“She’s So Immature”…No Duh

“She’s so immature.” This is a favorite insult among younger people (it’s usually said with a somewhat immature-sounding snarl).

Certainly there are many occasions that call for this comment… Names changed to protect the young.

  • Tom, age 22, decides to take up pipe smoking because it seems like a good affectation.
  • Jean, 23, spends most of her day at the office with her phone on her lap so she can send and receive texts from her friends, who are doing the same thing at their own offices.
  • Caleb, 25, spends the first part of the day wandering around the workplace asking everyone how their weekend was. He sits down at his desk in earnest at 10:00 with his breakfast next to his mouse.

As much as many of us crave youth, we despise immaturity, usually denying our own immaturity in the process.

“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child, to reason as a child; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a child.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). The Biblical Paul reminds us that life has a natural cycle.

In other words, young people are supposed to be immature. The Bible recommends that young people listen to their elders, but there are also many admonitions to elders not to exceed their authority.

How does this play out in the workplace? People just starting out their careers come to offices desperately needing guidance on everything from how (and when) to answer an email, to the location of the kitchen (and how much time they should spend in the kitchen).

Sometimes there are workplace rules, like an employee manual which struggles to keep up with trends and tools (has excessive Facebook messaging been forbidden in your workplace yet?)

Often, however, younger workers are left to their own devices as older workers, toiling behind closed doors, struggle to keep their own toehold. Or an insecure manager might micro-manage an employee’s work, leaving him to think of his boss as the enemy.

Formal mentorship programs try to bridge the gap. These may be doomed to fail if:

  • a company does not already have a culture where experience is admired
  • the experienced people are overworked and overtaxed, so they don’t feel they have time to offer their skills
  • the younger people are also overworked, so they don’t feel they have the time to participate
  • there is an absence of trust, so that people feel the difficulties they share with their mentors may later be used against them
  • there simply are not enough older people in the workplace – they got trucked out to make room for the pool table

Does your corporate culture encourage a continuing, respectful dialog between older and younger workers? If not, what steps do you think should be taken to promote this? Please share your ideas in the comments here!



The All-Caps Crowd

Don’t send me connection requests on LinkedIn if we haven’t worked together. It’s not what LinkedIn is for. Oh and I would also super appreciate it if folks quit sending me “introductory sales emails” via LinkedIn messages.

It’s like when the “all-capsers” hit Craigslist . . . You are ruining the “neighborhood.”

If I wanted that stuff I’d still be checking my Myspace page.

K thanks.

Of SEO and Parmesan Cheese

Magnifier image advertises that the topic of this post is 'search.'The jar labeled “Pimento Parmesan Cheese” sat on my kitchen windowsill for weeks. It contained brownish granules. I didn’t remember leaving it there myself and couldn’t figure out how it got there. I couldn’t imagine how pimento parmesan cheese had gotten brown but didn’t dare to open the container.

Ready to throw it out today, I looked a little more closely and realized that it contained finely chopped walnuts – a kind neighbor had brought over some of his surplus so I could use them in baking.

The essence of search marketing lies in two related concepts: First, label your content properly so that the reader can quickly understand what it contains. Second, make sure your content passes the “sniff test.” This post will give you two tips for labeling and sniff-proofing your content.

Why Search Engine Optimization?

As marketers, we tend to think of search engine optimization (SEO) as a way to drive more traffic to our websites. From a customer perspective, search is about helping readers find the content that they value – quickly. As much as we have qualms about how much information Google collects, it does a good job of serving up relevant search results. That’s because Google and other search engines are constantly trying to improve the way their searches perform from the perspective of the searcher. In the process, they reward honesty.

This is good news for marketers who suffered for years in a business environment that viewed content as a commodity. Your content needs to be informative, accurate, and helpful; your readers are your customers. Just as you “pay” money for goods, you “pay attention” to content.

An ethical and efficient approach to SEO makes search results advertise your content in a compelling but fair way.

Labeling Your Content

The Headline Before the Headline

A search engine result includes a page title and a description. This is the first part of your content a reader will see. It’s like the lid of my walnut jar – they will read this headline before they click.

So, make sure your page title and your description (in HTML, the title and meta tags within the page’s <HEAD> section) describe your content fairly. If you don’t create a description for your content, search engines tend to pull out the title or the first paragraph; someone searching for a walnut-based parmesan cheese recipe might be sorely disappointed if they find this post. (If you’re one of those HTML geeks who right-clicks to “view source,” you’ll notice I haven’t done that with this post yet. To make up for this failing, here is my favorite vegan walnut parmesan recipe).

Here’s how to use meta tags in WordPress and regular HTML (along with some more good information about meta tags).

