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Event Recap: Building SEO & Developer Relationships

Historically there's been an invisible gap between developers and SEOs - it's always stated that devs don't make good SEOs and SEOs don't make good developers. But this needs to change in order to create synergy between the teams, working towards a common goal.

how to improve and build seo and developer relationships

How to Build & Improve SEO & Developer Relationships — Part I

For June we were delighted to bring you a panel of experts to discuss how to build and keep SEO & Developer relationships. For this webinar we brought in 5 excellent speakers:

The focus of the webinar was to hold a Q&A format roundtable to discuss successful ways to bridge the gap that often occurs between SEOs and Developers. Each person brought a unique perspective and we’re deeply grateful they’ve made time to present their views.

You can watch the full recording here:

Historically there’s been an invisible gap between developers and SEOs – it’s always stated that devs don’t make good SEOs and SEOs don’t make good developers. But this needs to change in order to create synergy between the teams, working towards a common goal.

Introducing our panelists

Before jumping in, we’d like to introduce our contributors along with their background and experience:

Nick Wilson

Nick has had a presence in the SEO community for 20 years and has even run his own development studio, working with 27 devs. He’s worked across multiple different verticals and roles and has worked as a consultant in-house with large brands.

Nick has also worked with devs a lot over the years and first thought they would take over a lot of SEO roles and put us out of work – but that’s not the way it has played out. SEO has gotten more technical and we need to work with Developers more.

With that split, having SEOs that are more technical has changed the relationship we have with our devs, we have more documentation and transparency from Google, especially in terms of development documents, so the opportunity for a collaborative relationship has never been greater.

Nick’s key tip: To build strong relationships with developers, SEOs need to speak their language.

Richard Barrett

Richard is a senior technical analyst here with us at DeepCrawl operating on the Professional Services team. He has worked for agencies, in-house, and started his career as a full-stack developer. Being one of the only developers that had any interest in SEO he started learning more and gravitating towards technical SEO.

He never saw developers as a threat, but more as the complementary side that executes and solves problems on a less theoretical level. Keeping up with SEO updates can be tough and SEOs can provide devs with conflicting messaging – because of that, devs don’t often take their SEOs that serious.

Richard’s key tip: If you can return something of impact to the Developer, such as saying that something that they built/pushed had X impact, they are far more likely to be receptive to our requests.

Polly Pospolova

Polly is a digital marketing director at Delete agency, but has worked in-house as well. She started her career writing code but considers herself a recovering coder now.

To her, SEOs act like an orchestral conductor and it’s our responsibility to bring together talent and to see the bigger picture. To be successful, SEOs and devs need to truly understand the client and how their business works and how they make their money.

Polly’s key tip: You also need to be flexible – sometimes what will make the most impact isn’t technical SEO so you shouldn’t have too narrow of a focus.

Rachel Costello

Rachel is a technical SEO consultant at BuiltVisible and before that, she was a technical SEO manager at DeepCrawl. She’s worked on the agency side with migration projects and in-house with a large e-commerce focusing on quantifying technical SEO work, and she’s also a speaker and writer.

She has written a white paper for DeepCrawl on the relationship between devs and SEOs and collaborated with Developers while on the team. By collaborating, she’s discovered you need to focus on problems that they can solve and understand their roles so you have the right audience.

Aymen Loukil

Aymen is an international SEO consultant and has extensive experience as a computer engineer and software developer working with developers on projects, and recognizes that the relationship can have its challenges. SEO itself is very broad and encompasses many different areas of focus, therefore, communication is essential to create a relationship between both of the disciplines.

Aymen’s key tip: When you spend more time with Developers you’ll learn from them, and Developers learn from SEOs.

Questions from the Audience

Q: What is the best way to pass SEO improvements to the development team (rather than passing stuff like PageSpeed Insights over to them)?

    • Jon: Bribe them with pizza
    • Nick: Understand their workflow and then use it – whether it’s Jira or others so you know how to put the recommendations in a format that mirrors the rest of their work. Enable them to have the resources for them to get the work done – be prepared to advocate for them and make a business case.
    • Polly: Get on video calls; it’s important to communicate in a warm way to convey the importance of your ask – it’s the way to work together with the least amount of wasted time.

