Category Archives: Thought Leadership

Could what you don’t know about SEO hurt your resort?

Recently, SharonINK, was acquired by The Trades Publishing Company, From now on THE TRADES INK will be utilizing our Content Marketing capabilities with our parent company’s array of media, which includes two of everything: Two magazines, two websites, two eNewsletters, and two social media programs.

Our first client represented a resort’s marketing department and led us on a merry chase when they refused to recognize that managing their SEO would be their primary tool. We don’t claim to have all the answers but we do recognize that the very first thing an individual does when planning a vacation is to start making plans using Google.

Once upon a time and long, long ago, you researched your trip to Disney World by going to your local AAA office and asking them to customize a set of maps and destination information, called a “TripTik.” And as far as that once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Honolulu, you would write the visitor’s bureau and wait for them to send brochures. Today, the first thing someone does when planning a vacation is turn to Google. If our new client was to be responsible for attracting leads to visit his property, he needed to place a high priority on getting his property on Page One of a Google search. In the case of this resort, our first priority was to chisel out a list of keywords and make plans for a sound SEO strategy.

Maybe, like me, you’re not a SEO professional. But tremble as we might, we know the buck stops here. We need to be aware of some common misconceptions about how Google’s algorithm works and learn all we can about how to make it work for us. Whether or not you’re doing the actual hands-on work, or entrust these activities to an expert, understanding the world’s most prominent search engine is just about the most vital thing you can do to make sure you lead that race to the top of the ranks.

In the case of our new client, we offered to assist them in reviewing their online strategy and help their webmasters improve their ranking on Google. The first step would be to identify their optimal keywords. Gone are the ‘90s when you could cram keywords into a page of copy. These days, keyword stuffing’s about as passé as spats and suspenders. Various Google updates since those early days have introduced penalties for trying to beat the system.

Today, Google algorithms are looking for 1) authority in the form of your site’s overall strength in the market; 2) trustworthiness, as in hosting high quality content and backlinks from reliable sources; and 3) the relevance of your site to your product and your users.

According to SEO 2019: Learn Search Engine Optimization with Smart Internet Marketing Strategies, by Adam Clarke, Search Metrics (https://www.searchmetrics.com/glossary/google-keyword-planner) provides the following short list of the top Google ranking factors:

  1. Overall content relevance
  2. Click-through rate
  3. Time-on-site
  4. Bounce rate (lower is better)
  5. HTTPS – security certificate installed on the site
  6. Font size in main content area (larger is better)
  7. Number of images
  8. Number of internal links
  9. Total social media activity
  10. Number of backlinks

These factors are from a study released in 2016. After its release, it was announced that Search Metrics would no longer publish their rankings whitepapers. But odds are good that the above factors remain in effect with the notable addition of mobile support. In fact, we’re constantly hearing about more emphasis being placed on the need for sites to be mobile-friendly.

The Internet and Your Resort’s Marketing Mix

Prospective customers are learning about the world around them through the Internet every day, whether consciously or otherwise. Your challenge is to educate them about the value of your resort and how it will benefit them.

As we discussed, the foundation of an online strategy begins with effective list of keywords. Buying a Google Ad campaign is the easiest way to access the data behind its search box, which enables you to use their Keyword Planner tool.

Next on your to-do list would be to ensure your site is readable to Google’s spiders through on-page SEO. Among other tactics, this entails using search engine-friendly URLs. Your URLs should accurately reflect the content of your page. Next, make sure your site’s easy to navigate. “For an additional SEO boost, include links to pages you want visible to search engines and visitors on the home page,” adds Clarke.

If your site loads like you’re waiting for a red light to turn green, this could hamper your search engine results. Plus, beware of duplicate content that might cause you to be penalized. Other tricks of the trade include controlling your site’s snippets, building backlinks, and maintaining an active and consistent social media campaign.

