Using Yoast SEO to Write Effective Meta Descriptions

The term, “meta description” may seem foreign to some but we all see these descriptions each time we search for something online. The meta description can contain up to 320 characters and should be an interesting summary of what your website is all about. It shows up in the search results as those first few words/lines that explain the essence of your website or post.

Yoast SEO Descriptions

How Meta Descriptions Work

Each time we type a search term in the browser, a number of results will come up. For each one, there’s a 320 character description of the site or page. People usually decide which site to click on based on what these meta descriptions say. That means it has to be snappy and fresh. The wording needs to grab your attention. It has to sound enticing. Think of it as a short, but powerful sales pitch. Potential customers are far more likely to visit a site that sounds unique, interesting or entertaining than one that sounds boring.

Though search engines make it clear that there’s no direct advantage from writing good meta descriptions, there is a very strong indirect benefit. If you’ve written a good meta description, then this will improve your click-through-rate (CTR). As visitors click-through to your site, the search engine uses that information as a way of determining that your site was aptly and well described. This will improve your position in the search results.

It is important to point out here that Google will not always show your unique meta description. Sometimes they generate their own description of your business based on factors like the search term and type of business it is. This is where keywords come into play. Most business owners now understand at least the basics of keywords and how they work. If your content is well-optimized, then it should reflect that by serving as a great meta description.

Google changes the way their search engine works at times and this can certainly throw a wrench in all your good plans. However, that should not stop business owners from doing sound keyword research and creating unique content with those keywords. It goes without saying that keyword stuffing is bad and should be avoided at all costs. Always observe the current standards for keyword density in a page of text, which usually runs around 2 to 2.5 percent.

Yoast Free or Premium?

Yoast offers a free and a premium SEO service. With the free service, you get one keyword for each page of content. The premium service allows five keywords for each page. The premium service also does a readability check using the Flesch Kincaid test which measures the grade level of your writing. Since the world wide web is filled with people from all backgrounds and educations, Flesch Kincaid usually recommends writing copy that would be easy reading for a third to fifth grader.

Use short concise sentences. Avoid big words that are not readily understood unless you are writing technical information for a specific audience, like IT experts. Try to use action verbs instead of passive verbs. Use subheadings and catchy taglines. Whatever you can do to make your site more attractive, unique and fun, will help. You can count on getting more traffic and higher conversion rates.

How to Use Yoast SEO to Write Meta Descriptions

If you don’t write a unique meta description, Yoast will produce one. Usually, it simply takes the first three lines of content on your page or post and uses that. If you’d like to edit that, then click on the “edit snippet” button. This opens the snippet editor. There are fields there to edit the SEO title, slug and meta description. As you type, your new meta description will show up. You can make changes until you feel it’s just right. The snippet editor has an orange bar at the bottom that will become green once you’ve typed enough information.

Many site owners use the first few lines of content on their page or post as the meta description. If your site has good, professionally written content on it, then there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you feel you could improve the text, then, by all means, do so. If you can get the hang of this and really write powerful meta descriptions, it can greatly improve your click-through rates.

How to Write a Superb Meta Description

Once you’ve decided that this is something worthwhile that could improve your bottom line, it’s important to put your best foot forward. In order to write effective meta descriptions, you may need the help of a good copywriter. Copywriting is all about utilizing words to persuade searchers to click on your page. With only 320 characters or about two to three lines of text, it’s important to make every word count. Below are two writing examples to show you the difference between professionally written text and that of an amateur.

Good Meta Description:

Apple

https://www.apple.com/

Discover the innovative world of Apple and shop everything iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and AppleTV, plus explore accessories, entertainment, and expert device support.

The above meta description from Apple does contain some good keywords but it doesn’t feel awkward or forced. It’s informative. It’s also important to note that this meta description was written using the older rules where 155 characters were the rule. Today, we’re seeing longer snippets that contain more information to help searchers decide what to click on.

Bad Meta Description:

Mary’s Bakery

https://www.marysbakery.com/

Get some good donuts and cakes at Mary’s Bakery located in downtown Minneapolis. We cater and deliver. Our baked goods are tasty and made with quality ingredients.

Though the above meta description does contain some valuable information, it’s boring. The shop owner wastes valuable space here to tell consumers where they’re located. This is something that many searchers will not care about in their initial search. Use this space to talk about delicious pastries, cakes, and donuts. Talk about your award-winning cupcakes with buttercream icing. This is how you get people to visit your site and look around.

Caution!

Be sure that your meta description accurately describes your page or post. Yes, the wording can be flowery, powerful, strangely attractive, etc. But it should also be truthful. If you make promises you can’t keep, then searchers will quickly hit the “back” button. This can cause your site to fall in the search listings.

As mentioned above, avoid keyword stuffing. Just about all web visitors today understand what keyword stuffing is and most don’t like it. The reason? Keyword stuffing makes a section of text read awkwardly. It is typically not well-written content and it doesn’t make sense to your human visitors. Remember to write your meta description for humans, not for search engines.

Instead, focus on writing interesting descriptions and unique content for your human visitors. In the end, search engines will not be purchasing your products and services. Humans will, so cater to their needs, wants, desires, whims—and you’ll be rewarded with higher click-through rates and stronger sales.

Will Apple Stop Spying And Give Users More Control?

