Meet Dan Morris, Executive Vice President, North America

  1. Why did you decide to come to dotmailer?

The top three reasons were People, Product and Opportunity. I met the people who make up our business and heard their stories from the past 18 years, learned about the platform and market leading status they had built in the UK, and saw that I could add value with my U.S. high growth business experience. I’ve been working with marketers, entrepreneurs and business owners for years across a series of different roles, and saw that I could apply what I’d learned from that and the start-up space to dotmailer’s U.S. operation. dotmailer has had clients in the U.S. for 12 years and we’re positioned to grow the user base of our powerful and easy-to-use platform significantly. I knew I could make a difference here, and what closed the deal for me was the people.  Every single person I’ve met is deeply committed to the business, to the success of our customers and to making our solution simple and efficient.  We’re a great group of passionate people and I’m proud to have joined the dotfamily.

Dan Morris, dotmailer’s EVP for North America in the new NYC office

      1. Tell us a bit about your new role

dotmailer has been in business and in this space for more than 18 years. We were a web agency, then a Systems Integrator, and we got into the email business that way, ultimately building the dotmailer platform thousands of people use daily. This means we know this space better than anyone and we have the perfect solutions to align closely with our customers and the solutions flexible enough to grow with them.  My role is to take all that experience and the platform and grow our U.S. presence. My early focus has been on identifying the right team to execute our growth plans. We want to be the market leader in the U.S. in the next three years – just like we’ve done in the UK –  so getting the right people in the right spots was critical.  We quickly assessed the skills of the U.S. team and made changes that were necessary in order to provide the right focus on customer success. Next, we set out to completely rebuild dotmailer’s commercial approach in the U.S.  We simplified our offers to three bundles, so that pricing and what’s included in those bundles is transparent to our customers.  We’ve heard great things about this already from clients and partners. We’re also increasing our resources on customer success and support.  We’re intensely focused on ease of on-boarding, ease of use and speed of use.  We consistently hear how easy and smooth a process it is to use dotmailer’s tools.  That’s key for us – when you buy a dotmailer solution, we want to onboard you quickly and make sure you have all of your questions answered right away so that you can move right into using it.  Customers are raving about this, so we know it’s working well.

  1. What early accomplishments are you most proud of from your dotmailer time so far?

I’ve been at dotmailer for eight months now and I’m really proud of all we’ve accomplished together.  We spent a lot of time assessing where we needed to restructure and where we needed to invest.  We made the changes we needed, invested in our partner program, localized tech support, customer on-boarding and added customer success team members.  We have the right people in the right roles and it’s making a difference.  We have a commercial approach that is clear with the complete transparency that we wanted to provide our customers.  We’ve got a more customer-focused approach and we’re on-boarding customers quickly so they’re up and running faster.  We have happier customers than ever before and that’s the key to everything we do.

  1. You’ve moved the U.S. team to a new office. Can you tell us why and a bit about the new space?

I thought it was very important to create a NY office space that was tied to branding and other offices around the world, and also had its own NY energy and culture for our team here – to foster collaboration and to have some fun.  It was also important for us that we had a flexible space where we could welcome customers, partners and resellers, and also hold classes and dotUniversity training sessions. I’m really grateful to the team who worked on the space because it really reflects our team and what we care about.   At any given time, you’ll see a training session happening, the team collaborating, a customer dropping in to ask a few questions or a partner dropping in to work from here.  We love our new, NYC space.

We had a spectacular reception this week to celebrate the opening of this office with customers, partners and the dotmailer leadership team in attendance. Please take a look at the photos from our event on Facebook.

Guests and the team at dotmailer's new NYC office warming party

Guests and the team at dotmailer’s new NYC office warming party

  1. What did you learn from your days in the start-up space that you’re applying at dotmailer?

The start-up space is a great place to learn. You have to know where every dollar is going and coming from, so every choice you make needs to be backed up with a business case for that investment.  You try lots of different things to see if they’ll work and you’re ready to turn those tactics up or down quickly based on an assessment of the results. You also learn things don’t have to stay the way they are, and can change if you make them change. You always listen and learn – to customers, partners, industry veterans, advisors, etc. to better understand what’s working and not working.  dotmailer has been in business for 18 years now, and so there are so many great contributors across the business who know how things have worked and yet are always keen to keep improving.  I am constantly in listening and learning mode so that I can understand all of the unique perspectives our team brings and what we need to act on.

  1. What are your plans for the U.S. and the sales function there?

On our path to being the market leader in the U.S., I’m focused on three things going forward: 1 – I want our customers to be truly happy.  It’s already a big focus in the dotmailer organization – and we’re working hard to understand their challenges and goals so we can take product and service to the next level. 2 – Creating an even more robust program around partners, resellers and further building out our channel partners to continuously improve sales and customer service programs. We recently launched a certification program to ensure partners have all the training and resources they need to support our mutual customers.  3 – We have an aggressive growth plan for the U.S. and I’m very focused on making sure our team is well trained, and that we remain thoughtful and measured as we take the steps to grow.  We want to always keep an eye on what we’re known for – tools that are powerful and simple to use – and make sure everything else we offer remains accessible and valuable as we execute our growth plans.

  1. What are the most common questions that you get when speaking to a prospective customer?

The questions we usually get are around price, service level and flexibility.  How much does dotmailer cost?  How well are you going to look after my business?  How will you integrate into my existing stack and then my plans for future growth? We now have three transparent bundle options with specifics around what’s included published right on our website.  We have introduced a customer success team that’s focused only on taking great care of our customers and we’re hearing stories every day that tells me this is working.  And we have all of the tools to support our customers as they grow and to also integrate into their existing stacks – often integrating so well that you can use dotmailer from within Magento, Salesforce or Dynamics, for example.

  1. Can you tell us about the dotmailer differentiators you highlight when speaking to prospective customers that seem to really resonate?

In addition to the ones above – ease of use, speed of use and the ability to scale with you. With dotmailer’s tiered program, you can start with a lighter level of functionality and grow into more advanced functionality as you need it. The platform itself is so easy to use that most marketers are able to build campaigns in minutes that would have taken hours on other platforms. Our customer success team is also with you all the way if ever you want or need help.  We’ve built a very powerful platform and we have a fantastic team to help you with personalized service as an extended part of your team and we’re ready to grow with you.

