Building Links With Images: Where To Start And How To Automate It?

Building Links With Images: Where To Start And How To Automate It?

 A picture can be worth a thousand words, they say.
Well, when it comes to online marketing, a single image can be worth a thousand links!

Take a look at this image by comic blogger xkcd that gives tips on how to create strong and easy to remember passwords:

sdf

Any guess on how many links that this image has gotten?

Seriously, I want you to pause, take a good hard look and shout out a wild guess of how many links you think this image has gotten.

I’ll wait…

When I plug in this URL into Ahrefs Site Explorer I see that it has gotten over 4,100 referring domains!

referring-domains

How did you do on your guess? Close?

Put your guess down in the comments. I’d love to see how many links people think the image got.

As for me (in the famous words of Dumb & Dumber) – “I was way off!”.

It’s crazy to think that this single image has gotten 9X’s more referring domains than the blog you are reading right now! ( Sorry Ahrefs )

Aside from links, this image has received social shares getting into the hundreds of thousands.

Will you be able to replicate this kind of success with one of your own images?

Hardly.

But even if you only get 0.1% the results (which is totally doable) – that is still 40 links.

So here’s how you build links with images…

How To Create Images That Attract Links

Gregory Ciotti  has a great post about creating visual assets that I recommend everyone reads.

Aside from the huge list of great examples of visual assets I like this quote:

Great visual assets do more than just put words to images, they must offer creativity, clarity, or new insights on a popular topic.

And there’s a perfect visual that Gregory uses to illustrate his point:

Here's how you illustrate the "features VS benefits" concept.

The article where this image was featured is only 100 words long. But the way they’ve illustrated the “features VS benefits” concept is so amazing, that it generated 142 links from 75 domains (and almost 5k tweets).

Now this visual doesn’t seem to be too hard to put together – a few images of Mario (that can easily be found in Google) and a few phrases of supporting text.

But if you are not a designer, like me, you’ll have a hard time putting the whole thing together anyways.

So I usually prefer to leverage cheap services like Fiverr whenever I need to design a simple image like that!

Actually, you can find a lot of different design gigs on Fiverr.

Take a look at this recent post at Ahrefs blog: “How To Sell SEO Services: Getting Your SEO Business Off The Ground With Freelance Gigs“.

For as low as $5 they were able to visualize the main idea behind that article in a cool simple comic:

ahrefs-comic

The main downside of Fiverr is that you need to give a lot of direction, and since it starts at $5 you get what you pay for.

If you are looking to get a lot of input and help from a designer, I suggest using99 Designs or Dribbble.

Audit Images That Build You Links

I can hear a lot of you saying right now:

But Ben I don’t have any image ideas OR I can’t afford Fiverr OR I’m lazy OR _____________.

Don’t worry, the truth is that every website has images that they can leverage for link building.

In fact, most of the time your images are being used and you don’t even realize it!

I call this Link Harvesting, where we use the assets you already have to build links. This saves a lot of time and doesn’t cost any additional resources.

Start by doing an image audit to find all of the images that could be used to build links.

These can be:

  • Logos – This includes all old logos. You can find who is using outdated ones and let them know about the newest version.
  • Brand Mascots – Some famous examples are Ronald Mc Donald and Google Android.
  • Infographics
  • Product Photos
  • Badges / Awards
  • Employee Photos

Note down all the images that you think have the potential to attract some links and proceed to the next step.

Find Who Is Using Your Images

Alright, now that you have a list of images, it is time to see if the images are being used online.

For if someone is using your images you can simply request that they link to you as the source.

Handy Image Search Tools

  • Google Image Search (Free)
  • TinEye (Free)

Just upload your image into any of these tools and you’ll get a list of pages where your (or similar) image was used:

Google Image Search

I recommend you to use both tools, because quite often they will give you different search results.

How To Automate Image Link Building

Using TinEye and Google Image Search is great to see if an image has been used online ever. But if you want to check back monthly to see if anyone new has picked up your image (which I highly recommend doing) those tools are really difficult to use.

