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Is Seo An Extra Skill Or A Prerequisite?
Posted 25 September 2007 - 06:35 AM
I'll use an example of one local businessman I've been working with, although his fundamental assumptions are the same for many.
He has had a site built in Flash. The reason for using Flash was just because the designer liked it and it did what he needed it to do. I've been helping him to get indexed and get some inbound links, which has all gone fine, and along the way I've been trying to help him understand ways in which the net can benefit small businesses and what he can do for himself to this end.
The other day we were discussing the future of the site and I was explaining how Flash has some major issues when it comes to search engines and suggested that maybe he would want to have some parts (or maybe even all) of the site converted to HTML, and explained what would be involved.
His next question, completely reasonably, was "why did the designer use Flash when he knew I wanted SE visibility?".
I explained that web design and SEO are two different disciplines and sometimes a student of one discipline does not understand or know about all the implications for the other, nor should they be expected to. It transpired that he did not know that SEO and web design were different things, and he had assumed that the web designer should know and take into account these issues.
This is where we get to the crux of the issue. He was quite surprised that I felt it was not a web designers responsibility to understand SEO, and this is the reaction I've had from a few people who I have been speaking to who are in similar positions for one reason or another.
So, the question is... is it the web designers responsibility to make sure they understand SEO themselves and explain the issues to their customer, or is it the customers responsibility to decide if SEO is an important factor and find out if their web designer knows about it?
I know it is a potentially tricky one, but I have to side with it being a customers responsibility to understand if what they are buying is appropriate for their needs. If SEO is important to you then would you not have at least a brief discussion with your web designer to ask if the site would show up in the SERPs and what could be done to improve the positioning?
Has anyone else dealt with this issue? What are your opinions and experiences?
Posted 25 September 2007 - 07:55 AM
Posted 25 September 2007 - 07:56 AM
I've voted 'yes' , but I agree with what you are saying, but I also feel that there is always another point to throw into the mix.
I do not beleive a 'designer' should necessarily be the coder of the site, and that can also cross over to then should the coder know SEO , not the designer.
But things have changed dramatically, things were different years back, it was easier to get listed, and so having a site that wasn't SE freindly, was not the end of the world to obtain a decent SE position.
But gone are the days of keyword spammy 'doorway' pages and now coders/webmaster have to consider the right tool - or 'application' for the job, the other thing that has changed things is W3C, standards, accessibility, a choice of various browsers etc...
I am in a job where I am the designer, the coder and the SEO , I have to know it all , and personally I don't have the luxury to write a site and think it's someone elses job to promote it!
The other problem is does a client necessarily know what SEO is, what coding is SE friendly and what isn't , all they see is a nice looking website and assume that is all that is needed.
So at the end of the day who needs educating, the client or the web designer, some bosses have trouble accessing email, is it right to expect them to know the intracasies of web design?
It's a good question, and the answer isn't black and white that's for sure!
Posted 25 September 2007 - 08:09 AM
We (the company I work for) feel a little let down by the guys who made our older websites ever since we have become more aware as a company of the importance of SEO (they didn't even have our keywords in the titles) and realise more than ever that it is our responsibility to understand at least the basics before getting involved.
However, I still think that designers need to be at least aware of what comprises SEO friendly design. If you are paying for a top notch site then that is what you want to receive. I personally think that part of this is ensuring that the site has every opportunity to be crawled and indexed by the search engines that will alomost certainly provide the best opportuity for good quality and high volumes of traffic.
I don't think that you can seperate good web design like that... the opinion that I am forming is that good web design (at least for those who want their site to be found easily by the public - i.e. pretty much every site owner!) does not just mean a site that works and looks good, but is also one that can be easily crawled and indexed by the SE's. Otherwise it just doesn't do the job it's supposed to do...
Just my opinion
Posted 25 September 2007 - 08:58 AM
That said, in today's world businesses pay web designers to gain additional exposure for their busnesses. It's rarely a vanity thing, it's because a business owner has read some articles or heard from some other business owner how important it is to have a web presence and how much having a decent web site can help out their bottom line.
This is the reality of today. Businesses want a web site and pay someone to create one for Business reasons. Which necessarily means the site needs at a minimum be Search Engine Friendly.