Content and Your Online Success

In her book, in her book, Own Your Niche: Hype-Free Internet Marketing Tactics to Establish Authority in Your Field and Promote Your Service-Based Business, Stephanie Chandler notes that the number one tactic to build your audience and establish your authority online is to produce a lot of content. “This includes writing on blogs. And today you have to not only have your own blog – so that you can publish whatever you want, whenever you want to – but you must also guest post on other blogs.”

A first step is to begin by producing and distributing content: press releases, feature-length articles, and blog posts. It may be that your local chamber has additional tools at your disposal, especially if you are a member. One of our clients, located in Tennessee, has access to that state’s tourism site, https://www.tnvacation.com, for example. The client’s sales team can use the site in various ways, such as helping visitors plan their vacation and promising free tickets to events.  

How about having your satisfied customers tell their story through personal testimonials in the form of Case Studies to use as articles and blog posts. Once these are posted on your own blog site, they can be offered to prominent (and not-so-prominent) travel bloggers to use as free content. Don’t forget about curating content for your blogging and micro-blogging from other sources.

Build media relationships. Put together a proprietary database of media contacts for your local media as well as media in your target markets. An extension of this effort would be to build backlinks to publications’ and organizations’ websites and connect with editors and publishers through LinkedIn. Using a media CRM such as Cision comes with a $2,000-plus price tag, but is great if you can swing it.

Learn from competitors. Utilize Google Alerts and other means to track online activity of your competitors. Chandler writes, “You don’t have to contact competitors to learn from them.” She recommends reviewing their on- and off-line materials, studying their services, and paying attention to how they promote themselves.

“Pay attention to where they advertise and what kind of media coverage they have received.”  She mentions that being aware of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses will also help you respond to any questions you might get from prospective clients.

Social Media. “Many of the independent studies on Google’s ranking algorithm show a large correlation with high-ranking pages having strong social media activity,” says Clarke. “While the official stance from Google is that they do not directly use social signals in their algorithm, the SEO community pretty much agrees it is certainly a factor in achieving rankings.”

Blogging and Other Secrets

As I wrote in my May 2018 Resort Trades article, “4 Reasons Why Blogging is Still Relevant” (https://resorttrades.com/4-reasons-why-blogging-is-still-relevant), blogging helps you 1) optimize your website, 2) connect with the right customers and connect more frequently, 3) maintain archived content that continues to work for you, and 4) connect with customers.

Remember to focus on quality, not just volume. In my September 2018 Resort Trades article, “Online Lead Generation: Pipe Dream or Full Pipeline?,” I discuss ideal article lengths by referring to an article in Forbes written by John Rampton in 2016 (forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2016/05/05/7-seo-trends-every-small-business-needs-to-know). Rampton says, “Searchmetrics, for instance, found that the top 10 pages contained an average of 1,285 words. serpIQ, on the other hand, has found 1,500 words to be a good target length.”

Another article suggests the number may eventually change as more readers sign on with mobile devices. According to a post by snapagency.com, (snapagency.com/blog/posts-2018-whats-best-length-seo), “In the past couple years, the best post length for SEO was around 2,000 words. Longer blog posts ranked better, but evidence also seems to suggest that readers don’t typically want to read posts this long.”

The Be-All/End-All

“One of the most powerful on-page SEO strategies is adding more unique, fresh content to your site,” observes Clarke. “If you consistently add new pages to your site, you are going to receive more traffic. In fact, not only can you increase your traffic, you can receive an exponential traffic increase as you publish more content.

“It’s a no-brainer when you think about it. This is why blogs, publishing, and news-type sites consistently get good results in search engines. More contact means more rankings, more visitors, and more sales.”

Finally, a word about quality: If you’re planning to handle the creation and distribution of content, yourself, you may wish to reconsider. Are you going to be able to produce and distribute quality materials consistently? You may well have the intellectual capacity to research, write, post and follow through with the various tasks to optimize your blogging activities. But, before tossing a new, and fairly weighty, additional burden into your in-basket, make sure you have the time to make it a priority. Otherwise, you may be better off outsourcing your company’s online content production.

