high performers workplace

Have We Been Thinking About Bonuses Wrong?

It’s been a while since the stars aligned and I wasn’t reading a book when a very much hyped business book was just coming out. Everything aligned in September when No Rules Rules was released.  No Rules Rules is by Reed Hastings (Founder and Co-CEO of Netflix) and Erin Meyer (writer of The Culture Map) – and let me start by saying a lot of people will comment on some of the unorthodox views as being the driver of how much attention this book has gotten. While I agree that probably helped popularize the book  I do want to point out I actually found the reasoning behind the “unorthodox” culture at Netflix to be a relief rather than just clickbait. A company had finally figured out how to explain a bunch of things I’ve had a hunch about for years but could never really explain.

Honing in on one idea that caught my attention there was this interesting piece of Reed’s philosophy on pay at Netflix – no bonuses. Knowing Netflix is a company of high-achievers this “no bonus” ideology may be baffling especially compared to counterparts such as Google headquartered also in Silicon Valley. So what gives? 

To really understand how not having bonuses came about at Netflix we have to back up a bit and understand a few other unique characteristics of Netflix Culture.

In the book, Reed references a famous study that happened in a basement in Santa Monica (in the way that all deeply profound things do, a very average setting). In short, nine-trainee programmers were given a prompt of coding and debugging tasks to complete over the course of 2 hours. At the end the researchers learned that the most skilled programmer far outperformed the worst of the nine programmers specifically  20 times faster at coding, 25 times faster at debugging, and 10 times faster at program execution than the programmer with the lowest marks. Isn’t that crazy?  This study supports a principle called the “rock-star” principle in programming which Reed then applied at Netflix recognizing the parallels between the creative skill sets in his workforce and programmers. 

Okay, so why does this principle matter? This helped convince Netflix it was better to spend what budget the company had on hiring 1 really good person (a rockstar) for any creative roles even if it meant there would be no others in the department because 4 other employees could not be hired. That one person would perform at a high level, and to keep them at Netflix paying them the salary of those other 4 people in theory was worth it. 

That’s the thing – if you are only hiring the best, paying top dollar and maintaining a workforce where everyone is a high performer in their field then why do you need bonuses? This is a question Reed also found himself asking at Netflix. Top performers are top performers for a reason – especially in the creative space. Especially in an environment where everyone is a top performer.  There’s a study from 2017 study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern that found the positive spillover to be very much a thing in workplaces – simply sitting within a 25 ft radius of a coworker who is a higher performer will improve your own performance by about 15%.  

Okay so what’s the catch? It is important to note that Reed acknowledges this concept really applies best to creative roles which are very much at the center of what Netflix does. He points out many operational roles would not have as drastic a difference between a bottom and top performer so it may not make sense to apply there. Also – addressing the elephant in the room this no bonus focus probably would not work well for some salespeople (but it would be an interesting study). 

Bonuses have bothered me because too often I have seen them destroy workplaces – specifically by motivating the wrong behaviors. Rather than doing a good job always people pour themselves into certain things regardless of if they are right – because that person is chasing a bonus. That is because bonuses are often decided upon and quite a bit of time passes in which that bonus set 10 months ago may no longer make a ton of sense (Reed touches on this same realization in the book).

So if you really do pay top performers top dollar giving them stability in their current role to be just that a “top performer” is that more motivating than a bonus target? Is this a win-win situation for talent and employers?

10 Takeaways From Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report

2017 internet trends report

One of the most anticipated reports of the year is finally here! Each year Mary Meeker, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins ,Caufield & Byers, puts together an exhaustive analysis (355 slides) of the latest online trends. She just released her latest report earlier this month. After reading through all of the slides here are my favorite takeaways:

Fact #1

Smartphone shipment growth has dramatically declined since 2014 to just 3 percent this year, indicating that almost everyone who wants or needs a smartphone now has one. 

Fact #2

Investment in Ads on Mobile devices​ has increased significantly YoY coupled with the first decrease in investment in Desktop Ads. Just looking at this slide from the 2016 report vs the 2017 report Meeker put together you can see of the $22 billion opportunity on mobile there was in 2016 – advertisers have taken advantage of the opportunity. Slowly we are closing the gap between where consumers are spending time and where advertisers are spending money.

