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Archive for September, 2020

Digital Marketing Agency Employee Spotlight

Digital Marketing Agency employee Abby Dawson with son

Continuing our new series exploring our “Half-Human” side, we recently (virtually) sat down with Abby Dawson from the Digital Marketing Agency side of Atiba.

How long have you been with Atiba and what is your role? 

Earlier this year, Atiba saw an opportunity to expand their digital marketing agency services. They already offered web design and custom software solutions, so digital marketing was a natural next step. I joined the team in May of 2020 to help grow the digital marketing offerings. It hasn’t even been a year and it feels like a lifetime ago! It was the most unusual start I’ve had in a role, never meeting my boss or coworkers in person. But the culture is so strong and inclusive at Atiba that I really felt welcome and included right from the start.  

What is your favorite part about working at Atiba?  

There’s such a creative spirit at Atiba. I think tech people are curious and creative by nature.  They like solving problems and creating new things. I love working with people like that.  

What motivates you to wake up and go to work?  

I feel like my work is really valued, that my ideas are heard, and I work with really smart, fun, hardworking people.  

Abby Dawson with familyWhat makes you a geek? 

I think it was clear I was a geek when I was captain of the debate team and president of the debate club in high school. I capped that off by majoring in Professional Writing and Public Discourse and minoring in Philosophy in college. We’re all surprised I found paid work with a degree like that.  

I love diving down rabbit holes with people and thinking things through. I like asking lots of questions and talking through options. And I’m always asking, can we make it better? What haven’t we thought about? Are we asking the right questions? Are we solving the right problem? Tech is a good place to be for a curious geek.  

If you had to be world-famous for something (not tech-related) what would it be? 

I would love to be a world-famous equestrian. I rode and trained event horses in my early 20’s. Off the track, I trained thoroughbreds to ride dressage, stadium jumping, and open field jump courses. It was the best job I ever had. But the pay is absolutely terrible, and I definitely had a few really bad falls, one that landed me in the ER. But it’s thrilling and rewarding. If I won the lottery tomorrow, that’s probably how I’d spend my time.  

What’s one piece of wisdom handed down from a family member that you’ll always remember?  

I don’t know if it’s been handed down really, but when my husband and I started dating he would say, “There’s always more money.” It’s something we’ve lived by and it’s meant different things to us over the years.  

When we were young and working in restaurants it meant we can always go earn more money if we were willing to go earn it. As we got older, the meaning changed as we started prioritizing family opportunities over work.  

The Ultimate IT Security Audit Checklist

it security audit

In life and business, many tasks can be divided up into things you can control and things you can’t control. In the search engine optimization world, you can’t control when Google may release an update and tank your rankings. In sales, you have a level of preparation over your sales pitch. You can’t control what the client will say to you (unless you slide them a couple of front-seat tickets to the upcoming concert).

Your IT security, however, is one area that you need to be in complete control. You don’t want to leave your business’ security up to chance or hope. Attacks can happen at any time and they can be costly. Even if they weren’t costing you six figures (or more), can you afford to spend lots of money on something that shouldn’t have been an issue anyway?

In order to make sure that you are safe from any potential breaches or attacks, you need to be performing regular IT security audits. Today, we’re going to go over what an audit is, how often you need to perform one, and the important items you need to make sure are on your checklist.

What is an IT Security Audit?

security audit reasonsWhen it comes to your business, there are plenty of audits you can (and should) be running. SEO audits, content audits, network audits, and of course, the ever-fun third-party financial audits. All of those are important but perhaps none are more important than your IT security audit, usually performed by a professional security auditor.

Within an IT security audit, there are two primary assessments. The first of which is the review of automated assessments. This involves an examination of system-generated reports, software reports, server changes, and file settings.

The second part, and the more laborious of the two, is a manual assessment of well, just about everything else. That involves physical hardware examination, vulnerability scans, access control review, resource overview, and even interviewing employees.

An IT security audit is a large process and is not something that can be done within a week. For some businesses, it’s a multi-day and even multi-week undertaking.

Why is this Assessment Important?

You can probably guess that one of the most important parts of such an audit is finding security issues and patching them quicker. However, there are also a number of other benefits that come with regularly-performed audits.

#1-It Helps Streamline IT Work

After an audit is complete, the report can tell you which areas need improvement or closer examination. This lets IT personnel make proactive decisions to their network and security instead of always responding to attacks. If everyone has their work set for them ahead of time, maintaining security and dividing up tasks will be more efficient and boost productivity.

#2-It Helps Explain IT Costs

The financial auditors aren’t due here for another month, why are we talking about money?

Hopefully, your company hasn’t experienced a data breach or security issue. If this is the case, there might be others in the company wondering why so much money is being spent on network infrastructure security. We haven’t had an issue in a decade, what’s the point of allocating X amount of dollars to our security? Would that money be better spent in another area?

These audits can show that such expenditures and justified and necessary to safeguard an organization. Plus, they can show the potential of what might happen if such measures were taken away.

#3-It Promotes Teamwork

While your IT staff is in charge of everything from setting up people’s emails to network security, they cannot always be a watchdog ensuring that everyone is adhering to security guidelines. In order for implementation to be successful, everyone needs to buy into the basic ideas of security.

