Home Improvement: 4 Summer Project Ideas

Posted by Ali Lawrence on Jul 2, 2013 in Home & Garden

home improvementHome improvement is an extremely popular element of today’s society. People are constantly looking for unique, creative and inexpensive ways to develop the space in which they live. Entire television networks, shows and magazines are dedicated to home remodeling and improvement.

While redesigning entire rooms and adding to your home looks appealing in the media, the act of doing so can be very expensive and time consuming. With this in mind, improving your home doesn’t always require that you start from scratch.

When considering home improvement on a smaller-scale, there are many feasible projects that can have a large impact on the appeal and pleasure that surrounds your home. Whether you plan to hire home remodeling contractors or to complete the job on your own, here are 4 project ideas for improving your home this summer:

Build a Fence

Adding a fence to your property is one idea that has multiple benefits. Fencing your existing patio, garden, pool or other space creates privacy and can add an attractive visual element to your property. Fencing can often be decorative and serve as a complement for the other features of your property.

Another benefit of fencing is the value that it adds to your home. From a real estate perspective, adding a fence to your property is an inexpensive way to increase its value.

Create a Stone Path

Turning a frequently used walkway into a stone path is a fairly simple project that can do wonders for your yard. In comparison to worn grass or dirt, flat stones are an appealing element for connecting the spaces on your property.

Whether you wish to create a path from your house to your patio, a walkway to your favorite bench or make a path through your garden, laying flat stones is a great solution. A stone path is an element that you can add to your property without much expense or labor.

Build a Patio

If you don’t already have one, creating a space for sitting outside can revolutionize the way in which you enjoy your yard. Whether you wish to make an extravagant patio with a canopy and ample space, or simply create a brick or stone pad for a few chairs, a patio is a worthwhile addition to any home.

Patios can be created in all shapes and sizes to meet your needs. While you can hire a contractor for more advanced designs or aspirations, creating a patio space is certainly manageable for the motivated do-it-yourselfer.

Add a Porch or Deck

Although it’s certainly one of the more intensive projects on this list, building a porch or deck is an excellent idea for improving your home. Adding a porch to the front of your house or adding a deck that expands from your backdoor are two ideas with multiple benefits.

Decks and porches provide space for sitting, look appealing and serve as platforms from which you can add further improvements. Also, decks can be enclosed to protect you from the elements or left open in order to enjoy sunlight and warmth. While it will likely require careful planning and a decent time commitment, building a deck would make for a very worthwhile summer project.



Beyond LinkedIn: Unexpected Places to Find Good Jobs

Posted by Ali Lawrence on Jun 28, 2013 in Career

Some people are lucky enough to get job nibbles from LinkedIn, the online business meat market that so many companies are using to recruit new workers. But most people aren’t lucky enough to post a profile and then get a call for their dream job. For most of us, LinkedIn is a nice networking tool but not an easy place to get hired – it’s hard to stand out among the millions of other users.

If you’re serious about finding a job, here are some other places you should look outside of LinkedIn, some of which you may not have thought of before.

Trade Magazines

Do you work in a skilled trade, or better yet, a narrow one? If so, you probably have a trade publication geared toward you, whether you’re an employee benefits attorney or a plumber. Check the publication for classified ads, or better yet, go to its web site and look there, because those will be the most up-to-date positions.

Industry Job Boards

Many industries have dedicated job boards that cater to those in the business. Writers and editors, for example, can check out JournalismJobs.com, while teachers can look on SchoolSpring.com to narrow down their choices by geographical area. Even some blogs in your industry might have a list of open positions.

Look at Search Ads

Yes, by now many of us have trained ourselves to ignore the paid search ads that pop up on the right-hand side whenever we plug something into a search engine. But maybe we shouldn’t. Sometimes you can get good leads from a paid ad, when you type in “employment attorneys in PA,” for example.

Post on Social Media

Have you let your friends on social media know that you’re looking for a job? This can be a tricky prospect, of course, if you’re also friends with people from your current position. Make sure you filter them out of any job status updates you might post, or just reach out to people individually on Facebook and Twitter who you think could help your search.

