It’s been a while since I shared interesting articles I read over the course of the week. But I came across a ton of interesting content recently that I just can’t wait to share. Let’s see if I can restart this as a regular weekly series.

What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong - Someone finally said it. Click-through-rates are flawed measure of performance.

Are We Thinking About Digital All Wrong? - I consider myself a digital native, and I don’t think about digital like this. But apparently many companies see digital only as a tool. If the senior executives thinking like that and aren’t willing to embrace digital, their enterprises will perish. But maybe these dinosaurs are just waiting to retire in few years, then it doesn’t matter to them.

The Importance of Giving Credit - The title is self-explanatory. I also would add that it helps you build up your social capital.

Why Good Managers Are So Rare - Good question.

Why Most Of The Content You Read About Growth Is Wrong - As everyone is races to become a ‘growth’ expert/hacker or some other mashup of impressively sounding titles, it’s expected to see a flood of content around this topic. But not all of it is good.

Whether you’re building a landing page, creating Adword campaigns, or writing a web copy you need to use the right language and words that will attract and convert your website visitors and prospects into subscribers and customers.

A lot of attention is given to looking for keyword ideas via online tools, analytics and through a competitive analysis. But we tend to overlook more human sources that can also be just as inspirational and rich with keywords and phrases that your clients actually use.

Client Testimonials

This is a gold mine for content and keyword ideas. When your client provides you with a testimonial they are already familiar with your services and are able to clearly articulate how you helped them solve their business challenges.  Pinpoint your ideal keywords and extract how they phrase their pain points and how they describe your solutions or products. Use these ideas to inspire your content development and address it head on in your content marketing efforts.

Quote Requests

Like client testimonials, quote requests (via phone or email) are also a gold mine of keywords, except for one distinction. All client testimonials will often consist of similar language because your existing customers are familiar with your services. But with quote requests you’ll notice that new prospects will use a variety of ways to describe a solution their looking for.

Using marketese you might be set on using words that you think make you sound sophisticated and advanced. But in fact, those may not be the words that your customers use to find you. Listening for unique keywords and phrases will help you tailor your content to target and attract brand new customers as everyone will have different ways of describing your solutions.

Sales People

Sales people talk your leads, prospects and customers all day. Empower and train them to listen for language their contacts use to describe your services, their business challenges and how your company might be able to help them. Ask your salesforce to keep a running log book. Then during your sales meeting do a quick session and throw up any new discoveries onto the white board.

It is tempting to start talking marketese in your product descriptions, sales collateral and even on your blog. It makes you sound smart, sophisticated and advanced. But really, the only person who’ll understand what you’re talking about is you. So, try to avoid it as much as possible.  Make an honest effort to incorporate your clients’ actual language in your collateral and content marketing efforts.

The cold emails that got me meetings at Twitter, LinkedIn and GitHub - If done right, cold-emailing can be very effective at getting meetings with the right people. Although the context of this article is around selling technology but the principles can be applied to any industry. You don’t even have to be in business development or sales, anyone trying to build relationships with decision makers and influencers can learn a thing or two.

5 Types of People Who Will Lead Tomorrow’s Marketing Strategies – Marketers are already expected to wear many hats and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.  If marketing is your career path and you want to succeed you’ll need these skills to become a leader in your space.

Hand-Sketching: Things You Didn’t Know Your Doodles Could Accomplish - Who knew that doodling skills developed during class or unnecessarily long meetings could actually pay off.

Why we play Moneyball rather than Powerball – Insider’s look into early stage investing and what makes VCs part with their money.  Although not all VCs follow same formula or strategies but it does provide a good base of what you should accomplish before you ask for VC money.

How Amazon Became the Everything Store – Although this is just an excerpt from ‘The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon’ but it provides a glimpse at what makes Amazon, Amazon.  I expected to learn mostly about Amazon as a company, but what kept me reading the extended excerpt is Jeff Beszo’s personal story that I can personally relate to. It goes without saying that I’ll be ordering the book from who else, but Amazon.

The Hobby Every Frazzled Executive Should Take Up - You’d surprised to find what it is. And it’s not just for executives. Anyone and everyone should take up this hobby. One off sessions won’t work. It’ll have to become a real hobby to yield any benefits.

Never Stop Talking: How Small Teams Stay Great When They Grow - It’s all about communication. Finding a way to keep everyone in the loop and in real time might be just the accelerator your team or organization needs to get things done, fast.

How I Failed - Entrepreneurs and leaders we admire weren’t born with unbreakable streaks of success. Their success came from lessons they learned from their failures. Check out Tim O’Reilly’s inspirational story of ups and downs, failures and victories.

