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We send and receive a lot of emails. Email chains get long and complicated and our inboxes overflow with no sense of priority. Newsletters you want to read, spam you want to ignore, and emails from friends or family members appear in the same place and you have to wade through to discern the important from the unnecessary.
Email might be a core component of your existence; used to manage events, work and life. It’s too important to be suboptimal.
The founders of project management software Basecamp are on a mission to fix email for good with Hey. The team’s goal is to make email something you want to use, not something you’re forced to deal with. I asked CEO Jason Fried about the aspects of email they are adamant need to change.
What’s wrong with email?
“Most inboxes are just one big mess,” said Fried. “Making use of regular email requires the use of hacks including marking emails as unread or dragging emails into folders. Gmail decides how your emails filter into your primary inbox, social and promotions tabs, but that doesn’t make sense. You should decide how to organise your email. It’s personal.”
The most prominent email providers generate most of their revenue in other ways and email isn’t their priority, so there is little incentive to make it exceptional. Email is deemed a necessary evil by its users and it’s costing your time, focus and privacy.
“Free email is not free” explained Fried. “Most free email service providers spy on the content of your emails to sell your data or target you with marketing, but Hey works on a subscription model.” If you don’t pay for a product, you are the product; it’s simple.
Basecamp is a company renowned for its refreshing workplace culture and deliberate rejection of the practices that many of Silicon Valley’s technology firms take for granted. It doesn’t have to be crazy at work, the book co-authored by Fried, includes examples such as avoiding meetings at all costs, library rules in the office, and not having investors to answer to, only customers, which means they aren’t interested in selling your data. Fried also co-wrote books Rework and Remote, both about reimagining the way we work. Basecamp, calls itself the calm, organised way to manage projects. This team backs itself to sort out email once and for all and is “trying to do it without making anything complicated.”
The Basecamp team has thought hard about email. “We spent six to seven years orbiting the topic and then two years building Hey,” explains Fried. “We spent a lot of time thinking about how to best present information, jotting down ideas and experimenting until they started coming together into a product that made complete sense.”
Who lands in your inbox?
With regular email, as long as someone has your email address they will reach your inbox. Their message will sit there until it’s dealt with; deleted, responded to or left to forget about. Cold approaches from unwanted senders tear you away from your real work throughout the day. Unless you have an assistant, you are the assistant; the filtering is your job.
Hey screens senders before they get that far. Every email you receive through Hey starts with a yes or no. The question is, “Want to get emails from them?”. First time senders are screened by you in batches to protect your inbox, and the inbox is renamed imbox because im represents important. A guarded place. Those requests for a five-minute chat, a pick of your brains, or the start of an outreach workflow from a marketing manager can be screened and the sender ignored in the future. Having used Hey for several weeks, I can say this is a game-changer.
When you reply
With traditional email, there’s no uniform way of dealing with emails that require a response. One method is to respond to each request straight away and break your day up into five-minute tasks at the cost of deep work. Another is to use a flagging system whereby a specific flag means you need to respond. I used to move emails requiring a response into a folder named respond, and a colleague’s tactic is marking emails as unread, in the hope that she remembers what that means and gets round to responding.
When imagining Hey, Fried’s team thought about piles of paper on a desk. Although there might be several piles, you know exactly what each one means. Short-term organising means long term order. Hey’s reply later feature lets you hit one button (or the L key on your keyboard) to move an email into a different pile, out of your imbox. The focus and reply feature lets you respond to emails in this pile all together, at a time that works for your day.
Whether Hey or nay, responding to emails in batches is far better than in a continuous stream of low-level productivity between nine and five. Manage your inbox, don’t let it manage you.
Email is broken and the founders of Basecamp are fixing it
What interrupts your day
Fried explained that there’s a “middle ground of emails” that lies somewhere between junk mail and the emails you really need to read. “They’re not worth interrupting your day but they’re not spam either.”
I love my subscription to Seth Godin’s blog but I don’t need to be notified. I’m happy that Gymshark is having a sale but it doesn’t need to hit my inbox. I want to know when my Deliveroo driver has left the restaurant for my house, but the status update from a supplier can wait until tomorrow. My cunning hack before was to apply an email filter; if the email contained the word unsubscribe it went into a separate folder that I visited each week. It was a workaround that mostly worked but some managed to slip through.
Hey lets you decide which emails fit in the middle ground and moves them for you. For each email that arrives, there are four options: ignore the sender, let it go straight to your inbox, the feed or the paper trail. The screener is where these decisions are made and then that’s how future emails from the same sender are treated.
The feed is where you can direct newsletters and non-urgent information emails, to read in one go later, much like you would a social media feed. The paper trail stores booking confirmations, receipts and transactional emails for dealing with in one go. Notifications are turned off by default, but you can turn them on or just on for specific emails. Using Hey is like training a new assistant that refuses to guess on your behalf but remembers every instruction.
Security and privacy
The broken user experience of email is secondary to the security problems. Most free email providers “read” your emails. They scan for key words to add to the profile of you that they keep. Someone mentioning car, valet, track and race is a certain type of person. Someone mentioning wedding, dress, rings and flowers is another. Your email is listening to you and it means your ads are so tailored it appears spooky.
