Month: February 2020

Why you can’t overlook the small details in the pursuit of innovation

This week, we read a very short story, The Great Silence, as we start to head toward the end of Ted Chiang’s Exhalation collection. This story asks questions about how we connect with nature, and also how to think about innovation and where new ideas come from.

We will finish the remaining two stories in the collection in the coming week, and then it will be time (sadly!) to change books. I’ll announce the next book in the book club hopefully shortly.

Some further quick notes:

  • Want to join the conversation? Feel free to email me your thoughts at bookclub@techcrunch.com (we got a real email address!) or join some of the discussions on Reddit or Twitter (hashtag TCBookClub)
  • Follow these informal book club articles here: https://techcrunch.com/book-review/. That page also has a built-in RSS feed for posts exclusively in the Book Review category, which is very low volume.
  • Feel free to add your comments in our TechCrunch comments section below this post.

Reading The Great Silence

This is a quite short story with a simple message. The narrator is a parrot discussing humanity’s quest to seek out artificial life elsewhere in the universe. The parrot, observing these actions, reflects on why humanity spends so much time looking for intelligence elsewhere, when it itself is intelligent, and located right next to us. The devastating line Chiang delivers comes toward the end:

But parrots are more similar to humans than any extraterrestrial species ever will be, and humans can observe us up close; they can look us in the eye. How do they expect to recognize an alien intelligence if all they can do is eavesdrop from a hundred light-years away?

The author offers us some obvious points to think about around environmental destruction and species extinction, and those are obvious enough that I think any reader can sort of surmise how the story connects to those issues.

So I want to instead connect this discussion to a theme dear to the heart of TechCrunch readers, and that is the quest for science and innovation.

To me, Chiang isn’t just criticizing our disdain for the animal species around us, but is also critiquing an innovation community that constantly strives for the big and “shiny” discoveries when so many smaller and local discoveries have yet to be made.

We invest billions of dollars into satellites and telescopes and radar arrays hoping to capture some fleeting glimpse into an alien world somewhere in the galaxy. And yet, there are deeply alien worlds all around us. It’s not just parrots — Earth is filled with species that are incredibly different from us in physiology, behavior, and group dynamics. What if the species most alien to our own in the whole galaxy is located right under our noses?

Of course, there would be huge headlines in finding even a single-celled organism on another planet (assuming there was even some way to detect such life in the first place). But that is precisely the type of narrow-minded, novelty-seeking behavior that Chiang is pointing out here.

Nonetheless, innovation can be a weird beast. It isn’t hard to look around the Valley these days and be dismayed at just how adrift a huge part of the industry is. We are creating more “smart” products than ever, yet huge social challenges and scientific frontiers remain completely unfunded. It’s easier to raise funding to start up an upgraded handbag company with a new brand and marketing strategy than it is to build an engineering team to push quantum computing forward.

There are certainly many valid arguments for moving our money to more “worthwhile” pursuits. Yet, fresh ideas that change industries can sometimes come from the oddest places, with even frivolous products occasionally creating fundamental advances in technology. Facebook as a social network might be a time sink for its users, but its huge scale also triggered all kinds of new data center infrastructure technologies that have been widely adopted by the rest of the tech industry. Solving a frivolous problem became the means to solving a problem of more depth.

In the end, you need to seek answers. Don’t overlook the obvious around us or get inured to the quotidian challenges that may just be the fount of innovation. Maybe figuring out the communication of parrots does nothing for us. Or maybe, exploring that area will open up whole new ideas for how to communicate and understand the neural patterns of speech. We can’t know until we tread along the path.

Now, to take one aside before we close out: Exhalation is a collection of previously-published short stories, but Chiang manages to work in his arch-symbol of breath and air into this piece in a fairly tight way:

It’s no coincidence that “aspiration” means both hope and the act of breathing.

When we speak, we use the breath in our lungs to give our thoughts a physical form. The sounds we make are simultaneously our intentions and our life force.

It’s a symbol we saw most substantively in Exhalation (the short story itself, not this whole collection) which we talked about a few posts ago. It’s a gorgeous little motif, and Chiang nicely embeds it to create an empathetic connection between humans and animals.

Some question about Omphalos

For the next and penultimate short story Omphalos, here are some questions to think about as you read the story.

  • What is the meaning of belief? How does belief influence both our views on our place in the world and our approaches to science and the scientific method?
  • Does existence and existentialism flow from external symbols or internal rationales?
  • How do religion and science mix? How did Chiang frame this narrative to make this question easier to contend with?
  • The story focuses on the dynamics of archaeology and astronomy — why these two disciplines and not some other field of science?
  • What’s the ultimate message of the story? Or is there more than one that can be read into the text?

What To Do If People Hate Your Brand Mascot

What To Do If People Hate Your Brand Mascot

What To Do If People Hate Your Brand Mascot

Suzanne Scacca

There are a number of reasons why businesses decide to use mascots to represent their brands:

  • They want there to be a friendly and reliable face to welcome visitors to the site.
  • They know they need something more than an inventory of products to make an emotional connection with shoppers.
  • They want a strong and recognizable personality that can tie all of their marketing channels together.

While it’s clear that mascots can be invaluable for the business-consumer connection, there’s a very thin line between mascots turning customers into loyal advocates and sending prospects running away in fear.

If you’re struggling to get traction on an existing website and fear the mascot might have something to do with it, this post is for you. You should also keep reading if you’re designing a mascot from-scratch and aren’t sure how to create something your audience will fall in love with.

There’s a very thin line between brand mascots turning customers into loyal advocates and sending prospects running away in fear.

Things You Can Do to Create a Brand Mascot People Love

Not everyone is going to get as lucky as TinyPNG, which has had the same brand mascot for years.

This was the mascot that sat at the top of the page in 2014:

TinyPNG website 2014
A snapshot of the TinyPNG website in 2014 with its panda mascot. (Image source: TinyPNG) (Large preview)

Here it is again in 2017, only it’s a bit brighter and larger in size:

TinyPNG website 2017
A snapshot of the TinyPNG website in 2017 with its panda mascot. (Image source: TinyPNG) (Large preview)

The mascot also started appearing with a crown on the bottom right. This callout encouraged users to subscribe to the Pro tool.

To this day, the website continues to use the mascot in this manner (and with nearly the same layout and content):

TinyPNG website 2020
A snapshot of the TinyPNG website in 2020 with its panda mascot. (Image source: TinyPNG) (Large preview)

The panda mascot works for a number of reasons. It looks very happy, for one. Also, it’s got a welcoming presence, like “Hey, I’m just chilling here, eating my bamboo. Feel free to upload your images whenever.” And it’s downright adorable.

But not every seemingly happy, friendly or cute brand mascot works out this well. Mascots are a subjective thing. It’s like they always say: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

So, if your audience doesn’t interpret the attractiveness, humor or personality of the mascot as the original creators did, it’s going to be a problem for the business as a whole.

Let’s take a look at what your options are if you suspect that your client’s brand mascot isn’t as adored as they hoped it would be.

Option #1: Modernize It

The first thing to think about is whether or not the mascot is worth salvaging. Is there anything good about the mascot or its personality… or should you start over?

Don’t just go based on your gut. Do some market research and throw some user surveys out there. Maybe message old customers of your client or do a poll on Twitter. You need to know why the mascot isn’t hitting the mark.

Once you’ve nailed down what’s wrong, it’s time to redesign it. Let’s look at some websites that have given their mascots facelifts over the years, starting with HostGator:

HostGator website 2012
A snapshot of the HostGator website from 2012 with its alligator mascot logo and imagery. (Image source: HostGator) (Large preview)

This is what the HostGator website looked like in 2012. The alligator mascot had a heavy presence in the header of the website. His head also appears to be peaking out of the main banner.

Fast forward to 2017 and we see a different side of the HostGator mascot:

HostGator website 2017
A snapshot of the HostGator website from 2017 with its mascot slightly revamped. (Image source: HostGator) (Large preview)

For starters, the alligator in the logo is much smaller, so we can now see the entire body. This gives it a more human-like feeling as opposed to the bottomless gator which more closely resembles a puppet.

The mascot in the main banner is designed the same way it’s always been designed (including the facial expression). However, it’s now donning winter gear for a seasonal touch.

Since then, HostGator has given its mascot a major touchup:

HostGator website 2020
A snapshot of the HostGator website in 2020 with a redesigned alligator mascot. (Image source: HostGator) (Large preview)

Do you know what this redesign looks like to me? It looks like the CGI used in The Irishman.

The Irishman CGI touchup Joe Pesci
Vulture magazine shares a side-by-side look at CGI in the movie The Irishman from Netflix. (Image source: HostGator) (Large preview)

I’m not sure if that was the intention behind HostGator’s mascot redesign, but I’m going to assume that there was some user feedback that suggested that a softer and less intimidating mascot would perform better.

Another website that’s given its well-known mascot a touch-up is Chuck E. Cheese.

This was the Chuck E. Cheese website in 2011:

Chuck E. Cheese website 2011
A snapshot of the Chuck E. Cheese website from 2011 with its cartoon mouse mascot (Image source: Chuck E. Cheese) (Large preview)

Not even a decade ago, the Chuck E. Cheese website and its mascot looked like something out of Nickelodeon. Obviously, a design like this would’ve needed an upgrade no matter what considering how much web design has changed.

This is what the website looks like today:

Chuck E. Cheese website 2020
A snapshot of the Chuck E. Cheese website in 2020 without a mascot. (Image source: Chuck E. Cheese) (Large preview)

Gone are the crazy color palette and illustrations. Today, the website is much more subdued and customer-centric.

That said, the mascot pops up from time-to-time. Obviously, though, it’s undergone a much-needed redesign:

Chuck E. Cheese mascot 2020
The Chuck E. Cheese mascot in 2020. (Image source: Chuck E. Cheese) (Large preview)

The new mascot is still a buck-toothed mouse with a welcoming smile and wave. However, it looks more on par with the kinds of animations you’d see coming out of Pixar than old Saturday morning cartoons.

Even if there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the mascot your website is using, it might be worth looking at upgrading it so it better fits with the times as Chuck E. Cheese has done.

Option #2: Change The Tone Of It

Mascots can be really helpful at getting a brand’s message across — over and over again. However, there may be times when the kind of mascot you’ve chosen (or a lack of one) actually stands in the way of the message you’re trying to convey.

Take the old GEICO mascot: the caveman.

GEICO website 2005 - caveman
A snapshot of the GEICO website in 2005 when it featured the caveman mascot. (Image source: GEICO) (Large preview)

I don’t know that there was anything wrong with the caveman advertisements. They were smart and funny and were lauded for taking on the subject of political correctness.