  1. How much time is your team on the road vs. in the office? Any road warrior tips to share?

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, one year I attended 22 tradeshows! Top tip when flying is to be willing to give up your seat for families or groups once you’re at the airport gate, as you’ll often be rewarded with a better seat for helping the airline make the family or group happy. Win win! Since joining dotmailer, I’m focused on being in office and present for the team and customers as much as possible. I can usually be found in our new, NYC office where I spend a lot of time with our team, in customer meetings, in trainings and other hosted events, sales conversations or marketing meetings. I’m here to help the team, clients and partners to succeed, and will always do my best to say yes! Once our prospective customers see how quickly and efficiently they can execute tasks with dotmailer solutions vs. their existing solutions, it’s a no-brainer for them.  I love seeing and hearing their reactions.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself – favorite sports team, favorite food, guilty pleasure, favorite band, favorite vacation spot?

I’m originally from Yorkshire in England, and grew up just outside York. I moved to the U.S. about seven years ago to join a very fast growing startup, we took it from 5 to well over 300 people which was a fantastic experience. I moved to NYC almost two years ago, and I love exploring this great city.  There’s so much to see and do.  Outside of dotmailer, my passion is cars, and I also enjoy skeet shooting, almost all types of music, and I love to travel – my goal is to get to India, Thailand, Australia and Japan in the near future.

Want to find out more about the dotfamily? Check out our recent post about Darren Hockley, Global Head of Support.

Reblogged 2 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

How To Select The Perfect Clients

Posted by Bill.Sebald

I truly believe in the power of partnerships. There have been some incredible partnerships that changed the fabric of our culture. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. William Procter and James Gamble. The Olson Twins.

Good partnerships provide support, motivation, and complementary skills, often allowing you to overcome hurdles faster and create some truly marvelous things. In consulting or any agency work, the concept of “partnership” should be the backbone of your relationship. Like a puzzle piece, sometimes the fit is initially difficult to find – if available at all. The truth is, you’re only secure if your clients are walking in the same direction as the flow of your service. If they’re walking against the current, you have what I believe to be the most detrimental predicament a service provider can have –
a rift. That’s a truly offensive four-letter word.

What kind of rift are we talking about? Let’s do a little calculating.

First think about what you or your agency is really good at. Think about the components you have the most success with; this may actually be different than where you’re most experienced. Think about what you should be selling versus not (even if those items are currently on your menu – let’s be candid here, a lot of us casually promote services we
believe we should be selling even though it’s not a fully baked product or core competency). Think about the amount of time you really spent challenging a given service to make sure it’s truly impactful to a client versus your own bottom line.

Next, think about your past client debacles (if you haven’t stopped to perform a postmortem, you should). Chances are these led to events that cost you a lot of time, pain, and possibly money. They are the memories that make you shudder. Those are the days that made you dust off your resume and think about a career change.  

Finally, how many of these past clients should have never been signed in the first place? How many simply weren’t a fit from the start? How many simply never had a shot at being successful with you – and vice-versa? This computation really needs serious consideration. Have you wasted everyone’s time?

There can be a costly fallout. I’ve seen talented team members quit over clients that simply could not be managed. I’ve seen my colleagues go so far as to cry or start seeking therapy (in part) because of overwhelming clients who were not getting what they expected and a parent company who wasn’t providing any relief. Sometimes these clients were bound to an annual contract which only made them more desperate and angry. Rifts like this can kill your business.

This should never happen.

Client/agency relationships are marriages, but marriages start with dating

I really like this 2011 post from A List Apart called
Marry Your Clients. A few years old, but nothing has changed. However, my post is going to talk about the courting part before the honeymoon.

My post also assumes you make more money on longer consulting relationships. If you’ve somehow built your model through routinely hunting new business with the expectation you’re going to get fired, then that’s a different story. For most of us however, on-boarding a client is a lot of work, both in terms of hours (which is money) and brainpower. If you “hit it off” with your client, you begin to know their business more intimately, as well as their goals and KPIs. The strategies get easier to build; they also tend to be more successful as you become aware of what their tastes and limitations are. You find you have things in common (perhaps you both enjoy long walks to the bank). You often become true partners with your clients, who in turn promote your ideas to their bosses. These are your most profitable engagements, as well as your most rewarding. They tend to last years, sometimes following your point-of-contact to their next jobs as well.

But you don’t get this way simply because both parties signed a legally-bounding document.

The truth is not all parties can work together. A lot of client/agency relationships end in divorce. Like in romance, sometimes you just aren’t compatible.

A different kind of online dating

After my first marriage went kaput, I’ll admit I went to Match.com. For those who never tried online dating, it’s really an exercise in personal marketing. You upload your most attractive pictures. You sell yourself above everyone else. You send communications back and forth to the interested parties where you work to craft the “perfect” response; as well as ask qualifying questions. I found it works pretty well – the online process saved me from potentially bad dates. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some awkward online dating stories…

Photo from Chuck Woolery’s
Twitter profile

With consulting, if we’re supposed to ultimately marry our clients, we should obviously be allowed to see if there’s a love connection. We should all be our own Chuck Woolery. I tend to think this stage is crucial, but often rushed by agencies or managed by a department outside of your own.

Some agencies seem to have a “no dating” policy. For some, it’s not uncommon to come in to work and have an email from a higher-up with the subject, “congratulations – you’re now married to a new client!” Whether it’s a client development department, or an add-on from an existing client, your marketing department is suddenly forced into an arranged marriage where you can only hope to live up to their expectations.

This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t like to run a business on luck and risk, so clearly this makes no sense to me.

But I’ve been there. I once worked for an agency that handed me a signed contract for a major underwear brand – but I didn’t even know we were even speaking to them. Before I had a chance to get the details, the VP of digital marketing called me. I did my best to understand what they were promised in terms of SEO goals without admitting I really had no clue about their business. The promises were unrealistic, but being somewhat timid and naïve back in the day, I went with it. Truth is, their expectations did not fit into our model, philosophies, or workflow. Ultimately I failed to deliver to their expectations. The contract ended early and I vowed to never let that happen again. Not just for the stress and anxiety it brought upon my team and me, but for the blatant neglect to the client as well.

With this being something I never forgot, I would occasionally bring this story up with others I met at networking events or conventions. I quickly learned this is far from an isolated incident occurring only to me. This is how some agencies build their business development departments.

Once again, this should never happen.

How to qualify a client

Let’s assume by now I have successfully inspired a few things:

  1. A client/agency relationship should truly be a partnership akin to a good marriage.
  2. A client should never be thrown into a model that doesn’t make sense for their business (i.e., your style of SEO services), and process should be in place for putting all the parties in the same room before a deal is signed.

    Now we’re up to number 3:

  3. Not all relationships work, so all parties should try to truly connect before there is a proposal. Don’t rush the signature!

