In my conversation with Martin Splitt, Developer Advocate at Google, we discussed key tactics for how Developers and SEO teams can work together to build great websites.
When developer teams and SEOs are working well together, clients see great results because users get a better experience. I've used these tactics to great effect when working with in-house and partner development teams, and they have helped us to create an environment for high-quality implementation, creative development, and less stress for all parties involved.
Here are my top tips for establishing and maintaining better relationships between Developers and SEOs.
Introduce yourself before you start making recommendations
This is really important. Developers are often inundated with people making requests that are (seemingly or actually) incredibly important and urgent. Additionally, there may be mission-critical technical issues, which need to be addressed just when you need them most.
When this happens, Developers have high pressure conversations with a number of stakeholders. If you add in another layer of SEO recommendations to this mix, your request might not be met with enthusiasm. Partially, because, if they are not familiar with the fix that you are advocating, they may not have the time to investigate, and they might not have the brain space to understand why it matters. All this can cause stress between Developers and SEOs.
So, I would recommend, as soon as you join a project, taking the opportunity to have a quiet word with the Developers to introduce yourself. Book this ahead of time, talk to them about some of your core skills, your general mode of approach and some of the things you hope to achieve at a broad level for the site. This is also a good time for you to get an understanding of their team.
When I am meeting new Developers for the first time I will generally ask questions like:
Who’s on your team? Do you work solo or do you outsource some of your Dev tasks?
What is the best way to put tickets together for you?
What is the typical lead time for an SEO fix? Ie. Should I typically expect to see changes within a week or a month?
Have you ever worked with an SEO before?
You’ll notice that none of these questions is about a specific SEO issue, and they shouldn’t be. You should be thinking about how you will work together, some of the ways that they work, and their approach solving problems. If you're able to do this before, anything needs improvement, or before anything breaks, conversations down the line go much smoother.
Bonus round, it also helps to compliment the Developers on the things that you think are great about the website before you start talking to them about ways to improve it.
Focus on Opportunities over Problems
In my conversation with Martin Splitt at Google one of the things I recommended was framing any recommendations as “opportunities to improve” rather than as “problems with the site”. Making this distinction was transformative for me. It helps to keep conversations positive and helps to frame any recommendations as something that's adding to the value of the website rather than something that is dismissing what was there before.
Have a Feasibility Chat Before Briefing Big Changes
When you're making big changes or starting new SEO projects that will need support over a long period of time, it helps to have a quick feasibility discussion with the Developers before you start making full recommendations.
For instance, with Core Web Vitals, before I started looking into some of the more important more specific recommendations, I had a quick chat with the Developers to let them know that we were going to make these kinds of recommendations. I spoke to them months before tickets were raised so nothing was a surprise when it came to briefing.
These meetings are effective because they help you get a sense of:
Potential challenges, like which SEO changes could be challenging for them to implement, fairly straightforward or could need additional resources.
Likely Timelines which can help you to prioritize what to do when and can also help manage client expectations.
Alternative Recommendations for approaches that achieve the result that you want in a way that works well with your tech stack, but is different from what you originally expected.
Concepts which are new to them and so will need more explaining in your brief or som additional documentation. This can help to manage your workload so that you know which tickets are going to need a little bit more care than others.
All of this helps Developers to feel more active as part of the SEO process and means that they are not confused when you want to do a complete overhaul of something they built!.
Admit When You Don't Know Something
It is possible to be brilliant at your job and still have knowledge gaps. This is tech. So things are changing rapidly. All the time. Sometimes people have different words for the same thing or maybe they’re used to a different method.
If Developers use a term that you don't know, don't be too proud to ask what it is. This will save confusion and will create an environment where they also able to ask you about terms that they don't know. This will save everyone from talking in circles.
Say Please and Thank You
Yes, really. It is important that people know you appreciate their work. Not only is this just good manners - but your team will do better work. They will also humor some of your more challenging requests because they know that you will be grateful for the efforts.
This is something that costs nothing and can make a big difference to project delivery overall.