An audit can help show workers in various departments the primary areas of risk and what actions they should be mindful of. While they might be tired of hearing warnings and advice through company emails, an audit will give them something a bit more tangible to see.

How Often Should a Company Do IT Security Audits?time for security audit

Generally speaking, you should be conducting this type of audit at least once a year. Some may prefer to do it more, such as every six months or even once a quarter. If you do decide to do them on a more frequent basis, then you’re going to find possible security holes or other issues quicker.

More often than not, the size of a business is what will determine the frequency of such audits. Large companies with thousands of employees may take weeks while a small company with a handful of employees can be completed in a matter of days.

The IT Security Audit Checklist

Alright, we’ve covered the basics of an IT security audit, let’s move onto the checklist. Dust off your clipboards, notebook paper, and #2 pencils, let’s get started!

Start at the Beginning

Before you jump right into solving security threats, you need to get a bird’s-eye view of the company’s security plan. Read over what the security policies are, how employees are trained on them, and how often they are reminded of such policies. You should review business processes such as disaster recovery plans, restoration paths, and response plans for a cybersecurity attack.

You’ll also want to have a comprehensive list of what software and hardware a company has and who has access to these devices.

Going through the policies and framework first will ensure that security measures are in line with business objectives. The last thing you want to do is go through with an audit only to have it hinder business efficiency. Your objective should be to make things more secure without disrupting everyday activities.

If this is the first time you’ve performed such an audit with this company, you’re going to want to see the last audit and its findings as well as actionable steps the company took.

You can consider this as a “Step Zero”. It’s quite important, however, so you can layout a plan of attack and gauge which areas you will have to focus your efforts on.

Discussion with Management

One might think that a security audit is simply testing systems and interacting with computer software and hardware, but there is a personal element to the whole process. Part of this goes hand-in-hand with Step Zero above, but it’s also necessary to find out the goals.

  • Is there one area of particular concern?
  • What do they expect the audit to find?
  • Have there been any significant issues in the past?
  • Are there any current threats out there?

This way, you uncover many issues before they pop up and surprise you later. You might also find out if there have been recent employees who have left that never had their credentials revoked or a former disgruntled employee who has access to sensitive data (like a certain Bruce Willis film).

Remember, management may not be IT experts and what seems like a harmless issue to them could be such a huge red flag.

security audit threatsFind Potential Threats

There is no shortage of threats, but there are some major ones that you need to keep your eyes out for.

One of the most common threats is malware. This includes your spyware, viruses, worms, and ransomware. One of the biggest recent attacks was WannaCry, ransomware which infected thousands of computers worldwide. The vast majority of computers affected were ones that had not been updated to Microsoft security patches or were end-of-life machines.

You should also be on the lookout for DoS (denial of service) attacks. DDoS attacks (targeted at multiple systems instead of one), are on the rise and some of the larger-scale attacks have brought down the internet across the country.

Other areas of concern include data leaks, social engineering, and account hijacking. These are often the result of negligence or poor decisions by users, showing just how important it is for all members of an organization to be on the same page when it comes to security.

Additionally, you’ll want to perform a physical check as well. Make sure server rooms are locked, rooms are safe from unauthorized users, and items such as shredders and dumpsters are secure to prevent divers.

Security Performance Evaluation

There are a few things you should be checking out when it comes to security performance. The first one is the most basic: password testing. While long, super complicated passwords aren’t a necessity anymore (the guy who invented them even apologized), they do need to be unique.

Make sure users are using long and unique passwords for their log-ins. At the very least, ask them to ensure their personal and work passwords differ.

The second, a security framework review, is used to identify the security measures currently in place. That means first checking out which devices need protection. Typically, that involves checking devices, emails, software, and the network people are working on. If your company is remote, this presents a bigger challenge. Workers may be using their own personal devices and their home internet.

One of the most important parts of the evaluation is what we like to call “rockin’ the boat” (not just because we’re big fans of Stubby Kaye’s rendition of the song in Guys and Dolls).

stubby kaye

“The security specialist said sit down, you should delete that obvious phishing attempt. The security specialist said sit down, you should delete that obvious phishing attempt.”

You need to carry out penetration testing and a security awareness assessment. You should be testing how current employees respond to email scams, carrying out simulated attacks on the system, and testing employee security knowledge. Sometimes, this involves an actual white-hat hacking attempt. Just beware, however, that this could end with serious repercussions.

Plan a Defense Strategy

Now that you have identified threats and performed a successful evaluation of your security, it’s time to set up a defense plan in the audit report.

At the top of your strategy to-do list should be monitoring tools. Set up a monitoring schedule and testing for all aspects of security. Having these in place will make future audits that much easier.

What your defense strategy will look like is going to differ on the threats you’ve found. If DoS attacks are becoming more frequent, then you should look to strengthen your network infrastructure. If devices are being infected with malware, then look at how to upgrade your virus protection.

Lastly, part of your defense strategy should be planning future security audits. Will you be doing them quarterly? Bi-annually? Annually? Whatever your plan is, stick to it and keep detailed records of your findings and changes. Track progress over the year as well to make sure your recommendations are having their desired effect.

What About Special Audits?

Sometimes, even with the most diligent of preparation, a security breach can occur. When that happens, should you perform an audit right away or simply investigate the issue?