Here are some of the things we do at Greenlane to really qualify a client. Before I continue, though, I’m proud to brag a little. With these practices in place, our close rate – that is, the companies we really want to work with – is 90% in our favor. Our retainment is also very high. Once we started being prudent with our intake, we’ve only lost a few companies due to funding issues or a change in their business model – not out of performance. I should also add that these tips work with all sizes of clients. While some of our 20+ clients are smaller businesses, we also have household brands and public companies, all of which could attest to going through this process with us.

It’s all in the details

Your website is your Match.com profile. Your website is your personality. If you’re vague or promotional or full of hype, only to get someone on the phone to which your “car salesman” gear kicks in, I don’t think you’re using the website to the best of its ability. People want to use the website to learn more about you before the reach out.

Our “about us” page is our third most visited page next to the homepage and pricing (outside of the blog). You can see an example from a 
Hotjar heatmap:

The truth is, I’m always tweaking (and A/B testing) our message on the about us page. This page is currently part of a funnel that we careful put together. The “about us” page is a quick but powerful overview putting our team front and center and highlighting our experience (including some past clients).

I believe the website’s more than a brochure. It’s a communication device. Don’t hide or muddle who you are. When I get a prospect email through our form, I always lead them to our “Are We The Right Fit” page. That’s right – I actually ask them to consider choosing wisely. Now at first glance, this might go against a conversion funnel that heats up the prospect and only encourages momentum, but this page has really been a strong asset. It’s crafted to transparently present our differentiators, values, and even our pricing. It’s also crafted to discourage those who aren’t a good fit. You can find this page
here. Even our URL provides the “Are We The Right Fit” question.

We want prospects to make a good decision. We care so much about companies doing great that we’d rather you find someone else if our model isn’t perfect. Sure, sometimes after pointing someone to that link, they never return. That’s OK. Just like a dating profile, this page is designed to target a certain kind of interest. Time is a commodity in agency life – no sense in wasting it on a conversation that isn’t qualified. When we do catch a prospect after reviewing the page and hear, “we went with another firm who better suits our needs,” it actually doesn’t feel like a loss at all.

Everyone who comes back goes into our pipeline. At this stage they all get followed up on with a phone call. If they aren’t a good fit from the get go we actually try to introduce them to other SEO companies or consultants who would be a better fit for them. But 9 times out of 10, it’s an amazing conversation.

Never drop the transparency

There are a few things I try to tell all the prospects I ultimately speak with. One, I openly admit I’m not a salesman. I couldn’t sell ice water to people in hell. But I’m good at being really candid about our strengths and experiences.

Now this one tends to surprise some, especially in the larger agency setting. We admit that we are really choosy about the clients we take on. For our model, we need clients who are flexible, fast moving, interested in brand building, and interested in long-term relationships. We want clients who think in terms of strategy and will let us work with their existing marketing team and vendors. We audit them for their understanding of SEO services and tell them how we’re either alike or different.

I don’t think a prospect call goes by without me saying, “while you’re checking us out to see if we’re a good fit, we’re doing the same for you.” Then, if the call goes great, I let them know we’d like a follow up call to continue (a second date if you will). This follow up call has been where the real decision gets made.

Ask the right questions

I’ve vetted the opportunity, now my partner – who naturally has a different way of approaching opportunities and relationships – asks a different set of questions. This adds a whole different dimension and works to catch the questions I may not have asked. We’ve had companies ready to sign on the first call, to which I’ve had to divert any signatures until the next conversation. This too may seem counter-intuitive to traditional business development, but we find it extremely valuable. It’s true that we could have more clients in our current book of business, but I can proudly state that every current client is exactly who we want to be with; this is very much because of everything you’ve read so far.

On each call we have a list of qualifying questions that we ask. Most are “must answer” questions, while others can roll into a needs analysis questionnaire that we give to each signed client. The purpose of the needs analysis is to get more granular into business items (such as seasonal trends, industry intelligence, etc.) for the intention of developing strategies. With so much to ask, it’s important to be respectful of the prospects’ time. At this point they’ve usually already indicated they’ve read our website, can afford our prices, and feel like we’re a good fit.

Many times prospects start with their introduction and answer some of our questions. While they speak, I intently listen and take many notes.

These are 13 questions from my list that I always make sure get answered on a call, with some rationale:

Questions for the prospect:

1. Can you describe your business model and products/services?

  1. What do you sell?
  2. B2B or B2C
  3. Retail or lead generation?

Rationale
: sometimes when reviewing the website it’s not immediately clear what kind of business they’re in. Perhaps the site just does a bad job, or sometimes their real money making services are deeper in the site and easily missed by a fast scan. One of our clients works with the government and seems to have an obvious model, but the real profit is from a by-product, something we would have never picked up on during our initial review of the website. It’s important to find out exactly what the company does. Is it interesting? Can you stay engaged? Is it a sound model that you believe in? Is it a space you have experience in?

2. What has been your experience with [YOUR SERVICE] in the past?

Rationale: Many times, especially if your model is different, a prospect may have a preconceived notion of what you actually do. Let’s take SEO as an example – there are several different styles of SEO services. If they had a link building company in the past, and you’re a more holistic SEO consulting practice, their point of reference may only be with what they’ve experienced. They may even have a bad taste in their mouth from a previous engagement, which gives you a chance to air it out and see how you compare. This is also a chance to know if you’re potentially playing with a penalized site.

3. What are your [PPC/SEO/etc.] goals?

Rationale: Do they have realistic goals, or lofty, impossible goals? Be candid – tell them if you don’t think you can reach the goals on the budget they have, or if you think they should choose other goals. Don’t align yourself with goals you can’t hit. This is where many conversations could end.

4. What’s your mission or positioning statement?

Rationale: If you’re going to do more than just pump up their rankings, you probably want to know the full story. This should provide a glimpse into other marketing the prospect is executing.

5. How do you stand out?

Rationale: Sometimes this is answered with the question above. If not, really dig up the differentiators. Those are typically the key items to build campaigns on.  Whether they are trying to create a new market segment or have a redundant offering, this can help you set timeline and success expectations.

6. Are you comfortable with an agency that may challenge your plans and ideas?

Rationale: This is one of my favorite questions. There are many who hire an agency and expect “yes-men.” Personally I believe an agency or consultant should be partners; that is, not afraid to fight for what they know is right for the benefit of the client. You shouldn’t be afraid of injury:

 

7. Who are your competitors?

Rationale: Not only do you want this for competitive benchmarking, but this can often help you understand more about the prospect. Not to mention, how big a hill you might have to climb to start competing on head terms.

8. What is your business reach? (local, national, international)?

Rationale: An international client is going to need more work than a domestic client. A local client is going to need an expertise in local search. Knowing the scope of the company can help you align your skills with their targets.

