SEOs vs. Developers: Ultimate Nerd Standoff

Is it finally time to talk about something other than Google+? Yes, I think so, and this week we’re getting back to basics with an old-fashioned throwdown between two factions of web geek: search engine optimizers and developers.

The battle began when Outspoken Media published a guest post by Andrew Norcross titled “News Flash to SEOs: Your Developer Hates You.” And Norcross isn’t mincing words:

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.

Norcross thinks a lot of the problem is that so many so-called SEO “experts” are actually totally clueless, and they’re giving the whole SEO profession a bad name. True enough, although this doesn’t help those of us who do know a thing or two about SEO and still have to work with developers. More helpful are his insights into the fundamental differences in mindset between an SEO and a web developer:

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. [emphasis mine]

Now, here’s an objection I can get behind. A while back, the DIYSEO blog did a big group interview on the biggest mistake SMBs make with SEO. Here was my answer:

Not defining clear goals—and ways to verify those goals against a benchmark—before you start making changes.

This is really the only way to know what is and isn’t working. It’s easy to get invested in a project, like an SEO audit or a site redesign, and forget the big picture. So whether you’re doing SEO in-house or outsourcing it, make sure there’s a clear outline in place for tracking progress (in terms of traffic, conversions, links and other engagement), as well as a way to roll back changes if you actually hurt your results. You should also incorporate testing as much as possible, rather than going on gut feelings.

Whether or not you’re trying to coerce reluctant developers into doing SEO work for you, it’s crucial to have well-defined goals for SEO. Clear goals mean better outcomes and happier developers.

Problem solved, right?

Ah ah, not so fast – because as Ben Cook pointed out in another Outspoken Media post, SEOs hate developers too! In response to Norcross’s news, Cook writes: “Well you know what? The feeling’s mutual.” Like Norcross, Cook thinks the majority of developers are lousy at their jobs, and commit the following errors:

  • “Same Thing Syndrome” – This arises when developers claim two different solutions to a problem are effectively the same, when in fact they are substantially different from an SEO perspective – for example, creating a 302 redirect instead of a 301.
  • “Serial Murder” of SEO – Norcross complained that SEOs break sites by installing plugins and other bad mojo; Cook counters that developers are just as likely to break SEO work through redesigns.
  • “SEO Is Just Good Development” Propaganda – Developers love to claim that good development negates the need for separate SEO, but of course this isn’t true, as Cook notes: “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.” See link building.

Still, Cook offers some peacemaking tips, because in the end he wants us all to get along. He says communication is key (you know what happens when you ass-ume!), as well as conceding that development and SEO are two separate areas of expertise: “You do your job, and I’ll do mine.

So, have we worked out all our differences?

Hell no! Chris Le, who straddles the line between the SEO and developer words, says “Dear SEOs and Developers: YOU BOTH SUCK.” (Oh no he didn’t!)

Le has some tips for both professions. To developers, he says “Nobody cares about the technology!” What business people care about it money. It’s not enough to build a site that works. “Show the client how a technology will save them money or tell them how the technology will get them to market faster.  That’s the stuff that makes them keep you.”

To SEOs, he says, “Don’t tell me how to do my job!” Developers are guilty of “same thing syndrome” because SEOs don’t “educate” them, he said. If you specifically want a 301 redirect, tell them why: “We love knowing how things work.  That’s why we’re developers!”

To both, he says “It’s all about the customer, stupid”:

In the end, whether you’re a designer, a programmer, an SEO guy, a finance guy, whatever.  We all have different ways and different philosophies in our disciplines.  We should be learning from each other.  But in the end, none of it matters if the client isn’t reaching their goals.

Well, even if we got a few doses of good advice in there, that was a lot of haterade for one post, wasn’t it? So how about some straight-up positivity: Our own in-house developer, Glen, is a total bad-ass and has a great attitude to boot. You’ll never find anyone in marketing writing a “Dear Glen, you suck” letter.

What about your company? Do your SEOs and developers get along?

Web Marketing Highlights of the Week

Speaking of badasses: Pretty much every post Glen of Viper Chill writes is a doozy. Check out his latest, “5,867 Words on Becoming a Conversion Machine: A Guide for Bloggers.”

Ross Hudgens has also been blogging up a proverbial storm lately. On Search Engine Land, he talks through how one company built 20,000 citations with one killer email.

More link building madness! Rae Hoffman-Dolan published the 2011 edition of her Link Building with the Experts series, featuring Aaron Wall, Debra Mastaler, Eric Ward and other masters of the link.

In a total switcheroo, Robert Scoble admits that sometimes he’s wrong and apologizes to the SEO industry for former crap-talkin’.

SEO Book published a great, in-depth guide to making awesome landing pages for local PPC.

In a guest post on High Rankings, Dianna Huff explains how to help your visitors find your content using blog categories and tags (while warning against committing the sin of tag spam – amen).

My favorite branding blog dissects the new TechCrunch logo.

And finally, a funny post on The Awl reminds us that brands have feelings too.

Happy weekending!