That said, GEICO’s customer data must’ve told them that a change-up was needed. Maybe the messaging was too serious or the humor went over some people’s heads.

So, they scrapped the caveman mascot for an animated Cockney-accented gecko:

GEICO website 2020 - gecko
A snapshot of the GEICO website in 2020 with its gecko mascot. (Image source: GEICO) (Large preview)

Whereas the cavemen were always offended and storming off whenever someone would say “It’s so easy a caveman could do it”, this anthropomorphic mascot is a much more lighthearted figure in the GEICO landscape. The gecko is always there, ready to provide tips on how to get the most with GEICO.

In other words, it might not be enough to change your mascot to an adorable critter. You might also need to switch up your messaging, too.

While I was writing my last article on mobile storytelling, I did some digging into the alcohol industry. One company, in particular, stood out for its use of a human mascot and storyteller: Aviation Gin.

Now, what I hadn’t covered in that write-up was the fact that Aviation Gin has been around for a while. It was founded in the mid-2000s, long before current co-owner and mascot Ryan Reynolds had anything to do with it.

This was the Aviation Gin website in 2007:

Aviation Gin website 2007
A snapshot of the Aviation Gin website from 2007. (Image source: Aviation Gin) (Large preview)

Granted, these are the early days of the web, so we can’t expect much in the way of design. However, as far as mascots go, there are none to be seen. Unless you count the actual bottle of Aviation Gin.

Nearly 10 years later, Aviation Gin was still rocking the product-centric design:

Aviation Gin website 2016
A snapshot of the Aviation Gin website in 2016. (Image source: Aviation Gin) (Large preview)

It was still very simple in design and the bottle of gin remained the sole focus. Aside from some industry awards, Aviation Gin wasn’t the media darling it is now.

In 2018, Ryan Reynolds bought shares in the company and changed the whole tone of the brand:

Aviation Gin website 2020
A snapshot of the Aviation Gin website in 2020 featuring Ryan Reynolds. (Image source: Aviation Gin) (Large preview)

Today, Ryan Reynolds has become the face of Aviation Gin, pushing it at every turn on his social media. It hasn’t changed the direction of the company itself, but by having a human mascot like Reynolds on its side, the message (and likely the audience, too) has changed.

It’s also opened the brand up to bigger opportunities, like Reynolds’ latest announcement about their partnership with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show:

So, if you have a website that performs just “okay” with its audience, a change of tone and pace might be needed. And if you don’t have a mascot yet or one that’s not a good fit, creating one that’s well-designed for a modern-day audience might be exactly what you need.

Option #3: Minimize Its Presence On The Website

Let’s say the mascot’s design and the message it brings with it isn’t the problem. What you suspect is that it’s the amount of space given to it that’s the problem.

This is easy enough to confirm with A/B testing. You’ll just need to study your heatmaps as well as your user personas to come up with some hypotheses about where your mascot should or should not be on the site.

Let’s use Cats Who Code as an example. This was the website back in 2009:

Cats Who Code website 2009
A snapshot of the Cats Who Code website in 2009 with cat logo and imagery. (Image source: Cats Who Code) (Large preview)

Back then, cats were quite prevalent on the site, from the laptop-using cat in the header to the cats in the blog images. What’s more, the tagline of the site “Learn as fast as I catch mice!” made it perfectly clear that the kind of “cats” referred to here wasn’t referring to hip or cool cats. It really was referring to the furry pet.

Skip ahead to 2014 and the cat mascot and tagline has received a makeover:

Cats Who Code website 2014
A snapshot of the Cats Who Code website from 2014 with a new mascot. (Image source: Cats Who Code) (Large preview)

For starters, the mascot has gone from a small tabby to a large black-and-white cat. In addition, the website’s tagline now reads “100% animal-friendly web development blog”. Those are both pretty significant changes.

Now, let’s look at the website in the present day:

Cats Who Code website 2020
A snapshot of the Cats Who Code website in 2020. (Image source: Cats Who Code) (Large preview)

The cat mascot no longer exists in its previous iterations. Now, it’s relegated to a small cat-like icon with code brackets where its face used to be. The website’s cat-friendly messaging is gone, too.

Whether it’s because the cat imagery was distracting or people didn’t like it, this website has undergone a drastic change. Everything is now very buttoned-up.

Another brand that cut back on the appearance of its mascot is Green Giant.

This was the website in 2013:

Green Giant website 2013
A snapshot of the Green Giant website and its mascot in 2013. (Image source: Green Giant) (Large preview)

The jolly green giant mascot is front-and-center on the home page. This is in addition to all the small appearances it makes in every product featured on the site.

In 2016, however, the giant’s likeness was removed from the hero banner and moved up to the logo:

Green Giant website 2016
A snapshot of the Green Giant website in 2016 with the mascot in the logo. (Image source: Green Giant) (Large preview)

It looks like the company was experimenting here, trying to see if moving the mascot’s face to the logo would give them more room to allow their products to shine.

In 2020, though, there’s barely any trace of the mascot left:

Green Giant website 2020
A snapshot of the Green Giant website in 2020. (Image source: Green Giant) (Large preview)

The mascot is gone from the logo as well as the hero image… sort of. It’s subtle, but the mascot’s shadow remains.

The website now appears to be more focused towards sustainability and its mission to contribute to a better world. In that sense, it’s completely justified why the mascot and even the blatant pushing of its products would be moved out of the way.

So, if you feel like your mascot might be getting in the way of getting your point across or perhaps the brand has evolved in a way where a cartoonish figure no longer fits, test out other ways to keep your mascot but in a very lowkey way.

Option #4: Lean Into The Creepiness/Weirdness/Ugliness

One other option you have is to lean into it.

Obviously, you shouldn’t go this route if customers find the mascot to be offensive or boring. If it’s just not working and there’s no way to turn the situation around, just scrap the mascot altogether. You’ll be better off focusing on strengthening your content and building trust that way than to push an already delicate situation.

That said, if you feel like people are reacting negatively to the mascot because of how novel or different it is, then you might want to go crazy with it and see what happens. Before I show you an example of a website that does this, I’m going to show you a real-world example of a sports mascot that turned haters into the biggest of fans.

I was living outside of Philadelphia around the time the Flyers hockey team introduced their new mascot Gritty. It didn’t go over well — at first.

This is how they introduced Gritty:

Philadelphia Flyers Gritty mascot
The Philadelphia Flyers introduce their mascot Gritty on Twitter. (Image source: Twitter) (Large preview)

Here are some of the initial responses people had to the creature with the giant beer gut and flaming-orange googly eyes:

@shocks23 speculated about its origins:

Twitter speculation about Gritty mascot
Twitter user @shocks23 suspects the Flyers’ mascot has a seedy past. (Image source: Twitter)

@aclee_clips expressed fear:

Twitter user scared of Gritty
Twitter user @aclee_clips is horrified by the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot. (Image source: Twitter)

And, like so many others, @mirtle was shocked and confused:

Twitter user confused about Gritty mascot
Twitter user @mirtle expresses confusion about Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot. (Image source: Twitter)

However, this isn’t a story of a brand mascot that failed.

The city of Philadelphia (along with the rest of the world) eventually fell in love with Gritty after it posed Kim Kardashian-like with a champagne bottle and entered the arena on a wrecking ball Miley Cyrus-style.

Gritty the mascot meme
Flyers mascot Gritty gets cheeky by posing with a champagne glass on his bum. (Image source: Twitter)

Over the past couple of years, Gritty has worked very hard to win the hearts of consumers bringing a fun and lighthearted approach to everything it does both on the ice as well as off. And win the hearts it has.

Take, for instance, an incident that happened earlier this year when Gritty was accused of hitting a child at a game. The accusation was investigated and Gritty was cleared of the charges. Through it all, fans had the mascot’s back.

Twitter users love team mascot Gritty
Twitter users love Gritty even in the face of scandal. (Image source: (Image source: Twitter)

If you can create a mascot with the right kind of personality, message and purpose, your website and brand will be able to experience this kind of die-hard fandom and support.

That said, this is social media we’re talking about. While the Flyers’ have gone all-in on showing off Gritty in the most awkward of situations or while humorously riffing on pop culture, the website itself only has one page where the mascot appears:

Get to Know Gritty fan page
The Get to Know Gritty fan page on the Philadelphia Flyers website. (Image source: Philadelphia Flyers (Large preview)

So, leaning into an awkward/strange/nightmare-inducing mascot might not be right for every site. Here’s one very well-known example where it was the right call:

This is the Mucinex website from 2010:

Mucinex website 2010
A snapshot of the Mucinex website in 2010 featuring its fat, green mucus mascot. (Image source: Mucinex) (Large preview)

If you ask me, this is one of the grossest mascots ever created. It’s literally mucus in human-like form. And yet, it works somehow because it’s done in a humorous manner.

In 2015, Mr. Mucus took on a sweaty and ill-looking appearance:

Mucinex website 2015
A snapshot of the Mucinex website in 2015 with its mucus mascot. (Image source: Mucinex) (Large preview)

This is the only look we get at Mr. Mucus on the website and I’m not sure it worked out very well for the brand. That may be because the mascot resembles Jabba the Hutt instead of a fun-loving mucus ball you want to watch walk down the aisle with Mrs. Mucus.

Nevertheless, the company pushed forward with the mascot, giving it even more airtime. The 2020 version of the website has Mr. Mucus appearing in various states:

Mucinex website 2020 - Mr. Mucus nervous
The Mucinex 2020 website shows off Mr. Mucus in different states. This is the mascot nervous about shipping. (Image source: Mucinex) (Large preview)

This looks similar to the Mr. Mucus we saw in 2015. However, something about the messaging in this banner gives his facial expression and clammy skin a different vibe this time around. It says, “Please don’t order this cold medicine. I don’t want to go away!”

In another banner image, we see Mr. Mucus rocking a dad bod alongside a message about working out:

Mucinex website 2020 - Mr. Mucus dad bod
The Mucinex 2020 website shows off Mr. Mucus in different states. This is the mascot with its dad bod. (Image source: Mucinex) (Large preview)

The mascot is still pretty gross, but there’s no denying how funny this image is. And then you have this banner that’s targeted at cold remedies for kids:

Mucinex website 2020 - Mr. Mucus kid
The Mucinex 2020 website shows off Mr. Mucus in different states. This is the mascot in kid form. (Image source: Mucinex) (Large preview)

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be Mr. Mucus as a kid or the child he had with Mrs. Mucus, but it’s another creative adaptation of the mascot.

According to CBC, Mucinex made a ton of money after launching its Mr. Mucus campaign in 2004, more than doubling its profits. And despite Mr. Mucus being one of the most recognizable mascots, it is also one of the least liked, too.

