The Email Marketing Opportunity Your Brand is Missing: Gmail’s Sidebar

I purchased a digital gift card from Amazon when I noticed something in the confirmation email that I haven’t noticed before:

Email containing a photo from Google Plus in the email sidebar.

Google Plus photos appearing like an ad in the Gmail sidebar. Woah!

Photos synched from the emailer’s Google Plus profile and displayed in the Gmail sidebar was not a new concept to me. I’ve seen emails from circled contacts containing their recent photos, such as my bandmate Jerry posting a photo of that crazy composition “Pictures at an Exhibition”:

Google Plus photo is shared in the email sidebar when you've circled the contact.

My bandmate Jerry has sent over an email – since he’s in my circles, I can see his latest Google Plus photo from rehearsal.

But I haven’t seen this from a brand in my sidebar before… and leveraged in a way that makes it look like a free ad!

Clicking on Amazon’s photo of the baby seat in the first image above sent me to the photo they shared on their Google Plus page. The text is, of course, taken from the description of the image.

Hold yer horses: there are a few caveats

This is where I ran to Twitter and shouted from the mountaintop: “START UPDATING YOUR GOOGLE PLUS PHOTOS SO YOU CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS FREE BRANDING OPPORTUNITY!” And then, of course, we learn it’s not so simple.

Google Plus expert Mark Traphagan dug a little further and learned that:

– It’s not limited to photos – it also shows posts!
– This only works with brand / business Google Plus pages, not individual profiles.
You must send at least 1,000 emails per week to qualify.
– Organizations first need to follow a few steps to activate sidebar updates in Gmail.

Still – it’s a free way to connect with your audience through the most-used communication channel (email) on one of the most-used free email platforms (Gmail). They will see your brand’s logo, Google+ page link, and any recent activity that includes updates as well as photos.

Pretty sweet, right? There are just a few hoops you have to jump through first.

How to get your business’s Google Plus content in the Gmail sidebar

Ready to get authenticated? There’s only two steps – but remember that to use the Gmail sidebar feature, you need to send at least 1,000 emails from your domain to qualify.

1) Link your Google+ Page to your website that has the same domain as the emails you will be distributing from.

2) Digitally sign your email with a DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) or a Sender Policy Framework (SPF).

Read the full description and explanation in Google’s help article about the Gmail pages widget. (Hat tip to Mark Traphagen.)

But even if you’re not sending 1,000 emails per week or using a Google+ pages account, still expect to see your content pop up on emails to contacts who have circled you. (And another great reason to keep building your Google+ following!)

How I Got More Done with the Pomodoro Technique (and still had time to stretch)

There was a time when an Italian pasta dish heavy with olive oil, basil, and sweet red tomatoes was the first thing I thought of when I heard the word “pomodoro”. (Italian for tomato, naturally.)

A few years ago my friend and fellow tech enthusiast Jimar introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique as a method of time management. I was coming to grips with the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology at the time, a way of breaking down your entire workflow and goal setting in ways that are concrete and “agile”.

Tomatoes in a bowl
Photo Credit: jacki-dee via Compfight cc
GTD is great – I love its spirit but to make it work, like anything, one needs to dedicate themselves to integrating several steps into their routines to get all the gears turning. The method was missing a key ingredient: a way to help me get things done day to day without the noise of planning techniques, goal setting, storage systems, and so on.

The Pomodoro Technique is simply this: work for 25 minutes, then stop and take a 5 minute break. That’s it. (Feel free to enlighten me further – I haven’t read the book.) I kept putting it off because I tend to dedicate myself to one thing until I master it. GTD had not yet been mastered in my workflow. It was not time to Pomodoro yet.

Then my friend Jill wrote a transparent blog post about her experience with the Pomodoro Technique. And my friend Lis reminded us all about it over tea. I’m not beneath admitting that peer pressure had a major influence on me here: I decided to give it a try.

Here are my initial impressions of my first day on Pomodoro, that moment when the contrast between the new and the old methods are most vivid.


The Pomodoro Technique pushes you through the obstacles.

“The only way out is through.”

Procrastination is a beast that creeps up on us, holds us back, and makes the hard things even harder. It’s easy to distract ourselves with a thousand other easier or more comfortable things.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” –Winston Churchill

Those bite-sized 25-minute chunks of time forced me to think about how I’m using my time. I sketched out how I wanted to use each Pomodoro session and what I wanted to accomplish. The time slips away incredibly fast when you break it up instead of looking at your day as one continuous flow of eight hours.

“The obstacle is the path.”

Those tiny bits of time lit a fire under me and hurried me through the parts of my day that I didn’t want to face, spurring empowerment and, ultimately, productivity.


