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Why Every SEO Should be a Developer’s Best Friend

Andrew Tonks

by Andrew Tonks on 20th September 2012

SmileyI’ve been working as an SEO for a number of years now and one thing I have come to learn is, more often than not SEOs and Developers don’t get along.

Now of course I appreciate that this is an incredibly sweeping statement, I for one have great working relationships with a number of developers, but then again I have some extremely difficult ones too …

Having attended various industry conferences and being part of a circle of friends involved in the industry, I have also come to realise I am not alone in this thinking or experience either – which when you think about it is crazy, why should two people who have a vested interest in the success of a website not get along?

Whenever I start a new SEO project here at Koozai one of the things I try to prioritise is getting hold of the developer and striking up a relationship. Personally I find the sooner I can speak to this person, the sooner I can start getting things done and start seeing results for my client. More often than not a client will come to us looking for SEO in the belief that, quite rightly, it will help increase awareness of their site and thus drive sales for their business.

SEO is a results based business and if I can’t demonstrate results to my client after a period of time, then rightly questions should be asked. Therefore developing a good relationship with a client’s developer is crucial to the progression of an account here at Koozai.

So that all important first call with the developer …

Well after introducing myself to the developer and telling them why I am calling, broadly speaking their reactions tend to be anyone of the following:

  • There’s nothing wrong with the site – it looks great!
  • SEO is a waste of time
  • Sure here’s FTP access, do what you want
  • Great an SEO – what can learn from this!?
  • I’ve been doing SEO on this account for years!
  • What’s a robots.txt file?

Now as I said, developing this relationship in my opinion can make or break an account. Selecting an appropriate response will help you win this person over early on, making it as easy as possible to get stuff done on the account.

With this in mind, I have put together my thoughts on how I might respond to each of the above reactions – some of you might agree, others not. Either way, I’d love hear from the SEO community out there on how you might respond in the comments section at the end of the post.

There’s nothing wrong with the site – it looks great!

When I hear this I think of two things, one – there’s is lack of appreciation of SEO and two – this person is most probably protective of the site and has put a lot of time and effort into its development. In this scenario, I often find the best course of action is to be firm yet tactful; in any case, who am I to go an pull apart someone’s hard work for the sake of something someone has very little appreciation?

Reaffirming what SEO is, what it can do for the site and how this can help the developer often helps. For example, if a client is suddenly getting more visits and revenue then they are far less likely to abandon their site. If anything, the client is more likely to develop the site further, which most probably means more work for everyone in the long run!

I often like to highlight that, as an SEO, it’s my responsibility to drive more people to the site whilst it’s the developer’s to ensure that once people are there, the site is in order. Clearly defining each other’s role early on often negates any future misunderstandings and helps get the project off the ground on a solid footing.

SEO is a waste of time

Well this is a difficult one – if your primary role is SEO and that person’s opinion of it is that it’s a waste of time, then the potential for friction early on is quite high. In my experience it’s quite easy to spend your time debating the value of SEO but when you think about it, it’s not your job to sell to this person. The reason the two of you are even talking is because the CLIENT already appreciates the value of SEO and that’s the important thing – the client.

If you find yourself in this situation then I would recommend the best course of action is to remind the developer of the client, that you’re here because the client wants you here and believes in SEO and wants to use it to help drive visits to the site. As the developer is employed by the client to maintain the site, then surely they have a responsibility to carry out the client’s wishes?

Personally I find this the most difficult relationship to develop, but then again it’s incredibly rewarding to see great results on an account too!

Sure here’s full FTP/CMS access – do what you want

Great!!

Whilst I am not the most techie of SEOs getting full access is fantastic as it means I can get a whole host of things done quickly. These are also the accounts I find I get the quickest and most impressive results. Whilst there is a temptation to just get on with things and forget about the developer, I would alway make an effort to involve them as much as possible. Firstly if that person is employed to maintain the site, it’s only common sense to involve that person and most often than not, I have found I have learnt a great deal from working with developers so running things but them first can hardly harm the account – if anything you might learn how to do things more productively on the site.

Great an SEO – what can we learn from this!?

At first glance this is a promising situation to be in, here’s someone who wants to work with you. Then again it’s important to remember your role on the account is not to educate someone on how to do SEO, but rather actually do it! Spending call after call, email after email explaining why a duplicate content issue is holding a site back or why we need to change the title tag on the home page can eat up precious time on your account. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem sharing a bit of knowledge with someone and helping them out; but at the end of the day I have to work in the best interest of the client and use their time productively.

If you find yourself in this situation, then the best course of action I find is to either request FTP/CMS access yourself so you can get on with things and keep them in the loop, or point them in the right direction as to where you get your information and advice, like industry blogs and so on. Be nice, be helpful – at one time you probably asked someone for advice on SEO – but also be mindful you’re there to work for the client, not educate.

I’ve been doing SEO on this account for years!

Another tough situation – how do you strike up a relationship with someone whose role you’ve just taken over!? Not a great situation I know, but then again you didn’t make the decision to change suppliers, it was the client. So in this situation I tend to not even approach the fact they did SEO in the past, if they bring it up that’s fine but I would never go along the lines of justifying why something is important or not or why something is outdated or not. More often than not it will just lead to a load of admin that you don’t need and it’s not in the best interests of the account or the client.

Find yourself in this situation? Well if this is the case then I wouldn’t recommend asking for FTP/CMS access straight away, you’ve just told someone you’re going to be doing their job. If they offer it then great but requesting it from the get go, I personally think will only create more hostility to the work you’re trying to do for the client. In my experience, the best course of action to take is to just be clear about what needs to be done. No explanation needed as you’ve been employed by the client anyway and you’ll have a reason for requesting the work anyway. You’ll probably find your work being called into question but at the end of the day you can spend your time justifying your work, or you can get on and actually doing stuff that can get results.

