Why Developers and SEOs Don’t Always Get Along

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On paper, SEOs and devs should be best buddies. They’re supposed to care about the success of the same product. 

And the times when SEOs would burden the dev team with a bunch of ridiculous, counter-intuitive recommendations are mostly over. From a developer’s perspective, search engine crawlers are just another group of users for their app, with some particular needs, but also a tremendous potential impact on the website’s overall success.

However, if you were to survey both SEOs and developers about how things usually go between them, many would express frustration. 

SEOs notoriously get only a fraction of their recommendations implemented, and even that takes more time than it should. They feel overlooked and misunderstood.

Developers, on the other hand, often say that SEO tasks are poorly justified, under-explained, and, consequently, difficult to prioritize. SEO tends to be perceived as an annoying, unnecessary addition to the ever-growing pile of tasks in the backlog.

This article explains why a healthy relationship between SEOs and developers is so important and how you can make it happen as an SEO.

Why is SEOs – developers relationship important?

The success of any SEO project depends on SEOs and developers working together.

And with the current state of the web, SEOs and developers need to work closer than ever.

What I’d like to see from the SEOs a bit more is really working together with more developers. In particular, for modern JavaScript-based websites, it’s going to be a topic that’s going to continue to grow. […]. So it’s really important that as an SEO, you go out and talk with these developers and explain things to them, and you find ways to explain it in a way that makes sense […]. If you go and talk to them and you can explain what is happening and why you want them to do something, then that makes it much more possible for them to say, “okay, by default, we’ll just go down this road because that makes sense” and that makes your lives easier as well.
source: John Mueller

Two significant consequences can occur if the cooperation between SEOs and devs is not efficient.

First of all, the website can lose traffic and money. The fruits of your labor depend on your ability to communicate and coordinate.

Second of all, your career can suffer. No matter how great your suggestions are for a website, you will never be a great SEO if you can’t get them implemented promptly and precisely.

How to find common ground with developers

Each relationship is unique and highly depends on the specific context and type of cooperation. For example, an in-house SEO specialist faces different challenges and possibilities than an external SEO consultant. 

However, you can still find some common ground. Here are five universal tips to help you bridge the gap between SEOs and developers.

Improve communication

Communication plays a vital role in any relationship. 

Poor communication may endanger your entire project. It might delay the implementation and cause frustration in the involved parties.

When it comes to communication in the SEOs-developers relationship, the main pain points include:

  • Lack of direct contact. SEOs usually communicate with developers through project managers or marketing representatives. If you ever played Chinese whispers, you know that the original message may sound very different than the final one.
  • One-way communication. Sometimes SEOs investigate the case, prepare tasks and recommendations, and disappear into the unknown. They rarely ask questions and discuss potential worries and opinions the other side may have. As a result, developers are left on their own to figure everything out.
  • The use of SEO jargon. Developers don’t always have SEO knowledge. So if you’re using terms that are used only in the SEO industry without further explanation, the communication won’t work. 

The rules and methods of communication defined by the company you’re working with may prevent you from resolving the first pain point on your end.

But you can still work on the other two.

The most important thing you should do to improve communication is to make sure developers understand you. 

Here are three tips to keep in mind when communicating with developers:

  • Provide developers with all the information necessary to complete a task. It includes explaining the terms that exist only in the SEO industry.
  • Proactively avoid confusion caused by your recommendations. Even if you’re talking about aspects that you think are obvious to developers, sometimes the way you say it might be mysterious for them. So, for example, instead of using “301” as a verb, you could say you want to implement a permanent HTTP Redirect 301 to eliminate any confusion.
  • Use the developers’ vocabulary. For example, “category page,” “product-listings,” or “collection page” might all describe the same type of page on the site you’re working on. However, if you’re using one of these designations and the developers are used to a different one, it might lead to confusion and make communication difficult. So be flexible and adjust to the company you’re working with.

Understand how developers work

Different teams often focus only on their part of the project. It’s easy to adopt tunnel vision and ignore what other teams are working on. 

However, understanding how developers work allows you to set realistic expectations and speed up implementation.

One of the aspects that can help you understand developers’ day-to-day life is getting familiar with Scrum. 

Scrum divides the work that needs to be done into refined tasks and plans their execution within sprints.

Sprints’ length differs depending on the company, but they typically last a week and up to several weeks. The scrum team is assigned tasks that they should be able to finish during the sprint. You can find more information about how Scum works and the theory behind it in the Scrum Guide.

It’s important to note that the tasks are organized according to their priorities. Developers can’t just take a random task and ignore the items higher on the priority list. I will explain the importance of prioritization later in the article.

Another element that can help you understand developers’ work better is learning to use project management software like Jira, Trello, or Asana. These tools allow the team to organize and manage tasks. They differ in the available functions, but all of them enable you to describe tasks, set priorities, assign owners, and add watchers or followers (people who get a notification when the status of a task changes).  