Fact #3

These are the ad formats that are doing well and how they are doing well (the important note here is a high-performing ad unit isn’t always the one driving the most revenue). Ads that are performing well and how: 

    • PLAs in Google- driving clicks (see fact 9 below)
    • Targeted Pins from Pinterest – driving product discovery + purchase
    • Contextual Ads from Facebook – driving direct purchases
    • Goal Bidding Ads for Snap – driving user action
    • Geo Targeted local ads (google) – driving foot traffic to stores
    • Incentive Based + Skippable Video Ads – positive interactions

Fact #4

Ecommerce growth is up 15% YoY in the United States.


 Fact #5

While we may be very focused on the United States we can’t ignore the growth in China. Commerce grew 24 percent in China this year compared to 15 percent in the U.S., as China shifts to online shopping faster than other countries, led by giants like Alibaba with 570 million mobile monthly users.

Fact #6

Speaking of giants – if you haven’t been watching what Walmart is up to I highly encourage you to take a look. Walmart is seeing new online growth in the wake of its purchase of deep-discount site Jet.com. Beyond Jet.com Walmart has also acquired online speciality retailers such as:

  •  Hayneedle (indoor and outdoor furniture) 
  • ModCloth (women’s vintage inspired retailers) 
  • Moosejaw (outdoor retailer)
  • Shoebuy.com (shoe retailer)

Fact #7

Google and Facebook have a combined share 85% of the estimated $72B invested in digital advertising this year. This tells us where everyone is investing there money but is troubling that two major players dominate so much of ad spend that is out there. 

Fact #8

AdBlocking technology has increased significantly over the past few years, but almost exclusively on desktop with 18% of users in the US using an AdBlocker, and only 1% of users on mobile doing the same. (See slide below for a great visual of this) 


Fact #9

Google PLAs now account for 52% of Paid Retail clicks on Google – up from just 29% only 2 years ago. 

Fact #10

Mary Meeker forms an interesting hypothesis about the future: The future of search is about pictures not keywords. In the future Meeker goes on to speculate that voice and imagery will replace typing.

These are just some of the many facts you can find in Mary Meeker’s great report. She dives into trends in gaming, trends in China & India and more.

What’s Your Amazon Prime?

What’s your company’s Amazon Prime? What makes your company stand out from all the rest?

Amazon Prime is a loyalty program that holds as lot of great features in fact here is a full list of them taken from the Amazon Prime website:

  • FREE Two-Day Shipping
  • FREE Same-Day Delivery 
  • Prime Photos
  • Prime Pantry
  • Prime Now
  • Amazon Restaurants
  • FREE Release-Date Delivery
  • Prime Video
  • Prime Music
  • Amazon Elements
  • Amazon Dash for Prime
  • Kindle First
  • Audible Channels for Prime
  • Amazon Music Unlimited
  • Prime Early Access
  • Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
  • Prime Reading
  • Video Add-On Subscriptions
  • Deals and Discounts, Compliments of Amazon Family
  • Twitch Prime
  • Membership Sharing

Of course while this is a long list, the truth is most Prime members probably only signed up for one of these, the free shipping. This perk really stands out when you look at the vast variety of products on Amazon. One can understand why it’s a compelling reason to buy into this especially if you’re making multiple purchases online a month. What’s even more intriguing is due to this perk you are more likely to pick Amazon over any other website where you can buy the same product. This helps Amazon increase it’s market share even more.

As you scroll down the other items on this extensive list you likely will have no idea what many of these services are or at least you weren’t familiar when signing up for Prime.   This is brilliant on Amazon’s part because it continues to delight users with new Prime perks which one by one introduce Prime members to new Amazon services.

And that’s really it in my opinion, if you can delight new customers from the first purchase you’ve got them for life. So what’s your company’s Amazon Prime?


Book Review: Never Split The Difference

Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss was a highly engaging read. While Voss bases the book on his years of experience negotiating in hostage situations the lessons he brings to the table work in everyday workplace situations. Here were some of my favorite takeaways from the book:


Get People To Say “No”  This seems completely counter-intuitive. When you’re in a negotiation you want to get the other person to agree with you so badly sometimes you’ll do everything to avoid getting them to say “no.” However, Voss makes a compelling case for why this exactly what you need to get the other person to do. When people say “no” they feel that they have the power in the conversation. This can be as simple as mislabeling a situation and asking the other person if this is right knowing they will say no and correct you. Perhaps my favorite example of this is when you can’t get someone you work with to respond to an email – Voss suggests emailing :

“Have you given up on this project?”

