Why SEOs Hate Developers


Hey everyone, Ben Cook (aka Skitzzo) here. I’m not sure if Lisa & Rhea sent the invitation to participate in Expert Week to the wrong person or what, but I’m hoping they publish my post before figuring out their mistake.

Yesterday my man Andrew Norcross broke the news to those of us in the SEO profession that our developers hate us.

Well you know what? The feeling’s mutual.

Ok, ok, SEOs don’t hate ALL developers, just the ones that aren’t as good at their job as Norcross is.

Unfortunately, that’s a large majority.

Now, before we go all Sharks & Jets and square off for a rumble or a dance off, let me run down the list of reasons SEOs hate developers (and offer a few ideas on how to make it better). If you still want to knife me after that, well you’ll probably need to get in line.

Same Thing Syndrome

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a developer to perform a task in a very specific fashion, only to have them do it differently. Why?

Because, as they put it, “it’s the same thing”.

When an SEO asks a developer to create a 301 redirect from one page to another, it’s important that the developer doesn’t do a meta-redirect, a 302 redirect, or any other type of jerry-rigged redirect they can think of. While it might be “the same thing” for users, it most certainly isn’t the same thing for Google or any other search engine.

Tip for being less hated: Communication is key. If you THINK you know of a better/easier way to do something, just ask. Most of us don’t care whether you code something one way or the other unless it matters to the search engines.

Developers: Serial Murderers of SEO

This is going to sound incredibly familiar because it basically mirrors Norcross’ first point from yesterday.

When you, as a developer, break stuff it very often impacts my job as an SEO. In fact, if you don’t do your job well, it honestly doesn’t matter what I do.

I could have blackmailed Matt Cutts to get a secret copy of Google’s algorithm, if you can’t keep the site working properly, the site won’t rank.

Last month one of our clients launched a redesign of their site. The next day organic traffic dropped by 15% and it only got worse from there.

After some digging we discovered that a large portion of the site wasn’t actually loading, and when it did, it was throwing a 500 server error. To this day I don’t have any idea what the problem was, why the developers didn’t spot it during development, or why it took so long to fix.

But I do know that it killed search traffic for the better part of a month, and caused me to create little voodoo dolls of the developers responsible.

SEO is Just Good Development

Every few months we’re subjected to a web developer telling the world that SEO is just good web development.

This idea has been refuted by people much smarter than myself, but it continually pops up in the web dev community.

While good development is most certainly a requirement for SEO to be effective (see my previous point), it absolutely isn’t the ONLY requirement of successful SEO.

I suspect this idea is a natural symptom of the next disease that makes SEOs hate developers…

“I Know SEO”-itis

“I know seo”-itis is an incredibly infectious and dangerous disease that closely resembles brain rot.

The disease is easily diagnosed when a developer utters some sort of variation of this phrase: “I’m pretty good with SEO myself” or “I know enough about SEO to be dangerous.”

This almost always translates into “I’ve read a few out-dated articles on SEO and I’m going to tell you how to do your job, and question your expertise at every turn.”

As with any rule, there are some very notable exceptions. There are some people that are just so stinking talented that they rock at developing AND at SEO. But it’s one of those things where if you have to ask if you’re on that list, you’re not on that list.

And what’s worse, SEOs aren’t immune to this disease either. Just because you can throw together a WordPress site doesn’t mean you can call yourself a web developer. Just because you know what on page elements are important to SEO doesn’t mean you are an SEO.

Peacemaking tip: You do your job, and I’ll do mine. We each have our areas of expertise, and if we both do them well, life will be great.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Give peas a chance!

They say it’s a thin line between love and hate. And never has that saying been more true than between SEOs and developers. For an SEO, finding good developers they can work with is like striking gold.

There’s more than enough work in this space to go around, so I’ll agree not to commit any of the unpardonable sins Norcross listed, if you developers will quit providing me ammunition for posts like this.

Who knows, maybe one day we can all sit around the water cooler talking smack about how much we hate designers!

Your Comments

  • netmeg

    Thank you for writing this post so I didn’t have to.

