‘Tis the Season of Giving: 6 Ways Companies Are Raising Money for Charities This Year

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The holiday season is in full force -- which means planning for the coming year, holiday parties, and for many, giving back to charities meaningful to us. One study showed about 34% of all charitable giving is done in the last three months of the year.

Here at HubSpot, we get into the holiday giving spirit through our annual charity auction, where employees can donate anything they want -- and they sure get creative. This year, our COO offered to lend out his Tesla for the day to one lucky bidder. Another employee offered to wrap all of your Christmas presents. The list goes on. Then, we all gather to live auction some of the items and do a silent auction on the rest. We ended up raising over $28,000, which went to each bidder's charity of choice.

To make things more interesting this year, our product team created a mobile app for the silent auction to ensure employees got the chance to donate, no matter where they were the day of the auction. We then decided to open-source the app and make it available for free for anyone who is hosting their own charity auction. (Learn how we did it and how to build your own app here.)

But enough about us. Let's take a look at what some other companies have done for charity auctions.

1) Anton's Cleaners: "Coats for Kids"

In 1995, Anton's Cleaners in Lowell, Massachusetts set out to make sure that anyone who needed a coat would have one. They work with local businesses, schools, and other organizations to collect the coats, and then they clean them for free and distribute them through the Coats for Kids network they've built over the years. 

But this isn't your typical clothing drive. Through the strong relationships they've developed with local schools and promotional partners, they built a leaderboard of the schools who have gathered the most coats. Nothing like a little competition to inspire during the holiday season, right?

Last year, Anton's Cleaners was able to distribute more than 60,000 coats for both children and adults. (Click here to learn how to get involved.)

coats for kids

2) Anaplan: "Anaplan Cares"

Anaplan is a cloud-based analytics solution for sales, finance, and operations organizations, and their internal Anaplan Cares initiative allows employees the chance to give back throughout the year by volunteering their time, promoting causes they value, and providing their technology for discounted rates to non-profits.

The holiday season is no different. During the final months of the year, Anaplan employees volunteer their time at a local food bank. This year, they boxed up 23,000 pounds of pears to distribute to food pantries, children's snack programs, and soup kitchens.

anaplan cares

Image from Tech Cocktail

3) Santander Bank: "Ideas for Good"

Santander Bank (formerly known as Sovereign Bank) is currently running a holiday campaign called "Ideas for Good." Through this campaign, they're asking their customers to vote for non-profits at their 700 branches -- and each branch will donate $500 to the local non-profit that gets the most votes. At the end of the campaign, Santander will end up donating $350,000 to non-profits around the northeast.

Even though Santander is a national organization, this campaign gives each individual branch a more local, personal touch. For example, some non-profits customers vote for might be local ones they have a personal connection to.

Here's one lucky non-profit who has been awarded the grant. 

4) USO: "Thanks From Everywhere"

The USO is making it easier than ever for Americans to show their appreciation for their armed forces this year with their online Thanks From Everywhere campaign. Users can write a message and/or donate to the troops who are unable to be home with their families. Using the interaction map of the U.S. on the site, users can indicate where they're sending a message from, and they can also see where others are sending message from. Check it out, and share your thanks!

anaplan cares

5) Intel: "Code for Good"

Intel is giving back to the world of Android developers this holiday season by donating up to $45,000 to Code.org, Codeclub.org.uk, and Girlswhocode.com. All three organizations have helped educate those developing on Android devices. 

Their donations won't come without your help, though. To help boost their donations, simply retweet one of these tweets for the organization you feel most strongly about. For each retweet an organizations gets, $1 will be donated by Intel. So let's get retweeting -- pick your charity of choice below:

6) Bit.ly: "Hope.ly"

Bit.ly has partnered with the American Red Cross to give back this holiday season. They're encouraging users to create hope.ly links instead of the typical bit.ly links, and every time someone clicks on a hope.ly link, that person will see a banner at the top of the webpage asking for a donation to the American Red Cross.

