web developer SEO obstacles

Overcoming IT Roadblocks to Drive Enterprise SEO Results

Diana Comerford, Vice President of Project Management

Key Points

  • Your web development team is always booked, so be empathetic about their schedule.
  • Remove departmental silos to improve cross-functional collaboration.
  • Tie SEO requests to business outcomes and ROI to help web teams assess priority.
  • Break down larger projects into manageable chunks that fit within engineering sprints.
  • Hire a dedicated SEO developer or be willing to compromise to address priority issues.

This shouldn’t be difficult, you think to yourself. After all, you only need your web development team to start using absolute instead of relative URLs in their code and your on-page SEO will improve. All they have to do is write the full URL instead of the path, you think. How hard can it be?

So you schedule a meeting with your company’s web development team to get the ball rolling. First, the team explains to you that using relative URLs lets them push their code directly from the sandbox site to the live site. What you’re requesting adds a logistical layer on their end. They’d have to change every link from www.example-sandbox.com/my-page to www.example.com/my-page instead of pushing the /my-page link straight from the staged to the live environment.

You insist, so they ask you to enter the request in their issue management system. Then they tell you that it might be six months until it gets done. There are a huge number of requests ahead of you, after all. But first, it needs to be approved by a number of executives.

Multiply this event by other SEO concerns like site speed, click-depth problems or Javascript rendering, etc. Suddenly, there’s a mountain of budget proposals, project plans, emails, and meetings that are all holding back your SEO strategy.

In many cases, major web infrastructure decisions have already been made, so additional SEO requests will create more work and friction for the IT team. As a result, you’ll hear “No” or “Let’s wait” or “We may be relaunching the site anyway” a lot more often than you’ll hear “Yes.” 

But before you get too frustrated, take a step back and rethink your approach. Once you understand how your web development team operates, you can effectively partner with them to complete your priority projects without disrupting theirs.

Read on to learn how we overcome the most common IT roadblocks that derail enterprise SEO programs.

1. Walk in your developers shoes

Managing a company’s IT needs is no small task. Not only do they have to manage external software, but they also have their workflow and priorities to consider. And just like your team, that workflow doesn’t include ignoring their documented priorities for the week to take the first request that drops into their lap.

Beyond that, there’s often a disconnect between what you’re asking them to do and what they actually can do.

Take the absolute vs. relative URL example from the beginning. When the only context you can provide for this request is “It’s better for SEO,” will it be worth it for them to modify the entire structure of their code-pushing process to accomodate the request? Probably not.

Every project takes longer than the amount of time you think it should take. Understand and really internalize that. Because it’s going to make the “compromise” phase a whole lot easier. Think about all the outlandish expectations enterprise SEO teams encounter when it comes to timing expectations. Your developers encounter those, too. Don’t be their worst customer.

It’s way too easy for us to assume that a “No” or a “Submit a ticket, please” translates to “I’m being willfully unhelpful.” But this is rarely the case. Instead, your web dev team is performing triage. They need to weigh your request against all their other priorities before they can build it into their workflow.

2. Remove departmental silos

If you owe your IT/web dev team the respect of seeing things from their point of view, they owe you the same. Want to know what makes that a lot easier? Removing departmental silos between SEO and web development. The more closely your departments work together, the more they will naturally understand what it takes to accomplish your respective goals.

Maintain a consistent, basic level of education between departments. Your SEO team can educate the development team on the technical components of enterprise SEO. And the web development team can teach the SEO team how to take full advantage of the CMS. And how to submit tickets in a way that keeps coding projects organized and prioritized. A working knowledge leads to a working understanding.

It might also be appropriate to introduce more transparency into departmental workflows. Grant each team full access to the same project management software or share a quick weekly update or online dashboard. This will foster visibility into each team’s responsibilities.

3. Define SEO ROI

If your IT/web dev team is agile, they work in sprints. Before they build a project into their sprint cycle, they define their outcomes. What do they expect to see from an update? What are their goals and KPIs? If your SEO project takes up 20% of their next three sprints, you’re asking them to make a tradeoff between known and unknown outcomes.