Sharon Scott Wilson is Publisher of Resort Trades and Golf Course Trades magazines.  Her firm, SharonINK – providing clients with B2B and B2C content – recently became a subsidiary of The Trades Publishing Company and is now called SharonINK/THE TRADES.

SharonINK Joins The Trades Publishing Company

By Sharon Scott Wilson

Jack Richardson at The Trades Publishing Company gave me a call in 1993 to ask if I would begin writing a monthly column for its publication Resort Trades. I had met Jack and his boss, Trades Owner/Publisher Tim Wilson, in 1989 while I worked for ARDA (or, ARRDA at that time). Jack passed away several years later; Tim and I continue to remember him fondly.

After I established my PR and content marketing company, SharonINK in 2006, I continued to write for The Trades. Tim and I married in 2013 and in 2017 Tim asked me to take over as publisher of The Trades’ two publications, Resort Trades and Golf Course Trades. Resort Trades’ audience consists of vacation providers, including timeshare resorts, travel companies, membership clubs, and rental companies. Readers of Golf Course Trades are course owners, operators, and superintendents interested in staying current with their industry.

With the advent of digital media, both titles began to explore the opportunities inherent with the ability to offer a full marketing mix. Because The Trades can now offer a multi-channel approach to help vendors use both the power of print and the reach of the Internet to promote their products, it made sense to add another feature – Content Marketing – to the company toolbox. Engrossed as I was by my duties as publisher and media director for Tim’s housing development, I decided to fold the writing and promotional services from SharonINK into The Trades as THE TRADES INK with its access to a fine team of writers, copy editors, graphic designers, and digital experts.

Perhaps the most significant initiative of THE TRADES is our investment in search engine optimization (SEO). We recently promoted Carrie Vandever to the position of Digital Media Manager. She will be in charge of managing and leading content for the company’s various digital assets including ResortTrades.com, the Resort Trades Weekly eNewsletter, GolfCourseTrades.com, the Golf Course Trades Supplier Directory, the Golf Course Trades Weekly eNewsletter, and all social media platforms. She will also provide leadership in directing the development of The Trades’ search engine optimization (SEO) activities.

The Trades’ SEO Initiative

At our home headquarters, we have been passing around a game-changing book by Will Coombe entitled, 3 Months to No. 1. Resort marketing and human resource professionals who excel at ranking at the top of Google searches are finding the effort to learn this craft extremely useful.

Coombe appropriately bills his masterpiece as “the ‘no-nonsense’ SEO playbook for getting your website found on Google.” Besides recommending it wholeheartedly to our readers, we’ve made the book — particularly his step-by-step, week-by-week “SEO Blueprint and Checklist” — our new corporate user’s manual.

The reason we’re giving this so much of our attention should be evident: We want to serve our readers, to give them enough value that they’ll keep coming back. As they continue to review our material, we receive our reward — higher Google ratings. And as Resort Trades receives higher ratings, so do our advertisers…. Win-win!

I don’t know why it took me so long to fully appreciate the value of SEO; to ‘get it.’ But since I’ve been through my Great Awakening, I’ve taken on the mantle of evangelist. I find myself talking about it to everyone I know!

 My message is perhaps being preached to the choir: In online marketing — whether you’re appealing as a vendor to professionals in the resort/vacation/resort rental business, or you are marketing a resort product to consumers, for example — you can compete virtually with any competitor. It’s just a matter of appearing higher on a Google SERP (search engine results page) than others.

When resort marketers or vendors become complacent and feel their reputation is well established and they are being followed by loyal customers: Bang! Along comes a disruptive interloper. And these days, more often than not, the obtrusive intruder grabs your customer’s attention by appearing above you on a SERP!

