All posts by Gaya Harout

Gaya is a contributing writer in a Bulgarian online magazine. She loves to learn and explore all things digital marketing and business related. She likes to keep busy, working on several projects at a time, and is currently helping out the opening of a new restaurant at the Bulgarian sea side, called Pepe Nero: http://pepenr.com/en

What’s Your Ice Cream Flavor? {INFOGRAPHIC}

Check out the infographic I created for my friends from Pepe Nero Bar & Diner in the sea resort – Lozenets, Bulgaria

Fav Ice Cream - Pepe Nero Bar & Diner

So what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

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Which Skills Do Employers and Job Seekers Overrate The Most

overrated skills You click the SAVE button with a satisfied smile on your face as you’ve got your resume makeover. You structured the perfect bullet points, the resume is just a little more than a page, and its new design is more than awesome (thanks to the few dozen resumes you reviewed to get inspiration).

So, you are ready to get your baby take off to tens, and maybe hundreds of HR managers’ inboxes (never forgetting to adapt it per the position, of course), but you cannot help yourself stop thinking about the perfect skill set that will get you through that door – the interview door.

Well let me tell you a secret, publicly known. There is no perfect set of skills and there is no perfect resume. As long as you are well aware of your strongest qualities, and the ways to convince your future employer that ‘you are the solution to their problem’, then you are on the right track.

While there may not be an absolute skill set, as it depends on many factors, such as the position you are applying for, the company, the way you ‘market’ yourself and the interviewer’s mood, of course, there is a set of largely overrated skills by all of us. Those skills are given much more weight than others – the ones, which would really make the difference between an average and a great candidate.

Here are the most frequently overestimated skills by both interviewers and job seekers, which I found over the web, which you should be aware of and could make use of the information for your next job interview.

Not making mistakes vs. Learning from them and not repeating them

Most people, often subconsciously, tend to seek perfection and put heavier weight on demanding a flawlessly executed task. Where having an awesome employee who can handle any task just the way they want, effectively and in a timely-manner may be the dream of any business owner, this may often not correspond with the real office life. What some entrepreneurs have come to understand is that employees who’ve gone through some rough times in their career may offer more efficient solutions to problems due to their ‘lessons-learned’ attitude, as opposed to those whose work always seems to run smoothly.

Focusing too much on doing things perfectly, may in fact lead to missed opportunities and lost value, which could have otherwise been brought in the occasion of a mistake. You see, ‘failure is success in the making’, and although you won’t find many documented failures in history, you might find many successful stories, which happened right after a failure, such as the story of Steve Jobs coming up with the iPhone after he had been fired from Apple.

Multi-tasking vs. Doing one thing at a time but doing it well

There are more than a few articles written lately about how multitasking might not be the best road to productivity and success at work, as our brains are not programmed to do more than one thing at a time. Despite the piles of evidence of the contrary, recruiters continue to seek for people who can do multiple tasks at a time, and candidates continue to promote their ability to do so. We should all keep Brian Tracy’s advice in mind: “It’s not the time you spend working overall, but the amount of time you spend working on high priority tasks”.

Networking vs. Knowing stuff

While networking has been and always will be important, especially in the communications related field, many employers overestimate the importance of WHO you know as opposed to WHAT you know. Living in times, where finding a great graphic designer or a decent PR is just a few Google, or LinkedIn, or Facebook clicks away (you name it), what employers should be really be focusing on is what the future job candidate does know and how they may implement their knowledge in the organization. Knowing someone just because you were in the right place, at the right time should be given less weight than being resourceful enough to know how and where to get your information from – for obvious reasons. If it doesn’t prove anything else, at least it shows creativity.

GPA vs. Real-life experience

Many job descriptions do have a requirement of a minimum GPA, or number of ‘O’ or/and ‘A’ Levels taken. While recruiters might have a good motivation to do that, there are more than a few examples of successful people who did great in life, but poorly at school. The GPA or any other school assessment score might showcase a candidate’s ambition, a certain type of intelligence and perhaps, to some extent, the ability to learn and apply your knowledge, but it does not have to be a leading factor when choosing the right employee. The ability to handle stressful situations, the ability to earn a tough client or tackle a customer complaint with grace are all qualities, which cannot be read from your GPA score.

