Why Web Professionals Hate SEOs

Before I even became an SEO I learned to hate SEOs. After all, SEOs would take the beautiful, functional site the designers and developers spent their nights creating and cram it full of footer links, anchor text, H tags, nofollows, and any other piece of code they could think of until the site couldn’t breathe.

Next, SEOs would spend weeks plastering the website’s address anywhere they could; clogging up blogs, forums, and message boards. SEOs would then have their developers try new tricks and tactics to serve secret content and hide text in different places.

The brave new world of SEO

Then, one day all of that changed. Google cracked down on link spam. Bad practices were devalued. We could add fonts and functionality to sites in ways that didn’t hide the content. Designers, developers, and SEOs everywhere rejoiced, new friendships blossomed, and we all marched hand-in-hand to this new era of web design.

Except not really. In fact for many, all of those views out there about SEOs, what we do, and why we do the terrible things we do are just as they always have been. Most SEOs are familiar with developers that don’t take you seriously or designers that won’t take your calls. So what gives?

Common complaints about SEOs

To find out I decided to ask web designers, developers, and managers all over what they thought about SEO. I got 7 responses. Well, 8 if you count one response from a message board: “SEOs are spammers. There’s your quote.”

But let’s get to it. What’s going on here? Well, it turns out there’s lots of things SEOs are still doing wrong that we need to fix if we want others to take us seriously.

SEOs don’t get the big picture

“The priorities should just be dependent on the goals of the project. Sometimes SEO is the prime objective, sometimes it’s something else.” Rick Murphy, Web Designer, Hardly Code

“It’s very rare to find an SEO group who thinks about overall site experience, as opposed to magnifying the attractiveness of single screens. This myopic view is usually at the detriment of context or user interaction. It’s rare to find SEO teams that consider brand or experience as a factor in what they’re trying to accomplish.” Andrew Heaton, Web Designer, Revinity

SEO is an important part of the site. I mean without SEO no one will ever see your site, right? Well, here’s a hard truth for all SEOs:  Sometimes SEO is not the most important thing.

Are you OK? Things like making sure the cart works or incorporating the brand into the site often are, in fact, higher priorities. It’s true. We can huff and puff about how they don’t get it and how they need us, but that’s probably not going to help our likability.

Designers and developers have a million things to take into account when building a site, making our pleas to give all the images alt attributes seem like just another seagull squawking among a whole flock of irritating Internet marketers.

SEO involves a lot of different things and we need to be able to distinguish between a vital problem that will block the entire site and a minor change that will help a single page rank. This way our fellow webhead can prioritize our suggestions among the other countless things they need to make the site work; which brings me to our next problem:

SEOs don’t get what’s involved with the implementation

“As a product manager, I devote my energy to trying to come up with ways to improve user experience. With a complex website and a diverse audience, nailing down the right new feature is a daunting task. However, the experience of seeing that feature come to life and the anticipation of getting real user feedback is thrilling; that is, until I’m forced to roll it back on day 2 because—gasp!—we’ve experienced a rankings change.” Brittany McCullough, Program Manager, Guide to Online Schools

“Custom CMS builds mean sites are all different. Changing something may take 10 seconds or 2 hours; it all depends on how familiar I am with the CMS being used, and how well the templates were originally developed.” RJ LaCount, Web Designer, RJLaCount.com

A lot of SEOs aren’t designers. Some of us aren’t the world’s greatest coders either. Very few of us are programmers. So when we tell our clients to “consolidate images into CSS sprites” or “use more keyword-rich URLs,” how many of us actually know what that involves? What CMS is the site built on? How many of the images are actually able to be merged into a sprite? Tiled images in backgrounds can’t be used in CSS sprites; but all of you already knew that right?

When you casually tell another web professional to do something that requires a complete overhaul of the site, all you are doing is telling them that you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. How receptive do you think the developer will be the next time you give them a recommendation, especially ones that have less to do with their immediate skillset? Some of the more vague recommendations we give, in turn, lead into the next problem:

Unclear Justifications

For our clients who may or may not be the most tech-savvy people on the planet, listening to us (the computer geeks) explain SEO to them, even in simplest terms possible, may still feel like they are sitting in a classroom being taught Japanese. Over the years I have gained quite a few analogies (thankfully) but still find this to be the most difficult part. A client that doesn’t understand how something could help their business is not going to buy a product, thus making client understanding a difficult but essential hurdle.” Danielle Nyhof, Web Interaction Designer, DK Designs

Context, it seems, is the great missing variable no SEO group wants muddling up their equations: too squishy, too volatile, too hard to quantify.” Andrew Heaton, Web Designer, Revinity

Most of the SEOs I’ve met are pretty good talkers. We can talk about page authority, crawlers, link juice, canonicalization, C-blocks, trust flow, nofollowed links, and cross-domain snippet rank indexation (did I make that up?) for days and days and days. So what do all of those words and phrases have in common? They don’t actually mean anything. Seriously.

