Should a Web Developer Be Concerned With SEO For Client Sites?

Every developer knows that SEO is a huge part of online marketing. Freelance designers and programmers spend countless hours optimizing their sites, link building, and validating their pages in order to get noticed, or to get to the “top of the heap”, as they say.

Pitfalls of a big development firm

But I find that in a high-volume, fast-paced development environment in which SEO has not been included in the budget, good solid — and sometimes very basic — SEO practices are often overlooked during development. Add to this the fact that many developers may end up working on the same website, and so, good SEO practices are even less likely to end up in the final markup.

Enter the “HTML guy”

But as a front-end developer, I feel it is my obligation to give the client as much basic site optimization as possible. In recent projects, I’ve been making a habit of incorporating many of the SEO practices that I’ve been learning about and researching.

Of course, when final page copy and site structure have already been decided upon before a single HTML tag is ever typed, there is only so much a developer can do. But even those few things that can be done will help the website make the leap from virtually no search engine findability to average or better, and potentially very strong findability.

I’ll give a couple of examples of some basic things that I’ve been doing to ensure that, at the very least, the site is SEO ready, even if it is not strongly optimized.

Some basic SEO optimization is not difficult

For one, I ensure that every page has a unique title tag. Although the client has the option of putting SEO friendly copy into each title, I find they almost never do. But a respectable web developer will put in the tags and fill in the basic page name.

Also, since I am responsible for actually slicing up the Photoshop file that contains the finalized design, I try to use as few images as possible. At my current job, we have a fantastic graphic designer who makes many image-heavy websites, but often it isn’t difficult to ensure that basic page copy is rendered as normal text. Our designer is familiar with basic web typography and this helps a lot, so he doesn’t use any non-standard fonts for titles and content. Of course, I could be lazy and include all headings as images, but I feel, as is the point of this article, that it’s my obligation to make the site as SEO-friendly as possible. Even if that just means making it ready for future page optimization.

Another good practice that I’ve developed is trying to ensure that each page has only one <h1> tag. Rumor has it (and we can never really confirm this), that Google will penalize a page that has more than one <h1> tag. Since this tag essentially represents the “heading” for the page, Google will give it more value than other text.

The benefits of basic SEO habits

There is a lot a web developer can do to help SEO on a site — and I’ve provided a few examples above. SEO should never be viewed as a separate entity altogether. It is a very integral part of web development, and should be viewed as such by all front-end coders who want to adhere to standards and best practices. And let’s not forget the extra-benefit of having developed sites that receive large amounts of traffic and increase profits for the client. I think that alone is reason enough to embrace basic SEO practices in all front-end development assignments.

3 Responses

  1. Yes SEO should be incorporated along with web designing. A small effort while designing a website can help a website rank well in the search engines. The right navigation, correct placement of images and texts, etc should be kept in mind while designing.

  2. RKF:

    Hallelujah! It’s awesome to hear from a web developer who understands that SEO is more than automated site submission :)

    FYI – multiple H1s are just fine. Bruce Clay Inc. uses 4-5 on a page, with SIFR, too. They are about as good as SEOs come, and Bruce has confirmed for me there is no problem using several H1s.

  3. Thank you, RKF. And yes, you do seem to be correct, that Google will not necessarily penalize a site for more than one H1 tag. However, I cannot really see it being a good thing anyhow. According to W3.org:

    “There are six levels of headings from H1 (the most important) to H6 (the least important).”

    So it seems that Google would likely be consistent with this hierarchy and therefore the main topic of the page should be distinct semantically from the rest of the page. Again, I agree that there’s nothing “wrong” with it, as you pointed out, but I cannot see too many situations where it would make sense to use more than one H1. And I would think it’s also more friendly to screen readers, no?

    So, I stand (somewhat) corrected. :o)

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