A Message from the Next Generation of Digital Marketers – “We hear you loud and clear about Pandas, Penguins, and Privacy”

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Thank You Letters Middle School

Three weeks ago I had the chance to present to a class of seventh graders at a local middle school here in New Jersey.  The language arts class filled with 13 year olds wanted to know how they could actually use writing in a real-world job and career.  You know, the classic, “how am I going to use what I’m learning?” deal.  So based on how important writing is in digital marketing, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain how it’s used every day across marketing channels.  Let’s face it, almost every aspect of digital marketing involves writing, including blogging, SEM, content creation for SEO, video marketing, social media marketing, etc.

I really didn’t know what to expect when getting in front of the class, but I thought the students might relate easily to Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  So, I crafted a 25 slide PowerPoint presentation filled with stats, facts, visuals, graphs, etc. explaining how digital marketers use writing and language arts skills every day in their jobs.  As you can imagine, this was a radically different audience for me.  Jobs weren’t on the line, revenue implications were non-existent, and the subject matter was extremely new to them (other than general knowledge of using Google, Facebook, etc.)

So I walked up to the front of the class, launched my presentation, turned to the students, and asked my first question.  “How many of you use Google to search for answers?”  What followed was both amazing to witness as a professional, and fascinating to analyze as a marketer.  By the end of the presentation, I felt as if the students learned a lot about digital marketing, but I also learned a lot about the future of digital marketers.

Smart Kids, Smart Questions

As I took the students through how Google operates, how it generates revenue, how blogging impacts businesses, the privacy implications of sharing via social networks, etc., I saw their eyes start to light up.  I could tell they were genuinely interested.  During my presentation, I asked some key questions in order to hear the thoughts of 13 years olds versus professional marketers or adult consumers.  Their answers were both extremely valuable and somewhat surprising.

At the end of the presentation, I couldn’t help but think this was an incredibly smart group of kids.  I felt better about the future of digital marketing if some of these students were going to join the industry.  And by the way, Google should also feel better about it (more about this soon).

As many of you know, there’s a lot you can learn by asking questions versus simply analyzing data.  For example, let’s start with a few of the questions I asked during my presentation, followed by the students’ answers:

Question: How many of you use Google on a regular basis?  How about Bing or Yahoo?

Answer: Every single student used Google.  Not one raised their hand for Bing or Yahoo.  Wow, not representative of Bing/Yahoo’s 29% market share… while being a strong sign of Google’s dominance (and possibly for years to come.)

Question: When searching Google, how many of you know the difference between the search ads on Google and the organic listings? (Showing them a screenshot to make sure they knew what I was referring to.)

Answer: Not one student knew there were ads listed at the top or down the side.  Holy cow, this was fascinating for me to hear.  And of course, this helps drive Google’s revenue… Seems the light background color behind ads is working. 🙂  By the way, this question got the students thinking about why and how certain listings ranked highly.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that happen.

Check out this question I received at the end of my presentation from one digitally smart student in the class:
“Glenn, can a company just pay Google to be at the top of the rankings?”  My answer involved explaining more about paid search and organic search, and how you can’t pay Google for organic rankings, but you can utilize paid search to have ads above and to the right of the organic listings.  By the way, they seemed surprised that Google generates 96%+ of its revenue from ads (like many people are…)

Student Confusion About Ads Versus Organic Listings:

Google SERPs Ads and Organic

The Package That Made My Day

So I finished my presentation, waved goodbye to the class, and felt great about their reaction.  I truly felt as if they connected with what I was presenting.  But my experience didn’t stop there.  About a week after presenting, I received a package in the mail from their middle school language arts teacher.  It was a stack of thank you letters from the students.  As I opened the package of letters, I envisioned a standard “Thank you for coming in…” stack of thank you notes.  But what I found made my day.  No, it made my month.  🙂

As I started reading the letters, I realized very quickly that these were no ordinary thank you notes.  It ends up that these students truly listened to what I was saying, internalized it, and the core concepts of my presentation stuck with them.  There were mentions of privacy, producing quality content, Search algorithms (yes, algorithms), advertising revenue, blogging, etc.  I was floored.

