SEOs Must Work Closely With Development

Have you ever written up a beautiful technical SEO plan for a site and then have it come back from development all messed up? There truly is no win in making a set of SEO recommendations and throwing it over the wall to the development team. The results come back wrong a stunningly high percentage of the time.

There are many reasons for this, but some of the most important ones are:

  1. The development team may not understand what you have asked them to do.
  2. The development team may understand it, but think they know a better way to do the same thing.
  3. They may understand it and implement your changes perfectly, but roll out several other changes at the same time.
  4. Last, but not least, you could mess up too.

For clarities sake, when I use the term “technical SEO”, I am referring to the practice of reviewing the architecture of a site to improve its search engine visibility. This includes looking for problems such as duplicate content, hidden text, bad redirects, canonical redirect in place, etc. I also lump in the process of doing keyword research and making sure that on site content is matched up with the right keywords.

Regardless of how well you specify these things, you can still easily get back gibberish from development. Don’t get me wrong – I do not mean to indict the competence of the world’s web developers. They may well be doing a perfectly fine job, yet they may implement something that is a search engine optimization disaster.

Example Problems

1. One company I know uses a staging server to test new site versions before rolling them into the main domain. Being savvy, they know that they don’t want the staging sever version of the site to be indexed, so they tagged every page of the site with a NOINDEX metatag.

Can you see where this is going already? You guessed it, they rolled the pages over to the live server one day, with the NOINDEX tags still on the site. Yes, you too can convert a PR8 site to a PR0 in 30 days or less.

2. An oldie but goodie: You can specify 301 redirects until you are blue in the face, but unless you talk specifically to the development team about why it needs to be a 301, and why, you run a real risk that it will come back as a 302. I have seen this happen at least half a dozen times. Yes, you too can unintentionally blow away all the link juice to the source page with this seemingly tiny mistake.

3. I have also seen it happen that a set of recommended site changes were implemented perfectly, but the development team decided to put the new versions on all new URLs. This simple act screws up the search engines understanding of the site. This *probably* can be fixed with 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new ones, but why take a risk on that?

And, of course, if the the site changes come back with new URLs and the 301 redirects are not already in place … well, yes, that’s almost as good as NOINDEXing the page as I outlined in the first example.


Ultimately, the way to avoid these types of issues is to have the SEO work in tight coordination with development. The SEO must be prepared to communicate at a detailed level with the developer. The web developer needs a real understanding of what needs to be done, and why it must be done a certain way.

In addition, sometimes these problems come about because of limitations in a Content Management System or web development platform. Coming up with a best second choice of what to do in these situations requires that the SEO understand what the limitations are.

These things can only happen if there is a close coordination between the developer and the SEO from the very beginning.


  1. says

    It sounds like the best of all worlds is to have a fully integrated SEO, marketing, development and graphic design team working side by side for the full duration of site production cross checking at each stage of development and implemention. Either that, or have one multi-talented person do the whole production.

  2. alla says

    Eric, the problem might be quite the opposite: not technical SEO manager supports not-SEO-friendly visual design and site structure solutions. As a result, many decision-makers are convinced that developers have the least impact on SEO. If you reverse the reasons you listed above of why SEO must work closely with developers, it’ll be just about right to reflect the situation that I face. The pattern is this one SEO manager typically has more weight than many developers, who use their logic, emotions and creativity to craft the site – all semantic, structured, accessible… While leading the front-end development effort in a company, I know your articles by-heart; my day is wasted if I didn’t re-visit them. You’re a total expert, mentor and coach. Why don’t you put together a deeper than CSS and SEO article about the role of relationships between SEO, design and technical expertise? Thank you!

  3. says

    Well, these are both ideal situations, but in reality the SEO job is mainly consultant job. Companies do not hire expert SEOs inhouse probably because of the high rates, and the SEO is not Jack Of All Trades to do everything.

    I am in absolutely same situation with a client now so I absolutely support this post. The only way to get out of this is ongoing profound communication ….

  4. says

    Hi Alla,

    How right you are! It does happen in the reverse direction as well. You can have SEO managers who don’t understand that they are only a part of the picture, and not the whole picture. I view SEOs as a component of marketing, not the not the whole picture.

    In addition, there are other players in the picture. For example, sometimes web designers or other marketing people can make decisions that are sub-optimal. For example, marketing might mandate that the site be developed 100% in Flash.

    So there are many levels of coordination required to create the best results. Understanding the big picture, and integrating all components of your web marketing plans are the key to true success.

    So sometime in the future I will take the next step with this thought process as you suggest!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *