Peter Sandeen

Peter Sandeen

Contact: phone +358 41 433 0144 / Email (contact {ät} petersandeen {dot) com) / Twitter / Google+

How to Manage Email Overload

It’s common to receive dozens or even hundreds of emails every day. It takes a lot of time to read them all and reply appropriately.

This post explains how to manage email. I suggest you first read my post about 45-15 minute work rhythm. It explains when you should manage your email.

Here’s a simple way to handling to email. Divide emails into three categories:

  1. Important. You need to reply to these.
  2. Interesting. Some interesting information, but you’re not likely to reply.
  3. Forgettable. The ones you won’t go back to.

If you need to reply immediately, then do so. Don’t waste time categorizing such emails, just answer to them and be done with it.

Mark the first category as unread and reply to them during the last hour of the day. That way you won’t receive a follow-up today that would add to the amount of work you have to do.

There are a few ways you can handle the second category. You can try dividing them into sub-categories or folders. Or you can print out the ones you really need. I prefer the folders, there’s always too many papers around anyway.

The last category goes to trash, immediately. This is the point where most people do the big mistake.

You should categorize all emails as “forgettable” as a default. Only change the categorization, if there really is a reason for doing so.

Yes, this means you’ll trash 90% of your emails. And yes, that really is a good thing.

You may be scared that you’ll need something from those emails later, but their not important enough to be labeled “interesting”. Well, there’s an alternative for the paranoid minded. Create a folder named “forgotten” and use it as your trash. It’ll save your emails, but they’re out of your way.

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SEO that Works: Rational Approach to SEO

There are more self-proclaimed “SEO gurus” than polar bears in the world. They “know” (without any way to prove it) the perfect keyword densities and link formats and everything else about SEO. I’m not a guru, nor do I have any percentages, studies, or great successes to share. But I do have a rational approach to things, SEO included.

If I were Google, how would I work? Google is made by people, rational people I suppose. So, if you think about search engine rankings rationally, you should end up with a similar logic. I know it sometimes feels like they do irrational choices (like the “Panda” update that hit hard many quality sites). But I’m sure they at least attempt to think rationally the big question: How to rank webpages?

Here’s a rational approach to SEO, which should work if the search engines are rational ;)

Rational SEO

So, what’s rational SEO? It’s feeding the search engines what a rationally thinking search engine is looking for.

If a Google search meant that a human reads all webpages and then ranks them against your keyword, it would be rational. But since Google isn’t a person, it only has the rules people built into it. Fortunately those people are rational. And by definition rational choices can be traced. So, lets trace the rational behind search engines.

There are three questions a search engine asks when it ranks results:

  1. What’s the question?
  2. Which pages are closest to answering that question?
  3. Which of the results is the most trustworthy?

You could relatively easily interpret what someone is looking for, based on the keywords they used. But for a computer program it isn’t always so easy. It can only follow rules.

Top 10 rational search engine ranking factors

Here’s a top 10 of the most important ranking factors I’d use as a search engine. If Google (and the merry band of search engines) are rational, they’ve probably come up with a similar logic.

10. Outbound links. Links to related high quality external sites and sources, are a sign of knowledge. And they can also help in categorizing the topic of the page.

9. Meta description. This is what you (usually) see below the title in the search results page. If it’s custom written it probably is a fairly accurate representation of the content on the site. I use an SEO plugin to do it. As an added bonus, the meta description has a huge impact on the click-through rate (it’s worth nothing to be the top ranking result if no one clicks through).

8. Article length. The longest isn’t always the best. But nor is the shortest. It all depends on the question, but a 1000-word article tends to be better researched than a 200-word article.

7. Site statistics. Older sites are usually more reliable. But so is younger content. So, fresh content in an old site should be most reliable. Other statistics like Technorati and Alexa rankings aren’t the most accurate but they do provide some insight into the popularity of a website.

6. Surrounding content. What’s the site generally about, and who’s the author. Lots of related content on the same site or by the same author indicates relevance and trustworthiness.

5. Inbound links. The currency of the internet and the most talked about SEO factor is inbound links. If others are linking to it, it’s a sign of good quality. Where the links come from is the key here. It’s like in “real life”; a recommendation by a respected person is worth a lot more than a thousand recommendations by druggies. Where exactly the links point to is also important. Links to the home page only says, “The site is somehow significant enough to be linked to.” But a deep link (a link to a specific page/article) says, “This specific content is worth linking to.”

4. Keywords in the content. The most obvious factor in SEO. But not only the exact keywords are important. Close matches and related words tell a lot about an article. And if there are no related words, then the page is probably irrelevant to the search.

3. Title. Nothing describes a webpage better than it’s title. It has to be short, so there’s nothing extra to confuse the search engine. I believe the title is the most important factor in getting to the first pages. But the last two points in this list define which results get to the very top, and which results fade away from the first results pages.

2. Click through rate. Which results people click-through when searching with the keywords you used. A computer program is always a computer program even if it’s Google. Analyzing what real people do is the best way for a search engine to understand the relevance of its results.

1. Bounce rate. If you return to the search results page after clicking through to one result, it’s safe to assume that the page didn’t answer your question. The faster you return, the less valuable the page was for you. When you no longer return to search more, your question was most likely answered.

So, those are the most important factors I’d use if I had to build a new search engine. As a bonus I’ve gathered three more SEO tips for you. These are often talked about, but I’m not sure what to think of them.

Top 3 controversial SEO tips

3. Meta keywords. A representative from Google has directly said, that Google isn’t interested in meta keywords. Why not?! If there’s only a couple of meta keywords, they’re likely to represent the content accurately. And if there’s a hundred meta keywords, they tell that the page is probably spam. I don’t know what to think about this. Does Google lie, or does it waste a perfectly good way to rank webpages. I do define meta keywords for each post independently. But I write a maximum of five keywords.

2. Page source code. Some people claim a clean code would rank better than a messy one. I’m not an HTML expert but I find this difficult to believe. A search engine bot can easily scan through the code and only pay attention to the headers, paragraphs, and links. What’s the difference to the bot?

1. Commenting on blogs. Anyone can leave a comment on a blog. It tells nothing about the quality of the comment’s author’s content. So, why should links in the comment section matter? I find it difficult to believe that they would make any difference in search engine rankings. There are other good reasons why you should comment on blogs, but the SEO benefits are questionable at best.

 

What’s your favorite SEO tip? Share it in the comments below. And if you have other knowledge about SEO, then please share that too.

Find New Customers: Placement is the Key

What’s the best way to get new customers with marketing? Find new people you market to.

Where to find new people? In new places.

Many marketers get comfortable with the placement and medias they use for marketing. If you’ve got good results by placing your ad in a specific magazine, you expect similar results in the future.

And usually you’re right about that. Advertising that worked well yesterday will probably work well today and tomorrow. But you can do better than that.

If you see someone’s ad for the hundredth time, you’ve already bought the product or you’re unlikely to ever buy it. So, why would you pay to get your advertising in front of the same people all the time?

But where can you find new customers? There are a few ways you can approach this:

  1. Look at your current customer base. You probably have some customers that are surprising. People you’re not even trying to reach with your marketing. There’s usually a lot more of them. You should consider targeting them with your marketing.
  2. Where your competitors aren’t present. This question has a million poor answers but usually also a couple of really good ones. It’s more effective (and cheaper) to avoid competing for attention for your marketing. If you can figure out a place where your potential customers are, but your competitors aren’t, you can make a huge profit.
  3. Widen your reach. You should always start your marketing with targeting specific groups of people. But after a while, you should consider using less targeted marketing methods. I recently wrote about TV advertising and how ineffective it is. Well, TV, radio, and some magazines have the unique ability to reach a huge audience. And sometimes that can lead to a lot of new customers.

The next time you catch yourself placing your ad in a familiar place, stop to reconsider once more. Can you reasonably expect it to be the best place? Sometimes the answer is yes, so don’t force yourself to always find new places for your advertisements.

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Email Customer Contact: What to do With Your Last Email

This is the fifth and last post in the five-part series on email customer contact.

Yesterday’s post was about getting the customers looking for answers to buy your products. Today it’s about leaving a good impression. And to be remembered when they need your services next.

The point of your last email is leaving a good memory. Say just, “Thanks” (or something else equally non-memorable) and it’s okay, but you can do better than “okay”.

One current example is the holiday wishes. “Merry Christmas” is what almost everyone says in their last email now. But just because of that, you shouldn’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard, “Merry Christmas” a hundred times already this year. And every year before. People don’t pay attention to something that happens hundreds of times.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to wish a merry Christmas. It’s just not memorable. ”Happy Christmas” on the other hand sounds weird enough for you to notice it.

You can say, “merry” if there’s something else interesting in the email. A discount offer, some helpful resources, or even just a recommendation for another product.