Share Business Impact of SEO Changes
When you tell Developers how the changes they’ve made have increased sales or leads or conversions or speed, you are creating by-in. That brief that took a significant amount of time for the Developers to implement and you have been able to demonstrate different results.
Share client wins with the Development team. Tell them about the good response you’ve had from customers about the new feature they built. Where possible, give them credit when you're talking to the client or other stakeholders. Over time builds trust in the SEO process and the value of even seemingly small changes.
Create Tickets that Can Be Shared Widely
When you're creating briefs, don't expect the person that you're speaking to or your primary contact within the Development team to be the person who updates who makes the fix.
There is a lot of outsourcing within Developer teams and there are a lot of moving parts with regards to the tech stack. So it could be that your primary Developer may need to refer your question or query to someone involved with the CDN or the server or a third party team. If you have a brief which is universally accessible, which has all the required information, then this will make it easier to get the changes that you want implemented.
Use Multimedia to Illustrate your Requests
There are a range of tools available that allow you to use screenshots, video messaging, code diffing and other features to allow you to demonstrate an issue rather than just explaining it. My favorite tools for this are:
Screen Shots form Chrome Dev Tools
I've seen a number of tickets where SEOs say to Developers “[This] is broken. Can you fix it?” and most of the time that’s not enough. Tickets like this are less likely to get actioned straight away because it requires the Developer to investigate something that the may not have the tools to assess. If you're able to share a screen to show how and where the issue occurs then this can help reduce confusion and to increase the likelihood that you will get the help you need.
Validate the Changes as Soon as Possible
Once your updates have been implemented, check them immediately and understand how you will test the changes before you ask for help. If you require live user data, then book in time to check for bugs, an appropriate amount of time for data collection.
Developers are often moving on to the next thing, so you're able to test the implementations on the same day that the changes have made this will help you to action any further requirements or revisions quickly. If you wait too long, your Developers may have forgotten the details, people from the team may have shifted around or you may have.
Research two to three options or examples for fixing an issue
This is really effective because as an SEO you may not know precisely how to make certain changes. However, if you're able to give a Developer an example of something that is working, potentially on a competitor's website then this can go a long way. Access websites like StackOverflow, GitHub and platform documentation to give a few examples of potential solutions for a given problem.
The Developer will be able to discern which is the best solution. But if you're able to point them in the right direction, this can often reduce the R&D time.
Share multiple examples for recurring issues
Sometimes you will encounter a recurring issue like URL formatting errors, media displaying in a way that you wouldn't expect, or a server issue affecting a specific section of the website.
In this instance you should make sure that you're providing multiple examples of the issue so that Developers can discern what is a variable and what is a constant. Use tools like Content King and Little Warden to track changes and monitor them as they occur.
Providing information about when an error occurred can give Developers a clue for where the error came from. Developers can use this information to check server logs, application updates and other website components to find any breaks in the chain. This is another approach that can save a lot of time and confusion with regards to understanding what needs to be fixed.
Understand Who Does What
Take some time to understand and create a list of relevant contacts for your website's tech stack. Websites are increasingly complex and often involve multiple teams working in tangent if you are trying to manage SEO changes. Subdomains, CDNs, CRMs, Shopping Feeds, etc, might be managed by completely different, siloed teams. You will save a lot of time by understanding if there's a difference between the Developer team, the server team, and the SSL and more.
Remember, at the end of the day, we are all trying to get the best results for our website. Be kind, be respectful of each other’s time, be patient when communicating, and you’ll go far.
Watch the conversation on 'Which SEO tools and tests should every developer know?' on Google Search Central
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Crystal Carter is an SEO Consultant and Head of SEO Communications at Wix, with over 15 years experience working with SEO and Marketing clients around the world like Disney, McDonalds, Tomy and more. She has contributed to events, webinars, and publications from Google Search Central, Moz, Whitespark Local Search Summit, Semrush, SMX, Search Engine Land, DeepCrawl, Women in Tech SEO, and more. LinkedIn | Twitter