A Quick Guide to the Best Zoom Alternatives

A Quick Guide to the Best Zoom Alternatives

Hi, I’m Tony! I’m the Community Program Manager at Team SPI. Since 2015, I’ve been hosting online video gatherings ranging from weekly mastermind groups to multi-hundred-person conferences over Zoom and other platforms. I’m always looking for the best possible tools to help people connect in meaningful ways.

When the pandemic hit, it seems that just about everything in life suddenly ended up on Zoom—and about five minutes later, we were already burned out on all of it. 

I’ve had the benefit of using Zoom for my work for several years before all this happened, so I was pretty comfortable with its strengths and weaknesses. 

There’s a good reason it became the pandemic go-to—it combines a powerful set of features with solid reliability and a (usually) clean user experience. 

But you’re not reading this because you’re totally satisfied with your Zoom experience. There has to be something better out there, right? 

The answer to that, of course, depends on you and what you’re looking to do. 

Here’s what to expect in this post!

And the Zoom alternatives, organized by category:

  1. I need something web-based.
  2. I just need to talk to my team and clients.
  3. I need something that supports my corporate needs.
  4. I need to produce events.
  5. I want to create a virtual space for my people to hang out in.
  6. I don’t actually need video.

Why You Might Want to Use Zoom (or Not)

While I’m a big fan of Zoom, I’ve also been searching hard for the best alternatives depending on the different needs of the various meetings and events I host online. 

Benefits of Zoom

Some of Zoom’s key strengths:

  • It’s established. So many people have learned how to use Zoom already, so you can build on that convenience. 
  • It’s (pretty) affordable. For ~$15 per month, you get an incredibly powerful platform with a lot of tools. 
  • It works well. Part of what fed Zoom’s success was its ability to do exactly what it sets out to do, as well as or better than just about everyone else. They thought through the user experience and removed barriers left and right, making quality video meetings dead easy to host. They’re tops for a reason! 
  • It’s got powerful features. When you get comfortable with Zoom’s capabilities, you can do some pretty sophisticated things. Breakout rooms, advanced screen sharing capabilities, polls, live streaming, and more allow you to go as far as hosting whole conferences.

Disadvantages of Zoom

Some reasons why you might not want to use Zoom:

  • Cost. The free level only lets you host meetings for 40 minutes at a time. 
  • Software requirements. Hosts requires software to be installed. 
  • No perpetual room. Each meeting has a start and end time. 
  • No P2P network. People join or leave meetings, but there’s no way to connect outside that. 
  • Wonky breakout rooms. While Zoom has powerful breakout room features, it’s easy for things to go haywire if you’re not careful.
  • Lack of event production features. Zoom is functional, but it doesn’t give you tools to produce a slick, professional looking event. 

With this in mind, I wanted to offer you an overview of some of the best platforms I’ve found, based on how your needs contrast with what Zoom has to offer. 

Note: This landscape is changing constantly. New platforms are coming out every single day, and existing ones are launching new features continuously. Consider this a snapshot of my subjective opinion!

1. I need something web-based.

No installation needed—just pop open a browser window and go!

Google Meet

Google’s approach to video meetings used to drive me crazy. For years, they struggled to nail down a consistent strategy, changing brands and rearranging their interfaces to the point where it was just all too confusing. 

Not long after the pandemic hit, however, they finally found a sweet spot—offering just enough functionality and a clean, sensible interface that put the tools I needed in just the right spots.

Forcing integration into Google Calendar, annoying as it may be to a non-Meet user, does make it that much more convenient to book a meeting with a handy link without having to leave the calendar app. 

My biggest caveat with Google Meet has been in its CPU usage. While in recent weeks I haven’t noticed as much of an issue, I have had months-long stretches when using Google Meet meant spiking my not-that-old computer’s CPU and slowing everything else to a crawl. 

If you decide to try it, keep an eye on how it operates on your machine!

Join.me

One of the early entrants into browser-based meeting, join.me differentiated themselves by their emphasis on being lightweight and easy. If you’re looking for something simple, especially for one-off meetings, join.me is here for you!

2. I just need to talk to my team and clients.

If you largely have a consistent team of trusted people you want to communicate with (and enable communications between), team-oriented platforms have been aggressively upgrading their video capabilities. 

Slack

If you’re already in a shared Slack channel with the people you talk to over video, you could cut Zoom out of the loop altogether and do your calls straight through Slack. The interface is relatively lightweight compared to Zoom’s features, but the convenience can’t be beat. 

