ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Landscapes by the Country Gardener —

I have a little brother, and his name is Brandon. He’s 19 months younger than me, and where I went into film school and computer administration, he went into landscape design, snowplowing and construction. He works with landscapes like I work with textfiles, if that’s any endorsement. He’s really, really good at it. He’s been at it for something like 10 years, and has worked both for large landscaping firms, and for himself. Currently, his company, Landscapes by the Country Gardener, is serving the lower New York State counties.

Why do I mention this? Mostly with regards to the way my dad has been trying to leverage his two sons’ talents to help them both out. Since I’m the “Web Guy”, there’s been a project for years to get my little brother’s company up on the web, available to anyone who even thinks about having landscaping done in his surrounding area, and ensure him great success. The thing is, this whole “search engine placement” situation is overloaded with way too many folks investing an awful lot of time and money into getting the attention of the endless waves of web-browsing cattle. “All I need is a few days” they say, and they steroid-pump their websites with “keywords”, hidden phrases, searchbot-detecting assault scripts, and a dazzling array of this-side-of-spam techniques to make people like to them. They call themselves “Search Engine Optimizers”.

The fact that right now, there are guys who get up, drive to work, sit down in an office, and have the words “Search Engine Optimizer” on their business cards makes me want to run out to my car with a wi-fi antenna, a list of IP addresses, and a baseball bat. But, looking back, it’s hard to believe that someone got paid to write “Lemonade Stand” too. I’m glad the world found a place for all those people who were making $50,000 a year “coding” HTML around last century.

For my own websites, I’m not overly concerned with getting specific people (or even getting a high search ranking). Folks stumble in, stumble out, stick around, disappear forever. I’m appreciative of the letters, but I don’t sit and watch the access logs and hope for just a few more folks. My place is in just collecting stuff and working on my projects, and sharing what I’m up to. I guess, ultimately, I have a product, too, but that’s not why I do what I do; it’s just a nice 3-DVD side effect.

Brandon’s business is different. He builds walls, flattens hills, arranges landscapes, plants trees, makes sidewalks. And trust me, he’s really friggin’ good at it. He sits down with this pad of paper and sketches out his ideas with his customers, and they’re like little intense blueprints. And then he sticks to the blueprints. Kid knows his shit, is what I’m saying. But he only needs a few dozen people to hire him in a year, and those people are very geographically special and specific. (Well, unless someone flies him somewhere to do his work, which would be weird but very welcome.)

He’s mostly forced to use methods that are almost paleolithic compared to what others think should be done: he advertises in the local papers, puts up posters in the local supermarket bulletin boards, and he’s even tried his hand at the yellow pages, which have continued to hold their death-grip on ludicrous charges for an ad. A few jabs have been tried for the modern internet age, including his website and a couple postings on craigslist, but that’s weird to him; he’d rather be out doing stuff.

As a result, the Landscapes by the Country Gardener site got 250 unique visitors in March. I got 500,000.

“Do something”, Dad says. “I’ll try”, I say.

What’s interesting is how different two brothers can be, and how the two of us, with our skills, have built up an outlook at the world that are completely offset from each other. I love my little brother, and I’d do anything for him.

Maybe even become a Search Engine Optimizer.

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  1. Jason Scott says:

    By the way, I’m kidding. Lemonade Stand ruled and the programmer or programmers should own an island by now.

  2. I dunno, is landscaping the type of business that is made or broken depending on their web presence? Maybe your brother has a larger scale operation than what I’m envisioning but, I always assumed these types of businesses advertised just how you described: flyers, lawn signs, the phone book, etc.

  3. Patrick says:

    Actually I think that an Internet presence is very important even for local businesses. The reason is that people who have the Internet is always increasing, and it’s easier to type “landscape” in the browser’s search box than lifting that Yellow Pages book.

    Btw, the site looks fine to me, straight and to the point and easy to read.

    While the battle with the rich competitors who can afford crooky “SEO” may be lost for now (until you learn their tricks anyway), I thought the site could maybe use a few usability tricks to get the most out of those 250 precious visitors.

    What mainly struck me was that the site scrolls about 4 pages. Reorganizing the content to see most of the important information without scrolling [too much] could do some good. Many users don’t scroll much, and I can only imagine that users thinking of redoing their landscape scroll even less.