Define the business outcomes and KPIs for your project as specifically as you can. This is especially important with senior executives. If they aren’t clear on the ROI of SEO, they can stop the entire department from being able to take action.

It may be challenging to define outcomes for individual technical changes, since so many technical components work together to impact traffic. However, it’s critical to communicate an educated, data-supported estimate to development. Tap into your prior experience about websites that implemented similar changes. Propose making the change on a small group of pages as a proof of concept. And use the results to justify a site-wide change. Tie everything you can directly to a KPI that supports revenue, such as traffic or conversions.

Depending on the team, you may have to translate your KPIs into the same language your web dev team uses when they discuss results. For example, at Terakeet we worked with an enterprise customer that forecasted the results for each project using percentages of projected lift. Before we requested changes from the customer’s development team, we assigned rough percentages of projected traffic lift to each proposed activity. Even though the customer knew we were making our best guess, the projections still gave them something quantifiable to weigh against their other initiatives.

As a result, the project was pushed across the finish line.

4. Break down the work

We began our relationship with that same customer by performing an SEO audit on their website. And our list of recommendations came out about like you’d expect for an enterprise site: it was massive. We’re talking 18,000 duplicate title tags, over 500,000 duplicate pages in the index, a page speed score of 1 … unfortunately not too uncommon for enterprise audits.

As you can imagine, the volume of recommendations was overwhelming to the customer’s development team. It’s hard enough for your SEO team to figure out how to prioritize all this work. To just dump it on the web development team and say “Fix this” borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

Instead of forcing another team to figure out the workflow, perform all the prioritization work yourself. Break each task down into manageable bites. Clearly indicate what will move the business needle the most. Once you have some results, you can justify requesting more work.

5. Hire a dedicated developer

Does your organization understand the value of organic search to the business? This includes traffic, acquisition cost, new customers, revenue and stock price. If so, you might be able to allocate marketing budget to hiring your own “in-house” developer. It’s common for content/SEO teams to have their own designers. You may be able to justify having a developer too. So long as you’re able to communicate the ROI of SEO to the right stakeholders.

6. Compromise

Let’s work on the ask itself. The key here is compromise. You’re more likely to get help for big issues if you don’t fritter away bandwidth on the small stuff.

Grab your complete list of technical requests and put them in a spreadsheet. Next to each request, estimate the amount of time it will take. Next to that, assign the business impact. The “lift vs impact” model is a great tool to prioritize which task to focus on first.

Is your website’s URL structure unnavigable and unfriendly for SEO? That’s a high priority, but it’s also a large-scale project that will require C-suite buy-in. On the other hand, if you aren’t able to assign alt text to images, that project may have to get sidelined until the bigger stuff is fixed.

As a side note, it’s probably best to keep emergency situations in a separate list.

7. Help where you can

If you run your website through a page speed testing tool and then hand your developers the tool’s complete list of recommendations, they won’t know where to begin. So, in the process of breaking down the work, flag items that your SEO team can handle instead. For example, you could look for a plugin to compress images so your developer doesn’t have to do the leg work.

By offloading some of the work to your own team, you may only need five hours from developers rather than 20.

8. Document SEO best practices

The same nightmare implementation across 100K pages can be easy as pie to implement on each page as it’s created. So your primary goal is to educate (and proactively prevent the need for retrofitting), not just troubleshoot. Never randomly enter tickets into your issue management system. Your job isn’t complete until the web dev team understands why you’re making the recommendation and how they can build it into their process moving forward.

Help the web development team set up rules regarding unnecessary code in their CSS and Javascript libraries. Teach them about canonical tags. Teach them how to compress files as a standard part of their upload process. Help them build SEO into their process and you’ll accomplish a few different things.

First, you’ll gradually decrease the amount of requests because you’re eliminating issues at the beginning. Next, your developers will gain a more intuitive understanding of enterprise SEO and web development, making them more amenable to requests.

And finally, if your web development team can see that you’re making your best effort to proactively manage requests and reduce their SEO-driven workload? They might just do you a solid and slip you those absolute URLs.

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