Try This at Home:

First Step: Keyword Research. You’ll want to use Google’s Keyword Planner Tool whether or not you are buying an ad. It’s free, but you have to work around a pretty persistent series of landing pages insisting you sign up for an advertising campaign. Visit Joshua Hardwick’s blog post https://ahrefs.com/blog/google-keyword-planner/ for a step-by-step guide to avoid the expense. Another really helpful site is Neil Patel’s blog, https://neilpatel.com/ubersuggest/

How important is Content Marketing? It is 100 percent, absolutely, totally vital. There is a delicately balanced mixture of art and science involved in pleasing the Google algorithm deities and one of the major offerings you must present at its unholy altar (no offense, Google…just trying to make a point) is a consistent, intelligent, and keyword-clever volume of content.

If perhaps you’re wondering where to start, my advice is simple: study the blogs and books coming from the most notable SEO gurus and, meanwhile, start building a volume of work in the form of blogs and posts.

Just a few tips:

  • Be likeable; show you’re human. People buy from those they know, like and trust.
  • Create a sense of belonging. Resorts are often very good at making their guests feel they are part of an exclusive group. Wine and dine them, woo them like a lover.
  • Use storytelling whenever possible. Your blogs, your collateral and your social media will be most effective when you tell a story featuring people. Storytelling is the most compelling promotional tool you have.
  • Use events whenever possible. Ask a car salesman or a realtor. They will tell you that the words “Grand Opening” or “Super Sales Event” draws a crowd, even though the prices and offerings are the same on a non-event day.
  • Being different is better than being better (unless you get weird). Here’s where having a sizable volume of good, solid content can set you apart.
  • Focus on leads, not sales.

Blog Away, Oh Pilgrim!

How do you build content? Blog! Here are some more tips:

  • Pay careful attention to writing attention-grabbing headlines in your blog and social media posts. The best headlines create surprise, ask a question or create curiosity.
  • Use your keywords in headlines and the text whenever possible. Use pictures everywhere. Pictures and videos with people telling their own stories, your story…any story…are hot these days.
  • If you’re studying this post, you are probably a perfectionist seeking to produce highly researched and well-written materials. While it is important to create as grammatically correct and accurate posts, try to not procrastinate. Experts say, get it out there..
  • We didn’t have a chance to discuss cross linking in this post; I guess that’s worth a post all by itself. All of your online efforts are intended to drive traffic to your website.

It has been suggested you should add a landing page to every URL.I confess to be behind the times when it comes to adding these to my own sites. (Do as I say; not as I do!) Offer some special information in exchange for contact information. People are accustomed to being asked to give something to get something. But provide a landing page as an option for viewers to fill out, whether it’s gated or open.

All in all, remember that SEO is a lifestyle change, not a diet. Make it your marketing priority and don’t assume you will ever catch up totally with All Knowledge. Things are happening too quickly out there; just do your best. And good luck!

Sharon Scott Wilson is Publisher and Managing Partner at The Trades Publishing Company, a media and digital content marketing company located in Crossville, Tennessee. The Trades produces multi-media channels supporting resort and rental marketing professionals, golf course owners and superintendents, and a niche community of luxury homes with attached, fully-enclosed RV garages. GardensRV.com; ResortTrades.com; GolfCourseTrades.com.

Think Like an Egyptian

By Sharon Scott Wilson, RRP

In his best-selling book, Making Ideas Happen, Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, Scott Belsky writes, “Ideas don’t happen because they are great – or by accident. The misconception that great ideas inevitably lead to success has prevailed for too long. Whether you have the perfect solution for an everyday problem or a bold new concept for a creative masterpiece, you must transform vision into reality. Far from being some stroke of creative genius, this capacity to make ideas happen can be developed by anyone. [Emphasis added.] You just need to modify your organizational habits, engage a broader community, and develop your leadership capability.

Just think about that for a second. Anybody – you, your kid, your best friend – anyone can make ideas happen. Belsky says, “Everything in life should be approached as a project. Every project can be broken down into just three things: Action Steps, Backburner Items, and References.” This is how the Egyptians built the pyramids, one brick at a time. Surely Leonardo da Vinci had more ideas than one person could possibly handle; but by taking action, he produced some of the finest art the world has ever seen.