Discord

Originally a hit with the gaming community, Discord pushed the envelope with chat-oriented team channel spaces to the point where businesses have started to take notice. While chat is the default mode of engagement, adding voice and video are easy, with customizations galore. 

Skype

Remember Skype? They’ve been in the game longer than anyone. While they’ve dealt with more than a fair share of Microsoft-imposed bloat, Skype haas remained a consistent, hardened option for people who need to communicate—especially when you might be mixing international calling with your team chats. 

3. I need something that supports my corporate needs.

Are you looking for something that supports the wider needs of a larger organization? Zoom’s been building out its enterprise offerings, but others live and breathe it. 

Microsoft Teams

Opinions may vary widely about the experience of Teams, but it’s clear Microsoft has invested heavily in becoming one of the heaviest hitters in enterprise communications. Teams offers many of the features other platforms have, but plays particularly nicely with Microsoft-oriented businesses. 

Webex, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans, Adobe Connect

There are a wide array of corporate-oriented platforms. If you’re looking to make a decision that affects the wider business needs of your organization, I won’t try to tell you which way to go—research the platforms that are out there, define your feature needs, do the demos, and the best answer will emerge.

4. I need to produce events. 

Zoom is a powerful event production platform, but the onus is completely on the organizer to get the content right. Luckily, others are working on making the organizer’s job easier.  

Gatheround (formerly Icebreaker)

I’m as excited about Gatheround as I am about any meeting software platform I’ve seen. They clearly designed the experience specifically to make it easy for people to connect and cultivate meaningful relationships—you can create time-based breakout rooms where people are presented with card-based discussion prompts in either small groups or 1:1 rooms. 

A lobby area offers a great transitional space between breakouts, where a combination of chat and stage area (that others can join with permission) encourages social interaction that just feels different.

HeySummit

If you need a more complete conference-level experience, where each talk can have its own landing page, HeySummit has you covered. You still need another provider to handle the video (Zoom, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), but HeySummit wraps it in a nice user-friendly shell.

(Disclosure: The folks at HeySummit are good friends of ours.)

5. I want to create a virtual space for my people to hang out in.

The world of “proximity chat” has come a long way—from niche community of super-online escapists to mainstream tool for virtual conferences and more. These video game-like environments allow you to create a sense of place, where people can explore and bump into each other. 

On these platforms, when people’s avatars come into close proximity to one another, their videos come into focus, so you can talk to only those who are “near” you at any given moment. It’s kind of like real life! 

Topia

Topia’s hand-drawn style is incredibly appealing to me, personally, because it stands in such contrast to everything else I’m used to seeing. It feels a little more nature-oriented. It helps me feel like I’m entering a special little world. 

Its administrative interface is not for the faint of heart—you need to be willing to poke around and take your time to get to know how things work, and work around some of its features’ more maddening constraints—but your patience will be rewarded with an experience unlike anything most people have seen. 

You can create a custom environment or use one of their templates, which I highly recommend—starting from scratch can be incredibly time consuming, while their templates offer a great insight into the features they offer. 

Gather.town

My other favorite proximity chat app is gather.town. It’s a bit further along in terms of its development, but still have a lot of quirks when it comes to setup and administration. This world isn’t for the established corporate player just yet, but I expect some of these platforms will get there some time soon!

Gather.town has a simplified, Legend of Zelda-like overhead view with a little digital avatar for each person. You can draw rooms, set up walls and floors and decor, and install interactive points where people can view videos, web pages, presentations, or even play a game together. 

Workfrom

In Workfrom, you can create a perpetual “room” where people can come to hang out and work alongside one another. It’s explicitly not a space to hold a scheduled meeting: while cameras will be on, microphones are disabled. You can only talk to each other over chat, leaving your ears free to focus on the admin-chosen musical playlist while you do other things. 

Custom wallpaper and simple discussion prompts in the chat round out an incredibly simple but truly powerful tool for creating a sense of shared presence among a team or small community. 

Go wild

Try everything! There are dozens of these platforms. Check out a giant list here

6. I don’t actually need video.

Video is a powerful tool when you’re gathering people remotely—it’s about as close as we can get to being together, even if it’s not nearly the same. 

How many video meetings, however, actually need to be on video? There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to be on video at a given time: physical comfort, being on the go, insecurity about their appearance or their environment, internet issues, slow computers, and more. If you can gather people without asking them to turn on their cameras, you can get greater turnout and offer a more accessible experience. 

