Author: Rachel Jefferson

Writer, lover of film and tv, good books, travel, friends, board game nights, wine, and the beach.

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Rachel and Elizabeth


Go Confidently into the New Year with these 5 Marketing To-Dos

Every January I see posts on posts about future marketing trends: How will SEO change in the new year? What social media platforms do you need to be on to succeed? What crazy thing will Google do to make us finally want to throw in the towel!? It’s overwhelming and bound to change by February. I thought it would be more helpful to make a checklist of five things you can do now to start your 2015 marketing efforts off with confidence.

Deep Dive Into Your Data

At the end of each year, you typically have a historic spreadsheet of the most important metrics to prove your site gets traffic. But it’s also nice to take a closer look at the random stats you don’t generally focus on. For example, you might consistently report on organic search visits, bounce rate and new vs. returning visitors. Why not dive deeper into things like average time on site, pages per visit, referring domains, browsers used, devices used, etc. You might look at these periodically throughout the year when the questions arise, but it’s a great time to really take a closer look. Also, think about your filter settings and how your dashboards are set up. Are there opportunities to use enhanced features in your software, or if you use Google Analytics, have you ignored things like campaign tracking that you could integrate into your 2015 plans?

Give Your GWT Some TLC

You should be fixing broken links as you come across them, but if you have a laundry list of 404s in your Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), now is a good time to reevaluate them. Maybe you need to talk to your website developers about your site architecture, or you have missing 301 redirects to fix. Spend some time in your GWT looking at crawl reports and server errors, and make sure your sitemap is up to date, robots.txt is working as expected, and your 404 page and HTML sitemap are current.

New Years Marketing Tips


Read it Again

Pull a list of the top 20 pages of your website. Now, go page by page and review all the content. Check for spelling errors, outdated facts, broken links, and optimization opportunities. Make sure the page titles show up in search and the meta descriptions are rendering. Check the images and text in all browsers and on mobile devices and tablets, and check for any missing alt tags. These are your top pages; make sure they continue to be in 2015.

Make Some New Friends

There are tons of SEO, social, and monitoring tools out there; there’s also a lot of expertise. Do some heavy research and talk to other marketers about what tools they rely on most and what they’d recommend trying out in the new year. It’s hard to move away from a tool you are comfortable using; but there might be something out there that could change the game for you entirely if you just knew about it! Open your eyes and see the possibilities. You might not find anything, but it doesn’t hurt to shop around. Some game-changing tools we’ve discovered this year (and they are not necessarily new to the world, just to us): Moz, Screaming Frog, Canva, and Buffer App. Influencers we rely on: @MarketingProfs/@AnnHandley, @SocialSavvyGeek, and @RandFish.

 Clean Up Your Social Act

Don’t wait for spring cleaning; now’s a great time to clear out old followers, find new followers, and sign up for any new social sites that are relevant and growing. On Twitter, if you haven’t already, set up some Lists to organize your connections. Update your LinkedIn profile with your resume and check for any new recommendation opportunities. In conjunction, deactivate old accounts and most importantly, make sure you update your passwords and check privacy settings. If you’re not sure what social channels to be on, read our recent post on the subject.

Happy New Year!

– Rach

The First 5 Steps to Getting Started in SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be an overwhelming responsibility, especially when you consistently see articles announcing its impending death. Dramatic much? The term Search Engine Optimization might soon become outdated, because, not surprisingly, people want to be marketed to like people, not robots. It’s becoming increasingly important to write your content for human beings to read, and the days of practices like keyword stuffing, link farming, and throwing plain old shit content on a webpage are behind us. Google’s periodic algorithm updates exist for this exact purpose — to toss out the garbage. Unfortunately, sites with quality content can get caught in the crossfire when poorly set up and that’s why someone will always need to be optimizing content and sanity checking the technical aspects of web development. SEO will never “die.” It will simply evolve.

I manage SEO in house and it’s only a small portion of my job responsibilities; so, I’m learning as I go and time-saving tips are hugely valuable to me. Here are my 5 tips I suggest you do pronto when you’re entering the wacky and wonderful world of SEO.