What Is Creativity? Cultural Icons on What Ideation Is and How It Works - What’s you definition of creativity? I bet it’ll be different from how our Cultural Icons define it.

Growth Hacking: Wakeup Call - Marketer’s role and responsibilities are shifting; and that shift is taking on a new a name – Growth Hacking. If this is the first time you heard the phrase, go through the slideshow for a quick intro. Although I am not big on predictions, but this is a fairly accurate assessment of where the marketer’s role is heading.

Autoworkers - A comparison of autoworkers of the past to present coders and what new coding elite could face if they get too comfortable.

Collaborating with a 4-Year Old – This is what happens when a grown-up bound by rules and techniques and a child with care-free and wild imagination work on the same piece of art. Another source of inspiration.

Timing Tweets, facebook Posts, Email and Blog Posts – Insightful post, and supported by data on best time to publish your updates, tweets and posts. If you’re an active social media user looking to get more mileage form your updates check it out and take notes.

The 12 Week Year – Here’s an interesting concept we’ve been discussing at work; turning your traditional 52 weeks business plan and getting it done in 12 weeks. I think this can be very powerful if you approach it with discipline.

Successful Online Journalism Needs Good Design as Much as Good Content - Like a jigsaw puzzle, it takes many pieces to complete the story. Even if you got the writing piece down pat, make sure you get the design and visuals right as well.

Taking a stab at curating and sharing some of the most amazing content I found across the web in the past week. Most of the time I’ll just quickly scan the article, but if it looks interesting I’ll publish it across my various networks and save it to my ‘Saturday-Morning-Reading’ list to read it later in-depth . So, if we’re not connected on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+ you’ll be able to find my top weekly links in the ‘Saturday Morning Reading’ blog posts on Saturday mornings.

My primary interests lie in Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Productivity, Creativity, Self-Improvement, Learning and Fitness. Sometimes, you’ll find posts that don’t fit any of those categories, but whatever I share I’ll make sure that it helps you be better tomorrow than you were yesterday.

This is edition one.

Why I Left Google - Well aware of the prestige of working at Google, Ellen Huerta made a gutsy move unimaginable to others.

Is the GMAT the Root of Evil in the Business World? - Good question, but does science support it?

Use The “Gun-To-Head” Test To Make Better Decisions - Do you ever make a mistake and say to yourself, “Dammit, I should have stuck to my gut!” I know I do, and have been on a mission to figure how to listen to my gut and stick my original instincts. This test might get me closer to the answers I’m looking for.

On Creative Leadership - If you want the best from your creative team, you just have to let them be. Guide them along the creative path, don’t force it.

Data is the Most Underutilized Asset in Marketing - Is marketing mostly art or science? It’s both. But as the new study suggests marketers are more pressured more than ever to focus on the science side and use more data to make their decisions. “Data is great, and we’re only beginning to tap its potential. But that doesn’t have to come at the expense of the qualitative facets of marketing.”

Marketing automation is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the automation of your marketing activities. It is the process of automating repetitive marketing tasks such as sending out automated communication to your prospects and customers, capturing customer intelligence and lead segmentation.

How Is Marketing Automation Done?

You can use software such as Hubspot, Marketo, Eloqua and others where a user specifies tasks and workflows it wants the software to perform. For example, let’s say one of your website visitors downloads one of your brochures or white papers. You can tell the software to capture visitors information, tag them as a lead, and add them to a specific list based on what they filled out in the download form.  Then you can automate and schedule future emails to anyone on your lists and share valuable and relevant content that your leads may enjoy. If your lead reaches a certain engagement level you can automate an alert to be sent to a salesperson for a follow-up.

What Kind of Marketing Activities Can You Automate?

  • Audience Segmentation
  • Email
  • Lead Nurturing
  • Lead Activity Alerts
  • Customer Intelligence
  • Prospect Alerts
  • Social Media Status Updates
  • Social Media Monitoring

And more.

Who’s in Charge of Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation responsibility falls under marketing department.  In large organizations you’ll have teams and resources contributing their efforts to marketing automation programs. But if you’re a one person marketing department like me, you own the whole thing.  Granted, I do get support and have contributors helping me primarily with content and copywriting.

Why Do Marketing Automation?

  • Message and branding consistency
  • Save time
  • Identify anonymous website visitors
  • Lead nurturing
  • ‘Always on’ marketing
  • Identify trends
  • Track and measure effectiveness of emails, campaigns and processes
  • Optimize marketing and sales processes
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Gain control of your data
  • Put your data to work
  • Generate more qualified leads

What Kind of Businesses Is It For?

Although I can argue that businesses of all sizes, industries, serving various customer segments can benefit from some form of marketing automation, but the truth of the matter is that marketing automation mostly appeals and works great for B2B companies.  Especially, to those who have defined marketing and sales process, and are able to generate enough leads to nurture through the buying cycle.

