What’s Up with Instagram? How Recent Changes Impact Your Engagement

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This article was shared by HurDat.

Have you noticed your engagement on Instagram is down recently? If so, you’re not alone! Plenty of brands and influencers have experienced a decline in overall engagement and lower ranking on the Explore page and hashtag feeds, leaving them to wonder: “What’s wrong with Instagram?” Here’s what we learned…

Why Is Instagram Engagement Dropping?

The amount of engagement (i.e., article likes, shares, comments, video views) on Instagram among influencers and brands has declined steadily over the last few years. But recently, the social media platform has been making significant changes to its design, features, and algorithm, all of which seem to be affecting engagement levels for users across the platform. Let’s dive deeper…

New Features

Instagram had two major updates in August 2020 and September 2020 that introduced its latest features: Instagram Reels and Instagram Shopping. Similar to updates Instagram’s parent company Facebook makes to its platform with new features, these features seem to be getting priority placement in the home feed, with Instagram running several tests to highlight and give more exposure to users utilizing them.

Temporary Election Test

While this measure by Instagram may not apply in non-election years, this year’s election cycle is having a real impact on the number of users seeing content on a daily basis. That’s because in the lead-up to the 2020 general election, Facebook and Instagram are paying users to temporarily deactivate their accounts as a part of a study to learn how social media potentially affects democracy. With fewer active users to see articles on Instagram, it can mean less engagement overall. While this may not have an impact on large brands, any drop in daily users in a short period of time can certainly play a role, regardless.

Algorithm Changes

A few years ago, Instagram began moving away from chronologically-ordered feeds to feeds constructed using algorithmic machine learning. This adjustment was made to provide users with content that Instagram deemed “most relevant” for each individual user. Instagram claimed back in 2018 that it pushes the content users engage with most often. However, some Instagram users don’t like these algorithm changes because they say they don’t see content from small creators, unverified brands, and friends and family as often as they see content from large brands and accounts that advertise on the platform.

User Feedback

Over the years, Instagram has added more ways for users to provide feedback on articles and ads within the home feed. This feedback includes the ability to mute accounts and unfollow suggestions, both of which could be causing more users to clean up their feeds so that they only see the content they want to engage with on a regular basis. In addition, Instagram ads can be hidden by users for the following reasons: It’s Irrelevant, I See It Too Often, It’s Inappropriate, and I Already Bought an Item in This Ad. This feedback could also potentially be reducing the impressions and engagement brands are seeing on the platform.

Low-Quality Content

Instagram is also reducing the reach of what it deems low-quality publishing, which includes unoriginal content largely repurposed from other sources without additional material value. In other words, if your Instagram account primarily shares the same content over and over or utilizes content taken from another user without providing proper credit and original captions, it’s more likely you’ll see less engagement. On top of that, news content that doesn’t include transparent information about the source could potentially get pushed down in the algorithm or removed for spreading misinformation.

Engagement Bait

In recent years, both Facebook and Instagram have made it a priority to crack down on what they’re calling “engagement bait“—that is, articles that provoke users into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions as a means to game the system. Posting such content may cause Instagram to penalize your articles and hurt your brand’s visibility. This could have major implications for brands that, in the past, have relied on “Like or Comment!” contests, as Instagram may deem those to be baiting engagement.

Bot Removal

One of the major reasons why Instagram users are seeing their follower numbers and engagement metrics drop is that Instagram recently declared that it would be removing bots and other accounts it believes to be spam. If your account was followed by and/or receiving frequent engagement from spam accounts, this would have a noticeable impact. Another side to this platform change is that, in identifying and removing bot accounts, Instagram has asked users it believes to be spam to verify their identities—and those that don’t could see reduced visibility in the home feed or have their accounts disabled.

Buying Followers & Engagement

If you’re purchasing followers and likes to grow your Instagram account, your engagement will definitely take a hit. As previously mentioned, Instagram not only purges fake accounts that are used to boost follower and engagement numbers for accounts, but it also penalizes accounts that buy followers and likes.

How to Boost Instagram Engagement

While Instagram engagement may be decreasing due to algorithm changes, new features, and other updates the social media platform is making right now, brands and influencers can still find ways to improve their engagement. Like with any marketing effort, if you produce high-quality content specifically for your target audience, there’s a higher chance that it will be seen. Instagram wants to keep its users happy, and the more Instagram believes a particular user will enjoy a article, the higher it will appear in their feed.

According to Instagram, there are three main factors that influence the Instagram algorithm for feed articles:

  • Interest: How much Instagram predicts the user will care about a article
  • Timeliness: How recently a article was published
  • Relationship: How often users interact with your account

In addition, there are three supplemental factors that can influence ranking:

  • Frequency: How often a user opens Instagram (to avoid showing users the same articles over and over)
  • Following: The number of accounts a user follows
  • Usage: How long a user spends on Instagram

With this knowledge, here are some tips for increasing Instagram engagement going forward.

Stay Active on the Platform

The more often you article high-quality content that your followers engage with, the higher Instagram will display your content in their feeds. Continually article images, videos, and stories that appeal to your target audience. Be sure to reply to comments and DMs as well, as doing so will not only make your brand feel more human and personable, but it may also help your articles rank higher. Do be careful, though. Your articles need to provide value for your followers, so be intentional before hitting send. Try to use social listening to discover what content matters to your audience and shape your articles around that.

