Month: December 2019

Best PEO Service Providers

PEO is the acronym for “professional employer organization.”

These outsourcing firms provide business services for functions like payroll, HR tasks, administrative roles, and other crucial activities to running a company.

PEO service providers are incredibly appealing for business owners because they reduce the workload of mundane but critical tasks.

Outsourcing these roles are cost-effective as well. Instead of having a full-time HR staff on your payroll, it’s much cheaper to contract that work. Plus, PEO service providers have the ability to negotiate rates related to employee health insurance or workers’ compensation expenses.

Whether you’re interested in hiring a PEO service for the first time, or looking to switch providers, this guide has you covered.

The 7 Best PEO Service Providers

There are countless PEO services available on the market today. From local providers to national names, and everything in between. Some PEO services are industry-specific, while others are intended for businesses of a certain size.

Finding the best PEO provider for your business can be challenging if you don’t have any guidance.

I narrowed down and reviewed the seven best PEO service providers below. I’ll cover the features, benefits, costs, and any drawbacks of each one as we continue.

Justworks

justworks

Justworks is a full-service PEO provider offering payroll, human resources, compliance, and employee benefits under a single umbrella package.

The company launched in 2012 but has quickly grown in both size and popularity over the last few years. They went from 40 employees in 2015 to 300 in 2018. Today, Justworks has more than 600 employees and relationships with major companies like United Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente, and ClassPass.

In addition to employee benefits like health, vision, and dental insurance, Justworks also provides a wide range of compliance services. They handle W-2 and 1099 filings, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation.

Justworks has an automated payroll system for direct deposit, paying vendors and contractors, and integration with your business accounting software like Quickbooks and Xero.

Another benefit of Justworks is that they can accommodate the needs for businesses of all sizes. So if you start working with them now, they can scale with you as your company grows.

Here’s an overview of their plans and pricing based company size:

Basic — Payroll, HR Tools, Benefits, and Compliance

  • Less than 25 employees — $49 per month per employee
  • 25-99 — $44 per month per employee
  • 100-174 — $39 per month per employee
  • 175+ — Custom pricing

Plus — Access to Medical, Dental, and Vision

  • Less than 25 employees — $99 per month per employee
  • 25-99 — $89 per month per employee
  • 100-174 — $79 per month per employee
  • 175+ — Custom pricing

You can save 15% on all plans when you sign up for an annual contract.

I like Justworks because they give you so many options. You’re not forced to take the health insurance package, but it’s available if you want it. If you’re just starting out and new to working with PEO service providers, you could always start with the Basic plan and upgrade to Plus when you’re ready.

Justworks offers 24/7 customer support. The company is modern and still growing at a rapid rate, so I expect them to continue providing excellent service in the future.

The only real downside of Justworks is their lack of experience. There are other PEO service providers who have been in business for decades.

Insperity

insperity

Speaking of experience, Insperity has been around for 30+ years. They provide full HR solutions for small businesses as well as enterprises with up to 5,000 employees.

In 1997, the company went public on the NYSE. They have a long list of awards, accreditations, achievements, and glowing reviews from their customers.

Insperity’s full-service HR solution includes:

  • Employee benefits
  • HR administration
  • Payroll
  • Risk management
  • Compliance
  • Talent management
  • Tech services

For those of you who don’t need a full-service solution, you can also use Insperity for individual services.

While Insperity does accommodate the needs of businesses with 150-5,000 employees, I’d recommend their services to small and medium-sized business owners with less than 150 employees.

With Insperity, you’ll have access to the iOS and Android mobile apps to monitor and manage your business on the go. It’s a great option for those of you who enjoy leveraging the latest technology to streamline your processes.

For those of you who prefer working with large organizations, Insperity is definitely a top choice to consider. They did $3.8 billion in revenue back in 2018.

Although the company is big, they still provide excellent customer service and know how to work with small business owners.

Another top feature of Insperity is its flexibility. Unlike other PEO providers on the market, Insperity won’t lock you into a long term contract. You can cancel at any time, as long as you give them 30 day’s notice.

Insperity does not list prices for their services online. You’ll need to speak with their customer service sales team to get a custom quote.

A potential drawback of using Insperity for PEO services is that their health plan options are limited. Unlike other providers, Insperity only offers health plans from a single health insurance provider. So if your company wants to give your employees multiple options for healthcare, you should look elsewhere on our list. But this usually isn’t a problem for small business owners.

ADP TotalSource

adp

ADP is an industry leader in technology. Since 2011 they have been providing software for human resources to businesses of all shapes and sizes.

But in addition to their robust technology, ADP TotalSource is a full-service PEO solution.

ADP is another top option for small to medium-sized business owners. Whether you have 1-49 employees, 50-999 employees, or 1,000+ members on your team, ADP has a plan for you.

ADP TotalSource is used for human resources, talent management, payroll, employee benefits, and risk assessment.

As a small business owner, you can use ADP to provide enterprise-grade medical, dental, and vision care to your employees. Furthermore, ADP also offers 401(k) plans.

The technology used by ADP is the biggest standout of this PEO provider. Everything from HR to payroll, benefits, and recruiting can be accessed and managed through a mobile app or easy to use web dashboard.

But arguably the best feature of ADP is the customer service.

Naturally, your employees will have questions. Whether it be about their pay, benefits, or something else that would fall into the HR category. Rather than bothering you with those questions, your staff can simply contact an ADP representative directly.

ADP’s knowledgeable and friendly staff will guide your employees in the right direction to answer any questions or help them pick a plan that fits their needs.

I like ADP because they also have industry-specific solutions for businesses in the following categories:

  • Restaurant and hospitality
  • Manufacturing
  • Healthcare
  • Construction
  • Government and education
  • Nonprofit
  • Professional and technical services
  • Financial services

ADP provides PEO services and technology in over 140 countries worldwide.

The only potential downside of using ADP TotalSource is the company’s size. Since ADP is so large, it’s possible that your small business could feel like it’s getting lost in the shuffle.

Paychex

paychex

More than 670,000 businesses trust Paychex. While the company is best known for its online payroll services, they are also a full-service PEO provider.

One of the biggest standouts of Paychex is the way that they provide PEO services. Your business will get a dedicated HR professional. In some cases, this dedicated HR manager can even be on-site at your office.

By working directly with your employees, Paychex takes HR outsourcing to the next level.

Since Paychex works so closely with your company, it makes it easier for them to assess workplace risks and address key areas of liability.

These are some of the top features and benefits of using Paychex as your PEO provider:

  • Insurance plans
  • Attendance
  • Employee benefit accounts (HSA, FSA, HRA)
  • 401(k) plans
  • Payroll administration
  • Unemployment insurance

Like other PEO providers, Paychex also offers individual services if you don’t need a full-service plan. You can search for solutions by task, business size, or role. Paychex even offers outsourced office management services.

From paperless hiring and onboarding to issuing payroll, Paychex does it all.

The only negative thing I can find about Paychex is that the interface is a bit outdated and not as user-friendly compared to options like ADP TotalSource.

The price for Paychex PEO services is based on the number of employees you have. Contact their sales team for a free consultation and quote.

Oasis Outsourcing

oasis outsourcing

Oasis Outsourcing was originally founded in 1996. The company was recently acquired by Paychex in 2018, although Oasis still operates under its own name.

PEO services provided by Oasis Outsourcing include:

  • Human resources
  • Employee benefits
  • Risk management
  • Payroll
  • Technology solutions

Oasis can help your small business get great deals on healthcare by bundling your plan with other clients. They’ll help you set up employee retirement plans as well.

Like other providers on our list, Oasis has some industry-specific solutions.

  • Banking
  • Architecture
  • Hotels
  • Education
  • Restaurants
  • Retail
  • Private equity
  • Legal
  • Property management
  • Financial services

I’d recommend Oasis to startup companies because they are versatile, but smaller than some of the other choices out there. Oasis can give startups the special attention that they need, even with just a handful of employees.

While some PEO providers allow for month-to-month commitments, Oasis will force you into a one-year contract. So for those of you who don’t want to get locked in, this won’t be the best option for you.

With that said, Oasis does offer a 90-day money-back guarantee window. So you’ll have some time to change your mind if you’re not satisfied in the first few months.

Contact Oasis Outsourcing to get a custom quote for your company’s needs.

TriNet

trinet

TriNet is one of the oldest and most experienced PEO service providers in the industry. After launching in 1988, the company has been serving businesses for more than 30 years.

As of today, they are currently working with over 16,000 clients and roughly 332,000 employees.

The PEO services provided by TriNet are similar to some of the others in the industry. They offer niche-specific solutions for:

  • HR consulting
  • Benefit options
  • Payroll
  • Risk mitigation
  • Technology

TriNet stands out as one of the best PEO providers because of their service and attention to detail. Their team will be on standby for your employees.

Whether it’s during the hiring process, onboarding, or just day-to-day questions about their benefits or employee status, TriNet is there for all of those needs.

TriNet does not try to appeal to larger organizations. In fact, services are segmented by employee size into these three categories:

  • 5-19 employees
  • 20-99 employees
  • 100+ employees

I’d recommend TriNet to those of you who fall on the lower end of this scale. A company with 500 or 1,000+ employees should look elsewhere.

TriNet offers a wide range of employee health benefit options through insurance companies like United Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente, Aflac, Aetna, and MetLife.

TriNet also has partnerships with big brands to offer small businesses and employees marketplace discounts. Some of those brands include Verizon, AT&T, Hyatt, and Avis.

To get a custom quote for your small business, simply fill out a short form field on the TriNet website.

Infiniti HR

infiniti hr

While some providers force you to bundle all PEO services in one package, Infiniti HR allows you to pick and choose which ones you need.

Do you only need an outsourced human resources department, but not payroll? No problem. Infiniti HR can set you up with that.

In addition to the traditional PEO services that we’ve seen so far (HR, payroll, risk management, employee benefits, etc.), Infiniti HR also specializes in recruitment. This PEO provider will help get top-level talent to your team.

Another standout for Infiniti HR is the type of businesses that they serve. They work with lots of franchise organizations like Supercuts, Best Western, and Massage Envy.

Whether you own one franchise location or multiple franchises across the country, Infiniti HR will be a top choice for you to consider.

Infiniti HR has been in business for just over ten years. They are still growing and improving their services on what seems like a daily basis.