Collaboration vs. Orientation towards results

While being a team player and able to collaborate well with your co-workers is a great asset, the value it brings is often overestimated by companies. Being collaborative for the sake of being viewed as a team player doesn’t really do much, except it shows how good you communicate with your co-workers. In business, results matter the most. So, if a person would bring much value, simply by doing individual tasks, then let it be – after all we cannot force everybody to like everybody. Being nice is nice, being respected for producing results is even nicer.

Experience vs. Inner flair to outperform

I have one question for you: Which is better – to have someone who can do all the work quickly and efficiently or someone who claims to have all the experience but keeps procrastinating?

There are more than a few instances of people with experience close to none being able to learn so quickly that they outperform their much more experienced co-workers in various fields. HR recruiters often get impressed with the years of experience someone has, but tend to ignore the signs of a future overachiever. It is true that experience is a metric which cannot be easily overlooked, however a true entrepreneur should be able to read the traits of a future talent and be able to give them the chance to prove their capabilities. This, of course, depends not only on the intuition and willingness of employers to hire a soon-to-be office star, but also on the resources they have and/or are willing to spend on their training.

Do keep those puffed up skills and qualities in mind when you show up on your next job interview and let me know if you feel there is an overrated skill I missed in the comments below.

How To Cook An Awesome Blog Post

Whether you love to cook or not, you know there are essential ingredients to any meal you attempt to make.

One of my go-to-sources for all things blogging – Coppyblogger has created an awesome infographic to illustrate what the essential ingredients of any blog post are.

Let me know in the comments below if you feel there is something missing.

11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs [Infographic]

Like this infographic? Get content marketing advice that works from Copyblogger.

Tom’s Got Mail

E-mail marketing

This is part of a story about a successful affiliate marketer, which first appeared in a hosting company’s blog that I used to write for. It covers the basics of e-mail marketing for affiliates.

Day 24, 2:00 p.m.

Tom’s got mail

Tom knew he was on the right track to successfully monetizing his website. Persistency and patience got him to where he was now. He had a great bank of informative articles about the hosting industry, and he would constantly produce more to keep up with the increasing thirst for information of his audience.

Tom wanted to take the conversation to the next level, and knew he had to perk up his e-mail strategy. He had already started building an e-mail list, but he had not spent much time on it, since most of his efforts had been concentrated on content optimization.

An effective e-mail strategy would help Tom communicate better with his subscribers and engage them, and at the same time help him build an extensive e-mail list. Capturing his audiences e-mail addresses and building an e-mail list was beneficial in his efforts:

  • To have a more personal approach towards his audience. Delivering information personally to his fans would help him strengthen their relationship. Personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened. (Adestra July 2012 Report).
  • To have his audience everywhere: The e-mail list was his insurance policy. If anything happened to his site, for whatever reason, he would still be able to get in touch with his subscribers. Not to mention that he’d never have to worry about starting from scratch.
  • To make money: By delivering the newest incentivized offers of the hosting company to his subscribers via affiliate links in his e-mails. After all, he remembered the famous expression that the‘Money is in the list’. 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email. (Convinceandconvert.com)

Day 33, 16:00 p.m.

The newsletter which did not deliver news

So far, Tom had built a list of e-mail subscribers through an opt-in form on his site but for some reason newsletter seemed like quite a challenging job to do.

With the help of a close friend and … Google, Tom would understand the basics of the newsletter subscription process:

SourceSmart Passive Income

Before he moved towards implementing an e-mail strategy, he had to setup an account with an e-mail marketing service provider, such as MailChimp or AWeber. The benefits of using a designated e-mail service provider were many, some of which included not having to worry about e-mail deliverability, being able to create beautifully designed e-mail templates, automating the whole sending-receiving process, and being able to deliver measurable results.