In this case, being hated was a good thing. Mucinex wanted its customers to be disgusted by Mr. Mucus. The whole purpose of the company is to help people fight off phlegmy throats and stuffed noses.

So, before you throw your hated mascot away, think about where the hate is coming from and if you can make it work to your advantage in another way.

If you can create a mascot with the right kind of personality, message and purpose, your website and brand will be able to experience this kind of die-hard fandom and support.

Wrapping Up

If your website could benefit from a little levity, a mascot would be a fantastic way to draw visitors into the content of your website as well as into the brand’s story. That doesn’t mean that every mascot should draw laughs or be shocking. There are plenty of recognizable and well-loved mascots that have subdued personalities. It’s all about working with the personality of your brand and fitting a mascot to it.

Further Reading on SmashingMag:

Smashing Editorial (ra, il)

How This Local Visitors Bureau Extended Its Tourist Season

After spending 10 days on the beautiful Pacific coast of Costa Rica soaking up the sun and slurping down piña coladas, my husband and I may have contemplated quitting our jobs to start up a catamaran sunset cruise business … Working in the tourism industry sounds pretty glamorous. After all you get to spend your days dreaming about vacation, right?

The other wonderful thing for those in the tourism industry is that more and more people are researching and planning their trips online. In fact, 69% of travelers start their search online. Over 148 million people use the internet to make reservations for tours and activities, accounting for 57% of all travel reservations each year.

The statistics also make it clear that search engines and social media are platforms where tourist marketers need to be. In fact, 80% of travel marketers consider SEM to be the most effective platform for producing bookings. Social media has a place in the tourism marketing game as well, with over 1 million travel-related hashtags being searched for on a weekly basis, it is clear the tourists are using platforms like Instagram and Facebook for travel inspiration.

an Instagram post from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau

But, of course, it’s not all inspiring pictures and piña coladas on the beach.

The challenges of tourism marketing

Being in an industry that is so popular, with such high demands for content, takes constant attention to detail to not only reach people during their searches but also encourage them to book that trip.

Ashby Brame, the marketing director of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, has felt the pains of having limited bandwidth in her hectic job. “The tourism industry is a great, fun industry,” she says. “Sure, we have competitors in the sense that people can go or stop anywhere and we want them to come here, but I think the tourism industry is a really good industry for having a collective understanding that a rising tide floats all boats.”

Johnston County Visitors Bureau Marketing Director Ashby Brame

Located in close proximity to the well-known city of Raleigh, North Carolina, Johnston County offers visitors tours of museums like the Ava Gardner Museum and Tobacco Farm Life Museum, culinary tours involving beer, wine, and farm-to-table treats, and all sorts of unique festivals and events. Marketing a popular location and great offerings, of course, takes time—a lot of it!

That means time to devote to important advertising matters, like Google Ads, is limited.

“In the past, our Google account was something we would set and forget,” says Ashby. “When we set it up a few years back, we rarely checked in. Google was a lot simpler back then, and you could get away with that.”

Ashby and her team found that to no longer be the case, but the problem was that her team did not have the time to dedicate to completely re-hauling their current account. Ashby also knew they could not just cut out Google Ads completely, which led her to WordStream Advisor.

Time saving and personalized help with WordStream Advisor

With so many responsibilities, tools to help Ashby better optimize her time management are absolutely critical to see results in her role, especially when it comes to running campaigns through complicated advertising platforms like Google Ads.

“I don’t have time to learn Google Ads!” says Ashby. “With WordStream I can log in, see campaigns running, see my Quality Scores, money spent, and money made for each campaign, and that is all I care about.”

Ashby found that once her campaigns were being managed with the help of WordStream Advisor, she no longer needed to spend so much time hunting through Google Ads to ensure she was not wasting money. “The WordStream Advisor interface is simple and easy to understand,” Ashby said. “I can go in for 10% of the time, and let the software handle the 90%.”

a Google Ads for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau

That’s a great looking Google Ad if I do say so myself.

And the software is just part of it. One other area that Ashby found to be the most value is the support from her dedicated WordStream PPC expert. “Our Customer Success rep helps me organize our chaos of an account, and it is now manageable,” says Ashby.

Ashby has found this aspect of personalized service to be insanely valuable for restructuring, advice, and any emergency situations. She feels as if she has a safety net (and a smart one at that!) to always fall back in. “In the event all fails me, I can always email our CSS and say, ‘HELP ME’!”

Having this personalized help also helped Ashby and her team learn about the impact of Google Ads performance on their business—as well as how to make that happen. “We used to think, okay, we’re terrible at this clearly, but if we keep putting money into it maybe that will make it better,” says Ashby. “More money equals more clicks, right?”

Wrong. Luckily, switching to WordStream Advisor has allowed Ashby to better allocate her budget in a more strategic way that allows her to actually spend less and see better results.

“There are other ways to manipulate the account to get more clicks with fewer dollars,” says Ashby. “We can now find things in the account to ensure the money we do have to spend is spent wisely.”

Ashby knew quite quickly after switching the WordStream Advisor that her money was not being wasted. “Our customer success specialist emailed us a report that showed our month over month (MoM) cost per action (CPA) is down! We’re getting more out of the dollar amount than we ever have before,” says Ashby.

Extending Johnston County’s tourist season

With more effective spending on PPC and social, Ashby has found that not only are her results looking better in terms of budgeting, but tourism is continuing to increase.

“We used to see more of a bell curve, where in winter months we would see a dip in visitors, and in March, April, May, things would begin to pick up again, with summer and fall being the peak time for tourism,” says Ashby, “ Now, we don’t have a quiet period anymore. It’s pretty much just up across the board.”

a Facebook ad for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau

Personality, community, and food? Great Facebook ad.

It is clear that Ashby’s team is killing their ad game since they have had to spend less time with tedious tasks such as restructuring campaigns, going through loads of data to search for negative keywords, and many of the other time-consuming tasks that WordStream helps with. And extending the tourist season to keep growing other businesses in Johnston County? Now, that’s a success story.

Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra last week during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”

Best Online Business Banking for 2020

What makes a great bank for business purposes?

In today’s day and age, your bank needs to have online banking capabilities. There are online-only banks as well as physical branches offering online banking services.

While most banks today have some type of online portal, not all of these are created equal.

The best business checking accounts have dozens of online features, like mobile deposits, digital bill pay, and fraud alerts.

You’ll also need to consider other banking products that you can access online. I’m referring to things like business savings accounts, merchant services, credit cards, and small business loans.

Whether you run a startup or a multi-million dollar well-established corporation, I’ll show you the best online business banking solutions to fit your needs.

Top 10 Online Business Banking Accounts For 2020

There are hundreds of different online business bank accounts on the market today. But these are the top ten that I recommend:

  • Novo
  • Axos Bank
  • Chase Bank
  • TIAA Bank
  • US Bank
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Azlo
  • Radius Bank
  • Citizens Bank
  • First Internet Bank

I’ll highlight the type of online accounts offered, prices, benefits, and other online banking solutions for each one below.

The Best Online Business Banking Reviews

Novo

If you’re a small business owner, freelancer, or entrepreneur seeking an online-only business banking solution, look no further than Novo.

Novo is a modern and simple way to handle your business banking needs. Here’s an overview of top features and benefits of this online bank:

  • No monthly service fees
  • Refunds at all ATMs
  • Free incoming and outgoing ACH transfers
  • Free domestic and foreign wires
  • Free mailed bank checks
  • No minimum balance requirement

It takes less than ten minutes to apply for a Novo online business bank account. You need just $50 to open an account.

Novo has an outstanding mobile app that lets you handle all of your business banking needs on the go. It integrates with business tools that you’re already using, like Slack, Xero, and Zapier.

You’ll also benefit from discounts on business tools like HubSpot, Salesforce, Zendesk, Google Cloud, and Stripe.

Overall, Novo is a basic online-only bank for business owners seeking simplicity. But it does lack other banking tools beyond a checking account.

Axos Bank

Axos Bank is another top online-exclusive business bank. But unlike Novo, Axos features a suite of business banking solutions, including multiple account types and additional services.

  • Basic Business Checking
  • Business Interest Checking
  • Business Premium Savings
  • Business Money Market
  • Business Savings
  • Business Certificate of Deposit (CDs)
  • Certificate of Deposit and Registry Service (CDARS)

Axos also offers treasury management solutions to streamline your payment processing. They provide additional merchant services like POS terminals, mobile commerce, and PCI compliance.

You’ll need at least $1,000 to open an Axos business checking account.

Your account comes with 200 free transactions per month. There are no monthly maintenance fees, and you’ll have access to a surcharge-free ATM network.

Axos has everything you’d expect from an online business banking solution, including a mobile app with remote check deposit capabilities.

But like any online-only bank, this isn’t for businesses that need to deposit cash.

Chase Bank

Chase Bank has some of the best business banking solutions on the market today. They have physical bank branches in addition to the online banking services.

Here’s an overview of the three different business checking accounts offered by Chase. All three of these can be opened and managed online.

Chase Total Business Checking

  • $15 monthly service fee
  • Unlimited electronic deposits
  • $5,000 free cash deposits per billing cycle
  • 100 free transactions per month

The $15 service fee is waived if you maintain a daily balance of $1,500. If you link a personal Chase checking account to your business account, the combined balance counts towards this minimum.

Chase Performance Business Checking

  • $30 monthly service fee
  • Unlimited incoming wires and electronic deposits
  • 250 free transactions per month
  • $20,000 free cash deposits per billing cycle
  • Two free outgoing domestic wires per cycle

The $30 service fee is waived by maintaining a $35,000 minimum daily balance in qualifying business deposit accounts.

Chase Platinum Business Checking

  • $95 monthly service fee
  • 500 free transactions per month
  • $25,000 free cash deposits per billing cycle
  • Four free outgoing wires per cycle (your most expensive ones)

Chase will waive the $95 service fee if you maintain a daily balance of $100,000 or more between qualifying business deposit accounts.

As you can see, Chase has an online business checking account for businesses of all different shapes and sizes. It’s easy to determine which Chase business account is best for you based on the minimum balance requirements and free cash deposits per month.

In addition to checking accounts, Chase also has some of the best business credit cards on the market today. You’ll also benefit from merchant services and online business lending solutions if you need them.

TIAA Bank

TIAA Bank is a top option for those of you looking for an online-exclusive business banking solution. They offer checking accounts and treasury services for commercial businesses, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

If you’re a single-owner LLC or sole proprietor, you can get a high-yield small business checking account. As of February 2020, the intro APY rate is 1.21% for the first year.

