Solving for “What Do I Do Next?”

No matter who you are, at various times in your day/week/year/career, you will run into this question:

What do I do next?

This an unavoidable question that people will coach you to avoid at all times. There are a variety of things that happen to drive this question.

  • You finish a major project without planning the next one

  • You need to shift your focus because you are stuck on a difficult project

  • You are waiting for new work to be assigned

  • You are responsible to setting the priorities for your team

  • You lose your job or change roles

  • You are bored or burnt out

Whenever you encounter the “what do I do next” question, it’s not fun. It feels like you are lost, or like you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. It causes folks to pause, to look away, or to worry.

But there are solutions. There are easy ways to answer the question when it comes up, and easy ways to prevent it from coming up as frequently. All it takes is a little foresight.

Here are a few solutions to the “what do I do next” problem:

  1. Ask someone.

  2. Keep a priority list.

  3. Long-term items.

  4. Research.

  5. Lend a hand.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of them.

Ask Someone

Who you ask depends on your particular situation. But there is almost always someone you can ask that question to.

It might be your boss, who can tell you with certainty what he or she wants you to be working on. It might be your spouse, who can help guide you through a rough career patch. It might be a peer, who can share what they are working on and offers ways that you can join in.

Regardless of who you ask, this solution is great because often times the worst outcome of the “what do I do next” problem is that we stew in silence for hours or days. This solution gets you out of your own head so you can solve the problem quicker.

Keep a Priority List

A priority list is a list of items to be completed, in order of highest value to lowest. If you have one, you will always know what comes next.

Sure, this solution requires some foresight and planning on your part (or the part of your manager). But if you have a list like this, you will never have to worry about what you should do next.

Long Term Items

Most of us have short term assignments and long term projects. How we work our way through them depends on the urgency and value of each item on our plates.

The beauty of long term tasks is that there are almost always ways to break them down into smaller chunks. And these chunks will serve as backups to whatever short term assignment you are working on now.

If you need a break from your current task, or you get stuck, just turn to the next piece of that long term project and check that off the list.

Research

Take advantage of breaks in the day to day work and learn something new. Research a topic related to your next project or pick up a new skill that will add value to your team.

When you are not sure what to do next, it never hurts to do a little self-improvement.

Lend a Hand

There may come a time when you don’t have anything to work on next. In those cases, you can do yourself, and your team, a big favor by finding a way to help out someone else.

Great job completing your assignment. Now look around you. Chances are, not everyone is finding the same level of success. Find out how you can help a friend or coworker complete their current task and build a bond that will benefit everyone going forward.

How to Tell If You Are Emailing Your Subscribers Too Often

Marketers have been using email as a way to communicate with customers and prospective customers for many years now. As a marketing channel, email has consistently had the highest return on investment. That’s partly because email is so cheap that it’s practically free.

And because email works so well, it has often been the case that we, as marketers, come back to it again and again. Adding a new email to our existing campaigns is cheap and easy. And so we do, often without asking ourselves if it’s too much.

But at a certain point, logic would suggest, it is too much. We are emailing people too often, and driving them crazy in the process. When a company emails you too often as a consumer, you are turned off. When that happens, marketers risk sowing ill-will among their subscriber base and potentially losing customers in the process.

It should be obvious, but we want to avoid that. But how? How do we know when we are emailing too often? Where is the line between not emailing enough, and emailing too much?

The answer is simple: we test.

We already test everything else about our emails…

  • Subject lines

  • Content

  • Links

  • Offers

Why wouldn’t we test frequency?

When we test our emails, we are measuring which versions deliver better results. In a subject line test, we are measuring open rates. The subject line with the highest open rate wins.

In a content test, we are measuring click-through rates. Whichever design gets more people to click through to the website wins.

In a frequency test, we have to measure several metrics at once. First, we have to measure opt-outs and complaints. These are the best metrics email marketers have to measure how many people are turned off by emails. When someone takes action to unsubscribe or mark an email as spam, they are signaling to the company that this email crossed the line in some way.

But that’s not all we have to measure, because opt-outs and complaints rising do not, be themselves, tell us if our strategy is working. For that, we also have to measure conversions. A conversion might be a sale, or a donation, or a click through to an article – whatever you want your recipient to do. This is the ultimate success metric.

If opt-outs and complaints go up, but conversions also go up, your frequency test is still a winner. Because the new frequency is leading to a higher ROI, even if it’s turning some people off.

If opt-outs and complaints go up, and conversions stay flat or drop, your frequency test is a loser. Adding more emails did not lead to any measurable improvement in business outcomes. And you should go back to the old email strategy.

It’s that simple. Now that you know how to test whether you are emailing enough, start emailing more.

