A Copywriter’s Toolbox – Essential Books, Websites and Programs

writer's tools and advice

Every craftsman or craftswoman has a toolbox – a collection of items essential to getting the job done right. As a copywriter, I’m no different from a carpenter in this regard, except that instead of using a saw or a sledge hammer to whip wood into submission, I use reference materials and word processing programs to carve thoughts into blocks of words stacked one on top of the other to form a cohesive, coherent thought-sandwich of sorts, easily digestible in a series of satisfactory bites.

I won’t speak for all copywriters because everyone has a signature way of working, but here’s a breakdown of the tools I find most useful, broken down into three categories: things on my desk, on the Web and on my PC. Whether you’re a full-time copywriter, someone who regularly writes as a part of your job, or someone who writes for fun, I present these tried and true writer’s tools. I hope that you see at least one you haven’t used before and that it makes your life just a little bit easier – because it’s all about working smarter and not harder AMIRIGHT?!

Without further ado, here’s the gold:

On My Desk

The Associated Press Stylebook – This is my style Bible. It clearly outlines how to treat things like serial commas, numbers, capitalization and host of other pesky ambiguous grammar rules that are bendable in regular writing but not acceptable to toy with when you’re going for consistent, cohesive company communications. It’s the standard for news writing, and for Standing Dog. I have it earmarked it throughout with yellow sticky notes so that I can quickly reference things that don’t seem to want to stay straight in my head, such as whether to capitalize north, south, east and west (it depends), and whether to spell out numbers or use numerals for ages. (Use numerals always, unless it’s the start of a sentence. I just looked it up. I’ll look it up again next week, I’m sure.)

The Chicago Manual of Style – I come from a book publishing background, so for a while, this was my style Bible. CMS is the standard in book publishing, and its style rules vary in funny ways from AP style. This mostly has to do with the limited space newspapers used to have before they went online versus the ample space available in books. These days, I ignore its style suggestions but still turn to it every now and then for grammar rules that like to trip me up, such as when it’s appropriate to use a colon and how to format lists. Do you capitalize the first letter of each new list item? I can never remember, because it depends entirely on how the list is structured. Is it one long sentence, or a series of items? Vertical, or run-in? CMS dedicates four and a half pages entirely to the correct formatting of lists, God bless it, so there’s absolutely no guesswork involved.

On the Web

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips – I go to this site if I’m pressed for time and can’t spare the 10 to 15 minutes it could take to finding a grammar rule in CMS. It’s headed by this awesome grammar guru, Mignon Fogarty, who really knows her stuff. My only complaint with this site is that because grammar rules can be flexible, she presents multiple correct answers if several options exist, which then means I have to go back to AP or CMS for a definitive answer and still spend the time I’d hoped to save. This is a great writer’s tool for quick, correct answers when there’s only one right option, though.

Merriam-Webster – I probably look things up in this online dictionary 10 to 15 times a day. Usually, this is to check hyphenation or whether something that looks like it could be two words is really one, like “backyard.” Sometimes, it’s to check and see if I’ve made up a word, or if the word I think is a real word is actually a real word. Like the word “craftswoman” I used above. I looked it up, and it totally exists according to Merriam-Webster, which both surprised and delighted me because that’s the kind of thing I enjoy.

I also use the thesaurus tab on this site quite a bit. Standing Dog clients are primarily in the hospitality industry, and if I write about the same thing long enough there’s a danger of that writing becoming stale. As a human, my natural tendency is to use words I know, which might work fine for the first two properties I’m writing about, but after the tenth or eleventh similar landing page, I often find I need some new word blocks for my thought sandwiches. The thesaurus is invaluable for that reason.

On My PC

Microsoft Word – I don’t think I need to go into this one too much. This word processor isn’t perfect, but it’s what we’ve got, and I’m told it’s a heck of a lot more efficient than typewriters of yore, what with Word’s fancy functions such as spell check, backspace and track changes.