We all hear the rumors, the buzz, and constant speculation any time there is a hotly-anticipated iOS release hyped at an Apple keynote. We read the online gossip about the features announced and compare past keynotes.

Apple IOS Updates

If you’re reading this, you’ve been there. We have, too. More importantly, we ask the same questions. Will my current iPhone or iPad be supported? Will there be settings to make my iPhone or iPad operate more efficiently, and improve battery life? That’s the ultimate goal for every Apple product user. That, and the glittering unicorn emoji, naturally.

So, let’s dive right into Apple iOS 11.3, shall we?

The release of iOS 11.3 is the third follow-up to the overhaul that was iOS 11 from 2017, and – if Apple is being honest – it’s entirely due to the scandal for which news broke just before Christmas.

Owners of older iPhones are going to love Apple iOS 11.3 because it’s the promised “fix” to the controversial iPhone-slowing process that Apple covertly implanted in our beloved iDevices, intended to slow down the operations of dated models to prevent “sudden shutdown” of the iPhone. (Pssst…Apple…we didn’t believe you!)

Unless you’ve been comatose for the last six months, you’ve heard of Apple’s scandal in admitting it slowed down older phones. There were vague excuses, but it felt like a confirmation to many who joked that it seemed like Apple implanted alarm clocks of sorts that made iDevices slow to a crawl around the 20-month mark, fueling the desire to upgrade the device to the latest version – a well-controlled supply and demand market. Cue Apple’s admission and iDevice owners worldwide felt vindicated, completely ignoring that gnawing feeling of how many devices we feel we’d been tricked into purchasing since the release of the very first iPhone over a decade ago. It wasn’t until after Apple’s offer of battery replacements – at a “discount” – and this release to put control back in the hands of the user that we began to realize that we feel a bit violated.

Looking more closely, Apple offers several features in iOS 11.3, so let’s take a closer look at the highlights of what we get with our digital apology.

  • Animoji: Have you ever wanted to turn yourself into a bearmoji? Available in the Messages app, now users can select the bear, dragon, skull and sullen lion characters to mimic facial movements and include voice recordings.
  • Apple News: Apple News: A new, customizable “For You” section with personalized content, including video.
  • Advanced Mobile Location: An improvement on Location Services, when toggled on this setting automatically shares a user’s location with emergency services when an emergency call is initiated.
  • App Store Updates: Updates impacting user experience, like the ability to sort reviews by Most Recent, Most Helpful, Most Favorable, and Most Critical, have been long awaited. Thanks, Apple, for catching up and giving users what is most helpful! Apple is recognizing that users want more control and customization of their devices and this update, which also includes file size of updates, will make the App Store more useful in general.
  • Security Improvements: Ever a concern, Apple detected cybersecurity vulnerabilities in Mail, Find My iPhone, iCloud Drive, and the Phone and Clock apps and patches for these were included in the 11.3 release.
  • Battery Health: The infamous battery issue has its own setting! Users can get up close and personal with their battery details in Settings, Battery, Battery Health (Beta), and see maximum charge capacity and peak performance capability – and the battery will also indicate if it needs replacing.
    • It’s only when the charge capacity is less than 100% that users will see a message that “performance management” features have been applied (aka, the slowing-down effect) and offering the user the ability to disable this. Users might notice increased operation speed, but Apple warns to expect sudden shutdowns.
    • Note: Disabling this feature is semi-permanent; you cannot turn this feature back on unless a sudden shutdown occurs and then this message reverts.
  • Health Records: iPhone owners can now store personal medical records on the iPhone, including the ability to connect to medical providers and download encrypted records. Have information about allergies, medications, tests, and results, vaccinations, and a plethora of medical details at your fingertips. We expect this feature to continue to evolve.

The Big One:

  • Updated Privacy: Apple is recognizing that their community greatly values their privacy, and is vowing to help do more to safeguard it.

After installation of iOS 11.3, users are greeted with a welcome message going into more detail about its new Data & Privacy feature that states, “Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right.” The good news is that Apple is now trying to be very transparent with regard to what data it collects from users. To be fair, iPhone owners are Apple customers, and with this relationship, a degree of consumer information is expected in a transaction. Is Apple not held responsible for maintaining the security on our iPhones? We, therefore, assume they require tidbits of consumer information but also have ironclad security with which to protect us – fair trade on the smallest scale. Apple now tells users what data it collects and why just inside Apple apps with a small icon that looks like two shaking hands. The irony is that much of this information has been included in the privacy policy offered by Apple for iTunes transactions (over 1,000 words, roughly).

Compatible iDevices – iPhone 5S or newer, iPad mini 2 or later, 6th generation iPod Touch or newer, and the 2018 iPad – will (or will have already) receive automatic prompts to install iOS 11.3, but it can also be manually installed via Settings, General, Software Update. The focus with 11.3 is the iPhone, but iOS doesn’t only run on phones, so the new operating system comes with the goal of overall efficiency and privacy.

We love our iPhones (and iPads, too), and we keep endless information on these tiny pocket computers that run our daily lives. From phone calls to text messages, from email to apps, from appointments to reminders, our iPhones hold the key to our productivity and our connectivity, and we want control over how they function. Apple finally recognizes and concedes (some) control to users with iOS 11.3, and we expect even bigger things to come from this.