It’s highly recommended to perform a full-scale audit as the breach may have uncovered an issue that wasn’t obvious during the first audit. In addition to sporadic or new attacks, you should also make sure and perform an audit if one of the following occurs:

  • System upgrade
  • Sudden business growth (more than 5+ employees or contractors)
  • Loss of multiple employees (especially if those employees had sensitive information)
  • Business acquisition or merging
  • Business re-branding
  • New software implementation

You want to make sure your security is not compromised when there are big changes to your business. Start off with the right foot.

Conclusion

One of the most important things you can do for your business is to perform routine IT security audits. It can be hard to look at our flaws but by being diligent about internal performance, you can catch errors, resolve issues, improve security, and educate employees on the best practices.

A security audit is not one area you want to take lightly. While you should be performing internal audits, the best way to make sure you’re getting the results you need is to hire an expert. Here at Atiba, we have been helping companies with technical and IT audits for years. We have an experienced team ready to help you make your business more secure.

Reach out to us today for a free project quote. We look forward to hearing from you!

Network Services Employee Spotlight

Network Services - Joey Baggott

As part of a new series exploring our “Half-Human” side, we recently (virtually) sat down with Joey Baggott from our Network Services team.

How long have you been with Atiba and what is your role? 

I joined Atiba in March of 2020 as the Business Development Manager, so I’m still fairly new to the Atiba teamI primarily focus on Atiba’s Network Services offering.  My goal is to help businesses develop the most efficient solution to their network environment and architecture. Atiba doesn’t sell “one size fits all” solutions, so I work with our Senior Network Engineers to create custom solutions for every organization. 

What is your favorite part about working at Atiba?  

My favorite thing about working at Atiba is the like-minded people. I’ve always enjoyed video games, comic books, other geeky things, but I’ve never been around others in the workplace who share those interests. At Atiba, I fit in well and I can truly be my nerdy self. I’ve never been able to describe myself well until I got to Atiba and heard the line “Half-geek, Half-human” and I finally understood a little more about my own personality. It’s like I’m in a galaxy far, far away. 

 What motivates you to wake up and go to work? 

My amazing family is my primary motivation. I have three beautiful kids and a gorgeous wife. It’s important to me to show my kids what it looks like to work hard. I also want to be an example to them of what it looks like to truly help people. So many salespeople are just trying to close a deal. Atiba focuses on finding what works for the client, even if that means turning down business. 

 What is something most people don’t know about you? 

When I was in college at the University of Tennessee, I was captain of the UT Paintball Team. We actually won a National Championship in my final year.  

 

 

 

 

 

How to Choose the Right Custom Software Developer

choose custom software developer

There’s a reason people consider tech a frontier. It’s full of all those “never been done before” possibilities to create something new, something novel. From the mundane (but super helpful) database development to cutting edge social platform apps; custom software development transforms the “what could be” and makes it into reality. For many, that’s where custom software comes into play.

While we could talk for hours about all the cool ways software has created new solutions and options in our tech lives, let’s talk about what’s possibly the most crucial part of any custom software project; the software developer.

Choosing a custom software developer can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s talk about what you can do to find the right software developer for your custom software project. We’ll start by looking at what you can do to prepare for your project before moving onto what to look for in a software developer candidate.

Hiring a Great Software Developer

Going from the idea to the product stage can be challenging. Design and development are two of the most crucial areas. Often, embarking on a project to create a custom software solution requires partnering with a software developer. How do you find someone with the right mix of creativity and experience who is also affordable, reliable, and capable?

In a 2018 report on State of Software Development, over 33% of companies listed hiring talent as their biggest software development challenge. So clearly, finding the right person or team to help bring your software development goals into fruition is tough.

custom software development

First step: Identify You Custom Software Needs

Before you jump into quotes and interviews, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of what you need, what its purpose will be, and when you’ll need it by. Without a clear understanding of what the project needs from a developer, you won’t know who’s really qualified for the project.

“The better you describe your needs and what you are developing, the better software developer you will be able to hire.” togglehire

The four questions below should help you clearly define your project before you look for a software development partner.

#1-Is this a new or existing product?

Creating from the ground up is very different than changing something that already exists. Something that exists will be coded in a specific language (think Java, C++, or Python). That means anyone who works on that existing product has to know and be capable of writing in that programming language. When you create from the ground up, you won’t necessarily face that challenge.

Alternatively, creating something new requires much more planning, development, testing, and overall, more time. All of which can be difficult to find and costly.

Each project is different and deciding to update or recreate can be difficult. If you’re having trouble deciding if you should expand functionality on an existing product or create something entirely new, consulting with a reputable IT team can help you identify the pros and cons of each option.

Regardless of which option you choose, having a clear vision of what you want your outcome to be is the first concrete step in a custom software project.

questions#2-Who, What, Where, and Why?

OK, so technically this is four questions rolled all into one, but bear with us here. These are the nuts and bolts of your software. The answers to these questions will help your team build the product to suit both your needs and ambitions.

Who will be using this software? Customers, employees, or both?

What are you building? Are you building a certain software application? A CRM tool? A database solution?

Where will the software be? Will it be an app on mobile devices? Will it be used on computers in an office?