I tried it out for HubSpot's homepage. When you click on this hope.ly link to get to hubspot.com, you'll see this:

hope.ly

So the next time you want to create a bit.ly link, create a hope.ly link instead to support this great campaign.

What is your company doing during the holiday season to give back to the community?

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7 Ways to Get Non-Marketing Employees to Blog

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It’s a common pain point among B2B marketers. An effective inbound strategy requires a good volume of high quality, persona relevant content. You likely already know the answers to your persona’s pain points – and are working to combat them on a daily basis.

But when it comes to creating content outlining your organization’s expertise – getting more technical or non-marketing staff to put what they do into words is a sizable challenge. Not everyone can be a writer, and not every writer has the knowledge or capacity required to create the right content. So what can be done?

The Challenge

To find out the challenges and see if there are any common answers, we posed the following to B2B marketing professionals on LinkedIn:

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The results were incredibly diverse and interesting. (See the original discussion here).

7 Ways to Get Non-Marketing Employees to Blog

Of all the answers we received, we found they fit into 7 key methods. Often aspects of each point are combined in an end solution, and each approach will likely vary from business to business.

1) Introduce Context and Competition

Hubspot has some great advice on the basics of why business need to blog regularly as part of an effective inbound strategy. From driving relevant traffic to converting that traffic into leads, content is a key tool at every stage of the conversion funnel; helping to boost authority and drive long-term results. Essentially, content is the oil allowing your business’s cogs to turn smoothly. But your team members may not understand that, and question the relevance and importance of contributing.

Many of our respondents highlighted the need for company-wide understanding of context, suggesting that as a next step, a level of healthy competition is introduced to spur on creation:

“We've been experimenting with gamification in a new product to promote content creation and distribution. We give corporate customers a scoreboard which lists the most effective resharers, etc. This incentivizes content distribution,”

“When your non-marketing employees know that they are helping the company by building the brand through blogging, and helping out customers or visitors with questions they may have, or problems that are important to them - taking a few hours to type out an article shouldn't be a problem, especially if the topic is already decided on,”

“We like to engage non-marketers when we develop content strategy, and make it a collaborative effort so if they're asked to contribute at a later date, they feel that they have a stake in the outcomes rather than being tasked with a writing chore,’

"We initially sent a company-wide email, asking for volunteer bloggers, we started off with a minimum commitment of one blog contribution every 3 months, so as not to put off those who may feel once a month was too much of a commitment... I’d recommend setting realistic goals. In this email we detailed why it’s important to have a blog, [and] the benefits."

2) Use Data

In line with helping people to understand the reasons why you’re asking them to create content (which they may not see as part of their job role), it can help to prove the results with successful metrics. Using data-informed reasoning can encourage and motivate your team, and change their perspective on the importance of content marketing:

“Getting non-marketing people or technical people, in my case, is definitely a challenge.  Biggest hurdle is the fact that they like to spend time doing technical things and see writing  content as a 'low skill job for which they are not suitable. A typical answer that I have heard is 'You can get a content writer for half the pay that you give me. Why do you want me to waste time on that?' ...ways to overcome this: Show data that content marketing works and helps generates leads that will turn into more business. Most technical people understand, love and trust data,”

3) Incorporate a Sense of "Fame"

Healthy competition to create content is good – so why not take it to the next step and encourage/ reward the most effective posts?

For most people, having their post published is initially interesting. But if that post starts getting shared, promoted and commented on, and team members start to be recognized as experts – personal interest in content creation will grow!

