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Lee Odden

The Lowdown on Web Designers and SEO

By Lee Odden     Business of SEO, Online Marketing, SEO

“Why Shouldn’t I Have My Web Designer Do Our SEO?”

This is a question we often hear from companies that are playing devil’s advocate during a site redesign that also needs optimization for better visibility on search engines. It’s sort of a, “As long as you’re under the hood, can you fix that other thing” perspective. Since the site design and code are being reworked, why not sprinkle some keywords in there?

This is a logical attitude for business or site owners who think of search engine optimization as purely a technical discipline. Too often this perspective is fostered by people in the web design and interactive industry who consume outdated information about SEO.

A 3rd party vendor web designer asked on a recent client conference call, “What about the Florida update?”. All I could do is smile and continue talking about latent semantic indexing. Hah, just kidding. We don’t spew LSI nonesense.

What we do in those situations is tactfully explain the scope of how and when search engines make updates so that everyone has a better perspective on how outdated the “Floriday update” is without demeaning the web designer’s credibility. It’s a slippery slope sometimes dealing with the political side of client engagements. You won’t get anywhere bashing other vendors, especially if you need them for execution.

Today’s SEO is not just about the technical side or about “textbook” SEO. As an example, most web developers and/or designers are not often trained, tasked or interested in doing the kind of competitive marketplace, keyword analysis and creative content strategy that is required to create the foundation of a site optimization project. Web designers are more often than not an invaluable resource for implementing recommendations, but not for setting SEO strategy.

Many times, web designer SEO involves being given a list of keywords by the site owner or someone in marketing and asked to put them in title tags, meta tags, alt text, link text and possibly modifying code so that urls are crawler friendly.

A specialist in search engine optimization is going to have tools for analyzing a keyword marketplace, competitor web sites as well as content recommendations. Keywords are mined from the current client site, competitor sites, mining data from web analytics and the on-site search engine, tools like Keyword Discovery and WordTracker, Google trends and possibly interviews with client front line staff that interact with the target market such as sales people and customer support teams. Most web designers aren’t going to have time or the resources to do all that. But they will be instrumental in the implementation of those recommendations.

We employ web design staff on our SEO team and for the most part, we try to avoid doing web design projects because we’re so busy fixing web sites made by other designers. Most designers do not make web sites that are not search engine friendly on purpose. Rather, they make web sites that focus on the user experience without regarding the search engine experience. In most cases, the designer is not asked to make the site search engine friendly or optimized in the first place. The business owner doesn’t know any better and many times, the web designer doesn’t either.

Having a creatively and technically talented web designer is a tremendous resource. Having a creatively and technically talented SEO as well makes it a one-two punch. Now scale that up with a training program, viral marketing specialists, web analytics and top notch account managers skilled in the arts of client and geek diplomacy and you have one heck of a SEO firm.

Can a web designer do SEO? Some can, some won’t and some just don’t have the time to stay current with SEO methodology. The question is, can they do the kind of SEO that will help build your brand AND increase sales?


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