9. What CMS are you on?

Rationale:
 This is a big one. It tells you how much flexibility you will have. WordPress?  Great – you’ll probably have a lot of access to files and templates.  A proprietary CMS or enterprise solution?  Uh-oh.  That probably means tickets and project queues. Are you OK with that?

10. What does your internal team look like?

Rationale:
Another important question. Who will you be working with?  What skill sets?  Will you be able to sit at the table with other vendors too?  If you’re being hired to fill in the gaps, make sure you have the skills to do so. I ask about copywriters, developers, designers, and link builders at a minimum.

11. What do you use for analytics?

Rationale:
A tool like Wappalyzer can probably tell you, but sometimes bigger companies have their own custom analytics through their host. Sometimes it’s bigger than Google Analytics, like Omniture. Will you be allowed to have direct access to it?  You’d be surprised how often we hear no.

12. How big is your site?  Do you have other properties?

Rationale:
It’s surprising how often a prospect forgets to mention those 30+ subdomains and microsites. If the prospect envisions it as part of the deal, you should at least be aware of how far the core website extends.

13. What is your budget, preferred start time, and end date?

Rationale:
The biggest question of all. Do they even meet your fee requirements? Are you staffed and ready to take on the work? Sure, talking money can be tough, but if you post your rates firm, the prospect is generally more open to talk budget. They don’t feel like a negotiation is going to happen.

Conclusion

While these are the core questions we use, I’m sure the list will eventually grow. I don’t think you should copy our list, or the order.  You should ultimately create your own. Every agency or consultant has different requirements, and interviewing your prospect is as important as allowing them to interview you. But remember, you don’t have to have all the business.  Just the right kind of business.  You will grow organically from your positive experiences.  We all hear about “those other agencies” and how they consistently fail to meet client expectations. Next to “do great work,” this is one powerful way to keep off that list.  

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Reblogged 4 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

How to Include Influencers in Your Content Strategy

Posted by Amanda_Gallucci

The first thing most people think when they hear “influencers” is promotion. Important people with an engaged following can amplify the reach of whatever idea, content or brand they choose to share. If you only weave influencers into your content strategy when your finished product is ready to be promoted, however, you’re missing out on the full potential of having respected experts on your team.

Knowing when and how they can best be engaged at different stages is critical to moving these leaders from outside influencers to brand partners.

Measure an influencer’s true value

In order to find the right influencers to give your content strategy a boost, you first should understand what makes a person an influencer and how influence will play a role within the larger content landscape.

Whether you’re looking to build brand awareness or drive traffic, what matters is not sheer numbers of followers, but the amount of engaged followers.

Twitalyzer’s analytics provide a good start to assessing who is influential on Twitter. The tool measures not only the potential impact users have based on their number of followers, but also the likelihood that other Twitter users will retweet or mention a particular user. 

Beyond finding an influencer who’s engaged enough to spread your message, also consider how this person became influential in the first place. Whether he or she has years of experience, brilliant ideas, cohesive arguments or all of the above, consider how you can harness these strengths to maximize your potential for creating a successful relationship. Asking influencers to tweet out a link might give you a bump in traffic, but asking for their opinions, advice and time in different ways will be infinitely more valuable.

Lead with strategy

How influencers fit into your campaign should be determined according to audience research and campaign goals. Know what platforms your target audience interacts with, what interests are strong enough to drive them to take action and who they trust. The more naturally these insights are woven into your content, the easier it will be to find influencers in this segment who will appreciate what you have to share.

Campaign goals are equally crucial because depending on what you want to achieve, you might change the angle of your messaging or favor different platforms. Not every influencer has the same level of activity and reach on every social channel, so identify influencers who are stars on the right platforms. Similarly, tailor your message for each influencer so that anything they share on your behalf looks organic alongside their other content.

Once you have a solid foundation for your strategy, start looking for influencers and begin your outreach process. With enough lead time to send along a beta version or rough draft, you can tweak content based on their feedback. You’ll also need allow time for them to collaborate with you on original content, create any sponsored or guest content or write a review or give a quote that you can use on your content’s release.

Don’t ask for too much of an influencer’s time, however, especially if you are asking for offhand feedback and not entering into a paid engagement. Build a relationship before you ask for favors, and even still, make the ask as easy as possible by providing the right amount of background and simplifying what you want the person to do. Rand’s
Whiteboard Friday on earning the amplification of influencer walks through the importance of the relationship-building aspect and enticing influencers with what’s in it for them.

Find influencers

With a clear understanding of the role influencers play within your overall strategy, you’re ready to identify the right candidates.

Countless tools are available to help you find influencers in different verticals, so choose based on the action you want the influencer to take. If you are searching for a thought leader who can write engaging content, a tool like
ClearVoice will help you find credible authors who focus on a particular topic. For each writer, you can view a list of articles he or she has written on that subject.

image host

When you need social influencers who can help you amplify content,
Buzzsumo is a great tool. Through their Influencer search, you can find people who frequently share content on a given topic and can click through to see what these links are.

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Another approach to finding social influencers is to search Twitter bios using
Followerwonk and sorting by Social Authority

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Engage influencers at different stages

Outreach

Outreach ideally starts with organically following influencers and engaging with them over time. Then reaching out to them via email or social media is less about introductions and more about the specific project you want to pitch to the influencer.

There will also be times when you find an influencer who aligns with your strategy but you don’t have the relationship-building lead time. For this cold outreach, write a succinct introduction that includes goals your goals for the content and the benefits the influencer will receive by working with you. Then make your ask. Personalization and quality are key. If you find outreach challenging, this
guide from Portent is a great place to start.

Make outreach easier for yourself by using a tool like
BuzzStream that automates and tracks the process. It will help you find contacts at certain publishers—giving you the twofold opportunity to pitch your own content as well as get in touch with influential authors. It also generates templated, customizable outreach emails.

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Just remember, even if you already have a solid relationship with an influencer, show that you value his or her time. Do as much of the groundwork as you can in advance. For instance, if you want people to share something on social, draft one to three example social posts specifically crafted for each influencer and platform.

Start of relationship

Once an influencer agrees to work with you, provide just the right amount of background information and instruction. This will vary by project and influencer.

For an influencer creating content, define the basics (e.g., article, ebook, video, etc.), in addition to length and editorial theme. Find a good balance between leaving room for the influencer to share his or her expertise, while setting up key points and takeaways you want the content to achieve. You should also create and send an abbreviated style guide. There’s no need to disclose every internal note you have, but if you can provide the basic stylistic do’s and don’ts, product or company background, audience information, and voice and tone guidelines, you will spend less time on edits and back-and-forths with the influencer. Set clear expectations and schedule benchmark dates where you can check in on progress and make revisions where necessary.