Q: How do you connect with Devs, especially when you’re new to job and want to encourage a new way to work across teams?

    • Richard: You need to spell out why the Developer should call. You cannot expect them to be doing their job as well as self-teaching themselves and staying up to date on SEO. Don’t just generate new work, generate potential new ideas together.
    • Rachel: Phrasing is important – don’t go in with “here’s what we need to fix” or “here’s what’s wrong”. If you can go in and call them improvements or opportunities they’ll be more open to helping. Get involved in regular meetings and roadmap planning so you can make changes ahead of time rather than after something has been shipped.
    • Aymen: Spend time with Developers – allocate one day where both sides have to spend time together to learn one another’s processes, priorities, and roadblocks. Never send long reports of requirements, just split them into separate asks (current behavior/expected behavior). SEOs also need to learn how to write user-stories.

Q: We talk a lot about PageSpeed Insights – how can you take that as an SEO task and specifically translate it to a Developer?

    • Polly: It depends on where you are as an SEO – is this a new request or are you fixing something that’s broken? Recognize that PageSpeed Insights’ recommendations are complex and not easy for most to execute. Focus on low-hanging fruit rather than trying to make sweeping recommendations; make new pages built to hit requirements.

      Q: Are there any tools that you use to prioritize the asks you’re sending to Developers?

    • Aymen: Understand the business and the section of the website that drives business. Find a convenient framework like the ease of fix, impact, etc, then get buy-in from the Dev team on the framework. Try to truly be a part of the team and know what’s going on, the history of the issue, where the investment is, and the complexity/value metrics.
    • Nick: Work on understanding the effort versus the value to move KPIs – you cannot really do this with tools.
    • Rachel: Prioritize the scale of the issue, crawling tools can help you better understand and illustrate this. Then overlay revenue/traffic data on top of this (MVP approach).

Q: How do you explain the business impact of changes to the Development team or get stuff bumped up in the queue?

    • Nick: Using competitive data that allows them to see where they are in relation to other sites is a good incentive, especially for a senior leader.
    • Polly: Know what is important to the stakeholders so you can justify the effort for decision-makers.

Q: When you relaunch an older site there is usually a huge amount of redirects. Often Developers want to delete the redirects after a while – do you have experience convincing someone to leave redirects even if they want to clean up their files?

    • Richard: Especially for a larger site, you need to find a way to meet in the middle versus trying to do everything perfectly, also, add cost info if you can.
    • Rachel: At some point having too many redirects in the .htaccess file, for example, you need to make sure that you’re testing regularly, looking at log file data to quantify important redirects, and use regex to see if you can consolidate some lines.

Q: On JavaScript, for an SEO/rendering perspective – what’s the best way to introduce the importance of JS to developers that aren’t as familiar?

      • Nick: The challenges here often mirror the challenges that are faced when you’re trying to improve accessibility. With the popularity of JS frameworks, everyone excepts that we’re going to be building with it often – use crawling tools to see the extent helps conversations.
      • Polly: It’s all about what Googlebot is actually seeing so you need to dive into Google Search Console and other tools and take a look.
      • Aymen: Use diff checkers with different user-agents to spot issues and show them to the wider team.

Q: How do you handle mistakes made by Developers, especially when talking to the clients?

      • Polly: Never throw an individual under the bus. As SEOs we need to be taking full responsibility – you can’t just delegate and not check-in and validate pushes.
      • Aymen: Understand why the error occurred but know that there are no bad individuals; it is normal to have errors during projects.
      • Every member should be responsible for some part of the engagement – you have to work together.
      • Nick: Remember that errors can be an opportunity to fix the process, sometimes things going wrong means that they won’t go wrong the next time.

We’d like to say a big thank you to all of the panelists for sharing their experiences and insights, as well as all of those who attended and asked such great questions.

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DeepCrawl Automator is a one of a kind product that helps to avoid traffic and revenue loss by mitigating the risk of introducing harmful code changes with new releases, while also helping to bridge the gap between SEO and development teams. Automator benefits the whole company by preventing errors from being released, speeding up development and QA processes and reducing the impact on production environments.


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