Why would they use this software instead of something else or nothing at all?

The more detail you can provide when answering these questions the better aligned your team will be on what the goals of the project are and what success looks like.

#3-When is the deadline?

This question is difficult. While tomorrow always feels like a great answer, it’s typically not the reality. Providing an honest and realistic target for completion is important. Consider that speed normally comes at the expense of budget or quality.

Most projects can also be completed in phases, rolling out functionality and enhancements over time. Your initial goal may change as you work with your development team on milestones, resources, and budgets. But starting with a target helps everyone involved prioritize and plan.

#4-Will you need help post-launch?

Do you have folks on staff who can pick up maintenance of your software once it’s launched? Or do you need a long-term partner to support your software? If you’ll need help long-term, you’d ideally want the same team that built your software to support it. After all, there is no one else in the world that will know it better.

It would be wonderful if your custom software worked flawlessly and never needed any updates from the first launch day, but we all know that’s not a guarantee. While many development firms offer ongoing support, it’s not a given and should be discussed before embarking on a project together.

Second Step: Choosing a Custom Software Developer

OK, now that you’ve nailed down what you want, you can move on to figuring out how to hire a software developer.

Hiring a custom software developer is more than just finding the right price. Software development is a blended skill that includes both talent and experience. But this process isn’t just about them. You need to make sure you’re comfortable and that you’ll make a good team together.

Are They Qualified?

Qualified can mean a couple of things here. In the most basic sense, you want to know they have the technical expertise to complete the work. In the case of some projects, that may be an array of skills involving things like project management, creating wireframes, writing code, testing, and maintenance.

As you define your project and scope, you may quickly find that the qualified party isn’t just one developer but a group. Many projects require a team approach and require working with a development company instead of an individual contractor.

While that may sound more expensive, hiring a company instead of an individual usually isn’t money but does offer a lot more value. As a client, you’ll be happy to see a broader skill base, faster development timelines, and extended support hours.custom software agreement

Do They Understand You?

Ask any couple what’s been the secret to their success and many will tell you communication is key.

A good partner will take time to get to know what you do, what you need, what you want, and what you’d love to have. A great partner will create a proposal that shows how well they understand the job and you. They’ll explain why they would not only do a great job completing the project but adding value to your business overall.

Can They Provide References and Recommendations?

If they’ve done great work before, there will be people willing to tell you about it. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and recommendations. Don’t be shy about contacting references you’re given, either. Make sure to ask their references what their experience was working with the business.

Ask questions like:

  • Did the project stay on budget?
  • Were they easy to communicate with and quick to respond?
  • Did they provide ongoing support?

After all, good companies will be proud of their work. Steer clear of anyone who doesn’t want their work talked about.

Do They Have the Capacity?

This question can depend on your timeline. If you need work urgently completed, do they have enough team members with the time and ability to work on your project?

Can the company complete independent elements concurrently? When can they start on your project? Having explicit conversations about what their team can do, what can be done when, and other timeline issues before starting work will ensure that everyone understands abilities and limitations.

Can You See Yourself Together Forever?

Well, maybe not forever. This doesn’t have to be a story about two star-crossed lovers finding happiness. But it is fair to ask yourself if you could see yourself working with them for a long time. For this one, it’s definitely OK to go with your gut.

Most custom software development involves lots of communication, collaboration, and post-launch support. So if you don’t enjoy talking with them before their hired, you may hate working with them forever. Because custom software is unique in its design; you benefit from the developer being involved in any ongoing maintenance and support.

So you’re likely looking at a long-term relationship. It’s worth finding a group you enjoy working with.

Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how they work and what their culture is. There are three types of questions to understand a company better:

  • General (work process, communication, responsibilities)
  • Technical (tools, tests, documentation, practices)
  • Business (rates, management, experience)

And for the logic side of us on this one, picking a company that’s stable and well established also pays off here. Since you’re going to need ongoing support, it’s best that you choose an established company with a strong reputation. Nobody can predict the future (as we’ve seen with the COVID pandemic) and staffing problems or a lack of physical office space could hint at instability. It pays to do your homework and most of all, listen to your gut.

Conclusion

Custom software can be exciting. It’s the gateway to creative solutions and new ideas. And often, it’s absolutely the right investment for your business. Take your time, create a plan, find the right partner, and get started.

If you’re ready to start your custom software development project, Atiba’s Half Geek, Half Human team is ready to dive in and find the right fit. Reach out to us today for a free quote!

Nashville Software Development Company Announces the Hiring of Chief Growth Officer 

jay-kelley

Atiba, a Nashville custom software development, network services, and digital marketing company, is thrilled to announce the recent hiring of Jay Kelley as Chief Growth Officer. 

Atiba has seen tremendous growth over the past yearTechnology is playing an ever-growing part in our lives, especially in regards to remote work, virtual learning, and increased cyber threats. The demand for custom software solutions, robust websites, and secure network solutions is rapidly expanding. With this in mind, Atiba chose to bring in Jay Kelley to oversee the newly created sales and marketing teams. Jay will oversee strategic growth opportunities as Atiba looks to expand into additional markets and channels.  

“Jay continues to impress me with his creativity and diligence. He is a brilliant problem solver and truly cares about putting client needs first. I know he will bring tremendous value to our internal team, as well as our clients.” 

