Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing ~ Helping New Teams Perform Effectively, Quickly

Effective teamwork is essential in today’s world, but as you’ll know from the teams you have led or belonged to, you can’t expect a new team to perform exceptionally from the very outset. Team formation takes time, and usually follows some easily recognizable stages, as the team journeys from being a group of strangers to becoming a united team with a common goal.

Whether your team is a temporary working group or a newly-formed, permanent team, by understanding these stages you will be able to help it quickly become productive.

Understanding the Theory

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming and performing” back in 1965. He used it to describe the path to high-performance that most teams follow. Later, he added a fifth stage that he called “adjourning” (and others often call “mourning” – it rhymes better!)

Teams initially go through a “forming”stage in which members are positive and polite. Some members are anxious, as they haven’t yet worked out exactly what work the team will involve. Others are simply excited about the task ahead. As leader, you play a dominant role at this stage: other members’ roles and responsibilities are less clear.

This stage is usually fairly short, and may only last for the single meeting at which people are introduced to one-another. At this stage there may be discussions about how the team will work, which can be frustrating for some members who simply want to get on with the team task.

Soon, reality sets in and your team moves into a “storming” phase. Your authority may be challenged as others jockey for position and their roles are clarified. The ways of working start to be defined and, as leader, you must be aware that some members may feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do, or uncomfortable with the approach being used. Some may react by questioning how worthwhile the goal of the team is, and by resisting taking on tasks. This is the stage when many teams fail, and even those that stick with the task may feel that they are on an emotional roller coaster, as they try to focus on the job in hand without the support of established processes or relationships with their colleagues.

Gradually, the team moves into a“norming” stage, as a hierarchy is established. Team members come to respect your authority as a leader, and others show leadership in specific areas.

Now that the team members know each other better, they may be socializing together, and they are able to ask each other for help and provide constructive criticism. The team develops a stronger commitment to the team goal, and you start to see good progress towards it.

There is often a prolonged overlap between storming and norming behavior: As new tasks come up, the team may lapse back into typical storming stage behavior, but this eventually dies out.

When the team reaches the “performing”stage, hard work leads directly to progress towards the shared vision of their goal, supported by the structures and processes that have been set up. Individual team members may join or leave the team without affecting the performing culture.

As leader, you are able to delegate much of the work and can concentrate on developing team members. Being part of the team at this stage feels “easy” compared with earlier on.

Project teams exist only for a fixed period, and even permanent teams may be disbanded through organizational restructuring. As team leader, your concern is both for the team’s goal and the team members. Breaking up a team can be stressful for all concerned and the“adjourning” or “mourning” stage is important in reaching both team goal and personal conclusions.

The break up of the team can be hard for members who like routine or who have developed close working relationships with other team members, particularly if their future roles or even jobs look uncertain.

Using the Tool

As a team leader, your aim is to help your team reach and sustain high performance as soon as possible. To do this, you will need to change your approach at each stage. The steps below will help ensure you are doing the right thing at the right time.

Identify which stage of the team development your team is at from the descriptions above.Now consider what needs to be done to move towards the Performing stage, and what you can do to help the team do that effectively. The table below (Figure 1) helps you understand your role at each stage, and think about how to move the team forward.Schedule regular reviews of where your teams are, and adjust your 
behavior and leadership approach to suit the stage your team has 
reached. 

Figure 01: Leadership Activities at Different Group Formation Stages

Forming
Direct the team and establish objectives clearly. (A good way of doing this is to negotiate a team charter.)

Storming
Establish process and structure, and work to smooth conflict and build good relationships between team members. Generally provide support, especially to those team members who are less secure. Remain positive and firm in the face of challenges to your leadership or the team’s goal. Perhaps explain the “forming, storming, norming and performing” idea so that people understand why conflict’s occurring, and understand that things will get better in the future. And consider teaching assertiveness and conflict resolution skills where these are necessary.

Norming
Step back and help the team take responsibility for progress towards the goal. This is a good time to arrange a social, or a team-building event.

Performing
Delegate as far as you sensibly can. Once the team has achieved high performance, you should aim to have as “light a touch” as possible. You will now be able to start focusing on other goals and areas of work.

Adjourning
When breaking up a team, take the time to celebrate its achievements. After all, you may well work with some of your people again, and this will be much easier if people view past experiences positively.

Tip 1:
Make sure that you leave plenty of time in your schedule to coach team members through the “Forming”, “Storming” and “Norming” stages.

Tip 2:
Think about how much progress you should expect towards the goal and by when, and measure success against that. Remember that you’ve got to go through the “Forming”, “Storming” and “Norming” stages before the team starts “Performing”, and that there may not be much progress during this time. Communicating progress against appropriate targets is important if your team’s members are to feel that what they’re going through is worth while. Without such targets, they can feel that, “Three weeks have gone by and we’ve still not got anywhere”.