The Infiniti HR mobile app is expected to be released by the end of 2020. This technology improvement will definitely make their services more appealing.

How to Find the Best PEO Service Providers

There is quite a bit of information that must be taken into consideration when you’re evaluating a PEO service provider. Since so many companies seem to offer similar services, choosing the best fit for your business can be a challenge.

I’ll take you through the methodology that we used to come up with this guide. You can use these features as well during your search process.

Pricing

The first thing you should look at is the price of the PEO solutions. This will make it easier for you to eliminate options that might be out of your price range.

Unfortunately, not every PEO provider includes prices on their website. Since so much about this industry is customized, you’ll need to speak with a sales representative to get a quote.

But if you’re looking for a provider with transparent prices, Justworks will be a top option for you to consider.

Employee Benefits

While a PEO provider is supposed to reduce costs make your life easier as a business owner, it should also have a positive impact on your employees.

Things like retirement plans, health insurance, dental, and vision offered by a PEO will be appealing to your staff. Not only will this keep your employees happy, but it will also help you hire top-level talent.

Some PEO providers work with just one health insurance company, while others provide a wide range of options. So if diverse plans from varying providers is important to you, then make sure you find a PEO solution that can accommodate those needs.

Employee Self-Service

The best PEO providers offer technology for employee self-service. Whether it’s an app or web portal, your staff can access crucial information related to their pay, employee status, or benefits.

If the self-service options are not sufficient, you want to make sure that your PEO provider will be available to answer any questions via phone, email, or live chat for your employees.

Your staff should be able to do this without having to go directly through you to speak to an outsourced HR representative.

Business Size and Industry

A startup with five employees and a franchise with 2,000 employees across 50 locations will not be in the market for the same PEO service provider. Look for you providers that work with companies similar to the size of your business.

Furthermore, some PEO providers specialize in certain industries. Ideally, you want to work with a provider who understands your industry, whenever possible.

Conclusion

What’s the best PEO service provider?

The answer depends on a wide range of factors. Not every business is looking for the same thing in a PEO solution. Some businesses want a full-service PEO package, while others just want an outsourced HR representative.

Here’s a recap of the best PEO providers that we reviewed in this guide:

  • Justworks — Best overall PEO service provider.
  • Insperity — Best PEO services for small to medium-sized businesses.
  • ADP TotalSource — Best PEO technology and employee customer service.
  • Paychex — Best PEO provider for on-site HR and payroll.
  • Oasis Outsourcing — Best PEO services for startups.
  • TriNet — Best PEO provider for very small businesses.
  • Infiniti HR — Best PEO service provider for franchises.

I’m confident that you can find exactly what you’re looking for from one of the providers on this list. I made sure to include something for everyone.

India’s richest man is ready to take on Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart

As Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart spend billions to make a dent in India’s retail market and reel from recent regulatory hurdles, the two companies have stumbled upon a new challenge: Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man.

Reliance Retail and Reliance Jio, two subsidiaries of Ambani’s Reliance Industries, said they have soft launched JioMart, their e-commerce venture that works closely with neighbourhood stores, in parts of the state of Maharashtra — Navi Mumbai, Kalyan and Thane.

The e-commerce venture, which is being marketed as “Desh Ki Nayi Dukaan” (Hindi for new store of the country), currently offers a catalog of 50,000 grocery items and promises “free and express delivery.”

In an email to Reliance Jio users, the two aforementioned subsidiaries that are working together on the e-commerce venture, said they plan to expand the service to many parts of India in coming months. The joint venture has also urged Jio subscribers to sign up to JioMart to access introductory offers. A Reliance spokesperson declined to share more.

The soft launch this week comes months after Ambani, who runs Reliance Industries — India’s largest industrial house — said that he wants to service tens of millions of retailers and store owners across the country.

If there is anyone in India who is positioned to compete with heavily-backed Amazon and Walmart, it’s him. Reliance Retail, which was founded in 2006, is the largest retailer in the country by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

Reliance Jio is the second largest telecom operator in India with more than 360 million subscribers. The 4G-only carrier, which launched commercial operations in the second half of 2016, disrupted the incumbent telecom operation in the country by offering bulk of data and voice calls at little to no charge for an extended period of time.

In a speech in January, Ambani, an ally of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, invoked Mahatama Gandhi and said, like Gandhi, who led a movement against political colonization of India, “we have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India – in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian.”

Modi, whose government at the time had just announced regulatory challenges that would impact Amazon and Flipkart, was among the attendees.

E-commerce still accounts for just a fraction of total retail sales in India. India’s retail market is estimated to grow to $188 billion in next four years, up from about $79 billion last year, according to research firm Technopak Advisors.

In an interview earlier this year, Amit Agarwal, manager of Amazon India, said, “one thing to keep in mind is that e-commerce is a very, very small portion of total retail consumption in India, probably less than 3%.”

To make their businesses more appealing to Indians, both Amazon and Flipkart have expanded their offerings and entered new businesses. Both of the platforms have started to sell grocery items in recent quarters and are working on food retail, too. Amazon has bought stakes in a number of retailers in India, including in India’s second largest retail chain Future Retail’s Future Coupons, Indian supermarket chain More, and department store chain Shopper’s Stop.

Flipkart has invested in a number of logistic startups including ShadowFax and Ninjacart. Amazon India was also in talks with Ninjacart to acquire some stake in the Bangalore-based startup, people familiar with the matter said.

In recent quarters, Reliance Jio executives have aggressively reached out shop owners in many parts of India to showcase their point-of-sale machines and incentivize them to join JioMart, many merchants who have been approached said.

Inclusive Components: Book Reviews And Accessibility Resources

Inclusive Components: Book Reviews And Accessibility Resources

Inclusive Components: Book Reviews And Accessibility Resources

Ari Stiles

Tuesday, December 3, was the official release date for Inclusive Components, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. The book is already an essential resource for accessibility experts and developers.

You Had Me At “Inclusive!”

As the book makes its way to offices, doorsteps, and accessibility meetups all over the world, here are just a few of the mentions we’ve seen so far.

A picture of a black-and-white book cover standing on a wooden surface abd tilted to the side titled Inclusive Components, Accessible web interfaces, piece by piece, written by Heydon Pickering
332 pages. Quality hardcover with a stitched binding and ribbon page marker. The eBook is available as PDF, ePUB and Amazon Kindle.

“While awareness of web accessibility has continually been increasing, the volume and types of errors on home pages suggests that awareness alone is not sufficient to ensuring a highly accessible web experience for users with disabilities […] Inclusive Components provides precisely the type of guidance, examples, and knowledge necessary to help web authors not only consider accessible interfaces, but actually implement them.”

Jared Smith, Associate Director of WebAIM

“[…] a practical approach to explaining how to build fully accessible UI components with a lot of examples. Understanding and embracing how to build accessible interfaces will improve the quality of our work, but more importantly, it can—sometimes drastically—improve the experience of our users in many ways.”

— Holger Bartel (Source)

So many of us want to build inclusive interfaces, but don’t know where to begin. Heydon’s book provides an entry point: he takes some of the most common interface patterns and shows the reader how to build them inclusively from the start.

Developers can benefit from this approach right away, but accessibility professionals and consultants also gain a valuable resource for working with clients and teams.

“I have found Heydon Pickering to me one of the very best communicators about the subject of digital accessibility. He brings clarity to complex issues and is compelling about how and why accessibility is critically important.”

— Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility

A photo of Sharon Russ
Sharron Rush, Knowbility

Sharron’s team runs Accessibility audits for existing sites and apps, and they often have to help clients establish new development approaches.

“The Knowbility team loves ‘Inclusive Components’ and highly recommends it to anyone who builds with accessibility in mind.”

Through step-by-step instructions and coding examples, the reader quickly sees how existing habits can change to become more inclusive.

Heydon also guested on the Smashing Podcast last week and summarized the book’s central theme:

“The idea was to both bring accessibility to design systems, but by the same token, think systemically when it comes to trying to address accessibility.”

In Case You Missed It: Heydon Pickering at Smashing

Photo of Heydon Pickering

A Growing Library To Meet A Growing Need

WebAIM conducted an accessibility analysis of the top million websites at the beginning of 2019—the WebAIM Million—and the results made a lot of developers and teams rethink their workflow. Accessibility and inclusion have always been important, but seeing all of the errors and bloat spelled out was enlightening.

A bar graph showing the categories and numbers of errors found during the WebAIM Million survey. Of the million homepages tested, 85% had Low Contrast, 68% had Missing alternative text, 58% had empty links, 52% had missing form labels, 33% had missing document language, and 25% had empty buttons.
The overall results from the WebAIM Million. 97.8% of the sites tested had detectable WCAG2 errors. (Source)

The demand for accessibility resources continues to grow as more companies decide to build sites, apps, and platforms that work for everyone. Inclusive Components is just one of many accessibility resources Heydon has created to help meet this demand:

Heydon’s new project with Andy Bell, Every Layout, takes the same modular approach to CSS as Inclusive Components does for interface patterns.

Where Shall We Go Next?

Smashing’s accessibility resource list continues to grow, too. In addition to the accessibility articles and videos we publish, the community regularly cites Adam Silver’s Form Design Patterns book as a valuable reference for building inclusive forms.

Photo of Sara SoueidanWe also have some videos that you may like watching and listening to: Sara Soueidan held a talk on Applied Accessibility and Marcy Sutton once spoke about Garbage Components recorded live at SmashingConf in New York this past October. We’re sure you’ll find them useful!

We love advocating for an accessible web, but we’d like to know: What other accessibility resources would you like to see in the future? How can we help? Let us know in the comments section below.

Smashing Editorial (ra, il)

6 Easy Steps to Get Your Google Ads Ready for 2020

Even the most sophisticated Google Ads accounts need a good clean-up every once in a while. And what better time to do so than the new year!?

2019 to 2020 cliff jump image

In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the steps you need to give your Google Ads account a quick refresh for the new year. And after you go through these steps once, you’ll realize that it really doesn’t take too long to give your account a good gut check. It might even be a good idea to even go through these steps monthly. With the increased results and decreased wasted spend that comes from this exercise, you’ll realize that it is 100% worth your time!

A quick quality reminder

Before we get into the six steps, I just want to remind you that one thing to ALWAYS aim for is a high Quality Score. If you’re not already aware, a high Quality Score improves your ads’ chances of being shown and decreases the amount you’ll need to bid on them. 