“...If the content created by any non-marketing person is shared widely, then the recognition itself is a powerful motivator,”

"...we offered a small prize (bottle of bubbly) for completion and publishing of the first blog and a modest cash prize when their fourth blog was published. After this, we hope that they’ll continue to commit to submitting blogs as they’ll have been through the process several times and feel comfortable with it. They’ll also see the tangible benefits (CTRs / social shares/ recognition etc) and will have received the kudos of having the article published,"

4) Have It Be Part of Job Performance Evaluations

This may not be an approach that works for all, but considering content creation within appraisals may be an option to boost organization-wide content creation. To keep your team on side however, it would still help to let everyone know the importance of blogging and the reasons why they’re being asked to create.

“Although not very powerful, but content creation could become part of your performance appraisal. Not a great incentive but it will at least get people started on it,”

5) Instill Confidence

Can you say with confidence that you’re happy to put anything into words, and quickly dash out a few hundred insightful and interesting words? No?

Not everyone finds writing easy, and more technical members of your team may be apprehensive, or doubtful of their content abilities. But if you can reassure staff, provide clear direction or writing guidelines, or collaborate throughout the creation process, you should achieve effective results:

“One of the largest hesitations that I've run into from people is that they're nervous that their writing is not up to par for a blog post, and that they may not have "the best" ideas. Therefore, when I approach someone who I feel may have critical insight to a process that could really help other sales and marketers I always explain that we can brainstorm... insight is what is most important, grammar and punctuation are something that marketing will
oversee. Once they realize it's a collaboration they become more open to the idea. Many times after they write the first post and see how the process works along with seeing their post syndicated, they usually don't hesitate to write a second post when they have the time,”

“It's a matter of chance whether your subject matter experts are literate. Writing clear and compelling prose is a skill like any other. My advice is to get a good freelance journalist with knowledge of your sector to speak regularly to your people and turn the conversations into copy,”

“Rather than pick individuals and ask, my personal feeling is, start off by working with those who are willing to make a commitment to you and volunteer. For those individuals you especially want, approach them individually to discuss. We gave bloggers several options to delivery, they could either write about a topic they prefer and then we (marketing) would review and edit as appropriate before sending back to them for approval. They could simply send bullet points… We also volunteered to interview them to save them from writing things down… every individual is different and you need to cater for their preferences to find a mutually beneficial result.”

6) Lean on Technical Expertise

If your staff are pushed for time or struggle to write, using content creators (whether freelance or in-house) may be your best solution. If you have a solid B2B title already prepared, it should just take a short interview for a content creator to ask for the insight needed for a blog (or multiple blogs):

“To get multiple shorter articles.. I chat to [my team] for about 15 minutes on what makes them glad/sad/mad about what their customers are experiencing, get perhaps 3 key ideas or angles then draft something up for them to review. When they see the end product, they are happy to just tweak then have it released under their name!

“A quick 15 to 30 minute interview with a freelance writer can provide enough content for a blog post - which can be written as an interview, or as if the expert had written it. If it's well defined in advance, it becomes a painless exercise for your expert,”

7) Promote and Reward Good Content

Of course, opinions on team content creation come from both sides – and some non-marketing members don’t view the process as a challenge at all:

“I'm a non-marketer and I enjoy writing blogs for my company. They can always make some adjustments to make it sound better before it's published. I also find it a great way to get some frustrations off my chest,”

Encouraging writing evangelists such as this, asking them what they think works, and brainstorming ideas on how to improve your internal processes will always help.

At Strategic, we’ve been using a combination of the methods above including; providing context as to the importance of content production and the benefits it brings to the business; helping team members visualize how efforts impact on lead gen, almost turning it into a competition, and regularly assessing the analytics on post traffic performance.

If you’re experiencing this challenge, are using one of the methods above or have an answer you can’t see here, let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or get involved in the original LinkedIn discussion here. Many thanks to everyone who has shared insight so far!

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3 Ways a Pop-Up Shop Can Help Your Ecommerce Company Build Relationships

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A pop-up shop, by simplest definition, is a temporary retail location, with the goal of making a permanent impact with your audience. More and more brands - ranging from established retail giants to ecommerce companies - are using pop-up shops as a mechanism to build stronger relationships with their customers.

