How to Be Your SEO’s Favorite Developer

As SEOs we shouldn’t pick favorites, but let’s be honest: we totally love that one developer just a little bit more than the others. Why? Well, it probably has something to do with that person being hungry for data and making our job a little easier. Whether you’re a programmer looking to get on your SEO’s good side or an SEO looking to drop a few hints to the programmer in your life, put these practices into action and everyone will be happier and more productive.

Crave the Data

One of the developers at my company recently showed off a real-time data chart he created to keep track of site downtime and its impact on transactions made on a particular website. You should have seen the faces of all the marketers in the room.

The reality is not everyone is born into their career craving data like technical SEOs and marketers are. If you really want to get on a marketer’s good side, condition yourself to ask why something is working a certain way or what information could be used to improve a process. Specifically you can track things like:

  • Site down-time
  • Events, like clicking off-site or to downloadable content
  • Conversions and errors that may be causing people to not convert
  • Data that can’t be tracked using Google Analytics or a similar tool – sit down with your marketing team and discuss what kind of data you can build a solution for. This is particularly helpful on sites that take transactions.

Properly Set Up Your Staging and Live Sites

As digital experts we all know the basics when it comes to site indexing: create an XML Sitemap, your site needs a robots.txt file that references that sitemap and has noindex, nofollow tags for appropriate pages, etc. The piece that often slips under the rug is how your staging sites should be set up in order to send the proper signals to search engines.

To ensure you avoid duplicate content issues with your live content, you must noindex, nofollow your staging site. If you can set up your staging sites behind a password-protected login screen, even better.

Occasionally, developers may push updates from staging to live that include those noindex, nofollow safeguards. As you make updates to a live site, just confirm that you’re only pushing correct changes, and not accidentally bringing your crawler settings from staging to live. To impress an SEO, don’t leave it to them to determine if a noindex, nofollow tag accidentally transferred over to a live site. Instead, create a script to check for this as soon as a site changes goes live. Alternatively, you can also create an “ignore” file in your versioning software to omit robots.txt from being overwritten on the live server. No one benefits from finding out a launch accidentally caused content that is meant to be crawled by search engines to be tagged as noindex, nofollow.

Research the Weird

We’re bound to run into surprises whenever we develop sites on an unfamiliar platform. If you’re coding on a framework that is somewhat new to you, chances are there are some odd “gotchas!” in the system that can poorly impact the site’s SEO if you don’t take the right action. Do your research to get ahead of any pesky issues that will have your SEO asking you to make fixes. There are many quirks to look out for on each platform, but here are a few highlights.

ASP.NET:

.NET can produce ugly URLs because it uses postbacks. We need easy-to-interpret URLs so that search engines and people have a good idea of what a page’s content is about without even viewing the page. Help an SEO out and implement a solution (hint: query strings and URL rewriting) so that your URLS look like this: www.example.com/digital-product-development rather than this: www.example.com/digital.aspx?category=product-development

Also beware of URL-based duplicate content (think: default.aspx and URL capitalization issues) and set up rel=canonical tags that direct to the cleanest, lower-case version of the URL that should receive the SEO credit for the content.

WordPress:

By default WordPress doesn’t have a Robots.txt file, XML Sitemap file, or a way to set Title Tags or Meta Descriptions, so you must use a plugin or create a file for these. Never build a site on WordPress without an SEO plugin such as Yoast or All in One SEO for WordPress, but know that each plugin is slightly different and has different switches to turn features on and off. Having multiple, overlapping SEO plugins will also cause issues, so stick to one.

Educate yourself about what needs to be updated in each plugin during development and after a launch in order for a site to be properly indexed. Checking whether these switches that could impact SEO needs to be on someone’s to-do list when code goes live, and if you make this part of your quality assurance process you’ll make fast friends with SEOs on your team.

Angular, Meteor, MEAN, or any SPA

If you’re working in an SPA (single-page application) you need to be sure you put methods in place so that crawlers can access and index your site. Because these languages rely on JavaScript these search engine crawlers can’t read everything on your page by default. As a result this not only negatively impacts your site’s SEO, but it also can prevent Google Analytics from properly tracking visits to different pages on your site.

You can use a headless browser such as PhantomJS to intercept the regular page request by a crawler and instead show a completely rendered page, just like any human user would see.

Ask Us Questions, All the Questions

When in doubt ask us if what you’re working on is the best practice in terms of SEO. If each of us as digital experts carefully consider the needs and goals of each player in the Web development process – and more importantly the needs and goals of the users – we’ll all achieve greater success together.

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