Furthermore, larger organizations with forward thinking leadership and resources can truly take advantage of full marketing automation software capabilities and quickly show an ROI. Marketing automation software is not cheap.

But I hope this doesn’t dissuade small businesses from implementing a marketing automation solution.  There are still affordable solutions that even small businesses such as your local car dealership, lawn care company or small manufacturer of bikes can take advantage of and a leg up on the big guys.

It goes without saying that client testimonials are an essential component of any marketing and sales kits. Big or small, businesses of all sizes benefit from having client testimonials posted on their site, referenced in sales materials or quoted in marketing collateral.

Client testimonials provide social proof, showcase your capabilities and create trust. Most often a testimonial will come in as unsolicited short email form as a thank you. These are great, and most of the time you’ll only be able to extract a quote or two. But how do you go about getting a more in-depth client testimonial on an official Client’s company letterhead with a signature? It’s not as daunting, the short answer is all you have to do is ask. That’s it.

Just ask your client for a testimonial.

When is it appropriate to ask for a testimonial

If your answer is yes to one of these questions:

  • Project completed?
  • Service performed?
  • Product delivered?

And a yes to the all three below:

  • Results achieved?
  • Did you get paid?
  • Is your client happy?

Then now would be a good time to ask your client for a testimonial. This is even easier when you already got a pat on the back or a ‘thank you’ email. Just respond with:

Thank you for your kind words. Would you mind writing up a testimonial about the work we’ve done and results achieved for your business?

You can expand from there on what you’d like to go into a testimonial and how you intend to use it.

What makes a good client testimonial

  • it’s specific
  • the Client must identify their need or pain points
  • why they needed to fix things
  • how they found you
  • why they chose you, and
  • what service solution they engaged you for

And of course they should definitely note any

  • results achieved, and/or
  • how your services or products eliminated your client’s pain points

A good testimonial will also contain a comment or two about your professionalism, work ethic and anything unique that made you such a pleasure to work with.  Lastly, do not forget to explain how you intend to use the testimonial.

Getting a client testimonial is not rocket science. If your client is happy with your work or product you shouldn’t have any trouble obtaining one. After you get a copy, be sure to thank your client and always ask for permission to use it in your marketing.

Whether you were inspired to start your own blog or were asked to contribute an article to an existing one every new blogger needs a good starting point. The obstacle in the way of that starting point is ‘What should I blog about?’

Don’t worry, it’s not as frightening as it sounds.

Inspiration is a good way to overcome that obstacle. Deciding to launch your own blog is a good starting point because you already have an idea of what you want to say. Blog titles and topics are just swimming in your head. Pull one out and start writing.

But if you were invited to contribute to another blog, most editors would provide you with blogging guidelines and topic suggestions. Pick a topic and start writing.

Just Write

That’s it? Just write? Yes, but there’s more.

You just need to get some ideas on paper.  Don’t let them marinate in your head for too long. Get them onto a blank sheet of paper. Capitalize on the momentum of inspiration while you can. After getting some ideas onto a page, work on refining your piece.

Know Your Audience

Who are you writing it for? Your friends? Mom, dad and cousins? Or are you writing for your customers or potential prospects?  Get to know your audience. What do they care about? What would you want them to know?

Know Your Purpose

Are you blogging to entertain? To educate? To start a discussion? To engage? Each blogger has their own set of motivations and reasons to produce content.

Seth Godin, an entrepreneur and a marketer, for example, writes short but thought provoking posts about marketing. Cal Newport of Study Hacks covers topics on personal productivity and personal development through learning. Dr. Steve Gangemi, aka the Sock-Doc blogs about natural injury prevention and treatment. And Jenny Flake cooks, bakes and blogs about her favourite recipes. I can keep going. The examples are endless. Everyone has different goals and motivations. Everything from inspiring and educating their audience to building their expertise.

So when you go out and start writing blog posts think about why you are writing it, what you hope to accomplish with your work and does it get closer to your goals?

Do Your Research

Depending on the topic you want to cover, to be more credible, build expertise and gain confidence do some research to support your points and arguments. Sometimes data or references may not be available so feel free to support your main argument with anecdotal examples from personal experience. Or get a quote from an established expert.

Get Personal

Up to this point it I make it sound like blogging needs to be academic. It doesn’t. Get personal. Share your thoughts, opinions, experiences and knowledge. Offer alternate perspectives. There are many people out there who are interested in your opinions, experiences or just to read an opposing perspective.

Style Takes Time

Unless you’ve been writing for years, you won’t really have a style. Your style will develop over time as you find your voice and audience. And even when you do finally develop a style, you’ll still be working on it, making it truly your own.