My friend and a loyal Resort Trades supporter, Kevin Mattoni, gets things done. I remember when he first came to us and spoke of his new business, C.A.R.S. I first met Kevin in 1992; I believe it was in Sarasota. He was a partner with Sharon and Richard Cunningham, founders of Cunningham Property Management. Today, he is managing partner of the company. At that time, Kevin was responsible for finding an answer for the financial needs of a number of timeshare resorts that had been impacted by the S&L fallout in the late ‘80s. The original developers of the resorts had defaulted on their acquisition construction loans, the banks were now the owner, and the banks were not willing to fund the resort’s operational expenses. The properties and all the deeded owners were in jeopardy. Kevin needed to immediately generate income to remain open.

ACTION STEPS: As Kevin tells it, “Everything started with organizing the inventory to implement rentals, then sales, then all the legal work to inevitably sell out the inventory. Because we had no funding, we needed to rely on our industry contacts for advice, advertising, marketing, everything.” The result is all the Cunningham managed resorts are operating today, continually receive the highest ratings, and are financially viable.

The next challenge Mattoni took on while managing The Cunningham Family of Companies and their asset recovery division was how to gain industry recognition and obtain executed agreements from resorts in several states to efficiently and economically resolve their delinquent intervals by using non-judicial foreclosure. The launch of Cunningham Asset Recovery Service (C.A.R.S.) was the result.

ACTION STEPS: When Kevin had the idea for C.A.R.S. his goal was to make the entire process easy for the client. He based his service on utilizing the software that resorts were already using, an accounts receivable program. Kevin developed an easy program to track the status of every existing and potential client. “I don’t have the best memory and didn’t want our success to depend on that. Working with management software already in place and then bringing in what was needed for tracking, sending emails, surveys, it allowed me to stay organized.” The result is that C.A.R.S. is one of the leaders in providing these services to associations, developers, and lenders. “This was all accomplished within 3 years”

It wasn’t a miracle that produced the Mona Lisa, raised the pyramids, or established C.A.R.S. As Mattoni says “To turn dreams into reality, we need to work and live with a focus on efficient action, getting something accomplished every day as if our livelihood depended on it.

Sharon Scott Wilson is publisher of Resort Trades and Golf Course Trades magazines.  Her firm, SharonINK – providing clients with B2B and B2C content – recently became a subsidiary of The Trades Publishing Company.

George H.W. Bush & Anthony Bourdain: Lessons Learned

By Sharon Scott Wilson

The recent passing of Anthony Bourdain and George H.W. Bush affected me deeply. I am still not over Bourdain who hosted the hit television commentary series on CNN, “Parts Unknown” and committed suicide in June. After news of President Bush’s passing, I found myself weeping almost every day. I wept not only for Bush, but for Bourdain, as well…and, most likely for my own mortality.

It seemed to me that each of these men had such exceptional qualities; they each had a quiet dignity. I am holding onto a sense of regret that I had not better appreciated them while they lived.

Yes, I’m sure that Bourdain had his moments when he terrorized his staff and tortured his loved ones. I remember hearing him refer to himself as an a**hole. One of his crew said of him, “Sure, he was a d*ck; but, he was our d*ck.”

Although I did not vote for him, President Bush appealed to me as being a dignified, idealistic gentleman. He may have appeared to have been almost too milk-toast to survive in the rough waters of American politics…or, any communal gathering for that matter. (Take any homeowner association as an example of political rancor and discordance, for example.) Of course, I have lately come to learn that self- restraint takes more strength of character than hot-headedness, vitriol, and sharp-shooting remarks.

One of the lessons I wish to learn from them both is how to truly connect with people. Take Bourdain, for instance. He touched people. He had genuine respect for and interest in those who, like himself, overcame great odds. Bush was famous for writing personal notes and letters to perhaps thousands of individuals.