Instead, I use a tool called Image Raider.

This tool gives you a ton of free credits to start and allows you to automate checking your images as often as you would like.

It’s simple

  1. Add images to Image Raider
  2. Set frequency of how often to check (once, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly)
  3. Get emailed when they find new occurrences
  4. Email them asking for a link to your image

This simple process has allowed me to find links on major publications who were linking to the wrong place as the source!

Below is an example of how I have it set up to monitor the infographics thatSolarWinds creates:

Setting Up Image Raider

SolarWinds Infographics in Image Raider

Always Check Pages For Links

Image Raider lets me know where the images are being used, but not if they are linking back to my site. Before reaching out to these websites, you need to make sure that they are not already linking to you.

You can use the Moz bar to check if a given page has any links pointing to your domain.

But in case you get too many alerts from Image Raider, maybe it would be more convenient to create some automatic script that will check all these pages on autopilot.

Create Email Templates

Now that we’ve automated finding image opportunities with Image Raider, it’s time to email webmasters and request that they link to us as the source.

To help speed this up, you should use some kind of template.

I personally use BuzzStream because of their auto fill template feature, but a simple canned response in Gmail also works.

Here is a quick generic example:

Hi,

First off, thank you so much for including us in your article on [Domain Name].

[URL of Article]

I noticed that you included our image and was wondering if you could link to us as the source.

Thank you again for including us.

Ben

Take Action

We covered a lot, so let’s summarize an action plan so you can start growing your backlink profile with images:

  1. Create awesome images!
  2. Keep a list of all the images you own for your website (Ex: Logo, Infographics, etc)
  3. See if images are being used online (TinEye)
  4. Automate image discovery (Image Raider)
  5. Check to pages to see if they are already linking (Moz Bar)
  6. Email those who are not linking and request they link to you as the source (Buzzstream)

If you follow these 6 steps I’m confident that you will find and create new link opportunities each month.

11 Handy Bookmarklet Hacks For Quick Access To Ahrefs Tools

11 Handy Bookmarklet Hacks For Quick Access To Ahrefs Tools

SEO research is an exciting thing, but we all know – the constant repetitive clicking and switching of windows can be quite tedious and hamper the flow of creativity.
There’s just so much data that has to be checked and researched that you’re likely to find the whole thing excruciatingly boring and monotonous.

But there’s a nifty little hack that will speed up your research by a great deal and make it a lot more convenient.

I’m talking about “bookmarklets”.

New To Bookmarklets?

A bookmarklet is a small “one-click” tool that adds extra functionality to a browser. It can do many useful things such as modifying how a web page appears, querying a search engine, or even show what fonts that are used on a page.

Bookmarklets can automate monotonous steps, and reveal important information, such as:

  • the keyword density of a text;
  • the owner info of a domain;
  • the backlinks of a page.

And here’s why I prefer them to browser add-ons:

  • they do not slow down your browser;
  • they work in every browser (most of the time).

A bookmarklet is not a software. It consists of small JavaScript snippets that are attached to a bookmark and make it perform different tasks.

Handy Bookmarklets For Quick Access To Ahrefs Tools

Here’s my personal collection of bookmarklets that I use for quick and easy access to various Ahrefs tools.

Feel free to “steal” any them from me and supercharge your SEO research:

  • 9 BOOKMARKLETSFOR QUICK ACCESS TO AHREFS TOOLS
  • Show Referring DomainsShow the referring domains of the currently visited domain.
  • Show Dashboard PageShow the dashboard page for the currently visited domain.
  • Show Inbound Anchor PageShow the anchor page for the currently visited domain.
  • Show BacklinksShow the backlinks page for the currently visited domain.
  • Show New BacklinksShow new backlinks for the domain.
  • Show Lost BacklinksShow lost backlinks for the current domain.
  • Show PagesShow the pages for the current domain.
  • Show Outgoing AnchorsShow the outgoing anchor texts for the current domain.
  • Show Outgoing Linked DomainsShow which domains this domain link to.

