Go Google Yourself

Google’s suggested search options for “Sonny Cohen.” Only one is me and it is not “insolvency.” LOL

I’m working with a group of business professionals to help each of them establish his and her brand online. It seemed natural to me to begin the process by doing a simple search on the search engines to see what sites, if any, I hasten to add, appeared prominently. But what seems natural to me seemed almost surreal to my clients. Yet their response to the results ranged from engaged to alarmed. Had they never done this before? Really? Well, that’s why I’m writing this.

One professional was prominently listed as a partner in a firm – except not the one she is currently with. Another found his status rating in an unfamiliar directory inadequate and his listing inaccurate. And for most there was no particular problem except one: they had almost no presence on the Internet except in their firm bio and LinkedIn. And often the LinkedIn bio linked to a list of the other 12 people having the same name.

So you’re going to search for your name now, right?

Some tips to help you in this search would be to search your name with quotes around it and search variations of your name with quotes such as adding your middle name or initial, etc. Satisfy your paranoia and add unfriendly suffixes to your name search like “sucks”, “arrested” and other bad deeds of your choice. You might as well find what is obvious.

And if Google is your search tool of choice, make it a point to repeat your search with Bing. I won’t share any spoilers so you can enjoy the hunt on your own. But Bing is different, has its own search algorithm and displays its search results in a creative manner.

Based on what you discover, there are a lot of options for you to take to help you shape your digital brand. That’s a post or three for another day. But take the first step and do your own assessment. Go ahead. Google yourself. You won’t go blind.

Why Send Welcome Emails to New Subscribers

I am so embarrassed. I have been producing and sending targeted emails (don’t call them email blasts, dammit) for 13 or 14 years using tools from service providers such as ExactTarget, Bluehornet, CreateSend, MailChimp and ConstantContact. Yet not once have I initiated contact with a new email subscriber by sending an initial email that welcomes them to the email communication.

Wait! Before you make me wear the Scarlet S (for spammer) on my chest. Let me explain.

Best Practices

I’m a good person. I adopt best practices. I believe in opt-in emails. I loathe unsolicited emails and the brands that send them. I hate it when non-profits, like WTTW Channel 11* and many/most others, share my contact information unless I tell them not to. So then why have I never sent a welcome email to subscribers who recently joined an email list?

Lazy

In part, I’m lazy. Not lazy like I don’t give a damn. But lazy as in most of the lists I’ve worked include people who are already receiving communications. For example, email is just a transition from print. Adopting and sending communications by email was an evolution and not a traumatic surprise. The content being delivered was useful and informative, not promotional and annoying. Moreover, the proof was in the analytics. Very few people unsubscribed. Open rates of the emails were at or above what might be expected. The system seemed pretty healthy and it was all good. But the truth is, I was skating on thin ice.

The Dark Side

Lazy, ok. But I got sloppy. I have a client who acquires email addresses whenever customers sign into their in-house wifi system. To be clear, the customers voluntarily contribute their email address as a condition of using the wifi. And I imported these emails into my email service provider. Not exactly opt-in. OK, not opt-in at all. I had moved to the dark side without realizing it.

After the first mailing, I received an email from “Sander” who told me he loved the client’s business when he’d patronized it in Chicago, but he lived 4000 miles away and wouldn’t be back soon. But Sander was wondering how we had obtained his email address. He wasn’t angry. Just curious. But I was the deer in the headlights. I apologized to Sander. I told him I’d misbehaved and promised to fix things.

The Thing I Fixed

Today, I sent an email to 60 new subscribers whose emails I had acquired from their wifi connection. First, on behalf of the owners, the email thanked them for their business, stated the company’s mission and solicited feedback. Then I explained how their email address had been acquired, asked permission to keep them on the subscriber list, promised to never share their information and provided several links to unsubscribe to any further communications.

Imperfect Solution

In a perfect world, every email subscriber opts in to a list. However, I believe an honest and transparent appeal to “prospective subscribers” to continue to receive ongoing email communications is an ethical approach to the dilemma of securing a new email subscriber. For this purpose the “Welcome” or “Thank you for your business” first email is an essential tactic in the email marketing arsenal. I won’t be caught flat-footed again.

