Why all web developers should learn SEO
Ian Lurie Apr 27 2011
When I wrote Why all SEOs should learn to program lots of people sent me compliments and praise. That was fun.
Now time for the hate, I suspect.
If SEOs need to learn to program, then web developers need to learn SEO.
Scream if you want. You can reach me on Twitter at @portentint.
Who this is for
If you build web sites that the public sees, then this is for you. If you build stuff that’s hidden behind forms and firewalls, or for Target Stores, this probably won’t help you a bit.
Learn SEO because:
It will make you a better developer
Truly future-proof SEO isn’t about spamming search engines. It’s about:
- Clean canonicalization practices;
- Accessibility—ensuring 100% visibility of appropriate content to web users and search engines;
- Building fast sites;
- RESTful URLs;
- Smart information architecture, supported by equally smart database design;
- Security—not letting casual browsers and search engines find stuff they shouldn’t.
A lot of that sounds like good development, too.
I know you’re not causing any SEO problems. But I still see lots of sites:
- Linking back to the home page at ‘default.aspx’;
- Loading pages in over 10 seconds;
- Using AJAX as search engine repellent;
- Presenting information structures that look like steel wool after 2 hours in a microwave.
Clearly it’s not you, but someone’s up to no good. Read the rest of this article and then check the guy you share a PC with.
It will help you understand why SEOs are such a pain
SEO is a huge list of things that are simple, but not easy. It’s an endless list of to-do items. Every one of them is a no-brainer if you’re a decent developer, and if you do them ahead of time.
Once the site launches, or that new feature goes live, fixing SEO problems gets tougher. You won’t have time. Your manager, who thinks SEOs are idiots, will run them around like headless chickens. Or something else. I know from painful personal experience that, post launch, there are always 10 reasons that a change to one line of code has to wait for at least six weeks.
On the other hand, 85% of your site’s search-driven clicks will come from organic search results. And a huge chunk of your site’s traffic will come from search. Screw up SEO, screw over the entire business.
That’s why we’re such a pain. This stuff is really important. And it’s easy for you, but really hard for everyone else.
It will teach you marketing, without giving you marketing cooties
SEOs that don’t suck are likely very similar to you. We’re geeky, creative and like building cool stuff. We like to win. And we want to eventually buy expensive cars and sailboats.
We’re also marketers. We learn stuff like personas, competitive analysis, that kind of thing.
If you want to talk to a marketer who won’t infect you with some horrific virus that makes you use terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘roll rate’ and (God forbid) ‘ROI’, talk to an SEO.
It’ll save you a lot of time. And misery.
At some point, your CEO is going to use Google to search for the products you sell. Then, she’s going to storm into the VP of Marketing’s office and say:
“Why the f—k don’t we rank for ‘briefcases’?!”
The VP of Marketing just started last week and knows his last 3 predecessors had a tenure of 1 year. Total. So he sas the only logical thing:
“The development team screwed up the site!”
Then the CEO will storm over to the VP of Development. But he has a ready answer:
“It wasn’t in the specification.”
That will lead the CEO back to the VP of Marketing, who will then hire an SEO consultant in hopes of saving his job.
The SEO consultant will draw up a huge list. Huge means 50-100 fundamental changes to your site.
That will lead to a meeting where you, the VP of Development, the VP of Marketing and the CEO confront the SEO while all trying to blame each other for the utter sack of SEO crap your site has become.
And, finally, you’ll have to work nights and weekends. Because the VP of Marketing’s job is in jeopardy. He’s kicking as much blame as possible to the VP of Development. That wouldn’t matter, except the VP of Marketing did some of this kicking in the last board meeting. So now the VP of Development’s job is in jeopardy. That really pisses him off. He’s made it clear your life will be a living hell.
Or, you can learn SEO basics, develop for them from the start, and make everyone happy. Your nights and weekends are saved!
Works for me, either way
I’m happy regardless. If you continue to treat SEO like a fungal infection, I’ll continue to get hired for lots of money to point out why the web site is a failure. If you build sites with at least a little SEO in mind, though, I get to concentrate on moving up in the rankings, instead of moving into them.
Where to start
If you want to learn a little SEO, read this blog, or the SEOMOZ blog. They have a superb cheat sheet for developers, as well as a best practices guide. I rant about the last maddening mistake I saw, and sometimes post tutorials like this one.
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- 20 reasons you shouldn’t listen to a word I say
- Follow me on Twitter
- The Real World Unscary Guide to SEO Copywriting
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More