But that was nine, right?

Wayback Machine Bookmarklets:

  1. Show Ahrefs Dashboard for domain seen on archive.org

This is very, very nifty. If you are analyzing an expired (or live) domain at archive.org, it’s annoying to have to format the URL for analyzing the domain, over and over again.

Example:

Let’s say you’re looking at some oldish page like this one:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060716164826/http://www.facebook.com/jobs.php

With my bookmarklet you can easily truncate it to justhttp://www.facebook.com/ and submit to Ahrefs.

Pretty useful hack, if you’re an extensive user of the Wayback Machine, right?

How To Use These Bookmarklets?

Bookmarklets are no different from bookmarks and can be added to your browser in a split of a second:

  1. Hover the mouse pointer over the bookmarklet text.
  2. Drag the text to your browser bookmarks toolbar.
  3. The bookmark, and often an icon, will now show.

Like this:

01-add-bookmarklet

And whenever you decide to use one of them, just click on it the same way you would click on a bookmark when you’re visiting a website.

Like this:

02-use-bookmarklet

This is it!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my collection of bookmarklets. If properly used they will tremendously streamline your SEO workflow.

If you need more, feel free to browse an extensive collection of SEO bookmarklets on my own site and let me know your feedback.

10 Lesser-Known Marketing Tools For Small Business Worth Checking Out

10 Lesser-Known Marketing Tools For Small Business Worth Checking Out

 Ever since the first caveman invented the wheel, we’ve been using tools to save ourselves time, money and headaches.
And thanks to the digital technology revolution of the past two decades, we have more options than ever when it comes to the kinds of tools that can be used to grow a business.

To help you leverage these advancements, I’ve put together a list of a few lesser-known business growth tools you may not have heard of before.

Skim through the list and see if any of them catch your eye. If so, add them to your arsenal today.

Their impact on your overall productivity and the growth of your business could be astonishing.

1. Narrow.io

Automate your Twitter growth with Narrow.io. It’s a simple tool that automate the tedious, yet effective, tasks that can lead to huge growth with your Twitter profile.

00-narrow.io

And don’t worry, it’s not your general “follower spambot.” These guys use a sophisticated algorithm to target people that care about things your target audience cares about.

It’s all about building an engaged audience on Twitter. You can’t do that by randomly following, unfollowing and favoriting people without a plan. You’ve got to find the people that talk and care about the things you do. Only after you do that will you be able to effectively grow your account.

Narrow.io will help you do that in a strategic manner that works.

2. Customer.io

Every customer will have a unique experience with your company. I don’t think two people will ever have the exact same path to purchase. Some will sign up for your blog newsletter, others will only download your white papers. Some will choose to pay a monthly plan, others would rather the annual payment. You get the idea…

01-customer.io

And so does Customer.io. Their software sends targeted messages to customers based on their specific behaviors and path to purchase.

It’s a great way to get a bit more personal with your emails. Use it to create new emails based on where your customers are in the buying cycle, as well as the behaviors they’ve taken. That level of personalization will lead to more purchases, loyalty and growth for your business.

3. Picreel

Don’t you hate it when a new visitor leaves your site without filling out a form or taking action? It’s frustrating – especially for a business that’s trying to fuel growth.

02-picreel

Picreel offers solutions for these exact types of situations. Their tool helps propel conversions by putting your message in front of the audience at just the right time using exit-intent technology that captures visitors’ attention before they leave your site.

Yes, there’s a huge debate around how much people hate pop-ups, but despite their feelings about the tactic, no one can argue with its effectiveness. When you put the right message in front of the right audience at the right time, it works.

And you can create popups around other things too, not just exit-intent. The tool has features that show your visitors exclusive message based on specific behaviors and that target visitors throughout your site as they discover content.