Say something the prospect will remember for a while, either “weird” or valuable. I’d rather leave our relationship to where something is expected to happen. Rather than at a point where all business is done.

Customer service people often have an email signature saying something like, “If you have more questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.” That’s again “okay”.

It’s a pretty generic line. It does convey the message, but nothing more. Tweaking it a little would make it more memorable. “I hope I’ve been helpful, but if that’s not the case, I’d be happy to give it another try. So, before you send blood hounds after me, reply to this email and tell me how could I assist you further.”

That’s too much for some people, but please note: people look for genuine human contact when they contact you. Providing that is the single most important goal of all customer service. If a funny signature is what it takes, then do that.

There’s one more important thing about customer service. You should be the last to speak. This is especially true with email. It tells the customer you received their last email and that you took the time to read it and reply. In short: it tells the customer you care about them.

This post concludes the series on email customer service. You can read all the posts here. And please leave a comment. I’d like to know if there’s something missing from this series. Or what you thought about it in general.

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Email Customer Contact: Make the Decision to Buy Easy

This is the fourth post in the five-part series on email customer contact.

In the previous part I explained how to answer questions. This post will explain what you should offer along with the answers. In other words, how to sell to customers looking for answers.

Unless you only have one product, people will ask for help choosing between options. The closer the products are to each other, in terms of functionality, the more confused people are.

An example is web hosting. Shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated servers aren’t something most people understand. Or even want to understand.

The difference is clear to you if you sell the service. But your customers may not see any difference.

Most web hosting companies have carefully explained the differences on their websites and sales pages. But it took me three emails to a hosting company to even remotely understand what the explanations mean. I guess they should’ve read the previous post in this series.

(A hint to web hosting companies: The average blogger doesn’t know how much RAM their server should have. They only know how many visitors and pageviews they approximately get.)

The problem is the language you use. If it takes expertise to understand your explanation, rewrite it. Unless you sell something only a highly trained professional will be interested in, imagine you’re explaining your products to a 7-year old child.

It isn’t enough to make your customer understand your product. They need to understand the difference between your products.

The customer will tell you what’s their interest in your products when they first contact you. They may not spell it out, but it is whatever they focus on. When you explain the differences use the customer’s interest as the metric.

When I contacted the web hosting company, I was interested in loading speed. They missed that and told me how much RAM each option had. I know those two are related, but I don’t know how.

What really surprises me, is how willing companies are to miss out on sales. I was very interested in buying their service but they never told me which service would suit my needs.

So, even if the customer didn’t directly ask for a recommendation you should make one. Don’t make it pushy, just say, “I believe a VPS hosting plan would be best for you at this time. I think so because…”

And finally: make it extremely simple for them to buy. Say something like, “If this option seems good to you, can you please send *required information*, so I can set the service up for you.”

The decision to buy shouldn’t require much thought. Don’t force your customers to think when they don’t want to think.

The last part of this series comes tomorrow. It’s about what you should say in your last contact with the customer.

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What’s Wrong With Telephone Marketers and How To Do It Right

I received a call from my cell phone operator today. During the call I nearly fell from the chair I was sitting on. I genuinely had to use all my will power not to burst out laughing.

If I have spare time, I do sometimes listen to what telephone marketers are selling. I never buy anything from them, but it’s interesting to hear their attempts of selling to me. This time I had the time to listen but I was also interested to hear what they had to sell. I’m already their customer so I expected them to make a reasonable offer. In the end they cut my phone bill in half making it worth my time.

So, what made this call so funny. The guy used words like, “umm”, “wait”, “I can’t remember”, “hold on”, “ou”, etc. almost as much as all other words combined. Really. I enjoy exaggeration, but I don’t need it in this case. The guy was completely lost. Maybe I was his very first call and his manager was breathing down his neck, but still it wasn’t good.

The only reason I listened to him for more than five seconds, was that I made the decision to listen before answering the phone. I haven’t listened to telephone marketers in a long time and I was curious to hear if they had learnt something. No, they haven’t…

Why telephone marketing is difficult

Selling over the phone follows the same rules as all selling. But some serious limitations apply. It’s easy for the prospect to just hang up. Obviously you can tell a sales person in a store you’re not interested, but it’s not nearly as easy as it is to end a phone call.

Most important difference is that during a phone call your voice is all you have. Face-to-face you can say “umm” without sounding like a moron, because you can compensate with everything else you do. But over the phone your voice and words are you. When you say “umm” you are “umm”.