Notice that the goal is relationships, not sales? Sales are nice, but pop-ups have a unique ability to build relationships between customers and brands, so the goals are often driven more by marketing and awareness than revenue.

Regardless of which industry you’re in, we live in a hyper-connected world where consumers are exposed to more options than they can possibly digest – from fashion to food to social causes. Everything is a click away, yet the level of interaction can sit on the surface, often on a superficial level.

In this environment, consumers crave personalized interaction. They crave an experience that will surprise and delight them.

Let’s explore how a pop-up shop can be a critical tool for your ecommerce brand to create an immersive experience that conveys your brand promise, lifestyle message, and bridges the "touch-feel" gap that can be common in our online world. While there are numerous reasons why you would launch a pop-up, here are three of the most common ways that it can make an impact on your business.

Focused Learning and Testing

When UK based online retailer, boohoo.com, came to the U.S. this fall, they created a shoppable showroom, fully integrated with technology and social media initiatives. Through a partnership with the tech company Stylinity, they were able to truly connect to online and offline worlds. Customers could photograph their boohoo looks and a record of it was sent to both them and the brand. Moreover, they could share these outfits on social channels and garner feedback from friends on which look was best. On the last day, guests could tweet for clothes and take home whichever look they wanted. The hashtag #theboohoostore blew up! And from this, the boohoo.com now has data on most popular styles and which pieces moved (and didn’t) at a number of different price points. They have word clouds of data on most used words and how the U.S. market felt about the fast-fashion UK retailer. And, as a bonus, they saw a boost of online sales in the last week from student websites and the NY & NJ region.

This is a great example of how designers, brands, and retailers can utilize pop-ups to test numerous “ingredients” of their product mix. They could be testing usability of a newly launched product. They could analyze customer engagement, price point sensitivity, or color choices.

Step one for a brand looking to use a pop-up to learn is to define the question. What is it they’re trying to figure out? Once they’re clear what they’re looking for, they must establish a certain number of constants, factors that never change (the scientific “controls” of this grand experiment, so to speak). Finally, they must use their pop-up activation to begin collecting data to analyze.

A common way to do this is by monitoring social media. If your target audience are digital natives and social sharers, you can collect a lot of data through these platforms. Set a hashtag for your campaign and be sure to have someone on your team ready to listen and interact. The key word here is listen! You can collect data on what words were said most often — positive or negative — in association with a designated hashtag during that activation. You can also gain valuable feedback about what your customer cares about. 

Maybe something different really inspired them other than what you thought it would be? Maybe they explain the reason they were hesitant to convert? Maybe you learn there’s a whole segment of fans out there that you didn’t even realize existed?

In-Depth Customer Education

Canadian-based technology company, Shopify, is a wonderful example of a company who successfully utilizes pop-up shops to educate its customers and ultimately establish a deeper connection. Through Shopify’s retail initiative, businesses owners who use the platform for ecommerce, or who are thinking about it, have dedicated destinations to visit where they can sign up for workshops and work side-by-side with experts and elevate how they utilize the technology via design, app integration, product photography, and more. It instills the message that by using this platform, they have a true partner in their success, and that Shopify is more than just a tool. Instead, these pop-ups brand them as an expert community that users can rely on to learn best practices for growing their business.

Companies with complex offerings, new formulations, or a special mission can benefit from giving customers an in-depth, in-person demonstration of their product at a pop-up shop. By allowing a customer to take a deep dive into real-time, hands-on, live demonstrations, you’re giving them a clearer idea of who you are. When this is done properly, the environment makes the customer feels like this brand is educating them, not just selling them a product. 

Immersing Your Customer in Your Brand

The #DaisyMarcJacobs Tweet Shop is a great example of a brand that understood their customers and delivered an immersive brand experience pop-up shop. No matter how many times they went to the Marc Jacobs store a few blocks away the following weeks or months, they would never have the same experience that they got in those three days during New York Fashion Week, where they could participate in the brand conversation and get free products for it.