If you’re an SEO then they might make sense (though I would argue that we are overusing them) but to everyone else they’re gibberish. This makes it sound like a) You’re explaining something no one can possibly understand or b) You’re making it up. Designers, developers, managers, and other professionals are usually smart people. So they go with b. In fact, there is one very specific thing that all the web professionals have no problem calling us on:

We don’t know the algorithm either

Search engines have the ability to change their algorithms at any time. I already have to devote a lot of my time to keeping up on development changes.” Chris McGrath, Web Application Developer, ChrisMcGrath.net

They’re just as in the dark about what Google is doing next as anyone else, and building your strategy around certain tricks can sometimes backfire or have no effect at all.” Anonymous Web Designer

Is this rankings change random? Maybe. Will it even last? Maybe not. Have we given the users a chance to give us feedback via their interactions? Definitely not.” Brittany McCullough, Program Manager, Guide to Online Schools

This is how this line of reasoning works.

SEO: You need us because the algorithm is always changing.

Experienced Web Professional: But you don’t know what the algorithm is, either.

SEO: …

Congratulations! You’ve not only killed your own credibility with your client, but mine as well. And all the other SEOs out there, too. We need to stop using “the algorithm” as a reason to do anything. We are helping people find websites. Yes, the algorithm is part of the process, but it’s not the reason. And as much as we might like to think we’re John Connor using his Atari Portfolio to hack into Google, we’re not. So we need to stop using this to make us sound more mysterious.

SEOs do real things. We identify traffic opportunities. We fix technical problems. We give content ideas. We don’t need to hide behind the facade of an advanced computer program we’re predicting because most of us aren’t doing that. Most are doing actual SEO work (see above). Another problem, though, is that some of us aren’t:

Some of us are still giving outdated advice

I have read quite a few articles online from mom-and-pop SEOers (as I like to call them) who still believe in keyword stuffing. These individuals are the only negative experiences I have had recently as they are marketing themselves as knowledgeable SEOers and are filling the population of our potential clients with incorrect information and wildly high expectations.” Danielle Nyhof, Web Interaction Designer, DK Designs

There’s no shortage of amateurs with a high profile in any field, and SEO is certainly no exception. We’ve all encountered the “SEO expert” who’s still working with methods and mentalities from years past, still clutching that last keyword choked meta tag as if it were a drop of virgin’s blood, a Gríma Wormtongue trying to sway the client with promises of free traffic and that top-spot on the first page of Google results.” Andrew Heaton, Web Designer, Revinity

Whether it’s out of laziness or stubbornness, people are still giving bad advice. Keyword stuffing, comment spamming, and footer links are all classic examples. Though Penguin, Panda and the other updates have definitely cut down on the bad advice being given these days, the bad aftertaste still lingers. Remember, Penguin is only 10 months old. That means for many web professionals, the last SEO they worked with could have been giving them all the same, spammy advice that they were using for years.

So what can SEOs do?

Now that we’ve identified some of the popular reasons why other web pros avoid us in the cafeteria, what’s the solution? Well, all of these complaints center around 2 things: knowledge and communication.

Know your stuff from top to bottom. Be able to explain how to implement page speed suggestions. Understand how the URLs are being generated. Be able to explain how to get text on the page without affecting the design. Familiarize yourself with how fonts work and how to position text. Boost up on trivia. For example, most SEOs know dashes are better than underscores. But can you explain exactly why? (Hint)

Then we need to be able to talk about it. Practice talking about how a site ranks without using SEO terms like link juice and domain authority. Be able to explain how the SEO process works at both a fundamental level and at a technical level.

But most of all, we need to stop trying to trick people and get better at we actually do. We do SEO and it’s a real thing. Because frankly, we were never really tricking anyone other than ourselves.

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  1. Great article,
    I worked in an organization that was 100% SEO-driven for years and as the head of the SEO team, I was greatly responsible for that. I believe our SEO myopia hampered long-term growth and it was very difficult to transition the organization’s focus towards user engagement, community, and branding because we didn’t know how to set goals and measure success in those areas while all the while we had a hair-trigger sensitivity for our SEO traffic.

  2. Great Article! Question? Do you believe proper SEO content writing can be a better alternative then using Press Releases. Or are they two completely different things and not relate or using both is a key to outreach.