What’s a robots.txt file?

Finally you might have a call with someone who knows less about web development than you do. If this is the case, then the best course of action I would say is to request FTP/CMS access from the get go and get on with stuff as best you can within your abilities and experience. If you come across a piece of development work that is outside the scope of your work with the client or you do not feel comfortable doing it, then all you can do is feed back to the client and developer that this is needed to progress the work. Putting it back on to the developer is a good course of action, as in reality that’s what they’re employed to do, if they cannot do it then in reality that’s a conversation for the client and developer and in my opinion, not you.

Conclusion

Well there’s a couple of the situations I have found myself in over the years at Koozai and hopefully I’ve demonstrated not only the importance of a good relationship with your client’s developer, but also how you might want to deal with some of the more common scenarios.

I trust I’ve not been patronising to all you developers out there and hopefully you can see the post has had some good intentions. If an SEO and developer can work together on an account, most of the time in the end everyone wins, the SEO, the developer and most importantly the CLIENT!!

For any developers out there reading this, I of course have only given one side of the arguement being an SEO; therefore, I would love to here from you below with regard to your expereinces being from the other side of the situation and how you recommend dealing with things in this area.

Image Source

Smiley yellow emoticon via BigStock

Andrew Tonks

Andrew Tonks

Andrew has worked within online marketing for the last four years with a background in domestic tourism, working with some of the country's most popular tourist attractions and destinations.

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7 Comments

  • Mike Essex

    Mike Essex 20th September 2012

    Excellent post Andrew, and I agree that when a developer and an SEO get on it’s amazing what they can achieve together. It’s when there’s a clear divide that problems happen (like site launches happening without being told, or conflicting files / overwrites).

    One issue that annoys me is when developers give you FTP access without any questions. It worries me how easy it is to ring up some developers, say you are working as an “SEO” and suddenly get all the logins. Very ripe for manipulation from shady characters. So developers, be sure to get an email from the client first with your SEO’s details, or you may regret it later.

    Reply to this comment

    • Sii Cockerill

      Sii Cockerill 20th September 2012

      Mike, this really happens?? That’s insane.

      Reply to this comment

      • Mike Essex

        Mike Essex 20th September 2012

        I know. It’s crazy. It’s happened with around 3 clients that they’ve given me web dev details and I’ve been given FTP details over the phone. As far as I can tell they weren’t even an SEO person had been hired. Usually you can tell if they know, but those times it was as if it was the first they’d heard of it.

  • Sii Cockerill

    Sii Cockerill 20th September 2012

    Andrew, thanks for the post – it’s really nice to see this topic getting some air time.

    I’ve been working in Digital Marketing for 8 years as a Designer, Developer & Marketer and I can safely say that no matter how hard my job has been, the most challenging part has always been managing people. It’s certainly true that a successful relationship can be the making of a project.

    I think a lot of what you’ve said comes down to a question of exposure, understanding and respect. For example, as a Digital Marketer, you might specialise in PPC or SEO. If you specialise in SEO, it seems fair enough that you might not be fully versed in Google Adwords. So one day when your PPC colleague asks you an SEO-related question, you’ll respect that they have different skills to you and you’ll spare 5 minutes to help them out. Why? because you’re on the same team!

    Website Designers and Developers have equally broad skills. Some develop the front-end, others work on frameworks and databases and others work on things you’ll never ever see. But as much as possible, they work together – and it’s perfectly possible that they may have never been exposed to a robots.txt (unlikely, sure – but still possible).

    We all specialise. Specialisms allow us to get better at what we do and without all the other people we work with excelling at what they do, we’d have to do everything ourselves. And well, sadly, we just won’t live that long! And neither will our clients ;-)

    So if there’s an SEO who has some knowledge of HTML, or a Website Developer who has a love of Google Analytics, we should find that out, embrace it and all work together.

    Here’s my advice:
    - Never make assumptions
    - Remember that behind the role, there is a person
    - Be patient and help out wherever you can

    Reply to this comment

  • Andrew Tonks

    Andrew Tonks 20th September 2012

    @Sii,

    Thanks for the comment – spot on raising the point that everyone can learn a bit from each other and in the end we should be on the same team and trying to get what’s in the best interest of the client.

    What it all comes down to is that if the client is doing well, we’re all going to benefit!

    Reply to this comment

  • Sii Cockerill

    Sii Cockerill 20th September 2012

    Andrew,

    I think the relationship between Digital Marketers and Website Designers can seem a lot harder because we don’t often work side-by-side or even in the same office.

    In an office, we develop an understanding of what our colleagues do because we sit next to them, hear them talk on the phone, watch them pull their hair out all day and then jump up and down in celebration when they succeed at whatever they are doing. When Digital Marketers and Website Designers talk to each other, it’s more often than not over the phone – and that makes everything ten times harder from the off.

    Geography might make this hard, but in the next few years, video conferencing could solve it. Next time you get a new client, why not suggest that the three of you – Client, Developer & SEO – meet up for an initial face-to-face to discuss the project goals before each party jump headlong into point 1 on their to do list without any appreciation for how it might impact the other members of the team?

    Sometimes we’re so eager to prove that we know what we’re doing, we don’t take the time to learn how the other people can help us or even understand how all our machine cogs fit together.

    Reply to this comment

  • Ben 28th September 2012

    I enjoyed the post! :). I am fairly new to SEO so haven’t experienced this situation as of yet, but it makes a lot of sense, the company where I work we are fortunate enough to be working with developers in the same department so everything seems to run ok, but I am sure one day I will come across this! Haha

    Reply to this comment

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