Honestly? It’s a little like having a miniature 007 spy working for your site – serving up the right content when it matters most.

4. SellHack

The guys over at SellHack know how to get things done. Their service revolves around finding a person’s email address for you – and they’re amazing at their job. All you need is a person’s first and last name and the domain where they work.

03-sellhack

Sure, there are ways to find a person’s email on your own. But, trust me, it’ll take you hours of research. And even then, it’s not a sure thing. Don’t waste time with that frustrating trial and error.

If you ever send out cold emails, then you’ve got to try these guys out.

5. Intercom.io

I don’t know about you, but I find it a huge hassle to switch from my customer service app to my email marketing program, and from my customer relationship management system to my marketing automation platform. And I find it even more frustrating when these different kinds of software don’t integrate with each other.

04-intercom

That’s what I love about Intercom.io – it brings all these services together into one product.

Even better? The money you save from using one app (instead of five) can be used to help fuel your business growth even more.

If you want a solid system that integrates everything together, try setting up a system with this service. It just might be the best thing you’ve ever done for your business.

6. Typeform

Typeform does everything it can to make forms and text-based surveys a fun experience. Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems like quite a challenge – and yet, the company does a great job with it.

05-typeform

By making your forms interactive and fun, you’ll increase the number of people that actually fill them out. That’s more leads for your sales funnel, and the potential to generate more sales for your business. It’s truly growth at its finest.

7. JustReachOut

Hiring a PR agency can be a costly expense. And unless you’re a fully-funded startup superstar, it’s probably not a feasible investment. Unfortunately, that means you either forget PR or learn how to do it yourself. Most people, I think, choose the former, because the latter seems too difficult and time consuming.

06-justreachout

That’s the pain that JustReachOut wants to eliminate. It’s a great tool for startups and entrepreneurs that want to pitch their company to the media, but don’t know where to start. They’ll help you get setup and perfect your pitch – cutting the time and expense associated with working with a traditional PR firm.

8. Quickmail.io

Quickmail.io is another great tool for professionals that rely on cold emailing. Once installed, the system sets you up with a complete funnel and follow-up function. As soon as a prospect responds to your email, they’re taken out of the sequence and won’t receive additional emails.

07-quickmail

It’s powerful if you want a way to keep up with cold emails and add a personal touch. And although people can use cold emails for evil, they can also use them for good. Obviously, I’m only advocating this tool for the good guys!

9. Totango

Like many apps, Totango helps you understand the user experience and drive conversions. But what really makes the company shine is their trial conversion feature, which helps you identify prospects that are actively evaluating your product and separates them from the average free users.

08-totango

Once you have that kind of information in your arsenal, you can strategically follow up with particular customers and really see an enormous increase in your conversions.

10. Famebit

If you want to make waves with YouTube, you can’t beat the guys over atFamebit. They’re helping entrepreneurs and startups connect with YouTube influencers that will talk about your product – and that kind of exposure can do great things for your company’s growth.

09-famebit

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone wanting an easy, affordable way to get their product or service in front of thousands of people.

Wrapping it up…

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the mega-tools that you’ll find on so many other posts. Why? Because I believe these small, nimble tools work well for small, nimble companies – and cutting your software expenses frees up capital that can be spent on bigger, better growth campaigns.

5 Circles of Hell You Need To Pass Before I Call You A True SEO Copywriter

5 Circles of Hell You Need To Pass Before I Call You A True SEO Copywriter

 Sometimes becoming a world-class SEO copywriter can seem like a passage in Dante’s inferno.
As Dante famously said,

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straightway was lost.”

For the past 5 years, I always managed to get out of the dark woods to get back on the road again.

Below I want to show you how I accomplished this feat, so you have a better understanding of the path you can take to become a true SEO copywriter.

The Five Circles of Hell to Become An SEO Copywriter

1. Creating a low-quality writing portfolio

When I first started writing for others, I realized I needed to expand my portfolio. To do that, I went on Fiverr.