What do you think?

I’m interested to know what you think about sending one initial email to people whose email you have acquired but who have not given explicit permission to be on a subscriber list.

* Chicago Channel 11 WTTW’s privacy policy: “…from time to time we may disclose personal identification information about you as an individual user (such as, for example, your full name, street address, telephone number or e-mail address) to one or more third parties in order to expand our membership base and increase support for our programs.

3 Things Lawyers And Law Firms Should Do Online

At a dinner conversation on a trip wholly unrelated to legal marketing or the Internet, the wife of a BigLaw partner whose son was also a BigLaw partner prompted me to identify three things law firms and lawyers should do on the Internet.

I had been talking in generalities about digital marketing and she wanted specifics. It was a great question and, wanting to appear brilliant, I stumbled out a response. My answer was brief and, in reflection, on target. But I felt the good question deserved a response more thorough than the quick witted one I shouted over the mealtime din. This is what I answered – the longer version:

One: Claim and Manage Profiles

This seemingly innocent task seems to be fraught with fear, misunderstanding and ignorance. In fact it is strategic, protective and opportunistic. Few firms or lawyers do this effectively. The participation tasks are assigned to administrative people and the “marketing department.” It is far more than populating one’s LinkedIn profile with the same undifferentiated bio that appears on the website. Content from profiles are increasingly becoming re-purposed as the web grows increasingly social and apps and sites become interconnected.

Two: Create Content

Successful professional service providers must create content to be effective marketers. Lawyers perceive marketing as sales and sales as dirty. Nothing replaces the business development value of one personally networking in places where clients reside such as causes, country clubs, the symphony and skyboxes. But publishing authoritative content can often be the deal breaker for selecting one lawyer or firm over another. My data is anecdotal but it has grown steadily over the entire time I’ve been serving this industry. An entire industry has grown up around content marketing and there is a good reason for that. It works.

Lawyers, of course, are busily yolked into billable hour requirements. Many are reluctant to share the knowledge they believe they should sell. Publishing in a regulated industry is a challenge. And the layers of review and approval can make it difficult if not impossible to produce timely content. I get it. That’s why cutting through all these obstacles and consistently producing informative non-promotional content makes the successful ones stand out.

Three: Publish Effective Websites

Websites provide a powerful opportunity to really make or blow the firm’s brand. Firms spend 100 of thousands of dollars on their websites. Yet in an annually conducted study of the AmLaw 100 “10 Foundational Website Best Practices”, 75% of firms were rated fair or poor. It is astonishing that they can’t get it right.

Why is this? First, the lawyers get in the way of the marketers. They believe themselves to be experts on design. Their lawyer-staffed web committees can only agree on the color blue. They want to be the same as [fill in the blank] law firm. Moreover, they have a strong tendency to listen to marketers who are also lawyers**. Better they should be talking to marketers whose clients resemble the law firm client and not themselves. Unless all they want to hear is an echo, which seems to be the case.

Did I get this right? If not, what three things top your list?

** There are some excellent marketers who are also lawyers. But being a lawyer is not a prerequisite for offering good legal marketing advice.

The Power of Process

My team had developed a website in record time to meet a client’s immovable deadline. In fact, the site was ready for client final review 10 days early. We were sitting pretty. Or so we thought.

An Arranged Marriage

As we made plans to host the client’s new WordPress website at a reliable and modestly priced internet service provider (ISP), the client introduced a new contact to our team. He was a part-time technology consultant who managed the small firm’s email, internal network and other miscellaneous duties including the start-up website that our team had been engaged to replace.

Who’s on First?

Our new IT partner had his own ideas about where to host. Although we expressed disappointment at this well-known non-performing ISP, we could live with it. The website was not mission-critical and if there were hosting issues down the line, the site could always be moved later or the client would simply accept the ISP’s misbehavior. It was not a show stopper. But then the project really went south.