    • Ben Cook

      Haha no problem. I saw your comment yesterday and thought “I hope she doesn’t publish before I do!” :D

      • Rhea Drysdale

        LOL. Was hoping the same. Really love the way these fit together. It’s in our nature to have issues with the opposite side, but both posts have some golden suggestions for ways to make everyone more happy and productive! Thanks for being a part of Expert Week!

  • Chris Miller

    This made me giggle. It’s true.

    I have this vision crazy idea that someday in the next few years there will be a lot less to knife each other over, though. I’d explain my future ideas on what the internet will look like, but I don’t wanna go all Scoble on everyone – but rest assured, If it all works out and Neo defeats the Smith, I think we’ll have an internet more focused / able to process valid content and less hacking together 301s and keyword phrases.

    • Ben Cook

      Chris, I’m not sure I share in your optimistic vision of the next few years, but I’d be happy if fewer people wanted to knife me.

      I’d also be happy if developers knocked this stuff off so here’s to hoping you’re right!

  • Josh Shea

    As a developer, I find that one of the problems between devs and SEO’s is the almost lack of respect for each other. Honestly, Devs don’t respect SEO’s because SEO’s don’t know too much about writing awesome things like algorithms. And, in my experience, SEO’s seem to view devs as introverts who simply move pieces of code around to create a project.

    We need to overcome our differences and both fields need to respect each other. The internet is a great place – and there is no room for en epic armageddon-like battle over who is more valuable. The truth: devs create websites that SEO’s work to get found. period. we need each other.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem working with an SEO. My only problem is trying to find a good SEO, who understands that actual human beings need to use the website too, and not just search engines. Beyond that, creating a 301 isn’t too hard :P

    • Ben Cook

      I think you’re right in that there’s a lack of respect among the two groups. I don’t know much about writing code, but that doesn’t mean I can’t rank sites well.

      I almost included this issue as another point or syndrome but the idea that writing code is superior to SEO often leads to the lack of respect you mention. Go ahead and code your nice site but you’re going to be pissed when my “boring” WordPress site out ranks yours and no one is around to appreciate your fancy coding :D

      As you said, we actually need each other. It’s just a matter of people on both sides realizing that before I start having to angrily tap dance circles around another developer that doesn’t appreciate what I do.

      • Josh Shea

        Ben – I agree with you. I think a big part of the issue is – honestly – bad SEO and bad Developers. There’s bad people on both sides, and they tend to be the loudest (and often, the most well known – at least on the development side).

        The simple fact is that I’m not an SEO pro. I know the basics, but that’s about it. And I don’t want to be an SEO pro. that’s some other guys job. My piece of the puzzle is building a site or an application that functions perfectly. The SEO’s job is to get it in the hands of the right people. there’s no issue of superiority in my mind – they are (almost) unrelated fields that compliment each other.

        We should now start singing Cumbayah or something. I’m feeling all fuzzy inside :D

  • Dawn Wentzell

    Waitaminute… you & Norcross planned this, didn’t you? ;)

    Great posts, both of you. Almost don’t miss Jen posting! Almost.

    Fun fact: I spoke about SEO at a local meetup a few months back, during which a dev in the audience tweeted “I thought I was a pro at SEO, but I learned so much!” Yeah, it was like an “intro to” presentation. *sigh*

  • Rob Woods

    As an SEO, the first challenge is indeed to get GOOD developers. After that if you have good developers who actually care, and their work is messing with SEO, that’s usually the SEO’s fault. I’m speaking from the perspective of an in-house SEO. As an SEO two of the most important aspects of your job are education and convincing the rest of the team of the value and importance of SEO. It’s great for the SEO to know their stuff but I’ve seen lots of instances of SEOs keeping all the “secret sauce” to themselves in a bid to ensure their job security. The problem is that not getting your team educated and motivated is actually making your job LESS secure by not getting results. I’d much rather get a company or site to the point where they don’t really need me, and move on to other challenges, than to horde knowledge and continue to be marginally successful where I am. Having said that I am somewhat spoiled at my current workplace in that I do have great devs who actually care. If you do too, train them and motivate them. If you don’t, fire them and get ones that give a crap and know how to code.

    • ioana

      You’ve seen in-house SEOs keeping secrets, really? My problem was always to get people to listen and actually care about SEO, not saying they want SEO but not being willing to make the effort to understand and integrate it.