Consistently Produce Stories

Instagram Stories are among the best ways to engage with users on Instagram right now. Recent design changes to the platform have made them more prominent at the top of users’ feeds, so they’re now the first thing users see when they open the app, making them more likely to get your content in front of your followers and keep your brand top of mind. (At the moment, interactions with Stories don’t seem to affect ranking within Instagram’s algorithm, as Instagram typically displays the most recent stories first.)

Encourage Sharing to Stories

Try to create articles that users will want to share in their Instagram Stories, as this can increase the reach and overall engagement of your articles. Instagram says that Stories don’t have an impact on the platform’s algorithm; however, the number of active users articleing and viewing stories on Instagram continues to grow. Think of topics or issues that are highly related to what your target audience likes and wants to share, then deliver that content in a quick, shareable way, such as an infographic, call-out quote, list, checklist, or meme.

Utilize Stickers on Stories

Instagram Stories are already a great way to engage with followers, but Instagram increased engagement opportunities even further with the introduction of stickers. Stickers allow you to ask questions, conduct quizzes and polls, encourage donations to important causes, create countdowns, and more within Instagram Stories. These not only give you a way to establish brand loyalty, but they can even give you an engagement boost when used correctly.

Write Engaging Captions

The average Instagram caption length has doubled since 2016, and longer captions frequently lead to higher engagement. Captions allow you to tag people and brands, as well as share motivating stories or start conversations. You can also ask questions to spark conversation and use hashtags so that your articles appear to more Instagram users with relevant interests.

Don’t Go Crazy with Hashtags

As helpful as hashtags are in improving your content’s reach, they can also be harmful when not used strategically. If you overload your article or comments with hashtags, you may look like a bot and be viewed as spam. It’s generally recommended to use around 11 highly relevant hashtags with a new article. Do your own research to identify popular hashtags that are closely aligned with your content. Finding the right hashtags can expose new users to your content, increasing followers, likes, comments, and overall engagement.

Post During Peak Hours

Remember that timeliness plays a big role in how Instagram promotes your articles. If you’re articleing at times your users aren’t looking at Instagram, they may be unlikely to see your content. Examine your Instagram analytics and do a few article tests to determine the best times for articleing. There’s also national data you can check out as well, but following the habits of your specific audience is a more effective way to gain useful insights.

Need help with your Instagram marketing strategy? Hurrdat can help you build an Instagram strategy that keeps your followers engaged. Learn more about our social media marketing services today!

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4 ways to automate your cold email outreach with Mailshake

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This post was sourced from by MOZ.

Nowadays, people are pretty hip to the cold email game.

If you launch an outreach campaign that’s too generalized or shills too hard, you’ll likely be ignored. And if you focus solely on personalization, then you’re bound to make mistakes—and wind up bombarding your recipients with duplicate emails.

Fortunately, there’s a reliable way to tackle these challenges. Sales engagement tools like Mailshake help you send personalized, cold emails at scale. You can also schedule follow-ups, monitor campaign performance, and nurture customer relationships—all without sending the same email to the same person more than once.

Even so, moving this data manually across different platforms can take hours. Connecting Mailshake to your other apps with Zapier lets you automate this process. You can set up workflows to track leads (and keep them sweet), pause or unpause campaigns, and even set up instant notifications when a lead (hurray!) engages with you.

To give you the gist, we’ve rounded up a few popular Zap templates—what we call our pre-made workflows—to help you boost your cold email engagement. To get started with a Zap template, just click on it, and we’ll guide you through the set-up process. You can also read more about setting up Zaps here.

Record and track your leads

While Mailshake has a built-in dashboard that displays your leads, you might also rely on spreadsheets for simplicity and in-depth analysis. But manually transferring information about your leads from one app to another can lead to problems. These ongoing, repetitive tasks are ripe for human error and can take hours of extra tinkering, particularly as demand for your business grows.

So let the bots do the heavy lifting for you.

You can set up different automated workflows that gather important lead information from Mailshake and then transfer it onto the spreadsheet app of your choice—with all the distinct data points separated into rows and columns. Doing this allows you to store leads’ contact details, easily track how many recipients are opening your emails, and instantly update a lead’s status change.

Or, if a lead goes cold, you can set up an integration that restarts a paused campaign to bring your lead back into the sales loop.

Receive instant notifications

Leads are like eggs—if you want them to hatch, you’ve got to keep them warm.

Generally speaking, a good go-to tactic is to follow up with a prospect the very moment they engage with your email. If your business is still fairly young, keeping track of leads and maintaining a personal level of communication is easy. You send an email; the recipient interacts; you hit reply.

But as your business grows and the volume of your emails increases, so does the time you’ll need to spend to keep on top of those leads.

You can create workflows that trigger a message to Slack (or another communication app) when a lead clicks on a link within your email, so you’ll know exactly when to take action.

And, if you have a team working with you, you can set up your Zap so that it sends a group or channel message. That way, everyone’s always up-to-speed on lead performance.

The right Zap notifies your team the moment that a prospect is considering signing up, subscribing to your products, or showing any kind of interest. It’s a smart way of eradicating the guesswork.