Those letters led to this post, since I wanted to share some of their thoughts about digital marketing.  But instead of explaining more about what the students wrote, I’m going to provide a series of quotes directly from their letters below (with commentary from me where applicable).  I think you’ll get a kick out of this.  And if you work for Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, etc., you should pay attention to the quotes listed below.   Google, in particular, should be happy to know that the concepts of Panda and Penguin resonated with them.  🙂  So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy the quotes.  Remember, these students are only 13.

Quotes from Seventh Graders Regarding Digital Marketing:

“I never knew much about blogs and how writing has to be high quality on the internet.  I learned that it is extremely important to write effective information on the web, or it will be wiped off the internet by Pandas.”   <- awesome, Pandas even strike fear in 7th graders

“What I found really interesting was the use of Panda and Penguin algorithm updates by Google.  I also learned that just because a website ranked #1 in Google doesn’t mean it’s there because of how reliable it was, but because of their money.”  <- referring to paid search, not organic

“Your job sounds really fun and interesting.  I learned how writing could impact my life in the future.  I found what you said about Panda and Penguin very interesting.”  <- the first sign that some students might be interested in becoming digital marketers.  Very cool.

“I learned how we should be careful about what we post online, whether that’s pictures or writing, because it will be there forever.” <- my points about online reputation management, the business of YOU, getting into college, etc. resonated with this student. Excellent.

“I enjoyed listening to the interesting facts you presented. I learned that Google is amazing and you can use it to learn anything.  Also, that writing helps people become rich.”  <- not exactly what I said, but the revenue numbers I presented for ecommerce retailers, Google, Facebook, etc. probably stuck with him.

“I thought your job is really cool. I had no idea about Panda and Penguin programs from Google. I wish I could have your job.”  <- Ah, a future digital marketer. Nice.

“I found it very interesting that Google makes almost all of its money from ads.  I also found it cool that your content has to be good, or your website will get kicked off the front pages of Google and most likely won’t be seen anytime soon.  If I get my own website, I will be sure to write great content.”  <- OK, that might be the best quote of them all.  This student now understands how Google’s business works, and that quality content wins.  Yes, fear of the cute animal algorithms now hits seventh graders too.

“When you came into our class and talked to us about writing in a digital world, I learned a lot and it made a big impact on my life.  I think writing a blog could have a big change for me and others my age.” <- a future blogger that wants to impact other people. YES!

“I really enjoyed your facts about Panda and Penguin. I also didn’t know that people could pay to have ads on Google.” <- more mentions of Panda and Penguin.  Google, your future algo updates might not impact as many websites if this keeps up. 🙂

“I was impressed to see that just another person from where we live could be popular on the internet.  You know, not like a movie star, but like a blogger.”  <- LOL, funniest quote I received.  And no, I never said I was popular. 🙂

“I never knew that you could find a problem, blog about it, and then people could find that to solve their own problem.  That’s a very good thing.  Without bloggers, companies wouldn’t recognize problems with their products.”  <- Yes! Don’t be afraid to solve problems that can help other consumers (and to make sure companies know about those problems).

“Personally, I found your job very interesting.  Who knows, maybe this will be my job one day! I learned how dangerous Facebook and other social networking sites could be to your future career.  You taught me how careful I must be with my posts because you never know who could see those posts.”  <- Two things hit me square in the face. I think I found a future intern for G-Squared Interactive, and I might have just saved a future online reputation management client. 🙂

“I learned how one piece of writing can change your life for the better, or for the worse.  I found it interesting that you can create a blog, have ads on the blog, and get paid when people visit it.”  <- the first part of the quote was in response to my points about personal branding, while the second was in response to Google’s business model.  Both good points to make from a 13 year old.

I’m Cool With What the Future Has in Store
Needless to say, I was thrilled to read the letters.  After speaking to the class and reading their thank you notes, I feel a lot better about the future of content creators, SEO’s, social media marketers, etc.  From Pandas to Penguins to Privacy, I think this group of students “gets it”.  And sooner than we think, it will be time for them to brainstorm, write, and execute.  I just wonder which cute Google animals the students will have to deal with then.  🙂

Now it’s your turn to make a difference.  I’ll be sharing this post with the class today, so definitely include your advice below in the comments. Let the students know how what they are learning now could be used in digital marketing down the line. Remember, they are 13. 🙂



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  • Cat Orosco

    I spoke earlier in the school year at career day at my kids’ elementary school in Santa Barbara. The internet is already part of their everyday life but they hadn’t ever thought about why sites show in a search result the way they do. It would be great to integrate this more into their education simply so they start thinking about how information is shared and what should be private. Most of the teachers also said they learned quite a bit and had never thought about why some sites show higher in a result than others. I’m curious if you asked them about FB and G+. The majority of 5th graders and all of the 6th graders I spoke to were already on Facebook.

