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October 9, 2008

Get SEO Into All the Right Places of the Development Life Cycle

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People are beginning to trickle out as we’re reaching the end of the sessions. Their brains are probably stuffed to the brim. What a marathon it’s been! Let’s get our sprint on for this penultimate leg.

Jessica Bowman, Founder, SEOinhouse.com, is both moderator and a speaker for this one.

What people think SEO is:

  • Little tips that need to be incorporated into the project
  • Code tweaks
  • Something that only programmers need to worry about

These are the reasons SEOs aren’t usually brought in early enough in the life of a project. The biggest misconception is that IT thinks that one conversation with SEO means your project is search engine friendly.

Great SEO programs are integrated, much like usability, findability and design efforts. SEO becomes part of the corporate DNA that causes you to build a great product. It’s well integrated with IT:

  • Prioritization discussions
  • Release planning
  • Existing workflows
  • Change management systems
  • Highly involved in project documentation

Typical Development Life Cycle with SEO

Project inception > requirement gathering > designing > front end development > back end development > QA testing > live on site

SEO is usually brought in during the end front-end development when it really should be involved since project inception. It needs to be considered at the beginning and end of project inception: at the beginning and end of requirement gathering, at the beginning and end of designing, at the end of front-end development, at the beginning of testing and at the beginning of the live on site stage.

It may seem like it would be more expensive to do it this way, but it’s actually more expensive not to bring SEO in from the beginning because otherwise it requires more work to get up to speed and change things that have already been done in a search engine unfriendly way.

What It’s Like with Full SEO Integration

Project inception:

  • The business sponsors talk about the idea.
  • The business sponsors reach out to SEO to get their take on SEO opportunities.
  • The SEO team does research for SEO requirements. They brainstorm for potential opportunities. They look at competitor sites for their SEO strategies. They identify what people are typing into search engines related to this subject area and they identify requirements to make the new section maximize opportunities.

Scope document:

  • SEO contributes to the scope document.
  • Include SEO success factors in the document.
  • Report the potential SEO traffic lift and the potential SEO revenue gain.

Once the project is approved and scheduled, requirements gathering starts.

Requirement gathering – meetings:

  • Everyone gives their requirements.
  • SEO sits as a key stakeholder in all sessions.
  • SEO listens for content areas that can be leveraged for SEO and functionality being requested that may not be search engine friendly.
  • SEO contributes by explaining requirements for search engine friendliness, how to take ideas further with SEO and any potential functionality being requested that may not be search friendly, how to make it search friendly and what to review in more detail during analysis.

This is where most SEO programs go wrong. Most SEOs only worry about SEO requirements, but the real money is bringing the ideas further and examining extra functionality.

Analysis and design – wireframes and design comps:

User experience and SEO meet on wireframes before they are presented to the project team.
Have a discussion when the project is about 80 percent complete.

Front-end development:

  • SEO QAs HTML code for search friendliness. It’s quick, easy and cheap to make search friendly HTML code tweaks here.

Back-end development:

  • SEO is involved as needed.
  • At this point it becomes very expensive to make changes.
  • Development pro-actively reaches out to SEO for input and clarification.

Quality assurance testing:

  • SEO QAs for SEO requirements and search engine friendliness.
  • SEO enters bugs into the same system as IT.
  • Some bugs need to be fixed pre-release and it can take months to a year to clean up a mess in the SERPs.

Project deliverables that need SEO input:

  1. Scope document, project charter document
  2. Product release document
  3. Project plan
  4. Wireframes and notations
  5. Visual design mockups
  6. Page specifications
  7. Use cases, user stories
  8. Technical specifications that are not all related functionality

Let’s Get Realistic

Most SEO teams don’t have this kind of time. They are leveraging other people to pull it off.

Create a champion for each team in the development life cycle:

  • User experience design
  • Visual designers
  • Copywriters/editors
  • Programmers (front-end and back-end)
  • QA testers

Train the team on SEO:

  • SEO won’t be in every meeting or conversation.
  • Engineers view SEO requirements as bells and whistles until they have the knowledge.
  • When trained, development can help you execute SEO in every project.

