Word Clouds from Biden and Trump Presidential Candidate Websites

Summary: Word clouds from each of the major parties’ 2020 presidential candidate websites, joebiden.com and donaldjtrump.com, reveal much about the candidates, their messaging and tactics, and what they feel will motivate the American voters. And as an added bonus, I do a brief SEO analysis of the candidates websites. 

Compare and Contrast of Word Clouds from Biden and Trump Presidential Candidate Websites

Word clouds can be a fun and informative way to quickly assess a large body of text, so I thought it would be cool to create a word cloud for each of the 2020 presidential candidates from the major parties, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, that would encapsulate the primary messages of their candidacies. Word cloud software, for those who don’t know, allow you to input large quantities of text and it will put the text into a cloud of words where the bigger the word, the more frequently the word was used in the text.

I thought it would be interesting to place the Biden and Trump word clouds side by side to compare and contrast them, and that is exactly what you’ll find in this completely non-partisan analysis. I wanted to grab all the text from the joebiden.com and donaldjtrump.com websites and plug them each into a word cloud generator. However, I couldn’t find any free and easy software to do that, so then my professional search engine optimization (SEO) brain kicked in and thought to use SEO software to scan their website. After completing the SEO scan of each site, I grabbed all the page titles and meta descriptions of each page, as well as all H1 and H2 headlines, and dumped them into the word cloud generator.

I started this project to see if I could get a word cloud to represent what each of the candidates stand for, what are the primary issues they care about, and what are the main messages they are trying to communicate. I think I definitely got that, but the exercise also taught me a lot of other things like common political campaign tactics used and what the American people likely care about when making their voting choices. This exercise also demonstrated how poorly the presidential candidates optimize their websites, which was an interesting tangent, but secondary to my purpose. If you are interested, click here to jump directly to the end to the SEO analysis of the presidential candidates’ websites for Joe Biden and Donald Trump. But now, let me take you step by step through my analysis and the insights I have drawn out of it. And please comment to share your insights as well after you look through the details.

Round 1: All Words from SEO Scrape of Biden’s and Trump’s Websites

In round one, I used all the words from the titles, descriptions, and headlines of the Joe Biden and Donald Trump campaign websites. First, in blue, is Biden’s, followed by Trump’s in red.

Obviously, the most prominent words on each of their websites are their own names. (It’s no wonder so many of our politicians suffer from narcissism.) After generating these first word clouds, I didn’t think it was telling me much about what I was aiming for, like the substance of their campaign message and issues. Of course, later I realized it was telling me exactly what the presidential race is all about–Biden, the person vs Trump, the person.

Round 2: Word Clouds Excluding Their Names and Text like Official, Campaign, and Website

Still, I wanted to get to more substance, so I removed the candidate’s own names from the word clouds, along with heavily used filler words like Official, Campaign, and Website. And here’s what round two of the word clouds looked like–again, first is Biden in blue, then Trump in red.

Now we are starting to get somewhere. In the round-two clouds above, the primary message of each campaign shines through bright and clear. You can see the frequent repetition of Biden’s two main campaign slogan’s, “Together, we will beat Donald Trump” and “Battle for the Soul of the Nation”. And you can’t miss Trump’s slogan coming through either, “Help continue our promise to Keep America Great.”

Round 3: Word Clouds additional excluding of their Primary Campaign Slogans

As revealing as the campaign slogans are, still I wanted to get to more substantive information on issues facing our country and where the candidates stand. So I conducted another round of word clouds, this time removing the additional words from the prominent campaign slogans revealed in round two. From Biden’s word cloud, I removed the words Together, Beat, Donald Trump, Battle, Soul, and Nation. From Trump’s I removed the words Promise, Continue, Help, Keep, America, and Great. Below is the result, Biden in blue, Trump in red.

These round 3 word clouds offered insights into the candidate’s next priority–connecting with supporters for get-out-the-vote purposes and for fund raising, directly or through merchandise sales. Again, this should not have surprised me, but it still didn’t get to the heart of what I was looking for. On to round four.

Round 4: Word Clouds excluding additional Words about Connecting with Voters

In my final round of removing additional words to try to get to the heart of the candidates’ message to voters, I removed the words Join, Team, Store, and Plan from the Joe Biden website. From the Donald Trump website word cloud I removed these additional words: Joe Biden, Vice, Mike Pence, Get, Involved, Watch, New, Live, Stay, Informed, SMS, and Email. And here are the results, Biden in blue, Trump in red.

As you can see, on the fourth round, I am finally getting to the details of a wide variety of issues that the candidates are talking about. Many more filler words are obviously still in the word clouds, but some substantive messaging words start to stand out as well.

For Biden, I see these words stand out:

  • COVID-19 and Crisis: those are usually coupled together on the website.
  • Violence: a reference to his stand against gun violence and violence toward a variety of minority groups.
  • Education: a reference to a plan written about much on the site for education beyond high school.
  • Build, Community, and Women: These words are used in a variety of contexts and I think the message comes through regarding issues and constituency groups he is emphasizing.
  • Animal and Crossing: These words seemed odd to me, so I looked into it and apparently, you can download Biden campaign yard signs and other digital merchandise to integrate into the popular video game, Animal Crossing. That’s an interesting tactic.

For Trump’s website word cloud, these words stand out:

  • MAGAnomics: a reference to Trump’s economic plans but also seems to imply his energy plan.
  • Defense, Religious, and Liberty, often together: This is a reference to articles and policy statements about freedom of religion.
  • Hunter: This is a reference to Hunter Biden, Joe’s son, and the recent discovery of new information about his dealings in Russia, China, and Ukraine.
  • Supreme and Court: Obviously, the filling of the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court is a big issue for all parties.
  • Other words like Coronavirus, Seniors, and Condemns, which is used in conjunction with a wide variety of things about which he is condemning the other party and candidate.

Summary of Messages Revealed through Presidential Candidate Websites

Here’s a chart I put together to summarize the stand out messages from the four rounds of refinement I completed while developing the word clouds from the content of the presidential candidate websites.

Summary of Messages Revealed through Presidential Candidate Websites

Overall, I expected both Biden and Trump to have more substance and to make those substantive messages more prominent on their websites. But I guess I understand the approach taken, emphasizing first the candidate, then a major slogan, then connecting for communications and fund raising, and then, finally, the issues.

I suspect this order of messaging is also a reflection, for better or worse, on the American electorate and how they decide who to vote for. It is likely that people decide to vote based on, first, the personality of the candidate and if they like the person, second, on high-level yet largely meaningless slogans, third, on who has the most money and means of mass communications, and fourth, and unfortunately last, on where the candidate stands on important issues. I could comment more on the messages the two candidates selected to emphasize on their websites, but to keep this article non-partisan and since it is quite lengthy as it is, I think I’ll withhold further political analysis.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Analysis of Each Presidential Candidate Website

For those of you still with me (and I thank you for that), this exercise also revealed how poorly the presidential candidates’ websites employee search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. At first I was shocked at how miserable the SEO was on these sites, then I realized the staff operating these sites may operate from the perspective that they don’t need to optimize for search engines because their sites will rank well no matter what–search engines will direct users to these sites when it is clear they want information about the candidates.

But the thing is, SEO is NOT about optimizing the website for search engines, but rather optimizing it for search engine users. And so the fact that SEO best practices are not employed is a unfortunate sign of missed opportunities to connect with site visitors. Not optimizing implies a disregard for the user experience and means the site operators are more interested in pushing their message than helping the visitors find the information they seek.

Here’s some more details on the SEO analysis. For the SEO scan, I used Screaming Frog (the free version). This is not an endorsement of the product; I just wanted to be transparent. After completing the scan of each site, joebiden.com and donaldjtrump.com, I grabbed all the page titles, meta descriptions of each page, and all H1 and H2 headlines and placed them in the word cloud generator. Of course, in that process, I noticed much about the content of the sites and their lack of SEO-ness.

I first looked at the scan of joebiden.com and was surprised to find a third of all page titles starting “Joe Biden for President: Official Campaign Website”. That’s 50 characters, leaving little room for anything else in the title before the search engines truncate it on the results page. Then I looked at meta descriptions for the pages and found that most of Biden’s pages don’t have a meta description, and for those that do, there is a lot of repetition and some outright duplication. The H1 headlines had some duplication, but overall, they weren’t bad. H2 headlines, though, stated almost exclusively either “Together, we will beat Donald Trump” or “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” which leaves much to be desired from an SEO perspective.

Then I looked at donaldjtrump.com, thinking it couldn’t be worse than Biden’s, but I was wrong as I found it was just as bad. Trump had similar issues with lengthy and duplicate page titles. The scan returned a single phrased used as the meta description for almost every page that had one, “Help continue our promise to Keep America Great!” and a great many pages didn’t even have a description. Like Biden, Trump’s H1 headlines had some duplication, but overall, they weren’t bad. H2 headlines on Trump’s website were scarce.

Overall, it was clear in this brief analysis that these websites could do much better at communicating their messages in a search-engine-user-friendly fashion if they would just follow some of the most basic SEO best practices, like having:

  • Unique and meaningful page titles
  • Page descriptions that accurately and honestly convey the content of the page
  • Headlines that provide valuable additional detail

8 Ways Our Freedom of Religion Is Being Taken Away

8 Ways Our Freedom of Religion Is Being Taken AwayIn the church and in politics, we often hear about the need to defend religious freedom. Still, many people wonder, is this happening now or is this a warning about what could happen in the future? Is our freedom of religion being taken away? If so, in what way is our religious freedom being impeded?

As an example of that train of thought, I point you to a video of Ben Shapiro having a debate with a man on religious liberty (go to the 2:00 mark to see it). The man, a college professor who goes unnamed in the video, says those of us who think freedom of religion is being taken away are paranoid. He says in America, you are free to join whatever religion you want or have no religion. He says, “move to Egypt, or Pakistan, or Saudio Arabia, and then you can complain about a lack of religious liberty but not in America.”

If you feel the same as that college professor, keep reading. There are voluminous, alarming instances of freedom of religion being taken away, in the US and abroad. Most big media outlets are quite secular and thus their editorial boards often don’t find the loss of religious liberty to be newsworthy. But it is happening all around us, sometimes overtly, and often times in subtle ways.

In this article I will highlight eight ways our freedom of religion is being taken away. Some of these instances are about laws or situations that affect every one of us. Others are instances that only directly affect one person. But all of these instances affect us, directly or indirectly. Even if it is someone else’s freedom being eroded and not our own, we must speak up. As the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller said after the holocaust:

They came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me (“First They Came” by Martin Niemöller)

Before I get to the eight points where we are losing freedom of religion, let’s review the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that first inalienable human right enumerated there.  The Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Freedom of religion doesn’t just mean that you are free to believe what you want–it means you are free to exercise your religion. Having religious freedom means that people have the right to live, speak, and act according to their beliefs peacefully and publicly, without prohibition from the government.

Here are the eight ways, in no particular order, I have identified that our freedom of religion is being taken away:

Though this is not a comprehensive list, it should provide a good idea for the perilous situation we are presently in regarding freedom of religion. Let’s explore each one of these in more detail.

#1 We Are Forced to Financially Support Abortion

Most Christian churches and other faiths are religiously opposed to abortion. My church teaches that it is sinful to “submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for” abortions. Yet, in our country today, we are forced to financially support it in two ways: 1) if you are an employer, you must pay for employees’ abortion coverage, and 2) our tax dollars are given to abortion providers.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, mandated that employers pay for medical insurance, including abortion coverage and abortion inducing drugs. As originally passed, this law had only very few exceptions for churches. For private companies with Christian values, there was no exception and the ACA (Obamacare) required them to pay for abortion coverage even if they have a religious objection to it. Companies owned by devout Christians like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A had no exemption.

For 10 years, religious people have been fighting that aspect of the ACA and we’ve recently made some headway. In July 2020, the Trump administration won a key victory in the US Supreme Court and broad exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate are now available, “ensuring that most moral and religious objectors to birth control will not be required to cover it in employee health plans.” (see Supreme Court upholds exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, a victory for religious objectors) So thanks to God, and many good people fighting for it, this is a way religious liberty has been restored, at least a little.

The other way our freedom is restricted regarding abortion is when the government gives money, our taxes dollars, to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country. This is done on the federal level and by some state governments. “Planned Parenthood reported a record-high number of abortions and government funding for 2018-2019. …the annual report shows the group received $617 million in taxpayer funds for the fiscal year ending in June. That number represented roughly 37 percent of its overall funding and about a 9 percent increase from the previous year.” (see Planned Parenthood reports record-high abortions, taxpayer funding)

And another thing to consider for those religiously opposed to abortion is that the Hyde Amendment, which has prevented direct federal funding of abortion for 40 years, could be eliminated the next time a Democrat is elected. Repealing the Hyde Amendment has become a near universal plank of the Democrat party platform and the party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has pledged his support to repeal it (see Joe Biden Endorses Abortion ‘Under Any Circumstance’).

