The Art of Conversation circa 44 BC

We keep talking about how marketing has changed and is changing. Fair enough. Maybe it’s time to take a look at what doesn’t change. Case in point: conversation.

All marketing is or should be conversation — ways to encourage it, make it more relevant and more comfortable for those engaged (your customers). There are rules, a kind of etiquette, that most follow and expect others to follow. Over the years, however, marketing has tended to ignore those rules; for example, ads shout at you, dominate the conversation and don’t let you get a word in edgewise… a bit like your mother-in-law.

Here’s the interesting part. The rules of conversation etiquette are universal; they cut across all cultural boundaries and have been in play for centuries. Centuries? Is that true?

Yes… have a look at Cicero’s rules for pleasant conversation, written in 44 BC. Still as fresh as a newborn babe and perhaps more relevant than ever in this technology age that allows for millions of conversations per second worldwide. Marketers — pay attention, these rules apply to you all the more, as the conversation you’re trying to start is often with a consumer who does not trust or know you.

Cicero’s Rules for Good Conversation

  • speak clearly
  • speak easily, but not too much, give others their turn
  • do not interrupt
  • be courteous
  • deal seriously with serious matters, gracefully with lighter ones
  • never criticize people behind their backs
  • stick to subjects of general interests
  • do not talk about yourself
  • never lose your temper

Vertical Marketing and the B2B Zen Puzzle: If You Meet Buddha on the Road What Should You Do?

Marketing is full or irony. Or maybe it’s just a Zen activity that lends itself to statements like, “If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him.” That’s a simple Zen puzzle which means, in essence, that if you see something you think to be Buddha, kill it (in your mind) because it is not Buddha (and it is keeping you from realizing the REAL Buddha essence that’s inside you – and certainly not outside on the road).

OK, enough with the puzzle. Here’s Vertical Marketing’s Zen/Marketing puzzle, ironic statement, of the day:

In anything you do vis a vis marketing and advertising, if the majority of people like the concept then it is not new enough and thus not good enough!

Chew on that for a minute or two and you’ll see the far reaching implications.

The wisdom of this statement flows from several ‘facts’ about consumers, be they B2B or B2C.

1.    Consumers only want what’s new and what’s hard to get, they rarely want anything else.
2.    New, by definition, is something unseen and unexpected… the first iPhone, for example.
3.    Now here’s the irony – while people want new they don’t like new, at least not at first. New is disconcerting by the fact of it not immediately understood.

It should be coming clear: when you present an idea for a marketing strategy or new ad, not everyone will like what’s truly new and different because of statements #2 and #3 above. Eventually they may love the idea, but at first they will not; and to support their dislike, the fear of the unknown, they will criticise and naysay to cover for the lack of insight and courage they are demonstrating. It’s human nature. We all do it more times than we care to admit.

So, any supposedly new concept that everyone likes is, by definition, not new enough… and thus given #1 above, it will fail to capture the consumer’s interest.

As the song says ‘Isn’t It Ironic?’ And I can tell you that from an agency point of view, it gets hard to keep presenting new idea after new idea only to have each shot down, or worse, watered down until everyone in the room likes it.

Again – if everyone likes it, it’s not new enough, not good enough. Have the courage to challenge your customers and your management with something that is truly new. The rewards will be great.

Here’s a true story. Many years ago we did a series of proposed ads for a client with a product that measured the temperature on a circuit board through various stages of a reflow oven to guarantee that necessary levels were met and not exceeded and components weren’t either toasted or ready to drop off.

Our headline (which I still recall almost 20 years later):

It’s board #16, 515 through the oven… how do you know it’s been soldered correctly?

This was the clear winner of the six ads we presented on the day. The guy looks at the ads, tapes them up on the wall and asks about a dozen employees to have a look… including, now get this, the woman who happened to pass by as she was sweeping the floors and dusting the offices. Honest to God!

Needless to say he went with the concept they all agreed was best… we vehemently argued our case, but the client gets what the client wants (and will pay for).

