Got IT? Optimized Code + Crawlability ≠ SEO

Today marks the beginning of a new era for the Search Engine Watch Experts Outsourced column. Many of the readers may know I have moved on from Avenue A|Razorfish to a new role with Emergent Marketing/Brulant, Inc.

It has been a great pleasure offering insight to Search Engine Watch readers from the perch of a large agency setting. We came up with the idea for an Outsourced column last year and it’s been a rewarding and successful run for myself, my colleagues and, I hope, readers in the SEO community. Helping search marketers from the large agency perspective remains the focus of this column. However, since my new role is different and the nature of my old and new companies are not exactly aligned, I asked William Flaiz to take over this column.

William is the vice president of SEO and analytics at Avenue A|Razorfish, and I worked directly for him over the past year. I feel the insight he will bring to this column from here forward will continue to make Outsourced one of the most in-depth, agency “inside views” available in a regular column within the industry.

I will be announcing a new column soon, and am pleased to continue writing for SEW in the years to come.

Passing the Baton

Chris, thank you for the introduction, I look forward to providing insights from the insider’s point of view.

Myth: Optimized Code Is SEO

We often hear from our client’s IT or Web development departments that the company does not need an SEO partner, the Web site code has been optimized so the search engine spiders can crawl it. To them, SEO is all about making the site crawlable, and the thought of an SEO partner being brought into the mix is just a waste of time and money. This is something we hear from quite a few of our clients, and not just their internal development teams, but their Web development partners as well.

I want to go on record saying site crawlability and optimized code is not SEO. It is an important component of what we do, but just that, a component. Just because you added meta data, page titles, and alt tags to the site does not mean you did SEO, especially if the company did not do its keyword research first, and whoever heard of a developer doing keyword research?

As an outsourced service, we must do battle with this type of thinking on a regular basis, and it is my belief that this is not an obstacle many internal SEO teams have to face. If a company is willing to invest the money and effort in developing its own internal SEO team, it must be putting a value on all aspects of the craft. The internal team must have the advantage of being brought onto the project at the beginning of the redesign or new site development. Or so you would think.

Educating the Client

Working within a large agency such as ours, we have the opportunity to experience this issue with a variety of groups, including our own development staff. As with our client’s development teams, we have found the best weapon to be education in combating this myth that optimized code is SEO.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, as it is the job of any valuable partner to educate his/her client, and in our case, our own development teams, on what these parties do not know. Education is part of the reason clients choose partners for a particular service, especially when it is not a competency they have in-house. This is also the reason our agency has a dedicated SEO practice within the organization.

Education Is Ongoing

The education process often takes place during the sales cycle, not in the RFP response alone, but usually during the pitch presentation. We often like to position our pitch as an education process for the client in order to break down these barriers at the start of any potential engagement. Setting the expectations early-on about all the steps necessary to do SEO correctly can save countless hours in the middle of a project. It is also a great way for a partner to demonstrate the value he or she can bring to an engagement.

Once hired, the education process does not stop. We often need to provide workshops for the development teams to emphasize and educate them on the finer points of SEO, such as keyword research, for starters. This seemingly simple starting point for an engagement is often not even considered by a development team or content writers if these parties are not SEO savvy. We can spend an entire day with the development teams and content writers working through the finer points of keyword research and targeting. Building on this research, we are able to demonstrate why the alt tag, “man and woman on the beach picture,” is not the most valuable alt text for an image. Working with the developers to understand the importance of unique title tags and meta descriptions is another example of how training can impact the developer.

It is often an eye-opening experience for the developer to see what’s involved in doing proper SEO for a Web site: keyword research, unique title tags, targeted description tags, keyword-rich and shallow directory structures, etc. A simple one-day training program for the development staff can go a long way in reducing the time and effort to optimize a site after it has been built. It’s not their fault that they don’t know all the ins and outs of SEO. And if they did, a lot of us would be out of a job.

Related reading

Digital marketing strategy guide for B2B industrial manufacturers
The evolution of SEO and the shift from point solutions to platform
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