Excel – I have a love/hate relationship with this tool. It’s infinitely better with tables than Microsoft Word, making it useful for when we need to organize Web copy or content calendars in rows and columns. However, the nicest thing I can say about its spell check function is that it’s clunky. The only other thing I can say about its spell check function without going off on a rant that would fill an entirely new blog post is that I hate, hate, hate how you can’t see misspelled words called out with a squiggly line as you type and that you have to go back later and purposely check cells after finalizing the content. It makes it entirely too easy to forget to run spell check before sending off a document for review, which is a dangerous thing.

Notepad – Ironically, I like this tool for the same reason I dislike Excel: because it doesn’t tell me I’ve just misspelled something. But that’s because I use Notepad to brainstorm. It’s great for that because it never tells me to stop what I’ve doing to fix a mistake. Not only is there no squiggly line to let me know that I’ve mistyped something in Notepad, there’s no spell check function whatsoever. So, in Notepad I can spitball silly ideas stream-of-consciousness style uninterrupted, which is how I work best.

And there you have it, the tools that make my job easier. Hopefully knowing about them will help to make your job easier, too.

Are there any I didn’t mention that you recommend? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

 

 

Posted in Content, Tips and Trends Tagged , ,

Secrets to SEO Success : On-page Optimization

Just like search engines, on-page search optimization is ever-evolving, and many of us in the SEO and online marketing industries are constantly reading the latest and greatest “best practices” list to help us construct the most perfectly optimized sites around.

There’s a lot of great industry literature out there, but many brands still fall short of the mark with their SEO strategies. I’ll share a few trade secrets to help them out, simplifying the concepts and recommending my favorite tools.

To address the challenge of SEO success, let’s start by talking about title tags and meta descriptions. Title tags and meta descriptions are the two elements that every user sees in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Make sure to give them some extra tender loving care.

Title Tags

Title tags are the single most important on-page SEO element. (Besides high quality, shareable content, of course.) There are a few things to consider when writing a title tag. First, consider relevancy. If a user sees the title in the SERPs and clicks on it, will they be disappointed once they’ve arrived on your page, looking for content that isn’t there or doesn’t really apply to them? Does the title clearly suggest what the content is about? It should, and not just from a user experience perspective. We all know that Google will knock ya’ if users aren’t provided with a quality experience.

The second thing to think about is the length of your title tag. Prior to March 2014, title tags were roughly limited to 70 characters. This is no longer the case. Google recently rolled out a new redesign of their overall SERP format, and on March 12, Google’s lead search designer, Jon Wiley, confirmed that this new change was official and not just further testing on Google’s part. You can view the impact this new design has on title tags in the picture below:

example of title tags

You’ll notice with the font increase, the end of the title tag is pushed off the page and is no longer visible. Because of this, we have to adjust our best practices. Luckily for us, Moz has created a fantastic tool to help us construct a title tag that won’t run off the page. And to top that off, Screaming Frog has updated their spider software to measure titles by pixel width, so we can get a quick view of our titles that aren’t properly optimized.

To dive a little deeper, with title tags it is best to place the keyword or keyword phrase as close to the beginning as possible. According to Moz’ testing and experience team, “the closer to the start of the title tag a keyword is, the more helpful it will be for ranking and the more likely a user will be to click (there) in search results.”

Meta Descriptions

I realize that I said title tags and meta descriptions are the two elements that users see in the SERPS, and I also mentioned that title tags are the single most important on-page SEO element behind quality content. However, it’s also true that meta descriptions no longer carry the value they once did. Matt Cutts, Google’s distinguished engineer, very abruptly came out and shocked us last fall by basically saying meta descriptions hold no value as far as SEO goes. “The way I think of it is you can either have a unique meta tag description, or you can choose to have no meta tag description, but I wouldn’t have duplicate meta tag descriptions,” he said. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “Seriously? Why did I spend all that time coming up with clever, keyword-rich descriptions?!” Just make sure you come up with clever descriptions for each page or blog post on your site, and don’t rely on an auto-populating code, or copy-paste the same meta description for each page.

Meta descriptions are still very important. No, they may not give us that extra SEO punch like title tags do, but this is still the element that convinces the user to choose your site instead of your competitors’. So, I’ll recommend the “better safe than sorry” approach, continuing to create those informative, keyword-relevant meta descriptions.