The ad did OK… covered the cost of running it. The superior ad, however, would have pushed sales and the company image off the charts (the technology was first rate and could live up to the claim). The company is still in business, still struggling in the middle of the pack… probably still afraid to kill Buddha unless the cleaning lady gives them the nod.

Have an Extra £299? Concerned About the Future of Advertising?

Please, please have a look at this offer I received.

It’s an ad sent to marketers enticing us to come to a seminar, or should I say a ‘War of Words’ related to the future of advertising and the crisis we are now facing about lack of credibility, consumer skepticism, I might even call it consumer HATRED for ads.


A few of things to notice:

  1.  We at Vertical aren’t the only ones who have recognised this crisis. A few readers of this blog have commented on how pessimistic we/I am. Well, I’m not alone. Remember the old saying: If you think you’re being followed, you’re paranoid: BUT if indeed, you are being followed, then you’re very smart to worry.
  2. You have to love the ‘young turks’ reference. C’mon, it’s mostly older people who are familiar with that term… and, if memory serves, when I was a young turk I never thought of myself as one… it’s not a phrase I would have used. So, to whom is this message being directed? I suspect it’s to older marketers who the sponsors figure want to get hip real fast.
  3. These young turks who will debate the future of advertising have used nothing but words and  typography to convey their message! No pictures, no moving images… words. Doesn’t that surprise you? These prophets of the future have decided to spread their advertising message through words alone! And this from the generation that always seems to be reminding us that no one reads.

Frankly, this shouldn’t come as a shock as (and we’ve been saying this to customers) the nature of social media has helped to reinforce the power of words.

Again, have a look at the ad. The format on the day is cheesy – stolen from cheap TV cooking shows and the constant need for competition (they’re actually going to vote for a winner) – and the cost is too high. But for 50 quid, I’d take a flutter (is that the phrase?).

Effective Advertising? It's All in the Headline!

Arguably the best book on advertising is “Ogilvy on Advertising,” from the 1970s. Back then he said something that has certainly come true: that all advertising would one day become direct response advertising. What does that mean? Well, direct response, which agency types see as somehow ‘dirty’ (and they have some good reasons for this belief) aims at getting people to do something NOW: get up off the sofa, pick up the phone, give us a call (now it’s visit our site or send us an email). Most ads, unfortunately, try to be branding, which is agency talk for they didn’t sell a thing but they look good.

Ogilvy foresaw that advertising was getting expensive, consumers were jaded and there would not be enough ROI for those nice, pretty “we love the environment and we love our customer” ads. If you had the courage to advertise then have the courage to ask for the sale.

So how does this relate to headlines? Very simple: anyone who has ever written a direct response ad knows that the headline is the single most important factor in the ad’s success. As much as 70% of the response can be attributed to the headline (in a way, like 70% of a cigar’s flavour is in the wrapper… the filling, the bulk of the cigar plays a very minor role).

Which is why it can take weeks to write a 10 word headline, then two hours to write the rest of the ad.

So what makes a good headline? It’s an art and a gut feeling. Successful DR writers have handed down a few rules.

1. Don’t be too cute! How many B2B ads have you seen that work with a play on words? You know: “Columbus Widgets Can Help You Discover a New World of Savings.” Mostly, these are terrible; although when a good one comes along like, “Probably the best lager in the world,” it can work. But most are not that good and are too clever by half.

2. Questions work a lot of the time. The most successful cosmetics ad of the past decade asked a simple question: “Better Than Botox?” and women responded to the tune of half a billion USD. If you can ask a ‘real’ question, something your customers are asking themselves, you could be on to something.

3. FREE always works, always, always, always.

4. The headline to your next press release, or ad or the opening screen of your PowerPoint can make or break your efforts. You’ve got to standout without screaming… make a point that your audience is worried about, curious about, struggling with and offer the promise of a solution or some information people don’t already know.

Whatever you do, spend a lot more time on the headline and opening paragraph than you are used to spending. We all usually jump at the first cute headline that we think of (and if the headline seems cute, it probably is so forget it) or we listen to some engineer whose solution is to “just say what it is.”