Tom wanted to establish a lighter e-mail strategy at first, contacting his subscribers twice a month and making special personalized offers. He did not want to have his newsletter turn into a copy of his blog. Instead, he planned to make his subscribers feel really special by:

  • Being first to be invited to special events he organized, such as webinars
  • Being first to receive special discounts for those events
  • Being first to receive any new freebies that he introduced, such as e-books
  • Being first to receive the newest offers from the hosting company he was affiliated with

His ‘VIP’ approach to his subscribers helped shape and enhance their relationship  even more. Of course, all of this helped him convert more, as he also kept in mind the following rules of mass e-mail:

  • Avoid any punctual and grammar mistakes: Always proofread your e-mails.
  • Test your e-mails before you send them out: Send a copy to yourself first.
  • Avoid bulky e-mails: Keep your e-mail short and informative
  • Include CTA (Call-to-Action), such as Sign Up, Register, Read more, Join: This helps direct your readers’ mind into a specific action that should be taken. For best results – have the CTA in a large button.
  • Consider mobile and tablet users64% of decision-makers read their email via mobile devices. (TopRankBlog). Offering a responsive and minimalistic design plays a crucial role if you want mobile and tablet users to consider your e-mail. Finger-friendly clickable product squares and larger text are just some of the options to improve the experience of mobile users.
  • Test your links: Make sure you the links in your e-mail will really send your subscribers to the right URL.
  • Include social sharing buttons in the emailEmails that include social sharing buttons have a 158% higher click-through rate. (GetResponse)

Starting his own newsletter was not an easy task for Tom. What helped him the most, in successfully launching his e-mail campaigns, was being persistent, asking his audience through social media and polls in his website for feedback and keeping himself constantly informed on the newest trends in e-mail marketing.

By Day 41, Tom had 300+ new subscribers to his newsletter and another 5% increase in his affiliate sales, solely from his e-mail campaigns.

Banner Ads Vs. Text Links: To Be Or Not To Be

Banner Ads Vs. Text links
The decision of whether to use banner ads or text links in their websites has been troubling the minds of affiliates and marketers for many years now, and the debate still goes on, regardless many of the studies done to reveal the effectiveness of one over the other.
Most probably, the opposite camps will remain debating for long, as it is mainly a psychological matter of human perception of what catches the eye the most and what stimulates the visitor to make a purchase.
About banners and banner placements
 
There are many types of banner sizes, ranging from microbars (88×31) to large leader boards (728×90), as per IAB’s banners standard size guidelines.
This Wikipedia graphic gives a simple, yet very useful visualization of what the standard banner sizes are and their possible placements on your site. Not wanting to stray too much off topic here, I’d recommend a more thorough explanation of the types and sizes of banner ads here, in case you are curious.
What makes a banner ad appealing to site owners is the fact that it is a great way to illustrate a concept, whilst playing with graphics and colors. Not to mention that the saying, a ‘picture speaks a thousand words’ is still valid up to this date.
If a banner ad is complemented with some kick-ass copy which targets the relevant audience and its relevant need, then the banner ad might do better than a text link.
The opinions
 
Perhaps the best answer to what works best is: It depends. One might work quite well for one affiliate, and be considered as a waste of time by another. It is a question with no right answer for the most part, and here are some of the opinions on it:
Popular affiliate marketing blogger Rae Hoffman states

In my experience, sidebar ads drive the least amount of sales of any other affiliate advertising method on my blogs. Take Sugarrae for instance – less than 10% of the site’s overall affiliate earnings come from my sidebar ads (but hey, it does bring in some sales).”

 
Another affiliate also backs up the usage of text links in the Simple Machines Forum:
 

I have had many members comment over the years about how one thing they like about our forum is how we don’t have any ads on it. Yet we have tons of text ads in the form of part numbers and model number that link to our affiliates websites. We have also had a parts search box at the top of our site for years that links to one of our appliance parts affiliates website.

 
And here is a pro-banner ads opinion from the same forum:

“…but banners – a real good one can out sell a text link.  It basically comes down to if the person knows a thing or two or three or four about Copy writing or Advertising.   I’ve done adwords testing and so far banners with the same ad copy as my text counter part have a higher CTR for me.”

 
The verdict
 
There is no right and wrong here, and good promotion is promotion done well, no matter whether it is on a shiny billboard or on a napkin in a fancy restaurant. Jokes aside, no matter whether we are talking affiliate marketing or any other type of marketing, the most important thing to do is keep calm and consider your target audience and your message. Whether the message needs to be dressed up well to grab the attention of the online/offline ‘passers-by’, it truly depends upon your understanding of your target audience and some other factors I have discussed below.
The questions you should be asking yourself
 
Are you promoting a product or service?
 