The worst that can happen is they say they don’t know of any prospects. The best is that you get hooked up with a sweet opportunity.

Put Up a Sign

Have you seen the bulletin boards at your local grocery store that seem to advertise every chicken barbeque and 5K race within a 10-mile radius? Well, why not try posting your business card there? Write a note on it saying you’re available for work and you may pick up a few takers. Or make your own ad with tear-away contact info on the bottom, so that those who are interested can easily contact you.

Try the Newspaper

These days it’s all about online, but newspapers still carry classified ads – don’t forget to consult them during your search.

Don’t forget to always ask your friends if they know of any open positions! You never know who might connect you to your dream job.

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Funny Friday: The Biggest Problem with Communication

Posted by Ali Lawrence on Jun 28, 2013 in Communication, Friday Funny



Communication card

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Content Shortcuts Create Chaos

Posted by Ali Lawrence on May 30, 2013 in SEO

The need for content shouldn’t have you spinning like all of the other spammers out there. Regardless of how much fun that turtle above us is having!

If you spend any time in the online marketing or search engine optimization industries you’re familiar with the expression “content is king.” It’s a valid message: nothing encourages online readership and search engine rankings like relevant, informative content. The entire concept of content marketing revolves around this truth.

High quality content comes at a cost. You either take the time to write content in-house like Hydro Worx, or you spend money contracting your content needs to freelance writers, journalists or SEO companies.

Inevitably some folks want to take a shortcut. They assume if content is indeed king, they can slap a crown on any content and the masses will kneel in allegiance. They’re wrong.

The Plagiarized Page

As a writer, I take plagiarism very seriously. Obviously not everyone feels the same way. Copying other people’s content and pasting it wholesale onto other websites is one of the most common content shortcuts, and it benefits no one.

Consider this example. I write a series of articles for a South Carolina home remodeling website. They provide solid, relevant resources for any type of remodeling work and perform well in the search engine rankings.

Now along comes a rival website with a need for content. Rather than write their own, they copy my work from my client’s site word for word. Intellectual honesty aside, we now have two sites with duplicate content. Google has no love of duplicate content, so it penalizes both sites in the search engine rankings (although the word  thief may see an initial bump in traffic).

Both sites suffer, and my client has to go through the laborious process of contacting the offending site and asking them to remove the content, which they may or may not actually do.

It’s Alive! The Frankenstein Page

Other sites assume if they plagiarize from multiple sources and mash everything together in a single article they’ll avoid plagiarism detection and fool the search engines. They might even get away with it for a while, but the resulting content is a stitched-together monstrosity with grammar, sentence structure and style changing from section to section. One section contradicts another, and the reader ends up frustrated and confused.  Here’s a terrible site that seems like duplicate content is their forte - Kitchendesignersideas.

Spinning Articles

It’s common knowledge that you cannot copyright an idea, which leads some content developers into the murky waters of spinning articles. The content developer rewrites existing content, changing it just enough to avoid plagiarism checkers. Often the “spinning” only makes minor changes to wording, so the statement “spinning articles is unethical” becomes “spinning articles is bad.”

Spinning is a bit of a cottage industry online, with content developers hiring writers to spin multiple versions of the same article for pennies a page. The industry includes spinning software, which generates slight variation in text.

Unfortunately (or fortunately if, like me, you’re a freelance writer), spinning software usually produces content which looks as if someone pasted the text into Google Translator, translated it into Russian, then French, Swahili and Arabic before translating it back into English (don’t laugh—I’ve heard of content scams doing just that).

The problem with spinning, aside from the obvious dishonesty, is the practice floods the Internet with poor quality content and makes it difficult to find actual quality writing among all the drek. Users are notoriously fickle creatures: if they can’t find good quality content immediately, they just stop looking, and that affects us all.

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Is Podcasting Right for Your Business?

