Posted by jennita
When was the last time you had a heated discussion with your developer? Or better yet, when was the last time they rolled their eyes at you when you asked them to make some sort of change to the website? My guess is that it probably hasn’t been all that long. Or has it? A higher probability is actually that you work with some wicked smart developers who blow your mind away with their sheer awesomeness!
Recently, there was a post over on YOUmoz about the naivete and misconceptions that developers have about SEOs written by cyberpunkdreams. He had gotten into a conversation with a group of developers who thought that SEOs were spammers and were only out to get bad sites at the top of the rankings. The dialogue on this topic is interesting, because at the same time that developers are thinking we’re a bunch of spammers, we, as SEOs also have misconceptions about developers in general.
Sure, there are many developers out there who may not specifically focus on SEO, nor do they have a keen knowledge of everything that goes into ranking well. But they are no dummies. They often are very analytical and can think through problems or come up with excellent solutions to issues. They can create an algorithm that will take 8 different pieces of data from the database and build dynamic title tags with length restrictions, keyword usage, and anything else you want to throw at them. Without our technical counterparts, our jobs would be pretty boring, since half of the tasks we need completed, we can’t do on our own.
With all this said, I decided to run a little test and find out what developers felt were the top 5 changes they could make to a website to provide high SEO impact and value with a low level of effort. I set out on a mission to contact developers through Twitter, Faceboook, email and IM. As I’m writing this I’m wondering now if they wondered what the heck I was asking them this question for. Little did they know they were going to be quoted in this post. 🙂
Top 5 SEO Changes
This list is derived directly from the responses I received via Twitter, Facebook, IM and email from 13 different developers. With that, here’s a list of ways developers can optimize their site for highest impact, with the lowest amount of effort, from their perspectives.
- Title Tag
This was overwhelmingly the top response by most of the developers. Many of them specifically mentioned building dynamic title tags, and not just hand coding each page.
Reference: Best Practices for Title Tags
- Canonical URL Tag
Multiple people mentioned the canonical URL tag which I found very exciting. In the SEO world we all got super giddy when this tag came out, and it’s great to know that it has surfaced as an important feature for developers as well.
Reference: Canonical URL Tag – The Most Important Advancement in SEO Practices Since Sitemaps
Get your URLs right! I built dynamic URLs for years that were not user friendly at all. There are so many options to rewrite and redirect your URLs, and many CMS’s are getting more and more SEO savvy.
Reference: Dynamic URLs vs. Static URLs – The Best Practice for SEO is Still Clear
Although the robots.txt file is there to help a site owner make sure that the right areas are being crawled, if it set up incorrectly it could do more damage than it’s worth. The theme from the developers was to make sure that you don’t have "Disallow: /" or are in some way blocking access to relevant areas of the site.
Reference: Managing Robot’s Access To Your Website – From janeandrobot.com
- Image Alt Tags
For me, this should actually be moved further up the list. This is a big one, as we’ve been talking about lately that keyword rich (not spammy) image alt tags correlate with higher rankings. Now before you go and get all huffy, puffy about this one, watch the Whiteboard Friday about Correlation, Causation and SEO.
WOW! Blows your mind right? Nope. Not so much. Developers actually DO live on the same planet with SEOs. In fact this list might very well have come from any one of us. Developers are knowledgeable. Be sure to give them the credit they deserve for knowing the things you don’t . The beauty in the SEO/developer relationship is that they shouldn’t have to know everything you know, and you shouldn’t have to know everything they know. 🙂
Also worth noting, but didn’t make the top 5 list, were dynamic meta tags, internal linking, valid X(HTML), URL Hierarchy and fixing bad navigation.
A Few Noteworthy Quotes
There were a few responses that I received that I wanted to call out specifically. Whether they were spot-on, a little "out there", or downright kooky, I felt they deserved their own recognition.
Ken Jones – This is by far my favorite response, and OH SO TRUE!
Cesar Serna – Cesar is well-known in the SEO industry, so I thought perhaps it would give me some street cred if I posted his well versed quote which I received via IM (see how cool I am!!). 🙂
"From a developers point of view implementing Canonical Tags is the simplest website update for SEO impact. It’s one line of code and yet it signals to engines what your preferred indexed URL should be instead of leaving it up to search engines to decide algorithmically."
Actually, I completely agree with his response as long as we can prove that the Canonical URL Tag is really working. I’ve seen it work well on some large client sites, but have also heard about people running into various issues with it.
Ben Hendrickson – Ben really needs no introduction, and all I can say is "yea… what he said"
"At the beginning of Anna Karenina the observation was made that happy households are all alike, but unhappy households are all unhappy in unique ways. The same, I suggest, is true for SEO. Whatever is screwing up the SEO of a site ought to be fixed. But although most sites are doing something wrong, there isn’t any single thing that most sites are doing wrong.
That said, there are things more commonly wrong, although listing them looks a bit like a list of SEO best practices that you are very aware of.
- URL hierarchy. Frequently URLs will derive from the structure of one’s code or CMS, and this will be different than is optimal for users and search engines. Fixing this is sometimes best done with another layer of abstraction like mod-rewrite.
- Lack of a one-to-one mapping between urls and pages (e.g. canonicalization issues).
- Uncrawlable ajax content.
- Bad site navigation links.
- Title tags that do not reflect each pages’ content, and so on down the list of usual suspects."
See, this is the caliber of developer we have here at SEOmoz. Booyah!
Mel Gray– Mel is another of our "wicked smart" SEOmoz developers.
"Two words: "pop ups" People LOVE pop ups.
But seriously… I have a site that was ranking number 2 for a particular internet meme. I put 0 effort into developing it. I just would upload images from time to time. But it still bugged me that I lagged behind this site. I changed the title tag and added a brief meta description with keywords for the meme (no stuffing) and as soon as the SERPs started reflecting the change, I was #1."
See our staff would never give in to 2nd place!
Jason Swihart – Actually Jason’s original response was "Develop good content." which I pushed him on a bit asking whether that was really a developer’s role. This prompted his final response:
By the way, Jason used to be my boss many eons ago when I was doing mainly ColdFusion development.
As many mentioned in the YOUmoz conversation, it’s essential for Developers and SEOs to work together. Really. We need each other. Developers usually love to learn, so if there’s something they don’t know or understand, educate them. But remember that educating them may mean to point them in the right direction and let them figure it out on their own. Challenges keep those analytical minds working!
How do you work with your developers? Have you found a certain tecnique or method for working together productively? I’d love to hear your take on this list and whether you feel these changes really are the most impactful with the lowest level of effort. How about the developers out there. Do you feel you were aptly represented? What steps do you take to work effectively?
More: continued here