Some visual support for a product may work well since products are made of physical matter and may trigger all of our senses, whereas services cannot be seen, smelled or touched and having someone recommend them to us might turn out to be most effective. As a woman, I would certainly be more tempted to click on a banner ad showing off a nice pair of high heels, which also happen to be on a sale (considering I am broke most of the time), rather than click on a text link, saying “Best high heels, 60% off”.
Banner Ads Vs Text links
Even if Carrie Bradshaw recommended them in an article, there is a greater chance I’d click on the nice looking banner ad. When you have a product, and especially a good-looking one, the best thing to do is show it off to the world.
When it comes to service, where you need to start believing its value, a recommendation would work best for me, and I guess for most people, especially if it comes from a person/company you trust.
How much white space do you have available?
 
Or in other words, is your side bar full of adorable small ads? It is important to consider the availability of white space on your side bar or wherever you plan to place your banner ads. If, say, your side bar is already cluttered with lots of other banner ads, there is a great risk your site visitors would get ‘banner blind’. The term ‘banner blindness’ refers to the “conscious or unconscious decision to ignore web spaces conventionally containing banner ads”, as explained by Infolinks. Or, more simply put, people tend to not notice banner ads when visiting a site due to the predictability of their placements. Banner blindness is of the main reason for a downward trend in CTRs in the past few years. Affiliate marketing aside, and talking only PPC, recent studies show that while banner ads may not be that successful in terms of CTR and engagement, they are a useful tool in increasing brand awareness.
As an affiliate, try not to cluster your web space with too many ads, but use a few instead since less ads can equal more. Another way to deal with this issue if you want to stick with all your sidebar banner ads is to rotate them on a regular basis and show less at a time.
banner blindness
Image credit: Smashing Magazine
Do you know the product/service well?
 
If you do know the product/service well, and especially if it is a service, consider writing a recommendation or an interesting article which your target audience might find useful and include your text links inside. Text links have proven to be quite effective in contextual affiliate marketing, and posting a trustworthy recommendation, which shows off the main benefits of a service will most probably lead to higher engagement and conversions than a banner would.
Are you backed up well on the creative side?
 
To fight the banner blindness phenomenon, many companies get creative and going about it, crafting interesting banners to attract the visitor’s eye and placing banners in extraordinary web spaces to catch them off guard. If your merchant’s banners are visually attractive and creative, there is no harm in trying them out to see how they perform.
In a nutshell, consider the above factors when deciding upon whether to use banner ads or text links, and don’t forget to experiment and mix things up to optimize the performance of your affiliate marketing.
No matter which method you choose, it all boils down to the relevancy of your audience and how it perceives your promotional message. Keep experimenting, using both promotional methods and see for yourself which one brings you more conversions.
Let me know in the comments below if you have done some testing yourself and which method worked best for you.

 

12 Free Online Tools To Rock Your Office

free tools to boost productivity
There is something terrifying and at the same time comforting at the thought of having so many online tools to make our lives better. With so many apps to see, so many tools to check out and eventually use, it is sometimes too much to breathe in and comprehend.
 
At least that is the case for the curious mind that I am. Still, I believe, that this is the case with most of us, who work on the computer for more than six hours a day 🙂 At this moment, I can almost recall the feeling of ‘super-excitedness’, when I bump into a new tool on the web, which might just fill the gap I had, or did I? This is the most intriguing part, where we start getting used to some of those online tools so much, that at some point of time, we forget about the happy times we had when we didn’t actually use them, need them, breathe them, or even know that they exist … until the moment they were introduced to our attention.
 
I have compiled a list of free online tools, which helped us in our social media, marketing and our daily time management efforts.
No matter whether you are running your own company, work from home on your online affiliate business, or you are working for someone as a marketer, the following tools will help you get inspired, be more organized and more informed about where your company and its competition stand.