Here’s a quick overview of the key features for each TIAA Business Checking account:

Business Checking

  • $1,500 minimum to open
  • 200 free transactions per month
  • Ten free online bill payments per month
  • $14.95 monthly maintenance fee (waived with $5,000 daily balance)

Small Business Checking

  • $1,500 minimum to open
  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • Free ATM reimbursements up to $15 per month (unlimited with $5,000 daily balance)
  • High yield on all balances

Nonprofit Checking

  • $1,500 opening deposit minimum
  • Interest-bearing checking
  • Overdraft protection
  • $14.95 monthly maintenance fee (waived with $5,000 minimum daily balance)

Analysis Checking

  • Two different types of accounts available
  • Interest-bearing checking
  • $1,500 minimum opening deposit
  • Offset fees with earnings credit rate

While TIAA Bank does offer a wide range of checking account types, I wish the nonprofit monthly maintenance fee was waived regardless of the balance.

The best account here is the high-interest checking account for sole proprietors and single-member LLCs.

US Bank

US Bank is a national chain with 3,000+ branches and more than 4,800 ATMs throughout the country. In addition its online banking solutions, you’ll be able to do some in-person banking if your business needs to make cash deposits.

There are four different business checking accounts offered by US Bank. All of which have online banking capabilities.

Silver

  • No monthly fee
  • $5 paper statement fee
  • 125 free transactions per month ($0.50 per transaction after)
  • 25 free units of cash deposits per month

The US Bank Silver business checking account is simple and made for startups and small businesses.

Gold

  • $20 monthly fee (waived with qualified balances)
  • Free paper statements
  • 300 free transactions per month ($0.45 per transaction after)
  • 100 free units of cash deposits per month
  • Interest-bearing

The Gold business checking account is for small to mid-sized businesses with moderate transaction volumes.

Platinum

  • $30 monthly fee (waived with qualified balances)
  • 500 free transactions per month ($0.40 per transaction after)
  • 200 free units of cash deposits per month

US Bank’s Platinum business checking account rewards business owners with higher balances.

Premium

The Premium account is unique. It’s an analyzed account; meaning fees can be offset by credits from your account activity. It’s unclear on the website what those fees, credits, and activity would be. But the account is made for larger organizations with high checking balances and lots of activity. You’ll need to contact US Bank directly for more information.

In addition to these four online checking accounts, US Bank also provides small business loans, credit cards, and merchant services. You’ll have access to everything you’d expect from a national bank.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal is another national chain with physical branches in addition to online business banking. Business owners with ties to the US Armed Forces, National Guard, and DoD can open an online checking account with Navy Federal Credit Union.

They offer business checking, business savings, and CDs. Here’s an overview of Navy Federal’s three business checking accounts:

Business Checking

  • Best for new businesses with limited cash flow activity
  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • Two signers
  • 30 free non-electronic transactions per month ($0.25 per transaction after)

Business Plus Checking

  • Best for growing businesses with multiple owners
  • $8 monthly service fee (can’t be waived)
  • Accommodates steady banking activity
  • 50 free non-electronic transactions per month ($0.25 per transaction after)

Business Premium Checking

  • Best for large businesses with high deposit balances
  • $20 monthly fee (waived with average daily balance of $5,000)
  • Great for large transaction volumes
  • 100 free non-electronic transactions per month ($0.25 per transaction after)
  • Up to 0.45% APY (based on balance)

I’d recommend Navy Federal online banking to business owners who are seeking a small business loan. Navy Federal has some of the best interest rates and approval rates on the market today. So you can get your checking account and loan from the same bank while managing everything online.

Azlo

If you’re a freelancer or launching a startup, Azlo is a top online-exclusive business bank to consider. It’s only a viable option if you’re not accepting cash.

Highlights of an Azlo business banking account include:

  • No monthly fees
  • No overdraft fees
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Unlimited transactions
  • No incoming wire fees

Azlo integrates with business tools like Square, Stripe, and QuickBooks.

You can deposit checks remotely with Azlo’s intuitive mobile app. You’ll also be able to create, send, and manage digital invoices to your clients through the Azlo platform. This is ideal for clients who want to pay via bank transfer.

If you’re looking for an online bank that offers loans, savings accounts, and other banking services, Azlo is not for you.

Radius Bank

Radius Bank has a wide range of online business banking solutions. Here’s a quick list of the online services you’ll have access to with a Radius business account:

  • Four different business checking accounts
  • Money market savings
  • CDs and CDARS
  • Statement savings accounts
  • SBA loans
  • Commercial real estate loans
  • Equipment financing
  • Credit cards
  • Escrow services
  • Nonprofit services

As you can see, Radius offers everything you could possibly need and more from an online business bank.

One standout is the Tailored Checking account, which is made for growing businesses. Tailored accounts come with:

  • Unlimited transactions
  • 0.75% APY for balances above $5,000
  • Unlimited transactions
  • $10 monthly fee (waived with balances over $5,000)
  • No minimum balance requirements ($100 to open)
  • Free ATM network worldwide

You can apply online in less than ten minutes without uploading any documents. Between the online services and mobile banking tools, Radius Bank is a top choice to consider.

Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank is a top choice for business owners that want access to lots of different online banking solutions. Furthermore, Citizens has 1,100+ branches and 3,100+ ATMs (mostly on the east coast). So it’s a good option for those of you with in-person banking needs as well.

Let’s take a closer look at the company’s business checking accounts:

Clearly Better Business Checking

  • Best for small businesses with moderate account activity
  • No monthly fee
  • No minimum opening deposit
  • 200 free transactions per billing cycle ($0.50 per transaction after)

Business Advisor Checking

  • Best for businesses with higher account activity
  • $25 monthly fee (waived with $10,000 average daily balance)
  • No minimum opening deposit
  • 500 free transactions per billing cycle ($0.30 per transaction after)

Citizens Analysis Business Checking

  • Best for large businesses that need ACH, transfers, wires, and cash management
  • $20 monthly fee (can’t be waived, but can be offset with earnings credits)
  • No minimum opening deposit
  • Custom transactions (must speak to a representative for details)

In addition to these checking accounts, Citizen offers credit cards, investing options, business benefits, healthcare banking, and a wide variety of business resources. Large organizations will have access to commercial banking solutions as well.

First Internet Bank

As the name implies, First Internet Bank is an online-only bank. There are three different types of banking solutions offered by this bank.

  • Small business checking
  • Commercial checking
  • Business savings and CDs

Overall, the commercial checking accounts stand out the most.

Lots of online-only banks on the market today are geared towards startups and small business owners. But First Internet Bank has a wide range of banking services for large organizations and enterprises.

Businesses opening a commercial checking account will benefit from features like:

  • Dedicated business banking experts
  • Treasury management services
  • Merchant services
  • Sweep services
  • Wire services
  • Zero balance accounts

Contact First Internet Bank to ask about a custom business banking solution to meet the needs of your large organization.

How to Find the Best Online Business Bank Account For You

All of the online banks on our list won’t be a viable solution for your business. You’ll need to narrow down your options based on certain factors. This is the methodology that we use here at Quick Sprout to find the best online bank for you.

Business Type

You can start by narrowing down your choices based on the size and structure of your organization. Some online banking accounts are geared towards startups, sole proprietors, and freelancers. Others are designed for small businesses to mid-sized and larger organizations.

For example, if you have a small business with three locations and 30 employees, you can immediately eliminate the accounts designed for freelancers and single-member LLCs.

Fees

Lots of online business bank accounts come with monthly fees. Some banks do offer free banking, and others let you waive the monthly fee by maintaining a minimum daily balance.

Unlike personal checking accounts, business accounts typically come with monthly transaction limits. You might have to pay up to $0.50 per transaction once you exceed those limits.

Regardless of your situation, you can find a way to avoid these fees by finding an account that falls within your banking activity.

Checking Accounts and Banking Solutions

What do you want to get out of your online bank? You’ll need a checking account, at a minimum.

But the day might come when you’ll need access to other banking solutions.

  • Business savings accounts
  • Business CDs and CDARS
  • Merchant services
  • Business loans
  • Business credit cards

It’s easier to get all of this under one roof, as opposed to searching for another bank at a later time.

In-Person Banking Availability

Online-exclusive banking isn’t for everyone. If you have physical store locations that accept cash, you’ll need the ability to deposit those funds at a branch.

Banks like Chase, US Bank, Citizens Bank, and Navy Federal Credit Union all have branches for in-person business banking. Just verify that there is a branch in your area.

Mobile Accessibility

Part of being a great online bank means having an excellent mobile app. The majority of your online banking activity can be done from the palm of your hand.

Mobile apps are used for things like remote check deposits. But you’ll want an app that goes beyond this basic feature. All of the banks on our list have modern and efficient mobile apps for your business banking needs.

Conclusion

Here’s a recap of the ten best online business banking solutions on the market today:

  • Novo — Simple online-only business checking account with no hidden fees.
  • Axos Bank — Online-exclusive bank with interest-bearing checking solutions.
  • Chase Bank — Best online business checking accounts for businesses of all sizes.
  • TIAA Bank — Best high-interest checking for sole proprietors and single member LLCs.
  • US Bank — National bank with four online checking accounts and banking services.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union — Best online banking for business owners with ties to the Armed Forces, National Guard, and DoD.
  • Azlo — Best online-only business bank for freelancers.
  • Radius Bank — Best online banking solution for growing businesses.
  • Citizens Bank — No minimum balance requirements and free checking available.
  • First Internet Bank — Best online commercial checking account for complex business banking needs and high transaction volumes.

I purposely included banks for all types of businesses on here. From freelancers to enterprises, and everything in between, I know you can find what you’re looking for on this list.

Best Credit Cards for Startups in 2020

Getting a business credit card is one of the first things you should do when launching a startup.

In most cases, this credit card will be the primary method of paying company expenses. From daily purchases like ink or paper to flights, hotels, and your phone subscription, charging a credit card is your best option.

That’s because the best business credit cards offer exceptional benefits like cash back, rewards points, and travel miles.

Some company credit cards can provide purchase insurance as well as supplementary coverage for car rentals. You can even use a low-interest credit card to finance purchases if struggling to qualify for a small business loan.

With so many business credit cards to choose from, it can be tough to find the best option for your startup, which is what inspired me to create this guide.

The 8 Best Credit Cards For Startups in 2020

In a market flooded with hundreds of business credit cards, there are eight that I would recommend for startup companies.

I’ll highlight the top benefits, introductory offers, costs, and notable terms for each one as we continue below.

Best Startup Business Credit Card Reviews

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card

Chase Ink Business Cash is the best overall credit card for startup companies. It has exceptional rewards, benefits, and an enticing sign up bonus.