In the case of engaging influencers to amplify content, you won’t need to give quite as much guidance on how to craft the social message, but you can still offer suggestions on angles that would work well or any topics or phrases your brand wouldn’t want to be associated with. It’s also important to provide summaries of any piece of content you are asking influencers to share so that a) if they don’t have time to read every word, they still feel comfortable with the concept and b) there won’t have to be any guesswork in deciding what part of the content is most important to share.

Relationship maintenance

If your experience with an influencer is mutually beneficial and you know you’ll want to partner again, make sure to check in periodically. Don’t ask for something new every time you reach out. Keep in touch by sending along interesting content or company updates the influencer might find useful. Better yet, always extend a congratulations on a promotion or a new position.

To ensure you remember to engage with the right people, use tools like
Commun.it, which identify the influential people you interact with on Twitter, and prompt you to re-engage with people you haven’t @ mentioned recently. 

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LinkedIn Contacts is also a handy way to keep track of conversations and check on any updates on the influencer’s end to look out for opportunities to get in touch.

As you continue to grow existing influencer relationships, adjust your overarching strategy to incorporate more key industry leaders. Create new roles for influencers to play in shaping your content and its promotion.

Always be strategizing

The best way to include influencers in your content strategy is to involve them at every stage of the process, including:

  1. Creation: Plan out what types of influencers will be helpful and the role they should play based on the target audience and campaign goals.
  2. Implementation: Share a strategic brief with onboarded influencers and leave flexibility for changes based on the influencer’s feedback.
  3. Measurement: Factor in the reach of influencers as part of the success of your campaign.

Over time, integrating and managing influencer relationships will become second nature, and they will seem more like team members and partners.

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Open Site Explorer’s New Link Building Opportunities Section (and a Slight Redesign)

Posted by randfish

Why hello there! You’re looking marvelous today, you really are. And, in other good news, Open Site Explorer has a bit of a new look—and an entirely new section called “Link Opportunities” to help make some link prospecting tasks easier and more automated. Come with me and I’ll show you; it’ll be fun 🙂

The new look

We know a lot of folks liked the old tab structure but we ran out of space. With this redesign we now have the flexibility to add new features and functionality simply by popping in new sections on the left sidebar menu. It’s a little bit more like Moz Analytics, too, and we figure some cohesion between our products is probably wise.

  • New side navigation with plenty of room to grow and add new features (spam scoring and analysis, for example, will be coming in Q4—but shhh… I didn’t actually ask for permission to talk about that yet. I figure begging forgiveness will work.)
  • Improved filtering that lets you slice and dice your link data more easily.
  • Notice How Fast the New OSE Is? Oh yeah, that’s the stuff 🙂

You can still access the old Open Site Explorer’s design for a few more weeks, but the new features will exist only in the new version.

Introducing the new link opportunities section

Need help finding outreach targets for your link building campaign? We’re introducing three new reports that will help you build a curated list of potential targets. The new reports are available to all Moz Pro subscribers. If you’re a community member, sign up for a
Moz Pro Free Trial and you, too, can kick it with the new functionality.


Reclaim links

A filtered view of Top Pages that lets you easily export a ranked list of URLs to fix.


Unlinked mentions

Powered by FreshScape, you can use
Fresh Web Explorer queries to find mentions of a brand or site without links. Ping sources that may have talked about your brand, website, people, or products without giving you a link and you can often encourage/nudge that link into existence (along with the great SEO benefits they bring)


Link intersect

Find pages that are linking to your competitors but not you. By entering two competitive domains (they don’t have to be directly competitive; anyone you think you should be on lists with, or mentioned by the press alongside, is a good candidate), you can see pages that link to those sites but not yours. Getting creative with your targets here can reveal loads of awesome link opportunities.


This, however, is just the beginning. Be on the lookout for additional insights and opportunities as we improve our link index—we’ve just recently grown the size of Freshscape, which powers Fresh Web Explorer and two of the sections in link opportunities, so you should find lots of good stuff in there, but it can be a challenge. If you’re struggling with query formatting or getting creative around potential opportunities, let us know (in the comments or via Q&A) and we can give you some pointers or maybe find some searches that do the trick.

What about the old OSE?

We changed the workflow a bit and want to make sure you’ve got time to adjust. If you’re cranking through monthly reports or audits and want a more familiar OSE experience, you can switch to OSE Classic for a limited time. Just click on the “View in OSE Classic” link in the top right, and we’ll default to the old version.

But keep in mind new features and enhancements, like improved performance and Link Opportunities, will only be available in the new release. We’ll keep OSE Classic active until December 3rd in case you’re feeling nostalgic.

We’d love your feedback

If you’re using the new OSE and find problems, wish we’d change something, or have a particularly awesome experience, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below, in Q&A, or (especially if your issue is urgent/something broken) via our help team.

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Flexibility with SEO Server Hosting

http://ideastackhosting.com SEO hosting uses traditional and non-traditional ways to boost the marketing of a site with ideastack, increasing traffic and rev…

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SEOs Know Things about UX: Here’s How to Prove it

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

As a human being currently using the internet, you have opinions about online user experience. The problem is, everyone’s experience is going to be different based on their expectations. So although you, as a Moz blog reader and probably an internet connoisseur, may have some very good ideas about making your company’s or client’s site easier to use for the majority of visitors, there’s a good chance that your boss or client will disagree with you. 

If you’re like me and aren’t a user experience expert, it’s going to be hard to argue with them on gut instinct alone. Rather than debate in circles, spend the time to validate your argument:

  1. Prove there is a problem. This is a good idea even if you and your boss (or client) wholeheartedly agree that the site is less than optimal. Get feedback from visitors who aren’t working on the site and see if their feedback lines up with your assumptions. 
  2. Propose a solution. Based on the feedback, propose a solution. It’s best to do this visually with a page mockup. 
  3. Test that solution. See how visitors respond better to your new design than they did to the old design.

By going through these steps, you can build a strong case for implementing your recommendations.

