What to Pack in Your Bag to Work From Anywhere

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Image: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

Whether you’re taking a short trip or living out of a van for years at a time, more of us now work from wherever we find ourselves, but having the right gear to hand can make the difference between a smooth remote working session and a disastrous one. Here’s the key kit you need to be packing when you head out on the road—besides the laptop of course.

In each of the sections we’ve pointed to a few possible purchases just to give you an idea of what we’re talking about, but this is by no means a comprehensive buyer’s guide—have a shop around and you might find something even more suitable for your needs.


Power up

Image: Mophie

Even the laptops with the longest-lasting batteries are going to start struggling by the end of a hectic working day, and so anything you can do to extend this lifespan could mean the difference between submitting your work on time or way behind schedule.

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Power bricks with enough juice to recharge a laptop aren’t particularly light to carry around or cheap to buy, but they’re worth the extra investment and wear on your shoulders. The Mophie Powerstation USB-C XXL ($150) works with newer USB-C laptops and gives you dual charging ports and 19,500mAh capacity, while the cheaper Anker PowerCore+ 20100 ($83) is also USB-C-compatible and has 20,100mAh of juice.

But there’s one important thing to consider when buying an external battery that will juice your laptop (and not just your phone, ereader, tablet, and random Nintendo Switch). That’s the watt requirement of your laptop.

While many USB-C charged laptops might work with the batteries above, some are more power-hungry. To know the best battery for your laptop you’ll need to know first how many watts it requires. A Macbook can get away with 40w, while a Macbook Pro would need 60w. You can learn the requirements of your particular laptop by checking the specifications for it online or in the manual. You can sometimes also check the watt requirement by looking at the current power supply used with your laptop.

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After you’ve determined the watt requirement its time to select a battery. Naturally they rarely list their output in watts, but they do list them in volts and amps. Simply multiply the two and you have your number. So 12 volt/4 amp batteries like the two mentioned above put out 48w. If you’re laptop needs more juice than this 50,000mAh Maxoak battery ($136) might be better. It’s a 20V/3A battery, which means it can handle the 60 watt requirement of a power-hungry laptop.


Get connected

Image: Verizon

The first port of call for getting online on the go should be your smartphone—provided you’ve got a plan that allows tethering and that won’t cost you an astronomical rate to get connected. Check your current plan for details. Public wi-fi in coffee shops and hotels is always an option too Albeit a rather unsafe one

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However in terms of gear you can pack in a bag, look for a dedicated mobile hotspot device. These gadgets work just like tethered phones but because they’re specifically built for the job, they should be more robust and easier to work with (and you save on your smartphone battery at the same time of course).

The ZTE Falcon Z-917 ($45), for example, works with T-Mobile networks (so you’ll need a data plan for it) and can provide a mobile hotspot for up to 10 devices to connect to. The Jetpack MiFi 7730L from Verizon, meanwhile, supports 15 devices at once and can be yours for $49.99 with a two-year data plan. It’ll even charge up your phone as well.


Data hoarding

Image: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

External hard drives aren’t the essential purchases they used to be before we all started putting our stuff in the cloud, but they can come in handy for remote work for a number of reasons.

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First and foremost it means you can take all the data from your home computer with you, if it’s not already on your laptop. If you’re struggling for a Wi-Fi connection on the road then it’s much easier to plug in an external drive than try and load up Dropbox in a browser. On top of that you’ve got somewhere to back up any new files you create or photos you take while you’re away from home base.

It’s hard to go wrong with an external hard drive and there are plenty of models available from the reputable names in the business, but always buy more storage than you think you’re going to need—it fills up fast. The WD My Passport SSD (from $99.99 for 256GB) will do the job and at ultra-fast SSD speeds too, while the Seagate Duet ($99.99 for 1TB) is a decent option for Amazon fans, as it automatically syncs with Amazon Drive.


Adapting power

Image: Iron-M

If you’re really going to go all-in on the remote working lifestyle and start doing your job abroad, a whole new set of challenges present themselves—like how you’re going to recharge your plethora of gadgets using a foreign connection.

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While hotels will often have adaptors you can use, it often pays to bring your own with you, and you might even throw a small power strip into your bag too, if it’ll fit—that means you can charge up several devices from one plug socket and adapter, as long as you’re careful not to overload it (this shouldn’t really be an issue with portable gadgets).