Tip 3:
Not all teams and situations will behave in this way, however many will – use this approach, but don’t try to force situations to fit it. And make sure that people don’t use knowledge of the “storming” stage as a license for boorish behavior.

Key Points:

Teams are formed because they can achieve far more than their individual members can on their own, and while being part of a high-performing team can be fun, it can take patience and professionalism to get to that stage.

Effective team leaders can accelerate that process and reduce the difficulties that team members experience by understanding what they need to do as their team moves through the stages from forming to storming, norming and, finally, performing.

Team Management Skills ~ The core skills needed to manage your team

So you’ve just got a new job as a manager or supervisor. Congratulations! Or, maybe you’ve just been given the task of pulling a new team together. What a challenge!

Either way, whether your team exists already, or whether it’s your responsibility to create it, what do you do next?

This article looks at some of the key things that team managers need to do if their team is to thrive and succeed. These range from choosing the right people and deciding who does what, to communicating with, developing and motivating people. It also covers some of the most common pitfalls to be avoided.

 

First Things First
But before that, some definitions are useful. What IS management, exactly? And how does it differ from leadership?

A good starting point is the Warren G. Bennis quote that “Leaders do the right things, while managers do things right.” What this means is that leadership involves setting direction, communicating that vision passionately to those they work with, and helping the people they lead understand and commit to that vision. Managers, on the other hand, are responsible for ensuring that the vision is implemented efficiently and successfully.

Of course, these two roles overlap considerably – and what’s best is when you fulfill both roles. However, the focus here is on the specific skills and responsibilities of managers, and the tools available to them. (For more on leadership, see our leadership section.) After all, there’s no point energizing people to work towards a fabulous vision of the future, only to fall flat on your face when it comes to implementation.

Who do you need in your team?

The top priority for team managers is delegation. No matter how skilled you are, you’re just one person, while your team may be made up of many people. So it is absolutely essential that you have the right people on your team and delegate as much as possible to them.

Successful delegation starts with matching people and tasks, so you need first to understand fully what the team’s role and goals are. Only then will you be in a position to analyze the skills, experience and competencies within your team, and start matching people to tasks. Read our article on task allocation for more detail on how to go about this, and how to deal with real-world challenges, such as managing the gaps and overlaps between team members’ skill sets.

If you’ve had to bring in a substantial number of new people, read our article on forming, norming, storming and performing to understand the stages you can expect the team to go through on the road to successful performance.

Note:
Many new managers and supervisors reading this article will be taking over the management of an existing team rather than bringing together a new one. However, it’s worth considering how you would put together your ideal team if you had the opportunity, so you fully understand the issues you may face.

Briefing your team

Now that you’ve got your team together, you need to make sure that they’re as clear as you are about what you’re all there for. In the book Monday Morning Mentoring, a wise coach advises a young manager that he must always know what the “main thing” is that his team are working to achieve, and should focus closely on this so that they all “keep the main thing the main thing”.

A good way of doing this is by putting together a team charter which sets out the purpose of the team and how it will work. Not only does this help you get your team off to a great start, it can also be useful in bringing the team back on track if it’s veering off course.

Motivating your team

Another key duty you have as a manager is to motivate team members. Our article on Theory X and Theory Y explains two very different approaches to motivation. Find out more about the aspects of motivating other people that you can improve on with our How Good Are Your Motivation Skills? quiz.

Whatever approach you prefer to adopt, you also need to bear in mind that different people have different needs when it comes to motivation. Some individuals are highly self-motivated, while others will under-perform without managerial input. Use our article on Pygmalion Motivation to understand how to motivate these different groups.

Developing your team

Teams are made up of individuals who are all at different stages of their careers. Some may find the tasks you’ve allocated to them are challenging, and they may need support. Others may be “old hands” at what they’re doing, and may be looking for opportunities to stretch their skills. Either way, your responsibility as a manager is to develop all of your people.

Your skills in this aspect of management will define your long-term success as a manager. If you can help team members to become better at what they do, you will soon become known as a manager that others want to work for, and you’ll be making a great contribution to your organization too.

The most effective way of doing this is to ensure that you give regular feedback to members of your team on their work. Many of us are nervous of giving feedback, especially when it has to be negative. However, if you give and receive feedback regularly, everyone will come to benefit from improved performance.

Beyond this, our article on Understanding Developmental Needs will help you develop individual team members, and maximize their performance.

Communicating and working with your team – and with others

Communication skills are essential for success in almost any role, but there are particular skills and techniques which you’ll use more as a manager than you needed to when you were a regular “worker”. These fall under two headings: Communicating and working with those within your team; and Communicating and working with people outside your team. We’ll look at each in turn.

Communicating and working with your team

As the team manager, you’re likely to be chairing a number of meetings involving your team, including regular sessions as well as one-off meetings. Meeting of all kinds, and regular ones in particular, are notorious for their capacity to waste people’s time, so the skill of running effective meetings is well worth mastering.