How to prove there is a problem

The first step is to prove that there really is a user experience issue. If you’re lucky and have time and money, the best way to get user experience feedback is to reach out to your customers and/or people in your target market and work with them in person. But most of us aren’t so lucky. If you’re confined to an SEO’s budget like I usually am, you can use an online tool:

My favorite:

Qualaroo

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Qualaroo is a simple yet effective way to collect feedback. You just put a small piece of JavaScript code on your site, allowing Qualaroo to load a question in the lower right hand corner of a page. You can: 

  • Place the question on any page or group of pages
  • Write your own questions or use their helpful library of examples
  • Set a time for when the box shows up (e.g., on page load, after 15 seconds, or when the visitor moves their cursor up to the URL bar on their browser, indicating they might leave)

Example use: One of my clients runs seminars. They can host them in a number of places, but if the seminar is hosted in their primary building, they don’t explicitly say where the seminar is held. I theorized that this is causing confusion for visitors and that adding the address to the seminar page would make visitors’ decisions easier.

I didn’t want to ask a leading question, though, so I just added a question to every seminar page, “Is there any other information you need to make a decision today?” Once I had collected a few hundred responses, I exported the feedback to an Excel file and started sorting ideas. I was right: a good proportion of people were interested in the location. The exercise also taught me that a lot of visitors wanted a sample schedule of the program. 

Pros: Easy to use, fast way to get feedback, very flexible program

Cons: You only hear from people who are on your site

Price: $79/month (less if you pay for 1 – 2 years at a time)

Cheap feedback without access to the code of your site:

Feedback Army/Mechanical Turk

Feedback Army

While I recommend Qualaroo, I realize that many of you may not be able to convince your boss or client to install JavaScript and potentially distract visitors with your UX questions. If that’s the case, you can use 
Mechanical Turk, or Feedback Army, which is a guy using Mechanical Turk for you, because mTurk’s interface is pretty clunky.

Mechanical Turk allows you to submit questions to millions of online workers from across the world (about 30% are American), so you can use the same questions as you would with Qualaroo. You have to lead them to the right page to review as well, but that should be easy enough.

Pros: An inexpensive way to find and learn from testers

Cons: Mechanical Turk doesn’t pay their testers a whole lot, so you’ll get very quick, off the cuff responses. Plus, they won’t be from your target audience or customer base.

Price: $40 per 10 responses

More expensive feedback without access to the code of your site:

UserTesting.com

usertesting.com

If you’d like a more robust user experience test, try out
UserTesting.com. Testers are paid $35/test, so they’re going to give you a much more in-depth, thoughtful review than Mechanical Turk. With a higher price tag comes a lot more information, though: you give testers a task and ask them for feedback along the way. This may be excessive if your idea was about tweaking one piece of one page, but it’s great for information architecture/site navigation issues.

Pros: A still fairly inexpensive way to find and learn from testers. You can select your target market by age, gender, income, location, and experience online.

Cons: Reviewers are being paid well to test your site, here, so they want to do a thorough job, and I’ve heard they can be nitpicky.

Price: $49/tester (you’ll need a few, at least)

Bonus: Running tests like these without access to the code of the site means that you can run tests on your competitors, too! Use either Feedback Army or UserTesting.com to learn what people like about your competitors’ sites and what frustrates them. It’ll tell you what you’re up against, and pieces that testers praise may be worth imitating on your own site.

Quantitative feedback:

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Google Analytics won’t give you the opinions of visitors, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. If your theory is that:

  • Calls to action aren’t really…calling people to action
  • Visitors don’t know how to navigate to the page they’re looking for
  • Readers don’t scroll all the way to the bottom of the page

Then you can look at:

  • What proportion of visitors clicked on that call to action (if there are multiple CTAs to the same location on a page, you may have to set up Event Tracking to be sure which CTA was clicked)
  • How visitors move through your site with the Visitor Flow report, and how many visitors clicked around before using site search with the Site Search report
  • How far visitors scrolled down a page, by setting up Events at certain break points
Pros: Free! And, probably already installed on your system. 

Cons: You get a lot of data, but what it means can be somewhat up to interpretation. This might be a good springboard to convince a client that you need to do further testing, but it can’t prove much on its own.

Price: Free!

How to propose a solution

Proving that there is a problem gets your boss or client to the table. The next step is proposing a solution and proposing it well.

The most effective way I’ve found to pitch a design change is to actually mock up your solution. If you have access to design tools, definitely use those. I don’t, though, so I either modify the HTML with Chrome’s Inspect Element feature or use a combination of the Windows Snipping Tool and Paint.

Snipping Tool & MS Paint

I know, no one gets design cred from using MS Paint. But I’m a child of the ’90s, and Paint was my first introduction to design software, so it’s easy for me to use. The point here isn’t to use Paint necessarily, but to use whichever program you have access to and is easy to use. Don’t stop yourself from creating designs just because you don’t own a copy of Dreamweaver or Photoshop.

When I want to mock up a dramatically different version of a page, I use the Snipping Tool to take a picture of the webpage as it currently is, then modify the parts that I want to. The selector makes it easy to move elements around. If Paint doesn’t have an option I need, I just use other Office products:

  • For text overlays and adding a variety of shapes, I’ll often use Word, since it has a lot of text box options
  • For color changes and setting a transparent color, I use PowerPoint, because as far as I know it’s the only Office product that has that option
  • For text changes, I’ll modify the HTML in Chrome (see section below), then copy that over to my Paint design

Is this hack-y? Yes. Is it impressive? No. But it gets the job done. All you need at the end is a design good enough to communicate your idea. Once you get sign-off, actual designers will make sure that the details turn out right.

Rewriting the HTML

As I mentioned above, this works best if what you’re doing is modifying the existing text or images. You can either download the HTML of a page, modify it, and share that, or you can use Chrome’s Inspect Element to quickly modify text and take a picture of the result. It took me 15 seconds to change the text on Moz’ homepage:

rewriting html in chrome

Just right click wherever you want to edit on your page while in Chrome and click “Inspect Element.” If you want to make color changes or image changes, it’ll be a little more complicated, but still doable. 

You can do this in Firefox as well with Firefox’s add-on,
Firebug.

Once you’ve got a mock up, save it and send it on to your boss/client with your description of the changes you’ve made, the stats from your tests, and why your solution is solving those problems. (Just don’t mention how you made that mock up.)

How to test your solution

Even if your proposed solution is a big hit and everyone wants to implement it right away, it’s better to test to make sure that it’s actually going to work before making a permanent change to your site. I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that it’s too hard to test changes, but it’s actually fairly easy with the right tools.

If you or a dev can build you variation pages:

Google Experiments

google experiments

Image from Marketing Engine Land, which includes more details on Google Experiments.

If you’ve got a developer who can build out your suggested change, 
Google Experiments is a free, reliable, and easy to use tool to track results. It’s integrated into Google Analytics, so it uses the conversion metrics you already have set up (this may mean you’ll have to set up a new goal to cover your test’s desired outcome). 