C’mon who wants to sit and listen to a lecture entitled “BGAs and Effective Soldering Techniques” when you can listen to one called “Solder Balls Aren’t As Bad As You Think… They’re Worse”?

SEO - Keyword within Internal Site Links

With internal site links, you get two chances of hitting the target, yet so many sites are firing blanks.

With the huge uprising of Content Management Systems (CMS) users, surely someone should lay down the law?

In a previous article I talked about how the URL structure of a website was the most important SEO ranking factor there currently is. I’ve experimented with this myself and with some sites the improvement can be dramatic and over-night.

Most CMS users, with a little SEO knowledge, can manage to knock together fairly respectable pyramid structures for a website, yet so many neglect the ‘title’ tag of a link. The title tag is the small pop-up message you get when hovering over a link. This tag is your second chance at the target!

You could be missing the chance to add another keyword / key-phrase and strengthen the ‘theme’ of a web page.

Why is this so?

Many are simple forgotten about, but many are down to lack of training. Let’s face it, most people churning out articles, are either ‘Old Skool’; brought up with typewriters; or youngsters educated on social media sites. Nether are the ideal for generating search-able content.

Admittedly, on many CMS text editors, the field to enter a hover title is buried within a tab marked ‘Advanced’, with a field name ‘Advisory Title’. Even to an experienced web-developer that takes some guessing.

Top 10 SEO Internal Site Link Tips

  • Use Keywords as internal site links
  • Use Keywords as link hovers
  • Keywords should be relevant to target page title.
  • If linking to a file, the filename should also contain the keyword.
  • Keep filenames and links as short as possible − 3 hyphens maximum
  • Avoid huge drop down menus
  • Make sure link appears within the Sitemap.xml
  • Do not use keywords to link to restricted access pages
  • Make sure all links are valid
  • Do not use relative addressing − include the domain name

SEO – Why Drop Down Menus Are Bad

Some web-sites that lack pyramid structures, with no linking strategies, also employ huge drop down menus above the real page content. Sometimes hundreds of links can be placed next to one another with no separating text. Apart from blowing away any Google Page Rank share bonus, these drop downs void the use of hover text. All SEO bonuses are lost and bad offenders can appear to search engines like they are ‘link stuffing’. A double death for any site.

SEO Keywords in Anchor Text

Within a web browser, an access key or page anchor allows a computer user to immediately jump to a specific part of a web page via the keyboard. They also allow a specific part of a page to be shown when linking from one page to another.

What’s the difference between an Access Key and a Page Anchor?

A typical Access Key would look like: http://
In this case, pressing ‘alt 1’ (#1) would take you back to the site’s home page.
An access key can be to section of the on screen page or to another page, not necessarily on the same domain.

A typical Page Anchor would look like :
In this case, the banner and navigation has been skipped and the main body of text (#main-content) is showing without the need for scrolling.

Access Key Accessibility

Most sighted people will navigate within a page intuitively. If you can see a page, your eyes naturally ignore the navigation and banners and skip to the main content. If you want to find the ‘Search’ or ‘Contact Us’ links, the process rarely involves more than scrolling the page. The process is much more difficult if you are partially sighted or blind. For people reliant upon text readers, simply getting to the main text body can take an age on some sites. This is where Access Keys come into their own.

  • S – Skip navigation
  • 1 – Home page
  • 2 – What’s new
  • 3 – Site map
  • 4 – Search
  • 5 – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  • 6 – Help
  • 7 – Complaints procedure
  • 8 – Terms and conditions
  • 9 – Feedback form
  • 0 – Access key details
Browser What to do
Internet Explorer 5+ (PC) Hold down the ‘ Alt ‘ key, press the number of the Access key, release both keys then press ‘ Enter
Internet Explorer 4 (PC) Hold down the ‘ Alt ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Internet Explorer 5+ (Mac) Hold down the ‘ Ctrl ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Konqueror (Linux) Hold down the ‘ Ctrl ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Internet Explorer 4.5 (Mac) Access keys are not supported
Netscape 6 and earlier (PC and Mac) Access keys are not supported
Netscape 7 (PC) Hold down the ‘ Alt ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Firefox, Mozilla (Linux) Hold down the ‘ Alt ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Firefox, Mozilla (PC) Hold down the ‘ Alt ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Firefox, Mozilla (Mac) Hold down the ‘ Ctrl ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Safari and Omniweb (Mac) Hold down the ‘ Ctrl ‘ key and press the number of the Access key
Opera Hold down the ‘ Shift ‘ key and press ‘ Escape ‘ , release both keys, then press the number of the Access key

Please note: This table is not exhaustive, your browser may or may not support Access keys.

