the Power Editor. Master these, and you’ll be on your way to being a full-fledged Power Editor user.

Save Your Audiences

One of the best things about the Power Editor is that it allows you to save audience segments and then use them at a later date in new ads, whereas if you want to target the same audience for multiple ads within the Ad Manager, you need to recreate that audience each time (hello, huge time waster).

You can access all of your saved audiences within the Power Editor by clicking on the Ad Tools button in the top right corner.


Get Granular Targeting with Partner Categories

Facebook describes Partner Categories as “a way to identify and reach the right people with the right message on Facebook, based on their activity off of Facebook.” This information comes from third-party data providers, and it allows you to build more precise audience segments for your ads based on Facebook users’ behavior outside of Facebook. For example, you can specify senatorial districts, the number and age of the children a person has, job role, and more.

As of now, Partner Categories are available only in the Power Editor. For more on how to take advantage of Partner Categories, check out this explanation for advanced targeting with Partner Categories. And here’s a list of all Facebook Partner Categories available as of June 2013:


Reach Interested Consumers with Lookalike Audiences

Lookalike audiences are pretty cool. They help you reach new people who are likely to be interested in your product or service because they are similar to an audience or customer list you already have validated.

Learn all about creating Lookalike Audiences here.

Get More Control over Where Your Ad Appears

Currently, in the Ads Manager you can decide if you want your ad to appear in the desktop news feed, the mobile news feed, and the right column. This is a great start, but the Power Editor gives you even more control over where people see your ad.

Take another look at how you control ad placement in the Power Editor. So many options!


Save Time with Bulk Editing

Productivity nerds will love this one. You can save heaps of time using the bulk-editing function. Simply select the ad sets or ads you want to edit, and then start working on them in the panel below. Any changes you make will apply to all of the ad sets or ads you’ve highlighted.


Edit Existing Ads and Create New Ads with Bulk Upload


The Power Editor also allows you to create new ads in bulk as well as edit existing ads by uploading an Excel file. Simply click on the Export & Import button above the list view and select Import Ads in Bulk. Learn more about how to prepare your Excel files here.

Get Organized with Tags

Here’s what Facebook says about Tags:

Tags is a feature in Power Editor that lets you organize your campaigns into groups. When you create a campaign, you will have the option to add a tag to it. A folder for each tag will be added to the left navigation.

Basically, tags are for people like me who love to organize related things in folders. Tags allow advertisers to group campaigns in top-level folders in any way that makes sense to them, including tags for all campaigns related to an overall marketing campaign, tags for each kind of objective, and so on.

Create Custom Audiences

Custom Audiences are no longer exclusive to the Power Editor. But they’re highly useful, so let’s take a quick look at what they are and how to utilize them.

Custom Audiences allow you to use your own contact lists (i.e., people whose emails or phone numbers you already have) in order to reach customers with targeted Facebook ads. Also, now you can create custom audiences with Facebook User IDs and App User IDs.

To access Custom Audiences in the Power Editor, click on Audiences in the Ad Tools drop-down menu. Then, click Create Audience, and select Custom Audience.


Facebook gives the following example of how advertisers can use custom audience: run an ad campaign to get more likes for your page by targeting customers who have signed up for your mailing list but still haven’t liked your page.


There you have it: the complete beginner’s guide to the updated Facebook Power Editor. As you become a more advanced user, I’m sure you’ll discover new ways this tool can make your social advertising more efficient and effective. For now, use this guide to get a head start!

About the Author: Chloe Gray specializes in digital marketing strategies for startups. She currently leads the marketing team at the Big Data company Ondore. Be sure to say “Hi” to her on Twitter. You also can follow her on Google+.

Inject Your App Data Into Help Scout

At Honeybadger we use Help Scout to manage our customer support, and that has worked out well for us. One thing I’ve wanted for quite a while is more integration between Help Scout, our internal dashboard, and the Stripe dashboard. After taking a mini-vacation to attend MicroConf this week, I decided it was time to make my dreams come true. :)

Help Scout allows you to plug “apps” into their UI, and you can build your own apps to populate the sidebar when looking at a help ticket. All you have to do is provide a URL that Help Scout can hit which returns a blob of HTML to be rendered on the page. Your app receives a signed POST request where the payload is some information about the support ticket you are viewing, which includes the email address of the person who created the ticket. Here’s a Rails controller that receives the request, verifies the signature, and returns some HTML for the user found by email address:

require 'base64'
require 'hmac-sha1'

class HelpscoutController < ApplicationController
  skip_before_filter :verify_authenticity_token
  before_filter :verify_signature

  def user
    payload = JSON.parse(request.raw_post)
    if payload['customer'] && payload['customer']['email'] && @user = User.where(email: payload['customer']['email']).first
      render json: { html: render_to_string(action: :user, layout: false) }
      render json: { html: "User not found" }



    def verify_signature
      bail and return false unless (sig = request.headers['X-Helpscout-Signature']).present?