You’ve got a whole host of buying options here, so take your time in picking a solid and well-reviewed adapter or two. Some of the best adapters, like the Foval International Power Travel Adapter ($37.98) and the Iron-M Universal Travel Adapter ($16.58), will work with multiple types of sockets and offer USB ports as well as a mains connection.


Listen up

Image: Christina Warren/Gizmodo

A good set of over-ear headphones or in-ear earbuds are a good bet for shutting out the clamor of the outside world and focusing on whatever it is you’re trying to get done, whether you want to listen to your favorite tracks or put on some soothing background audio. Having your tunes pumping out in a library or coffee shop isn’t really an option.

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Get a pair with a built-in mic somewhere on the cans or the cable and you’ve got your remote video conferencing call needs covered as well—you can video chat with your boss or your clients without the rest of the world joining in. Unless you really want to go wireless or need the best audio fidelity, you really don’t need to spend much at all.

But if you do want to spend money and go wireless than Apple’s iconic AirPods ($159) come with an integrated microphone and can pair with Mac and Windows laptops as well as iPhones. At the other end of the size scale we’ve recently been impressed by the Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones ($348), though there’s no integrated mic in this case.

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How Square’s CFO exercises financial discipline to grow the $16.5 billion public company by 40% each quarter (SQ, TWTR)

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Sarah Friar Square

  • Payments startup Square has had a massive year, with its share price trebling and the firm on track to post around $1 billion in adjusted revenue for 2017.
  • Chief financial officer Sarah Friar guided the firm through its IPO and told Business Insider that Square’s success boils down to financial discipline and considered expansion.
  • Square is best known for its physical card readers which let small businesses take card payments through a smartphone or tablet.
  • Running the firm is particularly challenging because its CEO Jack Dorsey also runs Twitter.

Most people going into their annual review can expect a mix of praise and criticism, some new targets to hit and, if they’re lucky, a pay rise.

Sarah Friar, in her first review as chief financial officer of payments firm Square, was told by her boss: "I have a simple vision for you, which is that I want you to be the best CFO in the world."

He then asked her to lay out exactly how she would make that happen.

That boss was Jack Dorsey, who is CEO of both Square and Twitter.

Friar is taking a good stab at earning that title. After joining in 2012, she took Square public and has seen its share price and valuation balloon. The firm’s market cap is currently $16.5 billion (£11.9 billion).

In its third quarter, Square posted revenue of $257 million (£185 million), up 40% year on year. The company has yet to post its fourth-quarter results, but Friar said it’s on track to post around $1 billion (£719 billion) in adjusted revenue for the full year.

According to Friar, it all comes down to discipline.

Square has carefully managed its growth by avoiding over-expansion

Dorsey sometimes has his hands full running Twitter, whose share price has gone in the opposite direction to Square’s. It’s been a particularly strong 2017 for Square, which has posted around 40% revenue growth during the last two quarters.

Square share price

Twitter share price

Part of the firm’s success is down to its considered approach to expansion. The company was founded in 2009, but its payment service is only available to small businesses in five markets: The US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Japan.

Square launched in the UK in March last year, offering both its physical plug-in card reader, and an API for merchants to accept online payments. It doesn’t offer other US services here, such as its Square Capital small business loans, or food delivery service Caviar. Nor has it applied for a banking licence in Europe.

Friar describes this as "staging" — choosing not to be the first mover, but timing your expansion into a market before you are too late.

"You need to be clear in your mind about whether there’s a first mover advantage or is there a disadvantage of being ‘late’ to a market," she said. "Right now our focus in the UK is how to build out that base of sellers here. When we look at the UK market, we see all the same hallmarks as in the US. A massive percentage of businesses don’t accept credit and debit cards, and that has the dual cost of [them] missing sales and cash not being free."

"When I look at Square, we should be doing all that stuff globally," Friar added. "It’s just a question of staging."

Square Bluetooth card reader

For now Square is solely focused on merchants. Friar pointed to the Welsh town of Holywell, which partnered with Square when banks shut down their branches, cutting consumers off from cash. Since most merchants don’t accept cards in Holywell, that meant a big downturn in business. The town’s mayor credited the Square partnership with a "turnaround" in the town’s fortunes.