  • No annual fee
  • $500 sign up bonus after spending $3,000 in first the three months

I like the Chase Ink Business Cash card because of the way its reward program is structured. You’ll get the most cash back for common startup expenses.

Chase gives you 5% cash back each year on office supplies, internet, phone services, and cable on the first $25,000 spent in those categories. You’ll also get 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on the first $25,000 in combined spending each year.

All other purchases earn 1% cash back with no limit.

Additional features and benefits of the Chase Ink Business Cash card include:

  • Fraud protection
  • Free employee cards with individual spending limits
  • Travel and emergency assistance services
  • Extended warranty protection
  • Zero liability for unauthorized charges
  • Purchase protection (covers new purchases against theft or damage for 120 days)
  • Auto rental collision waiver

Between these benefits, the cash back program, sign up bonus, and no annual fee, Chase Ink Business Cash should be a top consideration for any startup company.

Chase Ink Business Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited is nearly identical to the Ink Business Cash card. The card offers the exact same benefits from fraud protection to the auto rental collision waiver in the bullet list above.

  • No annual fee
  • $500 sign up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months

While the benefits and card terms are the same between these two cards, the rewards structure is not.

Instead of offering various cash back percentages for different categories, Chase Ink Business Unlimited gives you 1.5% cash on everything. This is a better option for those of you who don’t want limitations or restrictions on the amount of cash back you can earn.

It all depends on the type of business you have.

For example, let’s say you’re planning to use a credit card to purchase things like inventory or other expenses that don’t fall into the Ink Business Cash rewards categories. In this scenario, Chase Ink Business Unlimited would be a better option for you.

Capital One Spark Cash Select

Capital Oe Spark Cash Select

Capital One Spark Cash Select is another great option for earning cash rewards for all of your business expenses. The card offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on everything you buy.

  • No annual fee
  • $200 sign up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months

The card is very similar to the Chase Ink Business Unlimited credit card. Chase does offer a better sign up bonus ($200 vs. $500) for spending the same amount in three months.

With that said, the Capital One Spark Cash Select card has its fair share of benefits.

  • Dedicated business customer support
  • Fraud alerts
  • Free employee cards
  • Payment flexibility (pick your monthly due date)
  • Transaction details
  • Itemized year-end summary
  • Download purchase records into formats for QuickBooks and Quicken

For startup company credit cards, I typically lean towards cards with no annual fee.

But if you want more than 1.5% cash back, consider applying for the Capital One Spark Cash card instead. This gives you unlimited 2% cash back, but comes with a $95 annual fee (waived the first year).

Startups charging less money on their cards will be fine with the Spark Cash Select card.

Capital One Spark Miles

Capital One Spark Miles

Some people would rather earn travel rewards instead of cash back. So if you’ll be traveling frequently for your startup company, Capital One Spark Miles is a top credit card to consider.

  • $95 annual fee (waived the first year)
  • 50,000 mile sign up bonus after spending $4,500 in first three months

As I mentioned earlier, I normally don’t recommend cards with annual fees to startup companies. But this one is easy to justify if you travel often.

50,000 miles is equal to $500 in travel. Considering that the annual fee is waived the first year, the sign up bonus alone makes up for the first six years using the card.

You’ll also earn unlimited 2x miles on all purchases. There are no blackout dates, seat restrictions, or minimums for redemption.

Other top benefits of the Capital One Spark Miles Card include:

  • $100 credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
  • Earn 5x miles on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel
  • $0 fraud liability
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Card lock

If you’re launching a startup that requires lots of business travel, this is the best card for you.

Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic

To qualify for the best business credit cards, you’ll need to have excellent credit. But that’s not reasonable for all small business owners.

If you have a low credit score but still want access to credit card rewards, the Capital One Spark Classic will be your best option.

  • No annual fee
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases

While the card doesn’t come with a sign up bonus or low interest rates, you’ll still have access to some of Capital One’s top card benefits.

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Download purchase records to Quicken and QuickBooks formats
  • Auto rental damage waiver
  • Extended purchase protection (90 days for eligible items)
  • Fraud coverage and alerts
  • Free employee cards

Overall, this is a no-frills business credit card. But it’s a great way to build your credit by using the card responsibly. Plus, you’ll still get 1% cash back on everything.

I’d apply for the Capital One Spark Classic if you can’t get approved for other business credit cards.

American Express Blue Business Plus

American Express Blue Business Plus

American Express has one of the best reputations in the credit card industry. For both personal credit cards and business credit cards, Amex is known for exceptional customer service.

If you’re launching a startup, your company should consider the American Express Blue Business Plus card as a top option.

The Amex Blue Business Plus card is great for those of you who want to earn rewards points, as opposed to cash back or travel miles.

You’ll get 2x membership rewards points on purchases in any category for your first $50,000 spent each year. After that, you can earn unlimited 1x points.

Amex gives you expanded buying power, with the ability to make business purchases above your spending limits without a penalty, although restrictions apply.

The card comes with account alerts, online statements, a detailed year-end summary, free employee cards, and one of the best business credit card mobile apps on the market today.

American Express customer service and dispute resolution are second to none. So if you prioritize great customer support, this card is perfect for you.

American Express Blue Business Cash

American Express Blue Business Cash

If you prefer cash back instead of reward points, consider applying for the American Express Blue Business Cash credit card.

The card terms are basically identical to the Amex Blue Business Plus card. The rewards structure is the biggest difference between the two cards.

With the Amex Blue Business Cash card, you can earn 2% cash back on your first $50,000 in purchases per year. After that, you’ll receive unlimited 1% cash back on everything else.

Other top benefits include:

  • Expanded buying power
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance
  • Global hotline assistance
  • Free employee cards
  • Account manager access
  • Amex Business mobile app
  • Account alerts
  • Vender pay via Bill.com
  • Extended warranty protection for eligible purchases
  • Purchase protection for eligible purchases

Overall, the American Express Blue Business Cash card is arguably the best free cash back business credit card on the market today.

US Bank Business Platinum

US Bank Business Platinum Card

Sometimes a startup company needs to get creative with financing purchases. Certain small business loans have restrictions for what you can spend the funds on.

Credit card financing has become an alternative solution for small business owners. But to consider this, you’ll need to find a card with low-interest rates.

That’s when the US Bank Business Platinum card comes in handy.

The card definitely lacks quality rewards benefits. So I’d only consider it as an alternative financing method.

How to Choose the Best Credit Card For Your Startup Business

There are certain factors that must be taken into consideration when you’re evaluating business credit cards for your startup. This is the methodology that we used to come up with this guide.

Annual Fee

Most startup companies should look for credit cards with no annual fee. It’s crucial to save money everywhere possible when you’re first starting a business.

Seven of the eight cards on the list above are free. The only one you have to pay for is the Capital One Spark Miles card. But the fee is just $95 per year, waived in year one, and easy to justify for frequent travelers.

Exclusive business credit card fees can range above $500. While you may consider those down the road, I’d steer clear of them in the early stages of your business.

Interest Rates

You should always aim to pay your credit card balance in-full each month. But sometimes cash is tight for startups, so you might have to finance a few purchases.

Look for a credit card offering 0% APR for purchases in your first year. Aim to pay those off before you start incurring additional interest fees.

A low-interest credit card might have cheaper rates than certain business loans. So take that into consideration before making large purchases.

Credit Score

When launching a startup, your personal credit score will be used when you apply for a credit card. That’s because new businesses don’t have any credit records on file.

A high score will give you access to better cards with lower interest rates and top rewards.

However, not everyone falls into this category. If your credit score is below average, there are certain cards that you should be applying for instead. The Capital One Spark Classic is a great example.

Rewards

Credit card rewards usually come in one of the following three formats:

  • Cash back
  • Membership points
  • Miles

I’d recommend cash back rewards cards for most startup companies. The cards on this list range from 1% to 5%. Some have restrictions on how much cash back you can earn, while others are unlimited for all purchases.

A rewards program with miles is ideal if you need to travel often for business purposes. Otherwise, cash back is just fine.

Benefits

Every credit card has a wide range of perks and benefits.

From a sign up bonus to purchase protection and fraud alerts, the list varies by card type and card company. You’ll just have to figure out which benefits are best for your spending habits.

For example, no foreign transaction fees and auto rental waiver insurance shouldn’t win you over if you never rent a car and don’t make purchases in foreign currencies.

Conclusion

Startup companies have unique needs compared to well-established businesses. There are certain credit cards that are ideal for newer small businesses.

Here’s a recap of the top eight that I’d recommend.

All of these cards come with a wide range of benefits for different startup types and spending habits. I’m confident that you can find exactly what you’re looking for on this list.

31 Must-Know YouTube Statistics (+ Insights!) for 2020

You’re an in-house marketer on a mission to convince your manager that video content is the way to go. Or maybe you work at an agency and you’re trying to show a stubborn client that there’s a big, beautiful world beyond the Facebook news feed.

Or maybe you’re just curious as to how much content gets uploaded to YouTube every minute.

youtube statistics youtube logo

Via YouTube. 

Motivations aside, everyone living in the year 2020 can benefit from a deep dive into YouTube statistics. So we’ve compiled nearly three dozen and broken them up into subcategories: 

  • General YouTube statistics
  • YouTube demographic statistics
  • YouTube marketing statistics

 Accompanying each subcategory is two or three key takeaways. Let’s jump in!

General YouTube statistics

1. YouTube has over two billion monthly active users. (YouTube)
2. More than 70% of YouTube watch time is on mobile. (YouTube)
3. Over 100 countries have their own local version of YouTube. (YouTube)
4. 60% of people prefer online video to live TV. (Google)
5. YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. (Search Engine Journal)
6. YouTube is responsible for more than one-third of mobile internet traffic. (Statista)
7. 51% of YouTube users visit the site daily. (Pew Research Center)
8. 500 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. (Statista)
9. One billion hours of YouTube content are watched every day. (YouTube)
10. Relaxation and entertainment are the top reasons for watching YouTube videos. (Google)
11. This year, online video will account for 79% of internet traffic. (Cisco)
12. 75% of adults watch mobile YouTube videos while relaxing at home. (Google)

Key takeaways

Mobile, mobile, mobile. More than anything, that’s the word that stands out to me when I look over this first batch of stats. People watch a ton of YouTube content on their phones, and as stat #12 makes abundantly clear, it’s not an activity they do exclusively on the go. It’s time to part ways with the myth that consumers only use their phones when they’re commuting to work or standing in line for coffee. Believe it or not, your prospects are watching mobile YouTube videos while sitting on the couch and drinking white wine—entirely disinterested in moving an inch.