Tips for training:

  • Continuing education
  • Train on the aspects of SEO each role needs to know
  • Don’t just list the SEO requirements – show examples
  • Be cautious about using your own site as an example
  • Reinforce the top three things you need to be changed

Get SEO into the project plan template:

  • Basic SEO tasks are consistent with each project
  • SEO reviews for additional tasks needed project by project

Incorporate SEO into existing guidelines and standards:

  • All development projects abide by company standards and guidelines
  • Get SEO best practices and standards into existing documentation (UED guidelines, visual design style guides, programming standards)

Create SEO knowledge centers:

  • SEO portal gets answers at your finger tips , online
  • Open office hours – the same time each week when team members can get answers
  • Continuing SEO training to keep SEO requirements at the top of mind

This isn’t happening everywhere. Bringing these things to your company will put you ahead of the competition.

Matthew Brown, Director of Search Strategy, New York Times Co., is up next.

What you’re expected to bring to the table:

  • Basic on-page SEO tactics
  • Fundamental keyword marketing strategy

What you should bring to the table – audience development:

  • Near psychic ability to interpret competitive markets or opportunities
  • Good grasp of server side technology and how scripting plays a role
  • Ability to conduct SEO testing on specific tactics or new strategies
  • At least basic knowledge of the domaining world
  • Social media and other flavors of marketing

Can it all be so simple? It needs to be distilled for others to understand.

When SEO is involved:

  • Pure play SEO is a major business driver
  • New site sections
  • SEO traffic predictions are essential
  • Specifications and documentations are typical of re-launches and layout and navigation changes
  • Design and development phase
  • Content creation of any sort

You’re probably not going to get a site jump 85 percent growth in search traffic, but if there are basic changes and crawl barriers to eliminate, addressing those should result in double-digit growth.

Bob Tripathi, Search Marketing Strategist, Discover Financial Services, has learned that you should make the project managers the warriors to fight your case by giving them the numbers and getting them in the know. Executive buy-in is also key to getting in at the right level of the development cycle.

Q&A

Who are your best internal advocates and champions?

Bob says it’s the project managers or your extended team working for you day in and out. Matthew says that if you’re a resource for others, they’ll start spreading the word that the SEO team is where to go for help and answers. Jessica says that UEDs are amazing advocates for the user experience but you need to get them to believe that they have two users to design for: humans and search engines. She also thinks the product or project manager is a good representative, as well as the person in charge of documentations.

Are there any tools or programs you use to stay organized throughout the life cycle of a project?

Bob uses Excel and his project management team uses Microsoft Project. Jessica uses a spreadsheet for personal use but when she’s at meetings she brings whatever the team uses. Matthew suggests Basecamp because it’s easy to share with others on the team.

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3 responses to “Get SEO Into All the Right Places of the Development Life Cycle”

  1. Peter writes:

    Good Comments. I’ve found that many SEO requirements do not conflict with site development requirements. But it is critical for the SEO person to know how to structure SEO requirements up front. The straight forward part, as mentioned above, is keyword selection and on basic on-page factors. These requirements can be laid out in one spreadsheet. More difficult is on-site cross linking and anchor text, which requires having completed keyword research and a close discussion with the UI team. The two ultimate audiences, users and search engines, need two champions, UI and SEO, to come together and do something that works quite well for both.

  2. SEO Best Practices writes:

    Is there any resources, a good reading about managing SEO Projects? I will appreciate any info on the subject. Thanks for the article.

  3. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Here are some resources someone interested in learning about project management might find useful:

    http://www.bruceclay.com/newsletter/volume50/managingexpectations.html – Managing client expectations as a vendor

    http://www.bruceclay.com/newsletter/0905/provider.html – Recommendations for project management

    You may also find helpful the July 30 episode of SEM Synergy in which Daerick and the hosts discuss holistic SEO project management – http://www.semsynergy.com/previous-shows/july-2008/



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