Apple, this is the beginning of an even better, stronger relationship!

If You Don’t Know About These 3 Ways to Use Outlook 2016 More Efficiently, You’re Wasting Lots of Time

Microsoft Outlook is a professional email and calendar program that’s been used by businesses for over 15 years. It’s had many iterations over the years, but with 2016, and its integration with Office 365, Microsoft has taken Outlook to the next level. Today, small and medium-sized businesses that couldn’t afford the enterprise-level application can now benefit from Outlook 2016.

The following are 3 ways to help you use Outlook 2016 more efficiently.

1. Keyboard Shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts in Outlook on Windows will help you work more efficiently. It’s also handy for those who have mobility or vision disabilities because using keyboard shortcuts can often be easier than using a touchscreen or mouse. Here are some popular keyboard shortcuts you should try.

And there are more. Here are popular keyboard shortcuts for NAVIGATION:

When searching, try these handy keyboard shortcuts:

 

To create an item or a file keep these shortcuts in mind.

Shortcuts in Mail.

To see more Outlook 2016 Shortcuts go here.

2. Use Quick Steps

Right-click any email, choose Quick Steps and choose from the list.

We’re going to choose Team Email. The first time we use this, Outlook asks you to name your team and enter their email addresses.

Then create a Keyboard Shortcut for this. So, the next time you hit Control Shift 1, an email to your entire team can be composed.

You can also create new Quick Step. Simply choose Create New Quick Step.

Here are some other Quick Steps to try: 1

  • Move to Folder: This is essentially the same as Move To.
  • Categorize & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a category color and name to the message.
  • Flag & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a flag to the message.
  • New Email To: This opens a New Message form with the To field already filled out with a particular recipient.
  • Forward To: This is essentially the same as To Manager.
  • New Meeting: If you often send meeting invites to the same group of people, use this Quick Step to open a New Meeting form with the To field already filled in with the invitees.
  • Custom: This opens the Edit Quick Step dialog box so that you can create your own custom Quick Step.

3. Use Conditional Formatting

This is used to change the look of a particular email. You do this in the View Menu.

Here, we just click on Conditional Formatting and create an email called Microsoft.

Next, we choose a condition, where the word Microsoft appears anywhere in an email.

Then, we ask it to appear in a bold red font.

Now, any new email we receive with the word Microsoft in it will show up in red. This is a great way for us to recognize the importance of an email. You may want to do this for any email with your boss’s name in it!

And, there are more ways you can get the most from Outlook 2016. Here are a few ideas:

EMAIL

  • Change the color and contrast of Outlook: You can also use a picture or color as the background, add a text watermark to your emails.
  • Customize emails with the fonts you prefer: Change the default font for various email messages you send, or a particular font for messages that you forward or reply to.
  • Create signatures for your different email accounts: Create personalized signatures for your email messages: include text, images, your electronic business card, a logo, or even an image of your handwritten signature. Signatures can be added automatically to all outgoing messages, or you can choose which messages should use a particular signature.
  • Setup sound alerts when new emails come in: A sound can play when a new email message arrives. The default sound is a short .wav audio file, but you can change it to any .wav file of your choice.
  • Establish tracking options with delivery receipts: A delivery receipt confirms delivery of your email message to the recipient’s mailbox.
  • Use Outlook’s templates for your messages or create your own: Use email templates to send messages that include information that rarely changes from message to message. You can also insert icons, photos, and tables into your messages.
  • Embed voting buttons in your email to survey your recipients about a particular topic (such as, “When’s the best date and time for a meeting?”): Voting buttons are an excellent way to poll people, especially when communicating with large groups.
  • Use Quickparts to insert a standard set of words you often use: Use the Quick Parts Gallery to create, store, and locate content, including AutoText, document properties such as title and author, and fields.
  • Clutter: This is where you can place low priority emails you want to read later. Clutter helps you filter these low-priority emails saving time for your most important messages. Office 2016 remembers “Clutter” emails if you want.  If Clutter isn’t for you, you can TURN IT OFF.
  • Create folders and subfolders: You can base these on topics, senders, organizations, projects, etc.—Whatever works for you and organize your emails under the subjects you choose. Use folders in Outlook to move email messages, add a folder to your Favorites, and set a rule to move specific emails out of your inbox.

CALENDAR

Outlook 2016 calendars have all the tools and functionality you’ve relied on in the past, with improved features to help you manage your time. 

  • Set up multiple calendars (e.g., personal, business, health, etc.).
  • Create appointments quickly and share them with your contacts.
  • Scheduling assistant lets you access others’ calendars that you’re authorized to view (and vice versa).
  • Set reminders, reoccurring appointments/meetings, alerts, and more.
  • View your calendar by day, week, month, and year.

CONTACTS

  • You can also import contacts to Outlook from other email providers using the Outlook Import/Export wizard. Import a CSV file, Excel spreadsheet, or vCard.
  • Your contacts are linked to your email accounts, so you can simply key a name in the “To” field, and your contact’s email address will appear.
  • Set permission for a particular contact (delegate) to view your emails while you’re on vacation. Plus, you can give this person access to your calendar, tasks, and so on, as appropriate. One delegate can take care of your email, another your tasks, etc.