Does SEO Conflict with User Experience?

If you work with an SEO expert, you have encounter times when her recommendations or priorities conflict with the overall goal of improving the website. This will happen when content changes on the website are written for search engines and not for real people.

Let’s look at an example:

Say you are responsible for your company’s website experience. You sell books online, and some of your key pages are not the product pages for the books themselves, but the category pages for each genre of book that you sell. Your SEO expert tells you that “true crime books online” is a high volume keyword and so recommends adding that phrase into the text of the page sporadically, including in the main heading.

On the surface this is no big deal, but once the copy changes are complete, the page reads as if a robot wrote it and in the language that we use to communicate with other human beings every day, it sounds funny.

That’s because your SEO expert is writing for the search engines.

What should you do in this instance?

In my experience, user experience has to win out over SEO. While I agree that SEO is critical to any site’s success, at the end of the day you have created your website for people to use. And the user experience is priority number one.

A good SEO strategy understands that the user is the champion. We are solving for the user first, and the search engines second. And so every recommendation or assignment that they come up with should factor in the end effect on the user.

Most times, there is no conflict. Search engines prefer a page that loads faster, so does the user. Search engines prefer a domain with higher authority, so does the user. Search engines prefer a page that answers the question a user types in, so does the user.

Where conflict exists, it usually comes down to the phrasing that is used in the website copy. And though every attempt should be made to include text that searchers will use to find you on Google, it still must be written so that it can be read and understood easily.

Because at the end of the day, you are writing for the user.

Who is Responsible for the Performance of Your Website?

On Monday, we tried to answer the question, “what is your website for?” Today, we want to take on the natural follow up to that question.

Who is responsible for the website performance?

Again, this is a tricky question in many organizations. If I ask it, a number of hands might shoot up. The head of marketing says it’s her, or someone on her team. Is it the SEO? The designer? The person in charge of conversion rate optimization?

There are a lot of people in any company who have a stake in the performance of the website. The problem is, there is no one person in charge of strategy and decision making. And without that person to lead, what happens is websites are managed by committee. And that’s where things go wrong.

So let us map out an example of what a website team might look like. This can be used as a guide at your company, or modified to fit your needs.

At the top is the singular person who is responsible for the performance of the website. It doesn’t matter what this person’s title is. His or her role is to set strategy and make the final decisions as they relate to the company’s website.

Which includes:

  • Landing pages

  • Homepage

  • Technology

  • Design

  • Functionality

  • Checkout

  • and more….

At the end of the day, this person will be judged based on the overall performance of the website, as measured by the key metrics agreed upon at the top of an organization.

He or she is supported then by teams responsible for SEO, conversion rate optimization, UX and creative, data and analytics, development, and advertising. Each of these people or teams share some overlap with the person in charge of web performance.

The data and analytics teams are measuring that performance and looking for ways to improve. The SEO aims to make changes on the site intended to earn higher rankings. The advertising team wants to improve landing pages and the overall conversion funnel.

And all of these teams converge on the person in charge. He or she is taking all of the ideas and prioritizing them based on need and value added. They are making the final decisions on what to test, what to change, and what to keep as it is.

A structure such as this leads to maximum accountability, because the individual success metrics for each team that touches the website roll up to those key performance indicators that matter at the highest levels. Strategy supersedes lower level tactics, and decisions can be made across teams in a way that makes clear the priorities of the company as a whole.

What is a Website For?

askus.png

It may seem like a ridiculous question, to ask what a website is for. Websites can serve many different purposes – from attracting readers to news articles, to selling products, to fundraising, and more.

But if I were to ask you, “what is your company’s website for”, could you answer? How much hedging would you have to do?

The problem with websites is that they often serve many masters. Marketing wants to streamline and optimize for sales. Creative wants control over the look and feel. Compliance teams want to fill it with legal disclaimers. And the CEO wants his face on the homepage.

What is your website for? The question should have an easy answer. But depending on who I ask, I might get a different answer.

If you are in marketing, you might give me a different answer than your customer service team, or your IT team. And that’s the problem.

To maximize the performance of any website, you need to know what you are maximizing for. Is it sales? Revenue? Donations? Visits? Page depth? Clicks? Calls?

When I ask, what is your website for, the answer should roll off the tongue. It should be quick and easy.

“Our website is for people to purchase books online.”

Okay, great. Now I know what we are solving for. And now I can suggest changes and run tests aimed at selling more books. Because I know that at the end of the day, success is measured by book sales.

It is sound advice for any company to agree first on what your website is for, then work to try to improve performance. Because if you are trying to improve performance before you all agree on what the goal is, you will end up in a lot of uncomfortable conversations.