It was a brilliant move to start my writing career. After all, who would not want three articles from an American writer on Fiverr?

However, jobs on Fiverr only pay $3.5 after PayPal and Fiverr fees. My work reflected the payment I received.

fiverr screenshot

The articles were so poor that looking back on them today, I am aghast at the quality. However, the clients approved them and said they were great. I guess they did not even read the content.

Soon after I abandoned Fiverr as a revenue generator. It was not a sustainable model.

Lesson: Use Fiverr as a testing ground, but to find quality clients you should start looking at other places where you can get paid for writing quality content and build your portfolio.

2. Taking every job you can get your hands on

So what do you do after you start working on Fiverr? You take the first job someone offers you!

After working on Fiverr for a month, I found my first client. They needed 54 articles on laser hair removal. Money talked, and I said “yes” despite knowing nothing about the topic.

My first client taught me that pricing really does matter. The client paid me $5 per article. My eyes flashed at the possibility of earning $270.

Yet, I ended up spending over 40 hours on those articles. And according toCopyscape none of them are even online anymore. What a waste of time.

copyscape screenshot

Lesson: Value your time. Quality articles are paid by the amount of hours invested, not by the word count.

3. Stuffing your writing with tons of keywords

Back in 2005, keyword stuffing was the norm. However, what worked 10 years ago, does not work today (shocker, I know).

My original clients wanted me to stuff those articles with keywords for all they are worth.

Going back to the laser hair removal guy. He gave me a bunch of long-tail keywords that I had to magically transform into a sentence.

Can you guess how many times I could put the keyword like “the best laser hair removal procedure San Diego” in a single paragraph?

This is a textbook definition of keyword stuffing.

A lot of SEOs learned their lesson with this technique when the Google Panda algorithm slapped their thin sites.

google-panda

Lesson: “keyword optimization” and “keyword stuffing” have nothing in common.

However, I reasoned at the time that it was what the client wanted. Happy client means paycheck! Paycheck means rent and internet paid!

And yet, that line of thinking can mess up your client’s website as well as your base of business.

4. Knowing which writing gigs are worth your time

I remember the first time I saw an ad on a job board about how I could make up to $300 per guest post. My excitement lasted till the moment I reached out to these guys.

The reality is that they want you to get your content published on a large site like Forbes, so they can garner tons of traffic.

In essence, they want to leverage your connections with publications like Mashable, Huffington Post, and other large-scale blogs and publications.

The challenge is that those publications never accept you being paid by a third party. They want a cut larger than your paycheck.

That means you spend all that time working on a blog post for someone that just never passes muster.

As Carole Tice stated in her post on The Write Life:

“It’s all too common for freelancers to latch onto the first client who comes their way, and then never let go. Even if they’re obnoxious, or it isn’t the type of writing you really want to do, or they don’t pay well.”

Writing for companies is like dating. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

If one is not right, then you need to move to bigger and better fish.

Lesson: Do not spend social capital ghostwriting for others when you can write your own articles that will eventually bring you bigger and better clients.

5. Neglecting your grammar

One of my editors asked me the first time we worked together if someone from the Philippines wrote the draft I sent her.

While I believe I hail from the windy city, it was an interesting observation. That is why it is important to have a good editor. They filter the junk from your article.

poor grammar

Plus, collaborating with editors shows you what works and does not work in your writing. You learn how to correct your writing as you grow.

Lesson: Take your time to edit your content. Search engine optimization today is as much about great content and good editing as it is about backlinks and keywords.

Final Thoughts

Writing articles for business is a great reward and challenge.

The challenges and lessons that I’ve shared in this article are a culmination of of over 5 years in the industry developing my professional standards.

If you are just beginning your own journey down this path, the best thing you can do as an SEO freelance writer is to create your own standards.

I’m really keen to know how you avoided your own circles of hell when you started your freelance writing career?

Perhaps you are going through those challenges right now. Let me know if I can help you!

