For two and a half years, every two weeks I sifted through over 140 blog posts and podcasts that talk about how to build successful online businesses. I found the best content, summarized it, added a bit of my commentary, and delivered it to the inboxes of entrepreneurs around the world…for free. I’m no longer writing Signals in the Noise issues (because my business partners and I are focusing on other parts of Clarity Lab), but please enjoy these archived issues. There’s a ton of useful information in them!
1. I’ll have the soup, but hold the sidebar.
Three days ago, I reached the end of a multi-month website building project for my wife. It had been five years since I built her the last website for her business, and you know what they say: “The way to a woman’s heart is through a new website for her business.” If you take a look at the site, you’ll notice there’s no sidebar. My friend Craig Cannings saw the site, and being the fellow marketing geek that he is, said: “So, Forest…what’s up with the no sidebar thing?”
There are three reasons for why I chose the no sidebar path, and I thought you might find them useful for your business, so here’s what I told Craig:
1) Web using humans are now very, very skilled at ignoring things that appear in the sidebar positions of websites because that’s where ads most often live, and everyone I know hates ads. If you look at how many clicks are happening on content in your sidebar, you’ll find it’s a super tiny amount, due to said ignoring. So, why bother taking up wasted space on your site by putting things in a sidebar that people will ignore and not click on?
2) Not having a sidebar can increase your conversion rates by 26% for things like content upgrades or free email courses that you offer at the bottom of your blog posts or pages (with a bit of copy and a web form for people to enter their email address to get the free thing.) Have a look at this great post from Bryan Harris on this topic.
3) With Bari’s new site, I wanted to design a fantastic, non-distracting, good-feeling reading experience because she puts out a steady stream of great written content, and I wanted people to feel calm and relaxed while reading it.
My favorite online reading experience is on the Medium site, so, I built in many of the same design elements they’re using to create that kind of uncluttered, easy-to-read experience on her new site.
If you’re not familiar with Medium, here’s a fitting Medium post about some big news from a couple of months ago: Google removed their own right sidebar ads. Why? See #1 above. (People on the web were ignoring ads in that position of the Google search results pages, which means fewer clicks, which means less money, which means…no more sidebar.)
So, the big tip for this week: consider dropping your sidebar, at least as an experiment. You could even run a split test using something like Optimizely and let the data speak for itself. (But if you actually see your data speaking for itself, email me, because that’ll mean we’ll have a much bigger problem to deal with: strong artificial intelligence.)
2. I’ve got two words for you.
“These two words serve as my daily mission statement. Every time I feel a little lost or don’t remember what I wanted to do, I go back to the basics. I just try to be useful.” That’s Tobias van Schneider, Product Design Lead at Spotify, with two, powerful words of advice you rarely hear. His philosophy is so in alignment with my own that I’m going to tattoo those two words on my chest.
3. A king’s ransom.
“Facebook is continuing its heavy-handed push to get users to install its private photo-sharing app Moments. The company’s latest move – warning people some of their photos will be deleted if the app isn’t installed – has managed to make Moments the number one app in the App Store. Users are being given a deadline of July 7th to move to Moments or download their Synced albums, Facebook warns. After that date, Facebook will delete the album containing their Synced Photos, it says.” Sarah Perez, from TechCrunch, with the latest growth hacking tactic that Facebook is using: Forcing people to download one of their apps by letting users know that some of their personal photos will be deleted if they don’t download and use the app.
And now for a reality check. Let’s take a look at their mission statement: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Last time I checked, forcing people to download an app does not make for “a more open world.”
The reason I’m sharing this with you is so you can address this issue if you’ve ever used Facebook’s mobile syncing feature to download photos. If you have, synced photos will be deleted from your account on July 7th…unless you download and use the Facebook Moment’s app. Is it just me, or does this feel like a hacker demanding a ransom payment for you to get access to the files on your computer again?
4. Unlimited Pliability Corporations.
“LLC’s treat you and your spouse as one entity, so if you’re setting up a company with your spouse, you’ll be treated as one person, and an LLC is probably not the best choice for you because they’re designed for multiple owners.” That’s Aaron Young, with a quick primer on what an LLC is, why they are super flexible, and why you should consider other legal business structures if you’re going into business with your spouse. My wife Bari and I ran a business together for years, and now I finally know why our attorney kept calling us both “Fobari.”
5. Are you mocking me?
Here’s a great little free app called SmartMockups that allows you to create product images for your site. In about 15 seconds flat, you can insert a photo of yours (like a picture of you, your product, or your website) into a photo where someone is holding or touching a phone, tablet, or laptop. I uploaded a picture of myself onto the screen of a phone in a guy’s hand with espresso in the background, and it made me look smarter and thinner. Aaaaaaaand, I think that’ll be my new social media profile photo.
6. The full monty.
So, you’re sending out regular, useful, amazesh blog posts to your email list. Do you put the whole post right in an email to them, or do you do a summary of the post and link to the full post on your site, sending your peeps over there to read the full post? There is no right answer.
