Making Email More Scalable

UPDATE: This experiment in productivity didn’t work; more details at the end.

If you’ve been referred to this blog post in an email reply, first off, hello! and second, I’m sorry. If I were a less busy or more efficient person, I would have (and should have) responded to your request individually, rather than through this post. You deserve more personal attention, and I’m kind of a butthole for sending you here. That said, I think I can still be a helpful butthole.

Here’s the rub.  I receive triple digits of email messages each weekday that require a response (and a considerable amount on weekends, too). I love email as a productivity tool and run as much of my personal and professional life as possible from it, using a modified version of the Inbox 0 philosophy. Those numbers are going up, and I’m worried that I may fall behind and need to have regular declarations of email bankruptcy.

Thus, this blog post exists to answer some of the most common questions I get over email, in the hopes of scaling my efficiency AND helping you by being a more comprehensive, consistent resource than what I might shoot off in a two line response. If your question isn’t one of those below (or wouldn’t be answered by the resources provided), my apologies. You can certainly email me again and hopefully I’ll get to it, but no guarantees.

Here are the most common questions/emails I get:

1)  Can You Help with an SEO/Web Marketing Issue?
2)  Will you get Google/Bing’s Webspam/Search Quality Teams to Look at This for Me?
3)  Do You Have Suggestions for Learning Inbound Marketing / SEO / Social Media / Blogging / Etc?
4)  Can You Help with SEO/Social Media/Web Marketing Consulting  Services?
5)  Which Conferences/Events in the Marketing World Do You Recommend?
6)  Will You Contribute to my Project / Be an Advisor to My Startup / Help with a Resource I’m Building?
7)  Can You Make An Introduction to So-and-So for Me?  
8)  Can We Schedule Time for Coffee; I Just Want to Pick Your Brain on Some Stuff?
9)  Will You Write About XYZ Latest Major Event in the Marketing World in a Blog Post Soon?
10)  Will You Invest in My Company?
11)  I Have Suggestions / Problems with Moz Software
12)  I Have a Partnership / Business Development Proposal for Moz
13)  People Are Being Mean to Me On The Internet; Any Tips for How to Handle It?
14)  Will You Tweet/Share/Google+ This Link for Me?
15)  Why Are You Such a Butthole? Only Buttholes Make Lists Like This to Pawn People Off from Their Email. Be a Real Person and Write Back to Me!

1) Can you help with an SEO/Web Marketing Issue?

Sort of. In my opinion, the best place to get help on these is Moz’s Q+A. Yes, it’s part of the membership section of the site, but 75%+ of the questions asked there receive an endorsed answer (meaning someone on Moz’s staff verified it) within a week, and many are much faster. If that’s not up your alley, the next best places to ask are on Quora’s SEO section, at Cre8asite Forums and/or on the Moz LinkedIn Discussions.

2) Will you Get Google/Bing’s Webspam/Search Quality Teams to Look at This For Me?

Probably not.

I will, on occasion forward particularly dire/pressing issues over to some folks I know at search engines, but the bar is very high, because those emails need to have a high signal->noise ratio, or they’ll ignore me, too. Let’s use this as a litmus test – if the problem is at least as important as a children’s hospital having the wrong address listed in maps/local search, I’ll send it on (yes, that’s actually happened).

If it doesn’t merit that level of importance, please consider using the standard channels for reporting webspam/search quality issues:

Google’s Webmaster Tools – reporting spam/issues while logged-in is a preferred method of communication for their teams

  Google Webmaster Central Forums – someone from Google reviews nearly all of these threads, and while very    few have action taken directly, it’s a good way to get it in front of Googlers.

  Bing Webmaster Forums – these often get direct replies from folks inside Bing, and they’re pretty responsive.

Obviously, I don’t actually work for Google/Bing. While I’m flattered that many of you think I can be a resource on this front, it’s a sad reality that due to scalability issues, personal requests can’t often be honored by search engineers and personal relationships are no guarantee of action. Such is the price to pay for services that have billions of daily users.

3) Do You Have Suggestions for Learning Inbound Marketing / SEO / Social Media / Blogging / Etc?

I get this question all the time (which is fantastic, because this is a great field to learn and there’s a lot of demand for good people who have skills). Below are some good resources for learning the ins and outs of inbound marketing.

•  First off, it’s good to keep in mind that certification from Google does not exist for SEO. What’s currently available is for AdWords, Analytics and Website Optimizer. These are good programs, but don’t be fooled into thinking they will help you with “inbound” stuff (with the exception of analytics).

•  For the basics of search engine optimization, this Beginner’s SEO Guide is still a top-notch resource that’s updated regularly and very comprehensive. I’ve also got a list of recommended blogs to follow here and there’s a nice Quora thread with top SEO folks to follow on Twitter.

•  Social media marketing’s a tough one (as there’s a lot of not-so-great content). I’d check out Hubspot’s blog and their terrific Slideshare channel, Dan Zarrella’s blog and Aimclear. In terms of comprehensive resources, this post on Webdoctus links to a number of good ones, though I think we’re still missing the all-in-one guide that the industry really needs.