Square didn’t share UK-specific numbers, but it has more than 2 million sellers worldwide.

Friar was hired after a 2.5 hour breakfast meeting discussing her childhood

There’s little trace of an accent now, but Friar grew up in Northern Ireland through the Irish conflict. She lived close to Strabane, occasionally described as the most bombed town in Europe. ("It’s a goodie, if you look it up on Wikipedia.")

After reading materials science at Oxford, she went into management consultancy, and then banking. Working at Goldman Sachs through the financial crisis led her to question the banking system and she switched to her first job at Silicon Valley, joining the financial team at Salesforce.

Friar found the "hypergrowth" atmosphere at Salesforce in 2011 chaotic but ultimately useful.

She said:

"A private company recently asked my advice on the background for a good CFO, and I said, try to find someone who’s experienced chaos. I mean that in a good way. The chaos that comes from hypergrowth at scale — it’s like every half hour some new thing is happening that you have to grab hold of and take ideas to being operationalised. Those 1.5 years I spent at Salesforce were great training in how to live in a chaotic hypergrowth environment."

She stuck around for a year before being headhunted for the CFO role at Square. Her first interview with Jack Dorsey was her first taste of his unconventional management approach.

Jack Dorsey

"Jack and I went for our first meeting, having breakfast on a Sunday morning," Friar recalled. "It was in the Blue Bottle [Cafe] across from my old office. What was supposed to be a one hour meeting — I think two-and-a-half hours later, I don’t think we had fully gotten out of childhood.

"Jack has a really interesting way of interviewing, because he wants to know who you are as a person. He’s like, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ And you say, ‘Well, I work at Salesforce.’ And he says, ‘No, no, tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up?’"

Dorsey was fascinated by Friar’s experiences with the Irish conflict. Her childhood has, she said, come to inform her thinking at Square.

"That civil unrest is driven because at least one group has nothing to lose, because they’re so economically challenged," she said.

Square, she said, gives "economic empowerment" — though she also knows this sounds a little corny.

"Startups can come across as up their own bums — that’s such a Northern Irish thing to say," she said, laughing. "It’s like no, really, that’s such a ridiculous thing to say. But if you talk to Jack, you walk away, and think this man really cares deeply, about small businesses, about communities."

When you have a part-time CEO, you need to be extremely disciplined

Friar and Dorsey share the same end goal for Square, but the two have quite different management approaches. Then there’s the added hurdle that Dorsey spends the mornings at Twitter, and the afternoons at Square. He’s also unconventional, recently completing a 10-day meditation that required total silence — even Friar wasn’t allowed to contact him.

According to Friar, Dorsey sticks to what he’s good at — big vision, design, and then "getting out of the way."

A good example of Dorsey visioning, said Friar, was how Square’s Cash app came about. The app lets people in the US send money without connecting to a bank account. The whole concept came about because Dorsey believed there was a need among the "underbanked" population in the US, who don’t have access to normal financial services.

"Every once in the while, there’s a major trend he sees," said Friar. "Our Cash app is a great example, where he said ‘I believe there’s something happening around the more consumer side of financing, there’s more utility that can be offered to [underbanked] individuals.’ Jack will see that vision, and adds tremendous value there."

Friar does not described herself as a visionary and, like many "doers," dislikes meditation — though she’s promised Dorsey she’ll try at least twice a month. While studying at Oxford university, Friar was a rower, taking the seven seat in a team of eight. There’s an apt parallel here: the seven seat sits behind the rower who sets the pace, and conveys that pace to the rest of the team.

"Our balance with one another is that if Jack can see the vision, then he will push to me and the rest of the team to really execute," Friar said. "Part of that is — how do you break down a vision into tactics that allow you to really operationalise things? If you’re going to build a big company, you can’t stick things together with band-aid and duct tape, you need to make sure internally there’s a lot of discipline."

