Latest Blog Entry
My Spanish Beetle Box
I took Theory of Knowledge in 10th grade. I know - it sounds like a BS class. And it may have been, but I remember my teacher, Mr. Fresco. He was a very loud, balding man with thin, black-rimmed glasses. And one day he described the philosophy of Wittgenstein to us.
Imagine that you all have a small box in which you keep a beetle. But, no one is allowed to look in anyone else’s box. You're only allowed to see inside your own. Over time, you’ll talk about what's in your box and the word “beetle” comes to stand for what is inside.
At the end of the day, though, you’ll never know whether your neighbor’s box actually contains a beetle - whether it’s some other creature that looks like a beetle or even not a beetle at all.
Now, keep that beetle in its box for a little bit while I tell you about some other boxes.
I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida. I volunteered at an immigrant day labor center, preparing food and chatting with Guatemalan immigrants as they waited for work on Saturdays. I waitressed at a restaurant where I bemoaned whimsical customers with Honduran and Colombian chefs. I joined the Spanish Honor Society where I recited poetry and gave a declamation speech in Orlando at the Florida State Spanish Conference. I spoke Spanglish with an Argentinian host family in San Sebastian, Spain. I studied Spanish and Latin American culture and I immersed myself in it. I knew it. I loved it.
But I hadn't actually lived it... until five months ago, when I arrived in Madrid.
Wide eyed and anxious and ecstatic. And in disbelief. My semester in Spain had begun. Studying abroad was no longer a faraway dream or a packet of colorful papers or an inviting water bottle. It was a 40 year old woman named Marisol and her primly groomed Yorkshire terrier, Chloe, who live in the posh Salamanca neighborhood on Calle de Castello. It was a 16 hour a week internship with a digital marketing firm called ROI Up and it was three classes on Spanish literature, women in Spain, and migrations & cultural diversity in Spain.
And it was much more.
Breakfast only existed in the minuscule forms of coffee and a biscuit. We ate lunch between 2 and 3:30 PM every day and dinner at 9:30 PM. After we ate dinner we had “sobremesa” which literally translates to “over the table” - a cultural tradition to talk or play games at the table for hours after you finish dinner.
My first day of work, my manager, Maria, steered me around the office to introduce me to my new co-workers which, in Spain, meant that I kissed around 30 employees. Two besitos on each cheek — so about 60 kisses.
I still prefer handshakes.
In Spain, dinner always consists of three courses and lasts hours, and going out at night means returning home at 6 or 7 AM. Living in Spain means living under the same brown-tiled, in-need-of-repair roof with your parents until you’re 30, and giving directions means taking someone’s hand and walking them to their destination. You will never see to-go cups (not even in Starbucks) and you will frequent markets with friends after work to chat endlessly as your wine breathes and breathes and breathes. The national sport of this country isn’t futbol, I learned, it’s talking.
Everything is done very slowly and deliberately.
“Disfrutar,” Marisol explained. To enjoy. Spaniards take their time to truly enjoy everything. Eating. Walking. Drinking. Meeting. Breathing.
Okay, now back to beetles.
The beetle is very much like our minds. No one can know exactly what it is like to be another person or experience things from another’s perspective - to look into someone else’s box. In the end, it does not even matter what’s in the box, or whether everyone has a beetle since there is no way of checking or comparing. It does not matter that you cannot experience someone else's subjective sensations.
All we can discuss is what is available in our common language: the beetle.
Now, I know we can never truly see what’s in another’s box. A beetle to you may be different than a beetle to me, and Spain to me may be different than Spain to Spaniards.
But, I like to think that we get glimpses. Really valuable glimpses. And through those glimpses, we may, however fleetingly, experience another's box. And through the collection of those experiences, we fill our own boxes.
Well, Spain gave me a glimpse, teaching me the meaning of “disfrutar” - to enjoy.
And I hope I gave you one too.