Posted by Ali Lawrence on May 17, 2013 in Business, Communication

PodcastsIt wasn’t that long ago when the idea of businesses having a blog was still a foreign concept. The reason is when blogs first popped up on the Internet, they were exclusively a place for individuals to write about their daily experiences and feelings.

Although plenty of people still have personal blogs, the medium has evolved far beyond this limitation. Blogs are now simply a way for any person, company or organization to publish new content to their audience. And as countless businesses have learned, the level of engagement that blogs offer is great for attracting and retaining new customers.

Since the majority of businesses are now comfortable with blogging, many are looking for additional ways to market themselves online. A common option is to focus on building a strong presence on networks like Twitter and Facebook. While social media can be very effective, it’s more of a distribution option than one for creation.

If you’re looking for another outlet like blogging that can drive results for your business, you should strongly consider podcasting. If you’re skeptical as to how this avenue can work for your business, keep reading to find out!

Why Podcasting?

Thanks to smartphones and tablets, the Internet is no longer limited to desktop and laptop computers. However, even with the mobility offered by those devices, interacting with text content still requires an environment that’s conducive to reading.

One of the biggest advantages of podcasts is people can enjoy them even when they’re not in a situation that allows them to read. For example, if someone is driving for a family vacation, they’re not going to read a blog post while they’re behind the wheel. But they will love having something interesting to listen to while the rest of their family takes a nap.

How to Try Out Podcasting?

While many people assume otherwise, starting a podcast is only slightly more difficult than starting a blog. The main reason people are hesitant to try out this medium is because they think it requires lots of expensive recording equipment.

If you decide that this medium is a great fit for your business, it will be worth investing in higher quality equipment. But to just get started, your laptop already has everything that you need to record.

The main decision you need to make to kick things off is whether you want to focus on providing information or doing interviews. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with mixing both options. The important thing is choosing a format and then trying it out.

Once you decide, record your podcast, edit it and then upload it through iTunes, don’t forget to pay attention to the feedback you get. This will allow you to see how people respond to what you put out, as well as pick up some helpful tips that you’ll be able to use for producing your next podcast.

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How to Write an Article in One Hour

Posted by Ali Lawrence on May 15, 2013 in Communication

writingAt the end of the day I am in no mood to write an article for my blog (as I’m sure many bloggers can relate.) However, if I knew I could whip up a rockin’ blogpost in ONE HOUR I might be a little less pessimistic when the evening rolls around. It’s 6:45 and I’m going to teach you and myself how to write an article in under an hour. Before beginning, remove all distractions.

First Step

Come up with a topic (5 mins): I feel like this is the hardest part sometimes. I use the free online tool Topsy to see what is trending on a particular subject. Since I’m on the web all day during work, whenever I come across a particular article that intrigues me I jot the title down on a sticky note (one of 50 encompassing my desk).

If both methods haven’t produced any solid topics, it’s time to hit the drawing board with good ol’ fashion brainstorming. First, narrow it down to at least a genre, such as marketing or fashion. Next, get creative juices flowing by talking with someone about the topic or browsing social media through hashtags or Pinterest search. Don’t let you ADD distract you—stay on target!!

After you have been inspired, write down a few niche areas of your genre. See if there is something particular that you would want to learn about it. Shuffle it all together and pull out your topic. Don’t worry about putting a catchy headline on it yet.

Second Step

Research (15 mins): Especially for those topics that you don’t know much about yourself, research is key. Now that you have a specific topic, you can either do a broad search on Google /Bing or go to Topsy to see what has been the latest article on your topic.

When you find an article that might be beneficial copy and paste the URL to a blank document and write down a few points that might apply to the article you are writing. Even if you are not sure you will use it still retain the URL because you most likely won’t find it again even if you are looking.

Once you have a good amount of resources to flesh out your point start organizing them into subheadings (i.e. research, topic, writing etc).