She said translating Dorsey’s vision into something tangible sometimes meant pushing people to hit ambitious targets:

"Some of it is setting targets — how do you take a vision and turn that into topline goals that really press people into going beyond what feels possible? It goes back to being the best CFO in the world. If you look at Square, we’re a company that in 2017 will do approximately $1 billion in adjusted revenue, the midpoint of our guidance is around the $970 million range. And we’re still growing at over 40%. Last quarter we grew 45% year over year. If you looked at the funnel of public companies doing $1 billion in revenue and growing over 40%, there’s only six listed outside China, of which Square is one."

That kind of growth puts Square in a similar category to Tesla, Facebook, and Nvidia.

"It’s totally rarefied air," said Friar.

Apart from setting ruthless financial goals, Friar has to be strict about spending money within Square.

One example is avoiding the "peanut butter spread" problem.

"That’s where we have $100, so everyone gets $1," Friar explained. "That’s horrible resource allocation. For most startups, one person will get $75, another person $25, then you’ll cut off the other things.

"That’s always a tough conversation. That’s where if the CFO is hyper popular in your company, you probably have the wrong CFO. You work to be respected, not liked. If you drive yourself on being liked, you won’t make the tough decisions."

Join the conversation about this story »

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How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

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For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s that time of year again. It’s cold, windy, snowy and very, very white. Winter wonderlands are the ideal things to shoot this time of year. When everything around you is frosted with snow and ice, even everyday things take on a magical feel.

When you step outdoors to shoot this winter, however, an icy fairytale landscape might not be exactly what you get. Here in Chicago if it’s not white, it’s pretty darn grey. That doesn’t make for very pretty pictures. Grey weather days look really blah in 2-D. Actually, even an amazing landscape filled with sparkling snow can make a surprisingly flat image. Let’s break down a few ways that you can process your winter images in Luminar to really make them pop.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Running horses

My final version of wild horses running through a white-out snowstorm in northern Nevada. I adjusted the black point to -20 by dragging the slider until the histogram just touched the left side. I also made a few more adjustments in Luminar, including boosting the Shadows, reducing the Highlights and enhancing Vibrance. Canon 7DII with 100-400mm II plus 1.4x III extender @ 560mm, f/8, 1/1000th, ISO 400.

Adjust Your Whites and Blacks

In Luminar, you adjust the White and Black points in the RAW Develop Filter (if you’re adjusting a JPG it’s just called “Develop”), or in the dedicated Whites/Blacks Filter. These adjustments are an important first step for images with snow. By shifting the Blacks and Whites, you maximize the range of light and dark tones in your image. That helps give white snow texture and depth.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - running horses raw image

The unprocessed RAW file of the above image. Compare it to the lead image and look at the difference just a few adjustments made.

Adjust your Whites so that your snow isn’t “blown out” (which means it won’t show any detail). Usually, you’ll need to drag the Whites slider to the left. The histogram should just be touching the right side. Now grab your Blacks and drag it so that the histogram just touches the left side.

Fine-Tune Your White Balance

The White Balance setting is also in the Develop Filter. To help add pop to your winter images, adjust the Temperature of your image to be either warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blue). You can also make a separate adjustment to the Tint, adjusting it to reflect more green or magenta. Be forewarned though, Temperature and Tint adjustments get tricky when dealing with white snow.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Paint Pots

In this image of one of the paint pots at Yellowstone National Park, just after a light snow, I’ve adjusted the White Balance to a cooler/more blue Temperature of -5, and a more magenta Tint of +2. These very slight shifts, along with Contrast, Clarity and Vibrance adjustments make a big difference in this image’s feel. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 24mm, f/10, 1/320th, ISO 1250.

Often, if you look at your favorite landscape and wildlife images, they have a warm, yellow glow to them. Warm colors tend to make us happy so we gravitate to them when we post-process. However, snow that is too yellow often looks wrong because we rarely have a full-on snowy landscape in bright, golden sun.

Be careful adjusting Tint too. Pink snow isn’t any more appealing or realistic than yellow snow. Ultimately though, these adjustments are up to you. Experiment to find a wintery look that’s right for your photography style.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

Here’s the original RAW file of that same paint pot at Yellowstone National Park. You can see the original White Balance and the huge difference that simple change made to make the image above feel colder.