The Pomodoro Technique inspires balance.

Sitting (or standing) in front of a screen all day isn’t good for the body. In a perfect world we’re taking breaks to stretch, go for a walk, and so on.

The 5-minute breaks were the perfect opportunity to step away from the screen and either read a few pages of a book or work through whole-body stretches. It’s amazing what a five-minute break utilized properly can do for the body and the soul.

I used the 15-minute breaks to go for a brisk walk or to make a call. The important thing is to step away from the screen to feel refreshed.


You actually get stuff done with the Pomodoro Technique.

One way of changing a habit is to make the initial step so easy that it would be dumb to not do it.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Setting an alarm for 20 or 25 minutes with a simple goal of writing for the full block of time is an easy nudge to get your day rolling. You’re not weighed down by planners, calendars, and systems. You just do it.

I had an entire draft of a blog post before I knew it, where if I told myself to just do it when I have time in the day – it would never get done. (I guess you could say this post is a product of the Pomodoro Technique itself.)


All in all, this new time management technique was a low-barrier way to get things done. Want to try it for yourself? Moosti is a great free timer that sits in the background on a browser. For an added focus boost, play FocusAtWill in the background and you’ll get productive in no time.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? What do you think?

My MozCon 2014 Notes and What I Learned from Live Note Taking

Well, my MozCon 2014 notes might not have everything MozCon had to offer: the energy, the faces, the drinks, the Roger MozBot plush toy. You can’t really get the full MozCon experience unless you ATTEND MozCon. (Buy your discounted tickets for MozCon 2015 now!)

MozCon 2014 Friends! Zeph Snapp, Lauren Hall-Stigerts, Joel Klettke
Zeph Snapp, Joel Klettke, and I exercised our NAFTA rights and freely traded smiles and hugs.

But what my MozCon notes do offer are a detailed summary of every presentation in an easy-to-read format. (Thanks to my sixth-grade teacher Ms. Neal for imbuing me with excellent outlining skills.) However, this 15,000-word document is not a transcript of the presentations. I wanted to distill my understanding and give the pertinent details that you might have missed when viewing the slide decks alone.

I was inspired to experiment with live notes after witnessing Content Harmony kill it last year with the format. Twitter is my default event platform of choice but I find the 140-character limit + fast-and-furious hashtag tracking unfulfilling. Perhaps a blank canvas and one-way input would sharpen my focus and let the details flourish.

Here’s what I learned from live notes

A live audience sharpens your focus.

At previous events I tuned out during the presentations that were not relevant to me. When you have a live audience that comes to expect the notes, you write the notes. When you’re tired in the morning and tempted to sleep through the alarm, you get moving for the people you’re rescuing from “Fear of Missing Out” syndrome.

Speaking of late…

Have a backup plan.

Stuff goes wrong when you’re doing it live and lots of people notice. My bus got stuck in a traffic accident backup on the way to MozCon and I wished I had someone ready to fill in.

Traffic to mozcon

But not all was lost!

If you create something useful, your audience will support you.

A few people following along offered to share their recordings so I could catch up. Super nice! I wasn’t expecting that, but then again, this is MozCon.


I can’t believe how many supportive people there were behind my live notes–my expectations were exceeded. Many commented that they were the best notes of the conference, people approached me at the evening events to say they supplemented their own notes with mine, and even those who couldn’t make it out to the event said they felt like they were in the same room with us.

Good notes get the details. Great notes are well organized. The best notes require critical thinking.

It’s long work to transcribe a presentation word-for-word. It’s hard work to process what you’re hearing, translate into simpler terms, and record its essence. Not everything needs to be written down–but everything should be considered. Live notes were a challenging exercise in critical thinking on-the-fly.

As a result, I can say that I have never learned (and digested) as much information at an event than I did at MozCon 2014.

So here they are – I hope you will find added value in what I distilled from this year’s MozCon experience. (Note: click on the dropdown arrow and select “fit” for a better view.) I’ll be updating this document so it’s easier to browse.

How to get more done by overcoming internal obstacles

Productivity’s old enemies come clothed in different robes. Decision fatigue, fear, and self-doubt are just the beginning of what holds you back from your greatest potential.

biker wading through inflatable balls

Photo Credit: thinredjellies via Compfight cc

I read this great article on how low confidence keeps us from progressing. It was a huge eye opener for me: there is so much more I could be doing if I just stepped out of my thoughts and into action. Action gives way to confidence, which gives way to productivity.

The last month has been filled with translating thoughts into action. It’s been an evolving journey that made me consider all the internal factors that hold us back. Here are a few and how to overcome them.

Indecision: Reduce your choices

My husband and I are picking new colors for our home. His engineering mind pared down our options using color theory. I felt relieved that he was making the decision easier. Instead, he made the decision harder.