  1. Bookmark Moz is probably my favorite resource right now. Follow their Twitter @moz (might as well follow some personal handles as well: Rand Fishkin, Erica McGillivray, Jennifer Sable Lopez, just to name a few.) Check out their blog for some great in-depth articles on topics ranging from content and user experience to analytics and security. I also recommend tuning in to their Whiteboard Friday webinars and reading their Beginner’s Guides. It was one of the first things I found when I was researching what the heck I should be doing. The company is full of knowledgeable, super helpful people at all levels in their careers and I really appreciate their approachable nature — a big plus for people who are unsure of their skills and need some guidance. Oh! And catch up on all the Google algorithm updates with their ridiculously comprehensive timeline. The resources never end here.
  2. Sign up for Google Adwords. I rely a lot on Google Adwords tools. There are others out there (Moz even has one) but Adwords is free and really easy to use — all you need is a Gmail account. I don’t currently do PPC, but the Keyword Planner tool is great for research. It’ll definitely come in handy once you’re ready to start diving into optimization and strategy. For now, just get familiar with it.
  3. Subscribe to Search Engine Land. I check this website out pretty much daily. In fact, I have their Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors pinned to my cubicle wall and I suggest you do, too.
  4. Attend a conference. I mentioned this in a previous article on general marketing tips, but I can’t emphasize enough that if you’re lucky enough to afford to get your behind to a SEO conference, then do it. There is nothing more valuable than meeting peers and sharing ideas. You’ll meet so many great resources (and live tweeting during presentations helps you know who to follow and also builds your own social following). Here is a good article from Search Engine Journal (another great resource to bookmark) on some options.
  5. Educate yourself on other areas, not just SEO. Like I mentioned earlier in this article, SEO is evolving. It’s important to know how social media, content marketing, email marketing, PPC, advertising, etc. all intersect with each other and how that relates to SEO. I work really closely with a social media manager, as well as keep up to date on email marketing tools, lead generation best practices, and innovations in web development — all important to my growth in the SEO space.


5 Tips to Elevate Your Content Writing Game

A couple weeks ago I shared some content marketing tips from the amazing book Everybody Writes by Ann Handley of @MarketingProfs. I mentioned I’d share even more of what I soaked up from this go-to guide as I read on, and here it is. I’ve boiled down the next few chapters of her book to get to the juicy bits. It’s pure gold.

Once you have written your first draft, rewrite it. According to Ann in one of my favorite quotes from the book, “reworking the work is what separates us from the chimps.”  She breaks rewriting into two types: editing by chainsaw and editing with surgical tools. Basically, the first is a look at the big picture. During the second read, pay more attention to detail and trim down extraneous words, obvious statements, cliches, and word bloat. (We’ll get to grammar in a later post.) Another tip is to get to the point. Cut out the metaphorical paragraphs at the beginning and your article will still probably make sense, if not be more powerful.

Ann Handley QuoteHave Empathy
At the root of your content should be empathy for the customer experience. Gone are the days of writing content for search engines; today, people need to know you feel their pain points and that they are understood. Talk to your customers; listen to them. Don’t just rely on data to make assumptions.

Writer’s Block Evasion
This might just be my new favorite concept. I can’t even count the times I’ve said I have writer’s block and stared at a blank page. Well, I could have written anything on that page — an anecdote of my trip to the grocery store, what my cat might be thinking while she’s staring at me from across the table, anything. I was avoiding writing out of fear of not having anything to say. The point is, just write! One great tip from Ann is to write like you’re composing a letter to someone you know, a customer or your mom for example. A real person with a real face will make it more conversational.

The Lede and the Kicker
Everyone knows from high school that your lede (or lead) is the most important part of your piece (and the kicker the second). But if you’re like me, it was also the toughest part to write. The pressure to make it great was just too high! Luckily, Ann has some tips for your lead sentences I wish I had 12 years ago:

  • Put your reader into the story
  • Ask a question
  • Quote a crazy controversial bit of data
  • Tell a personal anecdote
  • Start with a quote
  • Make a bold statement
  • Use an analogy

As for the closing to your piece, finish strong (and if applicable include a call to action). Don’t just trail off; summarize — not regurgitate — your main point. Add the element of tonal surprise; if your piece was formal, make it relaxed and vice versa. If you have quotes from interviews, end on someone else’s high note. Just make sure it’s relevant and makes sense as a closing statement.