Boost Saturation for Eye-Catching Color

One exception to having vibrantly-colored snow is when an image has colored light reflecting from the sky. In the paint pots image above, you can see that the snow has a bit of a grey-blue cast. That looks natural to me because the snow would reflect the cast of the grey-blue sky.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Old Faithful steaming away at dawn one very cold morning. In this final image, I’ve boosted the colors quite a bit. Saturation +30, Vibrance +20 and Contrast +20. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 56mm, f/13, 1/125th, ISO 800.

Sometimes, cold wintery images aren’t as much about the snow, either. In this Old Faithful landscape, the story is the drama of the winter sky. My instinct was to amp up the blues in this image, and also the golden grass, to create a striking, complementary color scheme.

When you try this, play around with the color sliders a bit (Vibrance and Saturation are great starting points) and see what works best. Strong color can be gorgeous but doesn’t work for every winter image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Here’s the RAW, unprocessed file of Old Faithful. The original image is composed well and exposed properly, but very flat. Luminar does an excellent job bringing it to life.

Convert to Monochrome for Stark Drama

Sometimes winter scenes don’t lend themselves well to color images at all. This wild horse running on the snowy ridge in front of the mountain was spectacular in real life. The RAW file wasn’t much to look at though. See for yourself.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Wild Stallion

Wild horse running along the snowy ridge in northern Nevada. Canon 5DIII with 100-400mm II lens @ 255mm, f/5.6, 1/1000th, ISO 1000.

What is nice about the image is that the bay-colored horse makes an incredible silhouette against all that white snow. Monochrome tends to work well with silhouettes, especially when you boost the contrast.

With their cool grey and white tones, monochrome images can make bland winter images spectacular. Remember to give it a try if experimenting with the color options we discussed above doesn’t work for your image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Stallion Silhouette

Isn’t that an amazing change for the better? Look how that silhouette just pops out of the snowy mountain backdrop now.

Share your Winter Image Post-Processing Tips

These are my four favorite ways to make my winter images pop using Luminar. Bundle up, head on out to the great wintry outdoors, shoot a few frames and give them a try yourself.

And hey, share with the dPS community too. What are your favorite post-processing tips for editing gorgeous winter images?

Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar by Lara Joy Brynildssen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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The Essential List of Free PPC Tools by @bigalittlea

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It’s imperative for SEM managers to have a broad toolset at their disposal at all times.

When it comes to free PPC tools, there are so many great free resources available.

After crowdsourcing a few dozen suggestions from my LinkedIn and Twitter networks, as well as my team, I came to an undeniable conclusion: everyone is trying to do the same thing in different ways.

The old Abraham Maslow adage of “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” comes to mind.

What follows is a comprehensive resource guide to free and freemium PPC tools, organized by task or goal, with tips and tricks to make the most of each tool.

Keyword Research Tools

Free

Google + Bing Keyword Planners

A lot of people don’t like the keyword tool because the data can be anywhere from inaccurate to outright wrong.

However, I love the keyword planners to death, even if the data can be a bit suspect.

You have to take them for what they are. They’re designed for expanded ideation.

When you put keywords in for ideas, the tools fire off matches the same way pure broad match might work.

Google and Bing’s keyword planners aren’t perfect, but can plant amazing seed ideas for campaigns and ad groups. The decent (but not perfect) volume estimates are a bonus.

A few tips:

  • Use the volume estimates as directional data, not as absolutes. Set your base bids based on what you can afford, not what the tools say the average is.
  • I’ve always used a 1,000 monthly searches estimate as a secondary threshold to segment ad groups. This still holds true as a good proxy when search intent + messaging are too close to call.
  • In general, things with no volume estimates will get tagged with low search volume and likely won’t show. Its fine to include them in the account, but be careful of ad group sculpting (negating exact from broad or phrase). This may prevent the LSV queries from ever showing.
  • Don’t get too precise with regions. Estimates lose their utility when you go beyond State or Province level.

Google Search Console + Google Analytics

You can get a decent amount of organic query data out of Google Search Console, which can help flesh out your campaigns and fill in gaps.

Google Analytics can give limited organic search data, but the real value comes from analyzing your on-site searches.

Be careful however, that your PPC doesn’t wind up stealing market share from organic.

Search Suggestion Tools

Keywordtool.io, UberSuggest.io and Soovle all do loosely the same thing – they scrape search suggestions from various engines, each with varying degrees of completeness.