      (hmac ="secret-that-you-enter-in-helpscout's-ui")).update(request.raw_post)

      bail and return false unless sig.strip == Base64.encode64(hmac.digest).strip

    def bail
      render json: { html: "Bad signature" }, status: 403

After fetching the user record, it returns a blob of HTML via a HAML view:

  %li Created on #{l(@user.created_at.to_date, format: :long)}

Then you’re done! Now when you view a ticket in Help Scout you’ll see info from your database about that user in the sidebar.

FA192 – Reverse Engineer Your Customer Acquisition

Start At The End To Attract Your Perfect Customer
Every sales funnel training out there follows this path:

They start at the opening of the funnel and talk about getting a bunch of traffic.

But Johan Woods and I have found that started with the end result creates more and better customers. Starting with the end, you can engineer the structure (the steps a prospect has to take to become a customer) of your sales funnel so that it:

* Attracts the right prospects for your business
* Sifts, Sorts & Screens out anyone who isn’t a perfect fit
* Gets eights, nines and tens on the “ready to buy” scale to the front of the line
* Moves anyone not ready to buy into a “customer indoctrination” marketing funnel until they are ready to buy, and
* Gives you the steady stream of prospects and deals needed to build a sustainable and successful business.

Listen in to see how to reverse engineer your customer acquisition.

Enjoy your Foolish Adventure,

Tim “Stuck In Reverse” Conley

PS. Attention freelancers, consultants and done-for-you service providers: We reopened the ConsultingFuse Community. Join us and learn how to achieve or add six figures in 12 months or less.

How to Dramatically Improve Your Google Authorship

Google Authorship is one of the most important features of the new era of content marketing. It’s an authority or trust badge that signals to search engines and readers alike that your content is trustworthy, reputable, and high-quality.

But how do you gain those trust signals that Google Authorship provides? How do you improve your authorship reputation, rise in the ranks, and gain more readers?

Thankfully, it’s possible. I know, because I’ve been able to do so myself. In this article, I’ll explain exactly how it’s done.

By following these step-by-step instructions, you will be able to

  • Enhance your content marketing. Fundamental to content marketing is content authorship. And the name of the game in authorship is Google Authorship. If you really want to improve your content marketing, it’s necessary to improve your Google Authorship.
  • Improve clickthroughs on your content. Google SERPs display your author profile next to content for which you write. Having your image in the search results improves the click-through rate (CTR) on your articles. In the screenshot below, you’ll see that I rank number one for the query “what type of content gets shared the most on twitter.” Out of the hundreds of millions of results, only my picture appears (at least for all the pages I checked). This means that CTRs on my Quicksprout article will be many times higher than any other result on this page — all because my authorship is in play.
  • 1-what-type-of-content

  • Increase your SEO. Studies on Google+ have concluded that Google Authorship has an immediate impact upon SEO. Not only will you be able to enhance personal reputation and branding, but you’ll also make valuable contributions to the SEO of your sites.

Google itself explains some of these benefits in their discussion on Google Authorship:


Before you start.

This article assumes two things:

  • You’re already on Google+, and
  • You have signed up for Google Authorship. If not, please do so.

Additionally, you can check out the video on adding Google+ Authorship for more information.

Now it’s time to dramatically improve your Google Authorship.

1. Write often.

The only way to expand your Google Authorship is to expand your writing. The more you write, the more trust and authority you gain.

It’s that simple.

Here is some advice on writing often. Make sure that you write high-quality content. Don’t let quantity outweigh quality. You need to write a lot of good stuff, not a lot of crap.

I encourage aggressive content marketing — publishing awesome content as often as possible. I understand that it takes a lot of time and effort, but I’m convinced that it pays off, because I have the data to prove it.