Feds Probe Brake Problems in 2013 Dodge Dart Compacts

New Car Sales

 U.S. safety regulators are investigating complaints of braking problems with Dodge Dart compact cars.

The probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration covers about 121,000 Darts made by Fiat Chrysler from the 2013 model year.

The agency says it has 18 complaints that brake pedals can be hard to depress and braking distance unexpectedly increased.

Some said they had to use the parking brake to stop the cars, while others reported that the brake master cylinder had to be replaced.

The agency has no reports of crashes or injuries. An investigation could lead to a recall.

Chrysler says it’s cooperating with the investigation and that owners with concerns should contact dealers.

The 3 Biggest Discount Gyms in America

Man lifting weights in gym
Discount gyms offering affordable memberships and endless rows of cardio machines are exploding in number and popularity, and one prominent chain may even soon go public.

On May 26, Planet Fitness, a fast-growing chain owned by private equity firm TPG Consumer Partners, filed draft documents for an initial public offering. The submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t disclose what ticker symbol the company would be listed, and the number of shares to be sold and the price range have yet to be determined, according to Planet Fitness.

Should Planet Fitness raise cash via an IPO, it would be well-positioned to expand even more aggressively in what remains a very fragmented gym facility industry.

According to research firm IBIS World, the 50 largest gym companies in the country together control only about 30 percent of the market, and there are only a dozen or so companies that own more than ten centers. Currently, there is only one publicly traded gym company — Town Sports International (TOWN), which operates popular brands such as New York Sports Club and Boston Sports Club in over 150 locations along the East Coast. Lifetime Fitness, a high-end gym operator, was purchased by Leonard Green & Partners and TPG Capital in 2015 in a transaction valued at more than $4 billion.

TheStreet takes a look at the three of the biggest discount gym chains in the business today, ranked from smallest to largest.

1. Retro Fitness

  • Founded: 2002
  • Founder: Eric Casaburi
  • Membership costs: $20 a month
  • Number of locations: 132 in the U.S.
  • Primary regions: Northeast
  • Total revenue: Undisclosed

What it’s known for: Bright orange and yellow branding and fitness equipment; founder was on popular show “Undercover Boss” in 2013

“We are at 132 locations right now, we will open 30 to 40 this year, and are looking to open 50 to 100 per year,” said Retro Fitness founder Eric Casaburi in an interview with TheStreet at the International Franchise Expo. Newer markets for Retro Fitness are in prime locations for baby boomers such as Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida, where retirees are looking to improve their health and live longer. A visit to Retro Fitness for $20-a-month is an easy sell to a boomer. According to Casaburi, Retro Fitness is “making money” and cash flow positive.

One way Retro Fitness is seeking to differentiate relative to larger rivals in Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness is through the use of technology. The chain is developing tools for members that may be wearing Apple’s (AAPL) Apple Watch or a Fitbit (FIT). “Fitness wearables is something we adopted early, we are looking over the next two quarters unveiling some amazing technology in our gyms that will blow our members minds — it will be able to track your fitness when you are walking outside, or on one of our treadmills,” said Casaburi.

2. Planet Fitness

  • Founded: 1992
  • Founder: Chris Rondeau
  • Membership costs: $10-a-month base; $19.99 premium.
  • Number of locations: Opened its 1,000th club in Washington, D.C., on June 9.
  • Primary regions: Northeast; Central
  • Total revenue: $211 million in 2013, according to Moody’s.

What it’s known for: Bright purple interiors and gym equipment, open 24 hours, guests can come for free if a member has a premium membership, tanning beds

A customer can be asked to leave a Planet Fitness for repeatedly violating the “lunk alarm,” which rings loudly if someone makes noisy, intimidating grunts while working out. Planet Fitness, according to founder Chris Rondeau, wants to be the non-intimidating place to grab a workout.

If it were to stop accepting new agreements today, Planet Fitness would have a development pipeline of at least 500 additional locations. “Being healthy is becoming more mainstream,” said Rondeau in an interview with TheStreet in December.

