News Flash to SEOs: Your developer hates you

by on 07/11/2011 • 55 Comments | SEO

Yes, I'm talking about you.Howdy folks, the name’s Norcross. I’m a WordPress developer in Tampa, FL. Since this a family friendly place, I’ll tell you to read my twitter bio. Should tell ya everything you need to know about me.

Look, someone had to say it. So I thought I’d be a team player and be the one who said it. While it’s no secret that many people have a general disdain for SEO’s in general, the guy (or gal) writing the code for that new niche website you’re getting ready to launch probably hates your guts. OK, maybe hate is a bit strong. But they almost all think you’re probably a fraud and cringe when they receive any form of communication from you.

Stings a bit, doesn’t it. Well, the truth hurts. Now, before you start blasting me in the comments, let me tell you why that’s the case. Because I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not all your fault. Just most of it.

1. Many self-proclaimed “experts” are clueless, or worse yet dangerous

True story: I was building a site for a local chain of yoga studios. Their main goal was to have the ability to “personalize” each studio location, since many had different class offerings and other unique things about them (for instance, one had child care available). The site had a pretty detailed page structure and a blog in addition to these “location” pages. So I spent quite a bit of time building out custom admin panels in WordPress so it would be easy for the client to add new studios as they opened. The site was built, the content got entered, and all was well in the universe…until the SEO “expert” they met the previous week showed up. He logged into the site and began to install plugins. Not keyword research, or even see what other sites in the space were doing. Nope, just installed plugins. Mind you, I had already incorporated most of the functionality he was looking for into the theme itself, and I used the Thesis framework which provided all the options they were looking for. He then began to rebuild the home page because it wasn’t “socially optimized” (is that even a thing?) and added icons, feeds, and god knows what else. Oh, and he broke the site by messing with a pretty important function. All of this was done in the course of 1 hour, and it took me 4 to figure out what he had done and then fix it. Which brings me to my second point…

2. Most clients are even MORE clueless

I do a decent bit of business working with existing sites. Configuration, code audits, custom plugins, etc. I get at least 2 people a week contacting me, asking to “SEO” their site. Fortunately my assistant knows how to respond to these requests, since my gut reaction would be to mention that SEO is not a verb and thus I am incapable of performing the requested service. (That’s the nicest version of that response, trust me.). I’ve just as many clients do the same thing as Johnny SEO did to the yoga site, then freak out wondering what I did to break their site. Just about every client asks if I’ll be building with SEO in mind. Honestly? I don’t. I also don’t blatantly do things I know are wrong. But I tell clients I’m not an SEO professional and if it’s something important, I have folks I recommend they speak with. It’s the best I can do. It’s an honest answer to a complicated question. I also tell them that a good SEO is expensive, so if they can’t afford a good one, wait until they can.

3. Lack of immediate results, concise goals, and no clear right and wrong

This one is just as much the developer’s problem as it is the SEO’s. You have to remember, most developers didn’t choose the profession because of their social skills or affinity for the general public. I write code so I don’t have to talk to people. And in my peaceful little world, things either work or they don’t. Period. While I can always strive to make my code cleaner, leaner, faster, and flexible, at the end of the day it either produces the expected result or it errors out. 1 + 1 = 2 every time, ya know? And if it breaks, it usually breaks immediately, and it’s obvious. If 1 + 1 = 7, I know I have a problem. Now your SEO plan involves six months, multiple platforms, link buildi….I’ve probably stopped listening at this point, unless it involved bacon earlier. I can get behind a bacon-focused effort. What I can’t get behind is a lot of high-level esoteric ideas that have no defined goals. I can whip up all the chewy schema-dusted meta fields and rel tags you’d ever want, but I haven’t the first clue as to WHY these matter, and if they’re even done correctly. The rules constantly change. As Michael Martinez wrote the other day, most SEO experiments are invalid, anyways. What else is invalid? Your argument, probably. I’m very much a “tell me what you want, and I’ll build it” sort of developer. I’m sure your “vision” is very inspiring, I probably don’t care much about your hopes and dreams outside of how it pertains to me building the damn thing. Clients know they need to be on the web, and they’ve got folks telling them that the {insert next big thing here} is critical to their success and they damn well better have it integrated. So before you know it they have 10 separate platforms coming and going with no clear goals or expected outcomes. Hell, they don’t even know how most of them work. But they’re so afraid that they’ll miss out of something that they force-feed a mess of social buttons and cross posting that makes everyone….well….hate them. And no one wants to be hated, do they?