TOOLS

  • Always know how much space is left in your account.
  • Notify those emailing you that you aren’t available during a particular period with Out of Office. You set up a special message you want others to see.
  • Even set up different messages for people inside or outside your organization. (Outlook will remind you that the “Out of Office” message is turned on, so you don’t forget when you return.)
  • As mentioned above, similar to having an assistant help you manage your incoming paper mail, you can use Microsoft Outlook to allow a delegate, to receive and respond to e-mail messages and meeting requests and responses on your behalf.
  • You can also grant additional permissions that allow your delegate to read, create, or have more control over items in your Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox—And, set more than one delegate and permissions for various tasks.

TASKS

Outlook 2016’s task management helps you accomplish to-dos faster and easier.

  • Categorize your tasks with color codes.
  • Ping reminders for tasks.
  • Check-off tasks when complete.
  • Create tasks for others as well. Outlook integrates tasks with your emails so that you can assign a task to a recipient.  The task will show up on their task list.

To learn more about how you can get the most from Outlook 2016 contact us.

Let’s Play “Tech Truth Or Dare”!

Your cybersecurity practices shouldn’t be treated like a game of chance unless you are 300% certain you’re going to win. What can you do to make sure your business isn’t the ultimate loser?

Cyber Security

Is technology today the endless cycle of cat-and-mouse, with the bad guys always one step ahead? A quick search for “cybersecurity best practices” will yield millions of results, all with their ideas of what you can do – but does any of it make sense? Someone busy running a company faces a complex dichotomy: Being too busy running their company to worry about something that won’t directly generate revenue, but not giving enough time and attention to something that could directly impact revenue. Those are two very distinct and different thoughts, but still closely related.

Not only is cybersecurity a critical focus of business today, but it’s also the easiest way to fail. Cybercriminals – hackers – are usually one step ahead of us good guys, but that’s the “cat and mouse” game to them. We respond to cybersecurity breaches that make the news with preventive measures to avoid the same fate and do our best to have enough safeguards in place to protect every element we can.

Hackers seek a cybersecurity vulnerability to exploit to their advantage. Their reasons don’t matter – it’s the result that affects their victims. Why do we still have vulnerabilities when we know better?

Myth: Half of small businesses think they’re “too small” for a hacker to target.

Truth: Small businesses make easier targets for many reasons. They often don’t have the tech budgets that the Fortune 500 companies do in order to take every precautionary measure to avoid being hacked.

Smartphones are major targets of hackers now, given more than half of all web traffic is reported to take place via mobile devices. Smartphones don’t have the same level of protection, making them easy targets, and therefore easy points of entry to a cybersecurity vulnerability. Imagine pressing a thumbtack into a hairline fracture on a porcelain plate – this one weak spot has the potential for this singular action to shatter the plate into thousands of pieces. Now, imagine this plate is your proprietary data, and this thumbtack is a hacker. Can you see the potential damage?

Myth: Employees of small businesses know more about the company and are more invested in its success, therefore take the time to safeguard their actions.

Truth: The dedication of staff to their employer has nothing to do with cybersecurity.

Modern cybercriminals are targeting critical data: consumer information, accounts with intellectual property, financial information about both the company and consumers. Three out of every four small businesses have no formal cybersecurity policies or protocols in place for staff, nor training to discuss the latest threats and how to thwart them. Hackers know this – oh, yes, they know – and they also know the small business is less protected than those Fortune 500 companies. This is a lethal combination.

  • Nearly two-thirds of small businesses have yet to address security regarding mobile devices or enact formal policies for mobile device use as it pertains to professional operations.

Myth: Small businesses can bounce back faster after a breach.

Truth: Half of all small businesses don’t have a disaster preparedness plan in place for recovery should they be impacted by a cybersecurity threat, a “data breach”.

It’s reported that less than half of all small businesses back up their data weekly. Let that sink in. The data loss in the event of a hack could have catastrophic results for as many as half of all small businesses. In the event of a breach, companies of any size consider the data loss and downtime to have the greatest impact, followed by the revenue loss – but most of the time, the impact to a company’s reputation isn’t considered until already in clean-up mode.

If you’re ready to win at “Tech Truth or Dare”, here are the new rules of the game:

Do you know what needs to be protected?

What data do you store? How is your data stored? What protective measures and security protocols are in place? Where are the “holes”? This last question is the most important, and it’s a smart decision to hire an expert to help you with this one.

What formal policies need to be updated – or put in place?

Every business needs an official cybersecurity policy. This policy should also be updated annually, at the minimum. Formalizing a policy can make sure everyone that has access to your data follows the same procedures and the strongest safeguards are in place.

This should include:

  • Password protocols
    • Passwords should be unique, complex, and changed regularly
  • System updates
    • Check for the latest updates to all applications and security releases
  • Privacy settings
    • Verify that users have the most secure privacy settings on their desktop and laptop computers, and smartphones and mobile devices

What is your plan for how to handle a disaster?

Perhaps an extension of the previous question, but no less important is how to handle a hack or breach should one occur. You’ve taken all the necessary steps and precautions, but you still had a disaster – now what? Best practices include daily back-up of your critical resources – which you’ll need to identify – and then test the process to ensure it’s sufficient, just in case.

Talk to experts.

You are an authority in what you do, and your sales pitch to your customers focuses on your expertise. Why wouldn’t you hire experts to protect your business?

Is your training sufficient?