That's where I stop with it where Design firms are concerned though. If the Design firm does not advertise SEO as part of their design packages they're selling, they only need to meet a very minimal standard. Simply put, a web site that doesn't place technical hurdles in the path of the search engine spiders. Which is at best the first step of good SEO practices. IMO any design firm who cannot meet this very minimal standard either shouldn't be in the business of selling design to any business venture, or they should be prepared to issue full refunds because they're not meeting minimal standards that are expected by their customers.
I do not think Design firms need to do anything more along the lines of SEO than creating a site that is spider friendly if they don't advertise, offer and charge for SEO services. This includes doing any sort of keyword research, knowing it's important to place keywords in page titles, copywriting or anything else. These items only come into the picture when the Design firm says they're providing some types of SEO services.
Posted 25 September 2007 - 09:13 AM
They are going to 'Design' the website, from a visual point of view, from an artists / painter / graphic designer point of view, then I'm going to actually code the site, concidering SEO, W3C, Semantic, etc...
You see it depends on what the 'Designer' is offering, if it's simply a design, then there is no reason for them to even know a line of code let alone, SEO, , semantics or standards.
I can code, I can't draw, so if they can draw, why expect them to be able to code?
You need to know what it is they are offering, and be able to tell if that's what you got, and unless you know what this is yourself as a client, it's a hard call to make.
And hey , do we ever think we got what we paid for anyhow!
Posted 25 September 2007 - 09:14 AM
Posted 25 September 2007 - 09:27 AM
1dmf: I think you've hit the nail on the head, it really is a question of who needs educating. It's not something that has affected me as I wouldn't make a site that was SE unfriendly, without first explaining the implications to the client and trying to persuade them that function really should come before form in most instances - as I've actually been doing today. Until reading these replies I thought this was because firstly I'm conscientious and secondly I think about the long term view (i.e. if my customers go out of business I lose a customer), but I have to admit that these replies are making me think this through again.
Scouseflip: This is the fly in the ointment for me. Although all the previous points make perfect sense, I wouldn't personally go and buy something I don't know about without doing some research on the issues involved and maybe asking a few people in the field what I need to consider before proceeding.
For instance, I don't know anything about the professional buying or selling of cars, but when I was asked to go and get a good deal on a car for someone in my family I went and researched. I found out what to look for in their sales technique, how to spot their 'real' bottom price, how to ask for (and get) extras and how to push it as far as I could without being told to get out of the showroom. I saw that as my responsibility, because I know that most salesmen are only interested in making the sale.
I know hiring a web designer is a different proposition as one would hope to build a productive relationship rather than just 'make a sale' or 'get a good deal', but until you've built that relationship the customer has to be aware that the web designer could turn out to approach web design sales in the same way as a car salesman does, no? This being the case, the responsibility must surely be firmly on the customer's shoulders to know what they are buying and that it is appropriate for their needs. (if for no other reason than it is the customer who will most likely end up out of pocket if things should go bad)
Taking these issues out of the equation, if the customer doesn't mention SEs, does the designer have a responsibility to bring the subject up or can they assume that if the customer doesn't mention it then it's not important?
Posted 25 September 2007 - 09:27 AM
I call what you're talking about Graphics Design services, not Web Design. I was referring to the latter in my use of the term Design firms.
I too have used Graphics Designers/Firms from time to time. I suck and graphics and happily admit it. Even if I can see what I want in my mind's eye, creating it is another thing entirely. I might be able to flesh it out eventually, but it's simply a waste of time/effort on my part if I can hire a real Graphics Designer, tell them what I have in mind and let them put it together for me. Saves me weeks of time, and for me at least time is money. So the expense is well worth it to me.
And they of course need to know absolutely nothing about SEO.
Posted 25 September 2007 - 09:35 AM
That sounds painful!!
Anyway, I just wanted to add, that I'm playing the devil's advocate here - I don't want to implicate myself in practices that are below par. I always discuss the SEO implications with people I'm working for, my interest is really a question of whether my customers should feel aggrieved if their other design firm has not taken these steps.
Posted 25 September 2007 - 09:37 AM
But yup, why waste your time trying to do something your not good at, which rarely is ever as good as you'd like, when someone else can do the drawing and then you can do the coding.