Many meetings include brainstorming sessions, and as team manager, you’ll often have to act as moderator, so you’ll need to be comfortable with how to do this. There’s more to it than simply coming up with creative ideas, as you do when you’re just a regular participant in such a session. Read our article to find out what to do.

Another important skill for managers – and others – to master is active listening. When you’re in charge, it can be easy to think that you know what others are going to say, or that listening is less important because you’ve thought of a solution anyway. Don’t fall into this trap. Most good managers are active listeners: It helps them avoid time waster through misunderstandings, and it builds good relationships within the team.

Communicating and working with others

One of the most important people you need to communicate with effectively is your own boss. Take time to understand fully what your boss wants from you and your team. If you know exactly what he or she likes, and how he or she prefers it to be delivered, you’ll be better able to meet with his or her approval.

Don’t be afraid to ask your boss to coach or mentor you: You can usually learn a lot from your boss, but he or she may not be proactive about offering this. If you’re approaching your boss for advice, make sure you’ve thought things through as far as you can. Introduce the subject with a summary of this thinking, and then say where you need help.

Also, as a manager, part of your job is to look after your team and protect it from unreasonable pressure. Learn skills like assertiveness and win-win negotiation so that you can either turn work away, or negotiate additional resources.

Another part of your job is to manage the way your team interacts with other groups. Use stakeholder analysis to identify the groups you deal with, so that you can identify what they can do for you and what they want from you.

Managing discipline

However much you hope you won’t ever have to do it, and however much feedback you give, there comes a time in most managers’ careers when they have to discipline an employee. Discipline may be subtly different from basic feedback because it doesn’t always relate specifically to the employee’s work. You can give feedback on their phone manner, for example, but handling problems with timekeeping or personal grooming can need a different approach.

Obvious breaches of the law or of company policy are easy to identify and deal with. But what of other situations? On one hand you don’t want to feel or seem petty. On the other hand, you can’t let things go that should be dealt with.

Use these rules-of-thumb to help you decide whether you need to take action. If the answer to any is yes, then you need to arrange a time to speak to the employee in private.

Does the issue affect the quality of the employee’s deliverable to the client (internal or external)?
A graphic designer regularly only gets in to work late, although he stays late to make up for this. Customers are sometimes frustrated by not being able to get through to him at the start of the day when he’s working on rush jobs. 
Does the issue adversely impact the cohesiveness of the team?
Individual designers largely work on their own projects with few meetings between design team members, so cohesiveness is not impacted. However people are noticing his lack of punctuality, and other people’s timekeeping is beginning to slip. 
Does the issue unnecessarily undermine the interests of other individuals in the team?
The designer sitting next to the latecomer is unhappy that she has to field calls from clients before he reaches the office, and is unable to give a firm answer to the question “When will he be in?”The design team manager decides to speak to the latecomer because of the impact on his co-worker. They agree that coming in to work late is not a problem (he has a long commute, with heavy traffic en route) but that he will commit to being in by 9.30am every day to reduce the number of calls his co-worker has to field, and also give her a fixed time to give clients. He will also work late to make up time.

When you are faced with a potential discipline issue, take the time you need to gather information about the situation, then decide what you’re going to do and act. Discipline issues rarely go away of their own accord, and they usually get worse, often causing considerable unhappiness and resentment amongst other team members.

Traps to Avoid

The following pitfalls are common ones that managers fall into. Take care to avoid them!

Thinking that you can rely on your existing job knowledge and technical skills to succeed as a manager. It is essential that you develop management and people skills.Failing to consult regularly with your boss, in a misguided attempt to show that you’re competent and can cope on your own. However, when you approach your boss, make sure you’ve thought the issue through, and have some ideas as to how the problem can be solved.Embarrassing your boss, or letting him or her get a nasty surprise. Follow the “no surprises” rule.Doing anything that requires your boss to defend you to others. This will cost your boss in terms of political capital or “loss of face” with his or peers and superiors, and it makes him or her look bad for not “nipping the problem in the bud.”Failing to talk to your customers (whether internal or external) about what they want from you and your team, and failing to act on this.Using your authority inappropriately. Make sure that everything you ask people to do is in the interests of the organization.

Many of these points may sound common sense, however it’s incredibly easy to make these mistakes in the rush of everyday managerial life.

Key Points:

When you move from being a worker to a line manager, you need to develop a new set of skills, and make use of new tools and techniques. These will help you with the key management areas of organizing, motivating, developing and communicating with your team.

You also need to learn specific time management techniques relevant to your role as a manager. It can be helpful, too, for you to understand the different managerial styles that are commonly found so that you understand where your natural approach lies, and can work best to improve on this.

A/B (Split) Testing – Part 03

A/B testing is a fantastic method for figuring out the best online promotional and marketing strategies for your business. It can be used to test everything from website copy to sales emails to search ads.

Well-planned A/B testing can make a huge difference. Here is the last in a series of posts covering A/B testing.

How Do You Plan an A/B Test?