What Is Quality Score?

1. Come up with a list of KPIs (if you don’t have one already)

Your Google Ads key performance indicators, or KPIs, are the metrics that you use to determine how successful you consider your Google Ads to be. Every business has different KPIs depending on what they’re looking to gain from Google Ads. For example, if your main goal is to get traffic to your website, some of your KPIs would likely include clicks and click-through-rate (CTR). Or, if your priority is content downloads, some KPIs would include conversions, conversion rate, and cost per conversion (AKA cost per action, or CPA).

So, as long as you know what your goals are from Google Ads, you’ll be able to come up with a list of KPIs.

Still not sure what your KPIs are? WordStream’s Google Ads Grader can help you determine where to focus.

Pro tip: Create a saved set of columns that show metrics you care most about (KPIs). When viewing any set of data (campaigns, ad groups, ads, etc.) you’ll see a “columns” button at the top left of the chart. Click on that and select “Modify columns.”

Google Ads account

Here’s where you’ll make sure your KPIs are selected, as well as any other metrics that matter to you.

Google Ads account

Once you have the columns configured how you like, save the columns set and give it a name.

2. Identify KPIs that are low performing

In order to have a number to aim for (and know when something’s not right), you’ll need to think about the value a given action is worth to your business. For example, if someone downloads your content, what value does that bring to your business? And how much are you willing to pay for it? The number that comes to mind is your target CPA.

Other than CPA, other common KPIs include quality score, CTR, conversion rate, and impression share. You may just strive to continuously improve some of these metrics based on historical data, rather than have a specific number to constantly aim for. Nevertheless, it’s important to check up on them.

If you’re struggling to come up with benchmarks to aim for, it can be helpful to take a look at averages for competitors in your industry.

average ctr in adwords

It is important to keep in mind that, depending on what you’re promoting, your benchmarks may differ. For example, if one campaign is promoting a content download, and another is promoting a demo request, then the campaign with a demo request is likely more valuable and has a higher average CPA. These two actions may both be considered “conversions,” so it can be helpful to track KPIs on a campaign-by-campaign basis.

So you’ve identified KPIs that are off, now what?

In the rest of this post, I’ll go through actions you can take to improve the overall performance of your account. But there are certain ways to make improvements to specific pain points in your account.

If your CPC is low, you’ll want to work on your ad copy

If everything looks pretty good in your account but your CPC is super low, it’s most likely because your ad copy is not resonating with your audience. Work on that!

For a low conversion rate, work on landing pages

So users are clicking on your ads and landing on your landing pages, but  then they’re not converting. Likely, you need to brush up on your landing pages.

Other solutions aren’t quite as obvious as these—read on.

3. Try manual bidding

As you may know, there are two main categories of bid strategies on Google Ads: manual bidding and automated bidding. If you’ve been using automated bidding, try using manual.

Bid strategies are controlled on the campaign level. To switch, click on “Settings” under any campaign. Under “Bidding,” click on “Change bid strategy.”

Google Ads account

Once you click, you’ll see the following options:

There are pros and cons to both automated and manual bidding, and I wouldn’t recommend knocking either strategy until you’ve tried it. Better yet, you don’t need to use the same bid strategy across all campaigns in your account.

Although automated bidding requires less effort, it also comes along with decreased control over your bids. The benefit of using a manual bid strategy is having the ability to adjust bids on ad groups and keywords based on their performance and your goals. As you analyze the performance of your ads and keywords, you’re able to control your bid to impact your performance. Although there are several factors to pay attention to when switching to manual bidding, this strategy may very well drastically improve your account’s overall performance if you’ve been using automated bidding.

4. Add some negative keywords

Adding negative keywords is one of the easiest ways to eliminate wasted spend within your Google Ads account. Because the search terms that result in your ad being shown are constantly changing, it’s important to look through them, pick out the super irrelevant ones, and add those as negative keywords. You may want to consider having negative keyword lists for each campaign, as well as a keyword list for your entire account.

negative keyword selected in Google Ads account

Pro tip: If one topic in particular is commonly showing up in your search terms and is not relevant to the ads it’s showing for but is relevant to your business, consider creating a new campaign/ad group for that topic.

5. Add a retargeting audience

As long as your site is tagged with Google’s tracking pixel, and your website gets enough traffic to meet Google’s requirements, you should be able to refresh your Google Ads account by adding retargeting audience.

A retargeting audience shows your ads to users that have previously visited your website. These audiences are configured at a campaign level.

Elf remarketing gif

It’s always a good idea to come up with creative ways to retarget your website visitors—this is an easy way to reach users who have already shown interest in your brand, product, or services. As in, you’re working with a warmer audience who is more likely to convert. Remarketing campaigns often work well with display ads, but it’s also great to use this tactic for search campaigns—try it out.

6. Make bid adjustments on devices

A great way to control your bidding is by making bid adjustments on devices based on their performance. This is controlled on the campaign or ad group level. Device settings can be adjusted by navigating to a campaign and clicking on “Devices.”

options for device bid adjustments per campaigns

Be sure that your columns are configured to show your KPIs (remember those, all the way back in Step 1?) and compare performance data for each device. Then, increase or decrease your bids accordingly. For example, if mobile devices have a lower CPC and higher conversion rate than computers, you’ll want to either increase your bid on mobile devices or decrease your bid on computers.

Remember to take notes!

By following these six steps, you’re sure to kick off the new year with a high-performing Google Ads account that helps you reach your business goals! When making lots of changes in your account, it’s important to make sure you’re keeping close tabs on the areas where the changes have been implemented. If you have a fairly large Google Ads account, it is a good idea to pick three or four campaigns to check on at once to avoid getting overwhelmed. Either way, I’d suggest creating some type of document and choosing your first three to analyze and collect notes on. I like to use Google Sheets, as Google Ads allows you to export data and provides Google Sheets as an option to export to.

By taking notes and starting with a few campaigns, you can evaluate whether the new strategy is working or not and make adjustments accordingly. Happy 2020!

Best Document Management Software

Document management software has become a crucial component of running a business in 2020. So many organizations are either going paperless, have remote employees, or both.

These new trends make it unrealistic to keep documents and paperwork in physical filing cabinets or boxes in an office.

Document management software allows you to declutter your office, improve security, and access files or data from anywhere. This software also enhances efficiency when sharing documents or collaborating with team members.

Are you ready to digitally upload, track, and securely archive your documents? You need document management software to achieve this.

Whether your company is going paperless, or you just want to digitize your records for improved organization, this guide has everything you need to know about DM software (DMS).

The 7 Best Document Management Software

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of document management solutions on the market today. Cloud storage tools like Google Drive or Dropbox could technically fall into this category as well.

But for the purpose of this guide, I focused on DMS for businesses. For this instance, there are really only seven solutions that I would recommend.

The reviews below include a brief summary, features, benefits, prices, and any potential drawbacks of each software. Use this as a resource to find the best document management software for your unique situation.

eFileCabinet

efilecabinet

eFileCabinet is one of the best document management solutions on the market today. Since 2001, this company has helped individuals, small business owners, and enterprise-level companies organize data and files online.

The software makes it easy for you to stay organized and find a document, regardless of how many you have on file.

You can search for documents or locate them based on folder templates or pre-defined file names. eFileCabinet also keeps a portfolio of your most used documents for quick access.

The eFileCabinet solution does all of the hard work for you. Simply upload a document, and the software will file it for you. The automated workflow streamlines your time-consuming tasks to improve efficiency in the office.

All of your documents can be accessed from anywhere with a web browser or mobile app. You can upload documents directly from your phone using the camera on your device. eFileCabinet also allows you to sign contracts.

One of the biggest standouts for this solution is the collaboration features. The system allows you to create different levels of security, so only certain people can access data.

eFileCabinet has encrypted file sharing and requests, two-factor authentication, and role-based permissions. You can even set IP or location-based authentication.

The software integrates with popular third-party services like DocuSign, Salesforce, and Microsoft Office.

Here’s an overview of the plans and price points for eFileCabinet:

  • Starter — Starting at $15 per month (25 GB of storage)
  • Advantage — Starting at $55 per month (1 TB of storage)
  • Business — Starting at $99 per month (5 TB of storage)
  • Unlimited — Starting at $199 per month (Unlimited storage)

All prices are listed per user and billed on an annual basis. Once you upgrade from the Starter plan to Advantage, you’ll need to pay for a minimum of three users.

I’d only recommend the Starter plan to individuals. Sole proprietors or very small businesses can probably get away with the Advantage plan, but the Business package will likely be the best for the majority of you.

With eFileCabinet, you get to choose if you want your storage either on-site or on the cloud. Personally, I prefer the cloud storage. But there are advantages to on-premises as well.

M-Files

mfiles

M-Files represents the future of document management. The software leverages AI technology to automate your organizing process.

When you upload content to M-Files, the platform automatically organizes the data based on what it is, as opposed to just where you want to store it.

You even have the ability to connect M-Files to your existing network and systems to protect your information and categorize everything with AI, automatically and securely.

Another top benefit of M-Files is that they offer industry-specific solutions. Some popular industries that they service include:

  • Financial services
  • Construction and engineering
  • Oil and gas
  • Real estate
  • Manufacturing
  • Professional services

M-Files is great for larger teams that need to access documents at different times. If someone on your staff needs a file that was uploaded and saved by another colleague, they won’t need to search through different folders to see what the document was saved as.

With AI technology, all you need to know is what type of document you’re looking for. Then you can organize the content based on criteria like project title, author, customer, or expiration date.

M-Files will automatically detect duplicate content. Rather than having multiple versions of the same or slightly different documents on your storage system, it will automatically update the latest document to one singular file. This way you always know that you’re viewing or working with the latest version.

With M-Files, you can store a wide range of document types, including emails. The software also allows you to collaborate with external users who don’t have M-Files. That content can be shared as a secure link.

M-Files offers cloud storage, on-site storage, and hybrid storage solutions as well.

You can try M-Files free for 30-days by filling out a form on their website. Pricing for M-Files is not listed on their website. You need to contact their sales team to inquire about a custom solution.

Templafy

templafy

Templafy is a relatively new DMS. After launching in 2014, they have been providing all-in-one document management solutions for enterprises all over the world. It’s designed specifically for large businesses and helps streamline tasks to save time when it comes to storing and accessing files.

