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SEO manners – a brief point of etiquette

SEO Manners cartoon

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

I see so little being written on business etiquette in the SEO/web design arena, that I think it’s good we give thought to this from time to time.

In our line of work, we are contacted by folks from all walks of life. Some are highly-educated, and their initial email to us immediately shows both business savvy and a developed ability of self-expression in terms of what they are looking for. Statements such as,
“We wish to promote a sense of trust and reliability via our web presence. We understand that a reasonable investment will be required to achieve our goals.”
tend to be good hallmarks of this type of potential client.

On the other end of the spectrum, we receive inquiries with no more information that this:

“I want a website. How much does it cost?”

Communications like the latter do send off some warning bells for us, initially. Nevertheless, it behooves us to respond with equal cordiality to both potential clients, and in the case of the second example, we take pains to explain the need for complete information about the aims and goals of the business, as well as the size of the project. Because the Internet is still, at this point, a relatively new medium for many people, it isn’t really a surprise that people aren’t sure what information they need to give, or what questions they need to ask of a web developer.

Additionally, where English may be a second language, or where the individual simply is not very skilled at written communication, an SEO should be very careful not to write off clients whose writing leaves something to be desired.

But, the first step is deciding how to address potential web design clients

Informality has become the norm in American conversations, including business ones. 100 years ago, a person of dignity would never have even spoken to a stranger prior to being given a third party introduction. And until quite recently, the step of moving from addressing one’s acquaintances as Mr., Mrs. or Miss to personal names required a given degree of intimacy between the parties involved.

Now we have grocery store clerks saying, “Have a nice day, Bob” to us, because they read our name on our credit card or in their database. I have to say, personally, I find this weird and unnatural, but clearly the clerks are being given instructions to do so because management decides it will give the store a friendly feeling.

I have noticed that this type of informality is prevalent on the Internet, in blogs and forums, and because blogs often represent SEO companies, one tends to come away from them with the feeling that SEO companies are rather laid-back entities. I’m not criticizing this, though occasionally I see off-color things on SEO companies’ blogs that, to me, would seem to present a very poor public face to any potential client who happens to reach the business through their blog. It may well be that these same companies are more circumspect in their private dealings with their clients. Whatever the case may be, my opinion is that, as business people, we should never lose sight of the fact that making our clients feel comfortable and well-taken care of depends on us assessing their personal style.

We tend to become very friendly with our clients over time, and they share personal stories with us and talk to us about their families, but right at first, I make it a rule to begin by addressing these individuals with traditional titles, whenever possible, in our early communications.

Let the client call you by your first name first

Because a major percentage of inquiries we receive come through the
form submission on our website, we always cross our fingers that the potential client will supply us with both their first and last name.

If Joe Morris writes to us, I always feel better beginning our first reply, Dear Mr. Morris. Writing Dear Joe sounds like we’re old friends. Perhaps we will be one day, but for now, I don’t want to seem presumptuous.

Then, if Mr. Morris begins calling us by our first names, we feel comfortable that this style of address is not offensive to him, and the business relationship becomes a little more personal by the use of first names.

Most Indo-European languages have an entirely separate pronoun and set of verbal forms for distinguishing between you personal and you formal. For example, in Spanish, one does not address a stranger or any elder person by the informal ‘tu’. One must use ‘Usted’ to avoid being rude, and one uses the accompanying verbal forms that go along with this. We English speakers got away from this mode of delicacy when Thou and Thee disappeared from common usage and everybody became just ‘you’.

However, a couple of problems can come up in addressing new potential clients as Mr. Mrs. or Miss. The most obvious is when the person doesn’t offer a last name, and one is obliged to simply call them Joe. A reasonable way to get around this issue is to use the forms of address Dear Sir or Dear Madam.

Mrs. and Miss present a real hazard. We have no idea when Marcia Morris writes to us whether she is married or unmarried. Unless she mentions her husband in the e-mail, the easy escape route is provided by Ms.

The most puzzling cases are when the person in question has a name like Pat Morris. This could be either a male or female person. In this case, we begin our letter Dear Pat Morris. It sounds kind of funny, but we hope following communications will give some indication of the gender of the individual. Worst case scenario – we can always pick up the telephone and find out! This same difficulty applies to foreign names that we’ve never encountered before.

But, in general, our rule is to let the potential SEO/web design client show us how they prefer to be addressed by the manner in which they address us. Liam and I are not corporate people, and we do appreciate the friendliness, and often unorthodox business styles of the colleagues we chat with in forums. But, in our opinion, being precipitously chummy at the expense of a client feeling that they are being treated respectfully is not a good swap to make.

What do you think?