Sunday, January 31, 2016

Working Late? Here Are 21 Tips to Make Your Nights More Productive


This post originally appeared on HubSpot’s Sales Blog. To read more content like this, subscribe to Sales.

Research has shown sleep might be the most important factor influencing our productivity. In fact, not getting enough sleep is similar to being drunk, according to studies.

Every so often, though, you’ll have a counterproductive day at work and need to pick up the slack before bed. But this situation raises an important question: If you’re going to stay up late working, how do you stay productive?

Below are 21 tips to help keep you productive into the early hours of the morning.

21 Tips to Stay Productive When You’re Working at Night 

1) Practice yoga or meditation.

Practicing yoga helps alleviate both stress and mental fatigue, resulting in improved productivity and a relaxed mindset. Studies have shown that stress can make us less productive. In light of the data, spending a mere 15 minutes meditating can make an immediate difference in nighttime productivity.

2) Take a break before starting.

Research has revealed that taking regular breaks prior to starting a new project can result in improved productivity. After the work day is over, a small 20-minute relaxation period can play a major role in your productivity during the next few hours.

3) Set a hard deadline.

According to Contently, working on large goals with a tight deadline results in our best work. For example, starting a project at 7 p.m. and establishing a hard deadline of 1 a.m. will improve productivity versus saying, “I’ll get this done tomorrow.”

4) Write down your goals.

Writing down our goals, according to research, immediately makes us more likely to achieve those goals. Prior to your long night, jot down the two to three most important tasks ahead of you for improved productivity.

5) Have a well-timed meal. 

While caffeine can give us a mental boost, it’s food that has a direct impact on our cognitive abilities during the last stretch of a day, according to studies. Not eating can set us back cognitively, resulting in less-than-excellent work due to lack of energy.

(Here is a list of foods to eat for max productivity.)

6) Create a productive playlist. 

Several studies have found that music can play a direct role in our productivity as it makes repetitive tasks less annoying, and drowns out the distracting noises of our offices and homes. There are several options for a playlist, but classical music is most likely to improve cognitive functions.

(Check out our six productivity playlists here.)

7) Don’t work in your bedroom.

Working in your bed can make your brain associate your bedroom as a place for work, not sleep, according to Lifehack. This association can result in lost sleep in the future and an inability to turn off when we go to bed.

8) Avoid watching television while you work.

Watching television while we work requires our brain to multitask, which can lead to decreased performance and an underwhelming project. Our brains work best when we’re focused on one thing at a time and giving the task at hand our complete attention.

9) Exercise before beginning.

Not a yoga person? Studies have shown that all forms of exercise can increase our cognitive abilities and overall energy. With more energy and a clear mind, we’re likely to produce better results and be more productive.

10) Drink water.

While caffeine might be tempting, a recent study found that drinking water can increase our productivity by as much as 14%. The study found that drinking water helps expand the grey matter in our brains which is key to being more productive.

11) Leave your low effort, low impact goals for the evening.

Instead of trying to accomplish an extremely challenging task at night, focus instead on knocking out small goals as you build up momentum for the day ahead. Prior to your day, run your tasks though an impact versus effort analysis to determine which tasks require little energy but add up in value.

12) Be honest about what you can achieve.

Setting overly ambitious goals can put us on a path for failure, which results in lost productivity and drained willpower. Setting realistic goals allows us to accomplish the tasks, resulting in improved morale and enhanced productivity. In short, don’t bite off more than you can chew at night.

13) Cut off the wifi.

While the internet can be enticing after a long day, blocking it will allow you to tune out distractions like social media and hone in on what matters. If you’re struggling with this, extensions like StayFocused and BlockSite can help.

14) Stand up.

Several studies have found that standing while working results in better concentration, more energy, and fewer headaches. By finding a place to stand and work at home, you can knock off your evening to-do list with ease.

15) Dress in work clothes.

Pajamas might be tempting, but studies have revealed that dressing for work actually heightens our attention and makes us more focused on the task at hand. Instead of sweatpants, try some business attire for max nighttime productivity.

16) Block out distractions.

Although it can be difficult, it’s important to stay in a work mindset to produce the best results. By avoiding the regular things we do at home for the night – i.e laundry, cleaning the bathroom, watching TV with family – we’re able to stay in the right mindset to be successful.

17) Have an established work space.

If you’re working late at night, it’s important to have an established work space so you don’t confuse home space with work space. Having a dedicated workspace allows our brains to associate the space with work, according to Wix, which makes us more productive.

18) Use the right kind of light.

Studies have found that our circadian rhythm can be triggered by blue light, increasing our awareness and giving us more energy. The circadian rhythm is what determines our body’s natural energy level. By looking at a blue light, we can give ourselves an energy boost.

19) Take a cold shower.

Although scary at first, a cold shower, according to research, can improve energy levels, help our body rebuild key muscles, and make us feel renewed and fresh. If you can’t bring yourself to take a cold shower right off the bat, try the 911 challenge.

20) Crank up the thermostat.

A study from Cornell University discovered that warmer temperatures decrease the amount of mistakes employees make while improving their output. Cold temperature is mostly associated with sleep, so by turning the heat up, you’re more likely to be alert at night.

21) Reach for some lemon tea.

If all else fails and life hands you lemons, make lemonade (or lemon tea). Studies have shown that the aroma of lemon improves our mood, and stimulates our bodies.

Every once in awhile we can have a slow or distracted day, requiring us to work late. While this isn’t ideal, there are a multitude of strategies we can use to ensure we retain our productivity even after the work day is over.

Have you tried any of these out? Tell us about what keeps you productive when you’re working late in the comments.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

7 Powerful Ways to Make Your Emails More Persuasive


This post originally appeared on HubSpot’s Sales Blog. To read more content like this, subscribe to Sales.

Communication is the lifeblood of sales and marketing. Successfully closing deals, providing value, explaining complexities – they all rely on your ability to express yourself clearly and persuasively.