Now Escape with Both Hands Tied

Because the IT consultant also managed other infrastructure at this hosting site, we were to be given limited access to the ISP. Moreover, our new IT friend indicated his intent to set up the WordPress environment and was preparing to receive our website files and database although we had not sought this “assistance.”

The arrival of this complicating news was followed by an exchange of many emails and several phone calls. Directions from the IT consultant came with incorrect credentials, inaccurate ftp upload directions and somewhat of a tug of war over controlling the quality of the launch. Our process was slipping away and our time was escalating.

The Client is Not Always Right (But they’re always the client)

In the end, the client backed its IT consultant. Instead of $84 for a full year of hosting from our preferred ISP and a smooth and efficient launch process, we engaged in 4 hours of unbillable time wrangling over the IT consultant’s desired process.   Too bad for us. Suck it up. But more importantly and regrettably, the client lost as well. A process we had followed with great success succumbed to an impromptu series of misdirection and errors.

So Now Who’s In Charge?

Most important, the site is not up and it remains an open question as to whether it will be successfully published by the mutually agreed launch date. Failure to follow a proven process has led to other casualties as well. And the open question remains if or when something is not working correctly who is responsible?

Once the site is launched our process would have continued to provide added value including:

  1. weekly automated back up of the site for 1 year
  2. regular (at least quarterly) security and patch updates to WordPress for 1 year
  3. configuration of caching, webmaster tools
  4. 30 day post-launch warranty on the site function
  5. staff training on use of the WordPress interface

Due to limited site access most of this added value, with the exception of staff training, may not be able to be executed. Of course, we’ll do whatever we can with the permissions we have.

Takeaway: Update Our Process

This website launch case story is exclusively about process. It is not about being “right” or being in control. It is about following steps that have been put in place based on prior errors and missteps that we, and everyone, makes on their way toward improving and perfecting a process.

Our one takeaway? Shame on us. Close the hosting arrangement at the very top of the project and avoid surprises. Add that to our process.

Have you had a process disrupted? What have been the implications for you? Share your story.

Top 3 Internet Priorities for Small Business

After I got on my soapbox for a minute about how small business should use the Internet more effectively, Patti Mason asked me what are the first three things a small business should manage on the Internet.

I was talking with “Independent Damsel Pro” Patti Mason from Damsel in Defense. Patti was the guest speaker at our Mastermind Business Networking lunch this afternoon. I was already self-conscious about having passionately launched into a monologue on small business and the Internet and was ready to turn over the floor.  But Patti seemed earnest in her question. I sputtered my answer in as close as I could come to a Tweet. 

Listening to Patti Mason at the Mastermind Network Lunch

Here’s a slightly longer version:

Be Informative

You have to have a website with informative content that addresses the needs of your targeted client.  Graphic design is content’s chaperone, making sure it is findable, visible and readable (or heard or seen). But your ongoing energy is in the content you publish.

Be Verifiable

Your digital reputation envelops you. This may be good or bad for society and our remaining privacy.  I don’t know. But right now chances are there is a great deal online about you and your business. Your clients want to know that working with you is a risk-free transaction.  Claim your profiles and manage them. If you have ratings, acknowledge them.

Be Engaged

Business referral is such a significant source of new business. Leverage this power online. Consume and acknowledge the content produced by others. Share what you can of your own. And be authentic.

The best platform in which to be engaged will depend on your business. It may be LinkedIn or Pinterest. It could be Facebook or YouTube. You have to investigate and experiment. Don’t accept anybody’s Top X Social Media list.

What do you think?

So how close to your list is my Top 3 Internet Priorities for Small Business? Let me know.

About Damsel in Defense
Damsel in Defense is about equipping women with the tools to not only keep them safe but also to give them the confidence to know that they have a way out if they ever feel threatened.

Thanks to Robert McCormick for the use of his photos originally posted on Mastermind Business Networking Lake County Facebook page.

Why LinkedIn is a Malicious Mobile App

I was completely caught off guard while working on my laptop computer when LinkedIn displayed a list of my email contacts and innocently prompted me:

“We found 424 people you know on LinkedIn when you added your address book. Select the people you’d like to connect to.”