David Callahan
Chief Legal Officer/Chief Strategy Officer 

Jay brings a wealth of knowledge in the technology space. As a self-described “repeat entrepreneur,” Jay has spent his career creating innovative solutions. His unique experiences in a variety of fields allow him to truly understand client needs and serve as a bridge between developer and end-user. 

Prior to joining Atiba, Jay Kelley served as the CEO and a founding member of Peak Money, the first mobile app that combines goal-based savings with mindfulness tools. Peak began operations in January of 2018 and launched in the App Store in the Fall of 2018. 

He is also a Board Director at Spire Labs, a digital innovation company that builds products to support wellbeing. Spire Labs technology includes Spire, an enterprise social wellness platform for employers and health plans, and Rove, which offers simple, automated step tracking and competitions for individuals and organizations. Spire Labs has a small portfolio of other IPs and is a shareholder in Peak Money.  

Previously, Jay was a Founding Executive of The Documentary Channel, a national cable and satellite network that grew to more than 25 million homes before it was acquired by Participant Media in 2012. Jay raised the initial capital for the channel and served in a variety of top executive positions during his nine-year tenure with the company. He oversaw marketing and PR, commercial operations, digital and social platforms, advertising sales, strategic partnerships, and branded entertainment. Jay was instrumental in growing the network from idea to profitability, and in developing multi-platform partnerships with a number of Fortune 500 brands including P&G, ExxonMobil, and Red Bull. 

Before his involvement with The Documentary Channel, Jay worked in advertising and marketing, developing creative and strategy across all media for brands in the wireless, consumer packaged goods, and energy categories. His clients included Cricket Wireless, Litespeed Bicycles, TVA, Brach’s Candy, Krystal Restaurants, Five Star Ranges, and BullFrog, among others. 

Preceding his career in media and entertainment, Jay taught history and creative writing for several years, both at Johns Hopkins University and at international schools in Latin America and the Middle East. Jay has a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Sewanee. He currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and two sons. 

Jay will focus on growing the Nashville software development division, as well as the network services offerings. He will be a great addition to the Atiba team. Welcome, Jay!

 

10 SEO Copywriting Tips to Boost Your Online Visibility

seo copywriting

Even though it may have been a few years, we all have writing experience. From crafting letters to those old high school research papers, we’ve all written something. Each item, however, has its own unique rules that you need to follow. SEO copywriting is no different.

For example, you should avoid using the passive voice and first-person tense while writing a research paper. You probably don’t need to provide sources for a thank you letter to your grandmother for that (less than comfortable) sweater.

You’ll also find that SEO copywriting adheres to its own set of guidelines. Your goal is to not only write engaging copy but to write copy that’s going to rank highly in Google. Your goals may vary from boosting your organic traffic, providing information, or generating leads. However, none of that can happen if you’re sitting back on Page 19 of the SERPs (search engine results page).

Today, we’re going to run over several tips you need in order to make sure you’re writing effective SEO copy.

1. Write for Search Intent

user intentFans of Shark Tank are well aware of some of the pitfalls that show participants run into. Even though a product may look interesting, the Sharks instantly lose interest when they hear how poor the item is selling.

These would-be-business-moguls probably didn’t do enough research to see what people actually wanted or needed. The all-in-one “Mop and Grill 3000” sure seemed great, but if no one is going to buy it, what’s the point?

The same kind of thought process needs to go into your writing. You might have a great idea for a topic, but if no one is going to search for it, then why write about it?

This Means Writing for Humans!

Even though Google appears to be a big giant machine brain that controls everything, it is still optimized to give the best possible results to humans. SEO copywriting isn’t about trying to trick the algorithm. Always write for a human reader instead of Google itself.

Think about what it’s important to your audience. Are they coming to you for information? Looking to buy something?

Make a list of potential keywords of how your audience could find you. They might be long-tail keywords (four words or longer) or more precise keywords. Whatever they are, you should know what you want to show up in Google.

Knowing your audience’s intent is going to point you in the right direction for making content. It will help you decide your content type and content format.

What type of content are you going to have? A blog? A landing page? A product page?

Format, on the other hand, generally applies to informational content. Think of lists, reviews, and how-to articles. In fact, a recent survey from SEMRush showed that how-to articles are some of the most frequently used.

Making your content based on what the user wants is a surefire way to answer their questions and provide possible solutions.

2. Take Time to Prepare Your Text

prepare textEven the world’s greatest writers start with an outline. Many fiction writers start by writing the ending first and then working their way back to the beginning. That requires plenty of planning, don’t you think?

We’ve already talked about search intent, but it might require you to dive a little deeper into what you’re actually writing.

Here are some questions to think about and answer ahead of time:

  • What are you trying to convey with your post?
  • What is your audience looking for?
  • What will the structure of your article look like?

This doesn’t mean you have to break out the classic outline you used back in high school, but take some time in the planning stage before you jump right into writing.

Target Additional Keywords

Planning out your text gives you the opportunity to also find additional keywords or ancillary keywords, you may want to target.

It’s pretty easy to find out those additional keywords. You can use Google’s Keyword Planner to help give you an idea or just use the Google homepage as a start.