3. Anytime Fitness

  • Founded: 2002
  • Founder: Chuck Runyon
  • Membership costs: Average cost is $40 a month, but exact price depends on location.
  • Number of locations: Over 3,000 in all 50 U.S. states and in 20 international markets.
  • Primary regions: Northeast, Central
  • Total revenue: Projected system-wide sales of $1.1 billion in 2015, growing 14 percent year-over-year, according to the company.

What it’s known for: Tanning services, 24/7 hours, members have access to all locations, outdoor classes, largest gym operator in Australia with 400 locations

“The fact is that you have less hassles with the experience, it’s a quicker workout, alongside a friendly staff that takes away the fear and intimidation for members”, explained Anytime Fitness founder Chuck Runyon on his chain’s appeal. Anytime Fitness banners are popping up in local strip mall centers, notably inside of old Blockbuster sites. The membership mix is split about 50/50 between male and female, with the average member age at 30 years old.

Today, Anytime Fitness’ newer locations are kicking it up a notch. They have more functional space, points out Runyon, including personal training areas. “We are also doing pop-up fitness, outside the club in your local park with a trainer or a group,” says Runyon, capitalizing on the growing popularity of outdoor endurance races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race. Every Saturday in May, for example, Anytime Fitness offered free outdoor bootcamp sessions.

Although Anytime Fitness plans to open 350 locations a year for the next six years, Runyon doesn’t believe the company needs the cash from an IPO to make it happen. “We do not have any plans to IPO, and we really don’t have any need — we are well financed.”

Durable Goods Orders Retreat Again in May

Durable Goods
Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in May, pulled down by a sharp drop in demand for aircraft. But a category that reflects business investment rose last month, a hopeful sign for manufacturing.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that total orders for durable goods dropped 1.8 percent in May after falling 1.5 percent in April. Last month’s drop was caused in part by a 35.3 percent plunge in orders for aircraft, which is often a volatile category.

Excluding transportation, orders rose 0.5 percent. Durable goods are items meant to last at least three years, such as cars, home appliances and furniture.

American factories have struggled this year in part because a strong dollar has made U.S. goods more expensive overseas. Cheaper oil prices also mean energy firms are buying less equipment. So far this year, durable goods orders are down 2.2 percent from January-May 2014.

A key category that tracks business investment plans — orders for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft — rose 0.4 percent in May, reversing a 0.3 percent drop in April. Some economists view the increase as a sign that the damage from lower oil prices is starting to fade.

“The underlying trend in U.S. core orders and shipments point to stronger activity ahead,” Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research note. “It helps that the greenback, though strengthening again recently, is off its highs, and oil prices are steadying.”

But Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, noted that factories reduced inventories in May, a sign that manufacturers expect less demand from customers. Reduced inventories are a drag on economic growth.

Last week, the Federal Reserve said manufacturing output dropped 0.2 percent in May.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York also reported that factory activity in New York state contracted in June. But factories around Philadelphia expanded this month at the fastest pace since December, the Philadelphia Fed reported last week.

Despite their troubles, factories keep hiring, though at modest levels. The Labor Department reported that manufacturers have added jobs 22 straight months through May, longest streak since the late 1970s.

‘Lord of the Rings’ Spotted in Milky Way

nasa_lord_of_the_rings_official.jpg
Astronomers using Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered the largest and brightest set of rings from X-ray light echoes ever observed.These extraordinary rings, produced by an intense flare from a neutron star, provide astronomers a rare chance to determine how far across the Milky Way galaxy the star is from the Earth.

The rings appear as circles around Circinus X-1, a double star system in the plane of our galaxy containing a neutron star, the dense remnant of a massive star pulverised in a supernova explosion.

The neutron star is in orbit with another massive star, and is shrouded by thick clouds of interstellar gas and dust.