What is so great about this question and tactic is it warrants the other person responding with no but also it triggers the other person’s natural human aversion to loss. This question also has a certain “finality” to it that makes it clear you will walk away if this person does not reply since they have “given up.” All in all this is just one good example where getting told “no” is a good thing.

Accusation Audits  This one seems to be more obvious but still worth mentioning. When walking into a negotiation address any accusation the other party will likely bring up (or be thinking) early on. Addressing any accusation they could throw at you allows you to answer their concerns up front.

“That’s Right” Two words with a great deal of power. When someone says this you make them feel like you understand them. A great way to do this is to summarize or paraphrase what they’ve just said to you. Never underestimate the power of letting someone know they’ve been heard. The most important thing here is even if you completely disagree with the other person by letting them know you heard them and getting that person to agree with you – you’re making them comfortable.

“How Am I Supposed To Do That” This is my favorite of all the techniques in the book. Voss brings up many hostage situations and real-life situations where he simply keeps replying asking the other party to answer how they are supposed to meet whatever demands are being made. This makes the other party think about the situations and slowly begin to make concessions.

All in all this book was a really great read that I would highly recommend.

Your New Homepage: The Branded Search




If you’ve done a search in Google recently you’ve probably noticed there is a lot more going on on that SERP (search engine results page). As I mentioned in my last post, with the new beta test it looks like Google Posts also previously nicknamed by the SEO blogosphere  “local business cards” will be adding more engaging elements to a branded search.

A picture below depicts a branded search for “A Healthy Choice Spa” (a local business part of the beta test of Google Posts). The Google Posts take up prominent real estate right below the first organic spot. One thing not as obvious in this screenshot is the fact that the photos in this Google Post are in fact gifs, which you can check out here. Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.07.22 PMThe only thing that is more eye-catching on the page appears to be the local knowledge panel.

The local knowledge panel is just one part of the knowledge graph which been around since 2012 but it’s risen to prominence in the last few years. Whether it’s getting the latest score to a game, information on the election or even the answer to a common question Google will now answer it for you. Wikipedia describes the knowledge graph as:Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.10.37 PM

The Knowledge Graph is a knowledge base used by Google to enhance its search engine’s search results with semantic-search information gathered from a wide variety of sources.

So you’re probably  wondering at this point will anyone ever get to my website if they get the answer to their question from Google?

There are few things to take into consideration.

  1. The knowledge graph does not exist without websites from which to not only pull information but to confirm the “accuracy” of that information.
  2. For the most part the knowledge graph appears most on queries that are relatively broad questions or general questions without high user intent to take an action. That being said, if the user is able to find their answer more quickly this leaves more qualified users coming to your website. A good example of this would be to imagine someone querying a treatment for a medical condition. With a knowledge graph answer they can more quickly understand what treatment they need and seek out pharmacies or doctors to him or her attain that treatment.Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.19.32 PM
  3. Sometimes Google gets it wrong. Just today, a coworker brought to my attention that the knowledge graph was serving up a not so helpful quick answer. A query for fashionable jackets yielded this result you can see to the side here. So even as much as Google may try, in this specific instance the user is probably going to click on another result on the page.

While the knowledge graph is a tremendous part of the modern SERP, it’s just one part of a bigger picture. Now with tweets pulling into SERPs, Ads, local packs, organic sitelinks, and more (for which Moz has a great breakdown ) the SERP has become a much more engaging, user-friendly place. So friendly in fact that  I believe that the modern query, specifically the branded query, is the new homepage of your website.

It’s easier to type your business into Google than to navigate to or remember the exact URL. When a user does that search they can get your contact information, hours, reviews, and figure out the best time to visit you to avoid the crowds.

You may have sitelinks on your organic listing or your paid ad likely outlining your key service or product pages. In a lot of way your sitelinks have become your website navigation. If you’re running ads or if your number displays in your local knowledge panel  it’s even possible for the user to go ahead and with the tap of button on their mobile device call you. The best part is they never needed to go to your homepage! Your branded query sold your business to that user.