The outreach email is a special breed of writing. You only have a very small window of opportunity to capture your reader’s attention and convince them to move one step closer toward a purchase or intended action. Use these writing techniques to ensure your emails pack the most punch.

7 Powerful Persuasion Techniques to Use In Your Next Email

1) Know your audience.

Okay, so this isn’t exactly a writing tip. But it’s the foundation upon which your email’s effectiveness is built. If you don’t understand your audience – whether it’s someone who’s hesitant to buy, or a happy customer you’d like to upsell – you won’t be able to write persuasively.

2) Leverage social proof.

Why it works: Social proof describes the tendency to make choices based on other people’s decisions, because we believe those decisions reflect the right choices. You're already leveraging the concept of social proof through customer case studies and social proof, why not extend these efforts into your emails?

How to use it: Reference high-profile customers or the size of your customer base. If you’re trying to move a potential customer towards a purchase, try pointing out how many of their competitors and peers use your product. 


  • The McDonald’s slogan “Billions and billions served” calls out the company’s giant customer base.
  • Yelp’s success is a result of its user-generated content: Crowdsourced reviews that leverage the power of social proof.

3) Get your foot in the door with a small ask.

Why it works: Once someone says “yes” to a small ask – the proverbial foot in the door – they’re more likely to agree to future requests.

How to use it: Ask your recipient a question that they are unlikely to say no to.


  • If you sell software that tracks target accounts’ trigger events, an easy way to get a first “yes” is to confirm that their sales team wants to improve their prospect outreach.

4) Include a headshot in your email signature.

Why it works: When we make eye contact with people, we feel a subconscious sense of connection. In one Cornell University study, researchers edited images of the Trix rabbit mascot, then asked adults to pick between several cereal boxes bearing different versions of the image. Participants most often chose the box where the rabbit was directly looking at them.

How to use it: You can’t make actual eye contact through email, and by no means should you include a massive photo of yourself in the body of an email – that’ll just make people uncomfortable. But it can be easy to forget that there’s a person on the other end of your emails. Including a small headshot of yourself in an email signature is a subtle way to remind people that you’re human, too.

5) Agitate and solve the problem.

Why it works: Even if the person you’re emailing is already aware they have a problem in one area or another, it doesn’t mean they’re prepared to solve it. But emotion is a powerful thing. Whether it’s subconscious attachment to the old way of doing things causing inertia, or fear of making the wrong decision, your prospect won’t always warm to your product immediately.

To convince them, you’ll often have to talk about the problem in emotional terms, then swoop in with a solution to demonstrate how you can help.

How to use it: While you should never attempt to over-exaggerate a business pain or spin one out of thin air, use the agitate-and-solve technique when it’s clear they haven’t fully conceptualized the cost of inaction.

Find out what matters to them. Is it personal professional achievement that drives them forward? A desire to grow the business’ bottom line? Then show how inaction will only worsen their current situation, and demonstrate why your product would help.


  • An office supply salesperson could seek out its competitors’ clients who had been impacted by late shipments. She should probe into the significance of these delays, getting prospects to talk through the immediate and ripple effects. Then, she can describe her own company’s efficient service and customer support.

6) Include a reason.

Why it works: Giving people a reason why you need something – no matter how ridiculous – makes it far more likely they’ll do what you ask.

Psychologist Ellen Langer conducted a study in which experimenters asked to skip ahead in line at a Xerox machine. When they asked, “I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?“, they were allowed to skip the line 60% of the time – not a bad outcome.

But when they asked, “I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”, 93% were allowed to skip the line.

Despite the fact that everyone else in the Xerox machine line needed to make copies, they complied with the request simply because the experimenters provided a reason.

How to use it: We wouldn’t recommend making up ridiculous excuses to get your prospects to sign a contract – that’s not good for anybody. But even providing a simple explanation – “I’d like to set up a meeting with you because I can help with X strategy” – could pay huge dividends.


  • Instead of writing, "I’d like to set up a conversation so we can discuss your project management software strategies,” try this instead: “I’d like to set up a conversation to discuss your marketing strategy because we’ve seen similar companies increase their lead generation by 40%.”

7) Remind prospects it’s their choice.

Why it works: Nobody likes to be told what to do. And even if you’re not being pushy or aggressive, many people will still chafe at the suggestion that you know what’s best for them.

A simple reassurance that you’re not attempting to push your preferences or worldview onto them is powerful. Across 42 psychology studies involving 22,000 subjects, it’s been demonstrated that using a phrase like “But the decision is yours” could double the chances that someone would say yes to a request.

How to use it: You don’t want to overuse this one – tempering every recommendation you make by reminding prospects they have no obligation to listen to you isn’t a great idea. But when you’re asking for a larger commitment or are dealing with a jumpy prospect, dropping in a reminder that you’re not here to force them into anything can be a powerful technique.


  • A software salesperson could write this message to a prospect skittish about switching platforms: 

When we last spoke, you mentioned that you were worried about migrating your system from your current tool to ours. Sales Engineer Sally put together this this high-level overview of the process, which is designed to be as easy on our customers as possible – we can discuss this on our call tomorrow. In the meantime, based on our previous conversations I strongly believe this switch is the best long-term solution for your company – but of course, the decision ultimately rests with you. Let me know what you think.“

How do you make your sales emails more persuasive? Let us know in the comments below.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Mobile Payments: Awesome or Overhyped?


So, we’re firm believers that your buyers should have several different options when it’s time to pay for their purchases. You don’t want to lose a sale just because you only take credit cards and your buyer only uses PayPal. What happens when buyers have way too many options for mobile and online payments?

The Walmart of Mobile Payments

No, really, Walmart decided to release their own mobile payment program called Walmart Pay. Who wants to play second fiddle to Apple forever? Not Walmart, that’s for sure. And with a retail app that boasts 22 million active users, a mobile payment option seems like the right way to go, right? If buyers are on board enough to download and use your app, then they’re probably all in on the payment options, too. 