Make sure your staff is aware of the steps needed for Internet safety, email security, network threats, and how to detect and protect in the event of each. Equally important is what need to be done if something happens and they suspect a threat.

Prevent your business from becoming a victim of a hacker this year and win the game!

Make 2018 the year you have an ironclad cybersecurity program, for your home and your office!

Want Your World At Your Fingertips In Just One Simple Step? You Got It!

The digital revolution has changed our world in unimaginable ways – and for the better! Tools and applications like Microsoft Word and Microsoft OneNote aim to make our lives easier, in one simple step.

Have you ever stopped to think about Microsoft’s naming convention? It’s probably not something that crosses your mind as you open a Microsoft application, like Word or Excel or Outlook. There are teams and departments at Microsoft whose roles include the creative scope for brainstorming names for new products in the Microsoft line-up. If you look deeper, there are not only subtle references to what each does within the name, but there are also psychological implications – like subliminal messaging – within the product names.

Microsoft Word is a word processor, but has a vast array of built-in tools to help users improve their finished written product, like a wordsmith! Its thesaurus feature aids users looking for just the right word when the typed word is close but not “it”. The spelling and grammar check gets many a student through assigned papers – and, more importantly, helps prevent professionals from making expensive errors, like errors that affect professional reputations and can impact revenue and profit. Microsoft Word can perform a mail merge, so users can send letters to clients with just a few clicks – after using the app to perfect their letter, of course. Contracts and agreements depend on accuracy!

Microsoft Excel is a bit of a double entendre. To excel is to show an exceptional skill or quality in a particular activity or subject. Within the word “excel” is “cel”, a homonym of “cell” or the individual areas within a spreadsheet where data can be entered. Lots of dry, technical information in that sentence, but the meaning is the same: a database tool that is superior to other database applications for the professional user base. Here is where Microsoft Excel outshines the competition – and why its previous competition, Lotus 1-2-3, is no longer used. Aside from being a spreadsheet application, Excel offers users an endless variety of tools to really make Excel the go-to platform for data analysis. Including charts, data manipulation, and tools like creating pivot tables in Excel was Microsoft’s act of establishing their superior position with this app.

In the list above, we also mention Microsoft Outlook. Outlook reigned king of email for a very long time in the professional kingdom, but Google’s G Suite is a strong competitor for small and medium businesses (SMBs). Outlook, again, tries to be an all-in-one package for professionals, with email communication but also a calendar feature, a reminder system, user-friendly meeting tools and a variety of user settings to customize the experience.

These applications speak to Microsoft’s dedication to being the full professional package for businesses – and their full Office 365 suite is proof. Included are products like OneDrive, SharePoint, and OneNote. OneNote is one of the most underutilized products in the Microsoft line-up, and with new features being added all the time, we think this is because users aren’t aware of the full extent of what OneNote has to offer.

Microsoft designed OneNote as the digital solution for those who grab the nearest sticky note or doodle pad – or open a new Note on their iPhone – to jot down a quick scribble to remember for later. OneNote helps users gather notes, thoughts, and ideas, all in one centralized and organized location. Users can store everything from quickly-jotted notes to meeting minutes, to lengthy details about projects for home or work, in the same place. What’s even cooler about OneNote is that Notes are searchable and sharable.

  • Did you see where we mentioned the iPhone? That’s right – iPhone users rejoice! OneNote is also available for Mac.

To clarify, OneNote is part of the subscription-based Office 365, but OneNote is free as a stand-alone product. To get Microsoft OneNote, follow these steps:

  • From a desktop or laptop computer, open a web browser window
  • Enter OneNote.com
  • Download the latest version for free

New users will be excited to see that Notebooks stored in multiple locations (SharePoint, OneDrive, etc.) show up within the application the same way, simplifying the user experience. These same users will become experts in no time with the classically straight-forward way Microsoft presents the tools at your disposal.

Cool features inside OneNote for users underscore the built-in ability to share your information across all your devices and with other people. Check out some of these:

Email to Yourself

Set up your email from any email service provider supported, like Yahoo or Gmail, and of course, Outlook, within OneNote and you can send any email in your mailbox to your OneNote with a simple one-step task: forward the email to me@onenote.com, and you’ll see it in OneNote!

Office Lens

This handy little tool lets you capture documents and photos with the camera on your phone, and then send that photo to OneNote – try the Email to Yourself trick we just talked about! OneNote and Office Lens will add some filters, adjust lighting, crop out backgrounds, etc., and show up clearly in OneNote. This is great for receipts you’re afraid you might lose, or other situations you might forget about later.

Clipper

This one helps users integrate OneNote with their web browser.

  • Go to OneNote.com/clipper
  • Click on the button to download the extension to your web browser

Now users can “clip” a page into OneNote, like clipping a coupon from a physical newspaper, except it’s now forever stored digitally in OneNote (until a user deletes it). Text on these pages is searchable within OneNote, too, which is very helpful if a user can remember the context of the page clipped but not necessarily when or exactly what was clipped. This is true of words within a picture on the clipped page, too.

OneNote boasts a number of partners that allow users to integrate with featured apps so that the apps can be used conjointly. A few of these partner apps include:

News360

This is a news reader, offering users news stories much like on a news website. Users can click on a story, and with OneNote integration, the story will show a “Save to OneNote” button. As long as a user is signed into their account in OneNote, the story will save in OneNote. Again, words in the story are searchable.