    Great job getting their attention. The thank you letter quotes you shared are awesome.

    • Glenn Gabe

      Thanks for your comment Cat, while sharing more of your own experience. And I agree with you, this should be integrated more in the standard eduction in middle schools (and beyond). It’s too important to leave this for trial and error (especially as it relates to privacy, reputation management, etc.)

      I did ask them about Facebook and Google+. Many were on Facebook already, while only a few kids were on Google+. I couldn’t help myself and urged more to join G+. 🙂

  • Josh

    This was actually a really enjoyable post. Nice to see a personal side and people taking interest in what we do.
    Also interesting that not one of them used Bing or Yahoo. I presented at a career day to 8th graders a few years ago which was fun.

    Did you ask anything about Mobile or Tablets?

    • Glenn Gabe

      Thanks for your comment Josh. Yes, I was surprised that not one student used Bing or Yahoo. I was also shocked about the confusion about ads and organic listings. That has huge revenue implications for Google.

      Regarding mobile, I did ask how many had smartphones. About half the class did. I think that’s a high percentage for 13 year olds. Then again, I suspect that will be even higher by the fall. 🙂 That also has an important impact on Search, Facebook revenue, ecommerce, etc.

  • Ryan

    Thank you for this inspiring post! My additional advice to the students would be to always be thinking about what content, services and features they wish Internet offered. Always be asking yourself, “How can I make the Internet more useful and how can the internet be used to help others?”

    • Glenn Gabe

      “How can I make the Internet more useful and how can the internet be used to help others?” <- I love this quote. That's one of the points I was making when explaining Panda, high quality content, solving problems, etc. Thanks for your comment Ryan.

  • Donna Fontenot

    For the kids out there who might be persuaded to hone their writing skills so they can become future digital marketing stars, I offer this piece of advice. While you’re improving your writing skills, don’t forget to take some marketing courses along the way as well. Understanding “the art of persuasion” and combining that with top-notch writing will place you above the pack.

    Oh, and one more thing. Learn how to present ideas visually as well. Content goes beyond the written word. Great content can take the form of images, audio, and video; by the time you’re in the industry, who knows what else might be considered content. Be ready!

    • Glenn Gabe

      Outstanding points Donna (as usual). Combining killer writing skills with business and marketing smarts is always a great path to take. And your point about various forms of content is right on the mark. I spent some time speaking with the students about how writing fits into various end products (including video, blog posts, infographics, landing pages, etc.) Thanks for your comment! I’m sure the students will appreciate it.

  • Yagati

    Back here in Bangalore I asked some of the kids about Google search. Startling fact they knew this wikepida and they are confused on ads, organic and local listings. They just dont know about blog. Intrestingly they knew facebook and though they have gmail account they never cared to click the advertisement of Google+ below the gmail page…

    That said, they still do lot of google search and they love google 🙂

    • Glenn Gabe

      Thanks for sharing your own story. The confusion about ads/organic listings was really interesting. And like you, Google and Facebook were the popular choices with the group I presented to. There were only a few that had joined G+.

  • AsifDilshad

    Great work sir but will you please share your presentation with us so we know how these 13 years old kids wanted to became an internet marketer! You are a true teacher who gives them an idea to think about the industry.
    As far as advice for these little geniuses!
    “Things looks beautiful in far but in reality these are much harder than you think. The best thing about our industry is you learn many new things every day so I you want to learn more and more Internet marketing industry is great for you. Best of Luck for your Future.”

    • Glenn Gabe

      Good point Asif about learning new things every day in digital marketing. That’s so true. There’s a constant flow of new products, tactics, tools, etc. In addition, the engines are continually updating their algorithms, so you need to keep up to speed SEO-wise. That’s one of the aspects of digital marketing that I absolutely love. Thanks for your comment!

  • Koozai Mike

    The best article I’ve read all month. On the one hand it perfectly confirms the view that most people aren’t aware of the adverts on Google, or that it’s how they monetise everything. It raises an interesting debate on ethics – (if people can’t tell they are adverts, is it fair?) – but that’s for another day.

