“Well, I don’t know as I want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell how to do what I want to do.”
—J. P. Morgan (attributed)
SEO, copywriting, and web design are all service businesses. Nobody has ever hired me to tell them what they ought to want to do; I get hired to do what they’ve decided they want to do. And clients are experts at whatever it is they’ve been doing; if I do SEO for a clothing retailer, it’s a safe bet that he knows more about clothes than I do.
At the same time, I probably spend more time reading SEOMoz, running Rank Checker, or swiping from Info Marketing Blog than they do. Since clients write the checks, they call the shots—here are a few ways I’ve found to make sure that this works out well for both sides.
Means and ends. SEO is, quite simply, weirder than any other kind of marketing. Like all marketing, it involves reverse-engineering a little bit of the thought process of every prospective customer—but SEO means figuring out what the smart PhDs at Google and Bing think the average searcher is thinking, too. So it’s no surprise that immediate instincts are not the right way to go.
Fortunately, SEO is more measurable than any other kind of marketing, too. So there’s always a factual case behind any difference of opinion. Instead of arguing, I like to cite data. For example, clients often know which keywords they’d like their site to rank for; Google’s keyword tool can quickly tell you whether or not those keywords matter.
“Let’s try it in phase two…” No matter what you’re trying to sell online, the right thing to do next is whatever will give you enough data to know what to do after that. If you have to choose between launching a big redesign or testing a design tweak, the tweak is a better option.
This is further evidence that disagreement is just a shorthand for not having enough data. The good news is that more information leads to better decisions. (The bad news is that it’s sometimes a little awkward when you’re the “expert” who gets proven dead wrong by the data—but it’s a good kind of awkwardness.)
Update the technology. I’ll never forgive Adobe for being so good at marketing. They’ve made “flash” synonymous with “Interactive.” While that’s still appropriate in some cases (with games, for example), it’s no longer the right way to implement navigation, and it’s definitely the wrong way to set up an entire site.
In lots of cases, what people ask for is based on terminology, not based on the desired outcome. I’ve caught myself referring to the animated navigation on this college savings site1 as “the flash banner,” even though it’s actually jQuery.
An even bigger idea. If you’re doing web design, copywriting, or SEO, it’s a safe bet that your job description includes the word “creative”. So actual creativity shouldn’t be a last resort. If you disagree with a client on which of two ideas is better—one based on the client’s industry insider perspective, and the other on your web orientation—compromise by coming up with something smarter than either of them. Games, apps, microsites, and PR stunts are all a great way to work around an impasse.
To any design / marketing / writing / advertising folks out there: how do you get around disagreements? (I think it’s safe to say that none of us will win any plaudits from Nancy Reagan, since the mantra of the service sector seems to be “Never, ever, just say ‘No’.”
1. Full disclosure: the site’s owner, OppenheimerFunds, is a Blue Fountain Media client; see this newsletter for more on the recent redesign.