Transmitter vs Receiver Orientation and its Application to SEO

July 23rd, 2010 — 5:53pm

I recently completed Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers.” Another outstanding book by Gladwell.  There’s so much to be gotten from the book, I couldn’t possibly hope to cover it in just one blog post.  One gem I got from the book deals with the notion of cultures that have a “transmitter orientation” — the burden of clear communication is on the transmitter vs. cultures that have a “receiver orientation” placing the burden of the communicated intent on the listener’s ability to hear what is really being stated.

Gladwell describes western cultures as having a transmitter orientation whereas Asian cultures are more likely to have a receiver orientation.  Here’s an example of the two in action.  Suppose I’m in a friend’s house and I’d like something to drink.  If I’m in a culture of transmitter orientation, I’m likely to make a statement such as “Gee, I’m pretty thirsty. Would it be okay if I helped myself to something to drink?”  In this case, I’ve made my intent clear and placed no burden on my friend to “get my meaning.”

If I were living in a culture of “receiver orientation,” my comment to my friend might have sounded more like this: “gee, it’s very hot, my throat is parched.” Now the burden of understanding my intentions is on my friend.  He has the responsibility of hearing what I was really trying to say. His response would be something like “oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Can I offer you a drink?”

Western ears might be squirming to hear of an exchange like the one described above — one that is fairly common in eastern cultures — as being too fuzzy but as Gladwell points out, the reverse would be true too.  Someone from an Asian culture might consider the westerner’s direct style of communication to be too forward or even rude.

In conversations where both parties have the same orientation, this wouldn’t be a problem. If you expect me to be direct and I’m direct, we’re good.  If, on the other hand, you expect me to be indirect and you’re listening for me to be indirect, we’re good there too. You’ll get my meaning.  But this really breaks down when we have different orientations. In “Outliers”, Gladwell describes how this mis-matched orientation tragically caused plane crashes.  I had an opportunity to witness this mis-matched orientation while at my local Starbucks in Northern Virginia today.

It was a very simple exchange between the director of distribution for a major national newspaper (let’s call her newspaper woman) and one of the baristas working the espresso machine (we’ll call her barista).

Newspaper Woman: Hi, have you guys been getting your newspaper deliveries from us?

Barista: Yes

Newspaper Woman: Because I’m not seeing any today

Barista: (silence)

Newspaper Woman: So you’ve been getting your newspaper deliveries?

Barista: Yes

Newspaper Woman: OK  because I’m not seeing any today.

This went on for a little while longer and was excruciatingly painful to observe.  I know, I know.  I had no right to eavesdrop but it was right in front of me.  There was a very simple question the newspaper woman was trying to ask but the barista didn’t listen hard enough to hear what she was really being asked. If only the newspaper woman would have simply asked questions such as “did the delivery come today?” and “have you been selling many newspapers?” – answers to those two questions might have explained why she wasn’t seeing any newspapers on the newspaper rack. They came, they sold, they’re gone! Or possibly, no, the delivery never came today, but that hasn’t been a problem in the past.  That explains why there aren’t any papers today.

So how does the subject of transmitter and receiver orientations relate to SEO?

Thought you’d never ask. What do you think, I have a receiver orientation? LOL

SEO lives in a world that has a very strong transmitter orientation.  Very little is implied.  If you want to rank in search results for topic x, you have to be very explicit and communicate clearly to the search engines what the intent of your article is.  If you’re hoping that the search engines are listening for your intent and will pick up on the subtle signals of your intonation, body language and grammatical style, forget it! They don’t work that way. SEO is a game of direct communication between you and the bot. Say what you mean and say it in a way that is consistent with how people search for what you’re writing about.  The bot won’t translate for you.

If you mean to rank for topic x, write about topic x with a strong transmitter orientation. Receiver orientations may work in polite cultures but it won’t work for SEO.

Comment » | Musings, SEO

The Hourly Rate vs Flat Fee Debate

July 7th, 2010 — 10:23pm

I’m happy to say I have a good problem.  My client list is growing faster than my ability to bring qualified staff on-board.  This is referred to as a good problem because something good is happening (my client list is growing), but it’s a problem nonetheless if I can’t service these clients satisfactorily due to insufficient  availability of qualified staff who can help get the work done.