Here’s what that means: You need a full-funnel mobile strategy—one that takes advantage of everything YouTube has to offer. With 70% of watch time taking place on mobile and 51% of users returning to the site daily, it’s safe to assume that you have the power to reach prospects at all stages of the customer journey. With a six-second bumper ad, you can introduce yourself to a wide range of brand new prospects and drive awareness through the roof. Elsewhere, you can target a smaller (and more qualified) crop of users with a TrueView for Action campaign. The specifics will vary from business to business, but the takeaway for everyone is that YouTube attracts consumers from all stages of the funnel.

youtube statistics all stages of funnel

Elsewhere, please note stat #8 and stat #9: 500 hours of content are uploaded every minute, and one billion hours of content are watched every day. Being generic is simply not an option. Whether you plan to reach your audience through organic content or paid ads, it’s imperative that you try to do something that nobody else is doing. Don’t be so different that you confuse and/or turn your prospects off; just be different enough that you don’t fade into the background.

Before you hit record, all I ask is that you check out what your competitors are doing and make a concerted effort to do something different.

YouTube demographic statistics

13. Mobile YouTube videos reach more 18- to 19-year-olds than any TV network. (Google)
14. Among millennials, YouTube accounts for 67% of online video consumption. (Google)
15. Two-thirds of millennials say they can find how-to content for anything on YouTube. (Google)
16. 81% of US internet users between 15 and 25 years old use YouTube. (Statista)
17. YouTube reaches 89% of US households with over $100,000 in annual income. (Statista)
18. YouTube users are more likely to have kids than non-users. (Google)
19. YouTube users are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than non-users. (Google)
20. During the average month, YouTube reaches 95% of internet users over 55. (Google)

Key takeaways

Evidently, YouTube users—especially those in their twenties and thirties—rely heavily on the platform to learn how to do things. For those of you interested in content marketing, this is an incredibly important insight. By creating educational YouTube videos related to your business, you can raise awareness and establish authority among your target audience. For example, if you were marketing an Italian restaurant, you could create how-to YouTube videos for different recipes. It’s safe to assume that anyone who YouTube searches “how to make gnocchi” would be interested in learning more about your restaurant!

youtube statistics raising the bar

Bartending videos are a great way to raise awareness of your bar!

Here’s the other key takeaway from this set of stats: YouTube isn’t just for young people. Even if your target audience is on the older side (e.g., baby boomers), you can still get a tremendous amount of value out of the platform—both from content marketing and paid advertising. Plus, YouTube is an especially valuable channel if you’re targeting parents, college graduates, individuals with high salaries, or some combination thereof. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to reiterate one more time: YouTube marketing is worthwhile for all kinds of businesses—not just businesses targeting teenagers and young adults.

My advice? Use organic content marketing to attract new eyeballs and use paid advertising to retarget those eyeballs. This doesn’t have to be rocket science. As the data shows, YouTube users get a ton of value out of simple educational content. With the right videos, you can bring hundreds—potentially thousands—of new prospects to the top of your marketing funnel. From there, paid campaigns like TrueView for Action can work their magic.

YouTube marketing statistics

21. Among businesses, YouTube is the second-most popular place to post videos. (Buffer)
22. YouTube is the third-most popular platform for influencer marketing content. (Mediakix)
23. Two-thirds of shoppers cite video as a source of purchase inspiration … (Google)
24. … and 90% of those shoppers have discovered something new through YouTube. (Google)
25. Nearly half of marketers are investing in YouTube advertising. (Hanapin)
26. A mobile YouTube ad is 84% more likely to engage prospects than a TV ad. (Ipsos)
27. Since 2016, YouTube users have watched over 50,000 years of product reviews. (Google)
28. YouTube users are 3X more likely to watch a tutorial than read instructions. (Google)
29. 80% of shoppers who used video for purchase inspiration say they did so at the beginning of the customer journey. (Google)
30. Since 2016, the number of SMBs advertising on YouTube has doubled. (YouTube)
31. Among digital channels, YouTube has the second-most influence on purchases. (Statista)

Key takeaways

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start at the top with stat #21: Among businesses, YouTube is the second-most popular place to post videos. Facebook, unsurprisingly, still reigns supreme. To get the best results, I recommend sharing content across both platforms. As I shared in a recent post about Facebook video views, however, Facebook frowns upon content creators who repurpose videos originally published on other platforms. In other words, simply taking your YouTube content and sharing it on Facebook isn’t the best idea.

Here’s my advice: Dig into your audience data. Although it seems as if everyone with an internet connection uses both YouTube and Facebook, there’s a good chance that you attract a unique audience on each platform. By digging into the data, you can see which kind of content does best on YouTube and which kind of content does best on Facebook. If you can optimize your content on each of the world’s biggest video-sharing platforms, you’ll attract a steady stream of qualified prospects.

youtube statistics insights

YouTube Studio offers plenty of helpful audience insights. 

Next: A mobile YouTube ad is 84% more likely to engage prospects than a TV ad. Why? Because people use TV commercial breaks to scroll through social media and search stuff on Google. Therefore, I recommend reinforcing the messaging of your YouTube ads with your Facebook and Google ads. That way, even when your prospects opt for TV instead of YouTube, you can communicate the value of your product and keep your brand top-of-mind.

Finally: Product review content is a legitimate phenomenon. Although it’s completely unethical to pay YouTubers to review your product, you can still get in on the action. I suggest regularly searching YouTube for reviews of your product and responding to each and every one. Whether the review is positive or negative, it’s imperative that you leave a thoughtful response in the comment section. First and foremost, this demonstrates that you take customer feedback seriously. Plus, while responding to positive reviews gives other users an incentive to make review videos of their own, responding to negative reviews shows that you’re committed to holding your business accountable.

Facebook Mandates Campaign Budget Optimization: Here’s What You Need to Know

Facebook has recently revealed that advertisers will soon no longer be able to optimize their budget at the ad set level. Instead, anyone who is currently advertising on the platform or plans to will have to manage their ad spend at the campaign level.

Facebook campaign budget optimization (CBO) button

On the surface, this change may not seem like too big of a deal. But for anyone who has managed Facebook ads for a long time and values a large degree of control on how the platform serves their ad, this limitation will have a greater impact. Facebook has been expanding the use of its machine learning for some time, and with this change comes another win for the almighty algorithm.

But what does that mean for you and your accounts, really? In this post, I will walk you through what the change means for advertisers, why Facebook is making campaign budget optimization mandatory, the pros and cons of this move, and what it means for our industry.

Why make campaign budget optimization compulsory?

That was my immediate question following the news that was relayed to me by my Facebook representative. To provide some context, I manage a variety of clients within the B2B tech space and one of the most critical aspects to running successful ads for them comes down to lead quality. With often-times complex marketing funnels to maneuver, the demand for lead quality always comes down to one thing: control. The greater the amount of control the advertiser has, the greater their ability to manage the quality of acquisitions they produce. The trend towards automation of advertising platforms isn’t an area of concern for job security, but the effectiveness of advertising on these platforms may diminish over time if advertisers don’t learn how to work around or manage the changes.

Facebook campaign budget optimization example results

When I began managing ads on Facebook circa 2014, the platform’s algorithm and machine learning were not the robust technology they are today. Marketers had to know the ins and outs of the platform and what tools they had at their disposal in order to optimize. Fast forward to 2020, and the tech giants Facebook and Google are continuing to advance and improve AI and machine learning, not only for automation’s sake, but for commercialization. Paid media is quickly diverging from its indie roots in favor of becoming the pop music of marketing.

In decades past, paid digital marketing platforms benefited from complexity. Inexperienced users would unknowingly hemorrhage ad budget because of features and optimizations they weren’t savvy enough to master. In order to run things efficiently, advertisers had to not only be knowledgeable, but also attentive—making active changes to campaigns, constant bid adjustments, and creative refreshes. Facebook started the shift towards machine learning with many of their campaign optimization models focusing more on automated bidding, with manual bidding in its previous form being less effective for the majority of advertisers.

Facebook campaign budget optimization options for Optimization & Delivery

Another reason for this shift towards automated processes comes from the fact that everyone and their mother wants to run ads on these platforms nowadays, so there’s increased competition. Increased competition means increased costs for advertisers. To combat this, a heavier emphasis on automation allows these platforms to show your ads to more people on more placements. Think audience expansion, for example. This gives Facebook the control to vaguely expand your audience, but as more experienced advertisers will know, not all ad placements are created equal. “Automatic placements” in Facebook is another area where they want you to trust their algorithm. The Audience Network greatly reduces costs, but the increased volume doesn’t always come with higher quality leads.

The pros and cons of campaign budget optimization

There are many pros to campaign budget optimization, but there are cons, as well. I’m not against the move, but I would much rather prefer it be an option and not a requirement. Either way, if you’re advertising on Facebook, you need to know what benefits and what drawbacks you can expect from CBO. Here they are.

CBO pros

Campaign budget optimization, or CBO, allows advertisers to manage ad spend and daily budgets at the campaign level. For many novice users, this might not seem all that important, but in practice it is. When you control budget at the campaign level, you hand the keys over to Facebook’s algorithm to decide which audiences (ad sets) receive a higher percentage of the spend. I’ve personally seen this strategy work brilliantly as volume of leads skyrocket and costs plummet.

Facebook campaign budget optimization pros

Depending on the business, the conversion action, or just the general campaign objective, CBO can be extremely effective. That’s because Facebook’s machine learning and algorithms are actually pretty good—I’m not making the argument in this post that they are not. However, they are far away from being a free-thinking being with years of experience to make sometimes counter-intuitive decisions that will ultimately benefit a business’s specific goals.

CBO cons

The issues start rolling in when you want or need to have more control. For one client in particular, we are very focused on conversion rates down-funnel. The current method of audience optimization is to observe the MQL (marketing qualified lead) to Opp (sales opportunity) conversion rate. If an ad set is bringing in a high volume of leads for a low cost but those leads are not converting to opportunities, we’ll favor the costlier higher-quality leads from other ad sets.

The discrepancy between audiences is never 100% black and white, either. Some ad sets may only have a percentage point or fraction of a percentage point difference in MQL>Opp. The obvious counter argument would be to set the ad set conversion event optimization to “opportunities.” However:

  1. That isn’t possible when using Facebook lead ads.
  2. There are always going to be fewer opportunities than overall leads. Optimizing for the event that occurs far less will be detrimental to your ads serving.
  3. Anyone with Salesforce, Marketo, or Hubspot experience knows that optimizing for down-funnel metrics in-platform is like trying to invade Russia in the winter.

What mandatory campaign budget optimization means for you

I was told that CBO will become mandatory for all advertisers around late February 2020, so if it hasn’t affected your accounts, it’s coming soon. Here’s what you need to know to start preparing your accounts now.