There are plenty of SEO tools out there, but many of them are paid. One that offers a bit longer of a free trial is UberSuggest. It will give you additional ideas to help you flesh out your content.

3. Look at What’s Already Out There

keyword researchThis goes with your research phase. You need to look at what content is already ranking for what you are trying to answer or provide.

If you’re writing a blog post about the best car stereos, plug that into Google and see what is already out there. You can start to make a guideline for yourself and have an idea of what readers are already clicking on. Plus, through your research you may also find some places to acquire some valuable backlinks.

Here are some of the questions that you need to find out:

  • How long are the articles?
  • What does their format look like?
  • Are they conversational in tone or more professional?
  • Are the other articles lists, how-to guides, informational pieces?
  • Do they make use of media? Are there lots of videos or images?

It may take some time to go through 8-10 posts, but it’s worth it in the long run.

4. Make it Easy to Read

With many people’s past writing experiences based in the academic world, it’s time to throw (almost) everything you learned out the window. If something is too long, too complicated, or just not interesting, your website visitors will be clicking that back button immediately.

So, how can you make your content easier to read and digest?

  1. Break up your writing. Use things like quotes, numbered lists, bullet points, and more to make your information more digestible and readable.
  2. Use media. We’re not just talking about pictures, but videos and GIFs as well. Not only do they break up the text, but they give you a chance to show off your personality a little bit.
  3. Be more like Ernest Hemingway. Those that have read Hemingway know he loved to use short sentences. Don’t drag on and on, you’re more likely to cause your readers to lose interest.

Finally, it always helps to read your copy out loud to make sure it not only looks right but sounds right.

Speaking of sounding right…

5. Use Simple Text

If you’re coming out and writing everything in technical jargon, you may turn off your readers. Even though you put lots of work into a certain piece, no one is going to be reading each word in grave detail. Readers on the internet are more likely to be skimmers.

If you have complicated text and long words, those skimming may not want to put forth the effort into reading your whole post.

Remember, it’s vital to think like your customer. While you may know all the acronyms, fancy language, and trendy words, your customers may not. Don’t consider it dumbing down, just think of it as making your language more accessible.

6. Use Proper Grammar and Spelling

One of the quickest ways to erode the confidence of your readers is to use poor grammar. While they may not be such grammar-fiends that they’re picking out where you should have put a semicolon instead of a colon, most people can recognize misspelled words or spot missed punctuation.

Many times these errors can be caught while you’re reading text out loud. You may notice you substituted a “their” for a “there” or “roll” for a “role”.

At the very least, make sure you’re running a spell and grammar check after your article. We are big fans of the plugin Grammarly which will suggest spelling and word changes. But remember! Don’t rely on these checkers to do the work for you. Make sure you go over your text with your fine-toothed comb.

7. Write to Solve a Problem

Unless you’re writing news-based articles, people likely aren’t clicking around your content just for fun. That’s why you need to help them solve a problem. You could be answering a question, telling them how to do something, or offering a product for their needs.

Writing copy based around problem-solving is just like any proper commercial you see on TV. They revolve around presenting the problem, explaining why it’s a problem, and then offering their products or services as the solution.

Think of the classic Flex Tape commercial that has spawned thousands of memes across the internet.

  • The Problem: You’ve got a hole in your pipe/house/swimming pool and you need to fix it now!
  • Why it’s a Problem: If you don’t take care of it, it could lead to thousands of dollars in damage!
  • The Solution: Flex Tape can seal up those holes and save you money and a huge headache!

It’s best to put this information in the introduction of your article, that way you can draw readers in instead of having them snore their way out of your website.

8. Use Simple Headlines to Help Your Readers

Compelling, attention-grabbing headlines can make or break your article, even before readers click on it.

A 2017 BuzzSumo study unearthed a lot about what makes a great headline. For starters, headlines with numbers tend to work the best. And not just regular numbers, but odd numbers as well. Instead of doing a Top 10 list, why not do a Top 13?

When it comes to the length of your headline, you should be shooting for anywhere between 12-18 words. Those tend to get the highest number of engagements. Curiosity also plays a huge role in headlines. Make sure you leave something for readers to discover and entice them. Add something that will make them click. Phrases like ‘this is why’ and ‘the reason is’ performed quite well in the survey’s findings.

9. Throw in a Table of Contents

While CTRL+F is a great trick for many, readers aren’t going to be coming to your website ready to do extra searching. So why not hand them a map as soon as they arrive?

Adding a table of contents will let the reader scan through your list of headings to see if the article or blog will satisfy their search. If they don’t find what they’re searching for quickly, then they’ll leave. Even if it’s on your page. Your goal should be to make things as easy as possible for them. The easier you make it, the more likely they are to continue reading.

10. Take a Break

Copywriting can be hard and mentally draining, especially when you’re doing a ton of research and trying to take plenty of things into account. That’s why it’s always good to take a break once and awhile. Are the words all starting to look the same? Does everything you write seem to sound awful?

Step away from the document and focus on something else. Let it simmer before coming back and giving it a look-over. A new eye and refreshed mind can make a huge difference.

Final Thoughts

Whew! As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into writing effective SEO copy. But don’t worry! Just because there’s a lot of things to consider doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.