  • Norcross

    Funny enough, many of the complaints you have about developers I have as well. I spend a decent amount of time fixing other people’s shoddy code, and it blows my mind that some of it even works at all, much less done correctly from an SEO perspective.

    As many alluded to in my post yesterday, the key is communication. While egos certainly ruin things, far too often it’s a matter of the developer having to “wing it” because there was no other direction provided or the client didn’t want to pony up the money for real SEO work.

    Another issue I run into is that many times, the client expects me (the developer) to know EVERYTHING. They don’t understand that I can’t do it all for them, so they want whatever I can provide.

    A side note: there better not be any drum circles the next time we all meet up, or I’m breaking things in a Belushi fashion.

    • Ben Cook

      Clients expecting you to do it all is something SEOs run into as well. Believe it or not, I don’t know what is breaking your site, maybe ask the people that built it!

      So maybe we all just hate bad SEOs and Devs? Oh, and designers. Everyone hates designers ;)

      • Dawn Wentzell

        As a former designer, I resent that comment! :P

        • Ben Cook

          Its ok, we all have skeletons in the closet. (In reality, I’m just harping on designers because my dad, a designer, responded to these two posts with an email to me stating “and your designer hates you both!”)

          • Frank

            Funny enough, I was already wondering why there should be such a clash between developers and SEOs. With my developer background I find it simple to understand most reasoning behind SEO measures as the search engines are basically a collection of programs. If you’re having problems making your statement clear to a developer, maybe you should explain a bit about the reason for the request.

            Though I had more than once difficulties in discussions with designers, why no one except themselves will care if the layout is always looking exactly the same everywhere and therefore they plan to build the whole site in Flash.

      • Jeff Crump

        Yeah, well… it doesn’t matter if people easily find an awesomely coded website if their eyes boil out of their sockets the first time they see it! +1 for designers!

  • Doc Sheldon

    Two great posts, that seem to arrive at the same conclusion. Respect, communication, teamwork, cooperation….

    Cumbayah, indeed! ;-)

  • Aussiewebmaster

    About 8 years ago I spent 3 or 4 meetings with developers and marketing to create a CMS – the problem was to the developers CMS was middleware – they saw it as the platform to connect their programming to our existing site, while the marketers saw it as the blog like platform to speed publishing

    a month or more had gone by and I finally understood they were hearing different things

    this is a big part of the gulf – then add the different perspectives – one the programming and the other the marketing and you have this situation again

    developers know about SEO but in a different way to marketers – tell them about page load speeds and how it helps, explain how canonical works and the reason for including them in architecture development

    the better the communication and shared perspective the better the conversations and common goals

  • Alex Moss

    It really is hard when dealing with difficult developers. I consider them the chefs of this industry – egos that can only be touched under penalty of torture.

    One developer I worked with had to make me substantiate EVERY single recommendation that I made and even then took months to implemented. Once I advised to implemented a WordPress blog to which I received the response “Why would you need WordPress when I can make a CMS just as good in half a day”. I had to explain that if it was good for CNN, The New York Times and TechCrunch then perhaps it’s good for us. Even then there was doubt.


    • Josh Shea

      This is the part that I disagree with… The assumption that wordpress is the platform of choice, when in reality other platforms – even homegrown ones – are sufficient.

      The issue here that I have is that the SEO demands a platform not based on the merits of the programming, but on the assumption that it’s superior because it’s simply ‘wordpress’. If they both achieve the same goals, then an SEO should never dictate the programmmatic methods. Again – it comes to project scope. Give me the parameters for the project, and I’ll go build it like that. This is where the mutual respect comes in. WordPress can do some things great, while it does other things not so great. A programmer knows the best platform to use. no need to dictate that kind of thing.

      • Josh Shea

        Sorry – multiple posting :)

        I look at this kind of thing as less of an ego thing, and more of a ‘which tool is the right tool’ thing. There are times when WordPress is the right tool… but sometimes it isn’t. I think that SEO’s and Devs can – and should – evaluate which is the best tool for the client, and go with that. No dev wants to recreate what’s already out there, but if something else is better, or just as good – but will take less time – there shouldn’t be a ‘it’s better because CNN uses it’ argument.