The interesting dynamic of being short on time means that I have to complete my projects faster so that I’m getting through my project load quicker ensuring that my clients aren’t waiting on me.  If those projects are billed at an hourly rate, it also means I’m making less money while delivering basically the same value. Sure, you could argue that the quality of the work is suffering since I’m spending less time, but I’d also argue that the value per dollar spent by the client is way higher.  I may be cutting corners but the essential value is still delivered for less.

This is where a proponent of flat fee rates would chime in and say “that is exactly why you should stop billing by the hour and start charging flat fees.”   If I were to charge a flat fee, my ability to work faster benefits me whereas working faster at an hourly rate clearly benefits the client.  The interesting thing is that I believe there are many clients who prefer flat fee structures because they want the predictability of knowing how much the project will cost up front and because, as humans, we’re pre-wired to believe that the people who work for us are looking to eek out an extra buck whenever they can.  The thinking is that there’s an incentive to the person who bills by the hour to work slower, take more time and therefore earn more money.  And there’s the interesting dichotomy and my particular predicament.  On the one hand, I may be perceived to be working more than necessary (though I doubt it) when actually I’m working more efficiently and charging less.

Thankfully, I’m pretty certain my clients know the value they’re getting and that probably helps explain in some measure what’s fueling the good problem of growth I’m currently dealing with.

But this is what kills me. If I’m getting better at what I do and am able to work faster and take on more clients, shouldn’t I be rewarded for that? The big problem with hourly billing is that my earnings max out based on how many hours I can work in a day (unless I scale my staff and grow income by increasing capacity – but that’s a different equation and is confusing the issue at hand).  The challenge I have is that much of what I do is ad hoc consulting … a client calls up, describes a problem, I research the problem and make a recommendation, then charge for the time it took to arrive at the recommendation. If a second client calls with the same problem, I can answer the problem much faster and in doing so, charge less since I spent less time. This heavy discounting of my knowledge and experience is not lost on me but I don’t yet see an easy way around this.

Thankfully, I know I’m not alone. There are many great articles already on the Web lamenting this problem. One I particularly liked is Flat Fee Versus Hourly Rates – How to Charge for Your Web Design or Graphic Design Services … (colorfully written too).  As always, you have to strike a balance. There are times when either method has its place.

Comment » | Small Business

Content Optimization vs Content Creation

July 3rd, 2010 — 8:31am

Seth Godin had a pearl of wisdom in this morning’s blog post entitled “The non optimized life.”

While Yahoo was optimizing their home page in 2001, the guys at Google were inventing something totally new.

That’s one reason I resist the temptation to optimize this blog for traffic and yield. I’d rather force myself to improve it by having the guts to write better posts instead.

Being an SEO, the first thing that strikes me about this post is whether his use of the word “optimize” refers to search engine optimization or not.  I believe his use of the word may possibly include the act of search engine optimization but it doesn’t specifically mean that.  In his post, the word optimize really means improve.  If you swap out the word optimize in the portion I’ve quoted above with the word improve, you’ll see the meaning and intent of the statement remains the same.

But at the same time, I’m forced to consider the reality that “optimizing a site” as it relates to search engine optimization is really the act of modifying what has been created with the intention of improving the likelihood that the content hosted there will perform better in organic search engine results.

But in the spirit of Godin’s main point — it is better to create content than to optimize it — I ask myself which side of that coin do I want to be on?

My answer is one doesn’t get to make that choice.  Imagine an iPhone app developer who didn’t care if her app showed up in the App Store (I personally don’t think that person actually exists). I’m pretty confident that the To-Do list of every app developer includes the following two lines:

  • Create app
  • Get app included in the App Store

And if you’re in the online content creation business, your To-Do list ought to include a variation of the iPhone app developer’s list:

  • Create content
  • Ensure content can be found in search engines

Search engines are powerful content distribution mechanisms. If you care at all about distributing your content to the places where people are looking for that content, then SEO should be a natural part of your process.  You don’t have the luxury of choosing between optimization and creation.

Comment » | SEO

It’s about time

July 2nd, 2010 — 11:23pm

After being in business for a year, I have finally gotten around to (an attempt) at a more professional looking site — the first one was a pretty lame one I built with Yahoo Site Builder.  Blame Sarah Ivey Rock … she subtly guilted me into rebuilding my site. Every time the subject of my site came up, she giggled.  I totally deserved it.  It also didn’t help matters that I have more than one SEO client with a site built on WordPress.  I thought it just might be helpful to roll up my sleeves and look under the hood of the Internet’s most popular blog publishing platform.

Comment » | Musings

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