People expect telephone marketers to be annoying. So, they get annoyed the instant they understand they’re getting a call from one. You have no more than a couple of seconds to justify your call. Or the prospect will decide not to buy, regardless of what you have to sell. You will still have a slight chance of selling to them, but it’s a stretch.

Avoid the immediate hang-up

So, the opening is the key. There are a few ways you can avoid prompting a hang up.

  1. Ask a question that implies a benefit to the prospect. “Do you want to save at least 30% off from your phone bill?” Of course everybody wants that and only the people who have a principle not to buy over the phone will hang up immediately.
  2. Make a clear offer the prospect wants. “I can save you 30% off your phone bill.” Again only the people with principles against telephone marketing will hang up.
  3. Ask them to take part in a short survey. “Could you please answer 3 questions about your telephone operator? It’ll only take 60 seconds.” (Note the use of “60 seconds”. “One minute” doesn’t sound as precise.) People are more likely to take part in a survey than to listen to sales pitches. If you don’t tell them you’re going to offer something to them, they may get really angry. So, add, “If you do answer the questions, I can offer you a discount from our prices.” It may even create desire to get the discount. The need to work to get it makes it seem more authentic to the customer. Additional benefit is that you gain knowledge of the customer’s situation. And you can do some market research at the same time.

How to ask questions and explain your offer

There are six rules to how you should handle the actual conversation.

  1. Rehearse your lines. As said before: your voice and words are you. If you don’t know what you’re saying, you’ll sound like an idiot.
  2. Make simple questions. People don’t want to be challenged into a chess-like straining of their brain. They’ll get frustrated the moment they need to really think about an answer.
  3. Forget conditional offers. “As long as you only wear pink trousers on Mondays, you’ll receive a complementary tennis ball.” ;) In other words: if something happens then something else happens. If it takes more than a second to understand, your offer is too complicated to be sold over the phone.
  4. Forget special services. “We can send someone to measure your beard’s thickness to know exactly which razor is best for you.” People want time to process complicated offers and time is the one thing you cannot offer if you’re a telephone marketer. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid.
  5. Ask for a minimal commitment. “To get your new phone fly to Zimbabwe. Find a guy called Fratameeá. Give him an ice-cube and in return you’ll receive your new phone.” ;) Anything more than a simple “yes” is too much to ask over the phone.
  6. Rehearse your lines. I know this is a duplicate. But it’s the one thing that telephone marketers never seem to understand. You are not fluent enough to sell without a script. You don’t necessarily need a word to word script to everything you say. But your questions, (your common) answers, and offers need to be fluent. Your voice and words are you. If you stumble even a little, you’re screwed.

If you mumble or use complicated expressions during a phone call, your prospect cannot understand you. You need to articulate clearly and ask understandable questions. Otherwise understanding you becomes a chore. Nobody wants to work to understand what a telephone marketer is saying to them.

Do you listen to telephone marketers?

I’d like to hear what you think about telephone marketers. Do you hate them? Do you buy from them? How would you sell over the phone? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Email Customer Contact: How to Answer Customers’ Questions

This is the third post in the five-part series on email customer contact. The previous post explained what you should remember when sending the first reply.

The way you answer customers’ questions in emails can either create trust or frustration. More often than not I’ve felt the frustration after receiving the reply from customer service.

I’ve been repeatedly surprised by customer service people. It seems they don’t have the capability to handle more than a couple of questions in one email.

I know there are exceptions. I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter some people who do answer all my questions without the need to repeat them in another email.

But usually they only answer the simple questions. Sometimes it even feels like they didn’t read through my email.

When you first read a customer’s email, notice all questions in it. Try making a list of them just to make sure you don’t forget one. It really makes a difference to the customer.

Answer customers’ questions in simple language unless they use professional language themselves. And even then, remember there’s a chance the customer picked up some fancy words from your website, without really understanding them.

Once you’ve answered all the questions, answer the rest of them. The customer is likely to have more questions than the ones in the email.

The customer may not know of the other questions, but some may still exist. And sometimes they just expects you to answer a related question.

I once sent an email to a travel agency to know if I could use a laptop during my flight. The flight was over 30 hours long so they might’ve thought to tell me I couldn’t charge my computer even though I was allowed to use one.

If you take the time to answer your customers’ questions thoroughly, they’ll thank you later.

The next part in the series will explain how to get more interested prospects to turn into customers.

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Email Customer Contact: How to Respond to Customers’ Emails

This is the second post in the five-part series on email customer contact. The previous post explained how you get customers to contact you. I’ll post a new part each day this week.