Feedly

Feedly is a website aggregator, bringing together all the pages a user wants to see in a centralized location and updates the pages as they update. This works similarly to RSS feeds and has the same “Save to OneNote” button that News360 has, as well as the words in the story remaining searchable.

Doxie

This one is for users of Doxie portable scanners. If you have one of these lightweight and portable gadgets, you’re going to love saving your scanned documents to OneNote! Any of the text can still be found with a simple search.

Integration is wonderful! Technology is amazing! With OneNote, Microsoft welcomes developers to make their own services with which to integrate for OneNote and share with users. Make OneNote your new best friend today.

MS OneNote

Hold on to Your Credit Cards… Alexa’s On a Shopping Spree!

I love my Alexa. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Last year I decided to set it up for voice shopping. That way, when I come home from work, I can start cooking dinner, get the kids going on their homework, and tell Alexa what I want to buy.

Alexa Shopping Spree

Evidently, other moms and dads are doing this too. Research shows that people are spending about $2 billion a year using voice shopping with their Echos and Alexas.

And, it’s predicted that this amount will increase rapidly over the next few years to a whopping $40 billion by 2022! According to the company that provided these statistics:

“Voice commerce represents the next major disruption in the retail industry, and just as e-commerce and mobile commerce changed the retail landscape, shopping through smart speakers promises to do the same…The speed with which consumers are adopting smart speakers will translate into a number of opportunities and even more challenges for traditional retailers and consumer products companies.”

It seems that Amazon is the preferred vendor with 85% of people choosing the products Amazon suggests. For those like me who purchase groceries online, 45% of online grocery orders are made through Amazon Fresh.

Here are some more interesting statistics:

  • Right now, only 13% of homes have one of these devices, but by 2022 this is supposed to grow to 55%.
  • Amazon Echo is the most used of any U.S. virtual assistant. Google Home is the next at 4%, followed by Microsoft’s Cortana at 2%.
  • Those of us who have an Amazon smart speaker spend 66% more on Amazon than other people do.
  • Amazon Alexa owners spend on average $1,700 a year at Amazon, while members of the Amazon Prime program spend around $1,300 a year at Amazon.

Well, what can I say? It’s so much easier to just speak into my Echo and tell Alexa to reorder what I did last week from Amazon Fresh. When I’m making dinner, I don’t have the time to sit down and type away on a keyboard. The Voice Purchasing function of Amazon’s Alexa and Echo is so convenient. I can order practically anything from Amazon without using my computer. It’s great!

It seems that the smart speaker market is still in its infancy (unlike my precious children), and it’s still not clear if the Google and Microsoft smart speakers will be able to catch up to Amazon in the future.

Speaking of children…

Because Amazon doesn’t ask me to confirm my purchases with a “yes,” I’ve found some items in my orders that I didn’t place – but that my “precious” children did! Sugary cereal, microwave popcorn, chips, cookies, etc. Boy, was I mad when I found out they did this. You can be sure these purchases will come out of their allowance!

When I complained to Amazon, they told me to increase the security on my Alexa. They said there are two ways I can secure the Echo speaker from the kids or others. I can disable the Voice Purchasing feature or simply create a four-digit PIN (a secret one of course!).

Here’s how to disable Voice Purchasing.

By disabling Voice Purchasing, you can still shop with your Alexa and add items to your cart. However, you’ll have complete your checkout from the Amazon website or app.

  • Sign on to amazon.com(or open the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device).
  • Go to Settings.
  • Select Voice Purchasing.
  • Toggle off the Purchase by voice to disable Voice Purchasing.

They also suggest the I use a confirmation code.

Doing this lets me keep Voice Purchasing enabled without allowing others to purchase things with my Amazon account. I have to speak my confirmation code aloud to complete my order. So, I make sure to do this when the kids or others aren’t around! 

  • Sign on to amazon.com(or open the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device).
  • Go to Settings.
  • Scroll down and choose Voice Purchasing.
  • If it isn’t enabled choose “Purchase by Voice” to enable it.
  • In the text field beside Require confirmation code, enter a (secret) four-digit PIN.
  • Save.

Why do I love my Alexa for shopping? Because it’s so convenient! If I’m running out of paper towels or toilet paper, rather than jotting this down on a shopping list, I just ask my Echo to tell Alexa to order what I did last month. They arrive at my house in just two days! No more going to the store, putting them in a cart, jamming them into my car, taking them out of my car, etc. (you get the idea). They magically appear on my doorstep with minimal effort on my part.

And, if I happen to order something that requires a return, I don’t have to pay for shipping. Come to think of it, I should have returned the kids’ chips, cereal, etc.!

If you haven’t shopped with Alexa, you should give it a try. I know, it can be a little scary the first time. But once you see how easy it is, you’ll be “hooked” like me.

Here’s how to set up Alexa for shopping.

First, you need to set up an Amazon Prime account, provide a U.S. shipping address, billing address and a U.S.-based payment method. Set your Amazon Prime account for 1-Click shopping.

Check the settings in your Alexa to make sure Voice Purchasing is enabled. You can go to Settings -> Voice Purchasing in the Alexa app, and enable it. You can also manage your 1-Click settings here and set a 4-digit PIN to make sure the kids don’t order stuff!