More than 300 enterprises across 80+ countries use Templafy for document management. This translates to more than one million users.

Using intelligence software, Templafy will automatically show the most relevant content to each employee based on their usage and position.

Your marketing team doesn’t need to see accounting documents, and vice versa.

One of the biggest pain points with DMS, in general, is having to create new documents using another platform. Templafy eliminates this pain point by giving users the ability to create and edit new content directly within the system.

Both new and uploaded content can all be managed in a simple and singular feed on your dashboard.

Templafy’s cloud storage software means you can access documents from anywhere, including on your smartphones and tablets.

You can integrate Templafy with Microsoft Office 365, G-Suite, and other platforms that you’re using to run your business on a daily basis. You can even integrate Templafy with CRM solutions like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics.

Big brands like Pandora and IKEA trust Templafy to manage their documents with enterprise-grade software.

In addition to managing documents and files, Templafy has solutions for maximizing employee productivity and creating an evergreen IT infrastructure.

Security is another top benefit of using Templafy. You and your team can securely store and access content from anywhere, using any device, whether you’re online or not.

Like most enterprise software, Templafy provides custom solutions for each unique company. So they don’t list any prices online. You can try Templafy for free before you commit to a contract by reaching out to their sales team.

DocuWare

docuware

For those of you who are looking for a high-quality cloud-based solution for document management, look no further than DocuWare.

This DMS is unique because it has specific solutions for tasks within your business processes:

  • Document management
  • Invoice processing
  • Employee management
  • Sales
  • Marketing

DocuWare has everything you need for digital transformation and going paperless using cloud technology.

This is another software that’s used by large businesses and enterprises. Sony, Toshiba, Levi’s, and Kellog’s are just a handful of their most well-recognized customers.

But with that said, DocuWare stands out as a top option for small and medium-sized businesses as well.

Small business owners can use DocuWare to automate their digital workflow, securely organize and store documents, and automate certain tedious tasks.

DocuWare allows you and your staff to edit or annotate documents directly on the platform. Not every DMS on our list gives you this capability.

I like DocuWare because it has features designed to connect remote employees and your deskless workforce. Anyone can easily access content at home or on the go from any device.

More than 12,000 businesses in 90+ countries trust DocuWare for document management. So you know that the company is legitimate with a track record like that.

It has specific use cases for things like contract proposals, finance processes, and HR tasks as well.

The pricing for DocuWare follows a common theme in this guide. They offer a free trial, but you need to contact their customer support team directly for a custom quote.

Hightail

hightail

Hightail is a document management solution with a specific purpose—sharing and collaboration.

Other DMS on the market have features for file sharing as well, but Hightail takes this to the next level.

I recommend Hightail to businesses that need the ability to send large files securely.

Sharing is simple. Just drag or upload a file from your device or cloud storage solution into your Hightail account. Enter the information for who you want to share it with, and automatically send an email notification to the recipient.

With Hightail, you’ll be able to track the delivery and downloads of content you shared. So you know exactly who opened it and when.

Hightail lets you send files of up to 500 GB. You can add password protection to files and set expiration dates as well.

Here’s an overview of the plans and pricing for Hightail:

Lite — Free

  • 100 MB file send limit
  • 7 day file expiration
  • Comments for feedback enabled
  • Sync from third-party integrations

Pro — $12 per month per user

  • 25 GB file send limit
  • Configurable file expiration
  • File previews enabled
  • Send tracking and delivery notifications
  • Password protection
  • Phone and live chat support

Teams — $24 per month per user

  • 50 GB file send limit
  • Custom branding
  • Organization and archiving tools
  • Version control with side by side comparisons
  • Real-time discussions for collaboration
  • Members management

Business — $36 per user

  • 500 GB file send limit
  • Enterprise-grade security
  • Dedicated customer support team
  • Organizational level permissions
  • Admin reports

As you can see, the pricing is largely based on the file sending limits. But the features get significantly better with each plan as well.

The free option is actually pretty good if you don’t need to send huge files, and even the entry-level Pro plan is suitable for a number of individuals.

If you’re interested in a paid plan, you can try Hightail free for 14 days.

MasterControl

mastercontrol

MasterControl is a DMS made for businesses where security is a top priority and concern. Certain industries have strict regulations for companies to comply with.

MasterControl understands those compliance concerns and created a document management solution that meets any security requirements.

One of the top features of MasterControl is its ability to track changes and revisions. If a document needs to be reviewed by a particular person, you can schedule a time and send out reminders as well.

MasterControl can also limit revisions based on access. You have complete control over who can make changes to a document.

You can also create custom watermarks, sequential numbering, and location tracking to control copies of your files.

MasterControl is 21 CFR Part 11 compliant. This means that documents have a time-stamped audit trail, as well as e-sign functionality that complies with federal regulations.

Another unique standout of MasterControl is its learning center. You’ll have access to tons of free videos, documents, and other resources to educate you about the platform and security compliance in general.

If you need enterprise-grade security for document management in a strict industry, MasterControl will be a top option for you to consider. Contact their sales team for a custom quote.

PaperTracer

papertracer

PaperTracer has solutions for small, medium, and enterprise-level businesses. It’s a simple solution for document management.

With PaperTracer, you’ll have the ability to automate your contracts and digitize all of your documents in a centralized database. PaperTracer has tracking and reporting capabilities and HIPPA compliant solutions as well.

Your document management solution is completely customized. You can benefit from a cloud-based implementation with end-to-end workflow solutions.

E-signature capability is also available with PaperTracer.

PaperTracer is a top solution for businesses in healthcare and legal industries.

Here’s a brief overview of the available plans, although all pricing is customized.

Small

  • Up to 10 users
  • Electronic signing
  • Searchable database
  • Upload and scan to PDF
  • Advanced reports and dashboards
  • Input forms

Mid Size

  • Up to 100 users
  • Contract authorizing
  • Custom fields
  • Custom workflows
  • Implementation

Enterprise

  • Unlimited users
  • Unlimited input forms
  • Single sign-on

Demos and free trials are available for all three plans. I’d recommend PaperTracer for small and medium-sized businesses. While they do have an enterprise-grade solution, there are better options for that on our list.

How to Find the Best Document Management Software

Choosing a document storage solution can be challenging if you don’t know what to look for. There are certain features and benefits that you need to keep an eye on when you’re evaluating a prospective software.

I’ll show you the methodology that we used to come up with the choices in this guide. You can use the same system to help narrow your search.

Storage Location

In most cases, document management solutions are either cloud-based or on-site. Some companies offer just one, while others let you choose which one you prefer.

For example, eFileCabinet offers both on-premises and cloud-based storage. M-Files has both as well, and also has a hybrid solution. Other solutions, like DocuWare are completely cloud-based.

I personally prefer cloud solutions because you can access content from anywhere. But for security reasons, some companies want files stored locally on their network.

File Sharing and Collaboration

What can you do with your files once they are uploaded and stored? While organizing files is obviously important, it’s useless for some companies if the documents can’t be shared with teams or external users.

Look for a DMS that accommodates your internal needs for editing or collaborating on files. Features like automated version updates and in-platform editing capabilities are crucial here.

The size of your files will also depend on which solution is best for your business. If you need to share large files, Hightail is the best choice.

Security

Most business-related files and data are sensitive. So it’s important to have a document management solution that can securely store information.

Some solutions offer access permissions based on individual clearance levels or even location.

Other platforms specialize in compliance for unique industries, like healthcare, legal, or government businesses.

Price

Pricing for DMS is usually based on storage limits and users. At each price tier, you can expect the plan to have additional features and benefits.

The majority of the solutions on this list offer custom plans and pricing. So to get a better idea of how much your document management software will cost, you’ll need to consult with a sales representative.

For those of you who are looking for a cost-effective solution and instant sign-ups, eFileCabinet will be a top choice for you to consider.

Integrations

Ideally, you want to find document management software that works with the platforms you’re already using. Whether it’s CRM like Salesforce, or document editing and creation software like Microsoft Office 365, certain platforms have a wide range of integrations for you to choose from.

However, other solutions that are niche-specific are a bit more limited. So make sure you use software that will actually benefit your workflow process.

Conclusion

Document management software is extremely diverse. Each solution offers unique benefits for businesses based on size, industry, or specific needs.

What’s the best document management software? It’s impossible to say since every option is so different. Here’s a quick recap of the platforms reviewed above:

  • eFileCabinet — Best administrative controls and third-party integrations.
  • M-Files — Best document management software for automated organizing with AI.
  • Templafy — Best enterprise-grade document management software.
  • DocuWare — Best cloud-based DMS for small to medium-sized businesses.
  • Hightail — Best document management software for sending large files.
  • MasterControl — Best DMS for strict security and compliance standards.
  • PaperTracer — Best for small or medium-sized legal and healthcare companies.

If you’re looking for a basic all-in-one document management solution, eFileCabinet will probably be your best bet.

But for those of you with unique circumstances and needs, you can find custom software from one of the providers on our list.

The 10 best blog posts of 2019

best blog posts of 2019

Every year I chronicle the top 10 posts for the year based on your page views — the ultimate feedback! I have now had more than 13 million pages viewed on my blog and I thank you so much for your kind patronage!

As I look at what you regarded as my best work of the year, I tend to agree with you. I don’t always agree with these lists, but this year I think you nailed it. Good job readers!

Here are my best blog posts of 2019 with a little personal commentary.

Number 10

How to use Content Shock to win in business — This was among the first posts of 2019, an article to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the original Content Shock post (my most popular post ever). This is a practical view of content marketing that most people completely miss!The most powerful content marketing strategy is to create Content Shock!

Number 9

A Manifesto for Human-Centered Marketing — OK, this one was a little bit of a surprise for the list of best blog posts of 2019 because it’s among the shortest posts I’ve ever written — about 100 words! But it contained a cool infographic depicting some key takeaways from my new book Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins. This graphic was hand-drawn for you by artist Paris Woodhull.

Number 8

Social media shakeout: Why the future of social media is hazy — A useful and honest post. I literally can’t foresee the future of social media right now and this post explains why. Just so many trends all coming together at the same time! I doubt we’ll have much more clarity in 2020.