My Summer at 451: An Intern's Inside View
451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper ignites. That’s what they told me on the first day of my internship this summer at 451 Marketing. Reflecting upon the past three months, though, I realized that 451 Marketing didn’t just spark my passion for digital marketing and SEO. It fueled it.
I arrived at the office on a Friday in May to kick off my summer and now, on a Friday in August, I can’t believe it’s already over. On my first day, my supervisors showed me around the office, introducing me to the other teams and revealing a secret snack cupboard, multiple Keurigs, conference rooms where you can write on the walls, and a space with couches and massive bean bags that I immediately wanted to swan dive into.
The six year old within me was awakened.
And it didn’t end there. The interns helped scoop mounds of Double Fudge Brownie and rainbow-colored ice cream at the Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl for HP Hood, a client of the agency. And, of course, there were Pizza Fridays when everyone would sprawl out on picnic tables and couches with slices and slices of chicken ranch, eggplant parmesan, bbq chicken, meat lovers, Hawaiian and more from the North End staple Ernesto’s.
My experience here was about much more than just fun though. I found mentors, I found my place working on a team, and I found my passion. I discovered the ultimate life hack: I can work and have fun at the same time.
I felt excited to come into my cubicle every day. My supervisors, Mel and Ryan, taught me the ins and outs of search engine optimization and brought me in as a valued member of the team. They gave me meaningful projects that actually impacted their clients, I was able to sit in on calls and meetings and I got to see how my work produced results. Even though I was on the SEO team, I learned about the public relations and social media aspects of marketing to boot. All the interns got the breakdown on digital marketing through Coffee Break Academy, a workshop series led by a manager from each team. And the best part? Apple strudels, hot coffee, and chocolate filled croissants from Au Bon Pain.
One of the most rewarding parts of the summer, though, was working on an intern project with ten other interns from various teams. We developed an integrated digital marketing campaign for our own client, a local non-profit seeking to accelerate the growth of small businesses. We then presented our strategy to a panel of executives and managers at 451 for feedback and then, finally, to our client. It was so exciting (and nerve-wracking!) to take what we learned from our supervisors and create our own ideas and initiatives.
For all future interns out there, I’ll leave you with a few tidbits of advice:
Start strong, end strong. Set actionable goals for yourself at the beginning of the internship and track them throughout. At the end of the internship, reflect on your list and review it with your supervisors, you can ask for feedback on your personal development too!
Take initiative. Whether you’re given a project or a simple assignment, you should always go above and beyond. If you see an opportunity where an existing process or presentation can be improved, say something! Put in the extra time and you’ll learn more, gain more experience, and earn credibility.
Engage with everyone. Supervisors, managers, directors, fellow interns, vice presidents, founding partners, or cubicle neighbors – talk to as many people as you can. You can learn something new from every person you meet.
Be flexible and patient. You may not always get exactly the project or assignment you want. But, if you stick it out and prove that you’re dedicated and hard-working, good things will come your way. The little things do matter.
Ask, ask, ask. But, be self-sufficient too. If you’re confused about something, ask. If you want more work, ask. If you want to try something new, ask. If you want a recommendation, ask. If you don’t know where the bathroom is, ask. But remember, you also have Google for the simpler questions.
Whether I was conducting keyword research for my supervisors, chatting about life with an Executive Vice President, developing client-interfacing skills on our intern project, or writing a blog post on search query trends, I was always learning. Now, as I look back on my summer, I feel proud, grateful, and hungry. But not for food. 451 Marketing presented me with an amazing opportunity to delve into the world of digital marketing and now, as I enter my Junior year, I am prepared and eager to explore that world to no end.
**Published by 451 Marketing on 451 Heat
Informational Search Queries Take the Cake, or Pie
There is so much we can learn about a user by the way they search: hobbies, demographic, income range, gender, habits, age and health, just to name a few. For e-commerce, one very important factor we use search behavior to determine is where the user is in the buying cycle.