At Atiba, we’re copywriting experts and have worked on many projects using both SEO and copywriting skills. If you’re looking for someone to help you with your next project or have an expert take a look at what you’ve already written, reach out to Atiba for a free quote today. We look forward to working with you!

 

Office 365 vs Google Workspace-Which One is Best for Business?

g suite office 365

There was a time when it seemed Microsoft had offices and schools everywhere using Microsoft Office products. But in the past decade, Google’s Workspace (formerly G Suite) has grown as a true competitor. Where once there was almost no question of which programs to use, now we ask ourselves, “Should my business be using Office 365 or Google Workspace?”

Here at Atiba, we’re experts on both and can help you get set up with either.

With so many similarities, it’s a tough question. Let’s go through and break down what each offers, what’s similar, what’s different, and a few personal insights.

Editor’s Note: On October 6, Google changed G Suite to Google Workspace. While not much has changed, Google does offer a few more pricing options. 

How’d We Get Here?

office 365Most people’s early computing years were spent using Microsoft Office products. We used Word for our essays, PowerPoint for our presentations, and learned the basics of Excel. Google Workspace products, up until the last few years, were more based around personal use. There are plenty of businesses that used Google Workspace, but Google started to dip its toes into the business world on a more regular basis.

You’d think by having the world’s most popular search engine that Google would be hitting you across the face with Workspace every five seconds. Maybe it was a habit, maybe it was because Microsoft Office was loaded on seemingly every PC. But as more and more people are turning towards Google Workspace as an option for their business, we have to start weighing out the pros and cons of each service.

How They Compare

While the core applications offered on the platforms are the same (see the infographic below for the full list), the design philosophy for the products is pretty different.

Both platforms are subscription-based and offer cloud and web programs (Microsoft also offers a robust desktop version). Both are comprehensive platforms with almost any tool you’d need in a modern office including word processing, spreadsheets, and video conferencing. Regardless of the platform you choose, you’ll have what you need to do effective, quality work.

However, the products are suited to different users. For those who value collaboration and speed, Workspace products often come out on top. Microsoft offers a product that is better for those who work independently and value complexity.

To be clear, both approaches have plenty of merits.

What exactly are these merits?

Office 365 and Workspace: Side by Side

 

While this infographic does a solid job of breaking down their main differences, how does it feel to use them? We can talk all day about what they offer, but what about functionality and use?

What’s it Like to Use Them?

One of the most recognizable services from Workspace is Google Docs, their rival to Word. From an opening glance, the setup is quite similar.

All your options are located at the top of the page. The core tools are all pretty similar and even the layout of where to find things, their groupings, and their icons were similar. It’s pretty easy to make the switch.

This was no accident. We often hear the phrase “if you can’t be ‘em, join ‘em” but sometimes tech takes an “if you can’t beat ‘em, copy ‘em and change a few details” approach.

googleIt’s easy to find your way around and navigate because most people are used to Word. Even if you’re not sure where something is, you have an idea where you can go about finding it. There could be an argument that the choice by Google to make things so similar was a shortcoming of the product, maybe unoriginal. But it makes adoption less painful and faster. So, it’s an understandable choice.

It’s also much easier to implement browser extensions or tools into Workspace. Extensions like Grammarly or SEO writing assistant tools work much better on the Workspace platform.

This doesn’t mean that Word lacks in tools, however. There are plenty of tools to choose from in the store but they might not always be the ones you’re looking for.

If you want a comparison of where the two products differ, check out the difference in the number of templates offered. Word offers dozens of templates of almost every kind. Clippy was a popular figure who would often offer assistance when writing certain documents.

The templates are more varied and more adaptable to almost any need. It’s another place where the type of user matters. Some people find all the template options overwhelming and cluttered. While others use templates as a springboard. Regardless, the tone of the product is set on that first page where you’re given the option of how to start a new doc.

Comparing the Spreadsheet Options

The spreadsheet tools were also pretty different. Excel has always had a strong foothold in the realm of spreadsheets and to this day, it still rules supreme. It doesn’t take long to see the limitations of Google Sheets compared to Excel. There are significantly fewer chart options to choose from and the templates are significantly limited as well.  It’s the template situation all over again. Microsoft was overflowing with options to choose from, Workspace had only the essentials.

Just like Google Docs, you can find Google Sheets within Google Drive.

While Excel can feel completely overwhelming when you’re new to it, once you’re familiar with the program you’d be surprised how reliant you can become on all the features. Even doing basic tasks like creating a budget estimate for something as simple as a family vacation is just easier to complete in Excel.

On the flip side, Google Sheets was all about efficiency and clarity. It was just the numbers without a lot of other stuff in the way.

Email, Calendars, and Contacts

Let’s not assume that less is just less though. Google’s philosophy of getting extra out of the way is well executed in their email service.

They have thoughtful sorting and prioritizing functions in Gmail that makes working through messages efficient. While Outlook doesn’t have some of the clever email features of Gmail, it does integrate contacts and calendars. Based on the user, that integration might be key to effectively navigating a workday or workweek. Again, the choice for which platform becomes your approach to work.

File Storage

When it comes to the small plans, it’s very clear the Microsoft 365 comes out on top. You’ll instantly get 1TB of storage with their Business Essentials plan as compared to Google’s minuscule 30GB. To make matters slightly worse, Google counts your emails as part of that storage.