  • Test With Multiple Versions of Landing Page
    • Which Copy Increased Trial Sign-Ups
    • Which Landing Page Got Lead Generation Form Submissions
    • Test Buttons, Images and Headlines.
    • Does Matching Headline & Body Copy to Your Initial Ad Copy Really Matter?
    • Test Hyperlinks and different Find out which radically Redesigned Form Increased B2B Leads.
    • Try adding testimonials to your Homepage to know if that increase Sales
    • Try different Social Proof, i.e. ‘Big Brand Prices’ vs. Consumer Ratings. Find out if that increase Conversions
    • Add an Email Security Seal Help or Hinder Lead Generation Form Completions.
    • Try with multiple PPC Landing Pages. Find out which one got more trial downloads?
  • Site Navigation
    • Test the order of menu items in site navigation.
    • Test the display of navigation bar to find out if site visitors prefer a horizontal or vertical orientation
    • Try a fixed navigation bar that travels down the page as site visitors scroll
    • Test out the title of navigation items. A simple change, like How It Works to “Why Us” may have a significant impact.
    • Testing Tip: If a test fails, try targeting the test to new versus returning visitors. Returning visitors are accustomed to seeing the site in a certain way—if a link or menu item is missing from the spot they normally go to find it, they’re not going to do the work to locate it.
  • Test Call-to-Action (CTA) Buttons:
    • Change the call-to-action (CTA) text on your buttons tosee which word or phrase converts more visitors
    • Try varying the location of your CTA button, making some CTAs more prominent than others
    • Test multiple CTAs per page against one CTA per page
    • Try using hyperlinks instead of buttons to find out which display your users prefer
    • Test CTAs with text, icons, or text + icons convert more users on your site
    • Test different CTA hover states to make it more obvious that buttons are clickable and create a feel of interactivity on the page
    • Do a multi-page funnel test on the communication process to figure out where people drop off in that flow
    • Test different colors, shapes, and sizes for CTA buttons on your website
    • Sample Test 01
      • A: See Live Demo | B: After hours help
      • Audience: Customers
      • Goal: Clicks on call to action button
      • Result: B increased clicks on CTA by XYZ%.
      • Takeaway: Customer Interest
    • Sample Test 02
      • A: 1 CTA |B: Multiple CTAs
      • Audience: Customers
      • Goal: Clicks on call to action
      • Result: A, 1 call to action, led to a XYZ% increase in clicks.
      • Takeaway:  Customer Click Interest 
  • Emails A/B Test
    Subject line test: To anticipate questions often hear from new customers, and provide them with accessible resources. If we pose a question in our subject line that mirrors how our customers think about a testing challenge, then clicks to our resource page will increase.

    • Target the audience
      Hypothesis: The click through rate will be higher on FAQ emails for customers who have previously submitted support cases.

      Test resource placement
      Hypothesis: Adding a FAQ article list in our help center next to the support submission form will decrease support tickets that are related to the FAQ
    • Subject Line Test 1:
      A: Are your inside sales reps spending only 20% of their time closing?
      B: Do you know how much time your inside sales reps are spending of their time closing?
      Audience: Leads
      Goal: Clicks on call to action button
      Result: Subject line leads to increase in clicks.
      Takeaway: Lead database likes to know what type of content they are receiving.
    • Subject Line Test 2:
      A: New SVP of Engineering arrives with broad experience from Amazon
      B: Mr. X of joins ABC Company as the New VP of Engineering.
      Audience: Customers
      Goal: Opens
      Result: Subject line leads to increase in email opens.
    • Send Time Test:
      A: 7am PT
      B: 4pm PT
      Audience: customers
      Goal: Clicks
      Result: B, a send time of 4 pm PT increased clicks XYZ%.
      Next steps: Experiment with send times per time zone/country.

 

 

A Few Best A/B Testing Tools?
In order to run effective A/B tests, you need a few tools to determine what to test, run your tests and track your A/B tests. While there are dozens of A/B testing tools out there, we’ve found these to be the most effective.

Ways to Increase User Interaction Traffic To Your Website – Part 02

Have you seen your website engagement go down?
Increase-User-Interaction-Website Not sure how to attract new customers and reduce your website’s bounce rate?

increase-traffic-to-your-website-social-mediaWhen you focus on improving the way people interact with your website, you’ll be able to deliver a better user experience, increase website traffic, and grow your business. Here’s a few things you might want to try:

Advertise

Mix It Up

  • There is no magic formula for content marketing success. Vary the length and format of your content to make it as appealing as possible to different kinds of readers.
  • Intersperse shorter, news-based blog posts with long-form content as well as video, infographics and data-driven pieces for maximum impact

Write Irresistible Headlines

  • Without a compelling headline, even the most comprehensive blog post will go unread.
  • Master the art of headline writing.

Pay Attention to On-Page SEO

  • Are you making the most of image alt text?
  • Are you making the most of image alt text?
  • What about meta descriptions?
  • Optimizing for on-page SEO doesn’t have to take ages, and it could help boost organic traffic.

