Flag

His shirt was white and so crisp-looking I imagined I could hear the hiss of the steam iron; his suit, equally perfect, a somber charcoal color. He stood tall on an expanse of dewy grass, in an early spring chill, cranking three flags down to half mast – to honor the victims of the attacks in Brussels.

Everything about this man spoke of respect – from the way he dressed to greet his customers and colleagues to his assumption of the morning’s first duty – something he could easily have delegated to one of his staffers. His appearance and actions made an indelible impression upon me. And this impression associated itself in my mind with his company’s brand – Northern Bank.

As the company’s three flags flew at half mast, and I continued my walk to work, I saw another company across the street that hadn’t bothered to lower its flag even as the death toll climbs past thirty.

Everything your employees do both inside and outside your company, reflects on your company’s brand. Curious, I Googled Northern Bank and one of the first articles I saw mentioned it had been rated one of the Boston Globe Top Workplaces. This didn’t surprise me at all – it takes a good company culture to reinforce a company’s brand.

What kind of flag does your company fly?

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We Are Teabags

This was the subject line of an email I recently wrote to a colleague. The email was about why it is a good idea for people from completely different departments in a business to exchange ideas and share information – because, like tea, their ideas about best practices can diffuse throughout the company.

But that is not the point of this post.

The point is, it started an email chain. The subject line “Re: We are teabags” has hit my in-box a few times today, and every time, I’ve opened that email first because the subject line is so weird that it jumps out at me.

I’m not recommending you write subject lines that are completely different from the subject matter. This is disingenuous, and while it may get higher open rates, it will also annoy the recipients.

My point is that a little creativity in subject line crafting goes a long way towards attracting extra attention in your recipients’ in-box.

This works whether you’re crafting a marketing email that will go out to a large audience, or whether you’re simply asking a colleague for a meeting.

What are your favorite subject lines? What’s your pet peeve with subject lines?

 

“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.