In the beginning, just start writing.

Get Feedback

Prior to making your first blog post go live, get someone to review it.  Most of the time the editor will focus on spelling and grammar. Making sure your work is comprehensible for the target audience. But if you’re writing an academic, investigative or research piece an editor will also make sure you verify your facts and provide references.

Set It Free

Once you get the post out there. It’s out there for everyone to see. Although you’ll feel a major sigh of relief you’ll still might stress over of what happens next. Don’t stress. If you’re starting your own blog the only people that will read it in the beginning will be your own parents. But if you’re contributing to an established online publication or a corporate blog it can fast track the growth of your network and expertise.

It may seem like there’s a lot of steps to writing great blog posts, but there’ really isn’t. In the beginning you just need to start writing, and everything else to follow.

It was heartbreaking to learn that Google is killing off Google Reader.  I thought I didn’t have any emotional attachments to products and apps, but the death of Google Reader news proved otherwise.  I had no problem selling my first car. Didn’t shed a tear. I had no problem getting rid of my mobile devices. Couldn’t wait to switch. But hearing of imminent demise of Google reader evoked surprisingly strong emotions.

google reader shuttting down

Just as blogging was taking off in mid-2000s I needed a good way to keep stay updated. Google Reader was the answer. It was clean, simple; and it just worked.  I’ve tried other services at that time but nothing was comparable.  As with many Google products I stuck with it and never looked for an alternative. Until now.

Google Reader became part of my routine. It was the first thing I’d look through at 5am, and last browser window I’d shut down before bed time.  It was engrained into my daily life. Which is why I was so disappointed to hear the news. So, now I have to find an alternative.

Many people argue that you can get your news through multiple sources, primarily focusing on social networks.  Where news is already aggregated, shared and voted up by your networks and circles.  I don’t want my networks to influence what I see in my newsfeed.  By the time I see it, it might be too late. I want control over what gets pushed into my stream.

Also, RSS is built into all news sources and blogs I subscribe to. I know that if I do subscribe to the RSS feed I am guaranteed to get published content in my reader immediately.  Getting my news from social networks won’t work because the content doesn’t get pushed through it consistently. And when it does, it’s cluttered with editor’s tweets and opinions and replies to their audience.

Lastly, certain pieces of content take up too much of a browser real-estate. The only app that can get away with this is Flipboard. There’s no scrolling down the page, just quick flipping to the next article. Essentially, I want my RSS stream to be clutter-free and published with reliable consistency.

Time to look for good Google Reader alternatives.

So, what would be considered a good alternative?

  • First and foremost, I should be able to import my existing Google Reader data. If a new service is unable to do that I won’t go past this crucial step.
  • The new RSS reader should have a familiar look and feel. I want all the headlines listed on one screen. Clean and clutter-free.
  • Show me the data. I’d want to see some stats on my content consumption.
  • Ability to share content across social networks.
  • Ability to ‘star’ or mark as favourite for reading later or reference purposes.
  • Ability to access the feed on various devices
  • Free or minimum ad-support.
  • Finally, can I quickly love it and incorporate it into my daily routine?

As soon as the news of Google Reader’s inevitable demise hit the interwebs, articles about best alternatives started popping up like weeds.

After reviewing the articles, I decided to test out just a handful of most commonly recommended RSS Readers for myself and see which one would be best suited for my needs.

The three readers that dominate RSS reader lists are NewsBlur, The Old Reader and Feedly.  Between these three there’s no contest. Feedly takes the cake. NewsBlur wanted my credit card upfront before letting me test drive the app

newsblur payment screen

Apparently they can’t handle the demand, or is this milking unsuspecting ex-users of Google Reader? However, I was able to click back then hit forward again to gain access to my imported feed. The design looked horrible. Too cluttered. And frames; what is this 1996?

newsblur frames

I didn’t even get a chance to try The Old Reader. It’s been about 3 days now, and still no ETA on when my feed would be imported. Very disappointing.

the old reader

I started using Feedly right of way. Works great on the desktop, iPad, iPhone and other iGizmos and Droids.  Imported my feed instantly. No hick ups. I was hooked by the clean and beautiful layout options, similar look and feel of Google Reader, and tons of sharing options. This is what I always wanted the Google Reader to be.

feedly welcome screen

feedly rss feed

Feedly meets all my requirements I listed earlier. Except one. It doesn’t provide stats on my content consumption. But I can live without it.

With this post it wasn’t my intention to review any apps. My goal was to explore various alternatives to Google Reader.  Feedly comes up as the top recommendation on many lists.  Other RSS readers don’t even come close. Bottom line is, Feedly is in a league of its own and it’s the best alternative to Google Reader out there.