Page Anchors SEO

The URL of a web-page is one of the strongest ranking factors there is. By adding a page anchor, it tells a search engine spider that the target content of a link is particularly relevant.

Form the list above you can see that there are that many names to avoid and they are all one character! So if you had an page with a recipe for ‘Summer Berry Cheesecake’ a good page anchor would be:

Good Page Anchors

If you plan your site well, you could generate a small list of page anchors for your most important pages. These page anchors would be clearly ‘on theme’ and used within the sites ‘linking strategy’ or ‘pyramid structure‘. Don’t just use random words like ‘main-content’ or ‘right-column’, stick in some nice keywords.

In the previous example:,  a page about cheesecakes has now been ‘themed’ for the words ‘Summer Berry’. The page may also contain another recipe, for which an additional theme could be added.

Bad Page Anchors

Although this is one of the most over-looked tricks in the book, but there are limitations. It’s not exactly ‘Black Hat’ but I always use page anchors with a little caution. 
Google has a patent on ‘Anchor Text Edit Frequency’. If the page anchors are ‘off theme’, or changed on a frequent basis expect your rankings to go down.

When one site has a link; containing a page anchor; to another site, it looks suspicious to me. After all, how many of use view the source code of a page before creating a link. When I see one of these #’d links, the detective in me says that link was created by the target site’s author and not a genuine person of the street making a recommendation. If I’m thinking this, then surely the guys that write search engine algorithms have too. 

I therefore, try to limit how often I use them and make sure I only use them for my ‘prime’ content. 

Page Anchor SEO Recommendations  

  • Use Keywords as In-Page anchors
  • Do not repeat keywords more than once.
  • Use descriptive tags, do not just cram with keywords
  • Use less than 50 characters
  • In page anchoring to headers is good.
  • Anchor text should be relevant to target text
  • No more than 2 page anchors per page
  • Limit the number of page anchors across a site

Alt Tag SEO

If you are using a CMS? You could be missing a trick. How many authors and copywriters know what the this little tag does?

Ask your self these question:

  • Alt tag functions within the browser – name 3.
  • Alt Tag Accessibility – when should and shouldn’t it be used?
  • Al Text SEO – What rules apply to it’s usage?

The alt tag has always been one of those tags that many coders have ignored. Now that many sites are created using Content Management Systems (CMS) and off the shelf templates, there usage has decline further. It’s not just the owner of the site that is losing out it is the very people that site is trying to attract.

Alt tag functions

Called ‘alt text’; short for alternative text, these text descriptions are:

  • Displayed when the mouse pointer hovers over the image (by most visual browsers)
  • Displayed when images are not downloaded (by most visual browsers)
  • Read by screen readers and voice browsers

A typical alt tag within the code would look like:

  • <img “./bramley-apple-pie.jpg” alt=”Warm Bramley Apple Pie” width=”100″ height=”100″ />

Alt Text Accessibility

Without the use of the alt tag the usefulness and usability of the page is drastically reduced for visitors reliant on a screen reader and voice browser. Often, images are used to convey vital information, without which, pages can lack all focus (Gallery web-pages are prime culprits).

For small images such as home-page and email icons, especially when they are encompassed in a link (<a href=…..>) it is acceptable to set this tag to null (alt=””). On many pages, if every tiny icon had descriptive text, it could take an age for a text reader to cover a page, by which time the user will have become annoyed and left. 