#2 Employers are firing people over their religion

Over the past few years, there have been several high-profile cases of people being fired from their jobs because of their religious beliefs. Here is a sampling:

  • In 2014, Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, the company that created the Firefox browser, was forced to resign because of his religious beliefs. Eich donated $1,000 in support of California Proposition 8, ballot initiative that successfully, yet temporarily, amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The resignation took place “under pressure after gay rights activists demanded that he step down or recant his support of traditional marriage laws” (see Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich forced to resign for supporting traditional marriage laws). “The company’s actions send the message that people are not entitled to hold their own beliefs, and said there was no evidence that Eich was trying to merge his beliefs with those of the company he led. Regardless of your views on marriage, any American who values the First Amendment should be deeply troubled that this man was essentially driven from his job because of his personal beliefs” (see Ouster of Mozilla CEO a ‘silencing of dissent,’ says lawmaker).
  • Also in 2014, HGTV was set to air a new series called “Flip It Forward” starring conservative Christian twin brothers David and Jason Benham. However, when efforts surfaced to “seeking to paint their views as hateful”, HGTV quickly cancelled the series (see HGTV Cancels Reality Show Starring Christian Twin Brothers Who Oppose Abortion, Homosexuality, Divorce).
  • In 2016, ESPN fired Curt Schilling for saying that biological men don’t belong in women’s bathrooms (see ESPN Has a Right to Fire Curt Schilling. What Rights Do People of Faith Have?).
  • More recently, in 2019, and across the pond, a UK doctor was forced out of his job after refusing to identify clients by their chosen gender instead of their biological sex. “Dr David Mackereth, who had been an NHS A&E doctor for 26 years, was forced out of his job working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after refusing to use ‘transgender pronouns’.” He said: “I believe gender is defined by biology and genetics. And that as a Christian the Bible teaches us that God made humans male or female.” A perhaps even more disturbing aspect of this case is the language the judge used in ruling against him.  The judge ruled that “belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals” (see Doctor’s Biblical belief ruled ‘incompatible with human dignity’).
  • Earlier this year was a story of Reagan Escudé who was fired over her religion. She “posted on social media a message about how to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with Christian principles in mind. Well, chaos ensued, and soon Reagan’s employer told her they were doing an investigation.” Ultimately she was fired (see Cancel Culture at Its Worst: Conservative FIRED for posting Christian message on ‘Black Lives Matter’)
  • Just this week, it was reported that two Kroger workers were fired after refusing to wear an LGBTQ apron. “The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against supermarket chain Kroger on behalf of [the] two women.”
  • And the following article is couched as a free speech issue, but I see it as a freedom of religion issue as well since we believe that God created “male and female” (Gen 1:27). Denver Post fires conservative columnist after he criticizes leftist notion that ‘there are more than two sexes’.

I could keep going. You may think these are isolated incidents that do not infringe on your personal religious liberty, but it certainly infringed on the religious liberty of those people. And if we don’t stand up and defend them when their rights are being trampled, what’s the likelihood anyone will be there to stand up for us when our freedom of religion is being violated.

#3 Business owners are being forced to participate in LGBTQ weddings

There have been numerous cases of wedding photographers, florists, and cake bakers who have been ordered to participate in gay and lesbian weddings or suffer the penalty of losing their businesses. Here are some of those:

#4 Adoption agencies’ freedom to place children with heterosexual couples is up in the air

Christian adoption agencies frequently exclude gay couples and unmarried people from receiving children based on their beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman and that such a family is the best situation in which children should be raised. However, that could all change depending on how the US Supreme Court rules on a case now before it.

In June 2020, the Justice Department submitted a brief to the Supreme Court “arguing that a taxpayer-funded organization should be able to refuse to work with same-sex couples and others whom the group considers to be in violation of its religious beliefs.” (see Adoption agency should be able to reject gay couples, Trump administration argues)

This case is ongoing, so the ultimate outcome is still up in the air. See these other related stories:

  • “A Syracuse Christian adoption agency says it doesn’t take gay or unmarried couples as adoptive parents because it’s not “in the best interests of children.” New York has said New Hope Family Services will face closure if it doesn’t comply with the state’s anti-discrimination law.” (see Can CNY Christian adoption agency exclude gays, unmarried couples? NY law faces high-profile court test)
  • In 2013, “After Massachusetts redefined marriage to include same-sex relationships, Catholic Charities of Boston faced a mandate to place children with same-sex couples. Rather than go against its principles, Catholic Charities decided to get out of the adoption business.” (see Yes, Threats to Religious Liberty Happen Here)

#5 Churches’ worship services and religious practices are being cancelled by government

This issue has come up during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it reveals a much more deeply rooted problem of religious observations being trampled by the government. In June 2020, Elder David A. Bednar of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave several examples of the loss of religious freedom. He said: “we can no more disregard the valid claims of religious freedom in a time of crisis than we can disregard the valid claims of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. …religion should not be treated less favorably than analogous secular activities.” He continued…

“For example, the orders of one state barred Catholic priests from anointing a parishioner with holy oil in the performance of last rites—even if the person was not sick with COVID-19, even if the priest and parishioner were protected with masks and gloves, and even if the oil was applied with a swab. In the same state, my Church could not perform baptisms even under the safest of conditions. Protecting a person’s physical health from the coronavirus is, of course, important, but so is a person’s spiritual health. That same state allowed lawyers to meet with people to administer to their legal needs, allowed doctors to meet with people to administer to their health needs, and allowed caregivers to administer food to satisfy nutritional needs. But it did not allow a clergyperson to administer to a person’s religious needs, even when the risk of all these activities was essentially the same. This example and many more like it illustrate a profound devaluing of religion. We can and must do better.”

Here are some other recent examples of governments restricting the freedom of religion:

  • June 2020: “New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dismissed a reporter’s question about why mass protests are allowed in New York City while COVID-19 is still present, but the mayor aggressively cracked down on religious gatherings.” (see Mayor de Blasio questioned for allowing protests but not church)
  • July 2020: Mike Lee and nine other Republican senators sent a letter to Trump saying there are “reported cases of state and localities prohibiting [churches] from reopening safely despite compliance with safety precautions ..discriminatory behavior violates our Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom” (see GOP senators urge Trump to defend religious freedom)
  • In April 2020, in Greenville, MS, “church congregants stayed in their cars with their windows rolled up while listening to Pastor Arthur Scott preach from inside the empty Go Church building.” Yet “police shut down its drive-in service this week in accordance with a city ban on the practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic” and “police officers reportedly issued $500 tickets to congregants who refused to leave a parking lot where a drive-in service was being conducted” (see Mississippi church sues police after congregants ticketed during drive-in service).

#6 People of faith are being prevented from participating in sports activities

In Aug 2016, “25 groups dedicated to advancing the LGBT rights’ movement have signed on to a letter urging the Big 12, which is considering a team expansion, to turn a blind eye on Brigham Young University (BYU).” Why do they want to exclude BYU from the Big 12? It is because of BYU’s religious standards that homosexual behavior is inappropriate. (see LGBTs vs. First Amendment: The Fight for Religious Freedom Ratchets)

In July 2019, Jaelene Hinkle was in the news because of her respectful but firm religious stance about LGBTQ issues. In this case, her faith seems to have cost her a spot on the U.S. national women’s soccer team. “Christian soccer player Jaelene Hinkle has withdrawn from the U.S. Soccer team just two weeks after the organization announced that members of both the men’s and women’s teams will be donning rainbow-colored jerseys in honor of LGBT pride month.” (see Christian soccer player withdraws as US team is set to wear LGBT pride jerseys)

#7 Schools Are Undermining Parental Rights on Morality and Sex Education

Again, the cases are numerous in which parents’ God-given rights and responsibilities to education their children about morality and sexual activity is being circumvented by government schools. Perhaps the most alarming is what is coming with what is called Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). In CSE, which has been adopted in many states in our country, “they’re teaching kids — as early as kindergarten — masturbation, anal sex, transgenderism, and abortion” (see The radical sex agenda corrupting your kid). Couple that with many teachers viewing parents as the enemy and doing their best to hide what is being taught, and you’ve got a school taking away parents’ rights (see Teachers Openly Fret That Might Hear Them Brainwashing Children, Call Parents ‘Dangerous’). One teacher said, ”I am most intrigued by the damage that helicopter parents can do in the conversations about gender/sexuality. And …conservative parents are my chief concern.”

Here are some more articles over the past few years about schools undermining parents’ God-given rights to oversee their children’s education, particularly sex education:

  • Several years ago, the state of California passed “a bill that would make the state the first requiring public schools to include the contributions of gays and lesbians in social studies curriculum…It also would prohibit material that reflects adversely on gays…Republicans called it a well-intentioned but ill-conceived bill and raised concerns that it would indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality.” (see Bill Mandating Gay History in Schools Goes to Calif. Governor)
  • Over the years, several states have followed the lead from CA. In Aug 2019, Illinois became “the latest state to expand its definition of American history. …Illinois the fourth state to requiring public schools to teach LGBT history.” (see These States Require Schools to Teach LGBT History)
  • 2013: “Girls dress as boys and boys dress as girls. Gender switching is what a group of young school children are learning at one Milwaukee school” (see ‘Gender Bender Day’ at school)
  • In Colorado in 2020: “Among the most controversial laws that passed last year was the comprehensive human sexuality education mandate which ripped local control away from your neighborhood school board. Now if your school district wants to teach even basic sex ed, the teacher must also teach the “health needs” of LGBT individuals. Among the most controversial laws that passed last year was the comprehensive human sexuality education mandate which ripped local control away from your neighborhood school board. Now if your school district wants to teach even basic sex ed, the teacher must also teach the “health needs” of LGBT individuals.” (see Colorado Dems should let sun shine on their hospital fees and sex-ed curriculum)
  • This and the follow article are from Great Britain, so this should be a warning that similar issues could reach our shores soon. In 2017, a book explaining sex changes and gender diversity given to to UK primary school children sparked a fury.
  • And in 2009 in the UK was this headline: Parents lose right over sex education. “Sex education will be compulsory in all schools, it was announced today, as thousands of parents lose the right to opt their children out of the lessons.”

#8 Some government institutions are banning God and religion

In 2015, “a student at Yulee High School said ‘God bless America, keep us safe’ at the end of the school announcements.” Two offended atheist students “sent a lengthy email …demanding the school not say ‘God bless America’ again. That student was called into the principal’s office, and now the phrase is banned in morning announcements.” (see Florida School Bans ‘God Bless America’ From Announcements)

Also in 2015, in Kentucky, the government requires religious volunteers to sign a document promising not to say the homosexuality is a sin. Basically, Christians need not apply to help youth in prison. When one chaplain refused to sign the paper, “the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice revoked his volunteer credentials as an ordained minister – ending 13 years of ministry to underage inmates at the Warren County Regional Juvenile Detention Center” (see The Christian purge has begun: Chaplains banned from preaching that homosexuality is a sin).

I could go on and on, but I think this gives a good sampling of what we are up against. Our society is becoming more and more hostile to religion.

Critics may argue and disagree with my assessment that our freedom of religion is being taken away. They might say that many of these cases do not apply to everyone, and in a way, I see their perspective. But when one person’s freedom of religion is taken away, doesn’t that affect us all? Doesn’t it set a precedent? Doesn’t the preponderance of evidence point to the eroding of our first amendment right to free exercise of our religious faith?

To quote David A. Bednar again, the encroachment on our freedom of religion displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic should be wake up call to all of us.

“The COVID-19 crisis has presented us with a unique opportunity to reaffirm and shore up religious freedom. We have witnessed the government’s swift, well-intentioned, but often dangerous breaching of the boundaries that protect the free exercise of religion. Do we hear the buzzer on the alarm clock? This is a wake-up call for all of us. Those fundamental boundaries and protections must be healed, renewed, and fortified. While believers and their religious organizations must be good citizens in a time of crisis, never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential. Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”

I pray that we will all wake up, realize the severity of the situation in our country today with religious freedom, and take steps to restore and strengthen our right to worship God in word and deed.

Why I’m Voting for Trump in 2020 After Voting Against Him in 2016

Why I'm Voting for Trump in 2020In 2016, I was not a Trump fan, but in the four years since then, I have slowly turned from an opponent to a solid supporter who will pull the lever and vote for Trump for President in 2020. The following is my explanation of the evolution of how and why that transition happened as well as other factors I considered in my 2020 choice for US President.

This article is quite long article, and even then it is by no means comprehensive, so it is divided into sections that you can easily jump to with the following links:

The decision to vote for Trump was not something I took lightly or came to quickly. I have thought and prayed long and hard about it, and done much research. I read news articles from sources all across the political spectrum–left, right, and center. I have tried to document as many of those sources as possible in the hyperlinked text throughout the article. Please check out those references for more details on a given subject.