1. Feedly: This tool helps you bookmark the sites you love and want to follow. It gathers all the information you need in one place, delivering it to you through a user friendly and clean interface. Easily customizable, this tool has a good chance at becoming your go-to-place for fresh news and updates, while drinking your coffee in the morning. +feedly is a respectable substitute of Google Reader, and best of all, it’s free.
Feedly app
2. BufferApp: This simple tool helps you manage your social media pages in a functional and ‘no-brainer’ way. You may schedule your content to be automatically delivered on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn at optimal times and days of the week. With its free chrome extension, it +Buffer gives you the freedom to buffer anything interesting you find from the web for later. It has a basic free version and a paid one, if you would like to add more than one team member/social media page to the app.

Buffer

Image credit: BufferApp

3.  Mention: Mention is like the old lady sitting on a comfy bench all day long, in front of her house, knowing everything about anyone in a radius of 3 km. Mention is that lady, in a sense where it would browse through all your social media pages, as well as any blogs, forums and content on the web in general to let you know who spoke positive/negative about you, in what language and on which day of the week you are mostly talked about. You might set  keyword alerts and see how your company, competitors, your service or whatever interests you is mentioned. It does have a free trial version on a Pro Plan after which you might go back to a free basic version or keep getting the gossip on the paid plan.

Mention App

4. Likealyzer: This app acts just like the good teacher at school. It analyzes your facebook page performance FOR FREE, gives you a score out of 100 (the higher, the better, of course) and encourages you to make ‘this and that’ changes to help you engage your fans better. It does have certain criteria upon which the score is calculated, such as complete/incomplete page information, frequency of posting (too often or too rare), variety of types of posts, usage of hashtags and calls to action and more.
5. Skitch: Evernote’s Skitch helps you take snapshots of your screen and then make important notes on anything, and anywhere on it. This is especially useful when you want to make a certain point clear over the internet to point out and comment on what you like/dislike about certain text structure/design etc. It comes in handy as well when making an online tutorial about the use of software. And, it is free!
You can see Skitch in action in most of the photos for this blog post.

6. Evernote: This is your diary everywhere, anytime on your fingertips. It does have a mobile and desktop version, so it is easy to scribble down notes to remember, save articles to read for later, write down any new ideas which come to your mind, like a new topic for a blog post etc. It is also free, and I am addicted to it.
7. Trello: The project management software is the one of best I found so far on the web. It is a virtual bulletin board, where in a beautifully crazy way, as its name suggests (‘trello’ means crazy in Greek), you may create different projects (called boards), make lists and assign to do’s to team members. At any time, you may check what each team member is doing and what the progress on their tasks is. The thing I liked most about+Trello is how interactive the design is and how easy it is to see at a glance where each project stands in time. Customizable designs for each project, lots of options to attach files, to set deadlines, or discuss tasks are only some of its features. And it is free. Trello might be effectively used for wedding planning, personal organization, software development, client management and more.

Trello App

Image Credit: Trello

8. Übersuggest: The tool gives you suggestions of keywords from around the web, based on the language you choose and the term you search. It is a great tool for planning your blog post titles and anything ‘content related’ that you might do.
9. CopyscapeCopyscape lets you know who’s been lurking your website and stolen your ideas only to present them as their own later. It’s like hiring your very own Monk to spy for you on the on the internet, for free. As much I would like to take the philosophical stance, and state that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, as Charles Caleb Colton said, I cannot bypass acknowledging the frustration some might experience, once they realize their work has been copied. It is hard to swallow the fact that someone else has taken the result of hours and hours of work and later presented it as their own.
10. WiseStamp: This tool helps you re-design and perk up your personal/company signature into a professional looking one. It has all these cool apps to add, such as social media icons leading to your profile, a recent feed of your twitter/facebook or even blog updates. The signature by Wisestamp provides you with a few templates to choose from, and even an option to make it visual by adding your own photo. There is a basic and a paid version for it.
WiseStamp
Image Credit: WiseStamp
11.  Optimizely: This tool makes A/B testing of your website and landing pages seem like an easy and fun task to do. It will help you make user-driven decisions, related to your own web design and optimize for conversions. It doesn’t have a free plan, but offers you to test its functionality live for whichever URL you choose.
12. Pic Monkey: Along the many photo editors out there, I find Pic Monkey to be really easy to use and multifunctional. On top of that, it is free. It does have a pro plan, and some of the photo editing options are limited with the free plan, but still the variety of options to tune up any image are plenty. The tool doesn’t even require any registration; practically anyone may play around with different overlays, text editing options, and apply all kinds of textures and effects to their photos.
I hope you enjoyed the above list. I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments below for tools, which you feel should be added to the list.
Disclaimer: This post originally appeared here.