  3. SEO is largely incompatible with Single-page web applications where content templates as pulled using async (RequireJS, AMD patterns) and rendered without reloading the page.
    No, hash-bang is NOT an answer, at it just makes me reimplement the same rendering / routing on the server too. Redundant.
    SEO as it’s present now is holding the internet back.
    Need a way / a spec for me to present the templates (which can be anywhere – inlined into HTML, little encoded JavaScript strings, inlined AMD modules etc) as content for Google programmatically / declaretively. This way, JavaScript, browser-side CMSs can finally be visible to SEO crawlers and I will care about it. Until then, fuck SEO.

    1. I understand your frustration. Search engines will never be as versatile or as intuitive as actual human beings.
      The role of an SEO is largely to assist search engines so they can get to your content and, yes, that does involve redundancies. Search engines are always trying to get better at this, but it does suck quite a bit from time to time.

  4. What a great article.
    It certainly helps if SEOs knows about coding and marketing.
    I always try to be friend with developers and designers and understand when they are coming from. In the end of the day our goals should be the same. We want people visit websites and do something what helps business.
    Of course not every website needs to heavily rely on SEO, as long as client knows that they can’t expect organic traffic when t crawlers can’t visit their website 🙂

  5. George,
    It’s true that most people who call themselves SEO Consultants are just link spammers who know nothing about branding and marketing. And truthfully, I am a recovering Black-hat SEO. But you don’t have to implement “keyword stuffing”. Some designers are seem so put out just to put *any* keywords on their page. Or copy. Or descriptions. Or relevant pictures.
    Sure it’s frustrating to deal with SEO’s who only care about “Top Listings on Page One of Google”. But most SEO’s I care just as much about website optimization. And what’s always frustrated me is that web designers don’t seem to care about website “optimization”. Yes, the algorithms have changed, but there’s some basic things that are the same, and yet website designers still don’t implement them:
    1) Duplicate Content – Why don’t website designers fix their client’s home page from the start. Type in http://www.website.com or website.com or http://www.website.com/index.html
    or website.com/index.html, and you always get the home page. Don’t you guys know how to fix this? It’s basic.
    2) Local Sites – You have to put the business Name, Address and Phone number on every page – preferably in the footer, where it’s out of the way. But it has to be there.
    3) rel=author is VERY important. It’s not new – it’s over 2 years old. What are you doing to implement it.
    4) Structured markup/rich snippets are going to be big. How are you implementing them on *every* page?
    5) Oh, and what about contact information? Privacy Policy?
    6) Do you have an xml sitemap for your site?
    7) Do you help your client implement Google Analytics and Webmaster tools at the start?
    8) What about rel=canonical? Are you implementing this on your pages?
    9) Pages speed. What are you doing to make load times faster?
    Here’s something even more important. How do you know your design will work? Are you willing to work and actually do A/B testing to see if what you call “usability” is really usable?
    I talk to designers, and they seem offended to have to implement even the most basic optimization or reporting techniques. It’s like an architect building a pretty house in the middle of a beautiful field. But where’s the driveway? and power lines? How is anyone ever going to find it?
    The fact of the matter is, a website is just a tool for a business. It’s not the end all. Its’a very important tool, but just one tool. Some rules have changed. But there are some basic rules that have stayed the same. It’s not about fancy graphics. It’s about marketing your product to your customers and allowing them to be able to learn about and purchase your product or service.

    1. Thanks Bryant,
      All that is great advice. Thank you for sharing it here!
      I would say that, like SEOs there are a few bad web designers out there; but there are also lots of amazing ones that have a firm understanding of the importance of SEO. Like the ones that let me quote them in this article, for example.
      Sometimes designers may not fully understand the details of the implementation or the importance of a feature (like rel author and rel canonical for example) and that’s when it becomes our job to not only recommend everything you said above, but also to help them understand why we are asking them to add a particular feature.

  6. An impressive article I was compelled to reply, and yes truly said most of the SEO guys are oblivious of the things or changes going on in the world of internet marketing all they know is spam spam spam throw links here and there and you will rank.
    It is good to know google has become strict with link building and people are no realizing the difference between good and bad seo guys. Hoping to see some articles on link building from your end.

  7. Great topic. But I not felling well with the Title you use for the article.
    I think SEO’s are the truly Web professionals not developers. It will more clear if you call it as “Why developers hats webmasters”.
    And as SEO person I’ve been facing thing from log while with developer. I don’t know why they din’t understand purpose of our skills or they might be just don’t wanted to accept that we are damn right.
    I’ve seen that the most designer and developers are just knowledgeable to make website and to put it online. But we are the guys who make work for business. right?
    What you think?