Why I Was Against Trump in 2016

I should set the stage by briefly going over why I voted against Donald Trump in the first place back in 2016. I am a registered Republican, so you might think I would vote for the party’s nominee. But I vote for the person, not the party (a principled stance more people ought to take), and I had major concerns about Donald J. Trump. I could not bring myself to vote for Trump for a myriad of reasons, and voting for the Democrat party candidate, Hillary Clinton, was not an option either, since she seemed corrupt and her policies were not my idea of good government. I ended up voting for a third party candidate in 2016, and honestly, after Trump was elected, I felt homeless, politically speaking. I thought the Republican party had elected someone who would not only ruin the party, but could ruin the country as well.

  • Mixed Feelings on His Policies. I liked some of Trump’s policy positions, but others I did not. Trump had some good financial policies, such as theoretical tax cuts. I also liked that Trump took a tough stance against China and other nations that threaten us. But I disagreed, and still do, on Trump’s stance on tariffs. He likes to raise taxes on goods coming into our country and this only makes things more expensive for us. Trump’s stance, as I recall, on government’s roll in healthcare also differed from my own. While Trump supported the repeal of Obamacare (the Un-Affordable Care Act), he supported the continuance of a large role of the government in the healthcare system which I believe in contrary to our Constitutional freedoms and contrary to good policy.
  • Is He even a Constitutional Conservative? Even if I could overlook the policy positions I didn’t like, Trump had an unproven track record, and therefore I doubted whether or not he would govern as a Constitutional conservative. He had a history of donating to Republicans and Democrats alike. He had close ties to the Clintons and other Democrats. I even wondered if he might even switch parties or become an independent after being elected. Overall, I didn’t think he was a good representation of the Republican Party, at least not the Constitutional/Libertarian/Individual Rights wing of the party.
  • His Perceived Character Short-Falls: I wasn’t sure I could classify Trump as honest, wise, and good–three of the main character traits I look for in elected officials. “Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold” (D&C 98). In the debates and interviews during the 2016 campaign, I found Trump often stretching the truth or telling outright lies. Trump had a well-publicized extra-martial affair many years ago, definitely not a good thing, and in just weeks before the election, audio was released of him using some incredibly foul language.

Before the 2016 election I had a conversation with a friend in which we both agreed that we should vote for people who are morally good. Of course, unless Jesus Christ is running for office, no one is going to be perfect, therefore everyone you vote for will have some good and some bad elements. At that time, I came to the conclusion that Trump did not meet my minimum threshold for goodness. My friend, and many other Republicans, thought he did meet the threshold. So we agreed on principles but differentiated on where to place Trump in respect to that threshold.

Four years later, however, while I still think Trump is far from perfect, he does now meet my threshold of good enough to vote for. Let me explain why.

Why I’m voting for Trump in 2020

Overall, I have been pleased with Trump’s handling of the Presidency. Of course, there are things I wish he would do differently (more on that below), but overall, many of my fears about Trump turned out to be unfounded and he has implemented many good policies that I believe are benefiting the country.

Things I Don’t like about Trump, Some I’ve Learned to Deal With, Others I Wish He’d Change

In balance, I think Trump has been a good president, but I’m not blind to the inappropriate, wrong-headed, and sometimes idiotic things he says and does. For example…

  • He Says a Lot of Stupid Things. Perhaps this goes without saying, but often times Trump says things that I think are just idiotic. But I shake this off pretty easily because I learned to pay more attention to what he does than what he says. I wonder if many of the dumb things he says are part of his personality or ingrained tactics he has learned as a business negotiator. Regardless, it is clear that hes has learned that he can have a major influence on the news narrative through his Twitter account and he loves to use that platform to tweak his political enemies. When looking at Trump holistically, I’ve learned that you you have to bake this in, and when you do, you don’t become outraged at every little outrageous things he says. You realize that much of it is only hot air. As reporter Salena Zito said, you have to take Trump seriously, but not literally.
  • Printing Money and Dramatically Increasing the National Debt. This is one I can’t shake off as easily. Our politicians, on both sides of the isle and in all branches of government, are burying future generations in debt that will cripple them. Republicans are supposed to be fiscally responsible, yet under the Trump Administration, the national debt has continued to soar, and the printing of money is sure to cause massive inflation. There will be major economic repercussions for these actions that are unavoidable. I thought it was bad when the U.S. budget deficit hit an all time high in November 2018, of course that’s nothing compared to the COVID-19 budget deficits. These heavy spenders in government claim they are saving the country when really they are doing the opposite, dooming us and our children and grandchildren to an ever-greater bondage of debt.
  • Other Miscellaneous Things. There are numerous other thing Trump does that I don’t approve of like how he can be short-tempered and have knee-jerk reactions at times. I think he tends to associate at times with shady characters which is a concern (like Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon). Thankfully, he seems to correct those things and get it straight in the long run, distancing himself from people like that and getting good people around him.

These are all weaknesses of Trump, and with time we could list even more. I wish he didn’t have these weaknesses, but as Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker have said, in picking a leader, you should focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses, and when you look at that holistic picture, I think Trump brings many more positive strengths to the table, and certainly more than Joe Biden.

Why I Cannot Vote for Joe Biden

  • He is a Career Politician. To preface this, please note that I believe that an elected government official should not be a life-long career. I think career politicians breed corruption and thus it is a major strike that Joe Biden has spent nearly his entire adult life in politics. On top of that, I don’t see any major accomplishments in his record that show that he should be put back in public office. He was in the Senate for 36 years, and the vice presidency for 8 years. He’s had his turn and done little with it except enriching his family and increasing the partisanship and dysfunction of Washington. He is the epitome of the swamp that needs to be drained.
  • Joe Biden is Pro-Abortion. Pro-life groups are calling Biden and Harris the “Most Pro-Abortion Presidential Ticket In American History.” While I haven’t personally verified that, I did check out Joe Biden’s website, and he talks a lot about ensuring what he calls a “right” to an abortion. For 50 years the Democrat party has supported and is now even promoting abortion, a practice which I consider like unto murder and a violation of one of God’s most basic commandments. The 2016 Democrat party platform reiterates five times that they believe having an abortion is a woman’s right–neither Joe nor the Democrats make any mention of the baby’s right to life, though.
  • He Could Be the Most Corrupt VP in History. Peter Schweizer, a New York Times best selling author who I have followed for years and found to be trustworthy, has said that Joe Biden is the most corrupt vice president in the history of our country. When he was VP, Biden traveled to Ukraine on official state business and his son Hunter tagged along and came away with a multi-million dollar business deal. In China, it was even worse, with Hunter once again tagging along with his dad and coming away with a multi-billion dollar deal. Biden has replicated this ability to enrich family members many times and here is an article outlining how five members of Joe Biden’s family got profoundly rich through his connections.
  • Even the Left Thinks Joe Biden is Corrupt. Zephyr Teachout, a left-wing reporter for the Gaurdian who is no fan of Trump, had this to say: “Biden has a big corruption problem and it makes him a weak candidate. I know it seems crazy, but a lot of the voters we need – independents and people who might stay home – will look at Biden and Trump and say: ‘They’re all dirty.’ It looks like ‘Middle Class’ Joe has perfected the art of taking big contributions, then representing his corporate donors at the cost of middle- and working-class Americans. Converting campaign contributions into legislative favors and policy positions isn’t being ‘moderate.’ It is the kind of transactional politics Americans have come to loathe.” (see ‘Middle Class’ Joe Biden has a corruption problem – it makes him a weak candidate.)
  • Picked Most Partisan and Liberal Senator as His Running Mate. Biden’s selected Vice Presidential running mate, Kamala Harris, scored as the “most liberal” U.S. senator in 2019, according to a GovTrack analysis. “The score can be interpreted as a conservative-liberal scale” but what it also indicates is how partisan and extreme she is. Harris joined bipartisan legislation “the least often compared to Senate Democrats.”
  • Joe Biden Clearly Has Racist Tendencies. Just a couple of months ago, Joe Biden had the temerity to say to black people that they aren’t truly black if they don’t vote for him. “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” To think that all black people should vote for him is by definition racist, on top, of course, of being arrogant and condescending. To further his racist viewpoints, Biden also recently generalized the black community as lacking diversity. Said Biden, “unlike the African American community with notable exceptions the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community.”
  • He is an Authoritarian: Joe Biden has taken the authoritarian and unconstitutional approach to calling for a mandate requiring all Americans to wear a face mask. Even if there’s no cases of COVID-19 in your city, he would make you wear a face mask. On the contrary, Trump has resisted efforts to to take unconstitutional powers during this pandemic. Said Trump: “My administration has a different approach, we have urged Americans to wear masks.” But ultimately, “I trust the American people and the governors want to do the right thing to make the smart decisions and Joe doesn’t.” (see Trump: No Power to Require Masks or Enforce)
  • Joe Biden’s Deteriorating Mental Health. If all that isn’t enough to scare you away from Joe Biden, it is clear that his mental faculties are quickly slipping away. This is not an insult or attack, it is the unfortunate result of his advanced age (77). You can see the mental struggle Biden has had in many videos and speeches over the past few months like this interview on MSNBC where Biden struggled to speak coherently. Or this example where Biden struggles to complete a sentence. I feel bad for the guy, but what’s worse is that when he’s mentally checked out, he will likely become a puppet for the political extremists who surround him–people like his VP candidate Kamala Harris who has vocally supported the Black Lives Matter protests through and beyond election day–people like the Democrats in LA taking money away from police and redistributed to their favorite social justice organizations and Seattle cutting officers and slashing the budget of their police force–and people like the variety of attorneys general who let rioters get off the hook with no punishment and no justice.
  • I Disagree with His Socialist Policies. The public policy preference differences between Joe Biden and I, if listed out, would be lengthy. I won’t bore you with that level of detail, but as examples, I disagree his unconstitutional stance on guns and the second amendment, his pushing of harmful environmental and green energy policies, his overreach in the federal government’s role in local education, and his seemingly endless spending on government programs that destroy our country financially, physically, and spiritually. Bernie Sanders, a self-described Socialist, says if Biden’s “proposals are implemented…Joe Biden will become the most progressive president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” And he’s not talking about generic human progression, he’s talking about progression towards socialism. And socialism is the path to communism, an anti-family, anti-God, and anti-freedom ideology I cannot support.

There is much more that could be discussed regarding why I cannot to vote for Joe Biden. Suffice it to say, I don’t think he would be a good president on any level–honesty, wisdom, or goodness.

Other Candidates Considered, Like Libertarian Jo Jorgensen

For those who are wondering if I considered any third party candidates, the answer is yes. I have often voted for people outside the two main, Republican and Democrat, political parties. In fact, there are many problems with the two-party-only system–I think it contributes to the corruption and the swamp environment that exists in Washington. So I considered third parties like the Constitution party, but they are on the ballot in only about half of the states, and therefore have no chance to win. I also gave Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate for president, a good look. She has a lot of pros, but some cons as well, and ultimately, I didn’t see the net benefits as so great to push me over to her side. But here’s a summary of the pros and cons about Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate for president.

Jo Jorgensen says a lot that I agree with. Here are some examples taken from her website, jo20.com:

  • “Tariffs that are destroying markets for American farmers.”
  • “We need to make government smaller – much, much smaller.”
  • “We can reduce the cost of health care 75% by allowing real price competition, and by substantially reducing government and insurance company paperwork.”
  • “I will veto any spending bill that would lead to a deficit, and veto any debt ceiling increase.”
  • “I will work to remove government barriers to … allowing off-grid use of solar power.”
  • “Eliminate trade barriers & tariffs, and work to repeal arbitrary quotas on the number of people who can legally enter the United States to work, visit, or reside.”
  • “I will use my Constitutional authority to end federal civil asset forfeiture prior to conviction”
  • “The real cure for poverty is a vibrant economy that generates plentiful jobs and high wages, combined with an affordable cost of living.”
  • “I will work to repeal laws and regulations that prevent individuals and charitable organizations from helping those in need.”
  • “I will work tirelessly to slash federal spending, make government much, much smaller, and let you keep what you earn.”
  • “I will work to eliminate the Department of Education and return control of education to where it belongs – with parents, teachers, and students.”

While all of those are great statements, I also have my share of concerns about Jo Jorgensen, like the following:

  • She is a full-time academic, and I’m not a big fan of putting academics in government positions of power. She had a career in marketing at IBM for a while, so that’s good, but now she is a teacher/lecturer in Psychology. Honestly, after browsing through her website, I am still left wondering if she is really qualified to be an effective chief executive for our country.
  • She says, “I will also work with Congress to end the failed War on Drugs and other victimless crime laws.” This concerns me because Libertarians tend to favor legalizing all drugs, which is too far for me.
  • Her website talks a lot about Republican and Democrat politicians failing us, and while that’s true, she seems to place the blame equally on both parties. While, there is corruption in both, I think the Democrats are far more nefarious, with their foot on the accelerator towards socialism and all the anti-family, anti-God, and anti-freedom evils that are brought with it.
  • She says we have “the highest imprisonment rate in the world; even higher among racial minorities and the poor.” Playing the race card and class-warfare card like that, to me, is not a good sign. With an attitude like that, it makes me think she will make unwise decisions to placate the progressive mob that pushes divisions based on race and economic class.