On top of that, simply opening an email can tell the sender a lot of information about you, including how many times you opened their email, which brand of phone you use, which links you click or where you are in the world based on your IP address.
In January, open-source browser Ghostery called for a privacy nutrition label, to better inform users about the privacy impact of digital services. The company has seen a spike in the public’s awareness of the privacy threats they face online, especially following privacy scandals involving social media giants.
Fried knows what is and isn’t his business, which extends to his company’s products. They know it’s none of their business who you voted for, what you buy, if you want to have a baby or how old you are. They don’t read your emails and they don’t think the sender should be privy to your information, either. Hey detects and blocks spy trackers so that nothing gets through and takes an aggressive stance against spy tracking. Fried’s position is clear, “privacy is a human right that has become a luxury only available to a few. You shouldn’t have to justify wanting privacy in any way.”
You personalise your workspace layout and your web browser bookmarks, but email is one-size fits all and has been since its inception. There’s no need to accept its shortcomings as your own. Try the clever tricks or new platforms and take nothing for granted. Adapt the world to your needs to protect your time, attention and privacy.
Once you’ve defined your most effective keywords, it’s time to hunt for how they’re being used effectively online so you can find the best link-building opportunities for your site.
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The following excerpt is from the Garrett French and Eric Ward’s book Ultimate Guide to Link Building, 2nd Edition. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunesOnce you’ve compiled your list of market-defining keywords (MDKWs), it’s time to create queries and search for them in your favorite search engine. The following are a few ways you can do that.Related: Do You Know What Linkable Assets Are Hiding in Your Website?1. Look for blogs, news sites and trade publications The existence of blogs, news sites and trade publications are all indicators of a healthy “expert publication” stratus within your market space. If these kinds of sites exist, especially in large numbers, your campaign design can and should include expert engagement and content creation and promotion, to name a couple.Check for these kinds of publishers with queries such as:MDKW blogsMDKW “blog list”“top MDKW blogs”“MDKW news”MDKW “Trade Publication”MDKW conference or convention (You’ll have to track back to the trade organization that’s hosting the convention.)How many results in the top 10 are relevant? Are you finding lists of bloggers? If not, make sure your MDKWs are broad enough! If so, then make note of “expert engagement” and content creation/promotion as a solid direction for your link-building efforts.2. Look for niche directories Niche directories are almost always worth submitting to. Consider them a “covering your bases” link-building effort. Some keyword spaces have niche directories, and some don’t.Find niche directories with queries such as:“MDKW Directory”“MDKW Websites”MDKW “suggest * URL”3. Look for interviews with subject-matter experts The presence of interviews signifies there’s an “expert class” within your keyword space. If there are a number of interviews, then you should do two things. The first is to get thought leaders in your organization interviewed. Second, you should conduct a group interview of all the experts who were interviewed. Gather the experts’ contact information, then brainstorm five to 10 great questions and send them out. When they’ve responded, aggregate their answers into one article and let them know when it’s published.Check on the presence of interviews with queries such as:MDKW intitle:interviewMDKW intitle:“q&a with”MDKW intitle:“tips from” OR “advice from” OR “chat with”4. Look for niche forums, social networking sites and Q/A sites What is the online community like in your keyword space? Remember, there are hundreds of thousands of people perfectly happy with forums as their platform for web interactions. Find them! This will help you determine whether it’s worthwhile to put resources into online conversations.Find niche forums and social networks with queries such as:MDKW communityintitle:MDKW forumMDKW inurl:blogsMDKW answers5. Look for professional associations Finding professional associations related to your business indicate a high level of business organization within an industry. This could result in some great opportunities for link development. First, you should consider joining as a means of connecting formally with your industry. Second, many associations have online newsletters and publications to which you can submit content.Find professional associations with queries such as:MDKW associationMDKW associatedMDKW intitle:“of america” (or other locale)Related: 6 Elements Your Link-Building Campaign Must Include6. Look for company profile listing opportunities Company profile listings — often earned through submitting specific content types to aggregation sites — are a fairly simple way to build links. There are usually paid and unpaid opportunities.Find company profile listing opportunities with queries like:MDKW add jobMDKW submit softwareMDKW submit pdfMDKW add couponMDKW submit contestMDKW eventsMDKW free tools7. Look for resource curators Resource curation has, until recently, been the task of librarians. These days, it’s far more likely that industry expert participants and publishers will build lists of resources either on a one-time basis with continual updates (that’s what we mean by “curation”) or on a weekly/monthly basis in the form of roundups. We’ve seen some resource aggregation in the form of exhaustive how-tos that link out to the best industry tools and information as well, so be on the lookout!Detect resource curators with queries such as:MDKW roundup“Useful MDKW links” libraryMDKW resources list8. Look for content placement opportunities Guest content placement has been the work of PR departments for years. Times are changing, and it’s up to link builders to help lead the company toward content placements that will improve rankings, sales and brand recognition.Check your keyword space for content placement opportunities with queries such as:MDKW “guest post”MDKW inurl:category/guestMDKW “guest article”MDKW “write for us”