Buddy System
When I need motivation to go to the gym after work, I grab Elizabeth. That way, if I want to go home and be a couch potato instead, she pushes me to stay on track. Same goes for writing. Having a writing partner can help with brainstorming, feedback, and quality. Beyond friends and colleagues, you can reach into the vast ecosystem of intelligent, helpful professionals online through LinkedIn or other online communities, or through groups that meet in your own town. If there aren’t any, start one!

Stay tuned for more great insights from Everybody Writes; I’m only a third of the way through. Man, there are not enough hours in the day.

– Rach

Content Marketing Tips from “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley (Part 1)

I love Everybody Writes. And according to Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs), the most important piece of information should be written first. So there you have it. I’m becoming a better writer already.

Everybody Writes Part 1On the day Everybody Writes arrived in the mail I started reading it and was immediately intrigued by the introduction; so, I opened it up and plowed through 12 (albeit short) chapters. I couldn’t wait to share what I learned and went straight to the computer. And not knowing when I’d finish the rest of the book, I decided to spread the learnings across a few posts. I don’t want to give everything away because I could seriously quote this entire book — it’s that jam-packed with goodness. I recommend everyone who deals with content read this book and soon (and I say that without having finished it!). Don’t be scared away by the fear of writing; Handley does a great job relating to us ordinary marketing folks in the first few pages. (I mean, bowling and Mean Girls references? It’s like she wrote this book for me.)

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

What is content?

Everything! Webpage text, emails, newsletters, blogs, content on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare, etc. Basically, anything your audience interacts with is considered content. This is why content creators, social media managers, and designers should work so closely together. Everything is intertwined, and working in a vacuum results in sucky content.

Quality Content = Utility x Inspiration x Empathy

Quality content is not just about a grandiose vocabulary, beautiful allegories or poetic descriptions, which goes against everything you learned in high school English. You could go on for 20 pages about the origins of the television, but I can guarantee your reader doesn’t give a hoot if it doesn’t explain how to make the picture not blue and squiggly. On the other hand, the person who is doing research on the history of the television for his college course might care about that detailed information. Know what you are writing and who you are writing it for.

What matters isn’t storytelling. It’s telling a true story well.

Storytelling implies embellishments and a bending of the truth. If you have a great story to tell, it’s more important to tell that story well (using the formula above).

Writing daily for 30 minutes is better than writing once a week for 5 hours.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this tip, but it was good to be reminded of its importance. Everyone finds inspiration to write in different ways: in the early morning hours, on a sandy beach, in a bustling coffee shop, at home in front of a laptop. I am a night owl so I find it easiest to gather my thoughts in the evening with a glass of wine and some background music to get me in the groove (hence, how Dinnertime Marketing was born). The point isn’t where or how you find inspiration; the point is to write every day, for even a few minutes. It’s one of the few good habits to have, and doing it once a week if you find the time isn’t going to make it a habit. . . Chances are you’ll stop doing it altogether. Even if it is crap (or what Handley calls barf), write. Write. WRITE.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Not your boss’s.

After you write your first draft (or, according to Handley, “The Ugly First Draft”) switch places with your reader and consider things from their perspective. Don’t think about who is signing your paycheck. Think about if what you just wrote down helps your reader. Does it answer “so what?” Is it easy for them to understand what you’re trying to say?

A lot of the above are more aspiration thoughts to remember when writing. Here are a couple actionable tips I gleaned from the first 12 chapters:

  • Put the most important information first. Avoid words like:
    • According to . . .
    • There is a . . .
    • It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on] . . .
    • In my opinion . . .
    • The purpose of this [email, post, article] . . .
    • In 2014 [or any year] . . .
    • I think [believe] that . . .
  • 12 Steps of Writing
    • Goal. What is your business goal of writing this blog, article, etc.?
    • Reframe. What do you want your reader to get from the piece? Ask “So what?”
    • Seek out data and examples. If necessary to prove your point, use credible, real-world examples to support your piece.
    • Organize. Is your piece a bulleted list, a step-by-step guide, a longer narrative? What structure will best represent your thoughts?
    • Write to one person. Use “You” (not “they” or “people”) to make your piece more relatable.
    • Produce The Ugly First Draft. Personally, I call this a brain dump. Just write. It can be crap. You can take all grammatical rules you have ever learned and throw them in the garbage disposal (gasp!). Just take your thoughts and regurgitate them on the page. You can clean it up later.
    • Walk away. I do this often. Take a break from your first draft. It’s a rough draft because it’s rough. Go get a drink, take a walk, sleep on it. Whatever you need to do to distance yourself from it before you get back to it (just don’t wait too long or it’ll soak into the carpet and you’ll have to ditch it and start all over again).
    • Rewrite. Self explanatory.
    • Give it a great headline or title. This is the hardest part for me, but the most important if you want the readers to click on and read your article.
    • Have someone edit. I’m lucky that I have Elizabeth, my partner in crime on this blog, to edit my posts for me. It’s always important to have someone read your work before you post it.
    • One final look for readability. Is your piece inviting, easy to scan, alluring? Bulky paragraphs aren’t fun to read. This is why I love Handley’s short chapters. The book could be one run together chunk of text and I’d probably donate it to the local library without reading it. But I’d miss out on all the delicious insight!
    • Publish with a call-to-action. Don’t leave your readers left with “now what?” at the end of your piece. Do you want them to buy a product, subscribe to something, read more? Make sure let them know what to do next.

I warned you there were a ton of good tips and I was only 45 pages in. Stay tuned for more awesomeness as I get my act together and finish the book!

Score Big on Your First Email with 4 Simple Ingredients

The story my husband loves to tell at parties is how I adamantly said “No, thanks” when he very nervously asked me out (and as usual, he’s not exaggerating). But, after I messaged 20 of my closest friends and was called an “idiot” by every single one of them, I gave him a chance. In my defense I had a good reason, but that is neither here nor there. The other story we both like to tell is how our first date was horribly awkward. Like how-about-them-Dodgers bad. But another date followed, and another, and the rest is a five-year history filled with laughter, adventures and wedded bliss.

Where am I going with this? The first date can be either the gateway to a life-long relationship; or it can end tragically before it even begins. There are four key ingredients to making a first date successful, whether it’s with a stranger or a longtime friend. And, the best part is, these rules are just as relevant to email marketing. I just hit you with a double-advice blog post whammy! It’s just as nerve wracking hitting that send button to 25,000 people, whether it’s to prospects or longtime customers, as it is asking someone out for the first time. And we’ve probably all been there right? Relevant life experience analogy? Check!

The Perfect Email Recipe
























1. The Subject Line and Sender

There is only one first impression, and in a list of unread emails that look identically bold at 8 a.m., you really need to razzle dazzle.

  • Be familiar. Using a real person as the sender name, rather than some unknown group of yahoos like “marketing,” can elicit an emotional response. It might make someone say, “Hey, Judy sent me an email and needs my help! I’ll open it.”
  • Be simple, clear, and relevant. Segment your audience and focus your subject line on specific solutions to popular pain points. Make people think about what amazing info they might miss out on if they don’t give your email a chance.  I have an example of this in action at the end of this post.
  • Don’t be too clever. More than a just a handful of recipients need to understand the witty reference. Below is an example of one subject line that was meant to be clever (I assume) but I was very hesitant to open at first.

Orbitz Example


  • Be brief. The shorter the subject line the better (6-10 words, 50 characters or less) because it may get cut off, or you might lose the point if you say too much.
  • Don’t say anything insulting. Some words should be avoided in any instance. Don’t use these spam trigger words.
  • Show your fun side. Symbols in subject lines are OK in some instances, like a heart icon in a fun newsletter. But use sparingly as they are not always supported. Nothing is more annoying than a tiny empty box where an emoji once lived.

2. Design

A schleppy mess does not impress. The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” is basically crap when marketing to prospects. The look of your email is just as important as the words within it.