They could hear DJ Jilly Hendrix spinning, have coffee from a solar-powered coffee truck, get free manicures, see great artwork by Langley Fox Hemingway, and receive free Marc Jacobs products in exchange for a Tweet. They had an opportunity to engage with the brand in a way that they wouldn’t be able to do the next week.

Brand message is the number-one thing that could make or break your company: it’s the promise you make to your customer. By creating an immersive experience, you allow customers to experience your brand on a whole other level, and empower them to feel like they’re truly involved in your brand.

In order to achieve this immersion, your imagery, product quality, and lifestyle message must be consistent, and the temporary spaces you create should deliver an environment that makes your brand feel approachable and attainable. It should allow customers to step into a world that might have otherwise seemed beyond the realm of possibility.

Conclusion

While a brand will always care about sales, it’s important to remember that’s only one benefit to be gained from a pop-up shop. If you also use your in-store experience to learn, the impact it can have on sales can be longer term and much more significant. Data collection has gotten better and better, and anything from foot traffic, to sales conversions to social media activity can help inform your brand about decisions to make in the future.

Ecommerce brands that approach temporary stores as a way to learn, educate and truly immerse their customers in the brand promise and lifestyle experience are the ones who get the most long term benefits from their pop-ups. Remember, although it’s temporary in nature, the impact of a pop-up can be permanent.
How to Build a Profitable Ecommerce Business
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Instagram is worth $35 billion, according to Citigroup

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When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in April 2012, the price tag came as a shock to many

A little more than two years later, Citigroup said Instagram is worth $35 billion, a number that the bank called "conservative" in a research note on Facebook issued Friday

It is another piece of good news in what has been a stellar 2014 for Instagram. The photo-sharing app recently hit 300 million active users, putting it ahead of Twitter. At $35 billion, Instagram would also be worth more than Twitter, which currently has a market cap around $23.3 billion Read more...

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Study: More teens are fleeing from Facebook

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An iStrategyLabs report from January 2014 caused quite a ruffle among the Facebook top brass and investors, as it indicated that teens are leaving the ubiquitous social platform

Now, a Thursday report from Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. (via Bloomberg) shows that Facebook's popularity among younger users is in serious decline

According to the study, in 2014, 88% of 13- to 17-year-old social media users in the U.S. were on Facebook — a drop from 94% in 2013 and 95% in 2012.

Though this is still a vast percentage of teens, as was confirmed by this study in June 2014, the 6% drop sounds quite significant — especially when some of Facebook's competition is experiencing the reverse Read more...

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450+ Free Stock Photos to Use in Your Marketing [Free Downloads]

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Let me tell you a quick, cautionary tale about using images online and copyright. Last year, I received an email from one of our blog managers communicating that a popular stock photography vendor was claiming one of the images in an ebook I created had been wrongfully used. 

Embarrassed, I quickly investigated.

When I identified the offending image, I specifically remember ensuring I had properly sourced (and had the right permissions to use) it. As it turned out, another internet user had purchased the image from the stock photography service and uploaded it to a photo-sharing website under a Creative Commons license. So while on the surface it looked safe for the taking, it was in fact falsely promoted as a royalty-free image. Scary story, right?

That's when it hit me: What if marketers didn't have to shell out more money for photos, obsess about copyright laws, and fret over permissions? What if we could help solve this issue for them by offering a repository of stock photos that anyone could use completely for free?

So that's exactly what we did. We hired a photographer and took a ton of photos to give away for free -- no royalties, fees, or attribution required. (Although we'd never say no to an inbound link or two. ;-) )

485 Free Stock Photos You Can Download and Use Royalty-Free 

We have three collections of stock photos you can download here:

You can preview these collections below. And if you're feeling stuck thinking of ways you can use these images in your marketing campaigns, scroll down for seven ways you can use stock photos to give your marketing content some pizazz -- as well as some tips to make stock photos work even harder for you.