Pros: Free and completely integrated with Google Analytics

Cons: You have to create your own variation pages.

Price: Free!

If dev resources are limited:

Optimizely

optimizely

Optimizely does need a bit of dev work to install a JavaScript code onto your site, but once it’s there, you can edit the HTML for tests with their web interface, without talking to a developer. You can edit with their editor or use actual HTML, meaning the tool doesn’t require HTML skills, but still allows those able to write HTML the extra precision they can get from making changes to the code directly. 

As a consultant, I
love working with clients who have Optimizely installed, because I can take a test from start to finish. I prove the problem, propose a solution, set up the test, and present results, all without my point of contact having to take time out of his or her busy schedule to make any changes. And, once you have numeric results, it’s easy to prove the value of your suggested change and get it into the dev queue. 

Pros: Easy to use, and gives you a lot of flexibility 

Cons: You have to start with the core page and then modify elements with JavaScript, so you can’t make dramatic changes 

Price: Based on your monthly traffic, prices start at $19/month

Make a solid argument for change

Assuming that each step supported your initial ideas, you now have more than enough data to strongly support making the change you suggested. When you make your recommendation, take the time to tell the story of what you went through—getting user feedback, coming up with a solution, and proving the solution works. Clients and bosses feel a lot more comfortable with your conclusions if they see how thoroughly you researched the issue.

Has anyone else gone through a similar process? Any tools you prefer, or tips you’d like to add? Share in the comments below!

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How to Be More Creative in Your Online Campaigns

Posted by ShellShock

The SEO landscape has changed so much in the last few years in the wake of the Penguin and Panda apocalypse that the discipline is now considered in the broader terms of online marketing or digital marketing. The one element that is common is the requirement for new skills such as PR, classic marketing and most importantly: creativity. Agencies and freelance individuals who can’t adapt, evolve and embrace the new mode of thinking/operating are vulnerable with nowhere to hide behind mediocre work and outdated tactics.

Be more creative, is a phrase often used within business and marketing with little consideration given to its meaning. But, what does it mean to be creative?

There is much confusion about what creativity is and a general misconception of mistaking style for creativity. Most designers are stylists: they make things look good. Creativity is about concepts, ideas and innovation. In art school, I was always taught that being able to justify the concept was the most important element of creativity. You had to argue your reason for why the design piece was a solution to the problem. I can still recall how nervous I used to get before a group critique session (the phrase blood bath comes to mind) even though it was over 20 years ago. It’s not about how good it looks – it’s how well it answers the questions.

Creativity is a skill we can all access. Everyone has the capacity to generate ideas. Admittedly, some people are more inclined towards creative thinking, just as some are able to figure large maths calculations in their head or swim like Michael Phelps. But anyone can increase his or her level of creativity by learning the skills of thinking and exercising their idea muscle.

I recently published a free ebook called ‘What is Creativity?’ and the following are six ideas extracted and expanded from the book to increase your creative thinking and improve your online campaigns:


Creativity is not a talent, it’s a way of operating. John Cleese


Learning to switch into open mode
Ex Monty Python, John Cleese understands and defines the creative process as learning to switch between two states or modes: open and closed. When we are under pressure and stress to deliver, such as in our everyday working lives, we are in closed mode. When we are relaxed, detached from problems and playful, we are in the open mode. Open can be considered playful (lateral thinking) and closed logical (vertical thinking). Just as we need both lateral thinking and vertical thinking, we need open and closed states to solve a problem: the open state allows us to develop creative ideas and then the closed state to plan and implement the idea. These are similarly aligned to vertical and lateral thinking processes.

1: How to achieve an Open state
Schedule time to avoid being distracted and remove the pressure to instantly generate ideas; your brain needs time to open up. The optimum amount of time is 90 minutes, it takes a minimum of 60 minutes for the brain to focus on a task and after 90 minutes will be prone to distraction and need a break.

Place of work is essential for creatives to get into state – most writers and artists will follow a routine and often have isolated spaces such as garden offices to minimize distraction. Some artists need to be surrounded by ephemera such as the collection of memorabilia that Paul Smith surrounds himself with for inspiration. Others, like Maya Angelou, prefer minimalism and, like myself, need an uncluttered desk and space for an uncluttered mind to be able to think.

Agatha Christie preferred to work in a large Victorian bath whilst eating apples. Benjamin Franklin would work naked for an hour every morning. Maya Angelou preferred the isolation of a hotel room and requested everything removed from the walls; she would bring her own sherry and ashtray. The eccentric poet Dame Edith Sitwell would lie down in a coffin finding inspiration in the claustrophobic and restrictive space.

You don’t need to go to the extremes of a coffin but find a space which is conducive to relaxation and without distraction, anywhere that removes you from association with work or pressure (preferably not home). Try a coffee shop (JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in her local coffee shop), the library, a hotel or even a camper van (Breaking Bad style). Removing yourself from the usual place of work will remove yourself from distraction, help the brain to break pattern which in turn will switch into a more receptive state for ideas.

To access open mode if you are in a group:
The open state thrives in humor and play so try the dinner party technique: create the dream dinner party guest list, such as Einstein, Da Vinci, Churchill, Kennedy or even fictional characters such as Don Corleone, Jack Sparrow and Luke Skywalker. Each person should take a persona and become their character – they must answer questions and think like they would imagine that character to think. The perfect warm up exercise; it is huge fun, encourages humor, it breaks awkwardness and forces the brain to break pattern from your normal style of thinking. Keep this game going for a minimum of 20 minutes before your brainstorm.

To access open mode if you are alone:
Research has shown a correlation between increased dopamine and creativity. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical which the brain releases to signal success but this chemical is not as straight forward and predictable as a reliable tool. The increase of endorphins will elevate our mood and help us achieve our open state: physical exercise is one of the easiest ways to access a rush of endorphins although, spicy food, sexual activity and pain can also trigger release – so whatever gets you going!

Try a walk, swim or bike ride to stimulate feel good. You want to ensure a careful balance of feeling exhilarated but also avoiding energy depletion. Opt for a route that you haven’t been on before to break any automatic behavior patterns. Walking in a new part of town and observing the unfamiliar territory or running backwards will stimulate new thought and movement patterns thus putting you into a more creative and receptive state.


Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.Steve Jobs


2: Make connections with an ideas wall
The ability to make connections and see relationships between seemingly random elements is the secret to creativity. Combining old elements to create something new.