Number 7

best blog posts of 2019

The future of branding your product is personal branding — This is another key idea drawn from the Marketing Rebellion book. It’s an important one, too. Great branding is about building an emotional connection with your customers. But it’s a lot easier connecting with a human than a piece of branded content and that points to a different marketing future.

Increasingly consumers want to know what’s going on behind the scenes at your brand. What’s going on and what you stand for. Maybe it’s time to show them.

Number 6, 5 and 4

best blog posts of 2019

I wanted to group these three posts together because there is an important blogging lesson here!

Three of the top 10 posts of the year were based on my commentary of controversial current events — Fyre Festival, and two provocative ads from Gillette and Peloton.

This is not surprising. We know through research that people love to share posts that explain current events — topics that are ripped from the headlines. I am usually among the first to provide commentary on marketing controversies because my mind starts to spin with ideas like the pedals of a Peloton machine!

All provide a strong business case for writing honest, timely posts:

Number 3

What is the true business value of social media engagement? — I am so glad you liked this post and that it made the list of best blog posts of 2019 because I put a TON of work into this comprhensive piece of research.

It’s also an extremely relevant lesson and reference piece. Social media engagement is the Holy Grail of most social media marketing programs, but ironically, the true business value is almost non-existent. What sort of impact did this post have? If I had to guess, I’d say almost none. Most people just keep doing what they have been always doing, unfortunately! But … this had to be said and it did spark a conversation.

Number 2

best blog posts of 2019

Woke washing: How purpose-driven marketing is being hijacked — I don’t often rant in a blog post but on this one, I pontificated on a real concern.

Marketers tend to flock to whatever is new until they ruin it. The latest hop-on trend is “purpose.” Creating a marketing program based on “purpose” is trendy, but extremely difficult. The number of companies doing it poorly just to jump on a trend will further soil the reputation of our profession.

Said another way, no, your company DOES NOT have to take a political stand!

Number 1

Why I must politely disagree with Seth Godin — Maybe people loved this post because they were curious. Maybe they wanted to see if Seth responded (he did). But I’m proud of this post because it demonstrated that we can take a stand against leaders in our field and live to tell about it. We must do this to learn and grow.

Bonuses: Beyond the best blog posts of 2019

I wrote more than 100 posts this year so a lot of my favorites did not make top cut of best blog posts of 2019. Here are a few of my personal favorites that you might have missed:

In 2019 I introduced Brooke Sellas of BSquared Media as my new co-host of The Marketing Companion and what a joy she has been to work with! Our most popular podcast episode of the year: What are the most in-demand marketing skills?

I love highlighting amazing people through guest posts and the most popular guest post of the year was: Why content creators need to ditch the ad revenue model by Mars Dorian. I’m so proud of Mars. He has been writing for this site since 2012 and he never fails to deliver unique insights in an entertaining way!

Thank you SO MUCH for your love and support of this blog through the years! I never take you for granted!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com

The post The 10 best blog posts of 2019 appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.

13 New and Awesome Content Marketing Tools to Try in 2020

Content Marketing Tools

Content marketing is changing, but, luckily, there are smart tools that support the innovation and allow content marketers to stay up-to-date with new technology.

In this roundup, I am going to stay off the beaten path and suggest some tools that are not being featured in every other article.

The following content marketing tools deserve all the spotlight they can get as they are new, fresh and bring innovation into our marketing:

Keyword Research & Content Ideation Tools

1. Also Asked

A new tool by @thetafferboy, Also Asked, allows you to analyze Google’s “People Also Ask” results and how they relate to one another.

You may know that Google will generate more answers based on which question you chose to click. Also Asked will explore this connection by showing you visually how each level of questions is topically grouped with the next.

2. Featured Snippet+ Tool

Launched this year, Featured Snippet+ tool has evolved beyond featured snippet optimization. It now :

  • Generates “People Also Ask” questions for your whole site and each page
  • Analyzes “Searches Related To” to suggest areas of content expansion or more content ideas
  • Shows your target query video opportunities
  • Analyzes on-page images and suggests areas of improvement
  • Let’s you use a page optimizer that puts all of this together

Content Marketing Tool: Featured Snippet Tool

3. Keywords Nowhere

Keywords Nowhere is a free Google Chrome extension that integrates important keyword data (search volume and CPC), as well as related keywords any time you search Google.

It is a nice way to estimate query popularity and competition when simply browsing Google’s SERPs.

Content Marketing Tool: Keywords Nowhere

Content Management and Re-Packaging Tools

4. Kajabi

Kajabi is an all-in-one online business platform that allows you to consolidate your multimedia content assets into libraries of online courses. You can use its product blueprints to plug your existing content into templates for multi-lesson courses, set up subscriptions for monthly access to multiple courses and even host a branded mastermind chat forum.

Content Marketing Tool: Kajabi

Kajabi handles everything — from file hosting and website building to email marketing automation and landing page building – allowing you to put together truly valuable resources that will be able to promote your brand and engage your customers. What’s more, just last month, the platform released its first mobile app, so your customers and students can access your courses when they’re on the go.

Semantic Research Tools

5. Text Optimizer

Text Optimizer is not a new tool (I’ve mentioned it a few times already), but a new feature added this year makes it one of the most innovative tools out there.

The new feature, called “sentence builder”, allows you to explore connections between your chosen concepts and build sentences that would use your important terms in close proximity. It is a great way to understand your topic better and create better optimized content.

Content Marketing Tool: Textoptimizer

6. Inlinks

Inlinks is the new semantic analysis tool that uses Google’s API to help you optimize your content for “things, not strings”. It helps in three key areas:

  • Instantly optimize your internal link structure, with semantic in-text internal links
  • Generate schema.org markup automatically (for knowledge graph optimization and possibly rich snippet opportunities)
  • Optimize your content around semantic search

Content Marketing Tool: Inlinks

Search Engine Optimization Tools

7. Content King

Content King is an innovative suite that analyzes all content on your site, suggests areas of performance and monitors it to deliver alerts the moment anything is broken.

It is a nice way to segment your own content to efficiently organize and prioritize it and turn content analysis into well-organized tasks to act upon.

Content Marketing Tool: Content King

8. Nightwatch.io

Nightwatch.io is a rank tracking, reporting and backlink monitoring platform that may prove to be a solid alternative to its more feature-rich, yet less affordable, alternatives.

Its rank monitoring feature is rather advanced, offering filters, branded keyword tracking, visibility analysis and more.

Content Marketing Tool: Nightwatch

Content Marketing Tools

9. ContentCal

The era of omni-channel marketing calls for effective cross-channel tools that would also support collaboration.

ContentCal is a cross-channel collaborative platform that unites your whole team around one goal: creating engaging social media content that spreads. It is not a new tool, but its recent update makes it worth including in this list.

This year ContentCal added:

  • Web clipper: An easy way to add updates to your social media calendar
  • Notebook: Store your to-do list, ideas or briefs on a Calendar-wide basis
  • Snippets: Save frequently used phrases or hashtags as a Snippet and add to any post in just 2 clicks
  • Publish times: Discover your ‘best times to post’ in ContentCal Analytics and ensure that you’re publishing when your audience are online
  • Time randomizer: Save time scheduling your content by letting the tool select a time slot for you automatically
  • Library (Content Hub): Keep past and future updates in one location to easily re-use at any point

Content Marketing Tool: ContentCal

Analytics and Conversion Optimization Tools

10. Finteza

study done by Shirish Agarwal of flow20.com shows that

On average, approx. 70% of new organic visitors to blogs are driven by just 20% of the blog post, which means 80% of the posts never really see the light of the virtual day.

With attention spans decreasing and traffic to your content becoming harder to generate, are you making the most of those clicks?

Finteza is an innovative web analytics platform with a major focus on conversion optimization. It allows you to set up events, track conversions and visualize your sales funnel.

Its unique features include:

  • Set up your own advertising program on your site without depending on third-party solutions
  • Re-engage return visitors on your site by matching their past behavior with a custom conversion path
  • Create on-site ads that bypass ad blockers and monetize your site in your own way

11. Alter

Alter is a content recommendation engine that uses artificial intelligence to draw your site visitors deeper into the site and prompt them to convert.

Alter learns about your site visitors and personalizes content suggestions to boost on-page engagement.

You can prioritize any of your articles or landing pages to be suggested more frequently.

Content Marketing Tools: Alter

Content Outreach Tools

12. Link Hunter

These days, it is hard to imagine a content marketing campaign that wouldn’t include email outreach. The truth is, just a few short years ago, we didn’t have to do that much to get our content seen by key industry media outlets and bloggers.

Now, with content consumption exceeding content demand in many niches, getting your content in front of industry influencers for them to give it wings is the only way to see it spread.

Link Hunter is a valid alternative to a multitude of outreach tools as it is very easy to set up and offers all the outreach features you may need at a very affordable price (for about 500 hundred emails per month, you’ll only need to pay $50).

From prospect discovery to email status tracking, Link Hunter is a solid outreach solution that is suitable for smaller businesses that want to handle outreach in-house at a reasonable price.

Linkhunter

Competitive Intelligence Tools

13. Competitors App

Competitors App is the project by Razvan Girmacea, who is well known for his previous project, Monitor Project.

His new tool is a clutter-free, yet quite advanced platform for monitoring all your competitors’ digital marketing tactics, including:

  • Your competitors’ organic positions
  • Their advertising campaigns (and ad performance)
  • Email marketing campaigns
  • Social media updates and the growth of their social media channels
  • Their website changes and on-site content updates, etc.

Content Marketing Tool: Competitors App

Conclusion

To remain competitive, every brand needs to stay on top of key technologies and innovations that are driving change in the content marketing industry.

The good news is content marketing technology is advancing at a fast speed, meeting the demand for smarter, more integrated and cross-platform marketing software.

These days, content marketers have a wide variety of advanced applications from which to choose, including advanced content ideation and development tools, smart analytics and conversion optimization suites, enhanced outreach and relationship building platforms, and more.

The post 13 New and Awesome Content Marketing Tools to Try in 2020 appeared first on Convince and Convert: Social Media Consulting and Content Marketing Consulting.

Should Your Portfolio Site Be A PWA?

Should Your Portfolio Site Be A PWA?

Should Your Portfolio Site Be A PWA?

Suzanne Scacca

This is going to seem like an odd thing to suggest, considering how much work is required to build a progressive web app instead of a responsive website. But, for many of you, your portfolio site should be built as a PWA.