Having surveyed the field of third party candidates, none stand out to me, and given the dire circumstances of our country today, I think it is more important to rally around a pretty good candidate, like Donald Trump, who has the best chance to defeat the socialists and other extremists in our country. The time may come when we need to vote for 3rd party candidate but it is not this year. Donald Trump, despite his shortcomings, has been an effective chief executive for the nation, and given the track record he has, I think he will continue to be a good president and we should unite behind him. Unity to defeat the radicals in our political system is vitally important in this election cycle because, if we don’t, I fear we won’t have a country left to save.

Conclusion

All things considered, I think Donald Trump is the best choice for president in 2020. He is not the perfect candidate, that’s for sure, but his record shows that he will enact mostly good policies. And perhaps more importantly, he has shown himself to be one of the few politicians willing and able to stand up against the extreme elements of our society that would surely bring anarchy, violence, injustice, and ruin to our country. Few decisions in life are clear cut–absolutely right versus absolutely wrong–and the decision of who to vote for as president is no different, therefore, I don’t fault friends and family who think differently and vote differently. But if you are on the fence about Donald Trump, perhaps this article will give you courage to come on over to the Trump side.

Why I Turned Off Google as My Search Engine: to Stop their Indoctrination

Earlier this year I finally turned off Google as my primary search engine. I have been considering it for a long time because of concerns around privacy and manipulated search results. The bottom line is that Google has a socialist, progressive world view with which I strongly disagree and the evidence is clear that they are using their position of power to push that agenda on others. I’ve decided not to take the abuse anymore, and if I can get the word out and help encourage others to free themselves from Google’s manipulations, then the world will be a better place for it.

Being a Search Engine Marketer Made the Decision Difficult

The switch to other search engines came as the culmination of many factors, but now that I did it, I’m very glad and wish I had made the switch years ago. One of my fears in switching away from Google’s search engine was that I would have a hard time finding what I needed from other search engines.

You see, I have worked as a search engine marketer for twelve years and I know that Google has traditionally delivered the best results to help you find the information you need fast. Most of my days at work are consumed with understanding how my website ranks on Google and how to get more traffic from Google search engine users. This made the decision to turn off Google as my primary search engine even more difficult, and honestly, in my work, I still have to use Google search from time to time.

More and more topics are being politicized in our country, therefore more and more of Google’s results are showing that company’s political leanings. For example, Robert Epstein’s research found, in the 2016 US presidential election campaign, that Google filtered out negative results for searches related to Hillary Clinton to surface primarily positive ones–more on that below. But regarding the fear of not getting high-quality search results, I can personally attest to the fact that my fear was unfounded. I have been able to find information just as quick and easily from other search engines, and even better, I am free from Google’s attempts to influence me with their filtered, politically biased results.

Google’s Politics Leans Far Left and They Try to Manipulate Voters

The socialist, progressive political leanings of the management and culture at Google are well-known, but let me give you just two examples.

In 2018, Breitbart released a video of Google leadership team discussing the 2016 Trump election results and demonstrating the company’s bias against conservatives and Republicans. “A video recorded by Google shortly after the 2016 presidential election reveals an atmosphere of panic and dismay amongst the tech giant’s leadership, coupled with a determination to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement.” The New York Times also covered this story saying the video showed “Google executives bemoaning the election of President Trump at a company meeting in 2016.” Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, said in the video that he was “deeply offended” by the election of Mr. Trump.

Last year, Dr. Robert Epstein, a Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that in the 2016 presidential election, Google gave Hillary Clinton “between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes depending on how aggressive they were in using the techniques that I’ve been studying, such as the search engine manipulation effect.” Dr. Epstein went on later to say in an op ed that “when it comes to election manipulation, left-leaning American technology companies make the Russians look like rank amateurs.” Dr. Epstein, a Harvard PhD and well respected psychologist, professor, author, and journalist, has shown through his research how big tech, particularly Google, is aggressively pursuing tactics to keep Republicans out of office. And he has sounded the alarm, not because he wants Republicans to win, but because he wants freedom and democracy to win.

Google News and Google Discover Pushes Left-Wing Sources

google news feed supposedly personalized for me but notOne of Google’s strengths as a search engine is that they know individual users and serve up personalized results that are more likely to deliver the information the person is looking for. Google knows the political leanings of their users because they track search history, the websites you visit, and they have countless other ways to track your personal data.

Regarding me personally, Google knows I prefer conservative, Republican, libertarian, and Constitutionally-minded sources. Why then, does Google push CNN and other left-wing news results on me so relentlessly? I occasionally have clicked CNN articles over the years, but CNN is a socialist, progressive leaning news source that I rarely read.

Despite knowing that about me, if I visit the Google News website, logged in as myself with Google’s personalized results for me, 5 of the top 15 (33%) news results are from CNN (see the screen shot and count them for yourself). Only 3 of the top 15 (20%) are from FoxNews, a source I’m much more likely to read. Of course, if it wasn’t for the fact that Google knew me, perhaps I wouldn’t see FoxNews at all and even more of the results would be from CNN.

In Google Discover, it’s the same story of pushing left-wing news even though they know I don’t prefer it. Google Discover is the news, pop culture, and other internet content feed that comes up on your mobile phone browser’s home screen if Google is your default home page. Google Discover says “we’ve made it our goal to help you uncover fresh and interesting content about things that matter to you.”

They are clearly failing at that goal with me, because my Google Discover feed has a constant influx of Trump-hating news from CNN and other socialist and communist-friendly internet articles that are of no interest to me. I’m no big Trump fan, but I’m not a Trump hater, and Google knows that, yet they bombard me with it anyway.

Final Straw: Google Couldn’t Find a News Story I Wanted to See

The final straw in getting me to turn off Google as my search engine was earlier this year when Google buried an unflattering story about a prominent socialist. I was listening to talk radio one day and heard the host mention that Marc Lamont Hill, a long-time political contributor at CNN, had told his followers to stop being not to be nice to the police because it is disrupting his Marxist revolution. He said, so I heard, that all police are part of a racist system in America so the race protesters should stop taking their pictures with police. Being nice to police, in his view, reinforces the view that the George Floyd death was the fault of a single bad police officer, rather than Marc Lamont Hill’s preferred narrative that all police are bad. This was an appalling statement, to me, so I wanted to find out if it was true and learn more.

 

marc lamont hill google vs duck duck go searchWhen I searched on Google, I could not find the story. I tried numerous search keyword variations, and scrolled through dozens of search results pages on Google, but I could find nothing about what Marc Lamont Hill said about not taking pictures with police. If Google was my only source of information on the subject, I would think he never said it. The source on the radio was a trusted one, so I decided to do the same search on Duck Duck Go, a search engine that differentiates itself on searchers’ privacy and unfiltered results. On the very first Duck Duck Go search, the results page was full of articles about what he said about not taking pictures with the police, like this RedState article that quotes Marc Lamont Hill as saying:

“Don’t believe your lying eyes. If you and your community have been brought up with a respect for law enforcement, if you have come to see police as friends or even friends of the family, that doesn’t serve our Marxist, revolutionary purpose. So, cut it out or stay home!”

Conclusion and How to Turn Off Google as Your Search Engine

This is not a comprehensive list of all the reasons why I am abandoning Google as my search engine of choice. But in summary, Google has long abandoned the unofficial motto they had early in their history to “not be evil.” They clearly want to use their position of power to push information they want to be seen and hide information they don’t want seen. I hope to stem that tide of this indoctrination by not using the Google Search engine, and I would encourage all others to do the same.

Now the question is how to get the other Google products out of my life, which they are also using to collect information in an attempt to have power over me–products like Google Maps, Gmail (I don’t use it but family members do), Google Classroom (again, not for me, but it has infiltrated my kids schools), Google Chrome, Google Home, YouTube (owned by Google), etc. This purging of Google could take a while.

If you want to join me in turning off Google as your search engine, there are many ways to do it. You can start your internet journeys at Bing.com, Yahoo.com, DuckDuckGo.com, or other search engines. If you use the Chrome browser, you should also go to “Settings” located under the three vertical dots in the top right corner of your Chrome browser. There you can click “On startup” to set what page, often a search engine, comes up when the browser is launched. You should also set the “Search Engine” on the left menu to be Bing or Yahoo or something else. To use Duck Duck Go as the default search engine, you will need to add their Chrome extension which you can find by clicking here.

My Experience Attending a Conversation on Racial Inequality

My Experience Attending a Conversation on Racial InequalityIn early June 2020, I received an invitation to attend an online “conversation on racism and racial inequality.” This was just a week after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer–a week that saw riots in many major cities across the United States. Cries for racial equality and “black lives matter” were dominating media, news media and social media, as were the stories of much violence, property destruction, and looting.

Like anyone with a heart, I was appalled by the senseless death of George Floyd. His murder was tragic and unjust, and to the extent that things like this happen in our country, they need to be rooted out and eliminated. In the wake of all these events, the invitation to the meeting piqued my curiosity. I wondered if the meeting be a real, open discussion on race relations and the problems facing our society and potential solutions, or if it would be more of the extreme rhetoric and hollow virtue signalling that was dominating the media.

Placating the Mob with Statements that Perpetuate the Guilty Until Innocent Mentality

I had my suspicions of what the meeting might discuss, but I wanted to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt. You see, in the days prior to this meeting, many organizations were making public statements condemning racism against the black community. The organizers of this event were part of one of those statements. And like most of the ones I saw, the statement this organization put out said nothing to condemn the violence, rioting, and looting by the protesters, which was disappointing and indicated their lack of sincerity. A good example of this kind of statement was made by Apple.

It seems that thousands of people causing millions of dollars of damage that destroyed the livelihood of countless people (a great many of which are minorities) deserved as much a mention in a statement like that as the police brutality towards a black man. But the writers either disagree with that, or willfully ignore the criminal behavior of the mob, likely due to fear and a desire to appease the mob. A statement by the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a notable exception. While condemning racism, prejudice, discrimination and hate, their statement also had the courage to “renounce illegal acts such as looting, destruction, and defacement of public or private property.” (see Locking arms for racial harmony in America)

On the one hand, if you are a business owner, I understand the pressure to make a statement in support of racial equality. There seems to be no harm in it–after all, if you are not racist, why not get behind a statement that denounces racism. On the other hand, it seems like making the statement only due to societal pressure feeds the guilty until innocent mentality that is so prevalent in the media and in our country. Meaning, the mob makes you feel like if you, or your company, don’t make a statement condemning racism, then you are guilty of racism. But let’s get back to the “conversation on racial inequality.”

Started Meeting by Declaring White Privilege

While I knew what I was likely in for in this meeting, I was still interested in what would be said. The person who spoke first introduced the topic and in the process, acknowledged their “white privilege” and made other statement like, “to our black colleagues, we see you.” The virtue signalling was thick. When the topic of white guilt came up so quickly, I wanted to throw up, mentally, if not physically. For this person, who has had a very successful career, to attribute their success in life to white skin seemed inaccurate and probably insincere.

Regarding the remark about “seeing” black community, of course we see them, but hopefully not only for their race—because that would be racism. The black civil rights movement was about seeing people for the content of their character, not the color of the skin. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

At some point, I’d like to write more about why I find confessions of “white privilege” problematic, but for the time being I’ll just say that if you feel the need to confess the source of your success, then consider giving credit to God. Thank the Lord for the bounteous blessings and privileges he has given you.

Presentation by Diversity and Inclusion Professional

After the brief intro, the remainder of the hour-long meeting was turned over to a university director of Diversity and Inclusion. The following are some notes on what this person said, along with my thoughts. The presentation had a Q&A at the end, but due to a prior commitment I couldn’t stay for that. So I’ll use my platform here to offer my comments and rebuttals.