Well, buyers weren’t quite so impressed with the Walmart Pay option. It’s not that it didn’t work or that it didn’t offer a viable payment solution. Buyers simply had their payment plans worked out already. Why make the switch from the payment option they’d always used just because Walmart introduced something new?

Apple’s Not So Awesome, Either

We know that 4.9% of Apple Pay eligible sales were actually paid with Apple Pay during the holiday shopping period of 2014. It was new technology, and surely the idea would eventually catch on. That optimism should have led to a higher number of Apple Pay purchases on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but it didn’t.

This year, during the holiday shopping period, Apple Pay eligible transactions actually almost halved. Instead of growing, only 2.7% of eligible sales were completed through Apple Pay. Isn’t this supposed to be the answer to all online sales? Seems consumers disagree.

Growth in Awareness and Use

With over half of online purchases made this past year on mobile devices, it’s obvious buyers love the convenience of mobile shopping. Of those buyers, 52% only recently realized that their phones could be used as a payment device. Did they jump immediately into using Apple Pay or another mobile payment option?


Since its introduction, the use of mobile payment has only increased by 1% year over year. That’s a pretty clear sign that consumers just aren’t that into it. What’s not entirely clear is why buyers have been slow to adopt mobile payment options.

What Would Change Things?

In the face of overwhelming proof that consumers need to feel safe when making online purchases, mobile payment options consistently take that secure feeling out of the payment process. Yes, sellers need to remove as much friction as possible between the “want” and “own” stages, but some friction is necessary. When buyers don’t need to enter passwords or PINs, they may feel as though the payment process is too easy. And if it’s too easy for them, it’s easy for someone who might attempt to steal their financial information.

Then again, maybe the market is just too saturated as it is. Those who enjoy using online wallets may just stick with their years-old PayPal account, while the rest are fine entering their credit card information any time they want to make a purchase. To interrupt the status quo may require a great deal more innovation than we’ve seen so far.

What are your thoughts about the slow adoption of mobile wallets? 

Learn to grow your ecommerce business with these guides.

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How We Increased Organic Traffic by Over 50% Using Technical SEO Updates


We’ve got a confession to make: We’ve been making a few rookie SEO mistakes within our own website.

For a company that is supposed to be at the forefront of inbound marketing and SEO, this isn’t something that we’re entirely proud of. But even experts make mistakes, right?

Instead of shying away from these oversights, we thought we’d show you where we went wrong so that you don’t make the same mistakes. More importantly, we’ll show you what we did to fix them and how these solutions resulted in us growing our organic traffic by more than 50% in just one month.

The Importance of Technical SEO

Technical SEO is often something that’s thought about when you first put your website together. It’s typically based on best practices that include things like:

  • Only having one H1 on each page
  • Having your highest value pages linked to from the main navigation
  • Adding alt attributes to all of your images
  • Creating clean URLs without dynamic characters
  • Ensuring page load times are kept to a minimum

While these factors are all fairly simple, you’d be surprised how many websites get this stuff wrong. For example, making on-going technical tweaks can do wonders for your organic traffic growth, yet a lot of companies only look at technical issues once and then never look at them again. 

When I joined HubSpot last year, I had the chance to take a fresh look at everything that we’d been doing to date and to start asking more and more questions about our strategy. Were we making any of these little mistakes? I set out to find out. 

One of the first things that I started to look into were the factors contributing to the success of some of our best content. From here it lead me to run a detailed audit of our website to identify potential problems and areas where there were opportunities for growth. I soon started to realise that we weren’t as perfect as we thought …

7 Technical SEO Problems (And Solutions) We Learned the Hard Way

Problem 1: Broken Links, Redirects & the 404 Page

Whenever someone tried to visit a URL that didn’t exist on our website, it redirected them through to our 404 page. For example, when you visited, it would 301 redirect you to this page.

This is usually a good thing because it says to Google, “This page doesn’t exist so don’t crawl the page." If Google were to crawl all of these incorrect URLs then they would waste a huge amount of time, and ultimately spend less time crawling the pages we want them to.

Unfortunately our 404 page wasn’t actually resolving a 404 server response. Instead, it resolved a 200 response. In other words, it said to Google, "Hey, I’m a real page so come and crawl and index me!” 

This was an enormous problem because Google was wasting a ton of its time crawling and indexing non-existent content on our site. But that was just one of the issues …

The other (bigger) issue was the fact that a lot of these incorrect URLs have come about because people had linked to us incorrectly from other websites. Take this URL, for example: It has 370 links from 84 domains pointing to it, including a .gov link – and it doesn’t exist.

Links to our non-existent inbound marketing page

What we were doing by redirecting all of these pages to our “/not-found” page that resolves a 200 response, is pass through all of the PageRank to that “/not-found” page instead of directing it through to the correct URL or a relevant page. Yikes.

Here’s a crazy stat: The “/not-found” page had over 8,000 backlinks from over 2,000 different domains. If only we were trying to rank that page …

Links to Not Found page

What We’ve Done About It

The first thing that we’ve done is remove the 301 redirect pointing any page on the or subdomain through to the “/not-found” page. This means that if the incorrect URL hasn’t had a 301 redirect set up to the correct page then it will go to a 404 and tell Google to not include it within their index.

The second thing that we’ve done is remove the “/not-found page” so that it goes through to a 404 page and isn’t treated as a site page on our website.

The third and final thing that we’ve done is set up 301 redirects for all of the incorrect URLs that have been linked to so that they point to a relevant or correct URL.

Why Is This Good?

The number of pages indexed by Google should drop dramatically and Googlebot will focus on crawling the pages more important to us more frequently, rather than larger volumes of URLs less frequently.

On top of this, all that lovely PageRank will be pushed into the content we want to rank for and give it a huge boost from the influx of new links pointing correctly to it.