Why Do We Blog

Blogging
As tradition goes, now I should be shouting ‘Hello World’ and passionately talking about the reasons why I decided to start my first blog. Maybe traditions have changed and my information is outdated. And maybe, I really don’t have an idea how people kick-off with their personal blogs these days. However, this was how it used to be not so long ago.
Truth is – this is my second attempt at creating my own personal online ‘thought screaming’ place. I don’t even remember how my first blog was called, as it ended up in reckless efforts to make it ‘look beautiful’. Of course, the ‘web designer wannabe’ feeling in me hasn’t died, but this time I want to focus more on content, as this is what brings me the most pleasure. We’ll see how it goes.
As much as I try not to be too self-centered, and really focus on my pondering about what makes people share their feelings online so much these days, I had to make this short introduction.
When I actually did make the move, and pushed that ‘CREATE YOUR FIRST BLOG’ button (I know it sounds dramatic), I couldn’t help myself not to stop thinking about why people do start blogging. I knew why I did, but was it the same reason others did? Or were there any other reasons to want to share your thoughts with the world?
No research done by me this time, the following list is mainly based on thoughts, and conclusions from articles I’ve read about online blogging.
1. People who love to write but haven’t had the chance to get a job in an offline/online media (reasons are many, not to be discussed here): These are the ones who either realized their passion for the pen or keyboard too late, or realized it soon enough to enroll in a related major, but somehow did not make it to that dream job. I tend to think of myself falling into this group, as I have always had this thing for writing, and even had been a part of our school’s magazine editorial team. However, somehow, I abandoned this passion towards many other passions I had, and ended up getting a Business degree. Feeling it is too late, too hard, and maybe not worth the effort for a 180 degrees change of course, here I am with my Stamply blog.
2. People who love to write and actually do write for other media, but keep their personal blog as a place to unwind mostly: Those are the people, who most probably kept their personal diaries when they were younger, or might still do, who knows – diaries are meant to be secret, right? Those people really enjoy writing and do so outside their writing jobs to have a platform for their thoughts on specific topics, which interest them, but would probably not be able to freely talk about at their daily jobs.
3. People who have a hobby they are extremely passionate about: These are the ones who love wine tasting, fishing, shopping etc., and got so much into it, that very naturally, with time, people started approaching them for advice. This, in turn, led them to sharing their passion with the rest of the world. These blogs do usually start as small blogs, only meant for friends and family to read, and more than often do become a way of living and sometimes, earning a living.
4. People who don’t like writing, but have heard they might leave their 9 to 5 jobs by starting a blog: These people either learn to be good, driven mostly by the benefits their blog might bring – I am talking money here, or just never do learn and end up with a blog cluttered with banners displaying ads on topics varying from teeth whitening to great WordPress templates.
5. People who don’t like writing, but firmly believe they do, and also have heard it is cool to have a blog and write about …well, anything: These people are either very confused about their unique qualities as a person, or are so curious about life and the surprises and sunsets it brings every day, and so eager to learn new stuff that most probably the first time they heard about the word ‘blogging’, they said: “Hell yea, I can do it!” And so they did. They did it with mere or no success at all.  Dwelling on what really triggers this group of people start their own blog makes me wonder if I might be as well a part of it.
6. Any combination between 1 to 4
So, here is the way I structured into groups, the main reasons people start their own blogs these days.
I tried to objectively structure people’s main reasons on people wanting to share themselves online, in a personal blog. Surely this is not a complete list. It’s not even a study. There certainly are many other combinations of people, but these, I believe do offer a basis to draw a deeper discussion on.
I admitted which group I fall into, and would love to hear your confessions as well in the comments below.
Feel free to qualify yourself, myself or your neighbor and/or add a group, if you feel it should be in the list.