  • Racial Profiling: She talked about her husband being pulled over by the police unjustifiably and other instances where he was racially profiled by the police. If true, these sounded like horrible events and I feel truly sorry that anyone would have to go through something like that. I sincerely hope we all can do our part to push for change in our country that will eliminate such injustices. Still, it concerned me when she took anecdotal evidence like that and jumped to the conclusions of systemic racism in the country.
  • The 1619 Project: She endorsed the New York Times series called “The 1619 Project.” I had heard a little about the 1619 Project prior to this meeting. I knew it was written by political extremists with a left-wing ideology, but little more. Since then, I’ve done more homework and found that the 1619 project is riddled with factual errors and presents a very negative view of the American founding. When confronted with the gross factual inaccuracies, the author defended her work by saying “The 1619 Project is not a history.” She said “It is a work of journalism that examines the modern and ongoing legacy of slavery.” Also see this statement by the NYT’s own fact checker of the 1619 project attesting to the many factual misrepresentations. You can reach your own conclusions about the 1619 Project, but it seemed inappropriate for the speaker to use this platform to further this work of opinion.
  • Police Incentivized to Imprison Black Children: She said that “it is in law enforcement’s interest to get black children into the prison.” I was floored by that generalization. She acted as if she had facts to back the statement up, but she never presented the evidence and I couldn’t follow her supposed logic. I thought it was quite unfair to make such a blanket negative statement about the police. In fact, the studies I have read, like this 2019 research by Michigan State University, shows no racial disparities in police officer actions.
  • Blacks Still 3/5ths of a Person: She said, “I would argue that blacks are still seen as 3/5ths of a person” in the United States. Obviously that is her opinion and I’m sorry she feels that way. But it is inconsistent and unfair for her to claim to be fighting against generalizing people based on race (racism), and then she makes huge generalities about the police and the people of our country. Furthermore, by referencing “3/5ths of a person” that way, she shows her own lack of historical context, as the 3/5ths clause was a method employed by the slavery abolitionists to take power away from the slave-holding south.
  • Our Criminal Justice System is the New Jim Crow: She said that “the new Jim Crow is the criminal justice system,” furthering her generalized views that there is institutional racism in our country. Again, her facts supporting this statement were weak. She cited the fact that black men are incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites and she left it at that. That statement is true, but the way she presented it was misleading because she implied that they are incarcerated unfairly. Studies show, however, that black men are incarcerated more because they commit more crimes than their counterparts in other racial groups. Take, for example, the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that black offenders committed 52% of homicides between 1980 and 2008, though they make up only 13% of the country. This is still a problem, but it is not a problem with the criminal justice system.
  • Only the Racial Majority can be Racists: At one point she echoed something I have heard for many years about how only people in the racial majority can be racists. By her definition, a black person cannot be racist against a white person and the problem of racism only exists among white people. This is obviously a perversion of the term racism. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I think racism is any time you base your thoughts or actions solely on the color of a person’s skin–white or black or anything in between. There are obviously white racists and black racists, racists against Asians and against Native Americas. Racism is a human problem, not a white majority problem.

In conclusion, I was disappointed by the “conversation on racial inequality.” The “conversation” aspect was limited, and mostly it seemed like a platform for the speaker to air her grievances associated with her political ideology and to lecture about how unjust and racist our country is, all backed up with little more than anecdotal stories and opinions. Of course, there are pockets of injustice and racism in our country and I pray those will be eliminated soon, but overall, we are not an unjust country with systemic racism. Maybe next time the organizers can put together a “conversation on racial equality” that emphasizes the positive rather than the negative and talk about the progress our country has made in our 250 year history and focus on the steps we can take to continue to make the United States of America the greatest place to live on this planet.

The Quiet Majority

the quiet majorityI was listening to the Glenn Beck show the other day when one of his guests said that the silent majority needs to stop being so afraid and start speaking up. I would consider myself in the so-called silent majority–at least I hope rational, freedom-loving people like myself are in the majority. If you pay attention to big media (social media and news media), though, you probably will end up thinking we are in the minority.

Silently Living Our Lives the Right Way

As I listened to the podcast, I was taken back by the suggestion that we, majority or minority, are silent because we are afraid. Perhaps some people stay silent due to fear, but I’d like to think that most of us appear silent because we are busy trying to live our lives the right way. We are raising our kids, doing our jobs, spending time with family, volunteering at church, and trying to teach our children right from wrong. It is those apparently silent people who, to quote George Bailey, “do most of the working and paying and living and dying” in this country. It is the silent majority that has their heads squarely on their shoulders, has their priorities straight, and doesn’t pay too much attention to all the noise in mass media.

Quiet, Not Silent

As I thought about this subject, I decided the the word silent is not the right description of us—we’re just quiet, like the Still Small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12). In my experience, though sometimes God is silent, typically the reason we don’t hear Him is because we are not listening carefully. You do have to slow down, ponder, pray, and pay close attention to hear His Still Small voice.

The same is true with most of us—quietly letting our voices be heard for those with sense to hear it. We vote with our feet and at the polling booths. We peaceably and calmly participate in our democratic republic. We’re going to keep teaching our children that right makes might and not the other way around. Politicians and business leaders seem to be listening primarily to the loud voices these days, but if they were wise, they would pay attention to the quiet majority. In life and in politics and in business, if the only voices you listen to are the loud voices, you are likely to be go down the wrong path.

Though Quiet, There Is More to Do

Still, I think there is more that we, the quiet majority, can and should be doing—and I include myself in that admonition.

  • We need to find ways to quietly support the police, 99% of whom are great people. For example, my friend recently saw a policeman in line for food and paid for his lunch, and my wife’s friend took homemade cookies to a police station full of elated law enforcement officers.
  • We need to turn off TV and movies that insult our sensibilities. Too many of my family and friends tell me about the shows they watch that don’t follow good values and even glorify promiscuous sex, drugs, violence, and abortion. We have to stop watching these and when we do cease our viewing, the entertainment producers will hear our quiet protests.
  • We need to let media channels (online and over the air broadcasters) know when we can’t even watch theoretically family friendly sporting events because of inappropriate ads with sex, violence, and drugs for clearly TV-MA shows, half-time shows with nasty singers and dancers that have nothing virtuous about them, and so forth.
  • We need to find ways to course correct the education system that has been overrun with erroneous yet politically correct ideas. We need to stand up and say there is a difference between men and women and that’s wonderful. We need to teach that two wrongs do not make a right, and that there is objective truth in the world. We need to teach that all people are created equal—black, white, and any other color of the rainbow—and each is endowed by our created with inalienable rights.
  • Regardless of what happens with schools, in our homes, we need to quietly and confidently teach our children the truth about the past—the good and the bad. Erasing history and judging historical figures based on modern standards and incomplete information is arrogant and wrong. We stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us like Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. No one is perfect, but these imperfect men and women of the past paved the way for our blessed lives today and we ought to thank them for their contributions while learning from their mistakes.

The Loud Are Compensating with Volume

The loud voices in society would like us to believe that they outnumber us quiet ones. The real balance is anyone’s guess, but I know the quiet ones are larger in number than the loud ones want us to think. Take, for example, that Donald Trump was elected by half of Americans. Yet if you listen to most loud media sources (social or news), you’d get the impression that the majority of people hate Trump. Obviously, that’s not true. The country is divided politically, but the super loud media is using their volume and broadcasting reach to try to make the quiet ones feel like a small minority. Love or hate Trump (or feelings in-between like I have), it’s clear the loud media is trying to manipulate the truth and persuade our country to their way of thinking.

“Do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites”

We don’t have to be loud like the political and cultural extremists, but we do have to quietly go about doing good in this world and standing up for what is right. Followers of Jesus are taught: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matt 6: 1-4, KJV)

It Only Takes a Small Light to Illuminate a Dark Room

The protests, boycotts, and seemingly endless virtue signaling is, in large measure, the trumpet sounds of hypocrites. Yes, we are supposed to be a light to the world (Matt 5:14), but it only takes a small light to illuminate a dark room. Therefore, I pray that the quiet, rational, freedom-loving, God-trusting people of this world will continue to go about doing good in “still small” ways and will stand strong for what is right in the face of loud pressure from the world.

10 Ways to Be Strategic with Web Analytics – Feb 2011 RootsTech Presentation

10 Ways to Be Strategic with Web Analytics RootsTech Feb 2011 by Jimmy SmithThis is a presentation I made many years ago at one of the first RootsTech conferences put on by the FamilySearch department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2011. At the time, I was working as the Web Analytics Product Manager for the Church. They must have been desperate for speakers–not that I am a bad speaker, but because the content really wasn’t related to family history work or genealogy.

Anyway, I recently rediscover this presentation when I was looking through some old files. I was shocked at how relevant the content is all these years later. In fact, I could almost give this exact same presentation at a digital marketing analytics conference today and it would be just as true, relevant, and insightful as it was then. In fact, I may do that.

As I recall, as I was working with the team to put together the slide deck, there was some ruckus about what images could be used, and copyright issues, and so forth. Finally, I just decided to use my own pictures–photos I took so I could have complete control of how they would be used. So I ended up doing a photo shoot with my kids. I told them what poses to strike and it turned out very nicely. I’m glad I did it.

So without further ado, here were my top 10 ways to be strategic with digital analytics:

  • 10. Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Your Web site exists for a purpose, find it, articulate it, and work towards achieving it. Design the site around that goal. Look at metrics that relate back to that goal and continuously work to improve.
  • 9. Not everything that can be counted counts: Web Analytics cannot exist in a vacuum. It exists for no other purpose other than improving site performance. “You can learn many interesting things by analyzing data.  But you should only spend your time looking at info that identifies opportunities for improvement.” (Actionable Web Analytics Page 53)
  • 8. Be Compelling: You might not be a PhD statistician or know how to run a multi-variate test or know how to set intervals with two standard deviations, etc., but you can still be compelling.
  • 7. Data Beats Guesses: The probability of making the right decisions for website design is dramatically improved when you use even the tiniest amount of empirical data.
  • 6. Questions Before Data: We must understand the difference between a business question and a report request. Rather than trying to respond to report requests, ask: What business problem are you trying to solve?
  • 5. Ask “So What?” Three Times: “Ask every web metric you report the question “so what” three times. …If at the third “so what” you don’t get a recommendation for an action you should take, you have the wrong metric.” (Avinash Kaushik)
  • 4. Use a Balanced Scorecard: Any one metric can be manipulated. Instead, try getting multiple metrics to improve simultaneously.
  • 3. Look at trends rather than level: My boss once asked how confident I was in the precision of a web analytics figure. I said “low” but that I had a high degree of confidence in it’s upward trend over time and it’s context relative to other metrics.
  • 2. Align Goals and Tactics: If you have aligned your website content and features with your goals, the metrics on those tactics will be indicators of how well you are performing against your high level goals.
  • 1. Hold People Accountable. Accountability drives adoption and change. If there is no accountability for the performance of metrics, there will be no improvement.

What Losing My Job Taught Me About the Best Sources of Social Welfare

last day at work at Church 2015

This was me on my last day at work when I voluntarily left my job of over seven years for a new job. The new job only lasted three months and I wasn’t so happy upon leaving it.

Summary:In my time of need, when I lost my job, the one institution that came to my aid was not church or government, it was the family–the program instituted by God that works phenomenally well and does so without taxes, without bureaucracy, and without compulsion. The best form of welfare comes from the family and it deserves our greatest love, devotion, protection, and strengthening. 

I wrote a draft of this article several years ago but didn’t publish it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the freshness of some of the events. With it years in the past and with the upcoming presidential election year upon us in which there will be many debates between socialism and free market capitalism, I think it is now time to publish it.

Some years ago, I was unexpectedly fired from my job. I have heard a lot of stories over the years of people turning that kind of lemon into lemonade, and while it is my faith that all things have happened according to the goodness, mercy, and blessing of God, it was still a very difficult transition in many ways for me and my family. Thankfully, I was able to bounce back relatively quickly into the full-time work force, but during those difficult weeks of unemployment, I did learn an important lesson about to social safety nets, both public and private, that provide welfare assistance to families in need. I found there was a relationship between the proximity of the welfare to the family and the reliability and helpfulness of the welfare. Welfare from family sources was the fastest and best kind, even above and beyond the call of duty, whereas welfare from the government paid safety net was unreliable and in our case, a near complete failure.

Background of Losing My Job

In April of that year, I intentionally left my long time job at a non-profit organization. I enjoyed my work there for over seven years, but I felt that in the interest of furthering my professional career, I needed to move on. In May, I started a job with a small but growing local software company. The opportunity looked ideal, but it soon soured. My boss and I didn’t see eye to eye on many topics, and I found that some of the leadership of the company lacked integrity. I was trying my hardest to make it work, but one day, after three months on the job, I got pulled into a conference room and was let go.

I was shocked. I had never been fired in my life. I’m a hard worker, smart, well-educated, professional, non-combative, and a good team player. I never dreamed that someone would fire me, but all of a sudden I found myself in that unenviable situation. My thoughts immediately turned to concerns for the welfare of my family. What if I’m unemployed for an extended period? How will I pay my mortgage? How will I pay for food, clothes, and the other necessities of my family?

I went out to my car and I immediately called my wife. I was still in shock and near disbelief. She was angry, not at me but at the situation. To her credit, she was 100% supportive and encouraging and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get our family through this tough situation.

#1 and Best Source of Welfare, Yourself

In our faith, the godly principles of self-reliance are taught and exemplified. The Church teaches it’s members to live prudently, save for a rainy day, be prepared for emergencies, and have a storage of food, supplies, and other needs. While not prepared as we could have or should have been, we did have a little money saved and we had a modest amount of food storage. We looked over our budget and tightened it as much as possible and given our savings, we thought we’d be able to survive for a few months on our own. There was no need to panic.

But while there was no immediate need to panic, we still knew that if the unemployment or underemployment lasted much longer than a couple of months, we knew we were in trouble and we were already worrying about what we would do then. We began to consider our options to get help through social welfare programs, government assistance, our church welfare, and so forth.