What tools do you already have, or which could you use for non-video related needs?

Chat apps

We already covered the usual suspects above—chat apps and other asynchronous social spaces are powerful tools when used right. 

Free Conference Call

Along with Mumble, Free Conference Call does exactly what it says it does—with just a few hoops to jump through, you can have a dial-in number set up in no time.

Zoom!

That’s right—Zoom itself is actually a pretty powerful platform for facilitating audio-only phone conversations. If you’ve ever seen one of those big complicated boilerplate Zoom invitations, you’ve seen that Zoom offers call-in numbers for people to easily dial from their phones, without having to memorize and punch in meeting IDs and passcodes. 

Once in the meeting, phone participants actually have a few useful controls available to them just through use of the number pad—even allowing participants to move in and out of breakout rooms. 

Just pick up the phone!

Regular old phone calls—remember them? They might just be the refreshing alternative to being stuck behind your desk looking into a camera. 

To Zoom or Not to Zoom

In the end, Zoom is often the best answer, if not because of its quality execution and affordable price then simply because it’s the one people tend to be the most familiar with. 

If you’re looking for something better, however, a whole lot of people are out there working hard to create products that offer you something different. Try different approaches using different platforms and invite friends or colleagues to experiment with you!

A Comprehensive Guide to LinkedIn Sponsored Updates

A Comprehensive Guide to LinkedIn Sponsored Updates

When it comes to growing your brand and boosting your revenue, social media matters.

Here’s why: More than three billion people worldwide now have social media accounts, and 54% of those users leverage social media to research products.

The biggest challenge? Finding the right platform for your social media posts where you can connect with your ideal audience.

While many businesses leverage sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to promote their content and increase conversion rates, there’s also a case to be made for more business-focused frameworks like LinkedIn.

In this comprehensive guide to LinkedIn sponsored updates we’ll tackle the big questions — what are LinkedIn sponsored updates, how do they work and how much do they cost?

We’ll also offer a list of sponsored updates best practices to help your brand make the most of this social content solution.

Download Now: How to Run LinkedIn Ads

What are LinkedIn Sponsored Updates?

Let’s start at the beginning: What exactly are LinkedIn sponsored updates?

Also called sponsored content, the official LinkedIn help page says a sponsored update is, “a LinkedIn Page update that is sponsored as an advertisement and is delivered to the LinkedIn feed of members beyond those who follow your company.”

In practice, LinkedIn sponsored updates are advertisements created by your company or marketing team which are then served to LinkedIn users who either follow your page or follow pages in a similar content space.

These ads are served as part of the native LinkedIn feed and typically include a combination of relevant text and contextual images or videos, in turn helping them blend in with similar user content rather than stand out as paid-for advertisements.

When designed and deployed well, LinkedIn sponsored updates can help drive organic interest in your brand from both current followers and a wider audience of LinkedIn members. Worth noting? While these posts are designed to follow the format of familiar user updates, they’re always labeled as “sponsored content” to ensure there’s no misleading users or confusion.

What Types of Sponsored Updates are Available?

Brands can create four types of direct sponsored updates:

Single Image Ads

Single image ads include one image and text that are displayed directly in targeted member LinkedIn feeds.

Carousel Image Ads

Carousel ads contain multiple images in succession that users can scroll through to get a better sense of your products or services.

Video Ads

Video ads offer a way to include multimedia marketing with in-feed videos that users can watch on-demand.

Single Job Ads

If you’re looking to expand your team, you can create single job ads for your targeted audience. They must promote a single job opportunity and be linked to an active job post on LinkedIn.

You can also create what’s known as “direct sponsored content”. These ads won’t display on your LinkedIn Page or Showcase Page before being served as advertisements.

As a result, they’re often used by companies to test several marketing approaches and see which one produces the best results and use it as the basis for more robust sponsored content updates.

How much do LinkedIn sponsored updates cost?

The short answer is that more resource-intensive ads — such as videos or carousels — will cost more than their single-image counterparts.

The long answer is slightly more complicated. First, it’s important to understand that LinkedIn uses a bidding model for sponsored ads; you select and create your ad type and then specify how much you’re willing to pay — a minimum price exists to ensure advertisers are fairly paid, but you’ll never be charged more than your maximum upper limit. Differing ad providers then bid on the service and the lowest price wins.