Now, you can order anything that’s Amazon Prime-eligible:

Order new products: If it’s something you’ve never ordered before, Alexa will suggest an “Amazon Choice” product that meets your description. If you’re not sure about what you want to buy, you can add it to your cart and cancel it right away if you change your mind.

Reordering: Alexa will look at your past orders, so if you ordered a particular brand of paper towels, you can easily reorder them with a “reorder _____” command. Alexa will ask you to confirm the order, and if you say yes, you’re all done.

Tracking: You can always track what you’ve ordered by asking Alexa. Just say, “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” She’ll let you know when your order will arrive.

So, you can see why I love my Alexa and why I can’t do without “her.” She’s my newest best friend!

Tired of Sending Marketing Emails That Go in the “Trash”?

Here Are The 10 Things You’re Doing Wrong

Email Marketing

Email is a very effective marketing tool. However, it’s also tough to execute properly. If you don’t plan correctly, understand what you’re doing wrong and how to remedy this, you’re simply wasting your time and money.

You aren’t getting new subscribers.

If you can’t entice new subscribers, you are simply spinning your wheels. Without an ever-increasing pool of subscribers, your open rates will suffer. If you want to grow your email list, you must clearly state the benefits of subscribing to it. Clearly state what you can offer, and how you can address people’s concerns. Your prospects need to know why they should sign on. Consider offering something for free that you believe will be of value to them like a free trial, sample product or document with relevant information.

Your subscribers keep leaving.

The best way to ensure that your current subscribers stay with you is by sending out relevant emails to the right audience. You must correctly identify your target audiences and segment your email list accordingly – this way you can address the various pain points for different subscribers. By segmenting your list, you can not only retain more subscribers but increase your click-through rates as well. All too often, an email strategy is more focused on the company’s needs rather than the customers’. Receiving too many irrelevant emails is the main reason subscribers opt out. If you want to keep subscribers, stay focused on your target audience and their needs, rather than yours.

Your email subject lines aren’t eye-catching.

This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. People are overwhelmed with the amount of email they receive and will only open the messages that catch their eye. You must grab their attention in the subject line. Craft a message that is short and to the point. Personalizing the message in your subject line and keeping your message to fewer than 30 characters should help. A carefully written subject line will entice recipients to read the rest of your email.

You’re understaffed.

Performance always suffers when resources are limited. If you’re understaffed and “burning the midnight oil” just to stay afloat, your quality will suffer. Streamline your email process and look for bottlenecks and obstacles that slow your workflow. Take advantage of software automation tools that help your email team design and code emails more quickly. If necessary, you may need to hire more staffers, both full-time and part-time, or contract with freelancers. Freelancers can also offer expertise that your team may lack.

Your deliverability suffers.

You may have the best emails and subject lines, but if they are being sent to the junk inbox, you’re doomed to failure. Your emails must get through any spam filters. When your deliverability rate suffers, you can get blocked altogether by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). How do you fix this? Don’t use spam words in your subject lines. Phrases such as “make money,” “earn cash,” “save $” will go directly to spam mail. And, of course, ensure that your prospects’ email addresses are accurate. Consider asking people who visit your website to re-confirm their email address when signing on to your list. This way you can make sure you have their correct email address from the start.

You need a new ESP.

You need an Email Service Provider that works for you. Some focus more on larger enterprises or certain verticals like e-commerce. You need an ESP that fits your brand. Try using more than one to see if this is the problem. Measure your success rates with each one. You can employ analytics tracking with multiple ESPs. Some businesses use up to four different ones to increase the odds that their emails will be delivered. Use the ones that provide you the best rates for delivery.

You need to cull your list.

You may need to remove contacts that have been inactive for a long time or those who never open your emails or go to your website. If you know that a lot of the emails on your list are no longer active, delete them. They just cost you money. You must maintain your list. You can also do this by letting subscribers manage their preferences (to opt-out if they want). Set up a way for them to change their communication preferences like what kind of information they want to receive or how often they want to receive them. This helps to build the sense of trust that they require to stay with you.

Your team is sabotaging your efforts.

You may be doing everything right, but other departments aren’t. If customer service is lacking, you’re sure to lose subscribers. If your website or mobile application isn’t easy to use, subscribers will get frustrated and go to a competitor. Keeping customers happy requires teamwork. Get together regularly with other departments in your company to share experiences, concerns, successes, and insights. Ensure your team members are onboard with your email strategy, measure your results and work together to fix what’s broken. Set up read-only access to your marketing emails for team members so they’re kept apprised. Everyone must be on the same page and working in unison.

You’re not measuring results and adjusting your strategy accordingly.

Measuring the performance of email campaigns is imperative. Unless you know what works and what doesn’t, you’re leaving money on the table. Implement a closed-loop marketing strategy to achieve the results you’re looking for. This means following a subscriber from the initial point of contact to their conversion as a paying customer. Be sure to leverage the available data from your ESP and feed your data back to them to get more visibility into your results. When making adjustments based on data, do so in increments and prioritize your changes. This way you can continue to measure the results of your changes one by one until you get it right.

You aren’t using the right process.

Not having a plan will make your job so much more difficult. Your email process should be designed to speed up your email production and improve quality control. You need an extensive pre-sending plan. Here’s one to go by. You fill in the blanks according to your goals.

