Simple is Better for Clarifying Recommendations

27 Apr 2014, 2 min read.

One of the most challenging parts of working for an agency is making recommendations to clients. In the world of digital marketing, and specifically search engine optimization (SEO), there is no right way to do something. There are a lot of wrong paths, ones that have been littered with spam and manipulation over the years, but if you can avoid signals of over optimization, it is typically an open playing field.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci

On the surface, making recommendations seems easy: avoid the negative signals, and provide potential paths for success. In reality, SEO is quite complicated. Although there are many different ways to succeed, agencies and clients can get bogged down in the weeds trying to make the perfect decision. The sign of a great agency is one that can clarify a complex topic and make simple recommendations that can be executed by the client.

“Keep it simple, stupid.”

Why is my site loading slowly? Does this project impact SEO? What will happen if we cannot follow this recommendation? Why did our traffic drop? I hear these questions on a monthly, if not weekly, basis and they never get any easier to answer.

The first reaction to one of these questions is typically to become defensive. In many cases, the answer is simply not known yet, and it is extremely difficult to respond to a question when you do not know the right answer. It can be easy to take that defensive mindset and fall into the trap of explaining serveral of the complex options, factors involved, and potential solutions.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” — Albert Einstein

Instead of attempting to answer the difficult question right away, it can be much more helpful to defer to a later point. It takes time and energy to simplify the complex, and that typically does not happen in a quick email thread or on a call. It is also better to defer discussion than to make timely, complex, but suboptimal recommendation.

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs

At the end of the day, simple is better. Many great minds have chimed in on this topic, and each errs on the side of simplicity. Clients like simple recommendations. Developers can implement simple stories and requests. The problem is, simple is not easy.

Chart of Effectiveness vs. Simplicity

Next time you find yourself trying to answer a difficult question, take a moment to consider whether or not you can come up with a better recommendation if you had more time. More often than not, some additional time and consideration is your friend to distill down a recommendation to its most fundamental and clear form.

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