The more content you write on the web, the more you’re going to rank in the SERPs, and get your authorship profile featured.

2. Write for a variety of sites.

Not only should you be increasing your output, but you should also be adding to the variety of sites for which you write.

I contribute content to several different sites. In addition, I’ve launched a few different companies. Because I’ve written content on these sites, I gain authorship and recognition on that website, even if I don’t own or operate the site.

Here’s an example of my Search Engine Journal author profile in the SERP:


But isn’t guest blogging dangerous?

As you’re probably aware, Google’s Matt Cutts recently announced the decline of spammy guest blogging. Operative word: spammy.

I’ve provided my commentary on this announcement, and I’ve explained why guest blogging is still a reputable and important way to improve your SEO.

I still encourage you to seek high quality sites where you can produce high quality content as a guest author. Here are my recommendations for guest blogging best practices:

  1. Choose sites within your niche. As an author, you should have a single area or two of expertise that you’re writing about. Stick with blogs that are firmly within your field.
  2. Choose high quality sites. Avoid posting on sites that have signs of spam, indiscriminate posting of off-topic articles, unedited content, paid link content, or material that is ad heavy.
  3. Don’t post self-promoting links. The motive behind the guest posting crackdown was to eliminate spammy attempts to add backlinks in order to manipulate the search engine. The links that you add in your article are an important SEO signal of whether your content is spammy or not. Only add links when it adds to your discussion and benefits the reader.

Guest posting is still a legitimate way of improving your authorship reputation and presence, but only if you’re playing by the rules.

3. Verify all sites for which you write.

Whenever you write for a site, you need to add it to your Google+ profile.

Here’s how.

Go to your Google+ profile.

Click on your “about” tab.


Click “edit” under any of your information boxes.

click edit under information boxes

In the popup, navigate to “links.”


Add the URL for any site on which you have published content in your name:


To add new sites, simply click “Add custom link.”

Make sure that you have these set as “public.”

Anytime you write for a new site, you should go to your Google+ profile and add it.

4. Become consistently active on Google+.

For many of us, it takes discipline to become active on Google+. For several years, we spent all our social media energy on Facebook and Twitter. Google+ joined the game a little bit late, and it’s been harder, perhaps, to get on board with it.

Because of the impact that Google+ has upon search and reputation, it’s important that you become active.

Here are some of the things that you should be doing.

  • Share content.
  • Add people to your circles.
  • Join groups.
  • Join hangouts.

Feature your most flattering picture.

Your profile photo will become your authorship photo, so use one that represents who you are. You don’t have to be good looking. You just have to use a decent photo, since it will be used in public search results.

Here’s my Google+ profile:


And here’s my authorship photo. Apart from the shaped frame crop, it’s the same.


After careful testing, Cyrus Shepard of Moz, discovered that an improved Google+ pic increased his traffic by 35%. That’s a pretty significant uptick for a seemingly small improvement. He tested quite a few photos before settling on the perfect one.


His conclusion was that that quality of the photo does matter. (I would argue that the photogenic quality of the photo subject is not as relevant.)

You don’t have to be good looking. You just have to, as Cyrus Shepard put it, “put your best face forward.”

5. Grow your circles.

The more people who have you in their circles, the more people will trust you.

When you have a large following, people trust you more. The number of people who have you in their circles is public information. In other words, when you see search results, you also see how popular or trustworthy the author is.

Check out this screenshot:


Based on this SERP alone, I know that Barry, Cyrus, and Mark have significant followings.

Therefore, I am more likely to click on their articles. The following of Brian Jensen is not displayed, the following of Sean Patrick is comparatively low, as is the following of Hendrik-Jan Francke. My attention is drawn to the three authors who have large Google+ followings, because of the number of people listed as being in their circles.

Your goal, then, is to grow your circles as large as possible. This improves how trustworthy people consider your content to be.

Add lots of people to your circles.

The more people you add to your circles, the more likely they are to add you back.

  • Unlike Twitter, there are no follow limits. You can add as many people as you want.
  • Unlike LinkedIn, you don’t have to know the people whom you add to your circles. For example, even if you don’t know Barack Obama personally, you can add him to your circles.


Add famous people to your circles.

When you have a famous person in your network, Google+ reports this to people who visit your profile. Here’s what it looks like.


This acquaintance of mine, let’s call her Marj, has in her circles, Larry Page, co-founder of Google. Maybe she doesn’t know him personally. It doesn’t matter.