“We like to call this system the ‘Lord of the Rings’, but this one has nothing to do with Sauron,” said co-author Michael Burton of the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

“The beautiful match between the Chandra X-ray rings and the Mopra radio images of the different clouds is really a first in astronomy,” Burton said.

“It’s really hard to get accurate distance measurements in astronomy and we only have a handful of methods,” said Sebastian Heinz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who led the study.

“But just as bats use sonar to triangulate their location, we can use the X-rays from Circinus X-1 to figure out exactly where it is,” Heinz said.

The light echo shows that Circinus X-1 is located about 30,700 light years from Earth, and settles the difference in results published in prior studies.

The detection and characterisation of the rings required the unique capabilities of Chandra – the ability to detect fine details combined with sensitivity to faint signals.

The researchers also determined that the speed of the jet of high-energy particles produced by the system is at least 99.9 percent of the speed of the light.

This extreme velocity is usually associated with jets produced by a black hole.

These results were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Lenovo Considering Setting Up Smartphone Manufacturing Unit in India

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Chinese electronics major Lenovo is looking at the possibility of setting up a manufacturing unit for smartphones and tablets in India.The company already has a computer manufacturing plant in Puducherry.

“We are exploring the opportunity of setting up a manufacturing unit in the country,” Bhaskar Choudhuri, Director (Marketing) of Lenovo India said.

This is particularly because of the government’s impetus on ‘Make in India’ as well as the huge opportunity which country presents, he said.

Lenovo, which enjoys leadership positions in sales of laptops, PCs and tablets in India, is also planning to aggressively boost smartphone business in the country.

He said that the smartphone penetration in the country was only 30 percent. “This shows that there is enough headroom for growth,” he said.

Lenovo was particularly looking at the 4G LTE enabled smartphones as the company had already launched few such products. “The response to the smartphones was stupendous”, he said.

“We believe that 4G LTE will be the dominant technology in the years to come,” Choudhuri added.

The company would also expand retail presence with the opening of more exclusive Lenovo stores, he said.

In the meanwhile, Lenovo launched the K3 Note at a launch event in New Delhi on Thursday. The K3 Note has been priced at Rs. 9,999. It will be available to buy via exclusive retail partner Flipkart in its first flash sale on July 8, and will go up for registrations from 2pm IST Thursday. The Lenovo K3 Note supports both LTE bands in India (FDD-LTE 1800MHz Band 3, and TDD-LTE 2300MHz Band 40).

Raje Meets SoftBank CEO to Discuss Partnerships in Emerging Technologies

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Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on Wednesday held a meeting with Masayoshi Son, Chairman and CEO of SoftBank, discussing possible partnerships in emerging technologies.Recalling his earlier interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Son spoke of the commitment of Japanese corporations to step up investment to India.

Raje, on her part, briefed the accompanying delegation about investment opportunities and partnerships in the state.

She made a special mention of public-private partnerships and the existing social and economic infrastructure.

Executive Chairman of SBG Cleantech, the JV involving SoftBank, Bharti Enterprises and Foxconn, Manoj Kohli and Executive Advisor of SoftBank Raman Nanda were also present at the meeting.

SoftBank is a Japanese corporation with wide ranging interests in telecom, e-commerce and the like.

The Japanese firm had earlier this week teamed up with Taiwan’s Foxconn and Bharti Enterprises to invest $20 billion (roughly Rs. 1,27,272 crores) in solar power projects in India, as the country ramps up its clean energy sector.

Mobile phone operator SoftBank said the venture aimed to generate 20 gigawatts of energy through solar and wind power plants across coal-reliant India, up from the country’s 4.1 gigawatts of current capacity.

“With this partnership, our goal is to create a market-leading clean energy company, to fuel India’s growth with clean and renewable sources of energy,” SoftBank’s billionaire founder Masayoshi Son said in a press release.

Son said his company would help manufacture solar equipment in India for the project, adding that SoftBank has invested $1 billion (roughly Rs. 6,362 crores) in the country in the last nine months.