Target Long-Tail Keywords

  • Get your high commercial intent keyword bases covered
  • It’s also time to target long-tail keywords, too. Long-tail keywords account for a majority of web searches, meaning that if you’re not targeting them as part of your paid search or SEO efforts, you’re missing out.

Start Guest Blogging

  • Guest blogging isn’t dead. Securing a guest post on a reputable site can increase blog traffic to website and help build brand into the bargain.
  • Invite people in your niche to blog on your own site. Be sure that you only post high-quality, original content without spammy links.

Go After Referral Traffic

  • Rather than trying to persuade other sites to link back to you (a tedious and time-intensive process), create content that just begs to be linked to.
  • Learn what types of links send lots of referral traffic, and how to get them, in this post.

Interview Industry Thought Leaders

  • Publish the interviews on your blog. Not only will the name recognition boost your credibility and increase traffic to your website.
  • The interviewee will probably share the content too, further expanding its reach

Don’t Neglect Email Marketing

  • Be careful not to bombard people with relentless emails about every single update in your business.
  • Word-Of-Mouth Marketing, especially from people who are already enjoying your products or services.

Foster a Sense of Community

  • Building a community into your site is a great way to start a conversation and increase traffic to your website
  • Implement a robust commenting system through third-party solutions such as Facebook comments or Disqus, or create a dedicated forum where visitors can ask questions.
  • Manage your community to ensure that minimum standards of decorum are met, however.

Get Active on Social Media

  • It’s not enough to produce great content and hope that people find it – the best ways to increase traffic to website is to use social media channels to Promote Your Content.
  • LinkedIn has become much more than a means of finding another job, which means you should be posting content to LinkedIn on a regular basis.
  • Got a Twitter account? Then join in group discussions with relevant hashtags. Is your audience leaving comments on your Facebook posts? Answer questions and engage with your readers.
  • Twitter is ideal for short, snappy (and tempting) links, whereas Google+ promotion can help your site show up in personalized search results and seems especially effective in B2B niches.

Submit Your Content to Aggregator Sites

Incorporate Video into Your Content Strategy

  • Text-based content is all well and good, but video can be a valuable asset in both attracting new visitors and making your site more engaging
  • Data shows that information retention is significantly higher for visual material than it is for text, meaning that video is an excellent way to grab – and hold – your audience’s attention, and boost traffic to your website at the same time

Research the Competition

  • Use BuzzSumo to check out what your competitors are up to. These services aggregate the social performance of specific sites and content to provide you with an at-a-glance view of what topics are resonating with readers and, most importantly, making the rounds on social media.
  • Find out what people are reading (and talking about), and emulate that kind of content to bring traffic to your website.

Host Webinars

  • People love to learn, and webinars are an excellent way to impart your wisdom to your eagerly awaiting audience.
  • Combined with an effective social promotion campaign, webinars are a great way to increase traffic to your website.
  • Send out an email a week or so ahead of time, as well as a “last chance to register” reminder the day before the webinar. Make sure to archive the presentation for later viewing, and promote your webinars widely through social media.

Attend Conferences

  • The industry you’re in, chances are there are at least one or two major conventions and conferences that are relevant to your business. Attending these events is a good idea – speaking at them is even better.
  • Even a halfway decent speaking engagement is an excellent way to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry and gain significant exposure for your site.

Survey Your Audience

  • Create a short survey that your users can take, which provides them with a way to share their voice, and gives you valuable insight.
  • One of the best tools for adding surveys and polls to your website is SurveyMonkey.com. Another great tool is Qualaroo, which allows you to easily create a poll to collect user insights.
  • Repurpose your content into different formats, which certain users might enjoy. Then ask them to complete the survey to access the new format, such as an ebook, a podcast so users can take your content on the go, a video guide and have a survey for access.
  • Post a poll or survey in your sidebar so it’s easily visible

Craft A Great Autoresponder Series

  • Email list is one of the most important assets. It enables you to have a direct line of communication with your subscribers. A successful email campaign will improve repeat visits, engagement, loyalty, referrals, and profit.
  • Use a reputable email service provider so that you can get your message into people’s inbox at a high rate (I love Mailchimp!)
  • Include options for users to forward your email to others, and to share on social.
  • Here is a nice List of 20 newsletter template sources, worth a view.

Ways to Optimize Your Website to Increase Traffic – Part 01

If you have a product you’re really proud of, it should speak for itself. But when it comes down to it, you still need to get customers on your website in the first place.

businessman hand points to business strategy as concept

Here’s a few tips that might help you to do so:

Implement Schema Micro Data

  • Implementing schema (or another micro data format) won’t necessarily increase traffic to your website on its own, but it will make it easier for search engine bots to find and index your pages.
  • Another benefit of using schema for SEO is that it can result in better rich site snippets, which can improve click-through rates.