Marketing is science, which means experimenting will yield the best answers for you and your business. For the Art of Money, we usually summarize and link to the full post. For this newsletter you’re reading now, I put the whole thing right in the email.
For popular author and online business teacher Michael Hyatt, he used to do the same, but recently just changed: “I decided to change my email newsletter strategy last month. For years, I sent the entire blog post in the body of the email. We used a custom template that included many of the design elements from my blog. For a long time, that served us well. But we are no longer doing that. Instead, we are sending a plain-text email that describes the post and invites the reader to click-through to my site to read the actual post.” My next experiment for newsletter delivery is going to involve scrolls and ravens.
7. Isn’t it iconic?
It used to take quite a hunt to find good social media icons to use on your site for things like “follow us” buttons. Things have come a long way, though. Now you can get free, great looking social media icons in multiple formats (like .png or Photoshop files). Within a few minutes, you can have perfectly customized social media icons the exact color and size you want…for free. Give it a whirl yourself at Icon Monster.
8. Biztime stories.
“Fact is, no one cares about your marketing goals. But everyone likes a good story. The businesses that can tell one (and there are some really good ones right now) will have increasing advantage.” That’ Shane Snow, at Hubspot, reminding us of the power, and necessity, of telling good stories in our business.
And our stories need not be long. They just need to be emotionally touching in some way. Take this well-known six-word story by Hemingway, for example: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” Oooof. Six words and I’m feeling sad. That’s the power of good stories and the images they create in our minds.
9. Social median.
Head’s up: it’s looking more and more like the majority of people around the world are using social media sites less and less. Based on usage statistics gathered from data on phones, SimilarWeb recently released some interesting findings: people across the board are moving towards more private, closed social interactions available in messaging apps like WhatsApp. Theories about why this move is happening vary, but my guess is that it’s because people want more privacy and fewer ads in their social communications.
There’s a lot of buzz and attention on social media marketing for small businesses, and while I don’t think that kind of marketing is useless (yet), I think its efficacy is waning. Larger trends like this are useful to be aware of because they can help you decide how much time, effort, and money to spend on things like social media marketing.
I think the larger problem with social media is the business model that social media companies use. If you’re using a free platform like Facebook, you are the product, and the ads, in all their various forms, will follow you wherever you go.
If you stop using Facebook and start using WhatsApp (another free app), eventually, the ads will start showing up in private messaging apps as well. Marketers will flock to the “untapped marketing avenue,” things will work great for everyone for a little while, then people will get tired of all the ads, tired of feeling like they are constantly being sold things, and they will move on to the next thing.
This cycle will continue until social media companies choose a different business model, and since there’s no sign of them doing that, good old useful and entertaining content marketing is a much more reliable use of your marketing efforts and dollars. (So says the introverted business geek who’s not a big fan of social media.)
10. Eternal goldmine of the spotless mind.
The more well-versed you are in what makes people tick in their inner world, the more successful your business will be. Armed with deep knowledge of what motivates you and those you seek to serve through your business, your copywriting can become what it should be: full of the right words and stories that engage people in your target market emotionally and intellectually. Succeed with that, and eventually, your people will take actions that will help them change their life while helping you change yours (through you building a successful, fulfilling business.)
And to understand their inner world deeply? You gotta study up on your psychology, yo. Here’s some help: a curated list of 16 of the best psychology books, from Susan Weinschenk, “the brain lady” who helps businesses apply neuroscience and psychology into their game plans.
If you wonder why I get so excited by things like psychology, copywriting, storytelling, and conversion rates, it’s because these things form the foundation of business knowledge that allowed me to go from a lifestyle of living in a tipi making $7,000 a year, to a lifestyle where our little family can buy a home in Boulder (with walls and toilets…a serious upgrade from a tipi). Because of our business knowledge, we have the kind of freedom that comes from being able to work anywhere where there’s internet and electricity to run a laptop.
I’m not saying this to brag. At all. I’m saying it because if you’re reading this newsletter, you’re probably also interested in creating, or continuing, a lifestyle that is a serious upgrade from the tipi lifestyle. And I want to help you get there. That’s a big reason why I spend so much time curating and writing this newsletter. It’s also why I’ll soon bring you more free, super useful help through Clarity Lab. (That website I just built for my wife? Was also the last big project on my plate in the context of her and I running The Art of Money business together. As of today, I’m now going full time on Clarity Lab, partnering with a friend who works on the freaking Mars rovers at freaking Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and we’ve got some crazy good stuff in the works for you.)
If you enjoyed today’s issue of Signals in the Noise, I’d love it like a dog loves playing on the beach in summer if you could share it with your friends. Here are a couple of links to make doing that easy, and if you too are seeing a decline in social media use, feel free to forward this email (or the web version of this newsletter) on to a friend. And thanks a ton if you share something <3.
Okay. Now, go and create something useful. The world needs you to do your thing. Go.
Editor-in-chief @ Signals in the Noise
Founder @ Clarity Lab
Husband and Papa @ Home
p.s. You can find the archive of past issues right over here.