Listen to your leads

If your emails are doing their job, then, at some point, a lead will book a phone call with you. At this point, it makes sense to hit the pause button on the emails you’re sending them. (At least until after the call.)

If you’re using an app like Calendly or Google Calendar, you can set up a workflow that will do this for you.

On the other hand, sometimes leads may respond to your emails with common unsubscribe phrases. With Zapier, you can create a custom integration that homes in on this terminology to unsubscribe them right away. This can be especially helpful if your recipients will respond in a language that Mailshake doesn’t yet recognize and might not be caught by the app’s built-in feature.

Close more deals faster

A good CRM system gives you a bird’s-eye view of your sales pipeline, as well as all the deals, leads, and statuses you’ve created. It also helps you track the leads who engage the most, so you can identify the best people to receive messages about all your exciting new products.

By connecting your CRM system to Mailshake—with some handy dandy Zaps—you can curate an automated flow for every lead you’re dealing with.

In other words, you can give all that copying and pasting a rest. (Your poor fingers must be sore.)

Every time a new lead is added to Mailshake, they’ll be automatically sent to your CRM, so you know how and when to move the lead swiftly to the right stage—and close that deal.

Take your drip emails to the next level

This is just the start of all that you can do with Mailshake and Zapier. Zapier supports thousands of apps, so you automate almost any task at work. Start building your Zap now and see what you can create.

New to Zapier? It’s a tool that helps anyone connect apps and automate workflows—without any complicated code. Sign up for free to use Mailshake with Zapier.

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The Importance of A/B Testing in Paid Search

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This post was shared by HurDat.

A key element of any successful advertising campaign is the ability to make data-driven strategy decisions. If you’re not using proven performance data to inform optimizations, odds are your search campaigns are not running as efficiently and effectively as they could be. That’s where A/B testing comes in.

What Is A/B Testing?

A/B testing, also known as split testing, is the process of comparing two variations of an ad component and concluding which is more effective. The beauty of this type of paid search testing is that nearly every element of a paid search text ad is testable—headline, ad description, display URL, even the landing page. Everything can be tested, and each individual piece will provide valuable information that can benefit your business.

Why You Should Use A/B Testing

Think of A/B testing as an online focus group for your business. Split testing is one of the best ways to learn about what messaging resonates with your audience. Do they respond to “Call Now” or “Get a Quote”? Do they prefer messaging that calls out quality or messaging that calls out a large selection?

Once you have clear winners, you can implement changes not only in your paid search campaigns, but it can also inform messaging on other marketing materials—landing pages, emails, etc. A/B testing allows you to learn about your audience while providing you with actionable results. “Actionable” being the keyword there.

Another benefit of A/B testing is that, as you hone in on messaging that works with your audience, your CTR will inevitably rise. When CTR rises, so does quality score. And when quality score rises, CPCs drop. Guess what that means? You get to serve even more paid ads! More paid advertising means more tests and more valuable information that can help you learn about your audience and drive more business!

How to Get Started with Paid Ad Tests

If you’re in the midst of putting together a new paid search campaign, it would be in your best interest to do some A/B testing. But where do you start? As you build out your campaign and are looking for ways to ensure your tests go well, keep these tips in mind as you go.

Test One Element at a Time

When beginning A/B tests, don’t try to test too many items at once. Focus on one item at a time and be sure that you keep all other elements over your ads the same. When you test multiple elements at once, you lose visibility into which levers you pulled that are producing results and which are not. On top of that, by focusing on single elements, you give your business the chance to truly hone in on what works for your audience, allowing you to make small changes over time that are in line with what you’ve seen be successful over time.

Wait to Determine Results

Just like trying to test too many things at once, jumping to conclusions quickly when running A/B tests can be equally as detrimental. The better test results come from waiting until you have served enough impressions for your findings to be statistically significant (i.e., at least 1,000+ impressions). By saying a different CTA led to better click-through rates after only a few hundred impressions when your typical ad will usually pull in tens of thousands, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Let your A/B tests run their course and make more informed decisions at the end.

Keep an Eye on Valuable Metrics

With each test that you run, you’ll be able to compile some valuable metrics on items like bounce rate, exit rate, link clicks, form completions, total engagements, and more. These can end up showing you what your audience is responding to or not, and you can then use these metrics to optimize your campaigns further. From there, you can expand on your success and tinker with the things that aren’t working. But you won’t know what these poor performing elements are without the metrics from testing. Split testing exposes the poor performing elements and allows you to stop wasting money on strategies that don’t work.

Don’t Stop Testing

Even as you determine winning tactics, keep testing! Paid search is not a “set it and forget it” area of digital marketing. If you’re not continuously optimizing, you’re missing out on potential business. Customers change over time. That’s why it’s important to have paid ad strategies agile enough to adapt to that.

Looking to start A/B testing a new paid search campaign? Hurrdat can help manage and test all types of PPC campaigns for businesses of all sizes. Learn more about our paid advertising services today!

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Why you should use Typeform for memos and tutorials

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This article was sourced from by MOZ.

For a recent virtual retreat, we hired Teambuilding.com—who are also Zapier customers—to run a trivia session. To get everyone on the same page, they sent us all instructions using Typeform, which I thought was kind of brilliant. You could read a page, hit enter, then read the next page of instructions. It never felt like I was being confronted with a wall of text, which made it easy to parse everything quickly. (I went on to lose at trivia, badly, but I got a site article out of it, so in a way, I’m the real winner.)