75 Free Stock Photos (Assorted)

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160 Business-Themed Stock Photos

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250 Holiday-Themed Stock Photos

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Where to Use These Photos in Your Marketing

Whether you're prepping a social media post, designing a landing page, or drafting an email, visuals are an effective way to enhance the performance of your marketing initiatives. Here are some great ways to use stock photos in your marketing. 

1) On Your Homepage

Including visuals on your website's homepage can help tell a much stronger story than text alone. Check out the homepage of Grokky, which is currently using one of our free business-themed stock photos:

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Integrating images into your homepage shouldn't just be a simple copy-paste endeavor -- it should be strategic and deliberate. Consider the goals for your homepage when choosing photos, then conduct user testing to determine which image resonates best with your target audience. And if you need some inspiration to help effectively incorporate images into your homepage design, check out our free flipbook of 53 Examples of Brilliant Homepage Design.

2) On Your Landing Pages 

Everyone knows "a picture is worth a thousand words" -- and this particularly rings true for landing pages. Instead of featuring paragraph after paragraph of explanatory copy, try conveying some of that information with an image. With a little bit of customization help, you can use stock photos to kick your landing page conversion rate up a notch. The example below uses a photo from our business-themed stock photo collection to add a human touch to our free software trial landing page.

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3) In Your Facebook Posts

On Facebook, visual content equals more engagement. In fact, HubSpot data shows that photo posts on Facebook generate 55% more Likes than the average post. At HubSpot, we constantly try to accompany any links we share on Facebook with visuals, but as our social media manager can attest, it's not easy. She spends hours creating visual content, so stock photos are a must-have for increasing her productivity. 

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In the example above, we used PowerPoint to spruce up one of the images from our collection of holiday-themed stock photos by overlaying text on the image. For more stock photo customization tips, check out this blog post.

4) On Your Pinterest Boards

Given that visuals are pretty, umm, essential on Pinterest, it should be pretty simple to understand how stock photos can fit into your Pinterest marketing strategy. The photo shown as the featured image on the pinboard below is from our business-themed stock photo collection.

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5) In Your Emails

According to HubSpot's Science of Email Marketing report, two-thirds of survey respondents prefer emails that contain mostly images. While we don't recommend cluttering your email campaigns with photos, images can certainly help entice readers to click, improving email clickthrough rates. Here's an example of how one of our free stock photos (from our general collection) can be used to enhance an email:

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Just be sure you're optimizing your emails for recipients who may have images disabled in their email clients. Add descriptive alt text for each image so people with images disabled will still get the gist of your image and click through on your email.

6) In Your Blog Posts

For the same reasons images in emails and social media posts increase engagement, so do images in blog posts. In fact, I'm willing to bet email and social media are two of the primary promotional channels for your blog, so choosing and incorporating high-quality visuals into your blog content is critically important. Here's an example of a post in which we used one of the free stock photos from our holiday collection:

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For more help choosing h blog post images, read this post about how to select the perfect image for your next blog post.

7) In Your SlideShare/PowerPoint Presentations 

According to its 'About Us' page, SlideShare receives 60 million monthly visitors and 215 million pageviews -- and its popularity (and thus marketing potential) is only increasing. But if you want to stand out from all the competition on SlideShare, the SlideShare presentations you create should be more image-heavy than text-based. Sounds like a job for stock photos, don't you think? ;-)

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These are just seven of the many use cases for using stock photos in your marketing. We hope the 485 photos we took will help you ramp up your visual marketing tactics!

Editor's Note: This post has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy. 

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Comedy as activism: Why laughing together beats mourning alone

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"Humor is laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it."

This famous first sentence of Langston Hughes' 1966 essay "A Note on Humor" still rings true today — especially for comedians whose work tackles serious issues, when "it" can mean anything from racial justice to gender equality to LGBT rights.