When I look at her profile and see Larry Page, I transfer this name trust to Marj herself. My trust for Marj improves because of the recognized name that she has in her network.

It makes sense, then, to follow recognized people, not only for what you can learn from them, but because of the transfer trust that they give to you. Be aware of the influencers in your niche, and add them to your circles.

Include your Google+ profile link on email signatures and websites.

Improving your Google Authorship is marketing. You’ve got to get your name out there. Do this by adding your Google+ link on email signatures, in website “abouts,” in other social profiles, and anywhere else that it is appropriate.

6. Monitor your Google Author Stats.

One of the lab rollouts in Google Webmaster Tools is called Author Stats. Keep up with your stats so you can know how to improve your authorship.

To find your author stats, go to Webmaster Tools.

Click on Labs.

Click on Author Stats.


In Author Stats, you can look at the data for the impressions and clicks on the content that you’ve created. You can find out your most popular posts, and discover how your content is being visited over time.


Like any data research, this information helps you know what you should to do improve or enhance your authorship.

  • If you see that certain sites give you the most CTRs or impression, keep contributing there.
  • If you see that certain topics have high rates of readership, keep writing on those topics.
  • If you see your impressions trending downward, see if writing more will help pick them back up.

Becoming a Better Google Author

The key to successful authorship on the web is to improve your Google Authorship. Since its creation, Google Authorship has only been growing in influence and importance. And as you can see, it’s becoming imperative to keep your SEO efforts up to par.

Now is the time to improve your own authorship.

How are you enhancing your Google Authorship?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

Using Neuroscience to Design a Better Blog

The science behind good design has made leaps and bounds over the last 10 years.

Over the years, combinations of brain scans, eye tracking studies and surveys have been used to study how humans browse the Web.

So, how can you harness this knowledge to your advantage? Let’s look at some of the most notable studies on the subject and how you can apply that directly to your blog.

The First Five Seconds

According to Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning researcher, the brain has two different systems for making decisions. There’s the conscious system, where we think decisions through and make decisions carefully.

Then, there’s the “instant decision” brain. According to Kahneman, you tend to believe your first impressions, then take actions based on the desires those first impressions create.

We live in an “instant decision” culture. This is especially true of online reading. Technology trains us to quickly judge webpages, and then move on to something else if it doesn’t interest us. Remember, 17% of page views do last for more than four seconds.

In fact, other studies have shown that our average attention spans have been reducing over time and in this particular study, it is just six seconds.

How does that apply to your blog? It’s simple: You need to be extremely conscious of your blog’s first impression. Where do the eyes gravitate when someone lands on your blog for the first time?

What kind of information can someone glean at a glance? Can users tell what your blog is about without having to read carefully?

You have about five seconds to catch your reader’s attention. If you can’t present a compelling reason for why they should stay in about five seconds, they’re going to leave.

How Long Should a Headline Be?

The headline of a post is one of the most prominent parts of a page. If you have a header, the header should have a tagline that conveys your blog’s subject matter.

Alternatively, if it’s just a graphical header, it should be small and unobtrusive. The header shouldn’t compete with the post’s headline for attention.

A recent study by Outbrain illustrates how headline length can be linked to user engagement. The highest CTRs were witnessed for articles that had moderate headline lengths (16-18 words).


The Fold

That said, it’s easy to over-emphasize what’s “above the fold,” which refers to what is visible on the page without scrolling. Yes, in most cases what’s above the fold is what’s most important.

Yet, substance is just as important. As Bnonn Tennant found out, copy that goes far below the fold often out-converts those that try to keep selling points above the fold.

How can you marry these seemingly contradictory design philosophies? Simple: Make sure you catch users’ attention and create an impactful first five seconds. Then make sure your pages have true substance and your content is worthy of users’ attention and trust.

Write for People Who Scan

According to the F-Shaped pattern study, most people read Web content in a very specific way. First, they read the headline. Then they read the first sentence on the page. Then they jump down and either scan paragraphs or subheads.


What are people looking for? They’re looking for either entertainment or proof this page will benefit them in some way. In other words, they’re looking for dopamine. Aric Sigman’s presentation to members of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health outlined the parallels between screen dependency and alcohol and drug addiction: The instant stimulation provided by all those flickering graphics leads to the release of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that’s central to the brain’s reward system.