For content marketing and blogging, CopyBlogger has a good page linking to a few of the best posts on that site. MarketingProfs’ content marketing category,  Conversation Marketing (which covers a wide swath of inbound topics) and Problogger are also solid.

•  If you’re seeking certification that’s likely to be accepted in the industry, it’s tough. The best ones are probably Market Motive and Search Engine College, but even these may not be universally recognized. I’d also suggest Inbound Marketing University (which is free).

•  Link building tactics is a very common request. I’d suggest checking out this category on the Moz blog, this one on SEER, and  this one on Distilled. There’s some good individual articles on the topic as well like  this post from SugarRae, this one from Mike King, this webinar/slide deck I gave on link building with tools, and this laundry list of tactics from SEWatch. Finally, some good blogs to follow on link building – Wiep, Ross Hudgens, Debra Mastaler and SEOGadget.

Now, all those are great, but if you want to get to a professional level, you’ll need hands-on experience (this post details how many recognized experts in the field started, and hands-on is present in every case). Luckily, this is easier than in nearly any other field. Start a website – perhaps a blog on a topic you love. Follow this checklist. Work on your traffic and your marketing channels. Figure out what works and doesn’t, but think of it as a process that you’ll need to perform every time (because every site and brand is different). Once you’ve done this once or twice successfully and attracted a real audience, you’ll be more than ready to get most entry-level positions in the field.

4) Can You Help with SEO/Social Media/Web Marketing Consulting Services?

I cannot. Moz dropped consulting from our business in 2009, and I don’t offer it privately, either. That said, I’ve worked with a number of great folks in the industry to develop a Recommended List of providers in this sphere. If you’re seeking consulting services in the web marketing field, I strongly suggest a visit.

5) Which Conferences/Events in the Marketing World Do You Recommend?

I’m going to be picky here and just throw out a few (though there are certainly others that may be worth your time – and new ones are springing up every year):

1) Distilled’s Linklove and Searchlove events are unbeatable from a content quality perspective. The speakers are remarkable, there’s a lot of attention to detail and the tips/advice given is second-to-none. That said, there’s only a few hundred people at any of them, so you have to want more intimacy in your networking. If you’re seeking a classic, large-conference environment, choose something else.

2) SMX puts on very good large conferences in the US and Europe. My two favorites are SMX Munich in Germany and SMX Advanced in Seattle, followed closely by the SMX East/West events in California and New York.

3) Hubspot’s Inbound conference lives up to their high standards and features content on a variety of topics – content, social, SEO, etc. Very much recommended, particularly if you’re in the Northeast.

4) Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce event is on a scale like no other. It’s not exclusively marketing-focused, though you can certainly attend marketing tracks. The raw networking power of having 30K+ attendees, keynotes from the likes of Bill Clinton and the tons of other cool stuff surrounding this make it highly worthwhile.

5)   SES and Pubcon, both centered on search, but broadening, are good shows. They feature larger audiences than any of the above (except Dreamforce), multiple tracks, lots of panels and tracks (like SMX) and a wide variety of attendees. Both are good for networking – though at the very large shows it can be challenging to meet people unless you have already-established relationships.

I won’t put it on the list because it would seem purely self-interested, but our annual customer conference, Mozcon, is pretty damn amazing. We hand select the best and brightest speakers from other shows we attend, have a very high bar for content and throw some phenomenal after-hours events and extras, too. It’s usually between 5-700 attendees, so mid-size in terms of networking.

6) Will You Contribute to my Project / Be an Advisor to My Startup / Help with a Resource I’m Building?

Oh man… I really want to say yes to all of these, but sadly, there’s just too many. If you’ve built a great product, reputation and some notoriety in the space, chances are good I’ll say yes and write back. I really want to contribute and give back after all this wonderful industry has done for me. However, there’s no time, and I have to be picky. Please understand and don’t take offense – I promise it’s not personal.

There’s also tons of other great SEO and inbound marketing folks who may have more time/interest in helping.   A fairly good list is actually on this Quora thread  and reaching out via Twitter is a good way to go (if you can explain your pitch/project in 140 chars, that’s also a good sign).

7) Can You Make An Introduction to So-and-So for Me?

This is a tough one, because if we don’t know each other tremendously well, OR if I don’t know the person you’re asking for the intro to well, it becomes an awkward situation. There’s also some folks who are simply too busy and I know from conversations that they wouldn’t appreciate me forwarding on every request I get to connect with them. Here’s a good example:  Dear Friend: My Heart Says Yes, But My Schedule Says No.

8 ) Can We Schedule Time for Coffee; I Just Want to Pick Your Brain on Some Stuff?

Unfortunately, once again this is somewhere I need to say “no,” more often. If we don’t know each other or   I’ve not specifically said “please email me, I’d love to get together,” there’s a chance I might not respond (or send you a link to this post). My calendar, even when in Seattle, is getting so full that I have no room for any desk work while in the office, meaning I put in 6+ hours at home on email each night just to keep up.