  • Be color conscious. In a recent Litmus Webinar, I learned that yellow can cause anxiety and urgency, which might improve your CTRs; blue conveys trust; green might suggest to go, act now. This is a good article on color psychology, which actually suggests to avoid yellow. The point is you should perform A/B testing to find out what your audience reacts to the best because colors can play a huge role in your email’s success.
  • Look dapper. Slapping some random, ill-sized images here and there does not an aesthetically pleasing email make. At least look like you tried even if you put the email together in five minutes. This is where professionally designed, easy-to-replicate templates come in handy.
  • Make eye contact. Use images of real people looking in the direction of your CTA. According to the folks over at Emma Marketing, it works!
  • Take risks. Do you remember the last beige email you received? Exactly. Try bold color combinations and an interesting style. Just don’t stray too far from the authentic you. It might be a shock the next time if you look completely different; consistency is important.

3. Copy and Tone

The most important part of any email is keeping your audience interested. Getting your email opened is the hard part. Now it’s all about the conversation. Otherwise, it’s “check please!” before you even get to the good part.

  • Don’t talk about yourself the whole time. It’s not all about you. Remember WIIFM: What’s in it for me? Ask questions. Be interested in the other. What can you offer that no other email can?
  • Don’t use complicated jargon. Unless you speak the same technical language, keep it clear and simple. You don’t want to confuse your audience or make them feel less knowledgeable, even if they do think the capital of California is Los Angeles. (If that’s the case, maybe they aren’t the right prospect for you anyway.)
  • Be personal. Know your audience and segment based on customer type, geography, and interests. Personalize the email with first name (but always check the data first for potential data entry errors). People like being constantly reminded that you know their name.
  • Don’t push. You don’t want to intimidate someone right off the bat. This is just the first email; you don’t have to put everything out there yet. Verbal diarrhea is usually a major turn off. So is the word diarrhea. Sorry.

4. Call to Action

The email is coming to an end. Your ultimate goal is to get your audience to extend a hand to you for a future engagement and to make them want to see more from you.

  • Be clear. Only use one main call to action. Make sure you end on the same page with a clear next step. Will you call them? Will they contact you?
  • Sleep on it. Avoid intimidating language like “Buy Now.” People need time to consider things, so make sure to nurture them and kindly follow up after an appropriate waiting period. But also don’t keep people waiting and wondering! Will you respond in five minutes or one to three business days? Set expectations.

I clearly established in an earlier post that I have a borderline-obsessive crush on Litmus. So you can imagine my excitement when I received an email from them the other day. It’s like Christmas morning when I see one of those clean, crisp messages in my inbox. I know something exciting is about to happen! Squee!

I wanted to share this as an example of an email that definitely includes the four key ingredients (and a couple of the insights in this post came from their 8 Second Challenge Webinar). Excellent timing with my post.

Litmus Email Example

The subject line instantly has my attention. I have 8 seconds until what? The message self destructs? The aliens arrive? I want to know more!

And is a casual and approachable sender email address. Everyone knows it’s from marketing, but they are subtle about it.

Some other reasons I think this is a great email:

  • The H1 copy immediately answers the question “I have 8 seconds for what?”
  • “Better” is used in a non-offensive way. They aren’t insulting your emails, rather suggesting that everyone wants better emails. Because who doesn’t?
  • The image is simple but eye catching.
  • The body copy is under 100 words.
  • An easy-to-digest number is used in both the subject line and the body copy.
  • The copy gives you just enough information on what you can expect from the Webinar.
  • The name of the Webinar is appealing and inviting you to be involved.
  • In this case, the determining factors on if I can attend (date and time) are up front. I’d rather know now than find out after wasting valuable time that I can’t attend.
  • CTA: “Save your seat” is less forward and more personable than “Register Now.”

Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it wonderful? Ok, enough of the love fest. Next time you are crafting an email, think of the ingredients that make a successful first date and you might just score big time. In open rates and click-thrus, of course.

This post was paired with some cauliflower stir fry. I didn’t notice that I was drooling into it as I dissected this email. Still delicious!



I Criticize Because I Care: The Power of Grammar Shaming

Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks out there in the real world. Since my earlier post there has been a slew of major headlines I could discuss: the privacy of naked celebs in the cloud-o-sphere; ice-water-bucket controversy (even I know that you shouldn’t drop ice on your baby’s head to avoid donating money); the Jolie-Pitt union (finally, but that dress!?); the death of Google Authorship (déjà vu?); the death of Joan Rivers (the only woman more judgmental than I am on fashion trends); the death of the color white (bad Labor Day joke); and a lot of people saying some really interesting things but sounding really dumb in the process.