Typeform is, as the name suggests, an app for building forms—but there are off-label uses for every app. This is a great one. Here’s how you can use Typeform to send memos and tutorials, then verify who actually read them.

Here are 6 ways to simplify business processes with Typeform. Check it out for more ideas.

How to use Typeform for memos and tutorials

To get started, make a form in Typeform. I recommend starting with a welcome message, just so everyone feels comfortable.

A friendly Typeform welcome message

Next, add a Statement question.

Typeform Statement question

Keep adding these “questions” until you’ve outlined all of the relevant information you need to share with your team.

More statement questions

This allows you to outline all of the information you want your team to know—each question is similar to a slide in PowerPoint. The difference: you can collect the name of everyone who makes it to the end. In the second-to-last slide, add a Short Text question.

Typeform Short Text question

Then ask everyone to leave their name or any other information that’s helpful in verifying who read your memo.

Typeform verify name

Finally, leave a polite Thank You Screen question to wrap things up.

Typeform thank you screen

Add a picture so that your team feels appreciated.

Typeform thank you screen with Winston

And that’s it! You can see my complete form here, if you want to get a feel for how it works. My example is absurd, granted, but yours doesn’t have to be.

Want to compile all of your responses in some other app? Typeform’s Zapier integrations let you collect the names of people who actually read your memo in Google Sheets, Trello, Airtable, or almost any other database you use.

Or, if you want real-time notifications of your team reading important memos, you can get Slack notifications or even SMS messages.

Whatever tool you use, it will be easy to know who got through your memo or tutorial—and to follow up with the people who didn’t.

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What You Need to Know About Pinterest’s Algorithm Update

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This post was shared by HurDat.

Pinterest’s Engineering team recently released a Pinterest algorithm overview, detailing updates to the social media platform’s algorithm and how those changes could help diversify the home feed, better recommend content to users, and potentially increase representation on the platform. It’s all about user experience, right? Whether you’re a casual Pinterest user, business, or blogger, you need to be in the know about how these algorithm changes affect you.

What Changes Did Pinterest Make?

In the last few months, Pinterest has made updates to its algorithm to better curate pin content for users. Before this update, the platform relied strictly on engagement data to recommend pins. This means that the pins showing in the home feed were displaying because they ranked higher in terms of engagement.

Now, with more filters and preferences built into the algorithm, Pinterest can look at more data beyond just engagement when it comes to pins. This is leading to more diverse content being shown to Pinterest users along with more relevant content recommendations, which helps keep Pinners on the platform longer.

Why Did Pinterest Make Algorithm Changes?

Pinterest wanted to diversify and better recommend content by introducing controllable distribution. This new system adapts in real-time after pins have been ranked traditionally. Think of it as another search filter applied to what users are searching for.

In addition to the typical filters used in the algorithm, there’s another layer so that pins can be filtered out and ranked in the feed based on relevance, newness, and specific targeting goals. Content is then ranked higher or lower based on the scores of content type and shows up in the feed accordingly.

The tweaks to the platform’s home feed rankings have also allowed Pinterest to quickly adapt the home feed based on curation goals that help distinguish between different pin types and compare them accordingly, which improves upon the ability to interpret this model.

After releasing this update, Pinterest saw great results. Key findings included:

  • They were able to show more relevant pins to users by improving the accuracy of their predictions.
  • They improved engineering velocity by separating the model predictions from the ranking layer. They can now iterate on ranking functions by modifying utility terms and do model iterations.
  • They made it easier to quickly adjust rankings based on other business’ targeting needs.

How Can Brands Succeed on Pinterest?

So what does this mean when it comes to using Pinterest for business? Here are a few recommendations for your brand’s social media marketing and content marketing strategy moving forward.

Create More Video Content

It’s no surprise that video content is popular on Pinterest in terms of engagement, as 66% of users say that videos add to the experience more significantly than videos on other social media sites. Video content has been dominating other social platforms, so it makes sense that Pinterest followed suit in highlighting and preferring video content in its feed. If your brand has a content strategy, video better be at the top of your list.

Use Tags to Categorize

Another key piece of your Pinterest content strategy should be tags. Similar to how hashtags function on other platforms, tags work to categorize content and help that content be seen by Pinterest users. This may factor into the relevancy preference Pinterest gives when ranking content. Tags can also help you track conversion rates. Your brand should be utilizing a tagging strategy to boost your pins.

Test Different Types of Content

You can’t expect there to be a 100% success rate with every piece of content you push on Pinterest, so it’s smart to continually test different content. Try videos every few posts to supplement posts that are photo or text-heavy. That way, your most fervent fans won’t feel like they’re getting the same content again and again from your brand.

Looking to get started using Pinterest for your business? Hurrdat can develop and manage a Pinterest strategy for your brand that can help you engage your customers on social media. Learn more about our social media marketing services today!

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How standard operating procedures can help you grow your business

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This post was shared by MOZ.

I built a brick-and-mortar business from the ground up. And when I realized I couldn’t do everything myself, I took a deep breath and decided to hire other people to help. It was a great decision—but I did it all wrong.