Humor can address these important topics in a powerful but nonthreatening way. Jokes help us confront the world's most pressing issues, inspiring laughs to inspire change.

Comedy's role in raising awareness is extremely prevalent right now, amid the #BlackLivesMatter protests that continue to sweep the United States. Stand-up comics such as W. Kamau Bell, a self-declared socio-political comedian who doesn't shy away from charged topics, have addressed police brutality and the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. Read more...

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An Overview of the Major Google Algorithm Updates of 2014

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Inbound marketers are constantly on alert for changes in Google's ever-evolving algorithm ... but that doesn't mean we don't miss one every now and then. The combination of frequent algorithm updates and a busy workload means that sometimes a critical update gets lost in the sauce.

To make sure you're fully up to date on the latest major changes in SEO, we've compiled a full list of the most important Google algorithm updates from 2014. This year, we saw changes from pirates and penguins and pandas and pigeons; the removal of authorship, and other notable updates. Let's take a closer look at what those updates were.

The Animals: A Quick Refresher

For your reference, here are the names given to Google's algorithm updates that were relevant for 2014 and a brief description of each.

  • Pirate: A search filter designed to prevent sites that have a lot of copyright infringement reports (as filed through Google's DMCA system) from ranking well in Google's listings. It was first introduced in August 2012.
  • Penguin: A search filter designed to better catch sites deemed to be spamming its search results, in particular those doing so by buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings. When a new Penguin Update is released, sites that have taken action to remove bad links may regain rankings. It was first introduced in April 2012.
  • Panda: A search filter meant to stop sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google's top search results. (Poor quality content is most commonly content created solely for SEO purposes -- featuring things like keyword stuffing and scraped or duplicated content.) It was first introduced in February 2011.
  • Pigeon: A major local search algorithm update launched in July 2014 to provide more useful, relevant, and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. 
  • Payday Loan: Okay, this one isn't an animal -- but it's still important. It's a search filter that targets "very spammy queries" that are frequently associated with spam -- often for payday loans, accident claims, and other insurance-related sites. It was first introduced in June 2013.

Alright, let's get to the actual updates.

The Major Google Algorithm Updates of 2014

February 2014: Page Layout #3

In February, Google refreshed their Page Layout algorithm, also known as "Top Heavy," which dings sites that load too many ads above the fold. This smaller update is meant to improve user experience -- users want to see the content they were looking for right away when they click on a search result, and Google heard them loud and clear.

May 2014: Panda 4.0, Payday Loan 2.0

In May, Google released a major update to its Panda algorithm, and a smaller one to its Payday Loan algorithm.

  • Panda 4.0: Starting with a tweet from Matt Cutts, Google announced the rollout of its major Panda 4.0 update to help small businesses and websites that create great content do better in Google search results. Search Engine Land called this change a "softer and gentler" Panda algorithm that specifically helps out smaller businesses with shallower pockets.
  • Payday Loan 2.0: The details of the Payday Loan 2.0 update are a little fuzzy, but Google did release the update to specifically target "very spammy queries." Google told Search Engine Land this update was an international update and affected different languages to different degrees.

June 2014: Payday Loan 3.0, Authorship Photo Removed

In June, Google updated their Payday Loan algorithm and ended Author Photos in search.

  • Payday Loan 3.0: Google made a significant iteration to its anti-spam algorithm less than a month after the last major Payday update. According to Moz, "official statements suggested that 2.0 targeted specific sites, while 3.0 targeted spammy queries."
  • Authorship Photo Removed: Google decided to drop Authorship photos from most search results, frustrating marketers everywhere. Instead, authors' names would be linked to their Google+ profiles, without including circle count. Why the change? Mueller wrote in the announcement that it decluttered search results, particularly for mobile users -- which makes sense as Google continues to embrace mobile-first design. Mueller also cited some of Google's eye tracking research, which found that social annotations like author photos completely changed the way users looked at search results.