When you eat food that tastes good, it “feels” good to you because your brain releases dopamine. When you get a relaxing massage, it feels good because your brain releases dopamine.

Yet dopamine isn’t just the chemical your brain releases when you have something good. It’s also the chemical indirectly responsible for creating cravings. It’s the neurotransmitter that creates that “wanting” feeling – i.e., craving ice cream or wanting a massage.

When a user lands on your blog for the first time, their brain is asking, Is there something here for me? Is there a reward? Or should I leave?

Your page needs to be interesting enough for readers (while they scan through the content) that they’ll keep reading. In other words, the brain needs to interpret your content as entertaining or useful, right from the get go.

Here’s how to apply this to your blog:

  • Again, nothing on your page is more important than your headline. Spend as much time as you need to really make it hit home. You can use the following three elements to create a great headline: self-interest, news and curiosity.
  • Break your content into subheads. This makes it easy for readers to find separate pieces of information.
  • Write relevant subheads and bold out important content. Your subheads should be strong enough to stop scanners in their tracks and make them start reading.
  • The first few sentences of your article need to convey exactly why readers should keep reading. Tell them how they will benefit from reading your article here.

People also tend to focus on “breakouts” – things that break the flow of the page. For instance, an image will break people away from the F-shaped pattern and it may no longer apply. The F viewing pattern is mostly a general rough shape, and breakouts like images may cause aberrations.

Make Your Blog Simple and Familiar

In 2012, YouTube’s Senior User Experience Researcher Javier Bargas-Avila conducted a series of experiments designed to figure out what made users decide if a page is interesting or not.

The study found that users form an aesthetic judgment about your website between 17 and 50 milliseconds. That’s about 1/10th the speed of your eye blinking.

Bargas-Avila found that what made users stick came down to two things: Visual Complexity and Prototypicality. Or, in layman’s terms, “Does the blog look simple?” and, “Does this blog look familiar?”

  • Visual Complexity: The more complex/cluttered a webpage is, the less likely users are to stick around. Blog owners often want to add all kinds of widgets, features and functionality to a blog. Yet, the study shows that simple is better. Have just one or two main draw points. The rest of your design should funnel attention to those draw points, rather than compete for them.
  • Prototypicality or familiarity: People have a certain expectation of what a blog should look like. If your blog varies widely from the convention, you’ll break rapport with your readers. For example, Amazon “trains” users on how ecommerce websites “should” look like. Veering too far from that norm can result in confusion for users. What’s the “Amazon” in your category?

Simplicity is important. This is evident from the design experiment I did on the AdPushup blog:


This is the AdPushup’s blog’s old design. Now take a look at the new design:


The aim was to make the design simpler and to remove the clutter. A lot of inspiration came from Paul Stamatiou, who has done a fantastic job at creating a minimalistic blog. The result: 57.14% improvement in average time spent on site and 14% reduction in bounce rates.

We can also take the case of the online tie retailer, who redesigned their website in October 2012.





Just by designing a website that looked simpler and followed the traditional ecommerce website layout, these are the results they saw:


In another study titled “Determinants of Web Page Viewing Behavior,” researchers found that complex website designs tended to increase “unexpected paths.”

In other words, on simple blogs, people tended to follow a predictable eye pattern. They look at the headline, the first sentence, scan the page and then decide if they want to read. On complex blogs, this pattern can be unpredictable.

This happens because readers don’t know where they’re supposed to go. Where’s the navigation? Where’s the next page? What’s this site about? Complexity often comes from the desire to be creative, but more often than not it just results in confusion.

Of course, it’s fantastic to express creativity. Just make sure you keep your blog simple in the process. And make sure the overall structure is similar to the general norm. Within those two guidelines, there’s still plenty of room for creativity.

Apple understands this well and uses images to keep the design simple yet informative.


Image Source: Hubspot

The Scientific Reason Why Simple Is Better

The primary reason why less visually complex websites are perceived as more beautiful is because we don’t require our eyes and brain to work as hard to decode, process and store the data.

To learn more about this, watch this video that explains how our eyes communicate with our brain.

Design to Promote Discussions

Websites like Medium give an option to comment on individual paragraphs, which actually makes more sense, as readers generally want to comment on individual lines and thoughts instead of commenting on the entire article.


What Font Should You Use?

