Posted by jennita
Who is the one person (or group of people) that you can’t live without? Your developer. [Don’t tell that to your spouse though.. eh?] As an SEO your life revolves around making changes to your site/application and getting all the pieces to fall into place. If you live in a perfect world, you have the ability to change all your on-page optimization including URL, Title tag, meta description, set up redirects, etc. But how many of us live in this fantasy la la land where everything is perfect? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say not very many of us.
We need our developers. As tough as it may seem some days (the feeling is more than likely mutual), it will make your life just a little easier if you can find a way to work with your development team. Whether that means just one person, or a team of 20 people, getting along with them will allow both of you to do a better job. (As a consultant you may not be able to get the same availability to talk to the client’s developers but if you give your client these tips on how to work well with the dev staff, they’ll thank you for it.)
So what are some things you can do to build a better relationship with your dev team? Here are 5 tips, in no particular order.
1. Show Them the Data
Remember the first time you showed your boss that traffic increased by 500% and the revenue for the month went up 200% just by removing those silly frames on the site? Well show that information to your development team as well! When a developer sees that a change that took a total of 2 hours including the push to production, brought in such an increase in revenue, he/she is going to see the value in their work. When you feel like the work you’re doing, actually makes an impact on the company, your boss, your salary… you’re more willing to help make additional changes in the future.
With a little digging, you’re sure to find something on your own site where you can show the developers exactly how much of an impact their work has had on the company’s success. Heck, throw them a party for reaching that monthly traffic goal that your sales team has been working towards but that your dev team knows nothing about. Data, data, data, that’s where it’s at!
2. Have Them Do it Themselves
I really love this one. Ask your development team to “SEO” their own websites. Most developers (or really anyone these days) will have some sort of website. Whether it’s a personal blog, they manage their aunt Betty’s jewelry store or they have their own business on the side, they usually have something.
As a developer when I was asked to make URL rewrite changes and create landing pages, etc. It bothered me that I felt like these changes were for nothing, just some marketing fluff that wasn’t really going to help much. But then I took my husband’s website and started to implement some of the same changes. I also did my own research and started learning SEO on my own (which is the way many developers work) and voila I drank the Kool-Aid quickly. As soon as my husband’s site started ranking really well for different terms, I wanted to learn more at work. I knew that the changes I made on this small site were fairly easy and I was targeting local and very long tail searches.
Show them the tools in your SEOmoz PRO account (or buy them their own!) and the other tools under your belt and let them learn on their own, with their own sites. Once they understand the basics (or the more advanced depending on their skill levels) and do their own research, you’ll find that it’s easier to 1) talk to them about SEO in general and 2) get them to make the necessary changes to the site.
3. Let Them Teach You
Sure, you’ve read all the blogs, you’ve done all the research, you’ve been to the conferences and you’ve seen it work on many websites. But you’re not the one changing the code (in most cases). When you go directly to a developer and ask her to set up seventy five 301 redirects because of xyz reason and you give them the code to do it… they’re going to laugh at you (I know I did… sorry Lindsay). Don’t tell a developer HOW to do something.
Help them understand WHY it needs to happen and ask them to figure it out. Remember they’re the expert when it comes to the technical side. Obviously there are many SEOs out there who are also very technical, and this puts you in a great position! You can use that to your advantage, but I’d still recommend letting the person in charge of making the actual development changes, figure the majority of it out on their own. If they seem to be running into roadblocks, point them in the right direction.
Let them teach you about the issues with your current platform, why certain SEO “best practices” simply can’t be done. Let them come up with relevant alternatives and figure out how to solve the problem without doing it the “normal” way. Your developer is wicked smart, let him show you just how well he can find a solution!
4. Find an Advocate
All you need is one. One person on the development team who has the ability to sway others as well. This doesn’t mean that you want someone who can persuade people into doing something that doesn’t make sense. But you want someone on your side, who understands SEO as well as the infrastructure of your website and the development team.
If you see one developer who seems to be somewhat interested in SEO, try to send them to a conference, preferably one with developer specific sessions. SMX often has a “Developer Day” or “Technical SEO Track” these are super valuable for your technical staff. (I went to SMX Advanced Developer Day a couple years ago and now I work for SEOmoz! Word.)
Sometimes pulling yourself out of the limelight of always being the one telling them what to do, and letting an "expert" (in quotes, because you’re more than likely also an expert but they might not see that) explain the world of SEO to them, will help them to see the light.
However you can get that person on board, do it. Once you have an in, they can be your advocate. Believe me on this one, I was that developer!
5. If All Else Fails…
Buy them beer! Or coffee, or Jack Daniels, or pizza or whatever the heck it is that they like. Make friends, be nice, and go give your developers a hug. Tell them J.Lo sent you. Unless of course that is just too creepy and you could get sued for sexual harassment, in that case, stick with the beer. 🙂
Every organization has a different set of obstacles and each one should be treated distinctly. I’d love to hear how you’ve worked with your developer or technical team to work on SEO solutions together. What worked for you and what didn’t?
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