Alt Tags in Images

An image ALT tag (short for “alternate”) helps tell the story behind the images to visually impaired audiences, including search engines and humans who happen to be looking at your content with images turned off.

If you hover over an image in a browser, you’ll see the ALT tag – try it with the image of a magnifying glass.

Because search engines look for text strings, ALT tags can help them by presenting valuable information about the content of a page. For this reason, many an intern wasted the late 1990’s stuffing alt tags with keywords. The honest SEO will make sure that the alt tags describe the images fairly and in a way that is useful to humans and search engines.

This doesn’t mean that the ALT tags must describe the images literally or refrain from presenting extra information; your alt tags can contain some keywords relevant to your topic or your marketing goals. For example, the alt tag in the image used with this post is not simply”magnifying glass sketch” — I used “Magnifier image advertises that the topic of this post is ‘search.'”

Here’s how to add ALT tags in WordPress and regular HTML, along with more information about how to use ALT text properly for a visually impaired audience.

Passing the “Sniff Test”

You’d best believe I sniffed the walnuts before sprinkling them on my cereal. Similarly, you should check your content before publishing, and make sure it meets two important criteria.

Actually Answer the Question

Are you ready to vote for a politician because he understands your pain? Has this misled you into thinking he will actually solve your problem?

Make sure that your content actually answers the question that your title and description promises. These days, where “content is king,” too many people are cranking out low-quality fluff designed to attract visitors to their site.

It’s true that you can’t sell aspirin unless your audience has (or thinks they have) a headache. But if they still have a headache after they’ve bought the aspirin, they won’t be back for another bottle.

Give your page an honest reading and ask yourself if it answers the questions or solves the problem that you are posing at the beginning. If it doesn’t, hold off on publishing the page until you have done some more homework.

Don’t Put Everything Behind a Form

If you’re a marketer, you are accustomed to writing content aimed at getting people to provide you their names and email addresses so you can continue to market to them.

There is nothing wrong with “gating” content behind a form. But do consider that if someone clicks on “23 Ways to Melt Belly Fat While Growing Your Career and Improving Your Love Life,” he is going to want to read at least two or three of them, and perhaps even test them, before subscribing to your marketing offers.

The same holds for anything else that interrupts the user’s ability to read the content she has been promised by your search engine results. Live chat windows, survey invitations, and ads are all okay as long as they don’t get between your user and the value you offer. Consider adding a delay of 60 seconds or more before popup windows appear, and make sure that the popups don’t detract from the credibility of your content.

After All, It’s All About Trust

If you take this approach to search, you will begin earning your audience’s trust right away. The more your content is worth what your audience “pays” for it, the better chance you stand of inspiring their curiosity, arousing their interest, and gaining their loyalty.



A Designer’s Favorite Links

Here is a collection of links that I visit all the time for practical help with design and web development. There are only five at “WordPress time” but I’ll add more as I think of them.

  • Creating Torn Edges in Photoshop: The “Torn Edges” filter does not actually make it look as if your drawing is on a paper with torn edges – instead it makes your artwork itself look blurry. Here’s a very simple guide from Tipsquirrel to how to use the Torn Edges filter the way you probably want to.
  • Fonts in CSS: Written in 2011 and still a classic method of using font sizing in CSS, from the prolific and wonderful CSS Tricks.
  • More on web fonts: A great tutorial on using fonts responsively; part of SitePoint’s course on responsive web design.
  • For inspiration about color choices: Pantone’s Color of the Year (this link goes to 2016) chooses a color each year and suggests colors that go with it. (This year they went with a graduated shade that reminds me of what happened to graphic design when PageMaker started allowing you to do graduated fills, but never mind). You’ll likely see these colors in use in the advertising and fashion industries, and using them is a quick way to give your designs a cheap shot of contemporaneity . . . or irony.
  • For free stock photos: Visit this post called “17 Amazing Sites With Breathtaking Free Stock Photos.”
  • How to make a favicon: There are many posts on how to make the little tiny image you see at the top of your website’s browser bar, but Nick Pettit’s Treehouse blog post is the best I’ve seen. It’s well-designed, easy to follow, and provides links to decent, free online tools to help you.

Please add your favorite links in the comments to this blog post!

*If you’ve found this post through Facebook, thank you for visiting! I appreciate any and all comments, but I would really like it if you comment right here on the blog. That way, your thoughts will be recorded here for future readers of the blog post, rather than disappearing over time on the Facebook news feed.

Because of the prevalence of spam on blog posts, comments are curated. I reserve the right to delete comments, but I won’t delete thoughtful criticism or extremely funny insults.

Sometimes Marketing — I mean, Everything — is Typing

KeysRecently I received an email from a male colleague. He asked me to type (or, on a second reading, “get”) several names from business cards into our database. A red mist invaded my brain and I began scribbling notes for a blog post to be titled “Is Typing a Feminist Issue?”