Each has their own distinct advantages/disadvantages. It’s worth toying with each to ensure you have complete coverage.

  • UberSuggest has the most comprehensive pull from Google, but nowhere else. Plus you can export the data.
  • Keyword Tool has a few more options (including Bing/Amazon/eBay), but it doesn’t seem to generate quite as robust a list as Uber. Data is also exportable.
  • Soovle allows you to pick from every engine under the sun, but limits the results it shows. Great for finding super long-tail terms to target search partner-heavy terms.

Answer The Public is a humanized version search suggest and the closest thing I’ve seen to replicating the Google Wonder Wheel (RIP). Enter your base word or phrase, and it’ll spring off into natural language queries.

It’s more valuable as a content/landing page/ad copy development too than a purebred keyword tool. Plus it’s got a handsome old man with a nice sweater on it.

Freemium

If anyone finds a paid/freemium keyword research tool that’s worth it, let me know.

Honorable Mentions

Keywords Everywhere is a Chrome extension that shows volume + competition in the search bar.

KW Finder is another suggest-based tool including a competitiveness metric.

Keyword Wrapper formats your builds to include BMM/phrase/exact match. I’m an Excel-first guy, but if you want a match type wrapper it’s here.

BigQuery to Sheets de-samples analytics data. I haven’t personally used it but it was recommended by a few.

PPC Competitive Analysis Tools

If you’re using a competitive analysis tool to find competitive spend, you’re doing it wrong.

The estimator tools all operate (roughly) by scraping the SERP and reporting back on what they can see.

They triangulate via estimates in Keyword Planners to get spend estimates.

If you must guess what others are spending, run yourself through the tools and use competitive estimates as a proportion.

You’ll be wrong, though.

Free

Auction Insights

Auction Insights from Bing + Google are the best competitive analysis tools you’ll find.

They’re free in the sense that there’s no monthly fee, but expensive as they’ll only show competitive data relative to your own.

Bear in mind auction insights pull data at the auction level.

If you pull data on broad match terms or shopping campaigns, you’ll have a far less accurate picture.

Sticking to exact match terms will give the clearest insights.

AdWords Auction Insights Over Time

Remember to segment by time to see how their strategy evolves!

Freemium

SpyFu/iSpionage/KeywordSpy/SEMrush

Each of these SERP scraping tools give you a bit of insight for free, but with investment comes far better data.

I’m oversimplifying here, but the baseline use of each is similar.

You can see what ads appeared over time and for what keywords. The differentiation comes from the added “bells and whistles.”

SEMRush + SpyFu are the most robust (and thus, most expensive after free trial) but they feature the most complete dataset.

AdBeat

This tool accomplishes much of the same for display.

You can get some competitive data for free, but robust reporting will cost you.

Bidding + Campaign Management Tools

Free

AdWords Scripts

Don’t get scared of scripts because you don’t have a coding background.

There’s a myriad of free resources out there to help educate you.

Checking landing pages, adjusting for anomalies or pausing a campaign that goes haywire should be simply automated.

A few of my favorite script libraries include:

There’s also the good old-fashioned Google Developer’s Guide.

Buyer beware – AdWords scripts will time out after 30 minutes, and can only touch 250,000 entities per go.

Make sure you have controls in place lest your script only touch part of the account.

Automated Rules from Google + Bing

Automated Rules from Google + Bing are both fantastic for executing simple tasks like pausing ads at the end of a sale or boosting bids to first page recommendations.

If your account is more complex, you can use labels to help guide the rules.

Bidding Tools from Google + Bing

By the same token, Bidding Tools from both of the engines are effective.

I’ve heard a myriad of complaints and conspiracy theories around these – trusting the fox to guard the henhouse, if you will.

Remember, it’s in the engines best interests for your advertising to perform well!

Each of the engine bidding tools has their own strengths and weaknesses.

As a general rule, you can trust the engines to make smart decisions with correct data.

A significant lot of offline information or a complicated sales process can diminish UI-based bidding tools.

However, if all of the data you’d need is within the interfaces, give their bidding tools a try.

Make sure to set CPC caps where applicable, however, so the tools don’t get too excited.