Second Best Source of Welfare, Extended Family

We knew we had family who would be willing to help us, and as soon as they found out about our situation they did just that. Without even being asked, my father, my father-in-law, and two of my brothers gave my family some money to help take care of our needs. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it helped and was enough to cover our mortgage for a month. I know if the unemployment was to continue, they would also continue to help. And as I would find out as time went on, this help from family was the only welfare that would come through, despite efforts to receive welfare assistance from Church and government sources.

Next Best Source of Welfare, The Church

I didn’t initially want to ask for assistance from my church, but a few weeks into my unemployment, after discussing the situation with trusted family and friends, they encouraged me to save what cash I had for other things and let the church give my family food assistance. It humbled me greatly to approach my local church leader and ask for that help for my family. I met with him and asked for the food assistance and said that he would be happy to help and that he would have the appropriate people in our church contact me to get the ball rolling.

A few weeks went by and we still hadn’t been contacted by the food assistance people at our church. I assume our church leader innocently dropped the ball and never made the appropriate call to get going on our welfare assistance. About a month after losing my job, I had landed a new job, paying much less than my old one, but still it was something. Therefore, we didn’t look further into the aid from our church. I’m sure we mistakenly fell through the cracks of the Church system and if we had reminded them, the arrangements for aid would have come through. Still, this is one of the reasons I put Church welfare as less reliable than family welfare sources. Though I still have complete confidence that Church welfare is better and more reliable than government welfare.

Government Welfare Failure #1: Unemployment Programs

While we like being self-sufficient and prefer utilizing private sources of welfare, we thought since we have always been tax payers, we would should look into using the government sponsored welfare programs that our tax dollars have already been paying into. The first government program I looked into was unemployment insurance. I looked up the website for my state unemployment office and after some frustrating and fruitless time there, I found a phone number and called them. I was connected with a nice woman at their office, and after answering several questions, I was informed that I did not qualify for unemployment benefits.

She said that I had been with my last employer for too short of a time (3 months) to qualify for unemployment benefits. I believe most states require a minimum of 20 weeks of work before you are eligible for unemployment benefits. I then asked the woman if my seven years of work for the non-profit qualified me for any unemployment pay, but I was again denied. She said that the non-profit company I worked for doesn’t pay into the unemployment system (I presume, perhaps, they have an exemption) and therefore their employees are not allowed to participate in state unemployment benefits. I was disappointed that I had been in the full-time work force for so many years, dutifully paying my local, state, and federal taxes yet after a thorough investigation, I wasn’t eligible to get a single tax dollar back through unemployment programs.

Government Welfare Failure #2: COBRA Insurance

I had often heard of COBRA health insurance, but I really didn’t know much about it. I did some research and found that COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It’s a law passed in 1985 that, among other things, gives health insurance companies the ability to continue to cover some employees after leaving employment. I don’t understand all the ins and out of the law, because I stopped investigating it when I found out that COBRA insurance is an optional program for employers and my last employer had opted out of participating in it.

Government Welfare Failure #3: Emergency Room Financial Assistance

The week after I lost my job, we were visiting family in another state. I was playing basketball with some family and friends and I collided with another player and split my head open just above my eye. It was bleeding profusely and the other players immediately took me to the emergency room. I could hardly believe my luck, or the lack thereof. I had been playing basketball two or three times a week for the prior 8 years without ever having a serious injury, and the week after I lose my health insurance, a basketball injury sends me to the emergency room.

I ended up getting six stitches and a really bad black eye. At the hospital, I told the attendants that I didn’t have health insurance and they gave me the number for their financial aid office. They didn’t collect anything while I was in the ER but a week or so later, I got a bill for over $1,000. I contacted the financial aid office, as I was instructed, but I was denied any benefits because I was not a resident of the state of the hospital that treated me.

Government Welfare Failure #4: Medicaid

Medicaid is a government health insurance program I knew about that is designed to help the poor in our country get healthcare. I had no idea if me and my family would qualify for Medicaid, so I began to look into it. The government websites were confusing and didn’t answer my basic question: would someone in my situation, who just lost his job and has a family to take care of, qualify for Medicaid. I next called the Medicaid office and after way too many menus and waiting on hold for 30 minutes, I finally was able to talk to a real person. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to help me either except to point me to a 19-page application form. She said that the only way she could tell me if I qualified for Medicaid was if I filled out this mammoth, 19-page form!

At this point, having been unemployed for only a couple of weeks, and doubting that I would even qualify, I opted not to spend an entire day filling out the Medicaid form. I thought my days would be better spend job hunting and putting in employment applications. Had my unemployment drawn on longer, I probably would have acquiesced and completed the form, luckily, it never came to that. But I was disappointed that simply eligibility questions could not be answered without filling out an overly lengthy and complicated application form.

Conclusion

We, collectively, spend millions of dollars in our churches on welfare programs to help the poor and needy. In our government, we collect (from tax payers) and spend billions of dollars on social welfare programs of every variety. Yet in my time of need, not a single one of those church or government programs was able to help me. The one program that was able to help me was the program instituted by God–the family. The one institution that did come to our aid and helped my family when we were unemployed was family.

So in a time of debate about expanding government programs, like Medicare for All and so forth, I share my experience as a cautionary tale. I think it is foolish to continue to throw money into giant, bloated, bureaucratic government welfare programs that clearly do not work. These programs do not need to grow or be expanded, they need to be streamlined and made to be more efficient and effective. And instead of investing more in programs that do not work, what we need to do is strengthen the family, the institution that works phenomenally well and does so without taxes, without bureaucracy, and without compulsion. The family is the best social safety net, and it deserves our greatest love, devotion, protection, and strengthening.

Democratizing Digital Analytics with Google Data Studio

On Dec 3, 2019 I spoke at Digital Summit Dallas about how I was able to better democratize digital analytics with Google Data Studio in my work at Hilti. If you saw the presentation and want the deck, you can download it from Slideshare. If you missed the presentation, feel free to watch the video or read a rough transcript of my speech below. Enjoy.


John Wanamaker (1838 –1922) is considered by some to be one of the pioneers of modern marketing. Wanamaker started the first department store in Philadelphia and he pioneered a radical new policy–that customers could return goods to get their money back. Wanamaker was the first known retailer to place a half-page newspaper ad (in 1874) and the first full-page ad (in 1879). He was innovative and creative in his work, and he was one of the first proponents of the power of advertising. But Wannamaker had challenges regarding marketing data that he was never able to overcome in his lifetime. A popular saying illustrating how difficult it was to quantify the results of marketing in that era is attributed to Wanamaker. He said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wanamaker)

Then: Dearth of Data. Today: Drowning in Data.

The problem John Wanamaker had in improving and making the most of his marketing efforts was a lack of data. The problem we have today is, in some regards, the complete opposite—we are drowning in data. We are operating in a business environment today where we can know where every dollar is spent and exactly which tactics drive business results, down to specific ad placement and copy. We have data from Google Ads, website analytics data, SEO data, and social media data. We have customer sales data, competitor data, and the list goes on and on. Yet just because there is a flood of data available to us, doesn’t mean marketers are using it to drive performance improvements in our marketing campaigns.

Most Companies Leverage Little or No Marketing Data

A 2017 study on the analytical maturity of marketing organizations was published by DataFloq that reported that 42% of companies can only run rudimentary reports on past marketing performance, and 13% of companies don’t even know where to find their marketing data and thus don’t utilize it at all. That combines to 55% of companies that leverage relatively little or no marketing data to improve performance (https://datafloq.com/read/data-driven-marketing-2017-marketers-data-critical/2859).

companies leverage little or no marketing data

De·moc·ra·tize (verb), to make accessible

Again, the problem isn’t the lack of data, but the lack of data democratization. And by democratize, I do not mean the first dictionary definition of the word, the common connotation of the democratic form of government with voting rights and so forth. I mean the second definition of democratize which is “to make (something) accessible to everyone.”

What is Google Data Studio?

And while I am defining things, I should probably also define Data Studio. It is a relatively new product from Google that was introduced in 2016 and only came out of beta in 2018. It is a data visualization tool similar to Tableau or PowerBI. It can be used to create dashboards and reports, and like many tools from Google, it is free to use.  You can bring data into Data Studio from a variety of sources such as:

  • Google Marketing Platforms (Google Ads, Analytics, Display & Video 360)
  • Google consumer products (Sheets, YouTube, and Search Console)
  • Databases (BigQuery, MySQL, and PostgreSQL)
  • Flat files via CSV file upload and Google Cloud Storage
  • Social media (Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter)

What this Talk is and is Not

Before I go further, I want to be clear that this is not a paid commercial for Google or their Data Studio product. I have no affiliation with Google, other than as a customer and user of their products like most of you. Nor is this talk designed to be a step by step demonstration of how to build reports in Data Studio or how to use all the features. There is plenty of online documentation if you are looking for that kind of help. What this talk is, is a story of how Data Studio has helped me democratize digital analytics data for increase usage by the marketing team, thus making us a more data-driven organization. And hopefully in the process of telling that story, you will get some ideas for how you can use this tool in your work.

Data-Driven Quest

I am a believer in the power of data and I have been on somewhat of a quest throughout my career to make the marketing world more data driven. I had the privilege to start my career in a very data-driven company—FedEx. There I learned many best practices about how to use data in marketing tests to determine what is most effective, but not all companies are as data-driven as FedEx. In fact, a few years later I found myself working for a large, non-profit organization where I oversaw web analytics. The cultural difference between FedEx and the non-profit was dramatic, particularly with regard to being data-driven. To be fair, it wasn’t that the non-profit organization didn’t want to utilize data, it was just hard to quantify the output of many of the activities they were engaged in.

Employees’ Use of Web Analytics Tool

I was frustrated that though my colleagues had access to vast data and reports that could have been used to inform decisions about marketing and the website, it went largely unused. For example, the company had installed Omniture SiteCatalyst, now Adobe Analytics, to track the analytics of the website, yet very few people logged in, looked at the data, or used the reports. Well, I set out to see if I could help change that.

I went on an internal awareness and training campaign to try to get those involved with the organization’s website and digital marketing efforts to utilize the wealth of analytics data at our disposal. Great strides were made, and much improvement was gained, yet at the end of the day, login data showed that only 40% of people with access to the analytics had logged into look at it over a six month period. Only 11%, logged into the web analytics platform on a monthly basis to look at data regarding the website performance. I’m sure, if you were to look at the usage data in your company, many of you would see similarly low rates of people logging into your digital analytics platforms.

Employees' Use of Web Analytics Tool

Hilti Digital Marketing Team

A few years later, I landed at my present company, Hilti. For Hilti’s US website, our digital marketing team produces an average of more than 50 landing pages a month for a variety of purposes, including education, awareness, technical documentation, and marketing activities. As I dug into the data for these pages, I became aware of opportunities for improve of the engagement metrics, particularly with regard to the conversion rates and bounce rates.

Evolution of Digital Analytics Reports at Hilti

Still on my journey to make the marketing world more data-driven, I once again set about to democratize the web analytics data at Hilti. It was a winding road before I finally arrive at the Data Studio solution, but this is how it happened.

  • SharePoint. One of the first things I tried was putting the digital analytics reports on Microsoft SharePoint. Hilti had a robust intranet built on SharePoint, so I gave it a shot, posting monthly reports and other supplemental reports on SharePoint. Despite my efforts, it never took hold. It was too difficult to find and access, and the layout options and features were restrictive. I stopped doing it after a year or so.
  • Google Analytics. Next, I started to try to get the team to use Google Analytics reports more. I began doing training classes and sending out reports for Google Analytics. We saw modest improvements from this effort, but ultimately is was not as successful as I had hoped. We ran into access issues as well as issues with the flexibility, or lack thereof, in GA reports.
  • PowerPoint. Then I migrated into reporting through PowerPoint slide decks. This was more effective in our organization, but it was mainly high-level performance metrics. The reports were primarily shared via email and they were was not scalable for reporting on metrics for individual campaigns. While it had it limitations, these PowerPoint reports saw some success and I continue to use them today. But it wasn’t the kind of huge success I was hoping for, so I kept looking.
  • Power BI. Next I tried using Microsoft’s Power BI tool to create and democratize the digital analytics data. I liked a lot of things about Power BI, but ultimately, we had too many access issues. Licenses were limited and usage of the reports was also severely limited. I haven’t given up yet on Power BI, there are more and more people in our organization using it, so it may yet catch on. But it wasn’t the success I was hoping for to democratize the digital data.
  • Data Studio. Then one day in 2018 I decided to give Data Studio a try. It was still a beta product from Google at the time, but I had heard good things about it. When I tried Data Studio, I found it was easy to learn, and I had lots of flexibility in designing reports. The dashboards were easy to share, and scalable so I could build one report that could be used on many pages or campaigns. And you know what, this amazing thing happened, when I shared the Data Studio reports, my colleagues actually started using them. They voluntarily told me how much they appreciated the reports and they began asking questions about the data and asking for enhancement, which I made and will detail later. I would walk by colleague’s desks and see them using the Data Studio reports I had created and this gave me great satisfaction. From my experience, this type of high usage of digital marketing reports was rare and I knew I was on to something great.