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Image from Moz

July 2014: Pigeon 1.0

The introduction of Google's Pigeon algorithm in July was -- for local businesses, at least -- its biggest change of the year. The changes are meant to help users find "more useful, relevant, and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals," according to Search Engine Land. While Google says it improved their distance and location ranking parameters, some local businesses likely found it affected their number of web site referrals and leads.

It also seems to have given local directory sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor better visibility in Google's search results. For example, if you search for "chicago hotels," the search results favor URLs from sites like Hotels.com, Travelocity, and Kayak, while individual hotels' websites don't show up until page two.

August 2014: Authorship Removed + HTTPS/SSL As a Ranking Signal

In August, Google announced they would start giving a small ranking boost to secure HTTPS/SSL sites and decided to kill Authorship.

  • Authorship Removed: Google decided to remove Authorship results from search, which many believe strips Google+ of the only value it every really had. This move meant Google would no longer track the rel=author tag data -- although keeping it on your pages "won't cause problems," Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller wrote in a post to Google+. Mueller told Search Engine Land that the reason for the change was that users didn't find it helpful or valuable, and it had low publisher and webmaster adoption. But, interestingly, Google+ posts from your connections will now look like Authorship did -- so it's possible this change is an (aggressive) ploy to get more people using Google+. (Learn more about the removal of Authorship here.)
  • HTTPS/SSL As a Ranking Signal: Google uses about 200 ranking signals when determining organic search page rankings, and in August, they added secure sites to the list. They cited this change as part of a broader effort to make the internet a safer place. With the update, adding a SSL 2048-bit key certificate on your site -- what Search Engine Land calls "going HTTPS" -- began giving websites a small ranking benefit. According to the official update, it's only a "very lightweight signal" for now, affecting fewer than 1% of queries and carrying "less weight" than other signals like high qualiy content. 

September 2014: Panda 4.1

In September, Google released the 27th version of its Panda Update that will make the search filter more precise to better identify low quality content and therefore allow more small and medium-sized sites that generate high quality content to rank better. Although this is a much smaller change than Panda's May 2014 update, it still shows Google's listening to user feedback and doing what it can to reward smaller sites putting out good content.

October 2014: Pirate 2.0 + Penguin 3.0

In October, Google made some changes to their Pirate and Penguin Updates.

  • Pirate 2.0: In their continued effort to fight digital media piracy by dinging sites with a lot of copyright infringement reports, Google's most recent Pirate update targeted a relatively small group of suspect websites and caused dramatic drops in their ranking.
  • Penguin 3.0: This update was just a refresh affecting fewer than 1% of English queries, but it helped boost search ranking for websites that have cleaned up the webspam discovered in the previous Penguin update, while also catching and dinging sites with new spam.

Were you affected by any of these major updates? Learn more about how to recover from a Google algorithm update here.

What do you think Google has up its sleeve in terms of changes to its search algorithm in 2015?

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15 Ways to Fight Procrastination [Infographic]

procrastination

We all procrastinate. We put off dishes in favor of one more episode in our Netflix TV show binge. We tell ourselves we'll definitely book that dentist appointment next week -- you know, when we have more time. We spend an extra few minutes at the office coffee machine chatting up coworkers instead of diving right into our work for the day. 

But in a world where we've got a ton to do -- and not a ton of time to do it -- procrastination can have pretty big consequences.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can fight back. In the following infographic, Essay.Expert outlines 15 great ways to fight against procrastination and actually get stuff done. Check 'em out below!

15-Ways-to-Beat-Procrastination

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Google Rips MPAA For Allegedly Leveraging Local Government To Revive SOPA

Corruption in the American Hollywood style is something to behold. Today, Google published a short blog post alleging that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), alongside a number of film studios, funded what was essentially opposition research about the company. The resulting material was later fed to state attorneys general. Read More
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