He came to me with 11 different shades of tan. I felt overwhelmed by the options – how could I possibly pick between colors that are so similar? Deer. In. Headlights.

forest paths

Photo Credit: simonsterg via Compfight cc
I made my decision in minutes by making the decision binary. Picking between two items simplified the process and kept my mind moving.

I broke down the choices into small groups. I couldn’t pick one from staring at all 11 simultaneously. I randomly paired two colors at a time so I could pick one over the other in rapid succession.

Solving the parts solves the whole. [Tweet this!]

Analysis paralysis: Hone your self-awareness

Second guessing. Self doubt. Obsessing over a bad situation that has passed. Fixated internal dialogue.

These are painful situations that can waste time and energy. For example, evidence suggests unconfident individuals spend more time fixating on the past instead of moving forward. This is time you can be trying new approaches and energy applied to getting things done.

Don’t let your internal dialogue stop you. The solution is simple (but not easy):

1) Identify harmful thought patterns.
2) Change direction.

If you catch your thoughts, you control your destiny. [Tweet this!] The shortest route is developing self-awareness. Learn how with this epic guide I wrote for Popforms. Long story short, your brain is a muscle that you can train to achieve your highest potential. Try meditating – five minutes a day will amaze you!

Now release that thought into action. If my mind gets hung up on something someone said, I redirect my thought to my number one task for the day and just start doing it. If I freeze up at a blank page, I just start writing anything to get into the flow.

Try catch-and-release self-awareness. You’ll get moving in no time.

Perfectionism: Give yourself a deadline

Scope creep happens when a project keeps growing until it feels like it will never wrap up. Sometimes external forces create mammoth projects, like when a client keeps adding new requirements to a contract. Often it’s internal forces such as perfectionism that drag out a project and mire progress.

“Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.” – Samuel Johnson

You most likely have a deadline associated with a project. Recommit to that deadline. If you don’t, make one. Write that deadline over your desk. Share that deadline with people you respect. Tell a trusted colleague when your blog post will be done. Ask an accountability parter to check in on milestone days.

Avoiding disappointment is a strong motivator, and killing yourself over impossible perfection will all but slow progress.

Intimidation: Make the next step smaller

Overwhelming projects make us want to escape into time-wasting activities. But as illustrated by reducing my number of paint choices, our brains love easy things. Stuff we can start and finish quickly gives us a dopamine boost – we got something done! It’s no wonder that staring down an overwhelming project makes us want to look the other way.

Tackling a big project is like changing a bad habit: making the smallest step possible gets us moving forward. One foot in front of the other.

small step

Photo Credit: subewl via Compfight cc
Start a big research project by brainstorming a list of what you already know. Begin tackling your site’s SEO by asking your search engine optimization friend for resources. Start that book by writing non-stop for 30 minutes and see what appears.

We’re looking for something to latch onto at the beginning of a big project – any forward momentum at the start improves productivity and grows confidence.

Mental block: Change the view

The dreaded writer’s block. The missing inspiration. The foggy mind. Forcing the situation will do your productivity (and happiness) more harm than good.

Our output diminishes with the more hours we put in beyond a limit. Treat these moments of mental block as your brain saying it has reached its limit for the moment.

Stand up and shift gears. Step away from that task. Go for a 20-minute walk. Read a book. Get on the phone and check in on a valued business contact. Changing your task–and view–will open the gateway to productivity. [Tweet this!]

What are the mental obstacles to productivity you overcame? How did you do it?

The new Twitter profile layout – and what this means for your Twitter marketing

If you’ve been using Twitter the last few weeks, you probably noticed changes to the user interface: larger and lighter buttons along the header, a fresher feel where the black bar along the top has been replaced with white, new retweet and “favorite” icons that are reminiscent of the candy you’d eat as a kid. (My favorite change is the new sans-serif font – it gives more breathing space to the page.)

New Twitter icons

It’s clear that Twitter is going for a more inviting design experience. Even more recent changes that started rolling out today point to a savvier marketing experience, too.


New Twitter profile view

The new Twitter profile view is slowly being rolled out to everyone. Here’s what I’ve observed:

  1. It’s not being released based on seniority or age of the account: my newer Tea Voyeur account can view it but not my established HallStigerts.
  2. Twitter is taking cues from other major social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Google+ for its design: Larger graphics & text, and more white space. However current background graphics seem to be missing.
  3. The coolest feature: you can pin your best tweet to the top of your profile! This is great for marketing – highlight your recent sale or a photo you’re particularly proud of when people visit your profile.

You’ll know when you have the new profile view when you see this popup:

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 11.08.01 AM

Bigger and better. Check out your new profile.