I view this shift in search that’s been underway for a while now as a tremendous opportunity to dominate your branded SERP. In fact there are more ways than ever to showcase your business in Google. This means investing in ads, updating your Google My Business listing and making sure the best pages are showing up in those first results. Google’s entire search business relies on there being websites to search for on a daily basis. Google wants to keep users on their search engine by creating a user-friendly search experience which at the end of the day is to your website’s benefit as well.  Besides if you don’t take advantage of your branded SERP, there’s always a chance a competitor will.

Google’s Spring Cleaning: Local Business Cards

In a lot of ways Google SERPs are going through a “spring cleaning.” Out with the old features and in with the new. Last month we bid a fond farewell to right-column ads, this month we got introduced to Google Local business cards (still in beta).  Local business cards (given this name but the SEO blog world not officially by Google) are a fantastic blend of the immediacy of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, with the authority of those top spots in Google. A snapshot of what these look like is in my screenshot below. 

local business cards

The barrier I see at least currently is how effectively the average small business will be able to leverage this?  I can definitely see these local business cards being updated once and never changed again. I would assume this isn’t what the intention is at all. I’m interested to see exactly  who will use these and if cards from only one business be allowed or multiple ones. 

It’s worth noting that these cards are similar to candidate cards which Google rolled out in January of 2016. If the system works like candidate cards work then each candidate ,or in this case local business, can push information to the cards but over time based on Google’s algorithm Google will decide which ones display first. 

All of this has me and probably a few others wondering are the SERPS too crowded? Let’s not forget AMPs, accelerated mobile pages, rolled out recently as well. If we imagine a SERP world filled with AMPs, local business cards, knowledge graph results and ads just think about how crowded the space will get. All of this considered, I guess getting rid of those right-column ads is making even more sense in light of these new features. 

Leveraging The Disappearing Right Column Ads

Google’s recent move to take right column ads took a lot of advertisers by surprise. A lot of us saw the negative in this announcement – less ad inventory on SERPS, higher CPCs, and more competition. So let’s address these concerns one by one.

Less Ad Inventory 

True, there is less ad inventory on the first page. However, only about 85% of all clicks were going to the top ads anyway. So while the ads won’t show on the side your ads probably weren’t getting clicks the majority of the time anyway. By giving your ads better visibility and a better chance of getting clicks you’ll have a better shot on a high quality score and ultimately driving traffic to your site.

Higher CPCs 

Not true, yet. Google has shifted the spots on the page to be at the very top but also the very bottom of the page. This makes those coveted spots at the top, above-the-fold so much more valuable. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that we’ll have much higher cost per clicks. It’s too early to tell if this will truly happen.

More Competition 

Somewhat true. Inevitably there is going to be more competition since there are fewer ads above the fold. To combat this Google is adding a “fourth” ad spot at the top for “highly commercial” queries.

This presents a unique opportunity for small to medium size businesses who may not be going after “highly commercial” queries. With just 2 or 3 ads at the top this draws even more attention to that first organic spot on the page or the local pack.

So how will you take advantage of this opportunity?

Hello Facebook Canvas

Facebook Canvas has finally been released to the general public!

Facebook Canvas solves a pain point for many advertisers, their landing pages. Now Facebook gives businesses the ability to send users who click their ads to a customized and mobile-friendly landing page within Facebook. These landing pages within Facebook load as much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile website.

Photo via Facebook

The steps for setting up a Canvas are here.

Link Building: The Art of Networking

If you think of your website as a person and their audience as their friends, link building is networking.  You want to make a connection and ultimately get that website to talk to their friends about you. In order to do this you need to be worthy of bringing up. What is going to incentivize your new connection to talk about you?


Just as you tend to seek out friends with similar interests think the same way about your website. You want to find similar websites who complement your interests. Getting a link on a automotive blog is great if you’re a mechanic but kind of pointless if you’re a bookstore.

And finally remember “you are who you run with” so keep yourself in good company. Avoid low-quality sites, a few good friends is much better than 100 bad ones.

As you embark on building new connections I’ve compiled just a few of my favorite tactics to help you with your link building efforts, but there are plenty more out there:

  • Become A Source

Press Requests are one of my favorite link building tools because it’s all about connecting people.  A few sites, such as HARO and Source Bottle,  will connect you with journalists who are looking for you or your client’s insight on whatever they may be writing on. Matthew Barby has a great article on it which you can check out here.