Problem 2: Blog Pagination

One of the things that was directly affecting the blog content on our website was the way that pagination was being handled within the listing pages. There had been issues with the way that we linked through to the listing pages in the blog, i.e.,, etc.

All we had was a ‘Next’ and 'Previous’ button and these hadn’t even been styled properly. It wasn’t so much of a UX issue because it’s very rare that our visitors were clicking on them – where it was a problem was within the search engines.

Old blog navigation

When Google crawls our site to find content, it has to follow links on our webpages until it can find the page it’s looking for. To find a page that was written say, a year ago, it had to navigate to the blog and then follow each 'Next’ link until it reached the blog listing page with a link to that article.

Every time Googlebot (and any other search bot for that matter) follows a link, it’s digging one level deeper in the website’s architecture. The deeper it goes, the less authoritative the webpage is in the eyes of the search engines and the less it is crawled. In some cases, if a page is very deep in the architecture, it may not be crawled at all. 

What We’ve Done About It

We wanted to design the pagination navigation on the blog in a way that enabled Google to jump multiple pages at a time in its crawl and raise a large portion of our blog posts significantly higher in the website architecture.

To do this, we implemented the following navigation:


Why Is This Good?

The inspiration for this solution came from my talented colleague, Pam Vaughan. Pam is heading up another project around republishing old content on the blog to push it higher in the architecture and ultimately rank better. (Click here to learn more about her historical optimization project.)

If this works well, we could see a number of blog posts all receive a ranking boost as a result. This is a simple and small change but it could add a ton of value. In any case, this is a big improvement to our blog content architecture and to the general UX of the blog.

Problem 3: Blog Schema Markup

To date, we hadn’t used any markup across any of our blog content (or any of our content for that matter) so that Google can break down and understand the individual elements within our webpages. Whoops.

What’s that?

In layman's terms, markup is used so that the search engines can understand what type of content is on your webpage(s).

What We’ve Done About It

In the case of our blog, we marked up the code on all of our blog posts to tell Google the following things:

1. This is a blog post.
2. This is the featured image of the blog post.
3. This is the date and time it was published.
4. This is the headline of the article.
5. This is the body content of the article.
6. This is the category which the article falls under.
7. This was published by HubSpot.
8. This is the name of the author of the post.
9. This is the URL of the author’s page.
10. This is an image of the author.
11. Here’s a brief description of the article.

You can actually check this out by using Google’s structured markup tool. Simply click on Fetch URL, enter a URL of one of our blog posts, and then click Fetch and Validate. Once you do that, the tool will show all of the data under the BlogPosting dropdown.

Why Is This Good?

This is a good thing because Google will be able to better understand our content and can make more informed decisions on how to display it. Google often uses this data to help customise search result snippets and results within their Knowledge Graph.

It’s not going to make a revolutionary impact but it’s well worth doing.

Problem 4: Custom H1 & Intro on Topic Pages

Within our blog we recently set up a new and improved Topics page. When this was launched I started looking at some of the individual topic pages and noticed that there was nothing to really differentiate the way that they looked from one another. With this being the case, it was difficult to make a case to Google for why these pages should rank in the search engines.

What We’ve Done About It

For each of our blog topic pages we had a generic heading to the page that didn’t explain what it was. It would just say it was the HubSpot blog and give a feed of posts. We've now added in a custom H1 relevant to the topic, such as “CRM Blog Posts,” as well as a short custom description for the topic.

Here’s an example:

Blog Topic Pages

Alongside this, we’ve added a “/topics” page to each of our international websites to improve the blog architecture.

Why Is This Good?

Each of these blog topic pages were the same and there wasn’t really any unique content that could help them rank in search engines at all. We’ve added this from both an SEO and a UX point of view.

Problem 5: HREFLANG Tags

Turns out, we had a pretty big HREFLANG tag mess on our hands. 

What’s a HREFLANG tag? Well, HREFLANG tags are used to let Google know what alternative versions of a page exist in different countries/languages. For example, if we want to tell Google what the Spanish equivalent of our .com homepage is then we can use one of these tags to do this.

They work in a similar way as a canonical tag does to show when a duplicate version of a page exists. But in this case, it helps Google index local content easier within local search engines. (Click here to learn more about how they work.)

What We’ve Done About It

Previously, our HREFLANG tags were all over the place, and in most cases, implemented incorrectly. This wasn’t doing our international SEO efforts any favours.

After a lot of hard work, we’ve managed to set these up for all of the core pages that have country-specific variations – all the product pages, homepage, etc. An example is on the /products page:

<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="x-default">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-DE" href="">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr-FR" href="">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="ja-JP" href="">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="pt-BR" href="">

Why Is This Good?

We’re now creating a solid link between our main site page content on the .com site and the content on our international domains. This will pass trust across our sites and improve the way Google crawls these pages.

Problem 6: Language Meta Tags

Ever heard of Language meta tags? Well, it turns out we were missing those, too. 

Language meta tags are slightly similar to HREFLANG tags in the sense that they tell search engines what language a piece of content is written in. The tags should be present on all webpages so that search engines can easily understand which country version of their search engine to index them into. In particular, Bing uses these tags a lot. (Yes, Bing is still a thing.)

What We’ve Done About It

Up until now we’d never had any language meta tags set up across any of our web properties, including our international sites. An example would be within our German site where we now have the following code implemented into each page:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="de-DE" />

Why Is This Good?

Whilst this isn’t going to give us massive spikes in traffic, it will help search engines crawl, index, and rank our local content more efficiently.

Problem 7: XML Sitemap

On our subdomain we house all of our offer content. In a nutshell, this is all of the content that we use to generate leads with – our ebooks, templates, webinars, etc. This is the content that we really want to rank well in the search engines.

Guess what? We didn’t even have an XML sitemap set up for this subdomain.

What We’ve Done About It

We went through and created a brand new XML sitemap for all of our offers content and have submitted this to Google. (Want to learn more about sitemaps? Read this.)

