Lee Odden

SEO Clueless Web Developers: Evil or Cash Cow?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Rant, SEO


I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the web site optimization business has experienced that unfortunate situation with a client where those responsible for creating the web site have done those nasty things that seem to make the site as un-search engine friendly as possible. While it’s not intentional, it can seem awfully ignorant to search engine optimization consultants brought in after the fact to “fix” things.

Common issues include:

  • URLs that are difficult or impossible for search engine spiders to crawl
  • Hard coding the same title tag on all pages, not allowing tags to be edited or no title tag at all
  • Putting most of the content behind a login and not offering “teaser” content
  • Not allowing direct editing of on-page text content
  • Flash or JavaScript navigation
  • All Flash or Ajax sites
  • Changing site design/architecture and not 301 redirecting URLs, or no redirection at all

Let’s face it, it’s not all the web team’s fault. In most cases they’re not trained to pay attention to search engines as a secondary audience or “third browser” as Danny Sullivan has often written about, nor are they tasked by the client (internal or external) to consider how their shiny new web site will do with search engines.

By no means am I saying that all web developers and designers are guilty of such “search engine unfriendliness”. I am surprised though, how often this kind of thing continues to occur. As a SEO consultant, should I mind? It keeps us very busy.

Another cause is that many interactive agencies seem to be driven to use Flash/Ajax in order to be “cutting edge” and win design awards rather than consider how such sites will fare getting crawled by bots. Eventually the web site owner asks, “Why do our search engine rankings suck?”. A popular agency answer? “You need to use Google AdWords”.

You don’t need to search far to find commentary in the SEO industry about the conflicts between SEO and web design. On the one hand, it seems completely avoidable and an unnecessary expense to the client if web developers and creators of content management systems and ecommerce platforms would just consider search engines properly as an audience.

On the other hand, as long as creators of such web based software and web sites continue causing these problems, technical site optimization will be necessary. It keeps us SEOs busy and pretty much perpetuates the need for code and server side optimization. The irony is that a lot of the web design/development community loves to hate SEO, yet their development and design practices perpetuate the need for it. At least for on-page SEO and code optimization.

In the end it does not serve the client well to create web sites that are difficult for search engines to crawl, index and rank. It also does not serve the client to compromise good design and user experience for the sake of ranking well.

The creation of well designed and search engine friendly web sites, content management systems and ecommerce platforms is entirely doable. What will it take to find some common ground between SEO and the web devlopment communities? Is education and awareness the key or is it something else?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.