Alt Text Usability

There was a brief period when most people had moved away from slow dial up connections, to super fast, high speed broadband. During this era, the speed that images loaded at was often insignificant. So, because of this, web-designers increased the resolution and size of images. Now, with the widespread usage of web enabled mobile phones, the average connection speed has been dropping quite sharply. For mobile users trying to view huge images, the alt tag is again very important.

For mobile users trying to download pages with large images, the alt text is important as it lets the user know the reason for the long loading time

Alt Tags SEO

Unlike a human, a search engines’ spider does not have eyes. Spiders rely upon the alt text for categorising the content of a web page. This where our old friends ‘keywords’ come into play. I’ve always considered images on a page to be very good. Lets face it, a good image can hold a humans’ attention for several seconds, if they also get a search engine spiders’ attention; everyone is happy.

When writing copy for a page; being old school SEO; I start with a list of keywords and key-phrases, that I would like to put somewhere on the page. However, like this page, the text just doesn’t seem to go to plan. On a customer’s web-page, I’d rely on the hidden text, like alt tags on images or title tags on links to fill the gaps.

Alt Tag SEO Tips

  • Every significant image should have alt text
  • Keywords in alt tags are good
  • Do not repeat keywords more than once.
  • Use descriptive tags, do not just cram with keywords
  • Use less than 50 characters
  • Do not keyword stuff alt tags!

Alt Tag SEO Warnings

Some sites have been penalised heavily for keyword loading these tags. Search engine algorithms change almost on a daily basis. There have been several major updates that have seen sites guilty of keyword stuffing disappear off the scope, probably never to be found again. Remember, keywords within alt tags is good, but the the alt text must still be meaningful, readable and brief.

I’ve seen some sneaky use of the alt tag on web-site templates, where the alt is set the the web-address of the template’s originator by default. Many people using these templates are simply using them either for speed or because of a lack of coding knowledge, so these tags are; in many cases; left unchanged. This is just one of many reasons why I never use web-templates for anything other than visual inspiration. It’s your website, so why advertise someone else’s for free?

How To Give Your Keywords Prominence

Keyword prominence is an important factor in search engine optimisation, but how much is under your control and how much is under the web-developers control?

Search engines judge a page by keyword frequency, proximity and prominence. So logic says you should place a keyword as close to the top left hand corner of the screen as possible. On a well laid out web-page this should place it close to the <body> tag, but this may not always be the case.

Keyword Prominence Mistakes

CSS (Cascaded Style Sheets) are used by most professional web-developers to lay out sites, with most of the pages sharing similar collimated structures. CSS allows a web-developer to position columns against the right or left hand side of the screen (float:left; float:right;). This means that within the code, a screen may read either from left to right or unfortunately from right to left. In short; especially if you are using a CMS; the proximity of text to the <body> tag is often out of your control. Structuring webpages for SEO is a subject that is overlooked by a large proportion of web-developers. Luckily, at Vertical Marketing, we have the experience to approach things correctly from the outset.

A common negetive factor; that can effect have a huge negative effect on keyword prominence is Drop Down Menu’s. From an SEO point of view these are a nightmare. The more links and drop downs on a page, the further key words and key-phrases are pushed down the code.
One customer asked why their current site didn’t rank well for certain phrases. After just 5 seconds, it was quick to see they had nearly 250 hidden links within a massive menu structure, yet there were less than 100 words visible on the page. Also above the drop down menu was an animated Flash Banner and a search box with embedded javascript. Although at a glance the key-phrase appeared close to the top left of the screen, within the code it was 5 screens worth of code down.
In the good old days, search engines directed most traffic to a website’s homepage. As search engine algorythms have evolved more and more traffic is directed straight to pages that have content relevant to a user’s search phrase. 

For the majority of B2B companies, the home page will always be number one within analytics. Ideally, this should not be the case, but why is it so?

The sad answer is, many of them have more money to spend. This often means, someone has requested fancy rotating banners, lots of java-scripted functions and drop down menus. Keyword prominence has been completed forgotten, mis-understood or ignored.