    1. Thanks for reading, Rajesh.
      Since I wasn’t talking specifically about devs, but also designers and managers, I wanted to make sure I was using a title that described everyone.
      But yes, I’d also we count as “Web Professionals” – the title should really be “Why OTHER Web Professionals Hate SEOs” but the SEO in me wouldn’t let me have a title tag that long! 😉

  8. Devs hate SEO’s because we’re a pain in their rear.
    If I’d spent 2 years of my life building a new custom CMS from scratch, only to have some random agency monkey who knows a little bit of HTML and CSS appear out of nowhere and start making a song and dance about ALT tags or something, I’d go on the defensive too.
    Criticism is always a potential emotional minefield in any situation. And, lets face it, the Tech industry in general isn’t exactly renown for it’s emotional maturity. Combine an insensitive SEO with a over-sensitive Dev team, and there gonna be blood.
    Doesn’t mean the agency is in the wrong for pointing out the ALT tags, though.

    1. Totally agree. And that’s why it’s so important for SEOs to understand the big picture. Sometimes giving in about a specific recommendation can be the best strategy to getting future ones implemented.

      1. True, and I’d never sit in a meeting and scrap for a minor change if it’s going to take a while to implement. But many ‘web professionals’ (Let’s be honest here – by web professionals, we usually mean ‘developers’. I’ve never heard a Designer say ‘Fuck SEO’ to quote Daniel Dosenko on this very page) get wound up at the fact that we dare question their output in the first place and who the hell are we I’ve been coding since I was 9 PEOPLE NOT SEARCH ENGINES RARRGGGHHHH.
        One thing I have noticed, as my career has progressed, is as you work for more successful clients the developers get much less reactionary and much easier to work with. It goes from ‘how dare you!!!’ to ‘here is a business case why I’m hesitant do implement your recommendations’.
        If I have any problem with this article, is that it’s often a two way street, and any ‘web professional’ who ‘hates’ their colleagues for doing their job isn’t being ‘professional’ at all.

  9. So many valid points and examples – and though it’s painful, I smiled through most of that.
    I see it as being due to 3 core issues;
    1) The distinction and divide of skills/services. Webdesigners do X, SEOs do Y and programmers do Z.
    2) The general lack of willingness to learn, develop and expand skill/knowledge sets.
    3) The unfortuante fact that some “SEOs” ruin the reputation for the others.
    Not alot can be done for (3) – but there are 2 solutions for the other 2 issues;
    1) Expand your skill and knowledge sets
    2) Find others with the skills/knowledge you lack
    Option (2) is far more likely to be doable.
    The chances of someone learning sales, marketing, user experience etc., along side technical sets such as server configuration and programming, is pretty darn slim.

  10. As an SEO without development knowledge, it can be tough explaining the process to designers and developers.
    I think as time goes on you will find more SEOs take keen interest in development also. I believe you should be atleast well versed with the various platforms that sites are built on.
    That said many times what developers can also sound like jargon to us. They say things that are beyond our understandings.
    If you have that knowledge of the basics, you can communicate with them much better

  11. One of the best resources for web developers and designers is Building Findable Websites by Aarron Walter.
    The basic goal of SEO is to make the site OPTIMAL for the search engines in terms of finding it and understanding it, not “make it #1 on Google.”
    Making sure a site is optimal for site visitors (usability) and search engines (SEO) is the responsibility of both web development teams and seo teams. Both need to know and understand ALL of Google technical and quality guidelines including Google’s “SEO starters guide” which is packed w/critical information written especially for web designers and developers.
    What about rankings and traffic? That’s branding, creating the best content you can, and link “earning” (not building). If you’re sure what link earning is, Google it. Once a site is optimal for the search engines, THEN its rankings and traffic will be optimal (or maximized) as a function of how strong the site is content wise and how strong it’s link profile it. Any attempt to get a site ranking beyond what it’s content and links will support is spam. That’s it in a nutshell.

    1. Thanks for sharing that with everyone Christopher – I know that most SEOs could learn a lot by spending a little bit of time studying up on web design.
      And your advice is spot on – that’s a great way of explaining it.

  12. I think SEO isn’t for making sites optimal for search engines but for making sites optimal for web users in the first place, which search engines help to find, this is a important difference. As SEO develops it will only continue to follow the web users habits. I name social graph and Google authorship in to run to social by web users.
    I wonder where this will lead to eventually… SEO is changing drastically every few years, as SEO of 2003 was very different than SEO in 2013. SEO in 2023 could be an entirely different story again.