Third Step

Writing (20 mins): Now you are ready to write. Everyone has their own approach to writing. I like to dive write in and write wherever I find a cohesive sentence form. This means I might start in the middle because I thought of a great sentence for that section and eventually work my way around. However, I’m guessing most normal people start at the beginning. J

If you have writer’s block, try writing down anything, it doesn’t have to be cohesive. Take a moment to stand up, stretch and breathe deeply. If you are still blocked, consider changing your subject or just rewording someone else thoughts on your topic till you can get your own formulated.

Fourth Step

Edit (10 min): Once you finished writing the skeleton of your article, it’s time to put on the good stuff. Read your article from start to finish editing along the way. If you are rewriting complete sentences or paragraphs never delete the work you are rewriting till you are positive what you have written to replace it with works better. During this stage also come up with a good, catchy headline.

Last Step

Finishing touches (10 mins): Write up your author byline. Find a picture and prepare it for the web. Upload the article to your site or prepare it to be sent to the publisher. Make sure all headlines and subheads have appropriate html. If you include links, make sure all of the anchor text links successfully to the page you want. When uploading the article, create 3-5 tags and enter a good category for your article to be placed under.

You’re done!

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The New (and Entertaining) Approach to Content Marketing

Posted by Ali Lawrence on May 8, 2013 in Business, SEO

We live in a sharing world driven by visuals, buzz, and what we “like.” The content we read is expected to meet our criteria of interesting, educational, useful, and entertaining. We show our affirmation by tweeting or sharing the post in some way (this is a good metric to see if you’re failing at content marketing).

At any given moment, unless you have your eyes closed or in a really dark room, we are inundated with information and have to choose what to pay attention to. Tadah! Enter linkbait! Historically, linkbait had a bad rep because it was used by sleazy marketers, but I think the digital age has matured and we can now see it for what it truly offers—a creative way to attract links and traffic.


Photo by lalajean_g

What is linkbait

Link bait is a piece of content designed specifically to encourage people to share, link to, and embed for the purpose of the creator to receive back links and new leads, both of which drive conversions<-we like this word.

Linkbait can be as simple as sharing new research or complex like a microsite. Intuit has a great list of different types of linkbait. Good linkbait has been found to display certain attributes that help spur on popularity.

-Opinionated: While controversial issues like motorcycle laws or healthcare are considered linkbait, I prefer to drift away from saying be controversial and instead chose the word opinionated. You don’t want people to hate you, but a good, passionate article about a controversial topic that you really believe in can be successful linkbait.

-Entertaining: Good linkbait usually has some kind of humor or bizarre content to foster sharing. Everybody loves to laugh! This is probably one of the easiest characteristics of linkbait to achieve. Even journalists understand this characteristic of popular content. Unique/bizarre is one of their news values.

-Timeliness: Talking about journalist, current news, what we like to call real-time marketing when applied to brands, has become a huge hit as linkbait. For example, look at this microsite about the 2012 election. Notice the two associated links that are benefitting from the trove of link juice this timely and entertaining linkbait produced. Insider information or brand new information are both factors under this characteristic of great linkbait.

How to create a good piece of bait

Think of choosing your linkbait as sifting through a filter to find the best choice. Here is a list of filters, begin by writing down all possible linkbaits in their raw form (microsite, widget, infographic etc).

  • Consider your audience. Which linkbait would be most effective for this group?
  • Which bait do you have the time and resources to create?
  • Which bait would be easiest and most successful to tie in your brand without loosing its viral capacity?
  • What does your gut tell you? (Silly, I know. But going with your gut feeling on a certain linkbait can make the difference between being successful and wasting time.)

How to see your linkbait in action

  • Open Site Explorer to view backlinks
  • Social shares
  • Google Anayltics to view traffic and conversions
  • SEOmoz toolbar to view your domain authority

Rule of thumb when creating linkbait: Make it interesting and easy to share or use. Don’t be afraid to take a new approach or discover some interesting data to use as linkbait. For 10 great case studies of linkbait, check out the WebpageFX blog.

Find Alicia on Google+

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Sleep Aid Increases Negative Memories

Posted by Ali Lawrence on Apr 17, 2013 in Health & Fitness, Uncategorized

Had a bad day at the office? Saw a horrific traffic wreck on the way home? Had a nasty argument with your parents? If so, you might want to avoid taking any sleep aids tonight, unless you really want to remember the negative event.