  1. Plan your marketing strategy
  2. Collect data on your target audience
  3. Construct your database
  4. Define your email plan
  5. Define your content
  6. Setup your emails
  7. Send your emails
  8. Measure your results

Goal setting is crucial to your email marketing success. It will help to guide the direction of your campaign, make it easier for you to measure results, and increase the odds that you’ll ultimately succeed in the end.

Semper Fi: Never Negotiate With Cyberterrorists

A recent report by the U.S. Marine Corps indicates an unintended data disclosure, the result of a single accidental keystroke. Never backing down from a fight, learn from Jarheads how to best defend yourself from a data breach and strengthen your position!

US Marines Data Disclosure

Have you ever thought twice about clicking “send” after drafting an email? We’re sure you have; everyone has. The most common reasons involve editing the text for clarity, context, or tone. Sometimes you verify the email addresses for the “to” field. These are all great measures that everyone can — and should — take before sending an email, especially one with sensitive data enclosed.

Yet, accidents happen. A recent accidental keystroke shared an email to an incorrect distribution list, which included the unencrypted personal data of more than 20,000 U.S. Marines, their families, and civilians. Social security numbers, bank details, credit card information, home and mailing addresses, and emergency contact information were all disclosed. Does this fall under the label of “data breach” if the disclosure was part of an “oops” and not a cyber attack?

Marine Forces Reserve spokesperson Andrew Aranda has said the Marines’ IT staff is reviewing cybersecurity and information assurance processes to update their overall guidelines and to better train team members at every level. More importantly, this was an accident without malicious intent, and a cybersecurity vulnerability was not the cause. Additionally, the United States Armed Forces branches fully understand the great responsibility to protect highly-confidential personally identifiable information (PII) stored in their records and a lengthy history of excellence in this arena.

More than 20,000 individuals will now need to diligently check their credit report on a regular basis to ensure this disclosure doesn’t leave them open to identity theft. Add to this number the family members potentially impacted, and the full amount affected could double or triple. This is a story too well-known by millions of Americans in recent years. Customers of Anthem, Target, eBay, and The Home Depot are just a few examples of organizations whose customers have been impacted by data breaches. Cybercriminals and cyberterrorists — hackers — are just waiting for a weakness to exploit. This introduces two key questions:

  • How effective are an organization’s cybersecurity protocols and training?
  • What can consumers do to protect themselves if they’ve been impacted by a data breach?

How aware are the individuals behind this incident of security protocols and risks? The basic information assurance training from as recent as a year ago isn’t current for today’s needs as a means of self-awareness and protection.

  • What is information assurance? When information is processed, stored, or transmitted (data) involving systems, there are risks. Information assurance is the effort a group takes to protect this data and these systems to ensure the security of the data and minimize risks involved.

The focus of information assurance is on the security of data. While “protection of data” may not be the first concept that comes to mind when you think of the United States armed forces, the protection of its people is an inherent byproduct of its very nature. The military does not operate in the same ways as Corporate America, with many factors contributing to the differences. One thing is certain: the military takes its duty to serve and protect American citizens very seriously and is dedicated to assisting those impacted.

How can consumers protect themselves?

Credit Reports

As we already mentioned, check credit reports regularly. Once a cybercriminal has a name, address, and a few pieces of personal information, this data can be used to misrepresent an identity online.

  • Consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year, at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
  • Anyone can add a fraud alert to their credit report with each credit reporting agency for added protection. This will prompt a two-step verification process for any attempt to open a new account in someone’s name, and is a very helpful feature to protect someone’s identity from being used by other parties.

Passwords

Aside from checking credit reports, we strongly suggest changing all passwords. Most importantly, start with changing passwords for online banking, credit cards, email, and social media accounts. After these, move on to seemingly innocuous accounts like the United States Post Office and those for magazines or local newspapers, with active subscriptions.

  • It’s worth it to keep a list of all locations with usernames and passwords. Imagine how helpful this list might be in this situation, cutting response time drastically and potentially reducing the overall impact. Just don’t store the list somewhere online, like email. If that is the first thing a hacker can access, they have access to everything after discovering this data goldmine!
  • Make sure new passwords created are complex, using a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols like ?!@#$%.
  • Change passwords on desktop systems to prevent a sophisticated hacker from accessing further personal data, or giving them the smallest access point to plant a virus or ransomware, or even mine cryptocurrency.
    • Running the most recent updates and install these packages immediately will help close any security gaps discovered by operating system manufacturers and application developers.

Credit Cards

In this case, credit card numbers were included in the disclosed data. It’s a huge pain, but it’s worth it in the long run for protection to report the accounts as compromised and have new card numbers issued.

Every day brings a story of new ways hackers use to access PII of consumers and how this information is used to their advantage – and to the detriment of the consumers affected. Consumers need to regularly assess their risk and do their best to eliminate the unknown, where possible by taking these measures to protect themselves. Maintaining a realistic perspective on this risk will be instrumental as “an ounce of prevention” here.

In modern days of digital communication, we can never be too careful as hackers are becoming far more sophisticated and staying one step ahead of consumers. Imagine if cybercriminals used their power for good!

Don’t let one mistake cause years of hassles and headaches – talk to an expert if you think you’ve been compromised in this or any other data breach, and protect yourself.