Idea walls solve crimes
It’s no coincidence that you see examples of ideas walls on TV dramas and movies such as: Homelands, Sherlock Holmes, A Beautiful Mind and Three and a Half Days Later. Detectives have long used this technique to assist solving crimes. Placing photographs of the known or suspected perpetrators, victims, crime scenes and evidence on a wall enables items of evidence to be repositioned and grouped; string can link items together for visual affect. A detective can then stand back and mentally take in a great deal of information at once. The brain begins to process and use its natural ability to seek the connections between the items, find the clues and answers to the case.

images from Crazy Walls

When the BBC conducted a site redesign in 2010 they printed out the entire site and mounted on a wall affectionately known as ‘the wall of shame’. To enable them to better visualize what they had and to unify the visual and interaction design of the desktop and mobile sites.

How to create a content strategy ideas wall
Tools needed: paper, colored pens, highlighter pens, print outs of all reference material, colored string and push-pins, post it notes, blu tack or tape, and a large wall space, pin board or sheets of foam board.

  • Organize your reference material into themes or groups and pin/stick to the wall.
  • Devise a color code system for your different groups with the pen color you have and use the colored pens and highlighter and mark and highlight relevant pages and sections of information. (Homelands style, see above)
  • For example, if you are working on content strategy for your site group into:
    • Influencers – list influencers who could help to broadcast your content and sub group in different social media channels, newsletters and authority sites (eg Guardian, Huffington Post, Fast Company)
    • Audit – audit current site content
    • Idea sources – places to mine ideas from such as offline periodicals, online Q&A sites like Quora, social media channels and Google trends
    • Host Locations – potential sites to target for exposure, shares and links: authority hub sites, bloggers, online magazines/publishers, email newsletters and social media sites

  • By grouping related themes we start to see patterns. If you have a piece that doesn’t fit into a group this ‘outlier’ could in itself give ideas.
  • Stand back from the wall and look for potential relationships or connections between the information. Using push pins and colored string make a visual link between the two. (See photos above)
  • The key here is flexibility: move pieces of paper round, create new string links, devise new groups – by repositioning, regrouping and relinking this is where your ideas will start to form and generate as you begin to make the connections.

If wall space is an issue or you prefer a digital version, Mural.ly is an online alternative to creating an ideas wall; describing itself as “an online whiteboard designed to visually organize ideas and collaborate in a playful way.” Mural.ly allows collaboration of team members and you can drag and drop your reference material onto the white board and reposition items and make notes. I have only just begun to play with this tool and it has huge depth and potential to assist in creative projects.

image from Mural.ly

Pinterest is one of my favourite scrapbook tools for collecting visual information as an alternative. I use Evernote extensively for collecting information and research material. Quora is my favourite site for finding ideas for content.

4: How to brainstorm the right way:

Generating ideas for content, marketing strategies or even creative use of data can all be more productive if tackled in a group – the synergy from more than one person will bring fresh perspective, new ideas and energy. But, brainstorming is such a common term that most people don’t consider how to undertake a session effectively.

One of the most important elements within team idea generation is trust and harmony. The group must be able to work well together through respect for each others’ opinions and ability and a general air of amiability. Any disagreeable personalities, critical individuals or large egos are not conducive to successful creative brainstorming and should be excluded from the group.

image from Atomic Spin

The following rules should be set to deter any fear or negativity that can squash creativity so that you can encourage a safe space to open up:

  • A diverse range of skills present in the group works well in bringing alternative approaches, as does varying levels of experience, age, gender and personality.
  • Allocate enough time to warm up and to focus. Between an hour and 90 minutes is preferable – after this the brain loses focus and needs a break. I recommend the ‘dinner party’ game above or another icebreaker to create an open state.
  • Allow the most junior person in the room to speak first and in turn to most senior. This removes any pressure from a junior member who may be intimidated to follow an experienced authority.
  • Stay focused on the topic. It is natural in group discussion to lose focus and drift into other subjects. The moderator must be vigilant in this area.
  • An experienced moderator is essential to the process and should be able to direct and manage the group without obstructing and keep the group on track and focused and ensure everyone follows the rules (such as not being negative or overbearing). The moderator will take notes (on a white board) and assist as an objective opinion to draw connections between ideas.
  • Above all else no judging, criticism or rejection of any idea – anything is valid and can be considered.

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.Sir Ken Robinson


5: Change your thinking, change your life
If your natural disposition is not creative a creative thinker you can become more creative through repeated action, discipline and learning new ways to think.

Repetition and discipline
The more the brain processes a routine or skill, such as a new language or driving a car, the deeper the synapses physically carve a channel in the brain. Which explains to some degree why when we first learn a skill we have to concentrate intensely; it takes a great deal of energy, but through applied discipline it eventually becomes almost automatic and we don’t appear to think about what we are doing, the subconscious takes over.

Ten ideas lists
One of my favorite exercises to train your brain and develop your idea muscle is to generate lists of ideas everyday. I have to credit James Altucher and I recommend his article on how to become an idea machine here:

The concept is simple but challenging: think of ten new ideas. These can be for anything such as ten new business ideas, ten new ways to obtain quality earned links, ten new ways to improve conversion on a page or ten new ways to save energy, ten new ways to make a better cup of coffee or ten new ways to travel to work. For example:

Ten new ways to travel to work for free:

  1. Walk
  2. Push bike
  3. Run
  4. Roller blades
  5. Hitchhike
  6. Horse
  7. Skate board tied to a car (do I need to explain why this is a bad idea?)
  8. Get a job next to a canal and kayak to work
  9. Move to the Caribbean, live in a beach hut and swim to work
  10. Move to the top of a hill and go kart – makes the home journey a challenge (next list?)

The purpose is not to create ideas you will act on or even sensible, rational or reasonable ideas. This is gym training for the mind only so don’t get precious with your lists. Your first few lists may appear deceptively easy but as you begin to run out of obvious ideas you have to work hard just to think of list ideas and ten new ideas for my ten new ideas list is going to make your brain work for it. Don’t make the mistake of underrating this exercise; everything improves and becomes easier with practice and repetition.

6: Garbage in: Garbage out
My advice above all else is to read as widely as possible as I believe this feeds a creative mind more than any other activity. Just as athletes can only achieve their personal best if they eat a highly optimized diet, creatives need quality brain food and mental stimulation on a regular basis to operate at their creative best. You get out what you put in.

This article is an extract from ‘What is Creativity?’ a 76 page free ebook which offers an introduction to creativity with actionable tips to improve your thinking skills. The second part of the book is dedicated to thought leaders interviews who were posed the question: “what does creativity meant to you?”. Contributors include: Rand Fishkin, Bas Van Den Beld, Paddy Moogan, Neil Patel, Dave Trott, Lee Odden and Chris Brogan. You can download a free copy at creativity101 here…

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