        • Alex Moss

          In this instance it was the best tool to use, where WordPress was all that was needed for the project. I guess it goes with the “just tell me what you want and I’ll build it” theory.

          • Josh Shea

            ha – i gotcha. Like I said – I never want to re-build a wordpress. If wordpress is the right system, then it should be used. I apologize on behalf of my fellow Devs :)

    • ioana

      Oh yes. I did the exact same thing – very detailed documents, sometimes rewritten because they weren’t clear enough (I was also the Website Product Manager, not just the SEO). And then the CEO decided to change specs that had been validated months ago. Such fun.

      • alan siskowitz

        “decided to change specs that had been validated months ago”.. LOL what a culture clash. Specs that can’t change for months. SEO is always changing. Adapt or die.

        • ioana

          Those were redesign specs. I don’t know about you, but I think when making a website it’s best not to change one’s mind about a section’s structure (carefully conceived, with user feedback and SEO planned and everything) after it was designed. I did adapt, of course.

  • john andrews

    oh the stories I could tell…. great topic. A few comments:

    – I notice that most of my notes from speaking on SEO in front of developers in 2003 are still relevant today

    – the merit system for developers is VERY DIFFERENT than the merit system for coders (task programmers) and SEOs. if you don’t have a grasp of the various perspectives, you won’t communicate very effectively.

    – every SEO should build their own “test” websites, including a hosted wordpress site, and a “from scratch” html minisite (4 pages with navigation, a contact form and some social media connections is enough). Have a developer help you, but help you as if you were a do-it-yourself client requesting some hand holding. You WILL be enlightened.

    • Ben Cook

      John, I definitely agree it’s a good idea for SEOs to have the experience of building sites from scratch. What do you think is the corresponding activity for developers?

      • john andrews

        I’ve given a few short overviews of SEO to developers at their own meetings. They are always surprised, and end up wanting to know (a lot) more. I think it’s a great local exercise for any SEO, plus good for networking. If you don’t have the chops to stand up in front of developers for 20 minutes and talk from the heart about URLs, duplicate content, crawl practices, etc. you’re probably not ready to be calling yourself an SEO anyway.

        One interesting aspect is how they always start talking about what is fair and not fair, as if that were part of the equation. I try to avoid “Google is evil” but it always starts to show, and they always laugh a bit. They live in a meritocracy, often with little oversight beyond the UI test of their product, and that is part of the problem.

        It’s your duty as an SEO to present once in a while on SEO in front of developers, designers, and small business publishers.

  • Levi

    I think Norcross touched on this yesterday, but a big part of this is WHEN the communication happens too. I can convey what is needed to my dev team over and over, but if the site is already designed and half-way through the build out, I might as well keep my mouth shut (not that ever do). Both parties need to be involved from the beginning..the very beginning. Like, when the client is explaining what they want out of the site.

    All too often I’ve heard client requests that can be built, sure, but from a search perspective, or even a UX perspective, don’t make sense or maybe just need a bit of tweaking. One of my biggest problems with devs is the “just tell me what to build and I’ll build it” mentality without putting much thought into why its being built or what the user’s experience will be.

    And as far as designers go… I dont hate ALL designers, just those that hang with developers. :)

    • Josh Shea

      one thought on this –

      “One of my biggest problems with devs is the “just tell me what to build and I’ll build it” mentality without putting much thought into why its being built or what the user’s experience will be.”

      If a dev doesn’t think about the User Experience, then he’s not a good dev! Not all Developers think that way, and all devs should always take user experience into account when building anything :)

      • Lannon

        Aaaahhhh now why does that ring so true to my ears!? Don’t you just hate those devs that think they are the sh*t, they know it all and the world would be a better place if they developed it! LOL!

      • Levi

        I completely agree here Josh, but unfortunately not all devs are good devs (just as not all SEOs are worth a damn).

  • rick

    You know why these conflicts happen? No project management. If you consider that the designer, dev and SEO are all responsible for different things in a site project but that they’re equals, then who makes sure it all works, interests are all represented and requirements are satisfied? In this and Norcross’ post, the answer seems to have been “No one.” The SEO should be saying “do a 301 redirect” to the PM and it’s the PM’s job to make sure the dev does that and doesn’t do something else. It’s the PM’s job to understand and approve the SEO’s on site actions (plugin installs etc). If you don’t have anyone coordinating you’ll have issues.