There are a number of benefits to doing this, which I’ll outline below, but the bottom line is this:

If you want to spend less time looking for clients, applying to design gigs and convincing prospects to hire you, a PWA would be a wise investment for your business.

Why Do Web Designers Need to Build PWAs for Themselves?

If you’ve spoken to clients about building PWAs for their businesses, then you know the usual selling points:

A progressive web app is inherently fast, reliable and engaging.

But for a web designer or developer, there are other reasons to build a PWA for your business.

Reason #1: Show and Tell

When it comes to selling clients on a PWA, you have to remember that the concept is still relatively new, at least in terms of public awareness.

Remember when we made the shift from mobile “friendly” websites to responsive? You couldn’t just summarize what a responsive website was and then expect clients to be okay with paying more than they would for a non-responsive site. You had to actually show them the difference in terms of design and, more importantly, demonstrate the benefits.

More or less, I think consumers are familiar with responsive design today, even if they don’t know it by name. Just look at the statistics on how many more people visit websites on mobile devices or how Google rewards mobile-first sites. This wouldn’t be possible without responsive design.

For PWAs, it’s going to take some time for consumers to truly understand what they are and what value they add to the web. And I think that will naturally start to happen as more PWAs appear.

For now though, your prospects are going to need more than an assurance that PWAs are the future of the web. And they most definitely will need the benefits broken down into terms they understand (so that means no talk of service workers, caching or desktop presence).

One of the best ways to sell prospects on a PWA without overcomplicating it is to say, “Our website is a PWA.” Not only is this a great way to introduce the PWA as something they’re already familiar with, but it’s basically like saying:

We’re not trying to sell you some hot new trend. We actually walk the walk.

And when you do open up the conversation this way, their response should hopefully be something like:

Wow! I was wondering how you got XYZ to happen.

Take Mutual Mobile, for example.

Let’s say a prospective client found the PWA in search results and decided to poke around the portfolio to see what kind of work the consultancy had done in the past.

This is what they would see:

Mutual Mobile PWA bottom sticky bar
The Mutual Mobile PWA includes a social share sticky bar on the portfolio pages. (Source: Mutual Mobile) (Large preview)

In addition to the sticky header that keeps the logo ever-present along with the menu, there’s a new bottom bar that appears on this page.

This sticky bottom bar serves a number of purposes:

  • The number of shares works as social proof.
  • The quick links to social media encourage visitors to share the page with others, especially if they know someone who’s in need of a designer.
  • The email icon makes it easy to send a copy of the page to themselves or to someone else — again, serving as a referral or reminder that this page is worth following up on.

This isn’t the only place where the bottom bar appears on the Mutual Mobile site. As you might’ve guessed, it also shows up on the blog — a place where engagement and sharing should be happening.

Mutual Mobile blog with social share
The Mutual Mobile blog includes a sticky bottom banner with social share buttons and counts. (Source: Mutual Mobile) (Large preview)

I’m particularly fond of this use of the bottom bar considering how difficult it can be to place social share icons on responsive websites. Either they sit at the very top or bottom of the post where they’re not likely to be seen or they’re added in as a hovering vertical bar which can compromise the readability of the content.

This might seem like such an insignificant feature of a PWA to highlight, but it can make a huge difference if your responsive site (or that of your client) is lacking in engagement.

Plus, the fact that the bottom bar only appears at certain times demonstrates this company’s understanding of how PWAs work and how to make the most of their app-like features.

That said, you don’t want to use your PWA to brag about your progressive web app development prowess.

Instead, simply present your PWA as an example of what can be done and then explain the value in using PWA-specific features to increase engagement and conversions.

And if you have a story to tell about why you built a PWA for your business that you know the prospect can relate to, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Storytelling is a really powerful sales tactic because it doesn’t feel like you’re selling at all. It’s more genuine.

Reason #2: Create Something DIY Builders Can’t

I’ve tested most of the major drag-and-drop builders and I get why business owners would consider this seemingly more cost-effective DIY approach now. A few years ago? No way. But these technologies really are getting better in terms of being able to “design” a professional-looking website. (Speed, security and functionality are a whole other story though.)

Knowing this and knowing the direction the web is going in, it would be a wise move for web designers to start transitioning their businesses over to PWAs. Not completely, at first. There are still clients who will be willing to pay a web designer to build a website for them (instead of trying and doing it on their own).

But if you can start advertising progressive web app design or development services on your site and then turn your website into a PWA, you’d put yourself in a great position. Not only would you be seen as a forward-thinking designer, but you’d be poised to work with a higher quality of client down the road.

And for the time being, you’d have a PWA that’s sure to impress as it carefully straddles the line between the convenience of a website and the sleekness of a native app.

Let me show you an example.

This is the PWA for Build in Amsterdam:

Build in Amsterdam walkthrough
A walkthrough of the Build in Amsterdam Cases pages. (Source: Build in Amsterdam)

It’s simple enough in terms of content. There are only pages for Cases (which pulls double duty as the home page), About and Contact. Really, with the quality of cases and context about those cases provided, that’s really all this digital agency needs.

If you do decide to turn your portfolio site into a PWA, consider doing something similar. With fewer pages and a focus on delivering only the most pertinent information, the experience will feel just as efficient and streamlined as a native app.

Back to Build in Amsterdam:

The design is incredibly engaging. Every time one of the Cases images is clicked, it feels as though visitors are entering a new portal.

While a clear top and bottom banner aren’t clearly present as they would be in a mobile app, it’s just as easy to get around this app.

The menu button, for instance, is always available. But notice how a new set of navigational options appear along the bottom as the prospect moves down the page:

Build in Amsterdam bottom navigation
Build in Amsterdam utilizes the bottom banner to add custom navigation to its PWA. (Source: Build in Amsterdam) (Large preview)

The conveniently placed Back and Forward arrows direct prospects to other work samples. The center button then takes them back to the home/Cases page.

It’s not just the addition of navigational buttons that makes this PWA unique. It’s the style of transition in and out of pages that makes it a standout as well.

So, if you’re looking to make a really strong impression with prospective clients now, build yourself a PWA that will knock their socks off from the get-go. The longer you keep your web presence on the cutting edge of design, the more likely you’ll be seen as a design authority in the not so distant future (when everyone’s finally caught onto PWAs).

Reason #3: Make Conversion Smoother

I bet you wouldn’t mind letting your site do more selling on your behalf.

While you can certainly outfit your responsive website with contact forms, how do you convince visitors to take the leap? For starters, messaging and design need to really speak to them, so much so that they think:

This sounds like a great fit. How do I get in touch?

But rather than leave them to open the navigation and locate the Contact page (if it’s even there, since many companies now hide it in their footer), your contact form should be just one simple click away.

It’s not as though you can’t do this with a website. However, it’s the extra style provided by a PWA that’s going to get you more attention and engagement in the long run.

Take the Codigo PWA, for example.

Codigo home page to contact form conversion
An example walkthrough from the Codigo home page to conversion. (Source: Codigo)

The above is a walkthrough from the home page to the Works page. The transition through these pages is smooth, stylish and sure to catch the attention of someone looking for a web designer who can shake things up for their brand.

Below each sample, prospects find big red Back and Forward buttons. This makes it easy to quickly navigate through various works. If they prefer to backtrack to the main page, they can use the “Back to Work” button that’s always available in the top-left corner.

Down past the big red buttons is where Codigo invites prospects to get in touch. This call-to-action isn’t done in a traditional manner though. Instead of one big CTA that says “Let’s Chat”, the options are broken up as follows:

  • Build
  • Co-incubate
  • Customize
  • Organize

This allows the agency to ask a specific set of questions based on what the prospect actually needs in terms of mobile app development. And, again, the transition between screens is highly engaging. What’s more, the transitions happen super fast, so there’s no lag time that causes prospects to wonder if that’s how slow their own app would be.

Overall, it’s setting a really strong impression for what a PWA can be.

As you know, PWAs integrate really well with the features of our phones, so don’t feel like you have to put all your focus into a contact form if a click-to-call, click-to-text or click-to-email button would be better. Just find the right CTA and then program your PWA to simplify and streamline those actions for you.

Wrapping Up

I know this probably wasn’t what you wanted to hear, especially when you’re already too busy trying to drum up and complete paid work for clients. But you know how it is:

It’s difficult finding time to work on your business because no one’s paying you to do it. But when you finally do, you’ll be kicking yourself for not doing it sooner.

And as we move into a new decade, there’s no better time than the present to look at your website and figure out what needs to be done in order to future-proof it. From what we know about the mobile-first web and how powerful PWAs are for engagement and conversion, that’s likely where your website is headed sooner or later. So, why not expedite things and get it done now?

Further Reading on SmashingMag:

Smashing Editorial (ra, yk, il)

2019 Africa Roundup: Jumia IPOs, China goes digital, Nigeria becomes fintech capital

2019 brought more global attention to Africa’s tech scene than perhaps any previous year.

A high profile IPO, visits by both Jacks (Ma and Dorsey), and big Chinese startup investment energized that.

The last 12 months served as a grande finale to 10 years that saw triple digit increases in startup formation and VC on the continent.

Here’s an overview of the 2019 market events that captured attention and capped off a decade of rapid growth in African tech.

IPOs

The story of the year is the April IPO on the NYSE of Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia. This was the first listing of a VC backed tech company operating in Africa on a major global exchange —  which brought its own unpredictability.

Founded in 2012, Jumia pioneered much of its infrastructure to sell goods to consumers online in Africa.

With Nigeria as its base market, the Rocket Internet backed company created accompanying delivery and payments services and went on to expand online verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few). Jumia now sells everything from mobile-phones to diapers and offers online services such as food-delivery and classifieds.

Seven years after its operational launch, Jumia’s stock debut kicked off with fanfare in 2019, only to be followed by volatility.

The online retailer gained investor confidence out of the gate, more than doubling its $14.95 opening share price post IPO.

That lasted until May, when Jumia’s stock came under attack from short-seller Andrew Left,  whose firm Citron Research issued a report accusing the company of fraud. The American activist investor’s case was bolstered, in part, by a debate that played out across Africa’s tech ecosystem on Jumia’s legitimacy as an African startup, given its (primarily) European senior management.