Ad price is also determined by your target audience and relevance score. If your target audience is in high demand, you’ll be charged more because there’s greater competition to capture user interest. You can also lower your ad costs by creating relevant ads. The more relevant and content-rich your ad, the less you’ll pay — because there’s a better chance of engaging LinkedIn users.

It’s also worth considering the best cost model for your ad: Cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-impression (CPM). CPC means you only pay when users click on your ad and visit your site, while CPM means you pay for every 1,000 views or “impressions” of your ad.

If your goal is generating brand awareness, opt for CPM. If you have an established audience and are looking to drive click-throughs and conversions, choose CPC.

LinkedIn Sponsored Updates Best Practices

Want to get the most from your LinkedIn sponsored updates? Keep these best practices in mind:

1. Follow LinkedIn sponsored update specs.

Each type of sponsored content comes with its own specifications.

Single image ads: Up to 255 characters for the ad name, 150 characters of intro text to avoid truncation, URLs with “http://” or “https://” and JPG, GIF or PNG files that are 5MB or smaller.

Carousel ads: Use a minimum of two cards and a maximum of ten. Each card has a maximum file size of 10MB and dimensions of 6012 x 6012px. Supported formats include JPG, PNG and non-animated GIFs.

Video ads: Video ads must be three to 30 seconds in length, between 75KB and 200MB and in MP4 format. They must also be less than 30 frames per second (FPS).

Single job ads: Single job ads should be concise, relevant, and clear and follow the same image guidelines as single image ads. They must also link to an active job posting on LinkedIn.

Failure to follow these guidelines may result in ads being rejected. If ads contain misleading or inappropriate content, LinkedIn may choose to remove the ads or terminate your LinkedIn account.

The service also makes it clear that “spam” posts are not permitted: According to their Best Practices for Sponsored Content page, “Businesses that post updates excessively are subject to review by LinkedIn and could risk having their LinkedIn Page deleted.”

2. Don’t overshare.

While targeted, relevant content can help drive user interest, too many ads too quickly can result in over-saturation.

LinkedIn recommends regularly tweaking your content strategy to deliver analysis rather than simply news, include curated content (with credit) from other sources, and repurpose older content where applicable.

3. Test, test, test.

As noted above, direct sponsored content is a great way to try out new advertising efforts and see what sticks.

With the social media market continually evolving, it’s worth evaluating ad performance every few weeks to see what’s working, what isn’t, and where specific changes can help.

4. Spend wisely.

Sponsored updates can get expensive as you incorporate new advertisements and use multiple ad types.

Here, it’s worth tracking your ad spend and switching from CPC to CPM models once click-through rates start to rise. If ads begin losing steam, consider moving back to CPM to generate increased awareness.

5. Find new markets.

While engaging your target market is critical, diversify ad objectives is also important to expand your overall impact. LinkedIn recommends using tools such as Lead Gen Forms to find better leads, assess ROI and manage your advertisements at scale.

LinkedIn’s sponsored update model offers a streamlined solution to help brands reach their target market, expand brand awareness, and boost ROI. Best bet? Start with direct sponsored content to see what sticks, then choose the cost model that makes the most sense — CPC or CPM — and adjust as needed to reach the largest LinkedIn audience.

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The Beginner’s Guide to Keyword Density

The Beginner’s Guide to Keyword Density

Keywords are a critical part of your SEO strategy.

Along with relevant content and optimized website design, ranking for the right keywords helps your site stand out from the crowd — and get closer to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs).

So it’s no surprise that a substantial amount of SEO advice centers on keywords: Doing your research can help you select and rank for top-performing keywords in your market, in turn boosting user engagement and increasing total sales.

But how many keywords are enough? How many are too many? How do you know? And what happens if Google and other search engines determine your site is “stuffed” with keywords?

In our beginner’s guide to keyword density we’ll cover the basics, dig into why it matters, and offer functional formulas and simple tools that can help make sure your keyword strategies are working as intended.

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What is keyword density?

Keyword density — also called keyword frequency — describes the number of times a specific keyword appears on a webpage compared to the total word count.

It’s often reported as a percentage or a ratio; the higher the value, the more your selected keyword appears on your page.

Why Keyword Density Matters

Keywords drive searches. When users go looking for products or services they’ll typically use a keyword that reflects their general intent, and expect search engines to serve up relevant results.

While tools like Google now take into account factors such as geographical area and page authority — defined in part by the number of visitors to your webpage and in part by “dofollow” links from reputable sites that link back to your page — keywords remain a critical factor in website success.

The caveat? You can’t simply “stuff” as many keywords as possible into your content and expect reliable results.