Now I’m not here to piss in your corn flakes. I get the fact that part of my job security is dependent on y’all making the web better. Easier to find things and all that jazz. But can we stop with the circle jerk and tell people what you’re actually DOING? Gimme a damn flow chart or something. I don’t want to know all the deep dark secrets, but hell if I can’t be allowed to even know what I’m doing a day before you ask. Oh, and if you’re hired to work on one of the sites I build, ask before you start installing things.

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About the Author

Andrew Norcross

Beneath the colorfully tattooed skin and lanky frame beats the heart of a competitor, a guy whose eclectic background as code geek, athlete and punk-scene lifer has coalesced into a fiercely creative, independent and energetic methodology. He knows the languages. He’s a digital alchemist; Norcross has thought of the things the clients haven’t, because – all together now – that’s his job. He likes to waste time and share inappropriate content on Twitter, and is still trying to figure out this Google+ thing.

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55 thoughts on “News Flash to SEOs: Your developer hates you

  1. BUT SOMEONE WITH 138,452 FOLLOWERS ON TWITTER TOLD ME THAT THIS PLUGIN MAKES GOOGLE RANK ME NUMBER ONE FOR THE WORD “THE” AND I NEED TO BE NUMBER ONE FOR ALL THE THINGS AND INSTEAD OF ASKING YOU HOW TO DO IT I’M JUST GOING TO START CLICKING INSTALL AND ACTIVATE AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE RAINBOWS AND PUPPIES ALL THE TIME!!

  2. OMG YOU ARE SO WRONG. I remember this one time when I was with my developer and he said that…wait, nope, he was pissed. Okay so there was this other time, when I sent an email and got nothing but…crap, nope, that was bad too. Okay. so maybe there is a little bit of truth behind what you’re saying.

    I’ve run into many of the (actually most) things you’ve mentioned here and just as you said, good search marketers don’t come cheap. Mainly because those who have been in the business for a while DO provide a plan. CAN test correctly and UNDERSTAND what the relationship between a developer and a search marketing team should look like.

    Bravo sir.

  3. I’m in transition from marketer everyone-hates-the-SEO-and-his-crazy-WordPress-plugins-guy to just-tell-me-what-to-build-and-leave-me-alone-guy. As you might expect, I have a lot of “yeah!'”‘s and a lot of “yeah but…”‘s.

    I think the bridge should really be what does the client want, what do the client’s potential customer base want (and how can that be improved), and how as a freelancer is it best to work with additional “resources”? One person makes the site look good on Google, enough to bring the customer to click. The next person makes the site itself look good, enough to bring the customer to click on a CTA. It seems pretty simple to me, but for some reason I see a lot of this us vs them drama.

    But then, it is the web. We aren’t necessarily on here for our social skills :)

    • Much of it does come back to the client, since they need to know what parts (and people) need to be involved to pull something together. What little technical SEO knowledge I do have isn’t really dependent on the design of the site, rather, the structure and positioning of information. I’ll gladly build something to make an SEO’s job easier, but I gotta KNOW thats what they want.

      • It also helps to point out the distinction between on and off page marketing. Any client wants links, and why not? They have no visual mark on the site – but when you start putting social share buttons that don’t match the page’s color scheme at the bottom of every post, or start messing with a blog’s post tags so that more SEO friendly content fits above the fold, now it changes the design – and I’ve run into many, many clients who are only willing to SEO as long as nobody actually sees a difference – which is fine, but by not clarifying these things up front, everyone in the chain has to make adjustments.

