How to Speak Geek: Working Collaboratively with Your IT Department to Get Stuff Done

Ah, the internal battle of IT and marketing. How do you get the IT folks to actually implement your brilliant vision? I have no idea but our panelists Matt Bailey (SiteLogic), Greg Boser (3 Dog Media), Sage Lewis (SageRock) and Chris “Silver” Smith (Netconcepts) think they do. Greg and Sage are last minute additions and don’t have presentations. Moderator Jeff Rohrs (ExactTarget) will force them to reveal the secrets. Matt will do it at ten times the speed of light and make Star Trek jokes in the process while I fail to keep up. Hi, Matt!

Matt Bailey is up first. He’s been on both sides of the fence, IT and marketing and knows the joys and pain of both.

Don’t go back and start beating on your IT team without first understanding how it needs to be done and how to speak their language. IT people can smell blood in the water, if you don’t understand, they’ll tell you that it can’t be done.

Things you need to know:
Robots.txt — So many people get this wrong. It’s the welcome mat to the site. You don’t need to have a welcome mat but if it exists, it needs to be accurate. It’s a very simple text file.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /admin
Disallow: /test

The asterisk means ANY BOT.

You can sink your entire site by writing Disallow: /

Redirects — Change of URL
Change of Index page
There are two kinds, permanent detour and temporary detours.

If you redirect using a 302, you might not be getting all of your link juice.

Tool: WebBug — will tell you where you have redirects and what kind they are.

Fix 302s into 301.

Inconsistent linking — Pulls up Brookstone’s site and thanks Derrick Wheeler for finding the example. Always link to the same version of every page.

Duplicate Content — Products existing in different categories with exactly the same text. When you duplicate content, you’re making the engines choose which is more important and it might not be the one that you want it to be. Getting rid of the duplicates can have immediate benefit.

Good URLs: Words are easier for USERS to understand and they consider it as measure of relevance if they see words in the URL. Do the rewrite not just for the SEO standpoint, but also for the user standpoint.

Use a Favicons for branding.

Diluted Content — Too much content on one page. You end up scattering what the page is about.

Unclear Instructions — [Mmm, USB Sushi] Make sure that there’s enough information on your page for users to make a decision. That’s a marketing problem.

RSS — Outside of this convention, people don’t know what RSS is. If you’re expecting people to know what to do with it, you’re missing out. Explain.

404 pages — Do not use default RSS pages. “Error 404 page not found” isn’t helpful to a user. Give them a friendly message, a way out, a search box and relevant links.

Know when it’s not really IT’s fault. Test your site, see if it’s really marketing’s problem. Try the site, test the instructions, make a good user experience.

More info at the SiteLogic Blog.

Chris “Silver” Smith is next. Like Matt, he’s seen both sides of the IT/Marketing divide. He’ll teach us to get in touch with our geek side. [I put on my wizard robe and hat…]

Check for problems: SEO Health Diagnostics.

Tip: Browse your Web site like a spider.
Tool: Web Developer Toolbar — disable JavaScript, disable CSS, disable Images, etc. []
Tool: User agent switcher — tell sites that you’re Googlebot or Slurp, etc. [Same URL]

Chris shows through the eyes of a spider — not a whole lot there. Just a few links and in the copyright line. This is a common issue.

Redirects that are also bad for SEO: JavaScript redirects and MetaRefresh. It’s lazy coding.

Tool: Web-sniffer [] — if the page redirects but also returns a 200 error, you need to fix it.

How are we today? Ongoing analytics.

Tip: Check visits referred from top 3 search engines.
Track $ conversions from SEO traffic vs other sources. If you’re just getting traffic and not converting, that’s not good.
Track Bot requests over time. Base it off your log files.

Watch for recurring issues!

CMS hell: Recurring CMS/Legacy issues. Check and recheck SEO factors – Titles, Metas, H1, etc. Don’t assume that “once fixed, always fixed”. CMS upgrades can reverse changes.

Befriend your IT colleagues:

  • Befriend and collarobrate with IT
  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Understand that improvements can be handled iteratively. Be satisfied with babysteps towards goals.
  • Follow standard IT process for prioritizing.

Be nice! Programmer’s Day is September 13th!

You need to make your company recognize the value of SEO
1. make a business case for SEO — use your competitor’s success.
2. Equally important to success as user experience, legal requirements, etc.
3. Take every opportunity to educate about SEO

Once the value of SEO is recognized, it can be prioritized along with another project.