    What I really liked is how you made our jobs understandable by the younger generation. There’s so many rules to follow and best practice items for Google, that I was starting to wonder just how accessible the industry is for new people. You’ve just confirmed for me that, actually you can sum the key points up in an accessible way, and in a way that entices more people to join our industry. Fantastic work Glenn!

    Any chance of seeing the slides?

    • Glenn Gabe

      Hey, thanks so much Mike. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I was really impressed by the students (especially after receiving the thank you notes). And you’re right, the lack of understanding of ads versus organic listings raises huge concerns. And that’s especially the case when background colors change, more clicks happen, and Google makes more revenue. But like you said, that’s for another post. 🙂

      Regarding your point about making digital marketing understandable for the students, I really didn’t know what to expect. I definitely refined the slides a bunch of times to hit on core points knowing this was new for them. They definitely lit up when I started explaining more about Search, Social, ecommerce, blogging, etc. I was really happy to see that.

      Regarding sharing my presentation, I just might do that. I’ve had several people ask the same thing via email. I’ll let you know if I do!

  • Angela Wilkinson

    Hi Glenn – Thanks for sharing your experience and the students’ feedback!

    It was very good to see that the students got the idea of privacy online and I was impressed the students worked out and understood (in the time taken for your visit!) that companies could pay to be at the top of search results.

    However I think my favourite quote was
    “I never knew that you could find a problem, blog about it, and then people could find that to solve their own problem. That’s a very good thing. Without bloggers, companies wouldn’t recognize problems with their products.”

    No wonder the feedback you received made your month! As Koozai Mike said, any chance of seeing the slides?

    • Glenn Gabe

      Thanks Angela. I think they definitely have a greater understanding of the search results now after performing Google searches. 🙂 And I agree, that quote about blogging was awesome. I truly felt that several of the students would be starting blogs soon. They seemed to dig the stories I was telling them about how bloggers could identify problems, solve those problems, and then help thousands of people. Very cool.

      Regarding my slides, I’ll let you know if I post them! Thanks again.

  • Geek Culture

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read all year. Great to see the next generation already aware of what they do online can have a tremendous impact in their lives. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us.

    • Glenn Gabe

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Smart kids, great quotes. It sounded like several will be joining the industry at some point. 🙂

  • Bill Akleh

    Yes, what surprised me from a lot of people still is that they do not notice that a lot of ads on the page are paid. Ha! and Google gets so self-righteous when people buy links!

  • Sunil Kumar

    I really enjoyed, mostly i dint read full post but this is the post make my interest in seo and digital marketing. it is looking like Google have single hold on Search Engine. Nice quotes thanks for sharing great content.

  • Josh Braaten

    This was the best post I’ll read all month, Gabe. I loved the insights and am excited (and even a little nervous) about how savvy the next crop of professionals will be. I have a 16-year-old niece who is convinced she wants to be a content marketer, so I made her my intern. The level of quality she put into her first two articles rivaled many of the seasoned pros I work with. The future is bright for youngsters like this. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Glenn Gabe

      Hey, thanks Josh. I greatly appreciate it, and I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It’s great to hear about your niece! That’s outstanding that she’s interning for you. And it doesn’t shock me that she’s knocking it out of the park content-wise.

      And you’re right, they will be savvy. Half of the kids in the class I presented to had smartphones already. 🙂

  • Ash@ PPC Practice

    I have a question? How do you suggest we deal with sales people who click on our very expensive ads and send us sales emails?
    Even worse when we don’t buy from them and send emails to these sales people nicely asking them not to burn our ads they get revengeful and burn more ads from different IP addresses to hurt us.
    Any advice on this?

  • Deepali

    I would love to see the presentation that you shared with the kids. 13 year old kid’s speaking about Penguin and Panda is amazing.

  • Tarjinder S. Kailey

    The response of the students was really impressive. While reading this post of yours I’ve realized that I must look forward to have a more powerful and smart competitors in the near future. Thanks for the awareness, Glenn 😉

  • Grant

    Hi Glen,

    What a refreshing post!

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (George Bernard Shaw).

    I wish someone had given me a presentation like that when I was 13, might have saved myself a few years!

    Next speech – How to create your first blog 🙂

  • Mark Lee

    The response of the learners was really very good thanks Glenn. I looking to forward to read these kind of useful posts.