But yes this is where I feel the distinction needs to be made, not all web design companies write good code, and not all good web coders can draw for toffee.
And lets be honest, I've seen some sites from so called web design companies, that look awful and are coded awful, it's a hell of a business we are in!
and we would never think otherwise of you Rolf
Posted 25 September 2007 - 10:17 AM
That's a very good question and brings us to the other side of the coin.
1. Yes the customer should have conducted some research and be able to ask for what they expect of their designer. And the designer should decline the work if they cannot fulfill all requirements, or at the very least refer the client to someone well versed in the elements with which they are not familiar.
2. And in a perfect world the designer should probably raise the spector of the search engines when negotiating with a business client, if for no other reason than to make sure both parties are on the same page. Starting out on the same page and knowing expectations certainly has a positive effect on eliminating possible misunderstandings and disappointments down the road.
The only problem being that we don't live in a perfect world. I, in fact, have good friends who are designers and want nothing to do with SEO. They refer design clients who want SEO to others who want that type of business, but who don't really want to get caught up in the Design aspects. It's a good symbiotic relationship for both and gives the client real value. Thankfully I guess(?) I've had enough influence on these designers that they at least know what to do or not do so that any site they develop will end up being spider friendly, even if the client doesn't want any SEO services. Or if my designer friends have a question about some aspect they fire off a quick message to me to get an opinion.
However I rather doubt the above is the norm for every designer everywhere in the world. So we come back to Buyer Beware.
Posted 25 September 2007 - 10:35 AM
I don't think that they do have a responsibility to do so if the customer never mentions it, and the designer doesn't mention it anywhere in their materials.
It's true that the poor client may have some sort of preconceived assumption, but without communicating that to the designer, you can't fault them for not bringing it up.
It does seem crazy that in this day and age a site could be designed without search engines ever having been mentioned by either party, but I'm sure it does happen. In fact I know it does because I hear from a ton of people who just got their spiffy new site all developed and there are no hints of search friendliness to be seen.
Posted 25 September 2007 - 02:28 PM
'What is the purpose of this site ? What are you hoping to achieve with it ?'
If the client didn't know I'd smell trouble ahead and have a checklist of follow-up questions.
Then, I'd confirm in writing what the client had told me.
In short, responsibility lies on both sides.
Posted 25 September 2007 - 04:02 PM
I think it's perfectly acceptable for someone to not do some (or all) of these best practices if the client is aware of it, but to not at least ask the client if any of these things are important is irresponsible, to me.
Even an untrained client knows that a website should be able to do certain things, just like you don't have to be a mechanic to know that your new car should be able to turn left, or stop, or have replacement and repair parts that are available. Websites should be in the language that was expected, be able to be viewed by the expected visitors, and be findable on a search engine, just like almost all other websites. This is not an unusual or unfair expectation.
What is unfair is to put yourself out as an expert and then fail to exercise that expertise on behalf of your client. At the very least, I believe you are legally required to perform the task contracted for in a manner consistent with the normal and expected standards of your profession.
"Torts are civil wrongs, which involve violations of the personal, business or property interests of persons whom design consultants ought reasonably to have foreseen would be impacted by their actions, if they were not prudently carried out."
The question really is, what is the "normal" standard of care for a website designer? And does it include SEO?
I would argue that if you know that the site is intended to be commercial, then you have a higher standard of care than if it's a hobby site, since you know that your client could face an economic impact based on your decisions. An economic impact is one of the basis for a tort action. I believe that SEO is a normal and expected aspect of any commercial website.
I would argue that if you put yourself out as the person who "makes the site", in short, provides the design, navigation, and programming, either directly or via subcontractors, then you have a duty of care for the performance of the site as a whole. If you only put yourself out as "the guy who makes the logo" or whatever, then no, I don't think you have a duty of care to anything except the logo.
You are not responsible for the business, of course, just the site. It doesn't matter if the business plan sucks and they could not make money if they had a printing press and plates from the mint. But it does matter if you design a site that, AS A RESULT OF THE DESIGN, has significant impediments to commerce for a site you know to be commercial in nature, unless you have a written waiver from the client proving they are fully informed.
In short, I believe that if you offer "the whole package" for a commercial site, then you need to deliver SEO as part of it, or tell the client in advance.
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