So, what are search queries & what do they tell us about consumer behavior?
There are three different types of search queries, all of which are fairly self-explanatory:
Navigational - the user already knows where they want to go. For example, when I’m using my phone I’ll look up “Facebook” in the search browser as opposed to typing in the url.
Transactional - the user has an idea of what they’re looking for and there is usually intent to make a transaction. When I search for “Victoria Secret swim suits” or even “summer bathing suits,” I am likely considering buying a swim suit soon.
Informational - the user is simply seeking more information. This is the broadest query and tells us the least about a consumer’s purchasing intent. They are conducting research, unsure yet of what they will buy or even if they want to buy. These queries typically take the form of questions, for example “what to do in Boston this summer” or “how to get rid of a rug stain”. The user may be looking for a cool event to purchase tickets for, or simply researching which free festivals they can attend. Similarly, in the second example, the user may be interested in buying a stain-removal product, or they may just be looking for a home remedy.
Who has the biggest slice of the pie?
Think about the last time you Googled something. What was it? Why were you searching for it? Chances are that you made an informational search query. Informational queries are increasingly dominating the search world and they should, in turn, leave marketers in search of new strategies.
According to Google Trends, informational queries, especially those including “how” and “what,” have increased exponentially in the past three years, signaling a shift in the way people are using search engines.
Today, almost 80% of queries are informational, while the remaining 20% is divided between navigational and transactional queries. That’s a big slice of the search behavior pie. A little over a decade ago, informational queries only accounted for about 48% of queries. This shift in search habits indicates that an increasing number of people are in the research stage when they use search engines. They are at the beginning of the consumer buying cycle, the very top of the sales funnel. Now, what does this mean for you? Whether you’re a marketer, a small business owner, or a Pokémon card seller, this trend changes the way you obtain traffic, and in turn, customers.
People no longer have to take a brand’s word that their product or service is the best choice – they want more information about the problem they are trying to solve and they want opinions from other users too. Social media and technological advances like Google’s semantic search make getting opinions and finding answers easier than ever. You don’t even have to click a mouse, just ask Siri.
Marketers are beginning to catch on, pouring money into Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising and SEO. According to Google’s 2013 10-K Report, revenues from advertising reached a monstrous $50.5 billion, increasing from $43.6 billion in the previous year and $36.5 billion in 2011. That’s about a 38% increase in just two years. And our Google Trend research suggests that billions more have yet to be spent.
How 451 is helping our clients leverage the trend
The SEO team at 451 regularly analyzes search query data for our clients in Webmaster Tools to help them learn more about their audience and to create meaningful content. Here’s what we do:
1. Click ‘Search Traffic’ and then click ‘Search Queries on the drop down menu.
2. Download the CSV version of the table, then format the data as a table in excel.
3. Create a text filter in the ‘Queries’ column that contains “what” or “how”. Now, it should look like these:
Looking at our clients’ search query data, we realized that more and more traffic is now coming from visitors asking these types of “how” and “what” questions – informational queries. Using this data, we help our clients optimize metadata, keywords, paid advertising, social media, content, and on-site user experience to influence and increase conversions.
How YOU can optimize
Become a content machine. Because most consumers are in the research stage, as opposed to farther along in the buying cycle, it's essential that you generate quality content to attract leads to your site and thus your product or service. The golden rule here: quality over quantity. You want to provide consistent, relevant, and reliable content that will help establish trust with consumers. Remember: they may not know what they want yet. It's up to you to establish a relationship, gain their trust, and convert.
The question, then, is how do you generate quality content? How-to guides, social media (i.e. tips and tricks videos, informational posts, challenges & competitions), videos, infographics, blog posts, e-books, interviews with experts, templates, and the list goes on. Be original, be creative, and be useful! Don’t forget to write quality descriptions of your content with title and metadescription tags. Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer and ask yourself these questions: Is this informative? Is it well written? Does it speak to the intended audience in a way that will appeal to them? Is it useful and easy to read? Is the information easily digestible and neatly formatted? Does it present a new perspective? Does it help a consumer to solve a problem?