Link Internally

  • The strength of your link profile isn’t solely determined by how many sites link back to you – it can also be affected by your internal linking structure. When creating and publishing content, be sure to keep an eye out for opportunities for internal links. Focus on contextual linking within a posts main content.
  • Hot linking increases traffic/page views. At the same time hotlinking may actually be bad for you if you do not take into consideration other SEO techniques as explained here: Google Product Central Help Forum
  • A few of things to note:
    1. Don’t try to stuff your keywords in the anchor text
    2. Use the article title, or random phrases
    3. Using keyword targeted anchor text is still OK some of the time, just use it a low percentage of the time
    4. Don’t overdo internal linking as this just annoys people
    5. Have the link open in a new window or tab so that users can easily go back to the original article
    6. Internal links pass SEO value to your linked pages and provides an obvious way for search spiders to crawl your site
    7. Link to your deep, inner pages, not your top level content
    8. If a link is natural and contextual, you aren’t going to be linking from one article back to the homepage. Rather, you’ll be linking to another article that is somehow related to the first one.
    9. Use dofollow links (you want that juice flowing smoothly)

Make Sure Your Site is Responsive & Fast

  • Ensure that your website is accessible and comfortably viewable across a range of devices, including smaller smartphones.
  • Make sure that your pages are as technically optimized as much possible. Here is a very useful infographic from Kissmetrics on how speed affects your bottom line. The most alarming statistic: A 1-second delay can result in a 7% decrease in conversions!
  • Make your nav bar sticky: This one is basic, but important. Because it keeps your most important pages readily available at all times.
  • Improve your site navigation: Having proper site navigation is one of the most important factors in increasing user engagement.
  • Here are several ways to improve:
    1. Use descriptive titles for your navigation (don’t get cute with your link names)
    2. Main categories should be clearly separated from subcategories
    3. Navigation should be in the same place throughout your site
    4. Use analytics to test what content is most popular and make sure it is easily accessible
    5. You could create a separate “Getting Started” page that highlights your most popular posts
  • Here’s a few more things to increase page speed:
    1. Cache your pages
    2. Use gzip compression
    3. Use Keep-Alive
    4. Implement a content delivery network
    5. Try to lower the amount of redirects
    6. Reduce your JavaScript
    7. Ensure you don’t have bad requests
    8. Decrease the number of DNS lookups
    9. Serve page elements from the same domain
    10. Input image sizes
    11. Optimize your images – WordPress does this a little bit when you upload an image. Beside using services like Optimizely could come handy.
    12. Upgrade your hosting – Upgrading your hosting of course costs money, but you gain increased server memory and processor power in return which is a fair tradeoff in my opinion.
    13. You can also use Google’s own speed testing tool, PageSpeed . You can either use it online to analyze your site, or use can install it on your server for monitoring.
    14. Use a CDN

Examine Your Analytics Data

  • Google Analytics focuses on telling how people use your website. This includes things like referral pages and keywords, entry and exit pages, page views, and click patterns. Google Analytics tells you about the page views
  • Quantcast focuses on telling you the nature of your audience. This includes things like the users’ demographics and psychographics, other sites your users tend to visits, what businesses and industries they represent, and cross platform (online, mobile, and app) engagement and retention. Quantcast tells you about the page viewers (also referred to as your website’s audience)

 Split test everything

  • Here are some of the things to test:
    1. Different versions of your navigation to see if pages get more or less clicks
    2. Different locations for your sharing and follow buttons
    3. Your color scheme, text sizes, and font style
    4. Headline text
    5. Everything about your call to action
    6. The images you use
    7. The location of your signup form
    8. Anything else you can think of for your particular business
  • Here are some general guidelines to split testing:
    1. Always test both versions of your site at the same time
    2. If you test one version for a day and the other version a different day, your results could be off.
    3. People behave differently depending on the time of day and day of week
    4. Make sure to let your test run for long enough to gather a sufficient amount of data
    5. You should segment your users so that only new users see the test
    6. If you have regular visitors, you don’t want their experience to change every time they load your site
    7. Ensure that once a visitor sees a variation, they see that same variation throughout the test
    8. The tool you choose should have this as an option
    9. Once you find a clear improvement, implement it. Then, rinse and repeat. Continual improvement.
    10. When choosing a tool to conduct your split tests, there are many options to go through. One that I like to use is Google Website Optimizer. This is Google’s free split testing tool, and it is fully integrated into Analytics!
  • Reference article of some cool stuff to get started with: Things to A/B Test

Most Essential Social Media Tools For Today’s Entrepreneurs

Juggling so many tasks can be daunting and lead to a lot of stress. So if you’re an entrepreneur and you want to become more efficient, productive and successful, there are tools that can help you track all possible social media data. Most are easy to use if you take the time to learn them, and many have both free and for-fee versions, the latter offering more detail. Take a look at the list of tools below.