How you respond to the first email a customer sends you determines what they expect from you later. Actually they already have a solid expectation about you, even before contacting you. But with your reply you can either affirm their expectation, or start to change it.

You should always respond as quickly as possible. But don’t spam them. There’s no point in sending a confirmation email if you’re going to send the actual email an hour later.

If you need time to figure out an answer, you should send a quick reply. Tell them you’ve received their email and that you’re working on it. Estimate when they can expect your answer or promise a reply by a certain time.

There’s nothing more frustrating than, “The issue you’ve been experiencing is being worked on by our technicians. Unfortunately, we’re unable to give a specific time frame…” (I received this reply from my web host when I contacted them because of slow loading speed).

If you need more information to answer the customer’s email then explain why you need it. Just asking without explanation easily seems arrogant.

Before you should attempt to answer specific questions you should figure out what the customer wants. It’s best to send one comprehensive answer to a customer’s email, even when you need a couple of emails asking for more information first.

And finally: use your name when you respond to customers. Even if someone else may answer their next email, you should use your name in emails. I know this seems obvious but to some people it apparently is not. A few weeks ago I was making a reservation at a restaurant. I got the replies from “sales service”. Can you think of a less personal contact info?

The next part in the series is about answering questions. I’m surprised time and time again of how poorly companies respond to customers. It’s like they don’t read the questions from start to finish. More on that tomorrow.

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Email Customer Contact: Encourage Customers to Contact You

This is the first post in a five-part series on email customer contact. I’ll post a new part each day this week.

Any customer contact is valuable. Whether it’s via phone, email, or face-to-face, it’s an opportunity to sell and build a relationship. But many well-known companies miss the opportunities customer contact presents.

This series focuses on email contact, but the same principles work with all kinds of customer contact.

First you need the customer to contact you and the only way that’s going to happen, is if you provide a way to do it. You should have your company’s support/contact email and phone information displayed clearly on your website; never more than one click away.

Tell your prospects and customers you want them to contact you. For example Audible, the audio book store owned by Amazon, has “We’re great listeners too” written next to their logo and their phone number right under it. And it’s on every page.

FAQs and forums are a good bonus but they don’t replace personal help via email (or phone).

Should you have a contact form on your website? Or your email address? Usually both; you want customers to contact you. But the contact form is sometimes especially useful.

A contact form on your website that sends an email to you has its perks. You can have custom fields. Those include what the email is about (which can affect to whom it’ll be sent to), the product in question, and other relevant information about the situation. Gathering this information saves time later and enables you to respond more accurately.

If you use the additional fields, make sure there’s always an “Other” option. It’s frustrating when you can’t pick a correct answer from a list.

The next part in the series is about your reply to the first customer contact. There are some common mistakes you can make with the first reply. I’ll explain them and what you should do instead.

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45-15 min Work Rhythm

How come some people seem to have more time in a work day? At least a partial explanation is their work rhythm; they know how to manage their time effectively.

Most people could divide their tasks into two groups: “primary” and “other”. Then they could assign times for the groups.

The “other” group consists of tasks that everybody does. Reading/writing emails, time spent on the phone, answering simple questions others ask you, etc. These are the things that take up a lot of time but don’t usually create a lot of value.

The primary tasks are your unique tasks. The ones others don’t do. If you’re a sales person then selling and prospecting are your primary tasks. If you’re a customer service representative then monitoring email is indeed your primary task.

The reason some people get more things done is because they understand the power of focus. They know it’s impossible to think about two things at once (you can hop back and forth between two ideas but you can’t consciously process more than one thought at any given moment).

So, the most productive people make sure their work rhythm allows them to focus singlemindedly on their primary tasks. 45-15 min work rhythm can help you do just that.

Dedicate the first 45 minutes of every hour to your primary work. Close your email application, don’t accept calls (unless you absolutely must), and close the door. Create time when you’re free of distractions.

The last 15 minutes of every hour are dedicated to the “other” tasks. Reply to emails and take care of other important tasks to have the next 45 minutes free for focusing again.

If you need more than 15 minutes for emailing than reserve the last hour of the day for that (and other similar tasks). Unless you’re unnaturally good at multitasking this work rhythm can enable you to do in one day what you used to do in two.

You should make sure your colleagues know of your work rhythm so they can contact you during the 15 minute part of the hour. It shouldn’t be too difficult to assure them or your boss that it’s a good idea; after all it’ll increase your productivity.

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