The entire affair was further complicated during Jumia’s second quarter earnings call when the company disclosed a fraud perpetrated by some of its employees and sales agents. Jumia’s CEO Sacha Poignonnec emphasized the matter was closed, financially marginal and not the same as Andrew Left’s short-sell claims.

Whatever the balance, Jumia’s 2019 ups and downs cast a cloud over its stock with investors. Since the company’s third-quarter earnings-call, Jumia’s NYSE share-price has lingered at around $6 — less than half of its original $14.95 opening, and roughly 80% lower than its high.

Even with Jumia’s post-IPO rocky road, the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and is on pace to generate over $100 million in revenues in 2019 (albeit with big losses).

The company plans reduce costs by generating more revenue from higher-margin internet services, such as payments and classifieds.

There’s a fairly simple equation for Jumia to rebuild shareholder confidence in 2020: avoid scandals, increase revenues over losses. And now that the company’s publicly traded — with financial reporting requirements — there’ll be four earnings calls a year to evaluate Jumia’s progress. 

Jumia may not be the continent’s standout IPO for much longer. Events in 2019 point to Interswitch becoming the second African digital company to list on a global exchange in 2020.  The Nigerian fintech firm confirmed to TechCrunch in November it had reached a billion-dollar unicorn valuation, after a (reported) $200 million investment by Visa. 

Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch created much of the initial infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s (then) predominantly cash-based economy. Interswitch has been teasing a public listing since 2016, but delayed it for various reasons. With the company’s billion-dollar valuation in 2019, that pause is likely to end.

“An [Interswitch] IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020,” a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch. 

China-Africa goes digital

2019 was the year when Chinese actors pivoted to African tech. China is known for its strategic relationship with Africa based (largely) on trade and infrastructure. Over the last 10 years, the country has been less engaged in the continent’s digital-scene.

china africa techThat was until a torrent of investment and partnerships this past year.

July saw Chinese-owned Opera raise $50 million in venture spending to support its growing West African digital commercial network, which includes browser, payments and ride-hail services.

In August, San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave partnered with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China.

In September, China’s Transsion  — the largest smartphone seller in Africa — listed in an IPO on Shanghai’s new STAR Market. The company raised ≈ $394 million, some of which it is directing toward venture funding and operational expansion in Africa.

The last quarter of 2019 brought a November surprise from China in African tech. Over 15 Chinese investors placed over $240 million in three rounds. Transsion backed consumer payments startup PalmPay raised a $40 million seed, stating its goal to become “Africa’s largest financial services platform.”

Chinese investors also backed Opera-owned OPay’s $120 million raise and East-African trucking logistics company Lori Systems’ (reported) $30 million Series B.

In the new year, TechCrunch will continue to cover the business arc of this surge in Chinese tech investment in Africa. There’ll surely be a number of fresh macro news-points to develop, given the debate (and critique) of China’s role in Africa.

Nigeria and fintech

On debate, the case could be made that 2019 was the year when Nigeria become Africa’s unofficial capital for fintech investment and digital finance startups.

Kenya has held this title hereto, with the local success and global acclaim of its M-Pesa mobile-money product. But more founders and VCs are opting for Nigeria as the epicenter for digital finance growth on the continent.Nigeria naira

A rough tally of 2019 TechCrunch coverage — including previously mentioned rounds — pegs fintech related investment in the West African country at around $400 million over the last 12 months. That’s equivalent to roughly one-third of all startup VC raised for the entire continent in 2018, according to Partech stats.

From OPay to PalmPay to Visa — startups, big finance companies and investors are making Nigeria home-base for their digital finance operations and outward expansion in Africa.

The founder of early-stage payment startup ChipperCash, Ham Serunjogi, explained the imperative to operate in the West African country. “Nigeria is the largest economy and most populous country in Africa. Its fintech industry is one of the most advanced in Africa, up there with Kenya  and South Africa,” he told TechCrunch in May.

When all the 2019 VC numbers are counted, it will be worth matching up Nigeria to Kenya to see how the countries compared for fintech specific investment over the last year.

Acquisitions

Tech acquisitions continue to be somewhat rare in Africa, but there were several to note in 2019. Two of the continent’s powerhouse tech incubators joined forces in September, when Nigerian innovation center and seed-fund CcHub acquired Nairobi based iHub, for an undisclosed amount.

CChub ihub Acquisition

The acquisition brought together Africa’s most powerful tech hubs by membership networks, volume of programs, startups incubated and global visibility. It also elevated CcHub’s Bosun Tijani standing across Africa’s tech ecosystem, as the CEO of the new joint-entity, which also has a VC arm.

CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani1

CcHub/iHub CEO Bosun Tijani

In other acquisition activity, French television company Canal+ acquired the ROK film studio from Nigerian VOD company IROKOtv, for an undisclosed amount. The deal put ROK founder and producer Mary Njoku in charge of a new organization with larger scope and resources.

Many outside Africa aren’t aware that Nigeria’s Nollywood is the Hollywood of the continent and one of the largest film industries (by production volume) in the world. Canal+ told TechCrunch it looks to bring Mary and the Nollywood production ethos to produce content in French speaking African countries.

Other notable 2019 African tech takeovers included Kenyan internet company BRCK’s acquisition of internet provider Surf, Nigerian digital-lending startup OneFi’s Amplify buy and Merck KGaa’s purchase of Kenya-based online healthtech company ConnectMed.

Moto ride-hail mania

In 2019, Africa’s motorcycle ride-hail market — worth an estimated $4 billion — saw a flurry of investment and expansion by startups looking to scale on-demand taxi services. Uber and Bolt got into the motorcycle taxi business in Africa in 2018.

Ampersand Africa e motorcycle

Ampersand in Rwanda

A number of local and foreign startups have continued to grow in key countries, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

A battle for funding and market-share emerged in Nigeria in 2019, between key moto ride-hail startups Max.ng, Gokada, and Opera owned ORide.

The on-demand motorcycle market in Africa has attracted foreign investment and moved toward EV development. In May, MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round with participation from Yamaha and is using a portion to pilot renewable energy powered e-motorcycles in Africa.

In August, the government of Rwanda announced a national policy to phase out gas-motorcycle taxis altogether in favor of e-motos, in partnership with early-stage EV startup Ampersand.

New funds

The year 2019 saw several new funding initiatives for Africa’s startups. Senegalese VC investor Marieme Diop helped spearhead Dakar Network Angels, a seed-fund for startups in French-speaking Africa — or 24 of the continent’s 54 countries.

Africinvest teamed up with Cathay Innovation to announce the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund, a $100+ million capital pool aimed at Series A to C-stage startup investments in fintech, logistics, AI, agtech and edutech.

Accion Venture Lab launched a $24 million fintech fund open to African startups.

And Naspers offered more details on who can pitch to its 1.4 billion rand (≈$100 million) Naspers Foundry fund and made its first investment in online cleaning services company SweepSouth.

Closed up shop

Like any tech ecosystem, not every startup in Africa killed it or even continued to tread water in 2019. Two e-commerce companies — DealDey in Nigeria and Afrimarket in Ivory Coast — closed up digital shop.

Southern Africa’s Econet Media shut down its Kwese TV digital entertainment business in August.

And South Africa based, Pan-African focused cryptocurrency payment startup Wala ceased operations in June. Founder Tricia Martinez named the continent’s poor infrastructure as one of the culprits to shutting down. A possible signal to the startup’s demise could have been its 2017 ICO, where Wala netted only 4% of its $30 million token-offering.

Africa’s startups go global

2019 saw more startups expand products and business models developed in Africa to new markets abroad. In March, Flexclub — a South African venture that matches investors and drivers to cars for ride-hailing services — announced its expansion to Mexico in a partnership with Uber.

In May, ExtraCrunch profiled three African founded fintech startups — Flutterwave, Migo and ChipperCash — developing their business models strategically in Africa toward plans to offer their products in other regions.

By December, Migo (formerly branded Mines) had announced its expansion to Brazil on a $20 million Series B raise.

2020 and beyond

As we look to what could come in the new year and decade for African tech, it’s telling to look back. Ten years ago, there were a lot of “if” questions on whether the continent’s ecosystem could produce certain events: billion dollar startup valuations, IPOs on major exchanges, global expansion, investment from the world’s top VCs.

All those questionable events of the past have become reality in African tech, even if some of them are still in low abundance.

There’s no crystal ball for any innovation ecosystem — not the least Africa’s — but there are several things I’ll be on the lookout for in 2020 and beyond.

Two In the near term, start with what Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey may do around Bitcoin and cryptocurrency on his return to Africa (lookout for an upcoming TechCrunch feature on this).

I’ll also follow the next-phase of e-commerce in Africa, which could pit Jumia more competitively against DHL’s Africa eShop, Opera and China’s Alibaba (which hasn’t yet entered Africa in full).

On a longer-term basis, a development to follow is how the continent’s first wave of millionaire and billionaire tech-founders could disrupt dynamics around politics, power, and philanthropy in Africa —  hopefully for the better.

More notable 2019 Africa-related coverage @TechCrunch

Better Site Speed: 4 Outside-the-Box Ideas

Posted by Tom-Anthony

Most of us have done site speed audits, or seen audits done by others. These can be really helpful for businesses, but I often find they’re quite narrow in focus. Typically we use well-known tools that throw up a bunch of things to look at, and then we dive into things from there.

However, if we dig deeper, there are often other ideas on how site speed can be improved. I often see plenty of opportunities that are never covered in site speed audits. Most site speed improvements are the result of a bunch of small changes, and so in this post I’m going to cover a few ideas that I’ve never seen in any site speed audit, all of which can make a difference.

A different angle on image optimization

Consider optimized SVGs over PNGs

I was recently looking to book some tickets to see Frozen 2 (because of, erm, my kids…) and so landed on this page. It makes use of three SVG images for transport icons:

SVG images are vector images, so they’re well-suited for things like icons; if you have images displayed as PNGs you may want to ask your designers for the original SVGs, as there can be considerable savings. Though not always better, using an SVG can save 60% of the filesize.

In this case, these icons come in at about 1.2k each, so they are quite small. They would probably fly under the radar of site speed audits (and neither Page Speed Insights or GTMetrix mention these images at all for this page).

So you may be thinking, “They’re less than 5k combined — you should look for bigger issues!”, but let’s take a look. Firstly, we can run them all through Jake Archibald’s SVG compression tool; this is a great free tool and on larger SVGs it can make a big difference.