This is your space: be creative. Add a larger header and profile picture to show off your unique style.

Your best tweets. Front and center. The Tweets that got your friends talking are now bigger.

Make a statement, loud and clear. Pin your favorite Tweet to the top of your page.

What this means for your Twitter marketing


Update your header image (that one behind your profile image). Make sure it’s a high resolution because it’s going to get stretched and pixelated if it’s not big enough: 1500 x 500 pixels, maximum file size of 5MB. (Thanks to Erica McGillivray for finding the image specs!) Have it reflect your brand but don’t overwhelm your Twitter profile with spammy text and icons.

Take advantage of the “pin” feature. Pin a tweet to the top of your profile to highlight your latest blog post, promotion, or event. (Don’t forget to include an image for more visibility!)

Driving traffic to your profile page will be even more important. Just like all tweets (unless they’re paid promoted), your pinned tweet will fall down your followers’ feeds as it ages.

Background images are disappearing. As of now, it looks like the background images will no longer exist. (Perhaps because it overwhelms the new layout.) If you have branded marketing on your Twitter background, update your header and profile images accordingly.


Can you see the new profiles yet? How do you plan on integrating them into your social media marketing plan?

Passion, purpose, and profit in blogging

This week I published an article on the Big Fish Games blog about how to break bad habits using game mechanics.

I don’t know what inspired it: my childhood spent playing video games, my smart mentor who happens to be an expert on the topic, or that every day I’m surrounded by a community of hacker-minded marketers breaking down problems and looking for solutions in unlikely places.

It seemed like a compelling mash-up of personal interests. And if I can help people solve their most challenging problems while getting paid to write?

Big win-win-win.

Passion: Write about what moves you

Your job will be easier if you write on a topic you’re passionate about. Conversely, if you write on something that bores you to tears, it will be both hard to write AND to read. That’s a lose-lose-lose.

Make a list of what you know, what you’re good at, and what keeps you up at night. All three factor into the insightfulness of your post.

If you don’t know enough about the topic you love, do the research. One way is to find an expert to help you. (My mentor Chris Bennett, persuasive design consultant, gave me a crash course in game mechanics.)

If you’re getting pressured to write on something you know well but you’re less than mildly interested, find a writer and let them interview you.

If you have the opportunity to write on something you know nothing about and you’re not interested in, help find the right topic expert and writer to do the job.

Purpose: Write about what people want to read

Professional blogging is more than writing for yourself – you need an audience for your work to thrive. Time to get out of your head and into your readers’ heads.

What motivates you to write for an audience? Is it to brighten someone’s day? To help solve a problem? To educate by sharing your unique perspective?

Always plan your piece with the audience in mind: what topics do they enjoy reading, what type of content grabs them, and how do they speak – you don’t want to lose them in translation.

Do your research.

Profit: Write about something that will pay the bills

(This is about what gets you paid as the writer. If you’re looking for what gets you revenue as the organization with a blog, that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

You can write all day long about what you love and in a way that draws in an audience. I love hugs and warm fuzzies, but last I checked my bank doesn’t accept hugs and warm fuzzies as a mortgage payment.

There are a number of ways to earn money by writing. Not all of them will be appropriate for your interests or style. Do you find yourself reading startup news blogs? Or how about professional journals? Perhaps social opinion pieces grab you.

For me, I love partnering with organizations that value investigative content. You know, the stuff that takes some ingenuity and elbow grease to come up with something a little different.

The bottom line is this: if you’ve proven that you write intelligently (or at least entertainingly) about something you love and you’ve generated an audience, there’s someone out there willing to pay you for more.

Organizations want content that boosts brand recognition, establishes trust, and builds a loyal audience. If you can help them get there while giving readers what they’re looking for, you’re on your way to huge success.

The Price of Comfort

We love growth. Every week, month, quarter we crunch numbers and analyze data and set stretch goals. We plan to grow our customer base, grow our audience, grow our revenue.

Growth reminds us that life isn’t stagnant – we’re constantly improving.

The funny thing about growth is that it begins with taking a risk. That means walking into unfamiliar territory, encountering new challenges, making mistakes, and maybe doing something that terrifies you.

Those thoughts could paralyze us into inaction. Wrap ourselves in a warm blanket and not venture outside. Stay safe from scrutiny and other dangers.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. –Anaïs Nin

Then you realize: the price of comfort is the potential for living.

I’m growing today because I’m launching my marketing blog. (If you like it so far, please subscribe.) It’s easier to write for clients than for yourself. You can look at companies with an objective eye. When you’re writing as yourself for your own brand, you’re inside your head all the time. Time to shrug that off and share my thoughts with you.

What are you going to do to grow today?

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