10 Must-Know SEO Basics For Web Developers
You know the struggle… you just need these four or five tickets taken care of and it would mean so much to your SEO goals for the month.
But how do you get your web developers on board?
How can you help them understand the urgency of your SEO needs when they have so many other competing priorities on their plate?
Fifteen years ago, I could do about 90% of my SEO work for a given client myself.
Those days are gone. SEO now relies on content creation, UX, code development, IT, various layers/levels of approvals, and more.
I have written many times about how SEO can’t be done in a silo and am happy it’s a discipline that now focuses more on alignment for creating a quality experience for website visitors.
Over my career, there has always been a need for the support of web developers.
That meant going down the hall in my agency or working with a third-party developer contracted or employed by my clients.
In either case, getting buy-in and support from web development is critical for SEO.
Even better is when developers have an understanding of SEO principles.
It is much more efficient if developers know the basics and factor them into their builds and site maintenance, avoiding any re-work later.
Check out the 10 must-know SEO basics for web developers and some focus group discussions with my teams of SEO specialists and developers as well.
Website security matters to the search engines.
Make sure you have an SSL in place and without any errors.
That’s the starting point.
Beyond that, have the necessary safeguards to ensure the site has no vulnerabilities that allow for an injection, manipulated content, etc.
Getting hacked at any level hurts user experience and trust signals for users and search engines.
However, be mindful of site speed (more to come on that) when you secure the site with any plugins, extensions, or tools.
2. Response Codes
Server response codes matter.
Often there are ways to get a page to render for a user and unique UX designs that prompt some creative dev implementations.
Regardless, make sure pages are rendering 200 server codes.
Source and update any 3xx or 4xx codes. If you don’t need redirects, remove them.
Speaking of redirects, they are a critical part of the website migration and launch process coming from an old site to a new one.
If you don’t do anything else in your launch process, at least implement redirects.
We’re talking about making sure all URLs from the old site have a 301 redirect to the most relevant subject matter page on the new site.
This could be 1:1 old site to new site pages or many to one if you are streamlining and updating content structure.
Like with server codes above, don’t trust a page is rendering and assume it is ok.
Use tools to validate that redirects are 301s.
Nothing matters in SEO if the site can’t get indexed and shown in search results.
Don’t let the robots.txt file be an afterthought.
Sometimes default commands are too open and, in other cases, too restrictive.
Know what’s in the robots.txt.
Don’t blindly push the staging file to production without checking it.
Several sites with great migration and launch plans have been foiled by a disallow all command from staging (to keep the dev site from being indexed) that was pushed to the live site.
Also, consider blocking low-value items like tag pages, comments pages, and any other variations your CMS creates
You’ll usually need to consider a lot of low-value junk and if you can’t keep the pages from generating, at least block them from indexing.
XML sitemaps are our chance to ensure the search engines know about all of our pages.
Don’t waste resources and opportunities letting images, insignificant pages, and things that shouldn’t be prioritized for focus and indexing.
Ensure all pages listed in XML sitemaps render a 200 server code.
Keep them clean and free of 404s, redirects, and anything that isn’t the destination page.
Good URLs are concise, include words relevant to the page’s subject matter, are lower case, and have no characters, spaces, or underscores.
I love to see a URL structure of sub-folder and pages that match the content hierarchy in the navigation and site structure.
Three levels down?
7. Mobile Friendly
Again, remember that just because something works or looks good in a browser doesn’t mean it is ideal for a search engine.
Mobile-friendliness is important to search.
Validate it with Google’s mobile-friendly tool.
Make sure it passes.
Beyond that, think about the content rendered in the mobile version.
Google uses “mobile first” indexing.
That means they are looking at the mobile version of the site.
If you’re hiding or not rendering important content that you want search engines to consider in the mobile version for UX considerations, think twice and know that the content may be missing from what Google sees.
8. Site Speed
This is number eight on the list but possibly the most important after ensuring your site can be indexed.
Site speed is important.
Slow page loads and sites hurt UX and conversion rates.
They also have an impact on SEO performance.
There’s not a single set of ways to optimize site speed.
It really comes down to keeping your code light, being judicious in using plugins or extensions, having an optimized hosting environment, compressing and minifying JS and CSS, and keeping image sizes under control.
Any code, files, and aspects that can cause shifts in performance or instability are a risk.
Build in any safeguards for content management controls so a 10MB image can’t be uploaded and tank a page. Or a plugin update goes undetected in how it slows down things.
Baseline, monitor, and improve site speed on an ongoing basis.
My Lead Developer’s favorite tool is web.dev or Lighthouse in the Google Chrome browser dev tools.
9. Heading Tags
Heading tags are great context clues for search engines.
Keep in mind they are for content and not CSS shortcuts.
Yes, tie your CSS to them, but keep them in order of importance.
Don’t have the first, biggest page heading as an H5 and subheadings on a page as H1s.
There’s plenty of commentary on the impact (or not) of headings on SEO performance.
I’m not going there in this article.
Just be as literal as you can in the hierarchy and how they’re used.
Use them where you can instead of other CSS.
Have just one H1 on a page if you can.
Work with your SEO resources to understand the plan for headings and on-page content overall.
10. Content Management & Dynamic Content
As noted above, CMS functionality can wreck the best dev implementations.
Be smart about the control you give.
Understand the site’s ongoing content plan and needs so content creators have the control they want and need but can’t wreck site speed or any of the SEO on-page elements.
Having as many dynamic aspects like tagging, XML sitemap generation, redirects, and more can save you time and safeguard your site and code to keep everything stable.
The intersection and collaboration between SEO professionals and web developers are important.
SEO relies on best practices for technical SEO and other things like enterprise scaling of on-page items.
Developers understanding SEO basics can go a long way toward successful collaboration and SEO performance.
Plus, it can make for more efficient website development work and the need for less re-work or “SEO-specific” updates and requests.
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