  •  Give Credit Where Credit Is Due 

Look for unlinked mentions. My favorite way to do this is to set-up a Google Alert. If your brand is mentioned somewhere on the Internet Google Alerts will send you an email of the mention. Oftentimes it may be a mention in an article that mentions your brand but does not link to your site. From there you can reach out to the author, webmaster or editor to ask if they would include the link in the mention.

  • Exclusive Discounts

Everyone wants a friend who works for their favorite brand – that means access to discounted merchandise! You need to become that friend. Offering discounts can definitely catch the eye of a blogger who might want to promote the discount to their loyal readers. However it’s importance to keep relevancy in mind. The more relevant your discount to the blogger the more likely they are to want to promote it. A simple way to do this is having a custom promo code for that blog that this blogger can offer to their audience.

  • Go Back To School

A school website is often a very authoritative site on the internet, they have plenty of traffic, provide strong content, and have domain authority. Going back to our earlier analogy, educational websites are like a friend who has been in the industry over 10 years and has tremendous influence. There are some different ways to go about this one obvious way would be offering a scholarship. For instance you may offer $1000 essay scholarship contest and reach out to educational institutions to promote it. However, you can take the same idea from the third tip and apply it here. Plenty of colleges showcase student discounts on their websites. Giving a special discount to students adds value to their site and gets you a link on your site (not to mention a new audience).


All of this said, even after you get your link keep in mind that websites are people. Building a good relationship with a particular site is just like keeping up a friendship (it takes work).

Happy networking and hopefully your site turns out alright when Google decides to free the Penguins sometime soon. 🙂

What Happened In Google On June 16th, 2015?

Moz just released this month their MozCast year in review infographic which does a really good job breaking down some of the most volatile days in search over the last two years. I highly recommend checking it out!

Before we proceed any further it’s important to give some background on exactly how MozCast tracks things and what “volatile” means in this context. MozCast tracks a set of 1,000 keywords every 24 hours and pulls the top 10 organic results. MozCast then compares those set of kewyords to the top 10 keywords from the previous day. The hotter the temperature on MozCast the larger the change in those rankings. The bigger the change the more volatile the algorithm is that day.

One thing that may surprise you is while some of the higher temperature days (70 degrees being the average) do correspond with confirmed updates there are plenty of days where there was clearly some sort of change occurring in the search algorithm but no confirmed update. As Gary Illyes points out frequently, as seen in this tweet below, Google makes hundreds of changes to their algorithm.


Getting back to the infographic, some of the things I took away from this informative infographic were:

  1.  There appear to be a lot more confirmed updates in 2014 versus 2015.
  2.  I was pretty surprised the most volatile day June 16th 2015 was not attributed to a confirmed update. In fact the year before the closest date that was as volatile was May 19, 2014 which was the Panda 4.0 update. As a refresher, this update hit low-quality content. Some of the so-called losers of this update included popular sites like Retailmenot.com and Ask.com.

So what was the June 16, 2015 update?

We may never know definitively but there were some good theories. Gary Illyes came out and dismissed the theories that this was a Penguin or Panda update. Moz’s Dr. Pete had a good theory that it might have something to do with HTTPS but Gary from Google also dismissed that theory. So what was it?

One interesting part of the Dr. Pete’s theory was that Wikipedia was during this same time frame switching their site over to HTTPS. Could one very large site trigger tons of search term movement? Personally, I believed this theory originally only because if you think about it a lot of Wikipedia content is pulled into top search positions as well as the knowledge graph. Since MozCast is focused on the top 10 organic results it seems completely likely that a site that shows up in the majority of top organic results could be catalyst for all of this. However, this theory wasn’t quite accurate either.

Searchmetrics‘ founder Marcus Tober came out with what I consider to be the leading and best supported theory. It appears that news sites specifically such as Time.com and Techcrunch.com came out with better rankings after June 16, 2015. See this chart below via Searchmetrics as evidence of the increase in search visibility for Techcruch.com

via Searchmetrics

Interestingly enough, Google Trends had a relaunch on June 17th, one day after all of this activity in the search engine. It appears this update allowed Google to immediately update based on the trending topics. For instance if a certain news event broke and this led to more searchers typing a query into Google the search engine could immediately serve up the most relevant content, both new articles and old articles about that same topic.

Personally, I have to wonder if this update had something to do with when RankBrain started to take a larger part in Google’s algorithm.

I think the big takeaway here is that the algorithm is quite literally always changing and we should by no means only pay attention to the Penguin, Pandas and Mobilegeddon updates.