Image Optimization

Another on-page element that many tend to overlook is alt text. The “alt” attribute indicates and provides alternative information for an image when it is not viewable, there is an error in the source attribute, or if the user is viewing your site with a screen reader. Failure to include alt text means that your website is less useful to those with disabilities and can keep them from having equal access to your information. Failure to include alt text also means that you are missing out on an opportunity to increase visibility in the SERPs.

Furthermore, including optimized images on your pages, only reinforces your keyword strategy, which indirectly and directly improves rankings.

When crawling image searches, just as when crawling for general web results, search engines are going to reward the most relevant search results for a better user experience.  By following alt text best practices, the likelihood your image will be returned in the SERPs will only increase.

Fun Fact: Standing Dog Interactive proudly boasts the top placement in the SERPs for Charlie Sheen’s “Winning” picture, and we would not have done so without proper alt text optimization.

So, what is considered “proper alt text optimization,” anyways?

Proper alt text optimization guidelines:

  • Use appropriate descriptors and keywords when relevant
    • Do NOT keyword stuff your alt text
  • Keep the maximum length to about 125 characters
    • Typically a few words to describe the image content is sufficient
  • Text should explain where the link goes if the image is inside an <a> element
  • Use alt=”” if the image is for decoration and doesn’t support your keyword strategy

Shall we take it one step further?

As SEO’s, we are constantly searching for the latest SEO techniques to keep ourselves ahead of the game and to bolster our clients’ marketing efforts, and this Standing Dog has new tricks for our clients in 2014.

Meet Geosetter, a wonderful and FREE tool that allows you to bulk edit EXIF data on images and add:

  • Titles
  • Tags
  • Keywords
  • Descriptions
  • Address
  • Lat-long Coordinates

We use GeoSetter to add tags for multiple image files simultaneously. While adding tags to files may not be a new concept, doing so in bulk and having the ability to also add the latitude and longitude coordinates and a multitude of other data is. Let’s just say, this is like a Yoast Plugin for images.

To optimize your images, simply download and install GeoSetter. In the program, select - Images > Open Folder and choose the designated picture, or folder of pictures you desire. Here, is where the magic happens. To add keywords, titles, lat/long, author detail and more, select - Images > Edit data.

Below is a screenshot of the interface with an example of when we optimized our responsive web design infographic:

geosetter tool for seo success

For more useful and free SEO tools, check out searchenginewatch.com’s Chuck Price’s list of 21 Free SEO Tools for On-page optimization.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for SEO success? Do you have any SEO questions that we didn’t answer? Let’s discuss in the comments!

 

 

Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, SEO Tagged , , , ,

Standing Dog Helps the Cowtown Community

fort worth cowtown volunteer

Not only does Standing Dog Interactive encourage employee growth within our bright and colorful office walls, the agency also pushes employees to grow as community activists and make a positive impact through volunteerism.

In addition to standard earned vacation hours, employees are allowed several days out of the office each year for community service projects. This year I chose to volunteer at the race expo for the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth. The expo serves as an annual fundraiser for the Cowtown Children’s Activities for Life and Fitness (C.A.L.F.) Program, which educates children on the importance of healthy lifestyles.

I chose to volunteer at the race expo because as a runner I am always amazed at how many volunteers it takes to organize a successful race day, and grateful to those who spend their time making the day fun and motivating for the runners. But since, I, of course, wanted to run the marathon on Sunday, volunteering at the expo before race day was the next best way for me to help!

My volunteer activities included assisting with runner registration and packet pick-up for other marathon and half-marathon runners. It was very fun and rewarding to welcome other runners to the area and wish them good luck on their run the next day. I also got a good laugh as almost everyone asked about the t-shirt pickup because let’s be honest- the only reason you really sign up for a marathon is for the t-shirt. Kidding! (Kind of. T-shirts or it didn’t happen!)

Overall it was a great experience and a very fun and uplifting way to begin my marathon weekend while also giving back to the community by supporting my fellow runners and impacting children through the funds raised by C.A.L.F. I sincerely appreciate working for a company that not only offers volunteer hours, but allows us to pursue the projects that reflect our passion. What a neat way to encourage employees to give back!