  1. Buffer is a great platform and app to find and schedule content on all social media platforms. You can also view analytics, shorten links, create schedules and reshare messages that have already been shared before. This makes building up your brand and company on social media extremely easy.
  2. Asana is a free project-management tool that allows teams to communicate without email, in one central location. Because many work with virtual teams, this is a great tool to stay in touch.
  3. Most people already know about Google Drive, but Chromebooks and ability to convert and edit Microsoft Office documents make it (and accompanying Docs and Sheets) a great way to collaborate and share documents with your clients, freelancers or employees.
  4. SoundGecko translates online content — like news and blog posts — into an audio file. This allows you to “read” any content that can help you with your business — including articles on productivity, sales and branding — on the go.
  5. If you are seeking funding for you business, AngelList is a great social network that can help you seek funding and make connections with those in your community.
  6. If you need a logo, social-media cover photo, podcast intro, website content and more, be sure to check out Fiverr. Sure, the gigs start at $5 but that doesn’t mean they are sub par. Look at reviews and actual Fiverr gig samples before deciding on a contractor.
  7. If you need a freelancer for a long-term project or something more extensive, try Elance, a platform that allows you to post projects and find freelancers that have what you are looking for.
  8. Original websites are always a good thing, but if that is lacking in your budgets, Wix is a pretty and simple website builder that has modern templates that almost anyone can edit.
  9. If you need an office or just a place to work for the day, try ShareDesk orDeskTime to find a co-working office or open desk that allows you to have office space without paying for an entire office.
  10. If you are an Android user, connect your Google account to your phone and take advantage of Google Now, which can tell you when to leave for appointments that are on your calendar, whether or not your flight is delayed or even new articles from websites you frequent often. This “virtual personal assistant of sorts” can help you stay organized and on track, even if you have a lot of balls in the air, as most entrepreneurs do.
  11. If you fly or travel to a lot for conferences, meeting with investors or clients, or other events, TripIt Pro (there’s also a free, less robust, version) can help you stay on top of flight changes, frequent flyer numbers and more.
  12. NerdWallet offers an array of airline credit cards, which can help you accrue points to fly where ever you need to build your business. Put all your business expenses on a single card — from Dropbox subscriptions to office supplies — and watch the points stack up.
  13. Amazon’s Audible/Kindle Unlimited allow you to listen and read several books from its service each month. Just like SoundGecko, it’s another way to stay up-to-date with business, self improvement and more.
  14. AllConferences, Lanyrd, ConferenceAlerts, and Confradargreat ways to build a good business is to meet other entrepreneurs and industry colleagues through conferences.
  15. If you are looking to drum up business within your local community, try Meetupto find networking groups, industry meetings and speakers. EventBrite is also a great place to find tickets to smaller, local events as well.
  16. Pinterest can be a great place to find inspiration for new products and upcoming trends (so you can use them in your own projects), as well as a place to share your products and inspirations as a company. Power personal blender Nutribullet is a good example of a growing company that capitalizes on its audience’s interest in healthy living on Pinterest.
  17. Once LinkedIn accepts your request to join LinkedIn Content Platform, you have free reign to contribute content as much as you want. It’s probably best to only post original content on LinkedIn. Because LinkedIn is already such a large platform, its content will get indexed faster and could potentially give you more visibility than your company’s blog.
  18. Contently automatically creates a writing portfolio for them based on the websites they say they write for.
  19. Think of Talkwalker as Google Alerts, but better. It offers more comprehensive results and more options that allow you to check for mentions of your company online. This helps with public relations and the chance to interact with people who are discussing your brand online.
  20. HARO helps a Reporter Out is an email that goes out multiple times per day, with requests from reporters for sources for their stories. This can turn into free publicity for your company. Be sure to respond ASAP, as some requests can get competitive.
  21. HelloSign or EchoSign is legally binding digital document signing services that allow you to get contracts, agreements, W2s and more signed quickly and over email. Be sure to check your state’s regulation on these documents, but they usually stand as legal in the majority of states.
  22. Going back to working with a distributed workforce, Join.Me allows you to share your screen with another user quickly, for free. All you need is the free software, and the other user can see your screen from their browser. If both of you have the software, however, you can also cede control of your mouse to the other user, allow tutorials, customer service and how-to demonstrations easier than ever.
  23. Jing is a free screencast (screen recording) and screenshot software that makes it easy to record product demos, illustrative how-tos for virtual assistants or screenshots for blog posts and product description pages.
  24. If you are looking to reach out to journalists to cover your company, product launch or other news, PressPass and JustReachOut allows you to search for journalists by beat, industry or region.
  25. Like PressPass and JustReachOut but for bloggers, BlogDash allows you to connect with bloggers in your specific niche to review products, sponsor blog giveaways or build relationships.