During the wild west days of the first search engines, brands and SEO firms would write low-value content and cram it with keywords and keyword tags, along with links to similarly-stuffed pages on the same site. Not surprisingly, visitors grew frustrated and search engine providers realized they needed a better approach.

Now, keyword stuffing has the opposite effect — search engines will penalize the page rankings of sites that still choose to keyword stuff.

By the Numbers: The Keyword Density Formula

How do you calculate keyword density? The formula is straightforward: Divide the number of times a keyword is used on your page by the total number of words on the page.

Here’s an easy example: Your page has 1,000 words and your keyword is used 10 times. This gives:

10 / 1000 = .001

Multiply this by 100 to get a percentage, which in this case is 1%.

There’s also another formula sometimes used to assess keyword usage: TF-IDF, which stands for “term frequency-inverse document frequency”. The idea here is to assess the frequency of a keyword on specific pages (TF) against the number of times this word appears across multiple pages on your site (IDF). The result helps determine how relevant your keyword is for specific pages.

While TF is straightforward, it’s easy to get sidetracked by IDF. Here, the goal is to understand the rarity of your keyword across multiple documents. IDF is measured in values between 0 and 1 — the closer to 0, the more a word appears across your pages. The closer to 1, the more it appears on a single page and no others.

This is the “inverse” nature of the calculation: lower values mean more keyword use.

Consider this formula in practice. Applied to very common words such as “the” or “but”, the TD-IDF score will approach zero. Applied to a specific keyword, the value should be much closer to 1 — if not, you may need to reconsider your keyword strategy.

Understanding Optimal Keyword Density

While there are no hard and fast rules for keyword density beyond always-relevant “don’t keyword stuff” advice, many SEOs recommend using approximately one keyword for each 200 words of copy.

Your content may perform similarly with slightly more or slightly less, but general wisdom holds that Google and other search engines respond well to keyword density around 0.5%.

It’s also worth remembering the value of keyword variants — words and phrases that are similar, but not identical, to your primary keyword. Let’s say your website sells outdoor lighting solutions. While your highest-value keyword for SERPs is “outdoor lighting”, stuffing as many uses of this keyword into as many pages as possible will reduce rather than improve overall SEO.

Instead, consider keyword variants; terms that are close to your primary keyword but not an exact copy. In the case of “outdoor lighting”, variants such as “garden lighting”, “patio lighting”, “deck lighting” or “landscape lighting” can help your page rank higher without running afoul of keyword-stuffing rules.

Not sure what variants make the most sense for your website? Use the “searches related to” section at the bottom of Google’s SERP for your primary keyword. Here’s why: Google has put significant time and effort into understanding intent, so the “searches related to” section will show you similar terms to your primary keyword.

Keyword Density Tools

While you can do the math on keyword density yourself by calculating the total word and keyword counts across every page on your website, this can quickly become time- and resource-intensive as your website expands and page volumes increase.

Keyword density tools help streamline this process. Potential options include:

1. SEO Review Tools Keyword Density Checker

This free tool is browser-based — simply input your site URL or page text, then complete the “I’m not a robot” captcha to perform a keyword density check. While this tool doesn’t offer the in-depth analytics of other options on the list, it’s a great way to get an overview of current keyword density.

2. SEOBook Keyword Density Analyzer

Similar to the tool above, the SEOBook Keyword Density Analyzer is free — but it does require an account to use. Along with basic keyword density reports, this tool also lets you search for your target keyword in Google, pull data for five of the top-ranked pages using the same keyword, then analyze them to see how your keyword stacks up.

3. WordPress SEO Post Optimizer

If you’d prefer a WordPress plugin for keyword density assessment, consider the WordPress SEO Post Optimizer. This tool comes with a cost — $19 — but checks a host of SEO conditions including keyword density to help ensure your content can rank highly on the SERPs.

4. WPMUDEV SmartCrawl

Another WordPress pluging, WPMUDEV SmartCrawl is free for seven days and then costs $5 per month. Along with keyword density assessment the tool includes automated SEO checkups and reports, assessments for titles and metadata along with in-depth site crawls, scans and reports.

Key(words) to the Kingdom

Want to improve your SERP position and boost site impact? Start with strong keywords.

The caveat? Keyword balance is key to search success. By finding — and regularly assessing — the keyword density of both specific pages and your site at scale, it’s possible to boost relevant SEO impact and avoid the ranking pitfalls of overly-dense keyword distribution.

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