Why Is This Good

The architecture across this subdomain still needs quite a bit of work but this will do a good job in helping Google discover any new content that we publish and get it ranking quicker.

The Results

technical SEO results

The above graph speaks for itself really. Moral of the story: Don’t underestimate the power technical SEO changes.

What technical SEO issues have you run into? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

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What Motivates an Internet Troll? The Science Behind The Internet's Least Favorite People


In the depths of almost every internet community lives a troll. A snarky, quick-witted adversary waiting for an opportunity to insert an offbeat remark or uninvited comment. 

With 5.6% of individuals admitting that they self-identify as trolls or enjoy trolling online, it’s likely that you or someone you know has had their feathers ruffled by one of these menacing online villains.  

Known for displaying high levels of psychopathy, narcissism, and sadism, internet trolls get a rise out of distressing others. In fact, they typically feel no remorse for their actions. But why? What fuels them? 

For answers to these questions, check out the video below from the folks at AsapSCIENCE on the anatomy of the modern internet troll. 

Have you had an encounter with an internet troll? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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The Art of Turning Off: 7 Ways To Do Your Best Work (By Forgetting About Work)


Creative work takes a tremendous amount of energy. 

So much energy, in fact, that “turning off,” or forgetting about work for a period of time can feel counterproductive to a marketer who is set on creating something engaging and effective – especially if they’re under a deadline. That’s when it’s hardest to get past the guilt of tuning out and turning off. 

Why? Because it seems like you’re wasting time. But are you really?

Are you doing yourself a disservice every time you step away – whether it’s for a short break or long retreat? Or are you investing in your work, and ensuring that it will be as fresh, creative, and persuasive as your potential allows? 

Science says it’s the latter …

The Benefits of Turning Off

Basically, “turning off” means taking a break from work – and not thinking about it while you’re away. Of course, all breaks are not created equal.

How long you turn off for, where you go, and who you’re with during your time away are just a few variables that make every break unique. But regardless of the circumstances, studies continue to prove that you’ll return a better, stronger, and more aware version of yourself.

Specifically, a couple beneficial things will happen:

You’ll improve your performance.

According to a study conducted at The University of Illinois, brief diversions from a task can trigger a dramatic improvement in one’s ability to remain focused on that task for a prolonged period of time. 

In the study, 84 participants were divided into four groups and asked to focus on a repetitive computerized task. The control group worked on the task for 50 minutes with no breaks. The “switch” and “no switch” groups had to memorize four digits before taking on the task, and had to respond if they saw one of those digits. However, the “switch” group was presented with the digits twice. Finally, the “digit ignored” group was also shown four digits, but were asked to ignore them. 

The group that saw no drop in performance? The switch group, as they were given two brief breaks to respond to the digits which allowed them to stay focused.

So if you’re feeling guilty about taking a break, keep in mind that intermittently leaving your work will refocus you, and can actually give you clarity. When it comes to writing, clarity is the mother of desire and action.

You’ll be better prepared to come up with creative solutions.

While it’s easy to assume that day dreaming or taking a break is a waste of time, a study conducted at The University of British Columbia revealed that our brains are actually highly active when we daydream – more so than we previously thought.

When we relax and take a break from challenging thinking, we allow our thoughts and ideas to incubate in our minds. And this ultimately sets us up to generate new, creative solutions.

For example, a study from the University of California, Santa Barbara revealed the benefits of daydreaming by tasking 145 undergraduate students to come up with uses for mundane objects such as toothpicks, bricks, etc. The students were assigned to one of four conditions. While one group received no breaks, three groups were given a 12-minute break to a) rest, b) perform a short-term memory task, and c) do something boring that would allow them to daydream. 

As it turns out, the group of students left to daydream came up with 41% more possibilities than other students. 

(Click here to read more about the hidden benefits of daydreaming.)

You’ll avoid burnout.

When you keep pushing through work without taking a break … it shows. Your energy levels slip. Your smile fades. And your overall demeanor takes a turn for the worst. Not to mention, it can lead to larger issues such as exhaustion or chronic stress. 

While the fear of being seen as replaceable or not having the time to take time off will often keep you from taking the plunge, you won’t be doing anyone any favors when you’re burnt out. 

According to an infographic from CityPass, almost nine out of ten American workers feel like time off increases their happiness, and 91% of business leaders admit that employees who take time off typically return feeling recharged and ready to work more effectively. 

Moral of the story? Book that trip. Your work will be there when you get back. 

How to Take More Breaks and Forget About Work

Experiencing these benefits, of course, means you must turn off. And that’s not something we’re all good at.

To make it easier, check out these seven tips designed to help you take a break from the grind and recollect your thoughts. You’ll notice there are a variety of suggestions – from quick time management breaks to full-fledged sabbaticals – so you’re sure to find something that makes sense for you. 

1) Follow the 20-20-20 Rule. 

Known for being the go-to strategy to avoid straining your eyes and developing a repetitive stress injury (RSI), the 20-20-20 Rule also doubles as a nice, frequent break for people who sit in front of a computer all day.

Here’s what you do: Set a timer to go off every 20 minutes you’re at your desk. As soon as you get the alert, look away from your monitor and stare at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. 

This is a good opportunity to zone out and enter your “diffused” mode – where who knows what’ll happen next.

2) Use the Pomodoro Technique.

In the late 80s, a man named Francesco Cirillo invented an easy productivity method that people still use and love. (And he named it after that kitschy timer your mom used to let you twist.)

Here’s what you do: Set a 25-minute timer and start working. When it goes off, stop working for five minutes. Use your five minutes any way you like, and then promptly get back to work as soon as they’re up. Do that four times in a row, and then take a 30-minute break before starting your fifth session.

By locking you into a timeframe, the Pomodoro Technique incites urgency, which may inspire you to make quicker decisions and waste less time.

3) Capitalize on your Ultradian Rhythm. 

