Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes
“Solving for Pattern” is the title to a fascinating essay written by lifelong academic Wendell Berry. If you have never read it, I highly recommend that you do. Over-simplified, this essay addresses that our solutions to problems often create new problems in the short or long term. Its conclusions may seem self-intuitive, but they are obviously not. As a society, we continually make the same kinds of mistakes it addresses.
Berry asserts that good solutions to problems are much rarer than most people think. He uses agriculture examples to show where addressing a single problem can lead to bigger peripheral issues. An example would be cattle penned in a small area helping to build economies of scale, but also creating a situation where disease becomes more common and spreads more quickly. Narrow vision and/or ignorance can lead to solutions that cause more problems than they solve:
“A bad solution is bad, then, because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns, most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them. A bad solution solves for a single purpose or goal, such as increased production.”
A truly good solution creates positive outcomes throughout the entire system where it is being used. The often stated, but rarely obtained, business buzz word “synergy” would be applicable here.
While Berry’s essay used the agriculture industry as support for its claims, it also is quite applicable to the world of website creation and web marketing. It is not uncommon in my line of work to run across ideas or plans to address a single concern that might cannibalize other aspects of a company’s web profile upon implementation. It is important to maintain big picture thoughts even when making smaller adjustments. For example, over-targeting for certain high volume key phrases and/or building low quality content to specifically to rank for these phrases can address search engine rankings, but could negatively affect the site’s user experience and performance overall. This is why a lot of SEO firms who offer high rankings through high volume spam and completely generic landing pages for a select few key phrases should be taken with a grain of salt – their solutions (if they even work for what they are promising) could open up a can of worms elsewhere.
To solve you website for pattern, when making large scale adjustments, keep in mind the following items:
* How will this strategy affect my user’s experience?
* Will this change even address the issue I am concerned about? Why am I doing this in the first place?
* What are some possible peripheral issues that could arise from this change?
* Test, Test, Test. Never launch a dramatic change or new site blind. While you will never know exactly how the web as a whole will react, there are numerous ways (focus testing, A/B tests, etc.) that will give you some idea of what to expect with your results.
The best way to ensure that you are solving for pattern and not creating more problems is to always be focusing on the overall strategy and goals of the website. Be aware of your site’s & your company’s strengths, opportunities, and limitations. Solutions and changes to your website should fit easily within your company’s strategy and operations. If they don’t, then that is a weakness of the organization as a whole and an issue that is likely to be solved by a website tweak.
-EW, follow me on twitter @ejwestksu