Ad Set Limits: You can place spend limits on your ad sets. This will allow you to take back some control if you notice one ad set is receiving 90% of the daily spend and wish to spread that out to the others. This obviously isn’t ideal but certainly an option.

Facebook campaign budget optimization Budget & Scheduling options

Account Restructure: If you rely heavily on the ability to control budgets at the ad set level, it may be time to rethink how you structure your ad account. This may possibly be the best option you have in order to maintain control. The drawback to this is that you will inevitably wind up with more active campaigns than you had previously. If you begin naming the campaigns after audiences rather than objectives or campaign type, your campaign tab will begin to look a lot like your ad set tab. This can become messy and confusing, as you may have different campaign objectives.

One thing remains unclear, and that is how the mandatory switch to CBO will be rolled out. I was told that it would go into effect in late February 2020, for instance, but have yet to see any changes to my clients’ campaigns. It’s possible that the mandatory switch may only take effect when creating new campaigns for a period of time. Although, if the combination of Facebook Power Editor and Ads Manager is any indication, Facebook will roll out the change immediately.

Facebook Power Editor

RIP

Acceptance: Life is all about dealing with disappointment. You’re never going to be a rock star and Facebook will no longer let you optimize budget at the ad set level (equal levels of disappointment in my mind). If you are not going to restructure your account, I suggest switching your current campaigns over to CBO as soon as possible so by the time the change becomes irreversible you will have an understanding of how it affects performance.

CBO: Bigger implications on PPC

My response to this change isn’t simply an overreaction to a minor detail, rather, it’s frustration with the trend that Facebook and Google are moving towards. The trend to take control away from advertisers is evident. With Google’s constant push for automated bid strategies and now Facebook’s budget optimization, it’s clear that these platforms want you to put faith in their algorithms. Despite the fact that these are good systems, I still believe that experienced users should have more controls on how their ads are being served and how their money (or client’s money) is being spent.

PPC icons on a phone

The flip side of this is that these platforms truly do have incentives for you to be successful—you can rest assured that they’re not disinterested in your financial gains.

The Rules of Link Building – Best of Whiteboard Friday

Posted by BritneyMuller

Are you building links the right way? Or are you still subscribing to outdated practices? Britney Muller clarifies which link building tactics still matter and which are a waste of time (or downright harmful) in one of our very favorite classic episodes of Whiteboard Friday.

The Rules of Link Building

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Happy Friday, Moz fans! Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we are going over the rules of link building. It’s no secret that links are one of the top three ranking factors in Google and can greatly benefit your website. But there is a little confusion around what’s okay to do as far as links and what’s not. So hopefully, this helps clear some of that up.

The Dos

All right. So what are the dos? What do you want to be doing? First and most importantly is just to…

I. Determine the value of that link. So aside from ranking potential, what kind of value will that link bring to your site? Is it potential traffic? Is it relevancy? Is it authority? Just start to weigh out your options and determine what’s really of value for your site. Our own tool, Moz Link Explorer, can 

II. Local listings still do very well. These local business citations are on a bunch of different platforms, and services like Moz Local or Yext can get you up and running a little bit quicker. They tend to show Google that this business is indeed located where it says it is. It has consistent business information — the name, address, phone number, you name it. But something that isn’t really talked about all that often is that some of these local listings never get indexed by Google. If you think about it, Yellowpages.com is probably populating thousands of new listings a day. Why would Google want to index all of those?

So if you’re doing business listings, an age-old thing that local SEOs have been doing for a while is create a page on your site that says where you can find us online. Link to those local listings to help Google get that indexed, and it sort of has this boomerang-like effect on your site. So hope that helps. If that’s confusing, I can clarify down below. Just wanted to include it because I think it’s important.

III. Unlinked brand mentions. One of the easiest ways you can get a link is by figuring out who is mentioning your brand or your company and not linking to it. Let’s say this article publishes about how awesome SEO companies are and they mention Moz, and they don’t link to us. That’s an easy way to reach out and say, “Hey, would you mind adding a link? It would be really helpful.”

IV. Reclaiming broken links is also a really great way to kind of get back some of your links in a short amount of time and little to no effort. What does this mean? This means that you had a link from a site that now your page currently 404s. So they were sending people to your site for a specific page that you’ve since deleted or updated somewhere else. Whatever that might be, you want to make sure that you 301 this broken link on your site so that it pushes the authority elsewhere. Definitely a great thing to do anyway.

V. HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Reporters will notify you of any questions or information they’re seeking for an article via this email service. So not only is it just good general PR, but it’s a great opportunity for you to get a link. I like to think of link building as really good PR anyway. It’s like digital PR. So this just takes it to the next level.

VI. Just be awesome. Be cool. Sponsor awesome things. I guarantee any one of you watching likely has incredible local charities or amazing nonprofits in your space that could use the sponsorship, however big or small that might be. But that also gives you an opportunity to get a link. So something to definitely consider.

VII. Ask/Outreach. There’s nothing wrong with asking. There’s nothing wrong with outreach, especially when done well. I know that link building outreach in general kind of gets a bad rap because the response rate is so painfully low. I think, on average, it’s around 4% to 7%, which is painful. But you can get that higher if you’re a little bit more strategic about it or if you outreach to people you already currently know. There’s a ton of resources available to help you do this better, so definitely check those out. We can link to some of those below.

VIII. COBC (create original badass content). We hear lots of people talk about this. When it comes to link building, it’s like, “Link building is dead. Just create great content and people will naturally link to you. It’s brilliant.” It is brilliant, but I also think that there is something to be said about having a healthy mix. There’s this idea of link building and then link earning. But there’s a really perfect sweet spot in the middle where you really do get the most bang for your buck.

The Don’ts

All right. So what not to do. The don’ts of today’s link building world are…

I. Don’t ask for specific anchor text. All of these things appear so spammy. The late Eric Ward talked about this and was a big advocate for never asking for anchor text. He said websites should be linked to however they see fit. That’s going to look more natural. Google is going to consider it to be more organic, and it will help your site in the long run. So that’s more of a suggestion. These other ones are definitely big no-no’s.

II. Don’t buy or sell links that pass PageRank. You can buy or sell links that have a no-follow attached, which attributes that this is paid-for, whether it be an advertisement or you don’t trust it. So definitely looking into those and understanding how that works.

III. Hidden links. We used to do this back in the day, the ridiculous white link on a white background. They were totally hidden, but crawlers would pick them up. Don’t do that. That’s so old and will not work anymore. Google is getting so much smarter at understanding these things.

IV. Low-quality directory links. Same with low-quality directory links. We remember those where it was just loads and loads of links and text and a random auto insurance link in there. You want to steer clear of those.

V. Site-wide links also look very spammy. Site-wide being whether it’s a footer link or a top-level navigation link, you definitely don’t want to go after those. They can appear really, really spammy. Avoid those.

VI. Comment links with over-optimized anchor link text, specifically, you want to avoid. Again, it’s just like any of these others. It looks spammy. It’s not going to help you long-term. Again, what’s the value of that overall? So avoid that.

VII. Abusing guest posts. You definitely don’t want to do this. You don’t want to guest post purely just for a link. However, I am still a huge advocate, as I know many others out there are, of guest posting and providing value. Whether there be a link or not, I think there is still a ton of value in guest posting. So don’t get rid of that altogether, but definitely don’t target it for potential link building opportunities.

VIII. Automated tools used to create links on all sorts of websites. ScrapeBox is an infamous one that would create the comment links on all sorts of blogs. You don’t want to do that.

IX. Link schemes, private link networks, and private blog networks. This is where you really get into trouble as well. Google will penalize or de-index you altogether. It looks so, so spammy, and you want to avoid this.

X. Link exchange. This is in the same vein as the link exchanges, where back in the day you used to submit a website to a link exchange and they wouldn’t grant you that link until you also linked to them. Super silly. This stuff does not work anymore, but there are tons of opportunities and quick wins for you to gain links naturally and more authoritatively.

So hopefully, this helps clear up some of the confusion. One question I would love to ask all of you is: To disavow or to not disavow? I have heard back-and-forth conversations on either side on this. Does the disavow file still work? Does it not? What are your thoughts? Please let me know down below in the comments.

Thank you so much for tuning in to this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I will see you all soon. Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Setting Up API Mocking With Mirage JS And Vue.js

Setting Up API Mocking With Mirage JS And Vue.js

Setting Up API Mocking With Mirage JS And Vue.js

Kelvin Omereshone

In the era of SPA and the JAMstack, there has always been a separation of concern between the APIs and front-end development. Almost all JavaScript projects that can be found out in the wild interact with a web service or API and either use it for authentications or getting user-related data.

So, whenever you’re working on a project and the necessary API still hasn’t been implemented by the back-end team or you need to quickly test a feature, you have some of the following options:

  • You could proxy to a locally running version of your actual backend which, in most cases as a front-end developer, you wouldn’t have.
  • You could comment out actual request and replace with mock data. (This is okay but not so great as you would need to undo that to get to production and you might not be able to deal with network states and latency.)

What Is API Mocking?

API mocking is an imitation or a simulation of an actual API. It is mostly done in order to intercept requests that are supposed to be made to an actual backend API but this mocking exist on your frontend.

Why is API Mocking Important

API mocking is significantly important in a lot of ways:

  1. It makes for a very good front-end development experience not to depend on production APIs before building out features.
  2. You could share your entire frontend and it would work without depending on an actual backend API.

What Is Mirage JS?

Mirage JS was created 5 years ago and was pretty much used in the Ember community before Sam Selikoff officially announced its release on the 24th of January, 2020 on Twitter.

Mirage JS solves the pain point for testing backend APIs without depending on those APIs. It allows for seamless front-end development experience by mocking production APIs.

Mirage JS is an API mocking library for Vue.js, React, Angular and Ember frameworks

What Makes Mirage JS A Better Choice?

There have been other options for API mocking (such as Axios interceptors, Typicode’s JSON server, and so on) but what I think is pretty interesting about Mirage is that it doesn’t get in the way of your development process (as you would see when we set it up with Vue in a bit). It is lightweight and yet powerful.

It comes with battery included out of the box that allows you to replicate real production API consumption scenarios like simulating a slow network with its timing option.

Getting Started With Mirage JS And Vue.js

So now that you know what Mirage JS is and why it’s important to your front-end development workflow, let’s look at setting it up with the progressive web framework: Vue.js.

Creating A Green-Field (Clean Installation) Vue Project

Using the Vue CLI, create a fresh Vue.js project by going into the directory you want the project to be created in and running (in your terminal):

vue create miragejs-demo-vue 

The above command would set up a new Vue project which you can now cd into and run either yarn serve or npm run serve.