What Makes Data Studio Superior to Other Solutions

Even if you are using Data Studio to only report on Google Analytics data, I have found it to be a superior medium of getting the data into the hands of marketing decision makers. The benefits of Data Studio can be summarized into these three areas:

  • Flexibility in Design and Layout: Google Analytics dashboards have many limitations such as a max of 12 widgets and they force you to use a three column grid and there are other look and feel constraints. With Data Studio, you have much more flexibility in how to arrange charts and graphs however you like. You can add brand themed colors and images, and overall you’ll run into fewer design and layout limitations. For me, I love the flexibility to put all the essential data, charts, and graphs on a single page report that I can give to my marketing partners and Data Studio gives me that ability.
  • Interactive Elements and Filter Controls: One of the things I really like about Data Studio is the ability to add filter controls and other end-user customization elements. Filter controls let me build a single report that can be used for reporting on countless pages and campaigns. Filter controls give end users of the report the ability to select a specific page or campaign that they are interest in and the report refreshes to be based on that selection.
  • Sharing and Ease of Access: The ease of sharing and granting access to other is a major reason why I think Data Studio has taken hold with our marketing team. I can have complete control of permissions and who can access the report, yet sharing it is as easy as copying the URL and sending the link to a colleague. Most people are already logged into their Google Account, with Data Studio reports, there is no separate login and no requirement to navigate around a menu system trying to find the right report. The link takes them straight to the report.

First Data Studio Report Landing Page PerformanceFirst Data Studio Report—Landing Page Performance

Above is a screen shot of the first report I made for Hilti in Data Studio. I wanted to put all the most important metrics about how a landing page was performing on a single, one-page report and this is what I came up with. Please excuse the lack of aesthetic beauty—that’s not my forte. I’m more of a function over form kind of guy. And this was a first iteration design anyway.  At least I did incorporate the Hilti Red color scheme. Let me point out the features of this report:

  • Filter Control for the Page URL: In the top left, you have the filter control for the page URL. When the report end user clicks this filter control, a drop down menu appears listing all the pages on the website. The user can select one or multiple pages, but the report was designed to show the data on only one single page. When the user selects the page for which they want to view data, the report refreshes and presents only the data for that page.
  • Date Range Widget: In the top left you also have the date range widget. Data Studio allows you to put a fixed data range on the report, or you can use a control like this to allow the end user to set whatever date they want. Even if the date selector is on the report, you will still have a default date range, which is 28 days unless you change it.
  • Pageviews, Users, Logged In Users, CTA Events: On the top right of the report, I have four important metrics–pageviews, unique users, logged in users, and call-to-action events, which is generally the measurement to track page conversions.
  • Pageviews Trend: Next I have a line chart on the left side of the report showing pageviews over the date range of the report.
  • Traffic Sources: To the right of that, we have the default traffic channels and then more specific traffic sources.
  • Time on Page, Exits, Bounce Rate, and Page Value: The next chart has the page title associated with that URL and as you can see I leave room for more than one page title. Ideally, there would only be one page title for a URL, but the ideal often doesn’t happen. In this chart I list the pageviews, time on page, exits, bounce rate, and page value for each page title.
  • Previous Page Path: Next is a chart with the previous page the visitor was on before getting to the page in question. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t have an automated way to dynamically pull the next page path or I would have put that on the report as well.
  • Calls-to-Action: Then we have the precise name of the call-to-action that the visitors of the page click. Most of our landing pages have one primary call to action, and several secondary or tertiary calls to action.
  • Devices: Then on the bottom left, we have the device type pie chart to let us know if visitors come on desktop, tablet, or mobile devices.
  • Geo-Location: On the bottom right is a simple geo-location report to tell us where people are from who visit the page.
  • SEO Keyword Data: The two bottom middle charts contain SEO data pulled from Google Search Console (GSC). I wanted the landing page report to be as comprehensive as possible, and so since Data Studio lets you blend the GSC and Google Analytics data sources, I thought I’d give it a try.

Landing Page Report Quickly Gains Popularity

The landing page report quickly gained popularity. It was a concise one-page summary of the webpage performance, and it also allowed the end user to drill down into more detail. It was easy to access and easy to share. It allowed our digital marketing specialists, who build the pages on our site, to quickly find how a page is performing and glean insights into how the page could be improved.

In the months that followed I received feedback and made several changes to the Data Studio dashboard. The nice thing about this reporting process with Data Studio is that I could make these improvements without changing the URL of the report, so all my marketing colleagues could get the updates without me having to send out a new link. Let me review some of the enhancements I have made to the report.

Second Data Studio Report Landing Page Performance

  • Removed Google Search Console Data: One major draw back of the original version of the report was that it was super slow to load. The processing required to blend the GA and GSC data sources was the cause of the slowness, so I ended up removing the GSC data points for SEO keywords. Later, I ended up making a separate Data Studio report for SEO that exclusively uses GSC data.
  • Data Control for Other Hilti Country Websites: When our eBusiness team started using the landing page report, one of the first enhancements they requested was if there was a way to share the report with our European colleagues so they could check on the performance of pages on their country websites. This, as it turns out, was easy to do with the data control filter. I simply put this drop down menu in the top left corner of the report where the end user could select to view data from the Google Analytics of a different country website. Hilti has each country website set up in a different property in GA, so if the end user of the report had access to that GA data, they could select their country website data. Then, in the drop down menu for selecting a page, they will only see the pages from that country site as options. With this data control filter, I was able to share the report with colleagues in England, France, Germany, and elsewhere.
  • Page Scroll Depth Data Added: With the GSC SEO data removed from the landing page report, I had some spare room and so I added a section on scroll depth. Scrolling is not something GA tracks by default, but you can add code to your website to track scrolling as a custom event, and our development team did that. The scrolling data, I felt added some good depth to our measures of customer engagement with the page.

The landing page report, is, of course, a living document, so there are other changes I have made and will continue to make to it as we move forward.

Other Versions of the Landing Page Report

Other enhancement requests that my colleagues made required me to make separate versions of the landing page report. Again, it wasn’t too hard to copy a data studio report and then make alterations to the copy without changing the original. In the top menu of any Data Studio report, there is a copy button. Below are some of the other versions of the landing page report I have created.

  • Version that Keys Off Page Title, rather than URL: Another enhancement that was requested was to be able to pull landing page reports based on the page title, rather than URL. This helped some of our less technically savvy friends the marketing department. Also, while I wish URLs would remain constant, there are times when the same page has multiple URLs, so this enhancement allowed us to look at the page performance by title regardless of the changed URL.
  • Version that Excludes Hilti Employees: Another requested enhancement I received was when one day someone asked how much of the traffic to a page was generated by Hilti internal employees compared to non-employees. We don’t have perfect methodology to identify employee traffic on the site, but if an employee is logged into the website or is located at our main offices, then we can identify them. So again, I made a copy of the report, and this time I used a custom segment to only bring in data from the segment of users that are not employees.
  • Version for Pages with Videos: Then one day we were looking at the landing page report for a page where the major call to action was to watch a series of videos. So I created a version of the landing page report that included video metrics.

Other Reports Created in Data Studio

I have spent a lot of time of the landing page report, but in the time remaining, let me briefly go over some of the other reports I have created for Hilti using Data Studio.

  • SEO Report from GSC Data: I mentioned that early on in my usage of Data Studio I realized I needed to keep the GSC sourced data in a separate report. The SEO page report, like the landing page report, has a page selector at the top. If you don’t select a specific page, it will report on all pages for the website. But of course you can select a single page to see it’s SEO performance. On the left is how the page is doing on branded keywords. On the right are the metrics for non-brand keyword performance in the areas of organic rank, search impressions, clicks, and click thru rate.
  • Email Traffic by Campaign Report: This report also has similarities to the landing page report. Obviously, it looks very similar and again, I apologize for that. Data Studio really does have a lot of features to make reports look sharp, but up until now, I have been more concerned with the data and functionality, rather than the look and feel. At Hilti, probably like many of you, we send out a lot of emails. Our email service provider provides the email team a lot of stats about open rates and click thru rates, but once the email visitors gets to our site, the team had less data readily available. This report allows our email team to select any given email campaign from the drop down filter. Then they can see what visitors from the campaign did on the website, what pages they viewed and how many times they viewed them. And most importantly, it provides eCcommerce metrics such as how many orders they made and what products they bought. One other thing I should point out about the email campaign report is that I added a second page. While one of the things I love about Data Studio is the ability to have concise, one-page reports with a ton of great data, you can, of course, have multiple pages in your reports. On the second page, I put metrics to help our team see what time people are clicking through our emails and coming to the website.
  • Campaign Specific Reports: The final report I will mention is one I put together for a recent campaign we were running for our chemical anchor products. At Hilti, when we talk about anchors, it’s not boat anchors, we manufacture and sell concrete anchors for construction applications. Part of our suite of anchoring products consists of epoxy, adhesive, or chemical anchors. This past summer we had a marketing push around the chemical anchor line and this is the summary report I’ve put together to report on the performance of the chemical anchor pages. Part of the chemical campaign was also to publish several new pages with the goal of attracting more organic search traffic, so I created an SEO dashboard in Data Studio for the campaign as well.

Engagement Rates for Landing Pages See Marked Improvement

As you can see, we have used Data Studio to create a wide variety of reports and we have seen a lot of success in democratizing the data this way and getting the marketing team to pay attention to the data. But you may be wondering, what concrete benefits have we seen from using Data Studio? Sure the data is getting out there more, but is it really being used to improve the performance of digital marketing campaigns? The answer is yes, we have seen tangible results and here are two big ones.

Engagement Rates for Landing Pages See Marked ImprovementHere is a chart of the bounce rate and conversion rate for our landing pages over a year. Before we started using Data Studio for our reporting, we were seeing relatively steady bounce rates and conversion rates with room for improvement. When we started using Data Studio, those bounce rates began to decline and ended up stabilizing around a percentage roughly half of what they were before. And similarly, the conversion rates began to improve as we used Data Studio and have effectively doubled in the course of a year.

I’m not saying Data Studio was the only factor in these improved engagement rates—it was not. We have ongoing efforts to continually improve our landing pages and using Data Studio reports was only one aspect of our approach. But the correlation is undeniable—that using Data Studio to democratize web analytics data has been an important tool in helping us get data in the hands of marketing decision makers and they have used that data to improve the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns.

LinkedIn Notes We Are Drowning in Data. Data Studio Has the Solution.

As we wrap up, I like to share a quote from a LinkedIn article I ran across just a couple of weeks ago as I was preparing this presentation. The article was about how marketers are using digital analytics, and it pointed out, as I did at the beginning of this presentation, how digital marketers are drowning in data. The article said, “We found that digital marketers are struggling — struggling to calculate their impact, share that impact with key stakeholders, and market that impact across their organizations.” I found it interesting that they pointed out these three challenges with measuring, sharing, and making an impact across the organization. And it was quite timely, as I have pointed out, that you can overcome each one of these challenges with Data Studio. And when you do that, instead of drowning in data, you will be riding the data-driven wave. Thank you.

Lessons Learned from Doing SEO Freelancing for a Year

Summary: After doing SEO freelancing for a year, I learned important skills and gained invaluable experience in selecting clients, estimating work load, negotiating payment, measuring success, establishing processes, succeeding in the short-term and long-term, and perhaps most importantly, in learning to follow my heart.

Background Motivation to Do a Side Hustle

bathtub leaking into kitchenIn 2018, we hit a financial rough spot in which my family had several thousand dollars of unexpected expenses within a one month period. My car broke down and that cost $2,500 to repair and the family van had a $1,000 repair for some weird electrical problem. The water heater in our house burst and it was over $1,000 to replace. The upstairs bathroom shower faucet broke and it started leaking into the kitchen—another $1,000 to repair. And there were several other items that I do not now recall.

My daughter was approaching her 16th birthday and we had been saving up money so she could have my old car to drive and then I was planning to buy myself a new (used) car. But all of a sudden, virtually all the money we had been saving to buy a new car was gone, and that’s when I thought I should look into doing some freelancing to make some extra money. By profession, I am a digital analytics manager who has a lot of experience managing websites and performing search engine optimization (SEO). I thought I could make some time for digital marketing consulting, maybe 10 or 15 hours a week, by working nights and weekends.

Selecting a Freelance Website

My first item of business was finding somewhere to get freelance work. Years ago, I had hired a freelancer through Upwork.com, so that was my first destination when I began looking to do freelance work. Honestly, I didn’t do as much research as I should have when it came to selecting which freelance website company to work through. I picked Upwork because they were the most prominent freelance website I was aware of. In retrospect, I would have researched the competition (like Fiverr.com and Freelancer.com) to compare fees and terms of service.

Signing up with Upwork, searching for and securing my first freelance gig cost me nothing. But once I began working, I was shocked that Upwork charged a 20% fee on every dollar I billed my client, though that fee did go down to 10% after the first $500 billed. Even more shocking, though, was Upwork’s user agreement which states that freelance/client relationships made through their website must use their system to complete payment transactions FOR 2 YEARS. That means, if you connect with someone through Upwork, you agreed that you will pay Upwork their service fees for two years for all work done. That seems like an outrageously long time to me, so be aware of that going in.

