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Search Marketing Business: Are You Losing Your Shirt Because You're Wearing the Wrong Shirt?

Why I Wear Graph Paper Shirts: Fashion & The Business of SEM

Previously a fashion choice made only by engineers and MIT students, graph paper shirts are now all the rage in the hot, young, explosive search marketing industry.  Coincidence?  I think not. 



Graph paper shirts symbolize everything that's right and good about the business of Search Marketing

I'm going to tell you why:

1. Aren't Graph Paper Shirts Nerdy?  Yes.  And that's a good thing!

Good SEM is analytics-based.  Analytical people like order.  Does anything say "I'm organized and logical" better than a shirt with lots of parallel and perpendicular lines?  Graph paper requires thinking inside, alongside, and through the box. 

Is there an "outside the box" in SEM?  Yes, but it's inside some other box. 

Sorry, you visionary freaks!  Think of something new.  We'll categorize it and assign metrics to it and define the process for doing it optimally.  Then you'll be in another box to think outside of.  We'll keep you visionaries on the run, and you'll love it, because you define yourself in opposition to us.

Alternative Lifestyle Indulgences: Wear mock turtlenecks or your old Metallica Ride The Lightning t-shirt and talk about "conversations" and "engagement".  Watch the facial lines of worry stay stubbornly etched into the faces of executive decision makers handcuffed by a recession economy.

Best Solution: Wear graph paper shirts, talk analytics, talk metrics, talk bottom line.  Use charts and graphs.  Project profit.  Get more clients.  Make lots of money.

Taking it Too Far: Drawing 45 degree upward ROI lines on your graph paper shirt with those big sharpie markers is kind of unnecessary ...Rob.  ...Duh!

2. Professional?  Yes.  Clients like it.


SEM, like most new computer things, is an unknown quantity (scary) for the traditional businesses we're trying to help. 

Your prospects and clients don't understand PageRank Sculpting, Quality Score, or Information Architecture, but they do understand charts, graphs, and metrics. 

Even if they haven't used KPI's adequately in their own businesses, your evangelizing of ROAS while wearing your graph paper shirt speaks reassuringly to their bottom line. 

And they do understand the bottom line.

Fun Alternative Business 2.0 Lifestyle Choices: "Hey, we're new and wacky, we're business 2.0, we wear hawaiian shirts and birkenstocks and tattoos- we are new and powerful and weird, respect us!"  Cool, may work for getting small SEO contracts for surfboard shops, but take that to a posh real estate development company in the South, and... um... nuh uh, see ya!

Best Solution:  Wear graph paper shirts, talk analytics, talk metrics, talk bottom line.  Use charts and graphs.  Project profit.  Get more clients.  Make lots of money.

Taking it Too Far: Creating your own graph paper pants. That's common sense, guys.  Just say no to graph paper pants.  Yes to graph paper shirts.

3. Changes Your Attitude?  Yep!  Use it!


Don't get me wrong, it took me 34 years to darken the doorstep of a Brooks Brothers store.  I'm the ultimate cool casual clothing sorta guy.  I used to work at an outdoor gear retail company where business casual was a The North Face fleece, convertible khakis, and Merrell hiking shoes. 

But dang it I'm in the South, and I'm in management.  Have you read the research that shows that one of the biggest determinants of who gets to be the leader is the one who most looks like the leader?  Studies also show that the taller you are the more money you make.  I'm not a tall guy so I have to impress people with my stunning good looks, my mind-blowing intellect, my cantankerous obsession with results, and my ridiculously hilarious sense of humor. 

But all of that would fall apart without my graph paper shirts and Italian dress shoes.  Why?  Because I think and act differently in different clothes.  Are you so different?  Try it and see what happens.  I act more professionally, more conservatively in dress clothes. 

Conversely, I'm more lax and self-centered in casual clothes.  I call it being "creative", being "me", etc. but the measure of my value at work is the potentiation of my internal resources (knowledge, decision making ability, analytical ability, creativity, everything) in a team framework- and I'm simply a better team member in dress clothes.  Weird, but true. 

Self perception affects behavior, behavior affects self-perception.  Classy clothes stimulate classy behavior, classy behavior creates a classy person.

This from a guy who used to say "it shouldn't matter how I dress- you should accept me for who I am".  But if it doesn't matter how you dress, then dress respectfully- and if you won't do that, that says something about who you are, doesn't it?  Noncomformity is disrespectful, because other people have limits in their perception of value- we use external cues to guess at truth- and if how I dress changes my own behavior, then I'm optimizing my work value by wearing different clothes... as an SEO I understand that clearly.

Alternative: Wear whatever you want, and witness yourself starting emails to clients with phrases like "hey dude..." and "hey man!"  Sure there's a place for that, but it shouldn't be the default.  Try an experiment- measure your productivity from client perspective, what you got done for them, and alternate your dress on different days for 6 days- analyze the results of your productivity in your different get-ups, and let me know what you find.

4. Morality?  Yes, Clothing Affects and Creates Business Morality


Everybody in SEM knows morality is an issue.  At the recent SMX Advanced conference, Danny Sullivan asked Matt Cutts how it felt to be the moral compass of SEM.  SEO professionals must decide whether to and when to use gray and black-hat techniques. 

Fundamental to this decision are questions like:

  • Is this truly not a white hat technique?  (Discernment)
  • Will this technique put my client at risk? (Altruism)
  • Will this technique put my reputation at risk? (Vision)
  • Is there truly no better white-hat alternative to this (Creativity)

It may be argued that gray and black hat techniques don't jeopardize an SEO's career, especially if they only do it on their own sites- some may even posit that usage of these techniques increases SEO savvy.  However, if your use of these activities could injure your client and could directly or indirectly injure your career, I'd argue that your attitude is immoral, instant-gratification-oriented, unwise, and more importantly: un-American, and you probably support the euthanizing of homeless people.

Is there less chance you'd engage in gray or black hat activities if you were wearing a graph paper shirt?  Of course!  Read on...

Alternative Amoral Clothing Choices: Everyone knows that the Enron executives got tattoos and road Harley motorcycles to work and wore leather boots just before defrauding their investors of millions of dollars, right?  Just kidding.   But Enron executives did not wear graph paper shirts, and they should have.  They wore black suits and ties, and that may have been a problem, but more research is needed.

Best Solution: Wear graph paper shirts, go to church, feed the homeless, write down your SEM ethics, and follow them.

Taking it too Far: Using a red marker to check a box on your graph paper shirts every time you beat the temptation to take gray or black hat action.  We don't need to know, buddy.  Keep it to yourself.

Bottom line?  The clothes make the man or woman.  And if you disagree, you're wrong.  I know, because I wear graph paper shirts, so I'm right.

More reading on Clothing, Self-Perception, and Business:


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