Typography is an important part of your design, and there’s a lot of conflicting information about what font you should use. Fortunately, science is here to help.

In a joint study by IBM and Google, researchers conducted a comprehensive study titled “Study of How Font Size and Type Influence Online Reading.” The study was conducted by asking subjects to read a number of science news articles written at an eighth-grade level.

The study included both men and women and spanned a large age range. The study also included readers for whom English was not their first language. The results were adjusted for all these factors.

Here’s what the study found:

  • On small fonts, people tended to spend more time on each fixation (“gulp” of an eye, usually a group of three to six words). This was most likely because words were more difficult to make out, which meant people had to spend more time and energy on each word. Fonts sized 10 and below had this problem.
  • On larger fonts, people had smaller and more frequent fixations. That means they were taking in fewer words per “visual gulp.”
  • The serif font, Georgia, was read 7.9% faster than the sans serif font Helvetica, although this difference is not significant.

Master the Use of White Space

Researchers from Wichita State University conducted a detailed study on white space. Eighty-nine percent of the participants were active Web users who surfed the Web daily.

Eleven percent of the group used the web for 25-plus hours a week and 26% read for at least seven hours a week. The reading text was taken from SAT and ACT practice exams.

The researchers had participants read passages with a lot of margin (white space) around the text, as well as varied the text in between lines of text. Here’s what the study found.

  • Space between lines of text did not affect reading speed or comprehension. However, after the study, participants reported being less satisfied with pages that had less spacing between text. In other words, people can still read poor spacing – they just won’t like your site as much.
  • No or low margin text was read faster, but had lower comprehension. Putting a good amount of white space around your text gets people to read a little slower, but makes them understand the material a lot more.

Use Science to Inform Design

We’ve discussed some important elements of a blog’s design. We’ve talked about catching attention to cater to short attention spans. We’ve talked about breaking up your site and making it scannable. We’ve covered the optimal fonts and spacing for improving readability. You’ve learned about people’s affinity for the simple and familiar.

These guidelines aren’t just based on vague “design principles,” but hard science and data backed studies. Use them and harness them, and you’ll have a blog your users will love.

About the Author: Ankit Oberoi is a co-founder at AdPushup, a startup focused on helping publishers and bloggers optimize their ad revenues. You can reach him on Twitter @oberoiankit.

Startup Chat #65 – Freedom, travel and entrepreneurship with Natalie Sisson

natalie_sissonCOMPETITION: Win a free marketing guide for kickstarter, by telling us the coolest place in the world to work from. Comment below to enter, best answer wins.

This week we chat with Natalie Sisson the Suitcase Entrepreneur. Natalie travels the world working out of her suitcase and inspires other to do the same.

iTunes | Stitcher | YouTube | RSS

Background and links

Book marketing / Kickstarter

  • Kickstarter campaign for the book
  • Build up a community around the book
  • Constantly engaging with Kickstarter backers asking them to share, asked for feedback on chapter titles etc.
  • Blogged about it, created podcasters about it
  • Reached out to influencers and friends
  • Video shot in the jungle
  • Only around 5% came originally through kickstarter, most of it came through Natalie’s efforts

 Getting around travel / business issues

  • Booking appointments on Monday / Tuesday
  • Being more organized
  • Testing internet connections before things are scheduled
  • Having a 3G modem and tethering her phone
  • Does a lot of her best work offline – thinking  / blogging etc
  • GMail Offline for creating offline emails and sending them later

Freedom Framework

  • 3 year game plan
  • Create a body of work that is lasting
  • Big international study on different levels of freedom and what it means
  • Will have a bunch of content around it, book etc
  • Looking at best practice around frameworking such as Roger Hamilton (Wealth Dynamics) Sally Hogshead (How to Fascinate)

Revenue streams

  • Coaching
  • Recurring membership
  • In person workshops
  • Retreats
  • Suitcase Entrepreneur book
  • Paid speaking gigs
  • Digital products and programs
  • Affiliate revenue
  • Sponsorships

Most profitable is the High Flyer Club, then retreats then affiliates and sponsors.

Best books / podcasts

Favorite places

  • Spain
  • Brazil
  • Laos
  • Europe
  • Southeast Asia
  • For entrepreneurs Colombia, Chang Mai, Saigon, Singapore / Hong Kong, New York, San Francisco , LA, Poland, Berlin, Turkey.

Tips for getting press

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