What I've Learned, 400 Editions Later
On July 2, 2004, I penned a Search Insider column for MediaPost that quoted Dr. Seuss and Eminem, followed it up 18 days later with a biblical allegory about search engine optimization, and nearly every week since then, I contributed to an oeuvre here that ultimately numbered 400 editions. So as not to bury the lede, this is my final Insider edition – at least for now.
Since I’ve had the honor to contribute an estimated 300,000 words here (my apologies to copy editors and readers for testing your patience), I hope you’ll indulge one final entry that goes behind the scenes of this 97-month journey. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Know your voice. When I started writing the Search Insider, I was daunted by other pundits who knew far more about search engine marketing than me, and all of them seemed to be named Kevin. Accepting my lack of experience, I put people (also known as consumers, and sometimes users) at the center, and then figured out where marketers fit in. That gave me enough time to learn more about marketing on the job (through three jobs in fact, though mostly at 360i) and hone that aspect later.
2) Big ideas matter, even if they don’t spread. When I’ve had what I thought was a great idea – such as The Motivation Bubble – hardly anyone seemed to respond. I’m still proud to have shared such columns. Perhaps they shaped the thinking of some people who never responded, and at the very least I felt some sense of achievement just going through the process of refining the idea.
3) Go off topic. When I feared I was heading too far off topic and wrote the story anyway, it would get the greatest response. Speaking of which, my grandmother featured in “Google vs. Grandmom” remains in good health, gave up on the Internet, and still has all the answers to everything – regardless of whether you seek her opinion.
4) Count on numbered lists. I resort to numbered lists a lot, for three reasons. First, they’re easier to read, and I have a short attention span. Second, numbers in headlines grab attention. Third, they’re a fun challenge – a creative dare. Often, I’ll have writer’s block, and then come up with one or two ideas around a similar theme. I’ll then jot those down and think about how many more I’d need for a decent list, whether it’s 5, 10, or occasionally 100. Then I’ll force myself to get near that number, adding or subtracting a few to keep the best ones in. If the piece works when it’s finished, it delivers the writer’s equivalent of a runner’s high.
5) Expect writing to take longer than expected. In writing 400 columns here, you’d think I could crank them out. It’s never the case though. Each column is a learning experience, starting with a thesis, or a hypothesis, or a half-decent idea for the middle of a non-existent story. The journey ventures from there, spanning links, images, old emails, LinkedIn profiles, and quotes (often later omitted) from sources such as the Bible, Baruch Spinoza, Sherry Turkle, “30 Rock,” and “Calvin and Hobbes.” Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes perfectionism. I know not every post is amazing, but I still put in the time. It takes just as long to write an average column as it does to write a great one.
6) Your time and attention are priceless. I don’t devour analytics to determine how many people read each column. All I know is that to keep writing this many, some people must be reading them. While it’s impossible to know exactly who is reading what, I am so moved that you and others have taken the time to read any of it. My goal with any column is simple: to respect your time. I can only hope I have remotely succeeded.
7) It’s time to eat the grapes. This Insider series will continue with other talented writers; keep reading them, and I’ll do the same. As for me, I’m hardly going silent; I’ll continue to cobble together thoughts on media and technology through my blog and potentially other endeavors. The process of transition stirs up a range of emotions that have been expressed better by others. A retiring college professor once told his students that he wished them “the humility required to feel truly appreciated, and the wisdom required to know when it is best to move on.” Quite a few years earlier, the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “As it is with a play, so it is with life – what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.” One can only pause and reflect for so long. As quoted in Roger Housden’s book “Saved by Beauty,” the 13th century Persian poet told his listeners, “Remember the proverb, ‘Eat the grapes.’ Do not keep talking about the garden. Eat the grapes.”
With that, it’s time to move on. As Scotty famously warned in “Star Trek IV,” “Hold on tight, lassie! It gets bumpy from here.”