In training the new hires for my nail bar, I went with the show-and-tell method. I hoped the recruit would learn by doing exactly what I did. Great, if I could remember everything off the top of my head—and hope they didn’t forget either. But that’s not how brains work.

It ended in self-manufactured chaos.

On some occasions, I would cringe after seeing how the staff would interact with customers. Other occasions left me wondering why people would call me to ask for basic instructions that they should have been able to figure out for themselves. And when they did figure things out, I’d sigh and think, “No, not like that.” Everyone was frustrated.

Instead of seizing the opportunity to train, empower, and hold people accountable for their work, I disempowered them by adopting the attitude that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. It’s a recipe for disaster.

What are standard operating procedures (SOPs)?

Coming from a 9-to-5 corporate environment, I underestimated how difficult it would be to build processes and systems from the ground up in my own business. I thought about everything that was in place on the back end of my old job. How the engine ran under the hood. And that’s when I realized: one of the missing pieces for my business was standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Here’s the thing: expectations can’t be implied. You have to tell people exactly what’s expected of them and give them enough support and resources to meet those expectations. That means transferring best practices from your head onto paper.

Standard operating procedures help everyone get on the same page about what to do, when and how to do it, and why.

It’s about more than just documentation—it’s about business growth.

By definition, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are step-by-step processes required to complete specific, repetitive tasks. Here are some examples of when you might need an SOP:

  • Customer service functions like onboarding and offboarding clients
  • HR functions like recruiting new team members
  • Marketing functions like creating and publishing content
  • Sales functions like putting together a bid or proposal
  • Operations like packaging orders
  • Accounting tasks like invoicing

Good standard operating procedures highlight whose responsibility it is to complete certain tasks. They state the goal of the process, when it needs to be done, the steps involved, and what resources are available to complete the process.

Basically, SOPs help you transfer those best practices you developed inside your head into documented processes. Once documented, the standard operating procedures allow someone else to complete those tasks with the same standard and care as if you were doing it yourself.

The benefits of standardizing with SOPs

Honestly, it felt rigid to have standard operating procedures for all the processes in my business. But in reality, SOPs were the first step to enabling me to start working on my business and not just in my business.

Before you start creating SOPs, it’s important to really understand why you’re creating them. Here are a few of the main benefits you’ll see. As you write your SOPs, keep your eye on the prize.

Enable business growth

As demand for your services grows, so will your team. This can mean anything from outsourcing certain tasks to freelancers to employing permanent staff. Having standard operating procedures means that you can serve more people by replicating processes at scale—without compromising quality.

SOPs also help your team grow. They’re no longer bogged down mentally, wondering if they’re doing things right. Instead, they can execute quickly and focus on growing their skills.

Make processes more efficient

Standardizing will help you see where every process fits in, how well they fit, and if there isn’t a better way to do things. You’ll begin to see how each process improves your business—or not. It’s not only about documenting your processes; it’s also about making sure those are the right processes to begin with.

Plus, once processes are standardized and documented, it’ll be easier to find technologies available to automate those processes. For example, if you notice a process that involves moving information between apps that you have to do frequently, it’s time to automate.

Scale your training

Simple documented procedures become training manuals. When you bring in a new team member, they’ll be able to get up to speed without you micromanaging. As your business grows, you won’t have time to train every new employee—SOPs will take care of a lot of that work.

Maintain quality standards

Good customer service comes from a culture of excellence. If you want your business to excel at giving customers the same quality consistently, there must be a framework in place that ensures that everyone provides a uniform service even in your absence.

This is where it clicked for me: there was no point in hiring people if I was going to do everything myself. By setting up SOPs, I made sure everyone gave customers the same high-quality service every single time.

Take a vacation

I used to feel guilty when I took a vacation. That’s not because I was so dedicated to my work—it was because I had a process, delegation, and empowerment problem. If you feel like things will fall apart in your absence, figure out what needs to happen to change that. This should be enough motivation to get those SOPs in place.

How to write an SOP that improves your business

A checklist to begin creating an SOP

If you focus on the benefits of creating standard operating procedures, you can be sure that what you create will help you get there. Your documentation will be different depending on your business, but here’s a general guide to how you can create SOPs that will help you get where you want to be (ideally, on a nice vacation).

1. Identify core processes that need to be standardized

Think about which tasks in your business are repetitive: you do them a lot, and they need to be done in the same way every time, with little to no variation. You don’t want to have SOPs for every little thing—only processes with lots of steps.

2. Map and document the processes

Start by writing down these processes in clear and simple sentences—avoid long paragraphs filled with jargon, and always remember your audience. Add screenshots or images where you can to make things even clearer.

If this is a process that’s done on a computer, record your screen as you complete the task so that people can literally watch you do it. Show, don’t tell, whenever possible.

I’ve also find that flowcharts can help. While they don’t add the necessary context, they can be a great first step for someone first learning a process. The new team member can review the flowchart, which gives them a big-picture look, before diving into the specifics.

A basic flowchart showing the kind of process that might require an SOP

Remember: if you already have a team, include them in this process. You don’t want to create processes that people don’t identify with; plus, it’s possible that your team has already figured out a simpler way of doing that same process.

3. Implement your SOPs and communicate the processes

Make sure everyone on your team is on the same page about the documentation. For example, if, in writing your SOPs, you tweaked processes a bit to streamline them, you need to communicate this to your team—don’t just assume they’ll notice.