Consumers don’t want their lives to be interrupted by traditional advertising anymore. They want to learn, to feel, to be inspired. They want a story. So, tell a good one and don’t stop.
**Published by 451 Marketing on 451 Heat
More than a grade
As Professor Kean called my name after a jumble of others to collect my exam, I felt confident that I'd saunter back to my seat with pride. 95, I thought. Instead, I walked back unsuccessfully masking my disappointment. What happened? I studied a lot. I felt the saliva force its way down my dry throat when I swallowed. As I flipped through yellow pages of red, I felt salt water crawl up to their home beneath my lower eyelid.
I only let them out when I arrived back to my dorm. After a lather of Dove in the shower. Where water can only wash the outside, where it churns the inside.
College is hard. Not doing well is hard. Figuring out what to do about it all is harder. Norah Jones asked me to come away when I realized that it didn't matter. The realization had been scolding me during my three hour mope.
Intelligence is important. It's respected and desired and necessary to succeed in certain positions. Getting good grades is also important. It's difficult to separate myself from those immediate measurements and evaluations though. Does that 81 on a Statistics exam determine my success as an individual? That exam influences my Stats grade which impacts my GPA by about a third of a point. It adds up. I may not get into my ideal grad school or the top firm on my dream job list. The consequences may unfold like dominos, or one could fall short of bumping the next.
My roommate was randomly slotted to be on the third floor of Warren where our RA convinced us to rush a business fraternity, introducing her to her future husband. I used a 90% confidence level instead of a 95% confidence level on my exam. Life is composed of infinitesimal events that may alter our decisions and paths invisibly or tremendously.
We will never know. All we have, in the end, is ourselves. Our values, our humor, our perception. We have lots of choices, right? The one that truly matters, though: happiness. Just like our tears, it comes from within. We must take responsibility for our actions and actively pursue our passions. I can't let one grade, which may or may not influence the course of my life, damage my resolve or my confidence. Because it will most certainly not impact my happiness.
With each forward lurch there was a clunk, clunk of metal grinding against the tracks, echoing my screeches as we crept upward. The coaster finally leveled out, inched forward, and came to an abrupt stop, on the very edge of a sheer 90-degree drop. The shrill screams faded into the background as I gaped down, my feet carelessly dangling in mid-air. Suddenly another feeling overpowered me, pushing terror to the back of my mind. An overwhelming feeling of certainty. I’m usually not the type to relish having no control, of being trapped and knowing that there is nothing I can do to help myself. But there is beauty in it as well. There are countless things that I have absolutely no control over, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. It's how I react to that lack of control, how I respond to those plummets and climbs. Some scream their heads off the whole ride, some laugh along the way, and others seal their eyes shut. So as time temporarily halted on the edge of what I thought was my doom, I became certain that no matter where life takes me and regardless of how petrified I am, I will maintain my hope, integrity, and perseverance and I’ll learn and grow after each dive. So, as I plunged down that horrific drop, completely free and utterly powerless, I half-shrieked and half-laughed, I flung my arms up to the looming sky, and I kept my eyes wide open the whole time.
The Most Pragmatic Utopia
Rhythmic beating pulses with the weight of its collective heritage, coursing through genres with the momentum of a thousand vectors. Each note strikes in accordance with countless dismal, elated, and irate souls. Every measure permeates the culture of society, weaving wondrous webs of perception and custom, achieving that which no historian or time machine ever could. Lyrics extend their candid arms to comfort a medley of strangers, unique in their experiences, united through their expedience. Song often stands alone as promise for the future, a glimmering reverie, a brief relief. If nothing else, music will persevere as our voice, our tribute to humanity, our ripples of remembrance. Through the distinctive entity of each tune, masses congregate. Through the tremor of the bass, cultures are composed. Through the reverberation of din, the world witnesses its most pragmatic utopia.
