The Price Of Technical Correctness


Recently, I had this client who sought me to do some SEO copywriting on a website.  The client was in the business of putting their clients’ products on the web, and they wanted someone who understood how SEO works to look at the copy on their website, write some new copy and edit the existing stuff for SEO.

So I took a look at it, and gave them the estimate that they asked for.   But I didn’t stop there.  To stop there would have been dishonest and technically incorrect.

Because they had a problem. The site was implemented in Flash (I love Flash, don’t get me wrong), so no matter how I changed their copy, no search engines would have noticed.  The reason is search engine indexing software can’t read into Flash files, which means that if you use Flash and don’t provide your copy outside of the Flash files, Google, Yahoo et. al. will not understand what the site is supposed to be about.

And this is surely what was already going on.  After one year on the web, the site’s top page had a lowly Google PageRank of 1 and when I was done with what they wanted, they would have ended up with a PR of…1.

So, separate from but attached to my estimate for the SEO copywriting work, I explained to them why the work would not O the site with any SEs.  In very brief, plain, nontechnical, helpful English, I explained the situation and let them know that I could help them with fixing their problem as well as doing the SEO copywriting.

Readers experienced in business are smiling right now and already know how this story ends: my technical correctness cost me the project.  By not doing exactly what was asked of me, and by failing to pretend that what I was doing would have an effect at the search engines, I threw a wrench into the works and scared people.  Had I simply shut up and okey-doked and pretended that what I was doing was changing something, a payday would have resulted.

This is far from the first time this has happened to me. You could say it’s a long-running theme.

Years and years ago, along with a partner, I owned a web development company called Automatic Media Group.  Our domain name was the portmanteau automedia.com, and we pitched web projects as early as 1995, back in the days when a VP of Marketing would actually ask you “how will anybody see this website?”

As a company, we did okay, but not great, and it was my fault.  It was my first business and I thought our value was in knowing how to fix problems that people didn’t even know they had.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  What was wanted from me was not evangelism, or solutions, or wisdom.  What was wanted was service, and not in terms defined by us, either. Thus were we regularly hobbled by my technical correctness.  I had little understanding of client relations and strove for elegance and profound change instead of closing deals.

Given today’s SEO story, you’d think I have no more understanding now.  But the fact is, this time I knew very well I was taking a risk of losing a payday by being technically correct. I knew the risk and I did it anyway.

I did it because for better or for worse, I still believe toiling away on nonsense that isn’t getting anybody anywhere is better done by people who don’t know any better.  There are plenty of them out there, and I shouldn’t take away their livelihood.  If that seems glib, so be it.

Consider it my Christmas gift to the economy.  A small sop to ethics as we wade in the cesspool of the free market’s meltdown.

Sure, it’s similar to hanging an air freshener in a sewer, but as with the Christmas tree: he who smelt it, felt it.

Merry holidays.

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rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

@warmowski on twitter

Rob’s Bands

Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
2008- : Sirs
2008- : Allende

Rob at Huffington Post

December 2008

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