Once upon a time, women were afraid to admit we had typing skills because we feared our employers would not be able to see beyond them. I have always typed fast. At the peak of my part-time jobs in college I was hitting around 105 words per minute. Although I took perverse pleasure in scaring co-workers with my noisy keyboard, I left my typing speed off my resume.

I once met the legendary Sylvia K. Burack, editor and publisher of The Writer magazine – a friend of my mother’s had arranged an informational interview because I wanted to be a writer. One of Ms. Burack’s first pieces of advice was to list my typing speed on my resume. “But I don’t want to spend my life typing,” I mewled.

Why were so many women asked to type? It’s not because people thought women could not do more than type; it’s because, in those days, men couldn’t type – and it needed to get done.

Years later, I noticed one of my junior designers was spending a lot of her time struggling with purchase orders and simple data entry when she had to send a job to press. She invited me to her graduation ceremony, where one of her professors asked me how I felt about the way the school had prepared her for a career in design.

“Well, she can’t type,” I began. The professor’s reaction was huffy, like mine to Ms. Burack: “Well, we don’t want our students to spend their life typing. We’ve trained them to be creative!”

“Congratulations,” I said. “You have ensured that your students do spend their life typing. It takes me five minutes to type out a purchase order, and it takes your prize student 30 minutes. This means I have 25 minutes more than she does to be creative.”

One of my colleagues was reminiscing about the secretary he had when he was a CEO back in the early 90’s. “I wish I had a ‘Martha’ now,” he said. I had no doubt — watching him painfully hunt-and-peck his way through an email made my teeth hurt.

In an age where so many things are automated, avoiding unnecessary work has been made into such a virtue that it seems to be confused with avoiding work, period.

The guy with the business cards didn’t see the value in spending an extra five minutes per card to add new prospective customers to our database. The funny thing is he actually scanned the cards in using a flatbed scanner, which would have taken me a lot longer than typing them.

The mistake I made was thinking he was asking for my help out of sexism. This isn’t true. He respects me; in fact he believes that I have a magical way of transforming the cards into data. (It’s called a business card scanner, but someone still has to make sure the data are correct).

My son’s high school does not teach typing — it teaches Microsoft Office, but not keyboarding. (I hope they’re not supposed to copy-paste their papers.)

Marketers and salespeople don’t want to spend time processing “Alice doesn’t live here anymore” emails because it’s tedious work. “Someone else” or “An intern” should be doing this, the thinking goes.

Performance reviews and other professional rewards don’t reward behavior that contributes invisibly to productivity or quality. No one posts “Mavis Beacon” on his LinkedIn profile under “Harvard Business School.” But the brilliant marketing email you write today may have a lower-than-expected open rate because you didn’t capture the names of the last 200 high-value contacts and you didn’t spend time cleaning your data for the last 24 months.

Just because you can type out fifty emails before your first coffee doesn’t mean you should. That said, it makes sense to pay attention to the skills you need to get all of your job done, or all of your life done, not just the fun parts.



Save Your Company Tons of Cash with this One Easy Fix

An email goes out to all 1000 of a company’s employees: “Remember to update your personal information on our new portal…”

The email doesn’t mention the link to the portal or any instructions as to how to find it. Worse, the reminder email comes from a different person than the one who originally informed the employees of the portal. Furthermore, it goes out to all employees, not just those who haven’t completed the task yet. Each employee needs to find the link to the website where they’re supposed to do the work. (Who would have sent the email? When did it come in? What’s the website called; maybe I can search for that? Did I do the work in the first place? How do I check that?)

Let’s do the math. (See illustration).Simple math to calculate the cost of sending a poorly thought-out email

If you suppose that your employees cost the company a conservative average of $30.00 per hour, this email just cost the company over $1000.

How many times have you issued or received an email saying “Please reply to last week’s invitation” or “Go to the travel website”? If you want to write more effective, helpful reminder emails:

  • Don’t be afraid of insulting people by reminding them where to find the information they need. No one except psychopaths will be angry with you for reminding them, but people will be annoyed if they have to waste time remembering or finding the extra information they need.
  • Remember that other people are not in your head or in your daily work. Things that may seem obvious to you are often unbelievably opaque to your colleagues.
  • Include a copy of your Outlook meeting agenda both in the meeting invitation and in an email, bearing the same title as the original meeting, immediately following. People don’t always read a meeting invitation before accepting it.
  • Send out a “homework reminder” the day before a meeting if you’re asking participants to come prepared for the meeting. Remember to include all the information the participants need to prepare for the meeting . . . or you’ll have to read this post all over again!