        Which comes back to having clear requirements and a game plan, I suppose :)

  4. I get lots of webdesigners contacting me about their clients sites and want me to do seo on them..but sometime the clients think this is just a one day process and don’t understand that it will take time to work.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • Exactly. I know quality and thorough SEO work isn’t a “quick fix” and needs time to be effective. I strive to make other people’s jobs EASIER, not harder, and a quick hello and question can alleviate a lot of headache (and swearing) down the road.

  5. I can’t imagine you were thrilled with “Johnny SEO.” What a crappy experience to deal with. I had a kind of similar experience with an “SEO Expert.” A client of mine had a site that had been building Google Juice for 2+ years. The first thing the expert did was come in and change the permalink structure. I’m not an SEO guy buy I knew immediately he killed all the inbound links to the site in one fail swoop.

    We’ve definitely got to bridge that gap somehow…

  6. Screw ups like you describe in #1 are really really common in my experience. Nowadays, I tell my customers straight up that if they get anyone else in to tweak, update, bedazzle or otherwise screw with the site I developed for them without checking with me first, it voids any and all support agreements relating to that site. If they want me to fix someone else’s mistake, then they can pay full rates.

    I’ve found that the only way to keep all sides happy is to have the developer and SEO work together from the beginning. If that means having the developer recommend a SEO (or vice versa) they know they can work with, then go with that.

    • James, couldn’t agree more with the need to work together from the beginning. It’s much more difficult to work with a client and developer after a redesign. The client’s usually just blown their budget on development/design and they don’t have anything left for the fixes. In fact they probably came to us for link development not even expecting us to point out issues with their new, costly baby at all. And, the last thing the developer/designer wants to do is listen to some know-it-all SEO that couldn’t code our way out of a box. We’ll do our best to get the job done for the budget/time we have, but it’s far more ugly than it would have been had we been there from the start. Our role is pretty simple early on… sitemap, keywords, content strategy, robots.txt, linking, some minor design/dev feedback and that’s usually it. It takes education from all parties involved to set expectations and determine who needs to be in the early meetings.

      • “It takes education from all parties involved”

        I think this is pretty much the take away. If everyone knows what is possible from the get go, consult for the best solution, and then execute, it’s going to be a win.

        • Exactly. My beef isn’t with the SEO’s themselves (well, not the good ones at least) but the fact that it’s such a deep part of the development process. Many just think they can come in and make adjustments after the fact to the structure and functionality of a site, without even bothering to ask me what has been done.

  7. After being in this ‘web’ industry for a few years now, I’ve come to learn that about 80% of the people involved are hacks, scammers, and generally just trying to make money instead of trying to help their customers succeed.

    That said, that other 20% are honest hard working people with their customers best interests in mind. Companies like Outspoken media might be more expensive of an SEO service than ‘some guy’ down the street who runs a web marketing firm, but they have done the research, will tell you exactly what they are doing, and show you the results when they are complete.

    Like you mentioned, most of the customers are clueless also. These are the people that really need to be educated and ‘shown the light’ so to speak.

    Maybe there is a better way for us to spread the word about the good people working in this industry, bring them to the forefront, over all the ‘noise’ that is the other 80%.

    Just a thought :)

  8. Eh, I hear you. As long as I have a sensible taxonomy in place, and reasonable control over on-page, and a couple of fields for the header (which doesn’t even show on site) I’m usually good.

  9. Great debut post for Expert Week! I’m a big believer in striking a balance between developers and SEOs, which has been alluded to in the comments already. With first-hand experience, I’ve had the thrill of seeing this combination result in incredible things for the client/company. Just like any partnership, it takes respect, communication and passion. Without one of those, the relationship will sour and everyone hates everyone.