And there, before my eyes, were all my email address book contacts.

Whoa! What was this about? I never added my address book to LinkedIn. That’s one thing I would never do.

Life in the Transparent Lane

As a matter of professional hazard, I live my life rather transparently online. But there are some things I take some caution to not share. And one of those things is my contacts. For the same reason I don’t like to be robotically solicited to engage in someone else’s network, I don’t want to be the culprit that causes this pain to others. So I mind my contacts as best I can.

About a half hour of online sleuthing – also known as completely wasting my time – revealed a large network of people who had been caught in this LinkedIn scam. And they, like me were pretty pissed off.

At first I suspected that I had somehow slipped up and authorized Google to cough up my Gmail contacts. But this time Google (and I) were not guilty. Then began the search through my LinkedIn privacy settings. Astonishingly there was no information about contact importing. Ultimately after more research (read: wasting time) I was led to the LinkedIn app recently installed on my mobile device. And there it was…

Permissions? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Permissions

LinkedIn Mobile app seizes your contacts and imports them into its platform.

Under “Permissions” in the LinkedIn app is the innocuous authorization to “Read Your Contacts”. It is not an option. It is a condition of using the app. OK, so reading my contacts is one thing. But after highlighting this specific permission, the more onerous truth emerges and it reads,

“Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.”

Well, there it is. Ouch.

Now, to be fair, something I don’t really feel the need, LinkedIn only uses the information to suggest that I start sending out requests for connection. They’ve even done the heavy lifting of culling my list of several thousand contacts down to about 400 or so actual people who are on LinkedIn and with whom I haven’t already connected. And they ask for permission to extend my invitation to them. I can even customize my invite. How nice? No, not nice at all.

Bad LinkedIn. Bad. Bad. Bad.

LinkedIn: You’ve crossed the line. Your app is malicious. And I’m removing it from my mobile device. And worse, I trust you less. Which is too bad, because I’ve been rather high on LinkedIn lately. But now this. It’s wrong.

Next step: Remove those Damn Contacts

Another half hour of research brought me to the process for removing those contacts from LinkedIn. It wasn’t easy. But if you’ve been caught in this cesspool, here’s how to do it.

1) On LinkedIn, navigate to Connections > Add Connections and select “Manage imported contacts” in the upper right of the page
2) Check “Select All”, scroll to bottom of page & select the greyed out (!) “Delete selected contacts” and accept the double confirmation request
3) Repeat this process because LinkedIn won’t display all your contacts at once. For my 1100 imported contacts I had to do this repeatedly.

After repeating this incredibly time wasting process several times, LinkedIn will deliver an error message. They’re toying with you. And disrespecting you. At some point you will have to start selecting a shorter list of deletes. Begin to manually check names – perhaps 50 – 100 at a time. Keep at it. Eventually all your contacts will be deleted.

Dump the LinkedIn App

Delete the LinkedIn app from your mobile device. They behaved badly and they don’t deserve a place on your mobile device.

What Do You Think?

Have you been caught in this? Do you think LinkedIn should bust into your email contacts and import them to their platform? Maybe you think this is a valued service. Let me know.

Increase Your Email Open Rates

Much has been made of best times, day of week, effective subject lines and other strategies to achieve the single most important objective of getting your email opened. But there is one strategy I have found that is incredibly effective and infallible: send that email again.

But wait. Before you abuse your subscribers let me explain what I have done that increases open rates without irritating your email recipients. And how you can know this is working.

My client lists range from the passionately engaged who open at an average rate of 45% to the “I-didn’t-know-I-signed-up” crowd, with an open rate of 15%, who coughed up their email address to access the business’ free wifi. In all cases, I’ve been able to increase open rates by as much as 50%.