We read in littlebaomay’s comments to Bourdain on Instagram: “Happy to be touched by you in what you stand for and what you pursue. To know that you were going to shoot our restaurant, felt like winning a lottery or a dream manifested. To meet you and to instantly know you are exactly how I thought you would be. A hero exploring the truth through food and travel. You beat the harsh hours of being a chef. You beat the heroine. You beat the cocaine. You made a life of yourself inspiring millions, living a dream life with truth that not many know how to live….” She writes further about the curse of depression, which was Bourdain’s final blow; his invincible challenge. At last she writes, “Love him and celebrate him. Remember him for his work but also spend time to read and learn more about depression because we can still share awareness in protecting those around us. Thank you @anthonybourdain.”

We get a more direct life lesson from President Bush: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.” (Courtesy of #WebNerds on Instagram.) The Washington Post wrote, “In 1988, Mr. Bush gave a list of the qualities he most cherished to Peggy Noonan, who wrote his speech accepting that year’s Republican presidential nomination. They were: ‘family, kids, grandkids, love, decency, honor, pride, tolerance, hope, kindness, loyalty, freedom, caring, heart, faith, service to country, fair (fair play), strength, healing, excellence.’”

Two very different men and, yet, vivid reminders that each of us will leave a legacy. For what will you be remembered, do you think? I hope to be remembered for having Bourdain’s insatiable curiosity and creativity, joined with a love for people. Plus, I would love to be known today, even while still alive, for any and all of the qualities listed Bush listed for Peggy Noonan but chiefly for tolerance, hope, kindness, and loyalty.

For whatever qualities we wish to be remembered, we need to exercise them every day. As the Bible says in Proverbs 23, verse 7, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

Photo Credit: (c) 2013 Sharon Scott Wilson; Autumn, from "The Door Series."

 

Online Marketing on Tablet

Recap: Online marketing techniques you must try in 2019!

By Sharon Scott Wilson

We posted these tips last year and think they are applicable now. Here’s what we said then:

It’s easier to catch a scampering mouse than to stay current with Google’s mercurial algorithm. Plus, experts say a goldfish has a greater attention span than a human in today’s online environment. That means you have less than eight seconds to make an impact! But does this make marketers in the resort industry give up on online marketing? No way! Your attempts may not be as trumpeted (pardon the pun) as often as those from the Tweeter-in-Chief, but here are a few tactics to help you enhance your game:

Dramatic messaging

People respond emotionally, which means you still need to follow the strictures of the human psyche. This is where even a small company can get ahead if you just use your noggin:

  1. Your blogs, your collateral, and your social media will be most effective when you tell a story featuring people. Touch them! Reach them on that emotional level.
  2. Your business is NOT a commodity; it’s unique and special. Make your customer feel that. Let them know they are part of an inner circle; they belong.
  3. Dramatic comes from the root word, “drama,” after all. So, build some in. Use rituals, symbols and events whenever possible. Ask your typical realtor. They will tell you that the words “Grand Opening” or “Super Sales Event” draws a crowd, even though the prices and offerings are the same on a non-event day.
  4. Being different is better than being better (unless you get weird). Why, one might ask, does the rather ordinary squirrel picture labeled “cute and friendly” get 158 ‘likes’ while the squirrel brutally taking down a stuffed animal and ripping it to shreds gets 1,000? I rest my case.

Weaponize your website

Blog! Analysts who track Google’s algorithm processes say that blogging – optimally with 1500-word-or-greater posts, complemented by a mélange of social media interaction, all with the intent of driving traffic to your website, will rule in 2018.

Install landing pages. (Check out www.instapage.com or www.hubspot.com for the latest on these.) Create a calendar for when you will blog, post to social media, and buy pay-per-click (PPC) ads. (By the way, explore PPC. It is instant SEO [Search Engine Optimization] bait.) As for the site itself, the most valuable real estate is the left-hand side. Get viewers to your call to action with a solid landing page. Hold in mind, viewers read websites in the shape of an “F.” (Who knew?)

