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Web Development & SEO: Working Together to Prioritize the User Experience

Web Development & SEO: Working Together to Prioritize the User Experience

Fact: SEOs and web developers have to work together for SEO to be successful.

They may not realize it, but developers are equally responsible for organic search wins as the actual SEO!

It’s your job to educate them on how their work directly impacts the user experience, and in turn, the traffic, conversion, and revenue for the company.

What I’d like to see from SEOs more is working together with developers. It’s really important as an SEO that you go out and talk with developers and explain things to them in a way that makes sense and is logical, correct and easy for them to follow up.”

 John Mueller 

And yet, a lot of the time developers don’t realize how their work impacts the overall search experience.

The Disconnect Between SEOs and Developers

Recently I came across an example of an SEO team working on a site migration. The SEOs  were in touch with the development team before the migration, and the development team tested the dev site against a set of on-page SEO before pushing live. Redirects were also in place and the other site migration best practices.

But the development team committed the fatal error of copying over the development robots.txt file that had a full site block (disallow: /) and launched the site.

As a result, Google could not crawl the site, dropped the site from key ranking positions, and delayed the migration. This situation could have been avoided with some simple SEO training or a quick conversation from the beginning.

Avoidable problems like this cost businesses a lot of money!

It took a bit for the SEO team to detect the issues, and there are many stages between discovering erroneous code and actually fixing it.

The developer has to release the code, Google picks up the code, the SEO has to go through and investigate the issue, a solution needs to be logged as a ticket and added to the development queue …

A developer finally gets around to fixing the issue once all other higher priority tickets have been resolved, and Google reprocesses the page.

That doesn’t happen overnight!

If the developer knew the significance behind this in the first place, this whole process could have been avoided.

This is just one example, but all other SEO implementation projects require better communication between developers and SEOs.

How to Build a Relationship with Developers

There are a few ways to build a relationship with developers and spread the importance of SEO, but remember: you don’t want to just talk at them, you need to educate them.

#1. Get to Know the Dev Team

To nurture any relationship, you need to know who you’re working with and who is responsible for the different development projects.

There are front-end developers, back-end developers, and Dev Ops. Each team is responsible for different tasks, so dig around and see which projects fall under whose jurisdiction.

In a nutshell, front-end developers pay more attention to SEO issues that impact the UX, whereas a back-end developer might be more interested in SEO fixes that can help them clean up and consolidate the data, meta data, or structure of the site.

Recommended Reading: The Best SEO Audit Checklist to Boost Search Visibility and Rankings 

When you understand who is responsible for what project, and what their system looks like, you’ll have an easier time bringing yourself into the conversation at the right point in the time.  

#2. Work to Evangelize SEO

It’s crucial to educate developers on how SEO impacts main priorities. For most sites I see SEO traffic is the top source of visits especially new visits.

SEO insights reveal the nuanced intent of these potential customers that would help everyone improve the experience and attract new customers. There are myriads of tactics and configurations within this that overlaps with web development. Evangelizing the SEO aspects into the web development approach will be rewarded with better SEO visibility. But don’t skip to this step until you really get to know their work and speak their language!

           Say this:                                                                                       Not that:

SEO affects the entire company, so it needs to be a company-wide initiative. Learn how to implement our SEO framework within your organization to operationalize organic search across your teams.


#3. Create a Worthy Support Ticket

Most times, SEO projects are put on the back burner since the company doesn’t realize that SEO generates success for the entire organization. The way you talk about SEO and your work can greatly affect how others in the company see organic search — this is an opportunity to educate them!

The Art of the JIRA Ticket: How to Have Your Project Prioritized

1. Project Impact

From experience, devs need to know the work matters and efficiency, so ask yourself the following questions before you send your ticket to their inbox:

What would be the cost if this problem was not addressed? This is your chance to prove the impact of the project!

2. Project Difficulty

The level of difficulty plays a major role in their prioritization of the project, so be sure to consider:

3. Project Overlap

Be clear on how the project impacts the user experience and page design. Again, everything is about the end user, and this is your chance to educate them on this. If not, it can usually be done without others involved.

4. The Stakes

SEO issues fall into one of three categories:

If Google cannot index the site, that is essential to SEO, for example. We saw this with the site migration example above! If the title tags don’t leverage keywords, that is critical.

Don’t just tell them (this can make them confused or frustrated since they don’t see how the work impacts the company) instead teach them what you’re trying to improve for users coming in from Google that have a unique intent from other users of the site.

5. The Timing

If you’re about to do a big re-design or invest in site software (e.g. a CDN that would improve page speed) then don’t ask the devs to fix a feature that is being deprecated or manually update image sizes.

Essentially you want to show that you are engaged in the ongoing improvement of the site and adding to the primary roadmap. You respect their time and the different priorities of the site. Sometimes your fix is driving the update, but oftentimes the SEO “critical” or “non-critical” updates can be slight detours off the main route that when asked for at the right time and approved with little objection. It’s easy to do work when the hood is already open.

6. Is There an Easier Way?

Consider if you can solve your problem without a dev ticket. Maybe there’s a setting option within the CMS (e.g. add alt image tags).

Creating the Request

The ticket needs to demonstrate how the project impacts the customer’s path to find, consider, and buy the product or service. If applicable, show if a competitor is taking advantage of your idea, or how the customer is better served by a competitor.

A good example of this is faceted navigation, which allows customers to land directly on the page that matches their search intent.

It is useful to start your request as a problem statement associated with the ticket: “In order for customers to…” This highlights the importance of the project as it relates to the end user experience.

Also, include proof (like screenshots) and have a list of verifiable checkpoints that must be true for this project to be complete. For example text that is less than 11px is hard to read, so don’t ask for a “larger font” but rather “at least 11px.”  Remember, all of this is meant to teach the devs something, not just throw them information.

After you submit your ticket, always be ready for pushback and feedback. To prepare yourself for the “So what?”. Also anticipate your developer will do a Google search of the issue to learn for themselves on sites like stackoverflow.com. If you anticipate this you’ll be ready for feedback.

I recommended you meet with your developers while they work on your ticket — this is a great opportunity to further build a relationship with them! This is also a great opportunity to learn how your site functions.

If the project worked: Celebrate! You’ve just shared the value of SEO with a tangible result. Show everyone how the fix impacted the experience of the site and how it was rewarded in terms of traffic and conversion improvements.

If the project fell through: What did you learn? Always keep learning and apply this to the next scenario and the fix.

Organic success isn’t just dependent on the digital marketing and SEO team; everyone needs to come together to prioritize the site experience.

When the organic team and development team work with the same goals in mind, search engine optimization turns into search experience optimization, and SEO’s relevance is better recognized.  

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