It should not take 6 months to make Title changes. If you still can’t win, you need to go around them. That’s only IF ALL ELSE FAILS.

  • Go to another IT department
  • Build a parallel system on a sub-domain if you can’t get the legacy/CMS system to work. Scrape your own site and put it in a friendly version. It’s not efficient from an IT standpoint but it’s a patch.
  • Use a proxy system.

You need to get started, that’s the important thing.

Time for some thoughts from Greg and Sage:

Greg: We require IT people to be part of the process from the very beginning. They don’t take the project if IT isn’t on board. The thing that screws things up is that marketers go in blazing but don’t have the language. Take a slidedeck and explain what is it that you need to do, why you need to do it and give them an example of why it’s a problem if it’s not done. Do it with the boss around so that everyone gets on the same team.

Sage: He’s a big picture guy. His wife plans everything. I think this is going somewhere NSFW… Marketers are big picture. IT thinks in steps. You need to empathize with the IT people and accept that they’re good at their jobs because they’re analytics. Make a plan with them that they can understand. Communicate with them the way they communicate.

Jeff: If I’m a marketer and I’m not technical, what training would you recommend to get me started? Is that even helpful having the training.

Matt: “Websites that suck” was a helpful book. MarketMotive, SEMPO, DMA all offering training classes. But the most valuable is getting a partner in the IT dept. The flip side is the IT manager who thinks he already knows everything about SEO.

Greg talks about smacking know it all IT managers upside the head with a phone book. Violence! He likes people who have code experience to be SEOs.

[It’s funny, I’ve always thought of SEO guys as more like IT and less like marketing]

Sage: Figure out what you’re using and take a class in it. If it’s PHP or Microsoft, whatever. Value their position.


What’s the best platform if we’re building a Web site from scratch?

Greg: Anything that’s not Microsoft? Most companies work open source. PHP, MySQL. You can find something free or very cheap that’s pretty easy to work with.

Matt: I would agree. Anything that’s Microsoft is going to go through iterations and that’s going to be hard to keep up. PHP is more scalable and you can always find a programmer to tweak it. Take the two slide decks and build your RFP: I need it to do this and this.

Chris: I don’t think that marketers need to learn programming. It’s useful to learn some of the basic SEO diagnostics stuff. Also thinks that PHP is the way to go. Look at how the search engines are Unix based, not Microsoft based.

IT changed the shopping cart and now sales are down. How do I find the problem and fix it?

Chris: Check the type of browser that you’re getting abandonment issues on. If it’s not browser based, it might be something else. Look at your log files. Call an expert on that particular shopping cart.

Greg: Don’t think they won’t lie about the error log files either. Because they’ll cover their tracks in some cases. Ask about what an error means.

Matt: That’s a great thing. If you can say ‘what’s this mean? Why does that happen?” You’ll learn so much and it will help you.

[More troubleshooting the guy’s problem ensues. Apparently the shopping cart was built in house. The panel ‘ahs’ knowingly.]

Greg: It is almost NEVER better to build it from scratch.

Jeff: Are there any good third-parties who can test for you?

Matt: Yeah there are. They’ll hammer and find your problems in the lab. Finding them is a little tricky. He uses a state resource.

Greg: Use your employees. Send them home and make them test it, take screenshots to give back to the IT department.

Can a good CMS product fix SEO issues?

Matt: you have to define a good CMS product first. Look at it before you build it. Keep the Title and Heading separate. Insist on it.

Greg: Every good CMS system need to give Good URLs, no duplications and individual control over every on page element. They use WordPress a lot because it’s customizable.

Sage: WordPress, I’ll concur is a great system. Joomla is a great system too.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
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One Reply to “How to Speak Geek: Working Collaboratively with Your IT Department to Get Stuff Done”

Hey Lisa,

I find that the best way to get IT to take you seriously is to speak in their own language. If you come to them speaking marketing jargon and do not phrase your project in their own terms, it will be foreign to them.

Also, do a bit of research & provide them only the most pertinent info. For example, if you need a tracking pixel implemented, don’t inundate them with why you need it implemented and what you expect to get out of it. Simply give them the code that they can copy/paste. This works especially well in smaller teams that do not need a full description of the code and justification for altering their precious code.

It doesn’t hurt to become an extension of the IT team either. For example, if your IT team lacks PHP knowledge and you need PHP in order to implement something you need, learn it! It’s much easier for a marketing person to learn a small portion of a language that is essential to them than an IT person to learn the entire language. And you get the bonus of being indispensable as the only one in the company that knows their way around PHP!


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