In this case the files are small, so you may still be thinking “Why bother?” The tool compresses them without any loss in quality from ~1240 bytes to ~630 bytes — a good ratio but not much of an overall saving.

However… now that we’ve compressed them, we can think differently about delivering them…

Inline images

GTMetrix makes recommendations around inlining small bits of CSS or JS, but doesn’t mention inlining images. Images can also be inlined, and sometimes this can be the right approach.

If you consider that even a very small image file requires a complete round trip (which can have a very real impact on speed), even for small files this can take a long time. In the case of the Cineworld transport images above, I simulated a “Fast 3G” connection and saw:

The site is not using HTTP2 so there is a long wait period, and then the image (which is 1.2kb) takes almost 600ms to load (no HTTP2 also means this is blocking other requests). There are three of these images, so between them they can be having a real impact on page speed.

However, we’ve now compressed them to only a few hundred bytes each, and SVG images are actually made up of markup in a similar fashion to HTML:

You can actually put SVG markup directly into an HTML document!

If we do this with all three of the transport images, the compressed HTML for this page that is sent from the server to our browser increases from 31,182 bytes to 31,532 bytes — an increase of only 350 bytes for all 3 images!

So to recap:

  • Our HTML request has increased 350 bytes, which is barely anything
  • We can discard three round trips to the server, which we can see were taking considerable time

Some of you may have realized that if the images were not inline they could be cached separately, so future page requests wouldn’t need to refetch them. But if we consider:

  • Each image was originally about 1.5kb over the network (they aren’t gzipping the SVGs), with about 350 bytes of HTTP headers on top for a total of about 5.5kb transferred. So, overall we’ve reduced the amount of content over the network.
  • This also means that it would take over 20 pageviews to benefit from having them cached.

Takeaway: Consider where there are opportunities to use SVGs instead of PNGs.

Takeaway: Make sure you optimize the SVG images, use the free tool I linked to.

Takeaway: Inlining small images can make sense and bring outsized performance gains.

Note: You can also inline PNGs — see this guide.

Note: For optimized PNG/JPG images, try Kraken.

Back off, JavaScript! HTML can handle this…

So often nowadays, thanks to the prevalence of JavaScript libraries that offer an off-the-shelf solution, I find JavaScript being used for functionality that could be achieved without it. More JS libraries means more to download, maybe more round trips for additional files from the server, and then the JavaScript execution time and costs themselves.

I have a lot of sympathy for how you get to this point. Developers are often given poor briefs/specs that fail to specify anything about performance, only function. They are often time-poor and so it’s easy to end up just dropping something in.

However, a lot of progress has been made in terms of the functionality that can be achieved with HTML and or CSS. Let’s look at some examples.

Combo box with search

Dropdown boxes that have a text search option are a fairly common interface element nowadays. One recent article I came across described how to use the Select2 Javascript library to make such a list:

It is a useful UI element, and can help your users. However, in the Select2 library is a JavaScript library, which in turn relies on some CSS and the JQuery library. This means three round trips to collect a bunch of files of varying sizes:

  • JQuery – 101kb
  • Select2 JavaScript – 24kb
  • Select2 CSS – 3kb

This is not ideal for site speed, but we could certainly make the case it is worth it in order to have a streamlined interface for users.

However, it is actually possible to have this functionality out of the box with the HTML datalist element:

This allows the user to search through the list or to free type their own response, so provides the same functionality. Furthermore, it has a native interface on smartphones!

You can see this in action in this codepen.

Details/Summary

LonelyPlanet has a beautiful website, and I was looking at this page about Spain, which has a ‘Read More’ link that most web users will be familiar with:

Like almost every implementation of this that I see, they have used a JavaScript library to implement this, and once again this comes with a bunch of overheads.

However, HTML has a pair of built-in tags called details and summary, which are designed to implement this functionality exactly. For free and natively in HTML. No overheads, and more accessible for users needing a screen reader, while also conveying semantic meaning to Google.

These tags can be styled in various flexible ways with CSS and recreate most of the JS versions I have seen out there.

Check out a simple demo here: https://codepen.io/TomAnthony/pen/GRRLrmm

…and more

For more examples of functionality that you can achieve with HTML instead of JS, check out these links:

  • http://youmightnotneedjs.com/
  • https://dev.to/ananyaneogi/html-can-do-that-c0n

Takeaway: Examine the functionality of your sites and see where there may be opportunities to reduce your reliance on large Javascript libraries where there are native HTML/CSS options.

Takeaway: Remember that it isn’t only the size of the JS files that is problematic, but the number of round trips that are required.

Note: There are cases where you should use the JS solution, but it is important to weigh up the pros and cons.

Networking tune-ups

Every time the browser has to collect resources from a server, it has to send a message across the internet and back; the speed of this is limited by the speed of light. This may sound like a ridiculous thing to concern ourselves with, but it means that even small requests add time to the page load. If you didn’t catch the link above, my post explaining HTTP2 discusses this issue in more detail.

There are some things we can do to help either reduce the distance of these requests or to reduce the number of round trips needed. These are a little bit more technical, but can achieve some real wins.

TLS 1.3

TLS (or SSL) is the encryption technology used to secure HTTPS connections. Historically it has taken two round trips between the browser and the server to setup that encryption — if the user is 50ms away from the server, then this means 200ms per connection. Keep in mind that Google historically recommends aiming for 200ms to deliver the HTML (this seems slightly relaxed in more recent updates); you’re losing a lot of that time here.

The recently defined TLS 1.3 standard reduces this from two round trips to just one, which can shave some precious time off the users initial connection to your website.

Speak to your tech team about migrating to TLS 1.3; browsers that don’t support it will fallback to TLS 1.2 without issue. All of this is behind the scenes and is not a migration of any sort. There is no reason not to do this.

If you are using a CDN, then it can be as simple as just turning it on.

You can use this tool to check which versions of TLS you have enabled.

QUIC / HTTP 3

Over the last 2-3 years we have seen a number of sites move from HTTP 1.1 to HTTP 2, which is a behind-the-scenes upgrade which can make a real improvement to speed (see my link above if you want to read more).

Right off the back of that, there is an emerging pair of standards known as QUIC + HTTP/3, which further optimize the connection between the browser and the server, further reducing the round trips required.

Support for these is only just beginning to become viable, but if you are a CloudFlare customer you can enable that today and over the coming 6 months as Chrome and Firefox roll support out, your users will get a speed boost.

Read more here: https://blog.cloudflare.com/http3-the-past-present-and-future/

Super routing

When users connect to your website, they have to open network connections from wherever they are to your servers (or your CDN). If you imagine the internet as a series of roads, then you could imagine they need to ‘drive’ to your server across these roads. However, that means congestion and traffic jams.

As it turns out, some of the large cloud companies have their own private roads which have fewer potholes, less traffic, and improved speed limits. If only your website visitors could get access to these roads, they could ‘drive’ to you faster!

Well, guess what? They can!

For CloudFlare, they provide this access via their Argo product, whereas if you are on AWS at all then you can use their Global Accelerator. This allows requests to your website to make use of their private networks and get a potential speed boost. Both are very cheap if you are already customers.

Takeaway: A lot of these sorts of benefits are considerably easier to get if you’re using a CDN. If you’re not already using a CDN, then you probably should be. CloudFlare is a great choice, as is CloudFront if you are using AWS. Fastly is the most configurable of them if you’re more of a pro.

Takeaway: TLS 1.3 is now very widely supported and offers a significant speed improvement for new connections.

Takeaway: QUIC / HTTP3 are only just starting to get support, but over the coming months this will roll out more widely. QUIC includes the benefits of TLS 1.3 as well as more. A typical HTTP2 connection nowadays needs 3 round trips to open; QUIC needs just one!

Takeaway: If you’re on CloudFlare or AWS, then there is potential to get speed ups just from flipping a switch to turn on smart routing features.

Let CSS do more

Above I talked about how HTML has built-in functionality that you can leverage to save relying on solutions that are ‘home-rolled’ and thus require more code (and processing on the browsers side) to implement. Here I’ll talk about some examples where CSS can do the same for you.

Reuse images

Often you find pages that are using similar images throughout the page in several places. For example, variations on a logo in different colors, or arrows that point in both directions. As unique assets (however similar they may be), each of these needs to be downloaded separately.

Returning to my hunt for cinema tickets above, where I was looking at this page, we can see a carousel that has left and right arrows:

Similarly to the logic used above, while these image files are small, they still require a round trip to fetch from the server.

However, the arrows are identical — just pointing in opposite directions! It’s easy for us to use CSS’s transform functionality to use one image for both directions:

You can check out this codepen for an example.

Another example is when the same logo appears in different styles on different parts of the page; often they will load multiple variations, which is not necessary. CSS can re-color logos for you in a variety of ways:

There is a codepen here showing this technique in action. If you want to calculate the CSS filter value required to reach an arbitrary color, then check out this amazing color calculator.

Interactions (e.g. menus & tabs)

Often navigation elements such as menus and tabs are implemented in JavaScript, but these too can be done in pure CSS. Check out this codepen for an example:

Animations

CSS3 introduced a lot of powerful animation capability into CSS. Often these are not only faster than JavaScript versions, but can also be smoother too as they can run in the native code of the operating system rather than having to execute relatively slower Javascript.

Check out Dozing Bird as one example:

You can find plenty more in this article. CSS animations can add a lot of character to pages at a relatively small performance cost.

…and more

For more examples of functionality that you can achieve using pure CSS solutions, take a look at:

  • http://youmightnotneedjs.com/
  • https://dev.to/ananyaneogi/css-can-do-that-18g7m

Takeaway: Use CSS to optimize how many files you have to load using rotations or filters.

Takeaway: CSS animations can add character to pages, and often require less resources than JavaScript.

Takeaway: CSS is perfectly capable of implementing many interactive UI elements.

Wrap up

Hopefully you’ve found these examples useful in themselves, but the broader point I want to make is that we should all try to think a bit more out of the box with regards to site speed. Of particular importance is reducing the number of round trips needed to the server; even small assets take some time to fetch and can have an appreciable impact on performance (especially mobile).

There are plenty more ideas than we’ve covered here, so please do jump into the comments if you have other things you have come across.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!