We sleep in cycles, alternating between two forms of sleep: REM (deep, dreamy, restful sleep) and non-REM (less deep, more superficial sleep). And while one may be more intense than the other, both forms must alternate in intervals of 90 minutes to achieve a truly restful night of sleep. It’s called the Ultradian Rhythm, and it just so happens that it’s present in our waking lives, too.

Here’s what you do: Set a timer for 90 minutes and begin working. Silence your phone. Block Facebook. Don’t even stop to edit your work. Just work. When your timer goes off, stop working and take a break for 15 minutes. While taking a break seems unproductive, the act will actually help you balance your energy and avoid burnout. When you’re done, try it again by focusing on a different project for 90 minutes.

By keeping with the ebb and flow of your body, you’ll maximize your productivity and creativity. Skeptical? Here’s the groundbreaking study that proves it’s true. 

4) Actually allow yourself the weekend.

Hopefully, employing some of the more micro time-management methods above will help you clear your workload throughout the week, leaving you completely free over the weekend – which is what you want, right?

Here’s what you do: If years of workaholism have made “turning off” a difficult and unnatural task for you, divide your weekend into activity chunks (the way you would a work day). Doing so may help you become more comfortable with the idea of doing nothing. 

Leaving your work computer switched “off” for two days in a row may feel weird at first – like a strange emptiness – but it’s a healthy mental exercise and it’ll help you write your best copy

5) Take random days off.

The U.S. Travel Association commissioned a study that found that American workers are using only 77% of their paid time off. That adds up to 169 million forfeited days, which amounts to a whopping $52.4 billion in benefits that were simply given up. 

Don’t do this. It’s your time. And it’s there to help you make the most of your work.

Here’s what you do: If you have some spare days in the bank, give yourself a three-day weekend. Or schedule a Wednesday off and break up the week. Then use that time to do something other than work.

Go ahead. Use your time however you want. (Or look into one of these hobbies that are proven to make you smarter.) And if you’re not at peace with the idea of turning off for an entire day, find solace in the fact that employees who use more vacation days end up with better performance reviews (and higher salaries). 

6) Leave the country.

In 1997, Dan Pink left his job as Chief Speechwriter for then-VP, Al Gore, and began writing books about business, work, and human behavior. He’s since authored several best sellers, including To Sell Is Human, in which he references the concept of the “jolt,” which, I think, is particularly advantageous.

Pink writes:  

Try a jolt of the unfamiliar. Clarity, we’ve learned, depends on comparison. But many times we become so rutted in our own ways that we scarcely notice what we’re doing or why we’re doing it – which can impair our ability to bring clarity to others. Sometimes, as Tufts University psychologist Sam Sommers says, “it takes a jolt of the unfamiliar to remind you just how blind you are to your regular surroundings.”

Here’s what you do: Take Dan’s advice. Give yourself one of the following “jolts.”

  • Mini Jolt. Sit on the opposite end of the conference table at your next meeting. Travel home from work using a different route from normal. Instead of ordering what you usually do at your favorite restaurant, choose the eleventh item on the menu. 
  • Half Jolt. Spend a day immersed in an environment not typically your own. If you’re a teacher, hang out at a friend’s law office. If you’re an accountant, take an afternoon and spend it with a lifeguard or park ranger.
  • Full Jolt. Travel to another country, with a culture different from your own. You’ll likely return jolted – and clarified. 

Remember: Clarity is the mother of desire and action. It’s the ultimate fuel for a marketer. And a Full Jolt is one way to clear your mind and renew your perspective.

7) Escape on sabbatical.

If leaving the country is a Full Jolt, then taking a sabbatical would be a concussion – a derailing, crippling concussion for your career, that is. At least that’s how some people see it. But depending on your professional circumstances, that’s not always the case.

If you’re employed by a progressive company that appreciates the benefits of a sabbatical, then you’ll know that a leave like this has the potential to do wonders for your productivity. 

Here’s what you do: If you get the opportunity to take a sabbatical, do it. It might just change the way you think, act, and create for the better. And at the end of the day, that’s the whole point.

What are your best tips for “turning off” and regaining focus? Share them in the comments section below.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

3 Ways to Use Customer Behavior History to Predict the Future


Look, no one has a crystal ball at the ready to tell you who’s going to buy what, and how much, and when. Does that mean you have to wait around to see what a customer’s going to do? Of course not. You can learn a lot about your customers by studying their habits—past visits to your site—to predict what they’ll do next. It’s just a matter of knowing what information you need and when to use it.

From Search to Landing Page

One of your best friends when determining customer behavior predictions is your Google AdWords account. This program determines all the keywords your buyers searched, which of those searches resulted in clicks through to your site, and which of those clicks through resulted in a sale.

Once the buyers have clicked through from AdWords to a landing page on your site, you can use that information to lay a path from start to purchase. After all, you already know what they’re looking for. They told you when they searched Google for it. Should you slow them down in their search by leading them to a generic landing page? By creating more clicks instead of directing them right to the shopping cart and checkout? Of course not. When a buyer tells you what they want to buy, you remove all obstacles.

From Social Media to Website

It’s harder to pin down a visitor’s reason to stopping by when they come through social channels. The hardest of all is a click to the address in your company profile. You can assume that social proof is important to that buyer and react accordingly, but you won’t get much more information than that.

Clicks through from specific social posts, however, can tell you a lot more about the buyers’ thought process. Did they visit to read a particular blog? You might surmise they’re looking for more information. Did they click through an image of your hottest products? Maybe they’re in the market for one of those products, or maybe they just like to know what the trends are.

Every action on social marketing channels will help you narrow down the information you need, so don’t give up. The more information you have about your visitors’ past behavior, the easier you can predict where they’ll go next. 

From First-Time Buyer to Loyal Shopper

Past purchases give you the greatest insight into buyer behavior, don’t they? That’s why you can’t consider the transaction complete once you’ve received payment. Now you know more about that buyer than you ever had, so you can’t just let them walk away forever.