Further more tools provide anything from simple tracking systems to advanced data management from multiple social media accounts, and knowing your social media goals and objectives will help you decide which ones to use. Here are a few more:

  • Blitzmetrics lets you monitor content from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and other platforms. Checks news feed coverage and feedback rates, and helps determine which demographics are most responsive.
  • Bottlenose analyzes and provides data from real-time activities across numerous social networks.
  • Carma lets you review and evaluate your social media image, brand recognition and message penetration through traditional and social media analysis.
  • Conversocial monitors comments and customer service issues on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram. Comments are sorted into positive, neutral or negative categories, and can measure such data as customer satisfaction, agent response times and issue frequency.
  • Curalate applies advanced image analytics to social media conversations to help strengthen campaigns for Pinterest and Instagram.
  • Facebook Insights is Facebook’s free built-in analytics tool provides metrics based on Facebook content.
  • Google Analytics provides web, social media, mobile content, conversion and advertising analytics and reports.
  • HootSuite is a social media management tool that tracks various social media platforms at one time with free analytic data. A pay version provides more detailed reports.
  • MediaVantage provides real-time traditional and social media monitoring in a single database to keep track of what’s being discussed about your brand.
  • NetBase lets you monitor social media or specific platforms in real time to analyze your campaigns, consumers and competitors, and engage or react accordingly.
  • Pinterest Web Analytics is Pinterest’s free analytics that provides users with data on reactions and responses to their pins.
  • Social Mention is a free aggregator that tracks user-generated content in a similar manner to Google Alerts, except the focus is on social media sites. Also provides email alerts on your brand, your competitors or your industry.
  • SocialOomph allows you to follow up on keywords, auto-follow new Twitter followers, track retweets or utilize the many functions for tracking your social media accounts.
  • Sprout Social is a web app that tracks content and conversations across social media platforms by demographic measures, monitors trends in social engagement, and tracks customer service response times.
  • Talkwalker monitors trends, your brand and products, and also identifies influencers.
  • Topsy lets you search by location or keywords and monitors tweets, retweets, websites and blogs. Also analyzes, indexes and ranks content and trends.
  • TweetDeck is a service that allows businesses, organizations and individuals to monitor, manage and schedule their social media marketing activity.
  • Viralheat aggregates your social media traffic into a single stream for easy access, and lets you sort using various filters.
  • YouTube Insight provides total views, their demographic and geographic breakdown and even how long people are watching your videos.

Let These Web Tools (Mostly Free) Work For You To Grow Your Business

Of the infinite resources available on the Internet, there is still nothing better than FREE. Below are 12 (mostly) free tools that can help build your business:

  1. 1M/1M offers access to the extensive startup network and collective knowledge in Silicon Valley to entrepreneurs everywhere. This is a truly interesting source for “starter uppers” to talk about branding, positioning, financing or anything else entrepreneurial.
  2. Want to merge your brand into the social networks within your industry? Instead of searching the hundreds of thousands of Twitter hashtags,newswhip.com does that for you. This site aggregates the overwhelming volume of topical discussions and delivers the most popular ones to you so that you know who to start a conversation with. You can also type in your name or Twitter handle and see how influential you are — or not.
  3. Looking for another revenue stream? Skimlinks will measure and implement affiliate-marketing links not only on your website but also on your RSS, Twitter and Facebook feeds. This handy tool turns links and keywords on your site into their equivalent affiliate links, thus allowing you to focus on more pertinent content: your business.
  4. For those startups who collaborate over graphics, try Lucidchart, a sort of Google Docs for visual projects. You can build collective mind maps, flow charts or anything else your graphics-based heart desires.
  5. Graphic designers have a broad range of services, fees and (sometimes) attitudes, which is why finding the right one for you is as much a cost to your wallet as it is to your emotions. Cool Text generates free graphics for web pages or logos without overburdening you with the design work. Simply choose what kind of image you like, fill out a form, and your custom-made image will be created right then and there.
  6. Needtagger allows you to find a target audience on Twitter based on your product or service. You can set filters for like-minded people in your industry and build a followership of potential customers based on your business.
  7. Bright Journey offers a collection of startup knowledge from extremely successful entrepreneurs around the globe with the intent of sharing their expertise with others. Users post questions and the best answers are voted to the top.
  8. Want to know where your website stands along a grade scale? Go to Hubspot’s marketing grader and see where you rank in terms of effectiveness. It will measure your blogging, SEO, lead generation and more.
  9. While Fiverr may not be free, it’s pretty darn close. You can buy and/or sell anything for $5. From writing a blog headline, generating an “About Us” page on your website, to drawing a cartoon character, fiverr.com is a one-stop-shop for anything under $5.
  10. Looking for an elegant digital or print layout for a magazine or company newsletter? LucidPress is an easy-to-use resource that offers drag-and-drop capability, making video, text or photo layout much easier.
  11. CreativeLive hosts video classes spanning five different categories: photo and video, art and design, music and audio, craft and maker and money and life. Videos are free and there’s even a calendar to peruse for upcoming content.
  12. Of course, no list of websites is complete without the resident Google tool.Google for Entrepreneurs is another pool of insider knowledge with free videos of instruction, such as learning how to brand yourself from Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, and more.