Turns out the primary ingredient in Ambien, zolpidem, can help your brain turn short-term memories into long-term memories, but there’s a catch. Zolpidem’s memory-enhancing effect only works with memories which trigger negative emotions.

Memory, Zolpidem and Sleep Spindles

Research by University of California at Riverside psychologist Sara Mednick discovered the brain generates bursts of energy during stage 2 sleep. These rapid energy bursts, or sleep spindles, play a role in forming long-term memories, especially emotional memories.

Mednick and her team wanted to see what happened to memory formation when sleep spindle density increased or decreased. They used two sleep aids: zolpidem, which increases sleep spindle density, and sodium oxybate, which decreases density levels.

Participants in the study were given the medication, and asked to view a series of images designed to create a positive or negative response. Participants then went to sleep, and on awakening were asked to recall the images.

Members of the zolpidem group showed an increase in memory recollection, but only for negative images. Recall was strongest for images which produced the most emotional response, such as violent images. People were more likely to recall images of a vicious dog, for instance, than a crying baby.

Sodium oxybate, despite lowering sleep spindle density, seemed to have no effect on the ability to recall negative memories.

Memory, Medication, and Mental Disorders

Why should zolpidem enhance only negative memories? According to Mednick, the human brain seems to favor negative memory retention. Perhaps it’s a survival trait — back in caveman days it may have been pleasant to remember Oog’s smile, but much more important to remember Oog’s brute of a mate knocked your teeth out when you smiled back. The negative memory was — and still is in some cases — more likely to keep you alive.

Today, we’re less likely to encounter jealous cavemen, but the tendency to remember negative memories remains. You may only have hazy memories of the excellent service you received from a fulfillment service, but have a clear recollection of the lousy service you received the last time you went out to lunch.

As for zolpidem’s ability to increase memory retention, the discovery could affect how we treat anxiety disorders. A PTSD sufferer may require sleep aids, for instance, but prescribing one which consolidates negative memories is unlikely to help his condition. It might actually worsen his symptoms by reinforcing memories he’d rather forget. In such cases, medication which doesn’t increase sleep spindle activity could prove more suitable.

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Funny Friday: Math and Communication

Posted by Ali Lawrence on Mar 15, 2013 in Friday Funny

I went into communications because I was told I wouldn’t have to do math…they lied.

Math and Communication

Anyone else feel my frustration!?


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Tips from the Top

Posted by Ali Lawrence on Jan 30, 2013 in PR/Ad, Tips & Lists

Enjoy these tips shared via Twitter from the top professionals in the field of PR/Ad.

“Never ever BS in interviews. If you don’t know say so. But tell me how you’re going to find out for next time.”

Steven Waddington @wadds

“WATCH the newscasts you’re pitching stories for. Asking me to cover your ‘upcoming conference’ is just weak.”

Dan Ponce @danponceTV

“Research like an academic. Empathize like an artist. Plan like an engineer. Experiment like a scientist.”

David Armano @armano

“Remarkable leaders know there is much to learn, but prioritize one or two focus areas at any time.”

Kevin Elkenberry @KevinElkenberry

“Social media are just the tools, success requires a real-time mindset.”

David Scott @dmscott

“Treat everyone with respect; relationships are important & kindness is underrated.”

Mary Henige @maryhenige

“Careers are no longer linear. Do what you love and don’t think too hard about the future.”

Jane Wilson @CEO_CIPR

“Always pick quality over quantity. Followers and fans are great, but deeper relationships are much more rewarding.”

David Berkowitz @dberkowitz

“Above all maintain a hunger to learn. This will impact everything you do and continually make you better.”

Melissa Waggner @melissawz

“Take economics courses. Get fluent in a foreign language. Write for college newspaper. Engage with friends on social media. Work tail off.”

Richard Edelman @richardwedelman

Hangout with Alicia on Google+

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