The information you gather after this purchase will tell you what you need to know to move forward. Was the purchase a gift or something necessary to the buyer? Did he or she purchase accessories? Did the buyer spend a lot of time making a decision—evidenced by multiple visits to your site, comparisons between products, and perhaps even conversations with customer service?

What you learn will help you determine if you should continue providing gift ideas to the buyer or if they need more information about similar products for their own use. If they often buy the accessories needed to make your products bigger and better, then they’re probably going to appreciate upselling and cross-selling information.

You never want to make your use of past information creepy, so be careful when showing your hand. Buyers will appreciate a PPC click leading to a landing page, but they may not want to see ads for that exact product following them around for days after their initial search. They might enjoy their social media clicks leading to the right information on your website, but they may get a little freaked out if you strike up a Twitter conversation out of the blue. Your goal is to smooth the path between want and own, to provide the information buyers need as soon as they need it—not to be a stalker.

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16 of the Best Brands on Instagram Right Now


For a while now, it’s been clear that Instagram isn’t just a social network for foodies and teenagers. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, a whopping 26% of adult internet users use Instagram.

Given the number of people using Instagram, it’s surprising how few businesses have adopted the platform – or even taken it seriously. In a world where visual content has become a crucial part of any business’ marketing strategy, Instagram presents a unique opportunity to visually represent your brand, celebrate its personality, and keep it top-of-mind for all those users who scroll through their Instagram feeds every single day.

Although they’re few and far between, there are some brands out there – in every industry, and with every type of target customer – who are doing really, really well on Instagram.

Ready to get inspired? Check out this list of brands that are thriving on Instagram right now, and what about their posts sets them apart. (Here’s a list of 15 Instagram hacks and features if you’re looking to up your own Instagram game.)

16 Brands That Are Crushing It on Instagram

1) WeWork

WeWork provides shared office spaces in cities and countries all over the globe – so it only makes sense that they should post a lot of photos showcasing their beautiful office spaces. They do an amazing job photographing the spaces in ways that make followers like us wish we could jump into the photos and plop down with our laptops and a coffee.

They don’t stop at posting photos of their shared workspaces, though. They also post a lot of content related to their slogan “Do What You Love,” and they have hashtags that encourage customers to share their own photos of the spaces. Our favorite is the #DogsOfWeWork hashtag. Not only is it awesome because, well … dogs, but it’s also a great way for the company to promote their laid-back culture while also inviting customers to interact with their brand on social. Near the end of each year, they actually choose the best photo submissions to the #DogsOfWeWork hashtag on Instagram and Facebook and put together a calendar for the following year.

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Here’s an example of a hiring call they posted, featuring that slogan again, “Do What You Love”:

2) National Geographic

I couldn’t possibly write about the best brands on Instagram without including National Geographic, which posts photos from contributors traveling anywhere from large cities to the Arctic to small African villages. They’ve built an enormous following – 42.4 million followers as of this posting – and established themselves as one of the very top Instagram brands in the world. That’s pretty darn impressive for a brand founded in 1988 and originally known for its print magazines. In our opinion, this is one of the best examples of a company keeping pace with the ever-evolving world of marketing.

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3) Coca-Cola Argentina

Coca-Cola’s social media presence is impressive across all the social platforms. Turns out, the company knows a thing or two about branding. It all boils down to understanding their target audience, which tends to be young people who value fun, friendship, and sports. The brand’s personality comes directly from that: It’s happy, playful, friendly, refreshing, and all about sharing and having a good time.

Knowing this, take a look at how Coca-Cola Argentina uses Instagram to celebrate that personality and that target audience. (Want to understand your audience better? Download our free buyer persona templates here.)

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4) Frooti

Here’s another brand that uses Instagram to showcase their distinctive personality. Frooti, the largest-selling fruit drink brand in India, posts images that are so unique and so consistent that anyone else posting similar content might be seen as a copycat.

Their images are simple, boldly colored designs with a lot of negative space … and they’re also really, really clever and well though-out. Take a look at some of the examples below to see what I mean. You’ll find a desert scene that reflects into a winter scene, a mango that casts the shadow in the shape of a Frooti bottle, and a Frooti container being worked on by mini figurines as if it were a building under construction. 

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5) Frank Bod

This Australian body and skin care brand has one of the best presences on Instagram. Their products are coffee-based, so many of their photos include models covered in their product, which basically looks like coffee grounds. This is their signature play on Instagram, and we love how they make fun of themselves with photos like the dalmatian below. The caption paired with that photo is clever: “Some spots are cute, others are bothersome. Target blemishes with my Creamy Face Cleanser & Creamy Face Scrub, and join the #thefrankeffect.”

In fact, my colleague Ryan Bonnici warns: “Their witty captions will be your new obsession.” Their cheeky hashtag #letsbefrank often follows captions like this one: “I can’t give you jewellery, but I can give you the smoothest d├ęcolletage to wear it on, babe. #letsbefrank.” Fans of the Frank Bod use that hashtag to post photos of themselves covered in the product like the brand’s own models, which is a great way for them to interact with and feel close to the brand.

(Warning: Some images on their Instagram page are borderline NSFW.)

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6) Lorna Jane

If your brand were a person, how would you describe its personality? Australian activewear company Lorna Jane has done an awesome job answering this important branding question with their Instagram content. Spend just a few seconds scrolling through their photos, and you’ll quickly be able to name their target buyer: a young, sporty, twenty- or thirty-something woman who values looking good while living an active lifestyle.

The images they post, which often show their clothing and accessories, images of women their target buyer persona are colorful, playful, and inspirational, which is a perfect representation of the brand’s essence – in other words, its heart, soul, and spirit.

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7) No Your City

The folks at No Your City produce a series that capture the fascinating stories of people all over the world. Their Instagram account, though, is less about these people and stories and more about showcasing gorgeous images from the cities themselves.