Freemium/Affordable (But Worth It)

There are a million and one bidding platforms available.

I’m not going to get into a debate for which is best, and they are most definitely not free.

On a smaller scale, tools like Adalysis can make your PPC lives significantly easier by automating account checks and ad tests. Optymzer is another great option in the same vein.

Both feature a 14-day free trial to see if they’re a fit.

Reporting + Data Visualization

Free

Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio is glorious, plain and simple.

As long as all of the data you need lives in engines or DoubleClick, it’s easy to get things set up in a nice tidy live dashboard.

If you have any issues or any data sources you can’t embed, there’s a robust developer community or a number of connectors available from SuperMetrics

Google Data Studio AdWords Reports

Chandoo and ExcelCharts

If you are an Excel person (as most of us are), you’ll need a deft hand to create more than stacked bars and bubble charts.

Chandoo.org + ExcelCharts.com are two of my favorites to better understand data visualization and to make your results sing.

Freemium/Affordable

SuperMetrics is a comprehensive tool to get your marketing data in a single place. It was initially developed for Google Sheets + Excel, but now can port data directly into Data Studio.

If you can’t get things done in Data Studio, there are many options available to help. Swydo, ReportGarden, and Reporting Ninja each have a variety of bonus features beyond dashboarding and basic budget management.

AdStage and NinjaCat are a bit more robust solutions if you need complex data integration. All have free trials, and monthly fees beyond that

Audiences Insights

Free

Google Display Planner

The Google Display Planner is good at a lot of things beyond setting up a display campaign.

Drop your website in to get a view of affinity topics + interests, as well as related demographic and device browsing behavior.

These can help prioritize search campaigns and set better bid modifiers

AdWords Audience Insights

AdWords Audience Insights can paint a clear picture of exactly who’s visiting your site, on your CRM list, or (better yet) converting.

Facebook Audience Insights

Facebook Audience Insights will do the same, but with far greater accuracy.

Both can give a ton of information into the composition of your actual audience.

Freemium

There are a few options available for robust audience insights and behavioral analysis.

SimilarWeb (no registration required) or Alexa (7-day trial) grant tons of user information and paint a picture of your site audience or that of your competitors. Both products are on the pricey side, but you can get a good deal of information for free.

Conversion Rate Optimization

Free

Post-click optimization is a crucial tool to have in your PPC toolbelt, and the tools don’t have to cost a ton!

Google Optimize

Google Optimize is a good place to start, allowing simple site tests without heavy coding.

You can launch A/B tests, basic multivariate tests, or re-directs to control what a user sees without having to clone your ads a million times.

The tool is on the basic side.

VWO and Optimizely

If your testing program expands you may want to invest a premium tool like VWO or Optimizely.

Freemium

Much of conversion rate optimization comes down to a basic understanding of how the human mind and eyes work, and what draws attention.

Heat mapping and mouse recording are both powerful methods to understand where users go first and to help assess before and after of your CRO tests.

HotJar

HotJar is a great heat mapping tool product that has a limited free-forever version, though more robust options start at $29/month.

Unbounce

If you don’t have a strong landing page, heat mapping isn’t the best place to start. Instead, start by developing a solid landing page for your campaign.

Unbounce is arguably the best known (and longest tenured) landing page tool and has a 30-day trial to get started, then it starts at $79/month after that.

Lander

Lander is more affordable (starting at $16/month after trial), but isn’t quite as robust.

Ontrapages

You can get free-forever landing pages from Ontrapages, albeit with a little branding until you upgrade.

Bonus Things I Love

Focus and Productivity

A lot of us work in open offices now which are proven to be counterproductive for pretty much anything besides meetings.

I recommend the Music For Office Workers playlist series from Drowned in Sound (note: need to sign up/sign in to Spotify to use). It helps drown out distractions, replacing them with beautiful ambient + classical music. Pair it with an Audioengine D1 and your favorite headphones for extra high-quality focus tunes.

For those who are more of the ambient noise camp, check out Noisli.

It’s important to remember the human brain isn’t exactly a finely-tuned focus machine – we only have a certain capacity before we lose effectiveness, especially the millennial brain.