Relentless the Wind
The malevolent wind howls and bellows,
Past the pitiful maples to adorn.
It stirs pine cones in their bed of yellows,
Waking with thoughts of misery and forlorn.
It washes through time and souls of despair,
Yet the leaves will fall forever in vain.
Their brown surface cracks in the brisk, cold air
As they rest in their eternal domain.
Despite this lost life the wind will not cease;
Unrelenting, it rustles countless trees.
Over hills and mountains of joy and peace,
Finally it calms to a lone, soft breeze.
Carrying sounds of sweet laughter above,
It drifts along until it ends in love.
Heart of Darkness
I see toy cars and miniature plastic army men shuffling and meandering below, the same toys I left scattered on Grandma’s carpet after ten minutes of battle. They shrink until only towers protrude into the sky, like the teetering lego skyscrapers I used to build after I grew weary of army men battle. Even those gradually disappear, masked by mist and clouds.
Now I’m alone. I can’t hear the wailing baby, the whimpering dog, the monotone groan of the 747 engine. I’m aware only of a battle between good and evil, a creeping darkness oozing out of Joseph Conrad’s gloomy words to inhabit the seat next to me. It consumes the plane and sends us plummeting into the black pit of the Congo. I brace myself for the collision while my elbow brushes the hollow-eyed man beside me. He steels himself when he eyes my arm threatening his claim on the armrest.
I give up and recline my seat, ignoring the sigh of annoyance that emanates from behind. Heart of Darkness beckons me with dreadful allure. A boat horn drowns out the shuffling of my unnerving pages. The plane sways with the river’s current. The flight attendant trips over an extended foot---coke, bloody mary, coffee decorate the air. Passengers howl and leap in their seats, twisting their faces into scowls of disdain. Barbarians!
“Flight attendants prepare for landing and crosscheck,” the pilot interrupts my reverie and we’re flown back into our cramped seats. The dark blocks of text seep along each page, like the meandering of an interminable waterway. I gaze out the smudged window at an unfamiliar world. No more toy cars and plastic army men. I see green and brown giants with twisted limbs extending into the sky as if they’re begging for mercy. They create a wall of impenetrable darkness. Small, pathetic creatures roam naked, armed with spears and axes and bows and arrows. On the plane I see shoving and cursing, savage fights for the last Coke. Suddenly, I need to join them, seized by the desire to burn these papers in my hands and coincide with the chaos surrounding me.
My head jostles forward as the unsuspecting shoulder I had drooped on suddenly moves. I shun grogginess and return to my bundle of papers, my ruthless world. The faint thrum of the engine becomes a reverberant beat, reviving the stale air that hisses down from the AC vent above. Each thud resonates throughout the plane---frank, wild, passionate uproar beckoning our primitive humanity. Chanting, calling, and evoking raw desire, suffering, violence. The beating of drums becomes a pulse of arrows and guns, whirring past aisle 8 and sinking into seat cushions and writhing limbs.
The landing gear quakes the plane and the “fasten seat belt” sign flashes above, saving me from the next flurry of death. The earlier wicked expressions of passengers revert to mundane, travel-worn features. My book has fallen somewhere below or between the seat. Kids scream about our imminent crash landing, gray-haired men discuss the latest stock fluctuations, teenagers gab about their best summer ever. I look out the window, but this time I see concrete giants with thin antennae jutting into the sky, like a bitter accusation. I see shrunken men and women, dressed in black suits, armed with Prada bags and briefcases. I see shoving and cursing, desperate fights for promotion. The narrow, winding streets look like a bending river, sandwiched between immense buildings which obscure the sun. I thought I had left the Congo. I can almost hear the taxis honking, a hot dog vender yelling, the plane careening over their little heads. The din melds into a steady throb, like the beat of ancient drums.