The SEM Hierarchy of the E-mail Inbox

First published September 14, 2006 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Into each social structure, a little stratification must fall. As our society takes a decidedly virtual turn, I’m finding that my Outlook inbox is the latest place where a class structure is taking shape.

Of course, you have the standard spam vs. non-spam sorting, but this doesn’t really count. That happens pretty much transparently in the background, and every day or so I wade through the muck in my deleted spam folder just to make sure a vital piece of communication didn’t get waylaid. For instance, today an e-mail from my lawyer went there. On second thought, perhaps the filter knew better than I what should be deleted.

No, it’s the e-mail that survives the cut that is subject to endless classification and sorting, as I haplessly try to wrap my priorities around an ever-expanding inbox. At first, I thought the six different flags supplied by Outlook would do the trick, but I quickly realized my complicated world needs much more than six classifications.

So in an attempt to ease the daily burden of countless search marketers, I offer the following suggestions for an SEM Custom Rules plug that would automatically take the following actions in Outlook’s inbox.

The “Anything from Google” Rule

It doesn’t really matter what comes in with an “@google.com” on the back end, you’d better open it right away. These go on the top of the list. If it’s from Matt Cutts or Tim Armstrong, perhaps a siren and flashing red light to draw further attention. I don’t get e-mails from Eric, Sergey or Larry, and I suspect the same is true for most SEMs, but if I ever did, I would like a heavenly ray of light to shine gently on me as a choir of angels sing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

The MSN Beta Invitation Rule

This could dramatically reduce the manual sorting required by automatically signing up for beta test groups for MSN’s new adCenter products, including the Targeting by Presence of Facial Hair Platform, the Visitors You Wish You Got Report feature and the Integrated adCenter/Xbox 360 Console, which drops you into a virtual 3-D world where you can walk up to leads that didn’t convert and slap them for being stupid.

The “Hey, I Got a Speaking Gig” Rule

This would (until recently anyway) include e-mails from Danny Sullivan, Chris Sherman and Brett Tabke, indicating which panel you’d be speaking on at the next big show. These e-mails have to be referred to quickly so you have time to book hotels and flights, and then start e-mailing to see who else will be at the show, who was going to what after- hours function, if you could catch a ride with them, who else was on your panel, and when is the deadline for getting the presentation done (no, not the official deadline–the “real” deadline).

The “Why the Hell Did I Sign Up for This?” Rule

The average search marketer signs up for approximately 6,428,943 newsletters, 194,597 Google news alerts, 963,693 forum post notifications–and that doesn’t include RSS subscriptions. This is all done in the hopes of gaining some vital piece of information that would give them the leg-up on the competition, who are of course all subscribing to the same things. This rule would scan everything for the 1 in 159,975 chance that there’s a useful tidbit in there somewhere. The one exception is the Search Insider–naturally.

The SEMPO Board Communication Rule

Admittedly for a very small market, this would be nonetheless essential for those who serve on SEMPO’s board. It would be able to detect the difference between the 9,543 e-mails a day you get just because you were part of the e-mail alias, a 12-page-long cc list, and the messages requesting you to get off your butt and do something.

The “Rocket to the Top of the Search Engines” Rule

Although these e-mails are technically spam, I like to read them every so often and feel smug about how superior and morally pure I am, and how far my company has come since the days when everyone tried this marketing tactic.

The “Arrange a Meeting/Teleconference” Rule

Why don’t we just accept the fact that it takes 3.6 months and 112 e-mails back and forth to arrange any type of call or meeting, so we should just automate the process? That way we can still feel good that we’re trying to facilitate the phantom meeting by generating reams of e-mails and invitations, while saving us some time. In the end, it will automatically revert to the original time and date proposed, as it turned out that it was really the best for everyone, anyway.

The “Loved Your Column” Rule

Okay, seriously, these e-mails, when they come in (and yes, I have got a few), are the highlight of my day, and they’re the first I respond to. Of course, don’t take this as a hint or anything.

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