Keyword Prominence Tips

  • Place you opening paragraph as close to the <body> tag as possible.
  • Emphasis keywords
  • Keywords should be visible on screen without scrolling

Some search engines now reportedly use ‘Heat Maps’. The human brain naturally processes information better that is closer to the top central portion of the screen. Therefore, this area is treated as ‘hot’. Off screen, small footer text, is treated as ‘cold’.

Keyword Prominence Conclusions

Keyword prominence is one of the most important factors there is in on-page optimisation. How close a keyword or key-phrase is to the beginning of a webpage indicates to search engines how important the author considers it to be.

The more complicated the code on a page, the less prominate a keyword or phrase will appear. With all these scripts, banners and menus, a search engine will consider the visible words to have come in last place and therefore totally un-important. Remember, often the most clicked on link on many pages is the pause button on those annoying banners.

Have you ever asked why forum sites seem to be dominated many search engine result pages (SERPs), with the top 10 containing several printer-friendly, text only versions? The reason is, forum sites often have very simple page structures; just one column, a tiny header with just a home page link, followed by solid text and pictures. The printer-friendly versions have even less embedded code; making them perfect for a search engines algorythms. KISS! (keep it simple stupid).

We All Need Strong Leaders – Now More Than Ever

A few months back, I found an interesting article from IBM about business leadership and the qualities that employees most admire in a boss.

I suggest we all re-read this news item (… here’s why.

In a recent interview, a well-respected editor of an iconic American business magazine said something that makes perfect sense and gives you an ‘a-ha’ moment of clarity.

When speaking about the lack of progress on the jobs front, he said this: “What’s missing in America are strong leaders… look, in good times strong leaders aren’t that important, but you see their necessity in bad times.”

How simple, how elegant, how correct.

And how applicable to just about all that we do. Whether you’re a parent trying to take care of your family or an IBM-style exec leading an international conglomerate, tough times demand strong, forceful leadership. Again, recalling the IBM report, strong leaders are those who use available data, come up with a unique plan and then move ahead: they don’t wait for another piece of information or another study or approval, for that matter. Coupled with the trite, but still accurate idea of ‘out-of-the-box thinking,’ strong leaders take a risk – calculated, for sure –  and employees admire the leaders who accept the responsibility and take, perhaps, a greater chance than most.

In difficult circumstances, ‘time is of the essence.’ Standing still is not an option… people respect, admire and need vision, direction and courage, as do companies if they’re meant to prosper in this day and age.

From Connection to Engagement

While some in B2B still argue about the value of social connections (a term which I prefer to social media), the movers and shakers at Facebook have already pushed on to what they see as the next phase, which is improving the kind of engagements available to users.

As Zuckerberg said, the acceptance of social connections is no longer in question… their use is, in his words, ubiquitous worldwide. (He points to the fact that one afternoon last month, 1/2 billion people were on FB.) Simply put, social connections/media are now a given. Full stop.

But here’s the rub for Facebook and, by extension, B2B and B2C marketers: the kind of engagements (experiences) we now have are quickly becoming boring and tedious: we check Facebook because we feel we have to, not because we want to. The ‘fun’ and ‘novelty’ of FB are gone – meaning it could become the next MySpace if left untended.

Zuckerberg is no fool and remembers what he did to MySpace… so enter the new Facebook, which will add what’s missing in today’s social connections and, in my opinion, today’s B2B marketing: immediacy and authenticity.

B2B marketing and advertising have been cursed with a tradition of cold, flat efforts that barely connect with customers. There has been little immediacy, something that engages the customer now, and precious little authenticity, unless you think the usual fare (championed by the likes of Siemens and the boringly audacious “We’re Siemens, We Can Do That” style of marketing) is still viable in this day and age.

Zuckerberg might seem to be full of himself, maybe even a bit of a jerk, but he’s not stupid. He saw what happened to My Space, it got boring and users left in droves, and he won’t let FB have the same fate.

For B2B, we should learn this same lesson: consumers, your customers, will jump ship if your marketing efforts are boring, cold, and me-too.  A bored customer is ripe for the competition’s picking. Everything we do as marketers now comes down to immediacy and authenticity.