Also: make it clear why they need to follow these procedures. If people understand the significance of the documentation and how it will help the business and their professional growth, they’ll be more inclined to take them seriously.

4. Monitor and review your SOPs regularly

It’s easy to create SOPs, feel a sense of accomplishment, then let them collect dust in a Google Drive folder.

But SOPs aren’t user manuals that you toss aside after opening the box, only to consult when things have gone wrong. These are living documents that you’ll update whenever something changes in your workflow or you find new efficiencies for your processes.

5. Automate anything you can

The real game-changer for SOPs is discovering processes that can be fully automated.

Automating will free you and your team to focus your energies on doing work that will put you ahead of your competitors, delight your customers, and encourage growth. By creating SOPs, you’re essentially reviewing all your processes and can figure out which ones you can automate. Here’s what Zapier tells us makes a task ripe for automation:

  • It’s something you have to do frequently, or on a schedule
  • It involves moving information between apps
  • It’s boring and doesn’t require higher-order thinking
  • It takes you away from what you really want to be doing

Once you set up a few automated workflows, automation will become a habit, and you’ll be on your way to eliminating repetitive tasks. And it all starts with your SOPs.

I was able to scale my nail bar to a second location because I had the right processes in place. If I had continued with the attitude that I had to do everything myself, I would have stayed stuck.

If you’re feeling stuck, SOPs are an easy way to get back on track.

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Spreadsheets aren’t databases—stop using them like one

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This post was shared by MOZ.

Sometimes a spreadsheet isn’t enough. Sure, they’re quick to create, but they have limits—and those limits have consequences.

In the UK, for example, over 15,000 people infected with COVID-19 were left out of infection counts and contact tracing efforts because the spreadsheet used to track infections ran out of space. The BBC reported:

…developers picked an old file format to do this—known as XLS. As a consequence, each template could handle only about 65,000 rows of data rather than the one million-plus rows that Excel is actually capable of.

This is extreme, obviously. Your business may not be working on anything this wide-reaching, and you (hopefully) aren’t using a file format from the 1990s. But spreadsheets have inherent limits, and that’s worth thinking about—especially if you’re using a spreadsheet as a sort of improvised database.

If you decide to switch from a spreadsheet to a database, you can still automate a lot of your work in the app. Here are 3 workflows to help you get the most out of your database.

The limits of spreadsheets—and why databases work better

Spreadsheets are no longer limited to 65,000 rows, but there’s still a limit. According to Microsoft, Excel limits the total number of rows in a spreadsheet to 1,048,576 and columns to 16,384. And there are a few other maximums to keep in mind, some of them weirdly specific.

  • Cells can contain up to 32,767 characters.
  • Each worksheet can include up to 65,530 links.
  • The earliest date you can set for calculations is January 1, 1900.
  • The furthest date in the future you can use for calculations is December 31, 9999.
  • Charts can pull in data from up to 255 worksheets.

Google Sheets also has limits: a spreadsheet can have five million cells, total, and you can’t import cells with more than 50,000 characters.

The vast majority of spreadsheets you make will never come close to these numbers. But some will, and it’s probably a good idea to think about switching to a database long before that for all sorts of reasons. Let’s go over a few of the differences between databases and spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets show you everything, all the time

Open a spreadsheet, and you will see everything—at least, everything on the current worksheet. This is great, sometimes, until your dataset grows too much and your computer grinds to a halt. Assuming you don’t own a supercomputer, this will happen long before you hit the limits outlined above—especially if you have a bunch of formulas and scripts running.

Databases, meanwhile, store data behind the scenes. They will only load what you need when you request it, meaning you won’t hear your laptop’s fan whirring every time you need to pull up a specific record. If you’re past the point of being able to get anything valuable out of looking at your sheet, you should probably set up a database for the job.

Spreadsheets aren’t great at filtering or querying

Spreadsheet apps offer some filtering and querying, but there are caveats. Seeing data in a particular order, for example, typically requires making changes to the sheet itself.

Databases, meanwhile, allow for really specific and fast querying and reporting without actually affecting the data. This is a much cleaner way to pull up data. If you need to arrange data in different ways, on a regular basis, a database is the better choice.

Using Airtable as an example, here’s why you should stop using spreadsheets as improvised databases.

Typos are a thing

Spreadsheets don’t offer data validation by default—that is, when a column is first added, you can type whatever you want wherever you want.

Let’s say there’s a column in your spreadsheet for recording someone’s age. Unless you’ve anticipated this and set that column up with validation, I could write “blue,” and nothing would stop me. You probably don’t know anyone who’s blue years old—I don’t. But the spreadsheet doesn’t know that.

Databases, meanwhile, allow for data integrity: the system checks whether data I enter makes sense or not. Unlike spreadsheets, this is built into the setup itself. When you add a column to a database, you include the expected data type and limitations along with the column name. In the case of age, this means verifying the data is an actual number. This can save you a lot of headaches.

Databases are better at making connections

This is a little technical, but spreadsheets are kind of static. Every spreadsheet, and each worksheet, are more-or-less separate from one another. You can kind of change this with formulas, pulling in information from other places, but that doesn’t change the fact that these are separate entities.