I’m a huge proponent of the Pomodoro method (3-5 minute breaks every 25-30 minutes). Marinara is a simple extension tells you when it’s time to take a break and look at something else for a few minutes to clear your head. It’s good for your eyes, too!

Project Management

Project management is one thing I see people struggle with as they grow in their careers. Nothing is more challenging than putting together reports and forgetting what you did.

I love Trello to keep track of long-term projects across teams.

For a more robust solution, FreedCamp acts as a freemium version of Basecamp. It’s not as complete but will suffice in many scenarios.

That said, a well-developed Google Sheet can go a long way.

Do you have any other free or freemium tools for PPC? We’d love to hear about them! Tweet @sejournal and let us know.

Special thanks to Brad Putney, Nathan Eagan, Jeremy Krantz, Nicole Mintiens, Wesley Parker, Matthew Marley, Julie Friedman Bacchini and Grant Charge for your contributions.

More PPC Resources:


Image Credits

Screenshots taken by Aaron Levy, January 2018

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This 16-yo and her team built a $100 Oculus VR clone and free SDK

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One sixteen year-old, a couple of her friends, and their math teacher have taken on Oculus with an open SDK – and you can build the VR headset for $100.

France’s Maxime Coutté writes up the project, which features her coding alongside optics and code from her best friends and algorithmic assistance from their math teacher (really). And there are a few advantages of their open approach, even if the hardware doesn’t look quite as svelte as commercial options.

1. There’s an open SDK, which for now gets you up and running quickly in Unity Game Engine.
https://github.com/relativty/fastVR-sdk

2. There’s an open API for communications between Unity and the VR headset – which also allows low-latency communication between the game engine and Arduino.
https://github.com/relativty/wrmhl

3. There’s a headset that’ll run you somewhere around $100, instead of several times that for similar options. And of course you’ll get the fun of building it. And it’s open.

That WRHML creation could be a great option for anyone adding real-time interfaces for Unity, including musical and audiovisual applications. And wow, does this ever beat fighting over the cool table at the cafeteria – Maxime writes:

I started programming when I was 13, thanks to my math teacher. Every Monday and Tuesday, my friends and I used to go to his classroom to learn and practice instead of having a meal at the cafeteria.

WRHML already looks useful, but if you want to build the headset, here you go:
How you can build your own VR headset for $100

You might even get parts for less. The basic ingredients: Arduino DUE, a display, an acceleromter/gyro, and a housing. Part of the cheapness is thanks to sourcing inexpensive displays from China directly (instead of buying a built product with its associated profit margin).

GitHub is your best source:

https://github.com/relativty/Relativ

Via T3n [German only]; h/t Martin Backes.

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Microsoft, Hyperledger, UN Join Blockchain Identity Initiative

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Tech giant Microsoft and blockchain alliance Hyperledger have joined blockchain-based digital identity initiative, the ID2020 Alliance.

Announced during the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland yesterday, the alliance – which aid agency Mercy Corps and the U.N. International Computing Center have also just joined – aims to improve people’s lives through provision of digital identities.

According to a press release, the group is developing solutions with a focus on user’s direct ownership and control over their personal data using blockchain technology. At issue is the fact that over 1.1 billion people face not able to prove their identity, and thus struggle to access benefits and services. The situation also gives rise to more serious issues such as human trafficking, according to the World Bank.

The initiative has now received a $1 million donation from Microsoft, as well as contributions from entities including Accenture and the Rockefeller Foundation. Accenture, one of the founding member of the initiative, announced a $1 million investment during the ID2020 Alliance summit last summer at New York.

David Treat, MD of the global blockchain practice at Accenture said:

“Decentralized, user-controlled digital identity holds the potential to unlock economic opportunity for refugees and others who are disadvantaged, while concurrently improving the lives of those simply trying to navigate cyberspace securely and privately.”

The release explained that digital identity that is user-owned would include government-issued forms of legal identification and allow a seamless authentication process for people and institutions.

“We are building an ecosystem of partners committed to working across national and institutional borders to address this challenge at scale,” Dakota Gruener, the Executive Director of the ID2020 Alliance, noted.

Last June, Microsoft and Accenture unveiled a blockchain prototype for ID2020, that is powered by a private version of the ethereum blockchain.

Passport and credit cards image via Shutterstock

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