    1. Thanks for participating in the conversation, Rafael.
      That’s one thing I hoped to communicate better in the article – optimizing for users is a long term strategy. All search engines do is try to emulate what actual people look for in websites. When you focus on tricks and short term gains with your SEO strategy, you’re going to be bugging your developers a whole lot more than you if you focus on long term strategies aimed to help the user first, and search engines second.

  13. That’s one thing I hoped to communicate better in the article – optimizing for users is a long term strategy. All search engines do is try to emulate what actual people look for in websites. When you focus on tricks and short term gains with your SEO strategy, you’re going to be bugging your developers a whole lot more than you if you focus on long term strategies aimed to help the user first, and search engines second.

  14. There should be a co-ordination between SEOs and developers. You said sometimes SEO is not that important but only sometimes when you are a big brand otherwise to get visibility for your website you need SEO. I agree sometimes just for the sake of marketing and better ranks SEOs ruins the great product which developer make but this makes no sense if no one is aware of that great product. Better understanding between these developers and SEOs can create a magic, I am sure.

  15. As a developer-come-SEO I think most of the problems lie in the fact that SEOs tend to be brought in after the site has been designed and built.
    Most devs want to build a site, finish it then move onto the next project, they don’t want to have to go back and amend what seems like trivial aspects of the website.
    There’s as many issues with SEO and developers as I ever had between developers and designers. The sooner that folk get into the mindset that SEO and dev should be done at the same time and not as an afterthought, the better for me.
    We get plenty jobs where the client has just spent £xxx on a new website only to then have to spend £xxx to amend aspects that are going to stop it from ranking – which is a situation that tends not to help any of the parties involved.

  16. Great article. We are changing our services offerings from SEO to Web Promotion services based on the perception of SEO. Its amazing the difference in tone you get when you are not an SEO, just a PR type firm that has a few on site suggestions for visibility purposes.

  17. It’s kind of infuriating to see someone from the SEO industry peddling these sorts of myths about the people who work in it.
    Sure, you get bad SEOs but as a sector we’re so far past the kind of attitude described in this article it’s almost funny.
    At any reputable company, the people who are most likely to be focused on a website’s key functions – visibility and conversions – are the SEO and UX teams.
    Designers don’t like us because we go to them and prove (not claim) that the uglier version works better.
    And coders don’t like having to implement our changes? Diddums. The sales we attract pay their wages.
    It’s also daft to say we need to get better at explaining how SEO works. Do coders have to explain the language they’ll be using to someone before they write them a programme?
    SEO works. It is proven to work. People need to accept that.

  18. I agree wirh Dave, only on larger projects do SEOs get consulted at the beginning. In many cases the new site is live when someone says “I’ve built a new website…” surely marketing managers and developers are responsible for not asking for help earlier, before it’s too late? In reality if people did their job correctly most of an SEO consultants work would be already done for them. The problem is though the other stakeholders don’t often know what they are doing when it comes to organic search.
    I personally don’t count an ‘SEO mama or pappa’ as a seasoned consultant, in the same way as you would compare a handy man and a construction worker.

  19. The truth is, there aren’t many good SEOs out there. The majority are relative newbies to the industry – backfill in the ever-increasing demand for the skill-set. If you’ve been doing it for less than five years, you’re a newb. If you’ve been doing it in a walled-garden of SEO and not looking at the wider context of your work, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it, you will always be a newb (okay, enough of the silly name-calling).
    SEO isn’t just about implementing best practice on a site, it’s about being able to write a business case for your changes so a business can prioritise them against everything else that’s going on. It’s about seeing the big-picture and how search engine discovery is just one part of a user journey. It’s about being able to find compromise solutions that get you what you need without compromising the needs of other specialisms within the business.
    It’s also about accepting truths. When you can’t get your own way, bitching about it makes you look like a teenager having a temper tantrum (It’s not fair! You don’t understand!). You accept the truth, hard as it might be, and you move on to something you can win. It’s about choosing battles you can win and accepting that you can’t win them all.
    However, most importantly, it’s about building relationships. Rocking up and telling developers or designers that their work is crap will immediately put them on the defensive. However, if you earn their trust and respect, then, more often than not, they will work with you. If you treat these people as inferiors, when they clearly have the greater domain knowledge, then they will just hate you. Admit the limits of your knowledge (to yourself as well as them) and explore potential compromises with them, all the while asking for their ideas and feedback; you will likely find that they respond quite well. A little empathy goes a long way.

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