#Installing Mirage JS

Now let’s install Mirage JS as a development dependency in our Vue.js project by running the following command:

yarn add -D miragejs

Or if you are using NPM, run this:

npm install --save-dev miragejs

And that’s it! Mirage JS is now installed in our Vue.js project.

Let’s Mock Out Something

With Mirage JS installed, let’s see how we configure it to talk to Vue and mock out a basic todos (an API that returns a list of todos) API.

Define Your Server

To get started, we need to create a server.js file in the /src directory of our Vue.js project. After that, add the following:

import { Server, Model } from 'miragejs' export function makeServer({ environment = "development" } = {}) { let server = new Server({ environment, models: { todo: Model, }, seeds(server) { server.create("todo", { content: "Learn Mirage JS" }) server.create("todo", { content: "Integrate With Vue.js" }) }, routes() { this.namespace = "api" this.get("/todos", schema => { return schema.todos.all() }) }, }) return server
}

Code Explained

Firstly, the server.js file is how you set up Mirage JS to create a new instance of it’s mock (fake) server which will intercept all API calls you make in your app matching the routes that you define.

Now, I agree the above may be overwhelming at first, but let’s take a closer look at what’s going on here:

import { Server, Model } from 'miragejs'

From the above code snippet, we are importing Server and Model from miragejs.

  • Server
    This is a class exposed by Mirage to helps us instantiate a new instance of a Mirage JS server to “serve” as our fake server.
  • Model
    Another class exposed by Mirage to help in creating models(a model determines the structure of a Mirage JS database entry) powered by Mirage’s ORM.
export function makeServer({ environment = "development" } = {}) {}

The above basically export a function called makeServer from the src/server.js. You could also note we are passing in an environment parameter and setting Mirage’s environment mode to development (you would see us passing test environment later on in this article).

The Body Of makeServer

Now we are doing a couple of things in the makeServer body. Let’s take a look:

let server = new Server({})

We are instantiating a new instance of the Server class and passing it a configuration option. The content of the configuration options help set up mirage:

{ environment, models: { todo: Model, }, seeds(server) { server.create("todo", { content: "Learn Mirage JS" }) server.create("todo", { content: "Integrate With Vue.js" }) }, routes() { this.namespace = "api" this.get("/todos", schema => { return schema.todos.all() }) }, }

Firstly we are passing the environment parameter we initialized in the function definition.

models: { todo: Model, },

The next option which is the models option takes an object of the different models we want Mirage to mock.

In the above, we simply want a todo model which we are instantiating from the Model class.

seeds(server) {
server.create("todo", { content: "Learn Mirage JS" })
server.create("todo", { content: "Integrate With Vue.js" })
},

The next option is the seeds method which takes in a parameter called server. The seeds method helps create seeds(seeds are initial data or an entry into Mirage’s database) for our models. In our case to create the seeds for the todo model we do:

server.create("todo", { content: "Learn Mirage JS" })
server.create("todo", { content: "Integrate With Vue.js" })

so the server has a create method which expects as the first argument a string which corresponds to the name of the model, then an object which will contain the properties or attributes of a particular seed.

routes() { this.namespace = "api" this.get("/todos", schema => { return schema.todos.all() }) },

finally, we have the routes method which defines the various route(routes are our mock API endpoints) Mirage JS is going to mock. Let’s look at the body of the method:

this.namespace = "api"

this line sets up the namespace for all routes that means our todo route can now be accessed from /api/todos.

this.get("/todos", schema => { return schema.todos.all()
})

The above creates a get route and it’s handler using the this.get() method. The get() method expects the route i.e “/todos” and a handler function that takes in schema as an argument. The schema object is how you interact with Mirage’s ORM which is powered by Mirage JS in-memory database.

Finally:

return schema.todos.all()

We are returning a list of all our todos, using the schema object made possible by Mirage’s ORM.

src/main.js

So we are done setting up src/server.js but Vue doesn’t know about it(at least not yet). So let’s import it in our main.js file like so:

import { makeServer } from "./server"

Then we call the makeServer function like so:

if (process.env.NODE_ENV === "development") { makeServer()
}

The above if conditional is a guard to make sure mirage only runs in development.

Set up Complete!

Now we’ve set up Miragejs with Vue. Let’s see it in action. In our App.vue file, we would clear out the content and replace with the below snippet:

<template> <ul id="todos"> <li v-for="todo in todos" v-bind:key="todo.id">{{ todo.content }}</li> </ul>
</template> <script> export default { name: 'app', data() { return { todos: [] } }, created() { fetch("/api/todos") .then(res => res.json()) .then(json => { this.todos = json.todos }) } }
</script>

If you are familiar with Vue.js, the above would be nothing new but for the sake of being total, what we are doing is making an API request using fetch when our App.vue component is created, then we pass in the returned data to the todos array in our component state. Afterward, we are using a v-for to iterate the todos array and displaying the content property of each todo.

Where Is The Mirage JS Part?

If you notice, in our App.vue component, we didn’t do anything specific to Mirage, we are just making an API call as we would normally do. This feature of Mirage is really great for DX cause under the hood, Mirage would intercept any requests that match any of the routes defined in src/server.js while you are in development.

This is pretty handy cause no work would be needed in your part to switch to an actual production server when you are in a production environment provided the routes match your production API endpoints.

So restart your Vue dev server via yarn serve to test Mirage JS.

You should see a list of two todos. One thing you’d find pretty interesting is that we did not need to run a terminal command to start up Mirage because it removes that overhead by running as a part of your Vue.js application.

Mirage JS And Vue test-utils

If you are already using Vue Test-utils in your Vue application, you’d find it exciting to know that Mirage can easily work with it to mock network requests. Let’s see an example set up using our todos application.

We would be using Jest for our unit-testing. So if you are following along, you could pretty much use the Vue CLI to install the @vue/unit-jest plugin like so:

vue add @vue/unit-jest

The above will install @vue/cli-plugin-unit-jest and @vue/test-utils development dependencies while also creating a tests directory and a jest.config.js file. It will also add the following command in our package.json scripts section (pretty neat):

"test:unit": "vue-cli-service test:unit"

Let’s Test!

We would update our App.vue to look like this:

<!-- src/App.vue -->
<template> <div v-if="serverError" data-testid="server-error"> {{ serverError }} </div> <div v-else-if="todos.length === 0" data-testid="no-todos"> No todos! </div> <div v-else> <ul id="todos"> <li v-for="todo in todos" v-bind:key="todo.id" :data-testid="'todo-' + todo.id" > {{ todo.content }} </li> </ul> </div>
</template> <script> export default { name: "app", data() { return { todos: [], serverError: null, } }, created() { fetch("/api/todos") .then(res => res.json()) .then(json => { if (json.error) { this.serverError = json.error } else { this.todos = json.todos } }) }, }
</script>

Nothing really epic is going on in the above snippet; we are just structuring to allow for the network testing we would be implementing with our unit test.

Although Vue CLI has already added a /tests folder for us, I find it to be a much better experience when my tests are placed close to the components they are testing. So create a /__tests__ folder in src/ and create an App.spec.js file inside it. (This is also the recommended approach by Jest.)

// src/__tests__/App.spec.js
import { mount } from "@vue/test-utils"
import { makeServer } from "../server"
import App from "../App.vue" let server beforeEach(() => { server = makeServer({ environment: "test" })
}) afterEach(() => { server.shutdown()
})

So to set up our unit testing, we are importing the mount method from @vue/test-utils, importing the Miragejs server we created earlier and finally importing the App.vue component.

Next, we are using the beforeEach life cycle function to start the Mirage JS server while passing in the test environment. (Remember, we set by default the environment to be development.)

Lastly, we are shutting down the server using server.shutdown in the afterEach lifecycle method.

Our Tests

Now let’s flesh out our test (we would be adopting the quickstart section of the Mirage js docs. So your App.spec.js would finally look like this:

// src/__tests__/App.spec.js import { mount } from "@vue/test-utils"
import { makeServer } from "./server"
import App from "./App.vue" let server beforeEach(() => { server = makeServer({ environment: "test" })
}) it("shows the todos from our server", async () => { server.create("todo", { id: 1, content: "Learn Mirage JS" }) server.create("todo", { id: 2, content: "Integrate with Vue.js" }) const wrapper = mount(App) // let’s wait for our vue component to finish loading data // we know it’s done when the data-testid enters the dom. await waitFor(wrapper, '[data-testid="todo-1"]') await waitFor(wrapper, '[data-testid="todo-2"]') expect(wrapper.find('[data-testid="todo-1"]').text()).toBe("Learn Mirage JS") expect(wrapper.find('[data-testid="todo-2"]').text()).toBe("Integrate with Vue.js")
}) it("shows a message if there are no todo", async () => { // Don’t create any todos const wrapper = mount(App) await waitFor(wrapper, '[data-testid="no-todos"]') expect(wrapper.find('[data-testid="no-todos"]').text()).toBe("No todos!")
}) // This helper method returns a promise that resolves
// once the selector enters the wrapper’s dom.
const waitFor = function(wrapper, selector) { return new Promise(resolve => { const timer = setInterval(() => { const todoEl = wrapper.findAll(selector) if (todoEl.length > 0) { clearInterval(timer) resolve() } }, 100) })
} afterEach(() => { server.shutdown()
})

Note: We are using a helper here (as defined in the Mirage JS docs). It returns a promise that allows us to know when the elements we are testing are already in the DOM.

Now run yarn test:unit.

All your tests should pass at this point.

Testing Different Server State With Mirage JS

We could alter our Mirage JS server to test for different server states. Let’s see how.

// src/__tests__/App.spec.js
import { Response } from "miragejs"

First, we import the Response class from Mirage, then we create a new test scenario like so:

it("handles error responses from the server", async () => { // Override Mirage’s route handler for /todos, just for this test server.get("/todos", () => { return new Response( 500, {}, { error: "The database is taking a break.", } ) }) const wrapper = mount(App) await waitFor(wrapper, '[data-testid="server-error"]') expect(wrapper.find('[data-testid="server-error"]').text()).toBe( "The database is taking a break." )
})

Run your test and it all should pass.

Conclusion

This article aimed to introduce you to Mirage JS and show you how it makes for a better front-end development experience. We saw the problem Mirage JS created to address (building production-ready front-end without any actual backend API) and how to set it up with Vue.js.

Although this article scratched the surface of what Mirage JS can do, I believe it is enough to get you started.

  • You could go through the docs as well as join the Mirage JS discord server.
  • The supporting repo for this article is available on GitHub.

References

Smashing Editorial (dm, il)