While that may seem small at the start, all of those attachments, images, and other files will eventually begin to clog up your storage, forcing you to purge your inbox once every six months or so.

Upgrading definitely gives Workspace the advantage here and provide a bit more bang for the buck. With Workspace’s Business plan, you’re going to get unlimited storage. Yes, let the power flow through you!

Microsoft, however, keeps you hamstrung to the 1TB of storage on the majority of their plans. While 1TB sounds like a hefty amount of storage (it is), you might be surprised how quickly you go through that data if you’re regularly uploading documents, images, videos, and other files. If you’re just using it for regular documents and spreadsheets, then 1TB should be more than enough.

What if you’re someone running a very small business or going solo?

Unfortunately, both Google and Microsoft don’t do you any favors. To unlock unlimited storage, you’re going to have to have more than five users with both. That hurts those who are just starting and looking for such an option.

The Desktop Applications Factor

microsoft-desktop

We saved the elephant in the room for the last part. Microsoft’s offerings are so well-known because you’ve likely been using them since grade school. Booting up the family computer to finish your essay on Word or making the world’s best PowerPoint is something that almost every student had to go through.

Does that still carry over today?

The biggest benefit to Microsoft is the ability to install their applications on your desktop, laptop, or tablet and use them offline. Even though cloud computing is a mainstay amongst businesses, it is nice to have offline offerings.

That does mean you will have to manage these applications on your computer like downloading, installing, and updating.

Google does offer options to work offline, but it is not as seamless as downloading the apps you’re familiar with.

Look and Feel

Google has worked hard to ensure that their apps and services are user-friendly and have a smaller learning curve. Most people would say that Workspace tools are much cleaner, less cumbersome, and simpler to navigate.

However, many of your employees have likely grown up on Microsoft so they might prefer to go directly with those tools. If you’re unsure and want input, ask your team members about which they prefer (if they have a preference). It wouldn’t hurt to double-check!

A Small Secret: You Can Always Use Microsoft 365 and Workspace Together

Many of us here at Atiba, and businesses worldwide, actually use both Microsoft 365 and Workspace at the same time.

GASP!

There are both pros and cons of each service that we’ve listed above and some people like to take the best of both worlds. For some, Google Docs is much easier to use than Word but Excel is more robust than Google Sheets.

Workspace even has an option to download your documents in certain types, including those within the Microsoft 365 package.

microsoft-365

Now, we don’t recommend paying for both services, but Google does offer a free account and up to 15GB of storage. Why not mix and match? It can be your online application buffet.

What About the Price?

We can’t go this far without talking about the pricing options of Workspace and Office 365.

Here is where the streamline vs. individuality choice is enormously evident. While Workspace offers three package options with simple pricing and features, Microsoft 365 is broken into three main groups with subgroups. Each of those options is priced differently and there are options to add a la carte features.

While it gives the user a chance to buy exactly what they need, it also means you might find yourself wading through charts and feature lists, weighing cost and options for a long time. It’s just one more way Microsoft creates options but also complexity.

Here is the price breakdown for both:

Workspace:

  • Basic-$5 per user per month with 30 GB of cloud storage
  • Business-$10 per user per month with unlimited cloud storage
  • Enterprise Plus (previously called Enterprise)-$29 per user per month with unlimited cloud storage

Office 365:

  • Business Essentials-$6 per month per user
  • Business-$10 per month per user
  • Business premium-$15 per month per user

Annual Commitment Costs

  • Business Essentials-$5 per month per user
  • Business-$8.25 per month per user
  • Business premium-$12.50 per month per user
  • Enterprise E1-$8 per month per user
  • Enterprise ProPlus-$12 per month per user
  • Enterprise E3-$20 per month per user (unlimited storage)
  • Enterprise E5-$35 per user per month (unlimited storage)

All of these plans come with a hefty 1 TB of storage and 50 GB of email storage for each user.

So which one is the most cost-effective? Unfortunately, finding out which one is cheaper depends on several factors. How many users do you have? How big is your business? Are you planning to grow anytime soon?

The one caveat we can make out right now is that Microsoft requires an upfront, one-year commitment while Google will let businesses or users pay by the month. That may make it hard for some startups when you’re trying to manage costs and maybe taking these two platforms for a test run of sorts.

Final thoughts

So, let’s wrap with a summary almost as broad as the initial distinction. Like so many things, it comes down to what your individual business needs and values. If your goal is to find a product (or product suite) that helps your team work together and produce quickly, Workspace might be your best bet. It’s a platform that streamlines what and how to focus on the who and done of work.

However, if you’re willing to give a little on the collaboration process in exchange for lots of powerful features that help create, enrich, and personalize your work, you may find that there’s a richness to Microsoft’s complexity. The right answer for you depends on what your needs are.

Like so many tech questions, which platform to choose comes down to what you like, want, and need. If you need more help deciding what the best platform is for your work, Atiba is here to figure out which best suits your business. Not only can we help you weigh all the offerings of the platforms against your wants and needs, but we can also help you set up and transition.

Atiba’s Half Geek, Half Human team is ready to dive in and find the right fit. Reach out to us today for a free quote!