    My concern is that a lot of the negative impressions developers have of “SEOs” come from individuals with far less experience and knowledge than they should have before throwing around that label. As developers, how do you communicate this to the client? Or do you? I’ve had to walk the delicate line of letting a client know the reason they fell out of Google for EVERYTHING was because the designer rewrote every URL, threw all of their content into images and created site-wide outbound links to their “partners” (e.g. competitors). It’s a sticky situation on both ends, so I think the important thing is to find competent SEOs, developers AND designers. Once you have your circle of trust, it’s difficult to work with anyone else.

    • When I’m consulting with a new client, I try to get a list of all the other parties involved, whether it’s a graphic designer, a content manager, or a secretary who will be doing the actual updating. I stress to folks that I follow best practices based on the information available, but that SEO is as much an art as it is a science and they NEED to work with a professional.

  10. I’d just like to say, I’d never mess with a site without asking the developer first. Doing that would be like someone adding a chapter to the novel I just finished writing without asking.

    But could you IT types be a little less scary, please? I just want us all to play nicely in the sandbox together.

  11. I agree, as usual it’s that 80% out there. The cliche, sleazy salesmen that will promise you the world and sell you a piece of crap that’s sure to fall apart as soon as the guaranty has expired! But people do tend to wise up and it does grant us the opportunity to gain trust. From delivering results I’ve gained enough clients that swear by me (that being my SEO skills of course) and yes, a few has left for the cheaper quote only to burn their fingers… to my dismay of course – maybe not entirely ;)

  12. Andrew, remind me to buy you a beer if we ever get a chance to meet! I think Bret is probably close, ‘though I’d be more inclined to estimate it at 90/10.

    I think it’s important for both developers and SEOs to remember that any change in either of their camps has the potential (if not inevitability) of changing the overall site effectiveness. That makes clear and open communication between the two an imperative. Friction between the two is a sure way to ensure the client will have wasted time and money at the end of the project, and gotten less than was deserved.

    I’ve had developers ignore me, undercut me and flat do whatever they want, regardless of what the client tells them. But I’ve also heard of SEOs doing the same to their developer counterpart. I suppose there’s a bunch of SEOs and developers that do what they do because they prefer working with data or bits more than working with other people. But I always prefer to be able to sit down with the developer and agree on changes before they’re made. It saves a lot of work for everyone, and delivers better service to the client.

  13. This is a really great post. Damn it, stop raising the bar!

    I have to agree with all the points that it’s basically about education. A little knowledge goes a long way to smoothing out everyone’s job in the long run. Once you know that there’s a reason for the madness, you are more willing to work with it.

    And, of course, teaching your client how to spot BS works wonders.

  14. All that said – now be fair here, because we have both worked with band and musician websites – there are plenty of “developers” that want to go all batshit crazy (can I say that here?) with Flash and making you guess what the band’s name is, and wear they’re located and oh yea I wanna load this 25mb MP3 file every time the page is refreshed. They still exist. (And it’s not just bands)

    I know for a fact you’re not one of them, because I’ve seen your work. But there are fewer of you than I’d like. Please clone immediately. Until that happens, I am preparing my “Your SEO Hates You…” post.

  15. Amen, man. A few weeks ago I had a client call me in a panic because their website had taken down an entire server over at RackSpace. Turns out the SEO guys he hired installed some ancient plugins prone to exploits, and you can probably connect the dots after that. It took both myself and a tech at RackSpace to convince them it wasn’t ‘my website’ that bombed everything, but the stigma has been set and I haven’t heard back from them since I restored it from a backup *sigh*

  16. As the developer, we insist on being the primary on all projects. If the client goes off and hires a third-party SEO or artist or social media expert without consulting with us nothing happens. Nobody else gets access to the admin level and can’t install plugins, themes or anything else. If that is unacceptable to the client, we settle our contract and part ways. Most often, they come back after being fleeced by folks who only understand one part of the project.

    I’m not saying that SEO folks fleece clients; just saying there are very few left nowadays who understand SEO works as part of the system, not the entire system in and of itself. To have SEO, design or social media drive the site, you just end up with a Lucy and the Chocolate Factory episode where there is a bunch of production running faster than the packers can pack.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLp7Y4TxXSA (Min 3:12 start) for the young kids :-)

    • Most of the projects I take on are for small and medium sized businesses who are planning on (and expected to) update their site on their own. If I’m on retainer, then it’s a different story.

