small-house-island-01Search engine optimization doesn’t live on an island. The success of an SEO campaign – like most other marketing disciplines – depends on the strength of the platforms and disciplines surrounding it. Website development, design, graphics, social, PPC, PR, print, even direct mail; these elements all work together, and depend on one another.

But nothing impacts SEO more than one element – the elephant of digital marketing: website development.

Despite the fact that their work intersects so intricately, most SEOs are not web developers, and vice versa. Due in part to the cloud of misconceptions surrounding SEO, many developers don’t take SEO into account when building a site at all. Adding SEO to development means an extra cost, and clients often figure they can “add SEO in later”. Of course, this usually results in a website that looks nice, but converts poorly and ranks even worse. Because the structure and content of your website in many ways ARE your SEO. Site usability, content, navigation, load time – these impact search engine rankings just as much as they impact the site’s ability to successfully drive and convert traffic.

Sites built without any SEO considerations typically need to be heavily overhauled, or redeveloped from scratch, and this inefficient approach typically ends up costing the client 50-150% more than they would have spent on integrated SEO and development from the start.

It’s a common tale of woe for SEOs, and it’s easy to place blame on the shortsightedness of the client. But is that really fair? After all, it’s not the client’s job to be an expert on digital marketing, and to understand the nuances of SEO and web development – that’s OUR job. We should be working together to guide clients through the most efficient, effective solutions for their business.

But we’re not. Not at all.

As a result, for most SEO projects, site redevelopment is unavoidable. And that means we must collaborate with…you guessed it: web developers. This is where things can get rocky.

SEOs are strategic (at least the good ones are), so when we approach a website build, it’s with great attention to data and detail. Comprehensive sitemaps, link structures and content recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg. An SEO worth her salt, for example, would not only recommend specific navigation elements and landing pages, but also CTA recommendations tailored to maximize the conversion rates of each landing page – and so on and so forth.tug o war

It’s not the most fun data to interpret – it’s usually spat out in massive spreadsheets and, if developers are lucky, rudimentary wireframes, but it’s THERE. I have a document I call my “site blueprint”, because that’s exactly what it is. It gives the precise architectural plans for site structure, content and navigational flow. URL, H1 tags, design notes, content, images, even page template and category specifications – they’re all there.

Literally, everything you need to know to build the website’s structure is in this document.

Yet when I get design skins back, it’s clear the developer hasn’t even looked at the spreadsheet. Head bashing and gnashing of teeth commence, and it’s an ongoing struggle between the SEO, developer, designer and whoever else is involved, each fighting to insert their strategies and priorities into the other’s process bubble.

It’s a worst case scenario, sure, but it’s one that’s all too common.

So, why the massive disconnect between strategy and implementation? Why is it so hard for experts in different but intensely interrelated fields to collaborate on a unified project vision?

I don’t think it has anything to do with developers being lazy, or SEOs being pigheaded (although both do happen). Developers don’t intentionally ignore the strategies SEOs and information architects have labored over to craft. Just like SEOs don’t go out of their way to concoct design requirements that are a PITA to implement.

It’s the system that’s broken. Developers, SEOs, designers, copywriters, information architects, social media managers – hell, even brand agencies – we’re trained to operate in our own little industry niche islands and ignore what others are doing. Because everyone has their own cherished process, and collaborating with other contractors and agencies is hard. After all, if we’re not the ones getting paid for a project segment, why should we care about?

carey-louise-imagineIt’s reflective, it seems, of the traditional single-bottom-line approach to business. You care about your financial bottom line, period, regardless of how your processes or end products impact consumers or the rest of the ecosystem. It’s an approach that’s about ego and pure profit – not about creating value.

This narrow, self-centered approach to digital strategy – and web development specifically – is, in the end, self-destructive. It creates inefficiencies and stunts results for the client. It makes integrated marketing campaigns senselessly difficult. And it makes everyone hate each other.

The question to ask is how can a company can go about closing the development strategy gap? What’s the fix? “More collaboration” isn’t exactly a concrete plan of action, but it’s a starting place. What if, at the outset of a new website development project, the developers, designers, SEOs, information architects, copywriters and photographers all met together to go over a unified strategy? What if each of these experts respected how the others’ work contributes to the success of the finished product? What if SEOs and developers built content blueprints TOGETHER?

Imagine all the people, developing websites in peace.