Understanding these tools can help you describe and manage tasks in a way developers are used to. Always try to adjust to the developers’ tools. It’s easier for two SEOs to learn a new tool than for a whole team of developers to adapt to your process. 

Create quality tasks

It’s challenging to keep the balance between broadly describing the topic to make it understandable for everyone, and making it granular enough to incorporate into sprints easily. However, a well-described task can be a game-changer in the relationship between SEOs and developers.

Here are a few tips that can help you create a quality task:

  • Leave no doubt about what should be delivered at the end. Make sure that developers don’t need to spend time thinking about what you meant and what exactly they need to do. If it’s possible, include a goal. For example, “Largest Contentful Paint should be less than 2.5 seconds.”
  • Use visual aids. For example, you can include a screenshot of the problem, which can help eliminate misunderstandings. 
  • Explain why it is important for the website and the business. For example, let developers know if the affected page is responsible for 50% of the traffic. This step can help prioritize the task better.
  • Help developers find a solution to the problem. Include a link to Google’s documentation, a link to a similar case, or anything that can make the developer’s research easier.

Assign ownership

SEOs work with many stakeholders, project managers, and developers from different teams. With so many people involved, it might not always be clear who’s responsible for delivering a given task.

Without assigning ownership, you may find yourself waiting for someone on the team to act while they are all waiting for the others to act. Consequently, nothing gets done.

That’s why every task should have its owner.

Ownership helps you assure that the person responsible understands what needs to be done, cares about the outcome, and takes responsibility for the final result.

Voice SEO priorities

SEOs rarely get enough time and resources to address every problem they find. That’s why it’s crucial to prioritize the things that need to be done first. 

Developers aren’t exclusively working with SEOs – there are usually multiple other teams that need their help on a daily basis. So you can’t be surprised when they don’t always have the time to put your interests first.

However, in many cases, developers might postpone getting to the SEO tasks because they simply don’t understand their importance. It’s your job to make sure they know why it should have a higher priority. 

Here are a few tips on how to demonstrate priority:

  • Back up your recommendations with data. Numbers are your friends when it comes to convincing developers. For example, if you say, “Google says you should keep your First Input Delay under 100ms, and your current score equals 500ms,” it leaves no room for disagreement. 
  • Present case studies to support your point. Real-life examples from reliable sources might convince developers who don’t understand the importance of SEO.
  • Test the solution. If it works on a small scale, it will likely work on a large scale. Seeing the effects of your recommendations might help developers realize SEO is worth their effort.

Workflow process checklist

It’s hard to define one superior workflow that can work perfectly in every SEOs – developers relationship. However, here are five questions you need to answer at the beginning of every collaboration to minimize the risk of misunderstandings:

  • How are you going to communicate?
  • Who is responsible for what?
  • What is the priority of the tasks?
  • What are the scope and time expectations?
  • What will the follow-up process look like?

The beginning of every cooperation usually starts with a kickoff meeting. That’s when you should define the communication channels. They can include emails, calls, project management software, communication platforms like Slack, etc. Decide which channels you’re going to use in which situations. For example, if it’s a complex problem, the best option might be a meeting. If it’s urgent but simple, perhaps you can exchange information on Slack.

After the communication channels are set up, it’s time to discuss ownership and responsibilities. Everyone should know who they can ask for help and who is the owner of specific tasks. Most of the time, the kickoff meeting allows you to establish the responsibilities. It’s worth asking questions like how many developers will be involved or if you should add any watchers in the project management software. 

An integral part of the workflow is deciding on the priorities. Be clear about the most critical issues but be open-minded to hear what the other side has to say. Explain why you think developers should do specific tasks ASAP, but remember that part of the teamwork is being able to compromise. 

The next step is defining the scope and time expectation. Explain to developers what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. During this conversation, you should discuss:

  • What you are going to do first. This way, developers know what to expect at the beginning.
  • How often you will be adding tasks to their project management software. It allows them to manage the rest of their responsibilities better.
  • The feedback you want from them. Make sure developers understand that you want them to let you know if there are any problems.

The last part is the follow-up. Ask questions and make sure everything is going according to the plan. Find out the reason for any potential delays. Were there any problems with the implementations? Maybe there’s something you can do to help? Additionally, follow-ups show that you care, and if developers see that you care, they tend to care more themselves. 

Wrapping up

The relationship between SEOs and developers can be challenging. However, it’s important to remember that we’re working towards the same goal and the success of a project depends on both teams working together.

To sum up the article, here are five things to keep in mind while working with developers:

  • Remember you are on the same team. You’re in the same boat and have the same goal.
  • Respect each other’s time and work. Express yourself clearly and listen to what the other side has to say.
  • Accept each other’s limitations. Be willing to compromise and find common ground.
  • Learn the basics of their field. Aim to improve the understanding of your mutual challenges and communicate better.
  • Agree on the ownership of tasks and ensure everyone knows their responsibilities.