    The other point that sticks out is that a dev should know some SEO principles and SEOs should understand a bit of what can be done in development. They don’t need to be experts in each others’ fields but just like a designer will be a better web designer if she understands some HTML and CSS, an SEO who understand some development principles and a dev who gets why a 301 is important will be better team players and better able to ask intelligent questions.

    • Levi

      I’d actually take this even higher and say that its the agencies responsibility to develop a process that allows for this level of communication to take place. Many PM’s wouldn’t know how to check and see if a 301 or meta-redir was put in place. I agree though that it is still there job to take it back to the SEO to make sure it was done correctly.

      See, its not the SEO OR the developer here that is an issue. ITS ALL THE PROJECT MANAGERS FAULT!

  • Bill Marshall

    Excellent discussion and article on stuff that needs to be aired every now and again just to remind people. Communication is indeed often the key and I sometimes think I’ve made a career out of being able to interpret between technical and non-technical people (whatever that “technical” happened to be).

    One thing I would say is that the split between SEOs and developers isn’t that simple. I started out (1994) having to do everything as a “webmaster” and thus learned all aspects, but that seems to be rare these days. A lot of people who call themselves developers are actually programmers with little understanding of the subtleties of HTML, which they regard as kids stuff. If they are outputting web code from their programs rather than outputting data within a template then you can get all sorts of horrors that are bad web design structurally and bad for SEO. (And that’s without even considering the problems of “designers” using .Net visual design tools producing crap code.) Then there’s the “SEO’s” who are actually more SEM’s or link builders and don’t look at the interface, or the complexity of the checkout, or understand the semantic basis of the HTML and the structure built on top of it. Look at a lot of job adverts and you’ll see that often SEO’s are expected to do PPC as well as organic yet to me they are quite different disciplines.

    It’s all too easy to find that rather than two or three practitioners you actually have five or six, and while each of them think they are doing a great job within their field the resultant work doesn’t gel together at all.

    Still, we can all be secure in hating graphic designers ;-) (especially the ones that want the site to be pixel perfect identical in all browsers on all platforms!)

  • Demian Farnworth

    What about the copywriters? Does anybody hate the copywriters?

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t hate anybody. Or anything. Except for mainstream country music.

    Btw: Nice post, BJ. VERY well written. ;-)

  • Rufus Dogg

    Some perspective: I almost didn’t read today’s article because the title was so much the same as Norcross’ yesterday.. “I already read that,” my subconscious, over-worked, over-saturated, prone-to-skim-crap brain said…

    I wonder if I’m alone….

  • Dwcourse

    I would add we all f*** up some times and, it works better for everyone if we work together to fix the problem than pointing fingers. Mistakes aren’t necessarily the result of someone being bad at their job or not respecting someone else’s profession.
    Sometimes they are just honest mistakes. An adversarial relationship just makes everyone’s jobs harder.

    (And by the way Designers hate you both! :>)

  • Demian Farnworth

    Hi Doc, that was sarcasm. I’m a copywriter. A pretty good one. But not very good with humor, I guess. ;-)

    And you’re right: we are damn adorable.

  • Matthew

    Thanks for this post Ben. Love your writing style!

    Can’t say I “hate” developers but have definitely encountered all of the above scenarios before and it can become pretty frustrating. “I Know SEO”-itis has got to be the worst – especially when combined with “Same thing syndrome”. *pulls out hair*

    I have found however, that once you find a developer who takes the time to listen and understand why things aren’t “the same”, you can educate them on SEO and actually begin to improve their SEO knowledge! Then, you’ve got yourself a great developer who you’ll never want to let go!

  • Lisa Myers

    haha, SO true. It makes my blood boil when developers tells me something can’t be done when I fine well know it can or when they say “I know SEO”…agh. I don’t see why we can’t get along either, the times I’ve worked WITH developers the results have been brilliant but unfortunately the times developers works “against” me far outweighs the “good” times.

    • ioana

      Oh, I actually used to have fun catching them saying something can’t be done and forcing them to admit it was in fact possible. They can fool clueless managers but they can’t fool me!