Nevertheless, I LOVE meeting people in the industry and being helpful when and where I can, so don’t take this as a “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Just know that I have to make hard choices and it’s not personal. I promise to still take at least some of these, especially those have interesting pitches/come from referrals I trust.

9) Will You Write About XYZ Latest Major Event in the Marketing World in a Blog Post Soon?

Quite possibly – and more likely so if the subject is interesting and/or it fits with other stuff I’m planning to write about. But please don’t be angry if I don’t respond or include you in the post (I will try, though, so please send over your preferred source for citation if you do suggest something). Many times, when a big change in the search/social world occurs, I get a bunch of emails asking if I’ll write about it. My usual policy is to wait a week or two until the dust settles and we’ve had time to analyze/test/play a bit. Moz doesn’t cover “breaking news” typically, but rather tries to provide analysis, insight and strategic/tactical advice for marketers.

10) Will You Invest in My Company?

Ummm… How do I say this… I’m in no financial position to do so. Despite Moz’s relative success, we pour nearly every dollar earned back into growing the business. I make less money than you might think and my wife and I support some family on those earnings, too.

Someday, I do hope to make investments, but it’s probably many years away. Fingers crossed, anyway!

11) I Have Suggestions / Problems with Moz Software

Awesome. I will almost certainly respond directly to these or, at the least, forward them to someone appropriate on the team to investigate. If you want more formal support, though, I suggest emailing help@seomoz_dot_org, where one of our awesome help team members will tackle this personally. Average first response time is 8 hours (much less M-F from 8am-6pm Pacific) and resolutions are usually less than a day.

12) I Have a Partnership / Business Development Proposal for Moz

Thanks for thinking of us! We’ve now got a fulltime bizdev director on board – Andrew Dumont. You can reach him via email directly – andrew at seomoz dot org.

13) People Are Being Mean to Me On The Internet; Any Tips for How to Handle It?

It’s sad that I get this question so often. But in a way, it’s a good thing. It means you are not alone – everyone who achieves any modicum of success or awareness on the web is going to find themselves the target of critics and haters. It means you’re doing something RIGHT!

First thing, take a deep breath and watch this Katt Williams clip (and maybe this one, too). Good stuff, right? Second, read this great piece on trolls and trolling. If your haters are trolls, you should largely brush it off, especially if other, more reasonable people aren’t engaging in this manner. Remember that trolls troll together – one finds something to hate and shares on social media/email to increase your perception/fear that the controversy is real. Unless your longtime fans and followers are up in arms, too, it’s likely to blow over relatively quickly.

Think through all the comments, interactions, emails, tweets, etc. you’ve received in the past 30 days. As a percent, how many of them were negative? If the answer is 2% or less, use that for perspective. Your mind will naturally dismiss the positive remarks and center on the negative – it’s classic human psychology (and it’s why politicians use negative campaigning). But, that doesn’t make it real. Chances are good that your critics are using ad hominem attacks, which can hurt emotionally, but are logically shallow and many times, designed to simply garner a response so the attacker can feel vindication.

Engaging is the tough part – it often can feel impossible not to respond, but keep in mind that writing something back – in a comment thread, on social media or on your own site – can actually make things worse, particularly if you’re in a heightened emotional state. It can sometimes pay to leave a response like “I disagree, but this has gotten me a bit emotional, and I think it’s best we both wait a few days and see if we still feel the same way before continuing with what could be an unproductive and hurtful conversation.”

Finally, remember that haters don’t actually hate you (or, most of the time, what you’ve done). Their own insecurities, emotional state, lack of maturity and perspective are far more likely drivers. For trolls, it’s even worse – the goal is simply attention (hence, the old saying, “don’t feed the trolls”). Know your attackers, take it in context and keep perspective. Respond only if you’re out of the stomach-in-knots phase, fairly sure you’re not being trolled, and have the ability to show as much respect and candor as possible. You’ll get through it – we all do. And congrats – if you have haters, you’re almost certainly having success, too!

14) Will You Tweet/Share/Google+ This Link for Me?

If it’s especially amazing, I might, but the bar is REALLY HIGH for this sort of thing. Sharing with me by tweeting it at me is often a good way to go. I’m pretty responsive on Twitter unless I’m particularly swamped or on one of those horribly long trans-oceanic flights.

15) Why Are You Such a Butthole? Only Buttholes Make Lists Like This to Pawn People Off from Their Email. Be a Real Person and Write Back to Me!

I know. I suck. I’m sorry.

The problem isn’t you – it’s me. My inbox is too full, my time demands too many, and my efficiency not what it should be. If I answer every email I get, I’ll have no time left to do much of anything else (including blog or run my company). I have to draw the line somewhere and own my inbox rather than allowing it to own me. But, it’s totally lame that I did it to you. If you see me in person, feel free to give me a hard time about it.

postscript: I sent this email to ~30 recipients over a one week span. There were several no replies, one thank you, and a bunch of very angry people. Lesson learned – folks don’t mind being ignored on a random outreach email, but they don’t want to receive a link to a post like this. I’ll keep working to try getting better at answering email, but I suspect it will simply lead to a lot more archiving/deleting of messages. Ah well, nothing ventured…