Client and Contractor Crossing Swords?

Actually, I never fight with clients. But I do sometimes disagree with them. And sometimes I tell them so.

This came to my mind recently when I was talking with one of my favorite local hardware guys. I’m not going to tell you his name, in case what he said was an unguarded remark that he wouldn’t really want to own up to.

“Web people are crazy,” he said firmly.

I am myself a web person, though I don’t usually describe myself that way. I first encountered the term last Hallowe’en, at UAMS, our local medical school. I was chatting with the associate dean, and someone came in saying, “I need to take Rebecca down to the basement to meet the Web People.” We made our way through a variety of creepily costumed people, on our way down to the meet the Web People, and no one else seemed to think it was funny at all.

It was at that moment that I knew I probably didn’t want to become one of their Web People, much as I liked everyone. How could they not find it funny?

But I digress.

The hardware guy went on to explain his views on web people. “They ask the clients what they want!” he said with unconcealed scorn. “Clients don’t know what they want!”

I gave a rueful nod.

“I’m a web person,” I reminded him, “and I’m not crazy.”

I felt that I was on stronger ground with this objection than I would have been had I objected to the idea that clients don’t know what they want, because sometimes that’s true, in a way.

I do both copywriting and SEO, and I approach the question differently in the two cases. When I’m writing for someone, I assume that they know what they want. I write the thing and send it off, and if they come back with “I don’t want to reference those publications” or “I don’t like the last paragraph,” or “That’s not the focus I wanted,” or “I want more/fewer/different technical terms in there,” or “I wanted 480 words and you’ve given me 492; please cut,” or “Can’t you make the part about rules-based systems sound more fun?” — well, I do just that and send back another round. The customer, as far as I’m concerned as a writer, is always right.

In SEO, it’s another thing entirely. My clients in that case are not actually paying me to enscribe their visions. They’re paying me for results. I know that, however happy they might initially be with something that precisely meets their preferences, they’re not going to stay happy if they don’t get those nice rankings.

So when it comes to SEO, I argue with clients. Politely and respectfully, of course. But if they want something that’s not going to be good for them, I’ll try to talk them out of it. I want them to end up with a usable, well-optimized site, whether they happen to know what that is or not.

If they insist, of course I’ll go ahead and do what they want. After all, I’m not a hardware guy.


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