  • Maciej Fita

    Oh have we all ran into these situations before. I have had my share of developer run ins to the point were I simply wanted to bang my head against the wall. My favorite is passing over a group of meta data and having all my “and” words replaced with “&” symbols. No sir it is not the same thing and search engines don’t like symbols like & in meta data!

  • David Hawkins

    Great article!
    Having started online building websites and falling into SEO because the work was there in droves, I can testify to how it helps with SEO. Infact, for many times the technical knowledge lays the foundation of my approach.

    I agree, communication is the stumbling block. I get the impression that ‘if you don’t speak my language you don’t warrent my time’ – vernacular included. We’ll always have this debacle whether it’s SEOs’ and developers, tree surgeons and naturists – it’s just human nature to have a point of view and take sides.

  • Gerard McLean

    Good developers genuinely want to learn why something has to be like it is. Many SEOs clients hire independently want to hide their “magic” and not explain why they need something this way or that. That creates distrust. When you point out that their SEO techniques were valid in 2007 but not today (good developers keep up on stuff) they barrel through anyway, using the old “you’re just a developer; I’ve got research to prove that wrong” attitude they must teach at some seminar somewhere. We see the same lines developers/designers use about UX/UI so there is equal abuse on that side as well. Stuff changes.. fast.. both in development and SEO.

    I’ve learned things from good SEOs who were willing to explain why they needed something one way or the other. It helps build flexibility into the code so when SEO requirements change, the client isn’t stuck with a whole new redesign. Good developers design for change; bad ones design for job security.

    We should also keep in mind that developers and SEOs are competing for the same pile of money; a budget the client has woefully underestimated from the start. That is never fair, but that is usually the way projects go.

    • Cynthia LaLuna

      What Gerard said. Also, I don’t like it when SEOs want FTP logins so they can “change some filenames for better SEO.” WTF? Are you talking permalinks, which can be changed from WordPress? Or are you talking about doing something that will get overwritten in the next WordPress update?

      Don’t try to keep secrets from the developer – explain the “why” and let them be the one to implement, and then they’ll most likely be ready to partner with you much more efficiently the next time around because they’ll understand where you’re headed.

      Those of us who are responsible for making sure our client’s site stays up and functional get cranky about non-developers threatening to tinker with code.

      • john andrews

        SEO: Please change these 400 filenames (image file IMG_006545-small40x67.jpg becomes “small-flower-vase-red.jpg” etc) and add matching ALT attributes in all lower case, plain-text, no apostrophes or punctuations.

        DEV: you’re kidding, right?

        SEO: No, please change them. It’s for SEO.

        DEV: but we autogenerate those filenames, and thumbnails, from our sooper-dooper image.php function. They can’t be changed.

        SEO: Okay. Then give me ftp access to change them directly on the site.

        DEV: but your manual changes will be overwritten on next content update via autogen, which we do whenever the hell we feel like, without telling anyone. You’ll have to change them again, manually, each time.

        SEO: No worries. We bill hourly. Your Christmas bonus should cover it.

        • Gerard McLean

          Exactly to my point. First, this is not hard for a good developer.. The initial rename takes a few minutes, a few lines of code for someone who can write Perl (or even from the shell), assuming the SEO is willing to create an XLS file (or similar) that says change file >seo_friendly_name>alt_tag

          If this is a requirement for SEO, then a good developer will write this into the “auto generate” script that can read on named subdirs or something like that. If files need naming like that, tell the developer so he can design for change moving forward.

          BTW, “it’s for SEO” is never an explanation. Saying that, a developer hears, “It’s a need to know and you don’t have a need to know.” If you explain how search engines see images and how that helps the site, a good dev will be more than happy to make the changes. A bad one deserves to be unemployed.

          • john andrews

            Sometimes the client does not yet want to pay to “properly” develop a facility that incorporates this sort of seo optimization (nor cover the time required for said developer to get up to speed on why it needs to be done). Remember this is the developer who was first-line for the request to change a bunch of file names (probably not the CTO).

            Often SEO is on trial… if it will help things, we’ll do more (or institutionalize it, codify it, etc), but maybe it’s just a trial. In other words, the General Solution (typically chosen by developers for efficiency and poetry reasons) is not always the best solution.