Lesson Learned #1: Do competitive research of fees and terms of service of freelance websites before signing up and making an agreement with a client so you know beforehand exactly what to expect.

Finding My First Freelancing Gig

As I browsed the digital marketing related freelance gigs that I was qualified for, SEO ones where the most prevalent. I submitted my application to several of them. I had no idea how hard or easy it would be to get hired for one of these gigs, and like any job application, the hard part was taking the time to write a thoughtful, persuasive application letter even when you don’t know the likelihood that they’ll select you. But it had to be done. And then there was they issue of what hourly rate to charge. I checked out the competition and there are a lot of SEOs on the platform with low fees, along with a smaller number of ones with high fees. I ended up picking an hourly rate that was lower than what I wanted, but I felt I needed to do that to be competitive as I was getting my feet wet in the world of freelance SEO work. I thought that once I was established, it would be easier to get work at a higher rate.

A month or so went by without getting selected for an interview, and I was beginning to think this was a waste of my time, when one day I got asked to have a phone interview for one of the jobs. The phone interview went well, and I was soon offered the job. I had some debate with the client about whether the gig would be paid by the job or by the hour. I was pretty firm on doing it by the hour, as I didn’t want to get stuck in a commitment to do work that could drag on for a long time and thus diminish my hourly rate. The client was okay with me tracking the hours and paying by the hour, so we moved forward with an official agreement through the Upwork website.

Lesson Learned #2: Be patient in finding the right gig for you and it could lead to a great long-term working relationship, as you will see was the case for me.

I should also mention that the client asked if we could do the payments outside the Upwork website, thus avoiding their fees, as well as avoiding Upwork’s incredibly poorly designed user interface. It was an tempting offer, but knowing the Upwork User Agreement terms, I had to insist on using Upwork’s prescribed time tracking and payment system. I don’t think the client was trying to break the rules, they were just unaware and when I said I felt it was best to honor the Upwork terms of service, the client was fine with that, and so we moved forward.

Lesson Learned #3: Be prepared in case your client asks to pay you outside the freelance website and know how you will respond. It’s against the terms of most of the sites. Honesty is the best policy.

Analysis, Plan of Action and Understand Client’s Business

The client who hired me was a small digital marketing agency, which for anonymity’s sake, was run by a woman I will call Molly. We had agreed that I would put in about 10 or 15 hours a week, and Molly asked me to split my time between two of her clients which I’ll call Website A and Website B. I dove right into analyzing the SEO performance of the two websites, as well as diving into the Google Analytics to understand how the sites were performing overall. By the end of the first month, I had presented my SEO and web analytics findings to Molly and the website owners, and offered my recommendations for improvement and suggested next steps.

Website A and B were both the online home for small technology companies, and both companies used their website as a major source of sales and lead generation. Website A got a couple thousand visits per week, while Website B, a smaller niche business, was getting a couple hundred visits per week. Both sites had good things going for them in terms of branding, content, and design, but both were also lacking some basic SEO best practices such are optimized titles tags, meta descriptions, H1 headlines, interlinking, and more. Both sites also had an information architecture (IA) and main menu lacking in high-value SEO keywords.

With both sites, I should mention that it took several conversations with the site owners to really understand their business, the products and services offered, as well as their target audience. It was particularly difficult to grasp the business model of Website B, the more niche business, but once I did, a course of action to make the content resonate better with their audience and with search engines became clear. And thus far, the freelancing was going very smoothly—I was enjoying the work and earning a little extra income, everything I had hoped for.

Lesson Learned #4: In scoping out SEO freelancing projects, be sure to bake into your estimates time to get to know the company, target audience, products and services. Having a well-rounded understanding of the business will make you a better SEO consultant.

Performance Measuring and SEO Results for Website A and Website B

Over the next couple of months, we implemented the course of action I had laid out to improve the SEO, usability, and conversion rates of the two websites. Both sites were built on WordPress, a website content management system (CMS) that I am very familiar with, so I was quite comfortable not only developing the strategy, but executing it as well. While the freelance contract had been for SEO services, it was clear that the website owners wanted help in many other aspects of their web presence and digital marketing. At the end of the day, I knew the website owners would only be happy if the increase in organic web traffic led to more leads and more website visitors turning into buying customers. Therefore, in addition to SEO tasks, many of my efforts were also around landing page optimization, reducing bounce rates, improving conversion rates, cleaning up web analytics tracking and reporting, and doing other digital marketing tasks.

Lesson Learned #5: Nobody wants to rank for rankings sake. SEO consulting isn’t just about improving the website’s placement in search results, it’s about improving the volume of target audience visits and quality leads.

As part of the performance measurement plan, I put together a Google Data Studio report with some of the high-level SEO and website stats which I reviewed weekly with the website owners. The report served to benchmark prior website performance as well as communicate how my SEO efforts were paying off. This was important as a freelance consultant as I wanted the clients to know where the key performance indicators (KPIs) had been and how my efforts had improved them.

Within a month of implementing our first changes on the websites, we began to see some small improvements in the amount of organic search traffic to the sites as well as improvements in the conversion rate of visitors. After three or four months, Website A had doubled in traffic and with conversion rates doubling as well, the owner saw a four-fold increase in leads. And they were good leads too, many of them turning into paying customers. With Website B, the results were positive, but less dramatic as Website A, with traffic increasing by about 50% and slightly better conversion rates.

Lesson Learned #6: I already knew this, but it was reinforced that freelancers should always benchmark the SEO and website performance prior to their engagement as well as establishing regular reporting to communicate improvements in KPIs.

Overall, the owners of Website A and B were very pleased with the results, as was Molly who was thrilled to have such happy clients herself. It was then that I began to more fully realized how valuable my skill set was. I began to think that I had sold myself short with the low hourly rate I set at first, and I began to wonder if I should raise my rate. I also began to wonder if I should consider expanding the time I spent freelancing to see if it could turn into a legitimate full-time business for me.

Asking for a Pay Raise

At about this point in my relationship with Molly, I thought it was a good time to ask for an increase in my hourly rate. I had been doing the freelance SEO work for around six months and I had been trying for months to find the right time to bring up the topic. For someone of my personality, this is a difficult thing to ask for, but I was glad I finally did it. I asked for a substantial increase because I knew I didn’t want to do this again. Molly clearly didn’t want to lose me, but the increased rate was difficult for her to take. She made a counter proposal and I accepted it and we moved on—it seemed like a win for both of us.

Lesson Learned #7: Do research so you can price yourself right from the get go, but don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of your hourly rate. And, of course, it is best to have some success under your belt before asking for a pay raise.

Taking on a Third and Fourth Website for My Client

With the success of Website A and B, my client, Molly, asked if I thought I could take on additional clients of hers. I had been averaging about 8 or 10 hours a week on the freelancing work, and due to my full-time job and family constraints, I told her there was no way I could put in more hours. She said she would be bringing on additional junior SEO freelancers, though, and wondered if I could step back and play a more strategic role. I would continue to complete analysis and set strategies, but the more junior SEOs would do the work of executing the tactics. I had been enjoying all the work I was doing for Molly and wanted to continue to expand my professional relationship with her and her agency so I decided to go for it.

Website C and D, did not turn out as well as A and B, for a variety of reasons. And though we didn’t see much SEO success with these two websites, I did learn many important lessons about freelance and agency work. Website C was owned and operated by some people who were very difficult to work with. Whereas the owners of Websites A and B were open to almost all of our ideas, the managers of Website C pushed back against a great many of our proposals. Ironically, they still demanded results even though they wouldn’t follow our recommendations. It was a difficult situation, and certainly above my freelancer pay grade. Thankfully Molly handled most of those end-client relationships, though this company didn’t remain a client for long.

Lesson Learned #8: Be selective about clients. From my perspective, no amount of money is worth it if the person you are working with is unreasonable and they make your life miserable.

Lesson Learned #9: Know yourself, your strengths, and your preferences. For me, if I ever go into business for myself doing digital marketing consulting or start my own agency, I want a business partner who will handle client relationships. It’s not my forte.

The managers of Website D, contrary to Website C, were very nice to work with. Like Websites A and B, Website D had a lot of log hanging fruit with regard to optimizing page titles, meta data, headlines, call-to-action buttons, and other content. Also like the others, an information architecture overhaul was implemented to put the topics that matter most to users higher up in the menu structure. But despite our efforts, and to my surprise, after a month or two, the organic search volume didn’t budge.

On top of the lack of SEO results, it seemed like each week we were uncovering unusual and unexpected issues with the website. Their WordPress implementation was outdated, with problematic plugins, and content was in disarray. On top of that, the site managers had been making changes to their homepage and other page without communicating it to us and in some cases messing up the SEO. The company had Google display ads running, and running very inefficiently, sending thousands of unqualified visitors to their site weekly. And they had three instances of Google Analytics on their site, so we wondered about the validity of any of the data we were looking at. The more we worked with the website, the more oddities and technical debt we seemed to uncovered.

Lesson Learned #10: Evaluate the state of the website backend before beginning optimization work and build into the scope of work plenty of time to do clean up. If the back end is in disarray, it can put a major hamper on optimization efforts.

Problems in Working with an Expanding Team of Freelancers

In addition to the problems with clients and client websites, as I had expanded my case load to handle four websites, the working model of me being the senior SEO strategist with the assistance of junior SEO freelancers was having bumps of its own. I began each website engagement with my normal thorough analysis, and then made a to-do list of things for the junior SEO to do. Unfortunately, the other freelancer was not accustomed to my way of communication and didn’t understand many of the tasks I gave her. Many of the important tasks went undone or were done the wrong way or simply in a way I was not accustomed to.

This particular junior SEO was used to going through a checklist as she gave a website an SEO tune up, while I, on the other hand, wasn’t accustomed to working in such a rigid process. I quickly began to see the benefits of the checklist, however. Though a list like that cannot cover every aspect of SEO, what it did cover was good SEO practices. And I realized the checklist allowed her to get much of the low hanging fruit, freeing me up to do deeper analysis and uncover issue less likely to turn up in a standardized checklist. In fact, I decided that a checklist could be a great tool in doing the initial analysis of a client and their website. Eventually, we worked out many of the kinks in our internal process and we began working together better.

Lesson Learned #11: It takes times to learn to work well with someone, so make time for it and don’t take teamwork for granted.

Lesson Learned #12: While checklists can be mechanical, rote, and less-than-comprehensive for qualitative evaluations, they can still be a helpful, time-saving tool, and a good way to delegate and a make sure you don’t forget anything.

Realizing the Freelance Work is Stretching Me Too Thin

After several months of working on Websites C and D, neither was showing much SEO progress, and the great progress we has seen in Website A and B was slowing down. Furthermore, I was personally being stretched incredibly thin trying to keep up on all the freelancing work while at the same time trying not to fall behind in my full-time day job and balancing the demands of a large family. While I had thoroughly enjoyed the freelance work for the first six or eight months of doing it, in the most recent months, I began to dread the work more and more. I have almost no free time as it is, and what little spare time I had was filled with the freelance work. I felt like I was not dedicating the time I should have to my wife and kids, yet we were all enjoying the extra income. The extra income allowed us to buy that third car for my daughter to drive, which was a huge benefit to my wife who no longer had to take her to and from school and other activities.hannah driving gold corolla car

Molly must have noticed that I was being stretched thin, and she suggested I hand off Website C and D to another freelancer, and return to dedicating myself wholly to Websites A and B. We made that transition, but I continued to be weary of the workload. I was taking on more responsibilities at my full-time job, and it became increasing apparent that I needed to spend more time with my family. I didn’t want to lose the extra income, but my health and my family were more important.

After nearly a year of doing the freelance gig, I happened to be on a family vacation. It’s always nice to have time off, but I particularly enjoyed the freedom from the demands of the freelance work. I dreaded getting back to real life and starting up with the SEO freelance work again. It was then that I realized that it was time to be done with the freelancing. When I made the mental decision to stop doing the freelance work, a feeling of peace and comfort (a feeling that I have learned comes from the Spirit of God) came over me letting me know that it was right. When I got home, I gave Molly notice that I could no longer do freelance work for her. She respected my decision, I wrapped up and handed off my projects, and we parted ways.

Lesson Learned #13: Trust in the feelings God puts into your heart and do as He prompts you. Decisions may be difficult, but the Lord is watching out for you, and will give you confidence to move forward.

Conclusion

It was a great experience to do freelancing for a year. I had many successes and also several failures, and in the process I learned much, as I have pointed out in the lessons learned above. I was able to accomplish my goal of earning some extra money to get a third car for our growing family. And in the process of freelancing, I learned skills and gained experience that will help me throughout my ongoing career, whether that continues in the in-house corporate SEO world or if it evolves into future consulting, agency work, or even freelancing again. While the time is not right to keep doing SEO freelancing right now, the time could be right again in the future. And if that time comes, I’ll be much more prepared.