  17. @ Rufus –
    “…SEO works as part of the system, not the entire system in and of itself.” There’s the key!

    For the SEOs in the room, we see the same thing within the SEO field, as well… the on-page gal that thinks that’s where it’s all at, the linkbuilding guy what sees no value in anything but links, the PPC fella that thinks everything else is an “also-ran”.

    And of course, the folks in my personal realm… the content strategists that can’t see where anything off-page is worthy of much consideration.

    I’ve worked for SEOs that wanted to give me their keyword list, tell me exactly how many characters a paragraph could contain, and how many words per sentence, and then attack the readability of the product. There’s always going to be some conflict between different specialty areas. The key is to recognize that each is a piece of the puzzle, and cooperate in making the pieces fit.

    • A good SEO and dev working together is like a quality surgical team. None of the functions are any more important than the other and each respects the others’ skills. Egos don’t work in surgery; they don’t work on a web site.

  18. Wow… dude there are a lot more shite developers out there then shite SEOs. I think you are drinking your own brand of purple koolaid. I was doing SEO before there were CMS and believe me I see more shite programming come to SeoPros for help then bad SEO’s. I think your selling a bill of goods and just another of those jumping on the SEO is eveil bandwagon for a few links in a linkbait article. This is beneath Outspoken Media…was a time I bet this doesn’t see the light of day!

    • Based on raw numbers, I’m sure you are correct, since there are a lot more developers in general than SEOs. However I’d gather that SEOs fall into the 80/20 rule like any other profession.

      I make no claims of being an SEO, any my clients know that. I also don’t believe SEO’s are evil (if I did, why would I have even been given the chance to write here?) But I’m a damn good developer, and I doubt any of my code has come across your desk as “bad”. Was it correct for SEO? I have no idea, since (as I alluded to) too many SEOs won’t even tell me what they want or need.

      • Ha, when Lisa told me the subject of your post, I was worried that it would be ripping all SEOs a new one. Reading it, I was really proud that you were writing for us. You’ve got a lot of passion wrapped into the piece, but it comes from experience and a place of concern. I read it as a plea to us to better communicate, involve developers in the early strategy work and stop treating them like fast food employees here to just do our bidding because we don’t want/know how to. Don’t see a problem with that since it makes the work better for our clients and everyone happier.

    • Hi Terry, really don’t think Andrew’s here to throw mud nor did he have a reason to post linkbait on our blog. He was asked to write as a featured expert even though we knew he rarely blogs, because he’s very busy. We know from direct experience working with him on both client and our own sites that he’s incredibly skilled in what he does. He gets it, he’s smart, fast and professional, but he takes no nonsense, so his tone may be abrasive, but so are we sometimes. We *are* Outspoken Media after all and that’s why our community loves us.

      Not sure what Andrew had to gain from a linkbait piece outside of finding SEOs who understand what he’s trying to convey — frustration with crap SEOs. We feel the same frustration when potential clients come to us burned from past efforts and failed promises. Inexperienced SEOs are bad for business and the industry as a whole. I didn’t take Andrew’s comments personally, but I do think there’s some truth to them in an industry that is largely viewed as a shady business. There are bad seeds on both ends and it’s something everyone seems to agree with in the comments.

      Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post and I’m sure you’ll get a chance to weigh in on the other side of things. There’s a balance between great SEO and great development, I didn’t read “SEO is evil” in this post, just one developer’s negative experiences and what we can learn from them.

  19. ZOMG, you have no +1 on this blog post :) How can I feed my addiction?

    Okay. Anyway, I read this in Reader and I laughed out loud and had to come here immediately to see the comments. I knew there would be a lot of them! Great post, rings true in a few cases. :)

  20. I hope that none of the SEOs I have ever trained or worked with would sit down and start adding plugins to a Website without actually going over a plan with the client and — hopefully — the developer.