Posted in Community Outreach, Employees, Standing Dog Tagged , ,

GetListed Now Moz Local, With More Efficient Listings Management

moz-local-1.jpg

Earlier this week, Moz rolled out its new local citation tool, Moz Local. This tool replaces the old Getlisted.org powered by Moz. With the Getlisted.org tool, SEO professionals were able to look up a company and get a score based on how it was cited across major search engines. Users could identify errors with their citations but were not able to fix them without going to each individual site and editing the information.

But now, that painful process is a thing of the past, according to the Moz announcement, made by David Mihm, GetListed’s founder.

“As we thought about how to evolve GetListed’s original product, we decided to start by helping solve the fundamental pain point of local search: ensuring accurate, consistent business listing information on the most important sites on the web,” he said.

Moz is known for being an empathetic company, valuing user experience and efficiency for business owners and marketers working with SEO.  Moz Local is the company’s response to the increasing shift from desktop to mobile,  the fragmented landscape of local search and the resources invested in keeping up with Google’s changing landscape.

The most exciting part of Moz Local is that for a small fee, they will now manage listings with the top data aggregators. Users can activate this by filling out their template and uploading it into the Moz Local system and it goes to work from there.

moz local distribution

The platform also enables SEO’s to view a more detailed explanation of how a company is cited across the major search engines with a more user-friendly interface, and provides a list of what needs to be fixed, like duplicate listings, inconsistencies and incomplete information.

After Moz Local was announced, Standing Dog immediately began testing it on select clients to get more information on the process and eventually, make informed recommendations on whether to implement it across the board.

“In addition to an elegant interface, Moz Local will also save our clients on local optimization costs. We’re always looking for ways to increase visibility efficiently and Moz Local does just that,” said Standing Dog Interactive’s SEO Director Shawn Cohen.

For More information on what Moz Local has to offer, visit the web site’s How it Works section.

Posted in News, SEO, Tips and Trends

Nine Steps to Saving Big with Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” Tool

priceline's "name your own price" tool

Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool is the Shatner-endorsed way to bid on hotels or airline flights. (And then pay additional taxes and fees.) Usually, I wouldn’t use a tool like this because it breaks the first rule of negotiation: Never talk first. But, if you go about it the right way, this tool can save you BIG.

Why Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool works

Priceline is able to get you a significant discount because it is not directly advertising the price of any one hotel. Instead, it is letting you bid on a star-rated range of hotels in a specific area. Hotels still want to fill up their property so they are willing to let rooms sell at a much cheaper rate.

priceline's "name your own price" tool

Pictured above: Actual price paid for a recent stay using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool.

Do you want to save big like that? Follow these nine steps for naming your price like a boss.

1)  Wait until the last second

Hotels usually accept much lower rates the closer it gets to check-in. A hotel is much more concerned about booking a room tonight or tomorrow than about  booking a room three months from now. I know it can be intimidating, but if you want to get the best possible rate, you’ll want to stay within one week of your check-in.

2) Do your homework

If you search by star range, you’ll realize that in most areas, you’re really only choosing among three or four hotels. Look at each hotel and decide if you would be willing to stay at the worst hotel listed. Then decide at what price point you would consider staying at the worst hotel. I find it helpful to pull up a map and figure out exactly which hotels are in the area.

3) Don’t forget about fees

Priceline will sometimes add on a significant fee. This varies between areas, but I have seen fees get as high as 37 percent of the customer bid. The best way to check on this is to “preview your reservation.” You’ll see the fees broken out on the page.

4) Be willing to risk it all.

When you look at Priceline’s shopping tool, you will see recommendations for the price. Usually this is a bit of a discount, but still something that any hotel will turn a significant profit from. If you put in a price that is too low, Priceline will give you an intimidating warning about your bid.

priceline's "name your own price" tool

5)  Be reasonable

Yes, you’re trying to get a great deal, but be realistic about it. Remember that hotels are businesses, so your bid must be high enough to cover their break-even point for the room. There isn’t any magic number for what to bid, but usually I place my first bid (yes, first bid) at about 40 percent of the recommended price.

6) You can get more bids. (Surprise!)

I know. I was shocked too. Priceline gives you a very stern warning (see above) that says you’re only going to get one bid for the neighborhood. However, if you send an offer that is somewhat reasonable, but does not get accepted, Priceline will let you bid again for the same neighborhood. However, you can only bid higher. At this point I recommend stopping to consider if you are willing to pay more than you initially did. Remember that you could end up staying in your least favorite hotel in the neighborhood and Priceline will still add on fees.

7) Change your star range/neighborhood

No hotel accepted your first bid? No one came around for your slightly better second bid? No worries! Just change your star level or neighborhood. That’s something that Priceline doesn’t make clear at the beginning; you can start the whole process over. At this point you’ll want to go back to Step 1 and do your homework again, but remember that you can do this for every combination of star levels and neighborhoods.

8) Call the hotel after you get confirmation

As a best practice for Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Priceline, I always recommend contacting the hotel after your booking. Confirm your room and any special needs you might have. Write down the name of the person that you spoke to. This will take five minutes and can save you a ton of headache in the future.

9)  Enjoy your win, and be nice

When you get to the lobby take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and remember you probably got a better deal than anyone else in the hotel that night. But with great power comes great responsibility. I always make it a point to be very courteous and to generously tip the staff. After all, if a bunch of jerks start coming in through services like Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool, hotels may stop accepting lower bids.

Happy Bidding, Travelers!

Posted in Industry News, Tips and Trends, Website Tagged , ,

How Annoying Do Your Customers Find Typos and Grammatical Errors on Web Copy, Really – and Are They Affecting Sales?

I am a grammar girl. I graduated with a degree in English. I read books such as Eats, Shoots & Leaves in my free time. At work, I am never without www.merriam-webster.com open in a tab on my browser and The Associated Press Stylebook within reach. I derive a real sense of satisfaction from saving the Internet from error-ridden advertising copy one misplaced modifier at a time. When I come across a typo or grammatical error somewhere that I can’t fix it, I take offense, as if its a personal affront.

Thankfully, we live in a big, diverse world full of people with there own interests and obsessions that do not necessarily align with mine. That is a great thing. It means that we don’t all agree, which in turn gives us plenty to talk about and keeps conversations interesting.  So, lets discuss grammar and how we all feel about it.

As a copywriter for an Internet marketing agency, I am very intrigued by behavioral data – specifically, what people do when they get to a page with copy on it, and why they do it. Lately, I’ve started to wonder about how typos and grammatical errors effect users’ experiences on websites and whether errors deter customers from making online purchases.

I posed the question to my colleges here at Standing Dog Interactive via a poll on Standing Dog’s internal social network Yammer and my personal Facebook friends via a wall post. Here’s a fun pie chart breakdown of how they responded:

how annoying are typos really

The majority of people polled said that errors bothered them at least somewhat. Most people polled also said that they consider the type of error (typo, grammatical, one-off or a consistent issue, etc.) and than make a decision on whether to continue reading or making a purchase based on the level of egregiousness. A very small minority said that they did not mind errors at all.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that in the comments several people introduced an interesting angle that I hadn’t thought of. Everyone in this group took the size of the business into consideration when deciding whether or not they minded the typos enough to keep them from purchasing a product, but from their they divided into two camps. One gave more leeway to small business websites than to those of major companies, and the other did the opposite. Here is a comment from each school of thought to help illustrate what I mean by that:

do errors affect sales

do errors affect sales

These responses were intriguing because they revealed conflicting prejudices for major brand sites vs. minor brand sites as well as opposing customer reactions to typos based on separate lines of logic.

Some people seemed to believe that because small companies may not have the bandwidth for large teams of copywriters and copy editors, they’re due a little slack when it comes to the typo question. Conversely, those on the opposite side of the fence were more likely to continue to buy from a major business rather than a smaller one because the large company had already earned their trust after years of positive purchasing experiences. The small company, meanwhile, was an unfamiliar entity with a greater need to prove it’s website’s legitimacy.

But that’s more of a side note – just something fun to think about. Now let’s get back the real question, shall we?

Do typos and grammatical errors really matter to customers?