Sock-it-to-‘em headlines

As far as what to include in your blogging and socializing, the number one rule is to pay careful attention to writing attention-grabbing headlines in your blog and social media posts. The best headlines create surprise, ask a question or create curiosity. Use your keywords in headlines and the text whenever possible.

Use pictures everywhere. Pictures and videos with people telling their own stories, your story…any story…are what’s hot these days. These are tools to make your stories come alive and help prospects see themselves as part of your world.

Free online marketing advice

There are a number of free or low-cost software systems to help schedule, manage and track posts, including buffer.com, zoho.com, hootsuite.com, and postplanner.com.

You can find free guidance for social media best practices from sites such as salesforce.com, mashable.com and guykawasaki.com. At least for now in 2018, you’ll need a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and perhaps to LinkedIn and Google+.

If you’re delving into online marketing for the first time, rest assured, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take it a step at a time, give yourself a pat on the back, and remind yourself occasionally about how far you’ve come.

10 Ways Your Brain is Being Hijacked

In twelve-to-fifteen easy minutes (more if you’re a ‘stop-and-think-about-it’ kind of person), you can learn ten ways in which Tristan Harris says online product designers try to exploit your mind’s weaknesses. In his 2016 blog, “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind,” Harris – a co-founder of Center for Humane Technology, Ex-Google Design Ethicist, and one-time CEO of Apture (a company which was acquired by Google) – shares how the game is played to grab your attention and steal your valuable time.

Courtesy of the site, thriveglobal.com, it’s an easy read that shares a wealth of hard-earned wisdom. In 2016, Tristan left Google to work full-time on “reforming the attention economy with the non-profit initiative, Time Well Spent. Time Well Spent aims to catalyze a rapid, coordinated change among technology companies through public advocacy, the development of ethical design standards, design education and policy recommendations to protect minds from nefarious manipulation.” Some highlights he shares about how our dependence on technology are worth thinking about. He calls them “Hijacks”:

Hijack #1: If You Control the Menu, You Control the Choices. He points out that when presented with a list of choices, people rarely ask why their thought processes have been limited to just those specific items.

“The more choices technology gives us in nearly every domain of our lives (information, events, places to go, friends, dating, jobs) — the more we assume that our phone is always the most empowering and useful menu to pick from,” he says. “Is it?”

He argues that technology is reframing the way we perceive our world and the choices we are able to make each day. “By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we are given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.”

Hijack #2: Put a Slot Machine In a Billion Pockets. Just as gambling is addictive when the occasional win hits the addict’s pleasure center, another way to hijack your attention is to throw in some sort of reward now and then. “When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got,” he suggests. “When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got. When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next. When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match. When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.”

It’s easy to see why Americans typically check their email an average of 150 times a day!

Hijack #3: Fear of Missing Something Important (FOMSI). The chance you’ll miss something important is perhaps only one percent, argues Harris. “If I convince you that I’m a channel for important information, messages, friendships, or potential sexual opportunities — it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because (aha, I win) you might miss something important.”

What an enormous time-waster! Harris says, “Imagine if tech companies recognized that, and helped us proactively tune our relationships with friends and businesses in terms of what we define as ‘time well spent’ for our lives, instead of in terms of what we might miss.

Hijack #4: Social Approval. We’ve been taught all our lives to “speak when spoken to.” We find it impossible to resist providing a response to being tagged, liked, befriended, or sent a comment.

Harris observes, “Everyone innately responds to social approval, but some demographics (teenagers) are more vulnerable to it than others. That’s why it’s so important to recognize how powerful designers are when they exploit this vulnerability.”

Hijack #5: Social Reciprocity (Tit-for-tat). Following closely is our sense of responsibility to reciprocate when we perceive someone (or some entity) has given us a favor of some kind, such as following us on Twitter or liking us on Facebook. “Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories. But in other cases, companies exploit this vulnerability on purpose.”