    SEO-by-plugin has many followers in the Googler Webmaster Help forums. Guess what they’re all asking for ….

  21. Well, sometimes we hate developers too. In my own (granted not very vast) experience, most want to do what suits them best and only apply half of the SEO recommendations one sends them. And yes, I make detailed documents with specs or best practices, because I’ve learned a long time ago that programmers don’t like to think outside their piece of code or will put some default stuff like they’re used to when I don’t specify anything (having been told by developers to provide full details about what I want, I should have thought not asking for something means one does not want it, but apparently it only works that way when it suits the programmer).

    Does the truth hurt? Well, it’s not all your fault. Just most of it. Oh wait, you’re not responsible for what other developers do? Then why do you think good and honest SEOs should accept being blamed? Because what you’re saying is that all SEOs should take the blame for what bad SEOs do, since we’re all in the same business. That’s almost communist. I suppose your purpose was creating what people call “link bait”. I don’t see any other use for the existence of this article…

    Anyway, if you have a problem with some SEO people, talk to the clients who hired them (usually because they mistook knowledge of fancy words with real knowledge or simply wanted cheap work – it’s hard to blame poor Indians or Bangladeshi for wanting to earn some money). I for one bug developers out of their laziness by insisting until they do what I ask just to get rid of me. And I used to motivate in-house programmers with food – I see from your bacon remark that my colleagues were not exceptions in that respect, though I strongly believe in the effectiveness of cookies and pastries rather than bacon. I’m sure you can think of better methods to deal with bad SEOs…

    • Interestingly enough in your eloquent piece of humblebrag, you never make any mention of the other parts of the development process that don’t involve SEO work. Just getting a demand list from an SEO often isn’t enough: they don’t know (and haven’t bothered to ask) what other parts of the site have been built, or how your requirements completely conflict with everything else that’s been done. You don’t refer to any two-way communication, only a dictatorship of your SEO prowess.

      Do I think all SEOs should take the blame for the bad ones? Absolutely not. But just like I have to be mindful of how bad developers indirectly affect my reputation, y’all need to know that the bad apples out there can ruin your entire orchard.

  22. Very illuminating, and I really appreciate the post. I learned a few things to help me understand where my developers are coming from when they do or say certain things.

    But let me speak from a third point of view, that of the client. One of the things I find frustrating as a client is developers and SEOs who refuse to even talk with one another, much less work together. That’s what leads to a client just going off and calling in an SEO on their own: because they are afraid they’re going to have to spend hours trying to soothe ruffled feathers and play referee. Or that their projects will get put on the back burner by both the developer and the SEO, who are both now passive-aggressive at the client for what they consider mucking around in THEIR domains. Luckily I don’t have that happen with the people I work with today, but I have experienced it a number of times over the years.

    As a client and the person footing the bills, I’d prefer SEOs who at least try to understand some basic elements of code (including what not to touch without asking lest it break and be disastrous for my site!) — and developers who at least try to understand some basic elements of SEO (or present a couple of options that can be discussed with the SEO before spending thousands of my dollars on something that may have to be scrapped or rewritten because it’s not search friendly).

    So maybe I should go work on the “Why clients [sometimes] hate their developers and their SEOs” post…. :-)

  23. I’m sorry, man, but you’re so off-point, it hurts.

    Yes, Marketing types think marketing is all that matters (when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail). And you’re right that for them to start messing with your stuff means they’ve got their heads up their behinds … exactly as much as you do.

    Fact is, these problems come up when the geeks, the artists, and the business people each think that what they do is what matters most. And what really matters is that EVERYONE gets their stuff done and that it interact correctly.

    In this all-too-complicated scenario, someone has to be the equivalent of a “general contractor”. And yeah, absent one being hired that needs to be the client and the client isn’t going to do it.

    But for you to hate the marketing guy? Cripes, go get a job.

    And yeah … I’m the general contractor.

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO

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