My email tool of choice is MailChimp. One of the features provided is the option to create segments of your email list. That is, a segment is some portion of your list that meets certain criteria. And the criteria that I select is “Campaign Activity = Did not open [the last email]. In MailChimp it looks like this:

So now you have your list. Take these few additional steps to be respectful to your subscribers as well as to be effective:

  1. Change your subject line.
    Your new subject line is a tacit acknowledgement that this is a redo. It also provides you the opportunity to attract subscribers who didn’t find your first subject line particularly sexy. I usually go with something like “Reminder: xxxx.” For the people who may see both your emails in their queue it just appears as a friendly re-notification. For most, it is the first time they’re seeing your email.
  2. Send at least 2 days after your first email
    Think about your own email nemesis and how you fall behind in getting to less pressing email. But there is a half-life to email opening. My experience is that after about 2 days (your own results can be observed to tune this timing) you can safely assume that very few people will open your original email.
  3. Change the time of day
    Did your first email go out at 8AM? Did you send it on Tuesday because everyone says that’s the hot day for sending email to get the best open? Send the second email Friday night or a weekend morning or some time that is different from the first email. Again, you might test different times to determine your best second-send time
  4. Measure
    The two most important metrics for evaluating the effectiveness are open rate and unsubscribes. You WILL increase the open rate. My experience that your new open rate will be about ½ of the original. I’d be interested to know what you experience.

But the real measure of effectiveness is unsubscribes. Unsubscribes are not always bad. That’s a topic for another time. But for many reasons you don’t want people on your list who don’t want to hear what you have to say.  But, if you consistently get a lot (you decide what a lot is) of people unsubscribing to your second email, you’re probably irritating your subscribers.  This has not been my experience. But your results may differ and you should be alert to this possibility.Rinse and Repeat
Do it again. If your message is not time-dependent or if you have given yourself enough lead time, you can continue to send to non-openers a third or even a fourth time. You will realize diminishing returns but you will get some new opens each time. Manage your list
The hard truth is that you probably have subscribers who do not open and never will open your email. Only you can decide it if it worthwhile deceiving yourself or others about how huge your subscriber base has become. Chronic non-openers will also give you a more pessimistic view of your open rate and other engagement metrics. Ridding your list of these inactive subscribers may help you better understand what your engaged subscribers truly like about your email sends.

I welcome your opinion about this strategy as well as sharing experiences you may have had re-sending campaigns to your subscribers.

Do You Do SEO?

SEO (search engine optimization) acronym explained with old typewriter keys on a digital tablet

The inevitable question, “Do you do SEO?”

“Yes.” I answer tentatively.

The do-you-do-SEO question is a heavily laden cargo ship launched years ago in the even more primitive era of the Internet. The bounty it carries is comprised of great expectations, misunderstandings and broken promises freighted by a crew of charlatans. Now there is an indictment!

If you think SEO, more accurately known as search engine optimization, is something your business needs, take a moment to consider the following:

Marry Your SEO

SEO is not a one-night stand. Sure, there are some pretty simple quick fixes. But optimization is an ongoing process that can go on, well, till death do us part.

Return on Investment

An SEO campaign will demand a budget. Therefore, the best – and perhaps only – SEO initiative that should be undertaken requires a clearly identifiable metric of performance success. Usually this performance is based on some kind of action such as creating a lead, a download or a sale. What it is not measured by is the prominence of a specific keyword phrase. This metric of success must be applied against the cost of the entire effort to produce a Cost Per Action.

Content is (sigh) King

Look, if you want to be found, you’ve got to offer something for which people are looking. Read that again. And what are people looking for? Answers. Answers to their problem. They are not looking for your hyperbolic marketing speak. They are not searching for your awards. They want good content in the form of text, images, videos and audio. Yes, all of these media. And new stuff regularly.

Social Media Helps

Social media is content. Sometimes (usually?) it is vacuous cat memes and moody slogans. But done right, social media is a well-stocked river of catch and release (to others) content. An effective SEO campaign includes a vibrant social media initiative. They go hand in hand.

Your Website Sucks

Maybe yes. Maybe no. But chances are there will be changes made to your website so that your valuable content can be properly digested by the Great Google, its Court of affiliates and the BingYahooAOL search engine challengers. Some of this is content. Some of it is technology configurations.