“LinkedIn is the most obvious offender,” he says. “LinkedIn wants as many people creating social obligations for each other as possible, because each time they reciprocate (by accepting a connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a skill) they have to come back to linkedin.com where they can get people to spend more time….”

“Imagine millions of people getting interrupted like this throughout their day, running around like chickens with their heads cut off, reciprocating each other — all designed by companies who profit from it. Welcome to social media.”

Hijack #6: Bottomless bowls, Infinite Feeds, and Autoplay. We’ve all been there: You go to watch a cute little kitty video and the next thing you know, an hour has passed and you’re watching a Beyoncé video.

“Tech companies exploit the same principle. News feeds are purposely designed to auto-refill with reasons to keep you scrolling, and purposely eliminate any reason for you to pause, reconsider or leave.”

Hijack #7: Instant Interruption vs. “Respectful” Delivery. Companies have learned to float in or pop up messages that demand a response before the user feels free to return to the original content.

“Given the choice, Facebook Messenger (or WhatsApp, WeChat or SnapChat for that matter) would prefer to design their messaging system to interrupt recipients immediately (and show a chat box) instead of helping users respect each other’s attention.”

Harris observes how the increased incidence throughout social media and on websites is becoming more than just a nuisance. “The problem is, maximizing interruptions in the name of business creates a tragedy of the commons, ruining global attention spans and causing billions of unnecessary interruptions each day. This is a huge problem we need to fix with shared design standards (potentially, as part of Time Well Spent).”

Hijack #8: Bundling Your Reasons with Their Reasons. “Another way apps hijack you is by taking your reasons for visiting the app (to perform a task) and make them inseparable from the app’s business reasons (maximizing how much we consume once we’re there).”

“For example, in the physical world of grocery stores, the #1 and #2 most popular reasons to visit are pharmacy refills and buying milk. But grocery stores want to maximize how much people buy, so they put the pharmacy and the milk at the back of the store.

“In other words, they make the thing customers want (milk, pharmacy) inseparable from what the business wants. If stores were truly organized to support people, they would put the most popular items in the front.”

“Tech companies design their websites the same way. For example, when you you want to look up a Facebook event happening tonight (your reason) the Facebook app doesn’t allow you to access it without first landing on the news feed (their reasons), and that’s on purpose. Facebook wants to convert every reason you have for using Facebook, into their reason which is to maximize the time you spend consuming things.”

Harris wants us to imagine a more humane tech world. “Imagine if web browsers empowered you to navigate directly to what you want — especially for sites that intentionally detour you toward their reasons.

Hijack #9: Inconvenient Choices. “Businesses naturally want to make the choices they want you to make easier, and the choices they don’t want you to make harder….

“For example, NYTimes.com lets you “make a free choice” to cancel your digital subscription. But instead of just doing it when you hit ‘Cancel Subscription,’ they send you an email with information on how to cancel your account by calling a phone number that’s only open at certain times.’

Who hasn’t run into this kind of scenario?

Hijack #10: Forecasting Errors, “Foot in the Door” strategies. It’s the age-old bait-and-switch technique and it’s becoming more and more commonplace. “People don’t intuitively forecast the true cost of a click when it’s presented to them,” says Harris. “Sales people use ‘foot in the door’ techniques by asking for a small innocuous request to begin with (‘just one click to see which tweet got retweeted’) and escalate from there (‘why don’t you stay awhile?’). Virtually all engagement websites use this trick.

“Imagine if web browsers and smartphones, the gateways through which people make these choices, were truly watching out for people and helped them forecast the consequences of clicks (based on real data about what benefits and costs it actually had?).”

That’s why Harris added an estimated reading time of twelve minutes to the top of his post. “When you put the “true cost” of a choice in front of people, you’re treating your users or audience with dignity and respect. In a Time Well Spent internet, choices could be framed in terms of projected cost and benefit, so people were empowered to make informed choices by default, not by doing extra work.”

“We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights.”