There’s been a lot written about search engine optimization, and the topic can be controversial. Developers think it’s marketing, marketing also thinks it’s marketing and then fails, and content writers are glad they don’t have to worry about such things. This is the state of many companies right now, and probably one of the biggest reasons that SEO is such a lucrative field right now.
As a developer, I find it invaluable to learn SEO tactics and techniques. Here’s why:
1. Initiative in the workplace
Most developers know nothing – or more accurately, care nothing – about search engine optimization. It’s not our job, who cares? If you take the time to learn, and take initiative to enforce its practices, then your value to the company will go up. Or your job will be outsourced to some third party vendor.
Developers are more interested in new technology to worry about optimization of old technology, much less technology that no one really understands. New versions of Visual Studio, .NET, Gnome, upcoming tools like Silverlight and LINQ can distract developers away from boring old optimization. With SEO skills you will stand out in a crowd, add to your resume, and provide a skill that relatively few people possess.
2. Save time now, play harder later
The fact of the matter is, unless you hire a hands-on consultant, developers will be doing the actual grunt work behind search engine optimization. HTML coding including alt tags, page titles, etc. usually fall under that jurisdiction. Certainly changing IIS settings can be included in a dev’s job in a pinch. If you start of coding things for SEO, then you will definitely save time later.
The reason for this is optimizing is incredibly easy if all the wheels are turning on a project. It can be like a beautiful machine, all the gears turning and everything falling into place, if people are educated from the get-go. However, retrofitting existing projects can be a chore. A terrible, complicated chore. Scour a website and find all the images, add alt text, change the filename to something meaningful, and make sure all the links are updated. Test, because that’s a major change. After testing, push live. Repeat for all the other minor yet significant changes.
Now consider getting a set of images already named correctly from a designer and placing them on a new page during the development phase. No new work so far, you do that anyway. The designer made a very subtle change in the way they work and things are already progressing smoother. Then consider getting a list of alt tags from a content person with a key to what image they belong to. Place alt tag in image tag, and you’re done. That’s it. Much easier than hunting and pecking each existing image, and the best part is this was all done without spending any extra money.
3. Save the company money on consultants
Consultants cost. They can cost big time. And yes, consultants can be useful if you don’t know what you are doing, or if the boss deems it necessary to double-check and validate what you are doing. Learning SEO techniques will make this process smoother, at the very least, minimizing costly consultant time. It can also eliminate the need for consultants if a knowledgeable person takes the time to educate others. Some companies may be more comfortable having an outside come and explain things to them for whatever reason, but internal resources should, and often do, take precedence.
And who knows? More money in the company coffers may mean more money for you at raise time.
4. Personal use
It may not seem like there are many personal uses for SEO, but there are. Consider wanting to start your own personal site, say a natural dog food recommendation site. Right now there is a lot of competition for “natural dog food”, the search term brings up 28 million hits on Google. According to the tool overture, the term gets searched only 4482 times in the month of January.
This means the ratio is:
4,482 / 28,000,000 = 0.000160071429
That is obviously not ideal. Very very small number of people looking for the same thing as you. Broadening out to just “dog food”, though, gives you the following: 26,964 searches in a month, and 84 million pages. This time the math looks like:
26,964 / 84,000,000 = 0.000321
Still not ideal, but a step in the right direction. The higher the ratio, the more likely you are to get hits on your new site. This can be used to target a specific niche audience and get great search results. Search results translate into higher number of visitors, and your site may be off to a successful start. In the example above I chose some random keywords based on things I saw around me (wordpress’ suggested tags, actually) and came up with those numbers. If I were really making a site about dog food I would play around with keywords / searchers more trying to get that ratio up. Is there a specific brand or area I could single out, or a highly searched brand that gets little sites mentioning it, etc.
All done through a little bit of knowledge. SEO is an important skillset, and should be a tool in the repertoire of many programmers, but sadly it is often overlooked. The results you can get by a little bit of applied knowledge can surprise you.
If you look around, you can find other sites that display technical knowledge of SEO and project management as well. Good to know I’m not alone.
Questions? Comments? Contact me, James Martin, if you care to further discuss the topic.
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