All of these are more or less important, especially since I am currently wearing a white T-shirt (go ahead, judge me), but I’m going to focus tonight on that last one. It really gets my goat. It grinds my gears. It grates my Gouda.

Important figures in politics, fashion, entertainment, marketing and what have you have deemed it acceptable to ignore the rules of grammar in social media, news articles, and blog posts. But when you’re a role model to the young and impressionable, it’s extremely important to lead by example. My little English-major heart is broken and disturbed by the age of “say it in 140 characters or less.” People speak in tweets not sentences, i.e., illiterate gibberish. Kids can’t focus for longer than it takes to read this blog post. If I can’t stop the world from proliferating these bad habits then the least I can do is shame my fellow marketers into avoiding them.

Caveat: Nobody is perfect. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. We all make mistakes. First step in moving on is admitting it. It’s taken me years, but I’m finally beyond step one. Unfortunately, the Internet is rife with basement-dwelling trolls that I imagine look something like this who live for the sole purpose of calling you out. There are entire blogs dedicated to embarrassing mistakes. A tiny error can turn into a PR nightmare. Does it make the little troll feel less pathetic? Maybe. Does it make you feel really embarrassed? Yeah. Do you remember the incident so it doesn’t happen again? Definitely. Ah, I knew there was a silver lining in there somewhere.

Here are some of the biggest grammar errors I see multiple times a day. There is nothing worse than finding a great article or social post you want to retweet/share and it has one of these grammar atrocities, right? That’s an instant “never mind” in my book. You may lose some free promotion because of an apostrophe catastrophe. Your brand will also suffer from a lack of quality and attention to detail in your marketing content. But remember that no one is perfect. I probably have errors in this post that a professional copy editor might point out. It’s inevitable. But as a marketer, these mistakes below are completely avoidable and borderline unforgivable. Don’t be troll fodder! That’s an icky mess no one, especially not your PR department, wants to mop up. (And if you ARE the PR department, I am so sorry. Good luck.) I’m not spending this post explaining the why behind these rules. There are plenty of websites out there that do a better job explaining than I ever could. These are just examples of the errors I see most often and an example  of the correct usage. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to visit Grammar Girl and Merriam-Webster for grammar rules and spelling, respectively.

1. Their vs. They’re vs. There

Their I love their product!
They’re They’re my favorite brand.
There You can buy the product there.

2. It’s vs. Its

It’s It’s my favorite brand.
Its Its store is my favorite.

3. Your vs. You’re (There is also “yore,” but if you get that confused, there might be no hope.)

Your Your product is the best!
You’re You’re my favorite brand.

4. Affect vs. Effect (I have to often check myself on this one; it’s a tough one.)

Affect (verb) The marketing copy they write affects me in a good way.
Effect (noun) The effects of their marketing copy are amazing.

5. ’90s vs. 1990’s (My biggest pet peeve.)

’90s (not possessive) Their product looks like it’s from the ’90s.
1990’s (possessive) The 1990’s products were awesome.

6. Lose vs. Loose (Embarrassed I even have to explain this one.)

Lose Don’t lose your favorite shoes!
Loose The laces on these shoes are too loose.

7. A lot vs. Alot (There is also allot, as in, an allotment of something.)

A lot I love their product a lot.
Alot Alot isn’t a word.

8. Well vs. Good (@EAMillar shared this gem as a reminder.)

Well My company is doing well.
Good This is a good product.

A couple more common grammar mistakes that you should study up on: i.e. vs e.g, than vs. then, “quote marks” usage, hyphens, who/whom, verb/subject agreement, and comma usage.  If you’re not sure, don’t assume. It’ll make an ass out of you (and not me, because I’ll be over here using proper grammar and laughing at you).

This post is paired with a big fat helping of spaghetti squash, chicken apple sausage, and mushroom marinara sauce. But I started writing this a week ago. I think I remember it being delicious? #slacker

Grammar Rules