Do errors affect sales? A majority of the people polled confirmed that they cared about errors in web copy, which tells me that it’s likely in a company’s best interest to make their copy clean. Negative web user experiences hurt sales, and the findings in this sampling indicates that typos and grammatical errors will likely cause a major segment of a company’s potential customers to have a negative experience on its website.

I want to emphasize “likely” here because a sampling of only a few dozen people are hardly large enough to be definitive. That’s where you come in. Yes – you, readers of the Standing Dog Interactive blog! Help me prove or disprove this burgeoning theory by answering the poll yourselves.

When you notice a typo or grammatical error on a website, which is closest to your reaction?

While we’re at it, let’s make things even more interesting by adding another layer of data to the table: The problem with this poll is that it only tells me what people say they would do, which is not always reflective of what they would actually do. This is why I have intentionally put errors in this blog post.

How many did you notice and how did they make you react? Were they a complete assault to your delicate sensibilities, more of a mild annoyance (like the pesky buzz of a persistent housefly) or not even worth noticing? Let’s compare notes in the comments!

 

Posted in Content, Content Strategy, Writing Tagged , , ,

User Interface Design: Flat vs. Skeuomorphic

user-interface-blog-header

In the early stages of user interface design it was important to communicate visually to users those elements that were interactive, or clickable. The method used to do this was called skeuomorphism, which is when a user can tell what an object does based on its appearance.

When the web was new, it was important to take images of familiar items in the physical world (like dials, clocks, and buttons) and recreate them to look three-dimensional in the digital world. For example, digital calculators were designed to look and act just like physical calculators with their 3D buttons and arrangement of numbers.

skeuomorphic user interface

Designers would add highlights and shadows to make buttons look three-dimensional so that users would know to push them, as they would push a real button.  Other techniques included using textures such as the yellow lined legal pad for notes and a virtual “leather-bound” folio for the calendar.

People are becoming increasingly familiar with digital interfaces. In the last 10 years, more than a billion people have started using smart phones and other digital devices.  Our perception and thought processes have evolved to recognize buttons on phones even if they don’t look like buttons.

Therefore, there is a trend to move past the use of skeuomorphism and into an interface of flat design, a minimal design approach that focuses on clean lines, bright colors and two-dimensional illustration techniques.

glossy and flat user interface example

Flat design takes away the highlights, shadows, textures, and other visual cues that make objects look three-dimensional and instead renders a flat graphic. The new flat trend gives a fresh look and feel to the conventional Web 2.0 rut that so many sites have been stuck in for the last few years.

Large tech companies are moving away from skeuomorphic user interface design, including Microsoft, with its Metro design, a typography-based design language used on the Windows Phone 7. Content is more easily accessible and easier to read when the extra design fluff has been stripped away.

screen-interface-windows-start

One advantage of flat design for digital designers is it lends itself to responsive design techniques because it uses fewer textures and images and can be produced in the browser using newer design technologies.

But, there is a time and place for everything and flat design is not always the most appropriate design language for every project. Flat design should not be adopted everywhere just because it is trendy.  Use a design language that makes sense for your product, service, and users.

 

 

Posted in Creative, Design, UX, web design, Website

Here We Grow! Standing Dog’s Expansion Update

standing dog agency  happy hourHere we grow again! Standing Dog Interactive has seen some big changes in the last two months, and last Friday marked the revealing of the first of two expansion projects that will add nearly 3,000 square feet to the agency’s third-floor home in the Twin Sixties Tower.

The interactive marketing agency just celebrated its new 1,085 square foot, state-of-the-art training room built across the hall from where the second expansion project is underway. The new space seats 60 and boasts an 80-inch television, projector with 113-inch electric-powered screen and two 4 x 8 dry-erase glass boards for brainstorming sessions. The first training seminar on e-mail marketing showcased the comfortable space and multimedia capabilities.

“It’s bright, clean and functional,” said SEO specialist Ciera Lima.

standing dog happy hourIn addition to the technology it houses, the space will accommodate a photography studio set-up with lights, props and backdrops for staging photos and producing videos.