            In other words, manual changes are sometimes the best solution, for business reasons. Even a lot of them can be cheap, compared to making significant changes to the code base (such as example above, where reverting the manual changes is actually super cost effective due to the autogen… a nice bonus if needed).

            And there are *many* “judgment calls”made every day by SEO people, who keep an eye on business and performance issues. If we need to bring the developer in because they are resistant or unresponsive otherwise, costs increase (the risk/benefit ratio for SEO changes, which exists naturally due to the search marketplace, is tilted by the developer’s attitude… which costs everyone time/money).

            Keep in mind that marketplace is VERY fluid.. more fluid than the technology world the developer lives in (Google changes faster than jQuery etc).

            Also keep in mind that changing image filenames and ALT attribs (example here) is done “on the fly” by an SEO, but uses a lot in-context judgment (proper words to select, order, style, etc). Even segregating image adjustments to a separate Excel sheet adds complexity/costs (it does.. might be worth it, but it is more costly than making changes in-line).

            The game is to move a page up in the serps, and LEARN about that serp using the data obtained ( did it move, how did it move, who did it beat, who didn’t it beat, what was the traffic for old position, what is traffic for new position, etc). The insight gained will be used to help decide whether or not more work is cost-effective (including whether or not it is cost-effective for the developer to institutionalize the process into the code).

            Too many chefs? Does the developer need to be brought into every business decision? Does the developer’s judgment on these specific issues have to be considered? Catered to?

            “it’s for SEO” is indeed an explanation… but the groundwork should have been laid out already, that the SEO effort is going to make changes, how permanent are they, what levels of cooperation are needed, etc. And then, follow the agreements, don’t second-guess. If you want to challenge, challenge on outcomes not strategy or process. Anything else and you’re getting in the way.

  • Shegeek

    Unfortunately, the key element which tends to get lost in the devs vs. SEO debate is the users themselves.

    Despite stereotypes to the contrary, good web developers are (among other things) staunch advocates for the user experience. Much of the frustration devs experience when dealing with SEO issues is caused when usability is sacrificed for the sake of SEO rankings. Some SEO’s can get so caught up in improving and tweaking search engine rankings that they lose focus on the quality of the website itself – “quality” being defined as how well it achieves its mission (to share information, encourage conversion, promote political action, etc.), not necessarily what Google perceives as “quality” for the purpose of site ranking.

    • DWcourse


      True enough but you can’t to share information, encourage conversion, promote political action, etc. fi you don’t have an audience and getting that audience is the goal of SEO.

      If a website falls in the forest and Google doesn’t hear, does it make a sound?

      • Shegeek


        Very true, but it’s a balancing act – too far to one side or the other and the website will fail regardless. Of course SEO is important, but so is usability. Where that balance lies depends on the site and the niche. Sometimes sacrificing a bit of usability for the sake of SEO is justified, but sometimes it’s really, really not.

  • Vic

    This is the same dynamic Web designers and developers have also.

    In defense of developers, I imagine it is frustrating to have a job with a number of requirements, then have a designer come in after that is done with another list of requires, then a usability person with another and SEO/content people with even more.

    In defense of the rest of us, get over yourselves! You have a specialized skill just like everybody else and you won’t go very far with that chip on your shoulder.

  • jon

    I liked it. Nice post. I know seo, and like you said just cause i can build a wordpress site does not mean i know how to be a web developer could not agree more. nice article.

  • Jon Weston

    Great post. Developers aren’t the only problem of course, ad agencies and other old media like Yellow Pages will also sell “SEO” to clients with some really painful repercussions.

  • Anita Campbell

    Ben, this is an excellent post.

    But there’s one unanswered question here: are the SEOs the green gang or the blue gang (’cause the green guys look tougher – the blue ones look like wimps).

  • Dan

    I just thought up a little something… a rather interesting conundrum this could be for all of us to try and figure out.

    What if a person is both a developer and an SEO? Does said person hate ones self for this?

    • Gerard McLean

      Each camp would argue that type of person does neither well enough to be good at either. But as a sometimes dev, sometimes SEO, there is a lot of self-loathing in the biz :-)