What we love about their photos is how closely they follow the best practices for taking great photos with your phone. Each one of their photos seems to follow at least one of these best practices, whether it’s focusing on a single subject, embracing negative space, playing with reflections, or finding interesting perspectives. The photos are consistently stunning, and as a result, the brand has built a solid following.

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Britain-based retail company ASOS doesn’t just post great photos of its clothing and models to their Instagram account – although they do that really well. What the brand does on Instagram with their personal stylists is really interesting.

Each stylist has an account associated with ASOS, like @asos_megan and @asos_isabella, and they function as brand lifestyle ambassadors.

“They’re almost like fashion bloggers,” my colleague Elissa Hudson told me. “Each has their own persona, has a huge Instagram following, and publishes content to their individual Instagram accounts that’s very similar to the type of content fashion bloggers post. Some of them actually are fashion bloggers, actually, which I imagine is a huge factor in why they were hired in the first place. Can you say ready-made audience?”

The folks who run ASOS’ main account post a combination images of their clothing and accessories, their stylists (like the third image below, featuring “beaut hair inspiration from @asos_isabella”), and stuff their target buyer personas would like – such as the ridiculously indulgent milkshake below, which garnered above-average engagement.

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9) Califia Farms

Califia Farms’ natural beverage products have some of the most attractive packaging I’ve ever seen. In fact, their packaging is so iconic that it won top honors in the global packaging design category from Beverage World Magazine. Instagram is a perfect platform to showcase that cool, curvy bottle, and the folks at Califia don’t shy away from doing just that: Most of their posts feature their bottles in some way, whether it's is the main subject of the photo or it’s more of an accessory in the context of the active, healthy lifestyle their buyer personas love.

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Something Califia does really well on Instagram is create fun, playful videos and GIFs. Check out this one, which they posted to announce a new product:

And this one, which was just plain clever:

10) Shore Projects

British watch brand, Shore Projects, has a unique relationship with Instagram because they’ve been active on the platform from the very beginning. “For the first six months of launching the business, the only platform that we actually focused on using was Instagram,” says Neil Waller, the company’s co-founder.

The first chunk of text on the company’s homepage reads, “Shore Projects is a watch brand inspired by the beauty and fun of the British seaside.” Clearly, the brand has a strong connection with some very specific imagery, which meant they already had a great foundation for image-based branding on Instagram. Many of their photos are taken on the beaches and coasts of the U.K., and those that aren’t maintain the look and feel of the British seaside with faded colors and a lot of grey and green hues. (Read this blog post to learn more about creating color schemes for your brand’s Instagram content.)

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11) New York Air Book

This Instagram account is run by New Jersey-based photographer named George Steinmetz. While Steinmetz’s general photography covers all sorts of subjects outside of New York City from the air (including “Brazil Dunes,” “Florida Sea Level,” and “Tree People”), he created an Instagram account specifically to post his aerial photographs of New York.

We love that he picked a niche subject and dedicated an entire account to it where he publishes stunning photographs on a consistent basis. While his followers know what type of content to expect from him, he somehow comes up with cool, surprising subjects that make for posts people love to engage with by Liking and commenting.

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12) Staples

The folks at Staples do a lot of things right when it comes to their Instagram content, but they do two things particularly well: engaging their followers with questions and calls-to-action in their captions, and staying true to their brand’s playful-yet-practical personality.

When it comes to engaging their followers, it’s all about asking questions in the photo captions. For example, check out the second photo below featuring a series of emojis. The caption paired with this photo reads, “That's pretty much our day. How about yours? Tell us in emojis.” Scroll through the comments on that photo, and you’ll see followers had a lot of fun responding. The caption paired with the first photo below of the bulletin board is paired with a caption asking people to share comments and photos of their bulletin board ideas to help get teachers ready for the school year.

Staples does a great job staying true to brand by posting fun photos such as the “2016” shot written in office supplies and using the #OfficeHack hashtag to engage their following. 

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The folks at Staples also use Instagram to post cute videos and GIFs, like the one below celebrating the fall season:

13) Everlane

Just like your written content should have a consistent voice, your visual content should have a consistent look and feel. People like consistency because in many people’s minds, it equals trust. Everlane has their brand consistency down pat. Whether the subject of a post is one of their products or a city landscape, they stay true to their signature faded, grey/black/white look.

We also love their captions. For example, the first photo below (which is already funny) is paired with the caption, “About how cold we feel right now.” Their captions convey a funny, familiar voice that their buyers can relate to – and their posts get a whole lot of Likes as a result. 

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14) Headspace

Like Frooti, Headspace’s Instagram content boasts bold colors and a lot of negative space. Whereas Frooti’s posts were clever and whimsical, though, the folks at Headspace – who are in the business of guided meditation – post a lot of graphics featuring tips, tricks, and reminders for practicing mindfulness and meditation.

For example, the second photo in the examples below challenges followers to turn their phones off for 10 minutes. Since Instagram is primarily a mobile app, the post serves as a timely, friendly reminder of how much time we spend staring at our phones.

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15) Saturday Night Live

While a lot of the best Instagram accounts boast high photo quality, in some cases, what’s in the photos themselves matters a lot more. This is the case for the famous sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. Their followers aren’t expecting them to post beautiful, perfectly framed photos. In fact, doing so would feel a little off-brand from its kind of scrappy, informal personality. Instead, they use Instagram to give fans of the show a sort of “backstage pass” with the hashtag #SNLbackstage

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They also include short videos of the actors doing silly things offstage, or clips of their live shows:

16) FedEx

The theme of FedEx’s Instagram posts is really cool: It’s basically a curation of “FedEx in the Wild.” While this isn’t true of every photo, the vast majority of them are taken and submitted by external contributors. They don’t just post any old photos submitted to them, though: The quality of the photos is so darn good that it’s clear they’re carefully choosing only the best ones. This is a cool way to keep their brand top-of-mind for followers who might, as a result, look for or notice FedEx trucks, planes, or delivery people more often.

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Which are your favorite business-run Instagram accounts? Share with us in the comments.

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