“The design and technology of the room allow us to adapt, learn and share in ways that best reflect the situation, whether as a classroom setting for a seminar or a boardroom when we need to discuss and debate a subject,” said senior SEO manager Bart Peters.

mike wylie standing dogStanding Dog hosted a grand opening happy hour last Friday to celebrate the completed training room and share excitement about the agency’s next change. This past weekend, three offices and a creative conference room were demolished to make way for nearly 2,000 square feet of space that will house the agency’s inbound marketing department.

By the time construction is complete, Standing Dog will occupy 9,185 square feet of leased office space.

The beautiful new training room inspired some poetry from SEO specialist Chris Brown:

“White wall new canvas/Projector hangs like an egg/View purple with blue.”

standing dog happy hourJamie Mathine, Standing Dog’s vice president of finance and operations, appreciates the training room’s many options for work and fun.

“It provides a great atmosphere for company happy hours or other events, with an XBox One, in-ceiling speakers if we want to play music, and two refrigerators for easy access to beverages,” he said.

Watch a time lapse of the construction project that created the new training room, and stay tuned for photos and more as the latest space takes shape.

Posted in Company News

Exploring Microsoft’s Bing Rewards

bing-rewards-header

Microsoft launched the Bing Rewards program in September 2010 in an attempt to lure searchers away from Google, which currently does not have a rewards program. Participants can earn credits and special promotions simply by using Bing.com for web searches and using Bing’s special offers and productivity tools. Through Bing Rewards, credits can be redeemed for sweepstakes, gift cards, and even charitable donations.  In November 2010 I wrote a post about Bing Rewards, and have been using the program and studying its evolution since then.

At launch, a Bing Toolbar was required, but now you can earn credits in any browser by simply being logged in to Bing via a Microsoft Account or Facebook.  Aside from making general search queries, users can earn additional credits by referring friends, trying new features, and by making Bing their homepage. Another feature was added that rewards dedicated Bing users even further through a tiered status: Member, Silver, and Gold. Gold, the highest level, provides discounts for redeemable items, but to retain that status, a user must conduct 150 reward-eligible searches each month.

microsoft bing rewards

In the past three years since my last post on the topic, let’s see how rewarding Bing has been to me.

Over the lifetime of my account (Since September 2010), I have earned a total of 6,349 credits.  The bulk of the earnings have primarily been from general search queries, but I also earned through viewing tutorials, two friend referrals, and special promotions like double credits on Sundays for the month of December.

Let’s review how this translates to dollars.  In this scenario, I will use the discount provided to users with a Gold status.  In addition to the items listed below, there are options provided for GameStop, Sephora, Fandango, Dominos, and many others.

$5.00 Starbucks Card: 475 Credits | USD Value of .0105 per Credit

$5.00 Amazon Gift Card: 475 Credits | USD Value of .0105 per Credit

$3.00 Xbox Digital Gift Card: 360 Credits | USD Value of .0083 per Credit

$1.25 Windows Phone Gift Card: 160 Credits | USD Value of .0078 per Credit

As you can see, there is more value in banking credits for higher dollar amounts vs the smaller amounts.  Based on my earned total of 5,634 credits, that would net $66.67 in Starbucks Cards. (Provided that a user was Gold at the start based on the example above.)

Here is what I have actually redeemed over the last three years.

Six 100 Microsoft Points for Xbox 360

Four 400 Microsoft Points for Xbox 360

Three $5.00 Windows Phone Gift Cards

Three $1.25 Windows Phone Gift Cards

Two $3.00 Xbox Digital Gift Cards

One $5.00 Amazon Gift Card

Total Value: $57.25

Per Year Value: $17.08

Bing Rewards has definitely played a part in me setting Bing as my default search provider. While the per-year value is small in comparison to the total earned to date, it’s better than zero. Bing still has challenges to overcome other than getting more market share. For example, I still find Google Maps far superior than Bing Maps, and I prefer Google’s shopping experience. But by having choice and researching both options, I use the services of both providers based on what I find more useful with each.

Try the Bing It On Challenge and see what engine you prefer and sign up for Bing Rewards.

Do you stick to one search engine, or do mix it up? Do rewards programs like this influence your decisions on how you search? Let us know in the comments.

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