Databases, meanwhile, are usually relational by default. This means you can update a piece of data in one place, and it will automatically update everywhere else.

The right tool for the right job

None of this is to say that spreadsheets are bad. They’re not. They’re just not an alternative to an actual database. If the UK government had used a database instead of a spreadsheet to track COVID cases, they probably wouldn’t have run into the problems they did. That’s a lesson your business can learn from.

So if you’re working with a lot of data and need to make regular connections, it’s a good idea to look into setting up a proper database. That could mean hiring someone to set up MySQL, or it could mean trying out a user-friendly database like Airtable.

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In a timely fashion: 5 ways to automate time tracking

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This post was shared by MOZ.

Timesheets are not a relic of the past. If you regularly bill clients for time, you know how important it is to keep an accurate record. Even if you don’t have to submit timesheets for your job, sometimes tracking time spent on certain tasks can make a compelling case to change a process or priority.

There’s a number of time-tracking apps out there to help you get the job done. But when you add another app on top of what you’re already using for work, it’s really easy to forget to hit that start timer.

Zapier can help. We automate tedious tasks between web apps through our automatic workflows, which we call Zaps. They send information from one app to another, so you don’t have to worry about juggling a timer on top of a client project, and can instead focus on delivering good work.

We’ve gathered a few Zap templates—what we call our pre-made workflows—to help you automate your time-tracking efforts. To get started with a template, just click on it and we’ll guide you through customizing it. It only takes a few minutes. You can read more about setting up Zaps here.

You’ll need a Zapier account to use the workflows in this piece. If you don’t have an account yet, it’s free to get started.

Time track meetings

For better or worse, meetings are part of professional life. They can also either last way too long, or if you’re lucky, get cut short. If you need to track time spent in meetings for billing purposes, you want a more accurate account than what’s blocked in your calendar.

You can use a workflow to automatically start the timer whenever a calendar event starts.

Use your time wisely

We all have those moments where it’s hard to stay focused on work. When your time is other people’s money, it can be difficult to push through and get the job done. The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity system that helps you take the right number of breaks to complete a task, and there are many apps out there to help you stay focused.

If you’re in “can’t focus” land but don’t want to juggle two timers, use a Zap to connect a Pomodoro timer with your favorite time-tracking app. Zapier will handle one of the timers for you.

Track time spent on projects and tasks

If you’re a freelancer or work in a field where you need to keep billable hours, time-tracking is a crucial part of the business. There’s no shortage of time-tracking apps out there, each with their own method of organizing time per project. You may prefer to use a separate app to manage projects and tasks. Automate your tasks, projects, and time-tracking with these Zaps.

Automatically create a spreadsheet log

Whether you’re creating estimates or just want to see your activity in a spreadsheet format, most time-tracking apps will allow you to select and export data to a CSV file. If you’re looking for real-time spreadsheet updates, these workflows will automatically add your time to a new spreadsheet row whenever you start or finish a timer.

Share activity with your team

You may be responsible for reporting your time to a manager, or you need to communicate your activity to your team. With these Zaps, you can update your status in Slack, send an email digest of your time logs, or notify a chat channel of your activity automatically.

If you work with tools not listed here, don’t worry! Zapier works with thousands of apps. Head to our App Directory and search for the one you use, or browse to find the right solution for your needs.

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How Zapier helped turn this roofing company into a million-dollar business

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This article was provided by MOZ.

There’s a point in the life cycle of every contracting business when you reach a plateau. It happened to me and my roofing business not long ago. I started thinking the only way I could take my business to the next level was to go from 12-hour days to 16-hour days, while hiring more staff and increasing overhead. It felt like growing my business was actually a lose-lose proposition.

That’s when I brought in a new CRM platform to help manage my data and increase efficiency. Soon, I was able to automate my workflows, increase communication between staff, and take on more jobs. But there was still a missing element: I needed a way to have separate software platforms talk to each other, and customize the data they provided for my roofing business specifically. That’s when I discovered Zapier, and integrating it into my systems was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

The result? A roofing business that does seven figures annually. Let me show you how I did it.

Connecting my business with Zapier

Staying organized and creating efficiencies is the key to success, whether your business specializes in roofing, siding, kitchen installations, or plumbing and electrical. Yes, there are differences in the processes and procedures between these specialties, but there are fundamental similarities as well: we all order material, we all create a Scope of Work, we sell, we bid, we manage projects.

What Zapier does is connect dissimilar platforms. As a roofing contractor, I use a lot of different organizational tools: Excel, JobNimbus (my CRM), project management, canvassing tools, and Google Docs. Zaps connect all these platforms that don’t normally talk to each other, significantly reducing the need for data entry.

CRM to Google sheets to track job details

This Zap is one of the most important in my office. It connects JobNimbus to Google Sheets.

For example, this Zap is often used during our internal job approval process. In the field, a salesperson gathers pictures, measurements, and all the details we need to know about the job she has sold. When the job is approved, it’s marked as a “sale” in JobNimbus. The Zap then parses specific information from JobNimbus data fields and sends it to Google Sheets. These Sheets contain pre-made pivot tables and other conditional formatting for my personal dashboard.