If you are interested in marketing your business on the Internet, I can help. Do I do SEO? Yes, maybe. The real question is, “Do you know what you’re looking to accomplish?”

LinkedIn Spam and the Spamming Spammers Who Annoy Us

Let me tell you about my new and unexpected BFF Allen Cope, Marketing Specialist at SocialAuthorities.com. But before I do, permit me to set the stage.

I “heart” LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a valuable business resource to me. Like you, I’ve joined relevant groups and I interact in some of the discussion. Sure, there is an undertone of self-serving behavior from those who are either oblivious or simply don’t care, but for the most part it is a benign environment and I’m free to pull from it what I want and push my own point of view when I care enough.

Don’t Cross the Line

But there is a line that should not be crossed. And when it is, it would seem the only remedy is for the LinkedIn community to step forward and say “that is wrong.” That is why I want to tell you about Allen Cope, his employer SocialAuthorities.com and their client 3 Tier Logic.

The Big Lie

Don’t be this guy. Don’t work for this company. Don’t hire firms that do this.

So recently, Allen sent me an InMail with the message, “Hi Sonny, I am a fellow group member and I just found this great new piece of marketing technology that I thought you maybe (sic) interested in checking out. Here is the link ….”

Think of the lies inherent in this message: Allen “just found” this marketing technology? Really? And, even though he and I have absolutely no relationship other than a common group membership, he thought I’d be interested in it? I don’t think so. The entire message strains credulity.

Calling Them Out

So Allen, whose LinkedIn bio curiously refers to him as “Clinton,” has leveraged our mutual group participation to prey on me on behalf of his company SocialAuthorities.com, who apparently has been hired by 3 Tier Logic to build traffic to their demo site. Is this cool? No, it is abusive. It’s not only abusive it is entirely disingenuous.

So I’m calling them out for this unsocial behavior in this social medium. Vengeance is not my objective. Exposure is. Self-policing is our only path to civil discourse. If you act badly, people will call you out. And if you hire companies to use bad strategies to further your otherwise worthwhile business objectives, it will tarnish your brand. Be advised.

What do you think?

Should I have just clicked the spam button and been done with the matter? Is the value of LinkedIn increasingly being compromised by bad players? Is this getting worse? Is 3 Tier Logic a perpetrator or victim of their marketing firm’s strategies?

(Note: Thanks to (now former) Senator Al Franken whose excellent and unrelated book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, provided the inspiration for the title of this post. Other than that, he has no involvement with me or this post.)

Mobile Email is More Important than Your Mobile Website

We’ve been pounding the mobile drum for about three years now. Our advocacy is fueled by the overwhelming trend that can be observed in every website analytics analysis. Granted, the results vary depending on the demographics of your site visitors. But the increase in mobile access to your digital assets is inexorable. And, by the way, that includes your email as well.

While many/some firms who actually care about their site visitor’s experience have made the investment to provide some kind of mobile access to their website, most are still lagging far behind in providing the same consideration to their email recipients. Which, if you think about it, is counter-intuitive. Unlike a website that visitors can, by and large, elect to visit at a moment they have convenient access to a large screen display, email arrives randomly and is commonly viewed in the moment. And that moment has a good chance of being when the recipient is up and about.

I looked at the results of recent email campaigns and even I was surprised to see that about 50% of emails were opened on a mobile device. This would be compared to B2B website traffic that hovers around 20% to 30% mobile. So if one were to prioritize their mobile-izing effort it should be placed on email before the website. But this does not seem to be the case.

Granted, mobile email is a tad more complicated than a mobile website. Websites are viewed in browsers (Firefox, IE, Safari, Chrome, etc.) that to some limited extent and imperfectly interpret website stylesheet code in a common way. But email is viewed via email clients and these clients’ rendering of the email stylesheet on a mobile device are much more divergent. Nevertheless, there are some best practices for producing a reasonably coherent mobile email display.

Surprisingly to me, email publishers rarely view and test their own emails on the devices used by their subscribers. Is this laziness, ignorance or something else? I don’t know. What I do know is that email is a key component of the mobile evolution of the Internet. And about that I will keep beating my drum.