I use a series of Zaps that filter JobNimbus information based on the kind of job it is. Here are two of the Zaps I use:

Zapier keeps my sales team selling

Here’s a no-brainer: if your sales team isn’t out in the community selling your services, no one’s making any money. The last thing I want is for my salespeople to be spending all their time doing administrative work.

This Zap works with Cognito Forms, one of the platforms frequently used by my sales team. When a salesperson fills out a form in the field, this Zap uploads that information to four different platforms. These platforms are used by admin, production, customer relationship teams, and management.

The Zap sends relevant information to all our platforms, making sure things like materials requirements, Scope of Work, and customer information are passed through to the right spot.

Here’s a copy of the starting point we use in Zapier if you’d like to start sending CognitoForms entries to JobNimbus.

Our Zap also has an output to send this information via email. We use Zapier to parse that information to Spotio, our canvassing application. This allows our sales team to quickly finish their administrative tasks without having to return to the office. They stay in the field and close more business!

Learn more about how to parse emails in Zapier.

I send information to JobNimbus, but you can also send form responses to other systems, like:

Connect social media platforms and only article once

As I mentioned earlier, one of the best features of Zapier is that it bridges the gap between separate platforms. This comes in handy when dealing with the different social media platforms you use to promote your business.

With this Zap, we can simultaneously article on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, reducing the time it takes to market across all platforms. We’ve found that our audience simply prefers to see our content on their preferred platform. So, instead of making three articles of the same content, the Zap does it all for us.

Our articles feature before and after pictures, reminders of the oncoming storm season, maintenance tips for your home, and a lot more. These are content-rich articles, so Zapier saves us a huge amount of time with these.

Automate payment records

Perhaps the most critical process is receiving the payment from the customer and the workflows that are triggered by that payment. We created a Cognito Form for customer payment. When payment is received, this Zap sends the payment information to QuickBooks and to our CRM, migrating different data into both. In fact, three emails are sent to a parser which takes certain pieces of the information contained in the email and sends them to three different systems.

One of those is a Google Sheet that compiles critical information about spending habits and trends for my company: average price paid for different materials, total amount spent with a specific vendor, trends in pricing, and a lot more. This not only saves me hours in research, but allows me to make important buying and spending decisions for the company.

Here are two Zaps you could use to get started:

A skill worth learning

I’m sure that some of this may sound complicated. Believe me, when I became a roofer, the last thing I thought I’d need is finely-tuned tech skills and an eye for data. But that’s the beauty of Zapier: we can use commonly available Zaps, and with only slight modifications, customize them for our own needs.

Which brings us to the all-important bottom line. I can run my seven-figure business with one administrative person in a 1,000-square-foot office space. Data entry time is reduced to an hour a day, and sales teams can focus their time closing deals out in the field. And if this Average Joe can do it, so can you.

This was a guest article from Joe Keller, founder and CEO of a construction company as well as a management consultant for contractors. Check out our guidelines and get in touch.

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4 Ways Email Marketing Can Help Your Business

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This post was sourced from by HurDat.

Email marketing is one of the most cost-efficient digital marketing strategies for businesses, generating an average of $44 for every $1 spent. In addition, it’s one of the easiest ways for businesses to create subscriber lists, keep in touch with existing and potential customers, develop new business leads, and create brand trust. Let’s take a closer look at how email marketing can benefit your business.

Build Customer Lists

An effective email marketing strategy can help you grow your email lists organically. In other words, you don’t have to spend a bunch of money purchasing email lists that may or may not include your target audience.

Whether through newsletter signups, product purchases, service inquiries, or contact form submissions on your business website, you can collect email addresses and other important contact information directly from customers and people who are interested in what your business has to offer.

This can help improve the success of your email campaigns since you’re targeting contacts who are less likely to click unsubscribe and more likely to open your emails and take advantage of offers and deals.

Communicate with Customers

Unlike other advertising avenues that are more competitive for customer attention, emails go directly to the inboxes of your customers, which makes email marketing one of the best ways for your business to keep in touch with new and existing customers.

Emails gives you a quick, convenient way to let customers know about changes to your store hours, new products or services that are available, timely discounts, company announcements, and much more.

Not to mention, when done well, email communication can seem personal and intimate, as though you’re speaking to a single customer about their interests or needs. This can actually help build relationships with your customers and keep them engaged, which can ultimately lead to more business for you.

Drive New Leads

Did you know 59% of people say email marketing influences their decisions when making a purchase? That’s lead generation—and brand visibility—you don’t want to miss out on.

Turning quality leads into customers is the goal, but first, you have to get potential customers there. With email capture strategies, you can get more leads through your website, your social media pages, and other places online, which can help you build your email list and keep leads moving further down the sales funnel.

Email marketing can even work for retargeting former customers who may be ready to make a purchase or sign up for services with your business again.

Strengthen Brand Trust

In addition to promoting your products or services and connecting with leads, email campaigns can help position your business as a thought leader in your industry and as a trustworthy solution for your customers.

By demonstrating why your business is the best, you can leave a positive brand impression with your customers. This could be done through informative newsletter content, sharing accolades you’ve received in your field and industry, or even showcasing local news stories about your business.

Building trust with your email subscribers can help you stay top of mind with customers and continue to drive new business through email marketing efforts.

Need an email marketing strategy for your brand? Hurrdat can help with email marketing services that are designed to help with lead capture, sales promotions, communication with customers, and more.

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