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What Web Designers Know That (Most) SEOs Don't

Development, Search, Web Design

We've already talked about why SEOs and web designers come into conflict on a project, and how that conflict can be creatively productive and result in a better end product for the business owner. You'd think that internet marketers and web designers would have a lot in common. Truthfully, we do have more in common than what separates us. We have the same goal: producing an end product that solves our clients' business problem. We just typically have very different ways of getting there, and those two ways sometimes come into conflict.

Today, I'd like to talk about something that's more of a difference of between the two cultures, as opposed to two individual professionals. It impacts the entire web industry, and in this case, I think SEOs and internet marketers have a lot to learn from our colleagues in web design.

Over the years, the web design community has proven to be a place where someone with interest, aptitude and a good work ethic can find plenty of people to help them learn the nuts and bolts of how to do their job better. Want advice on how to add sophistication to your basic designs? There are a million inspiration sites out there, with prolific examples of designers and developers sharing best practices openly. Need some Wordpress design help? If your question hasn't already been asked and answered dozens of times, just ask—there are probably dozens of people who will be happy to answer it.

When you cross over to the "dark side" of SEO and internet marketing, it's different. While there are a few genuinely inclusive, transparent and open communities in the internet marketing business, what you're more likely to see is a lot of misinformation, misdirection, insult-hurling and general dirty tricks. Even among ethical "white hat" SEOs (SEOs who don't engage in practices considered spamming by search engines), it's not exactly a warm fuzzy circle of trust out there.

Both web design and development, and internet marketing and SEO are industries where you are more likely to be self-taught than to have pursued a formal education. And all things considered, even if you have a formal education in these things, what you can learn from someone's actual practice is 100 times more valuable and up to date than what you learned in school.

So why do internet marketers and SEOs eat their young?

The prevailing wisdom is that among SEOs, business belongs to the firm or consultant with the most effective, up-to-date, and test-proven methodology. Internet marketers are much more dependent on technique as a point of differentiation. Design is subjective, and web designers understand that ultimately a client will choose another designer based on subtle aesthetic preferences between portfolios. So as a designer, providing help on technique doesn't necessarily empower your competition to beat you if ultimately it will be individual style that wins or loses most clients.

Another clue lies where web design and SEO intersect: in the coding realm.

Good code will typically not earn you business, but bad code can lose it in a heartbeat. The robust, helpful and open community that exists among web developers isn't an expression of kumbaya idealism; it makes practical business sense at both the individual and industry level.

Web developers never work in a vacuum. The reality is, at some point they will have to work on someone else's code, and another developer will have to modify their code. Large projects often require large development teams, with different developers collaborating. Additionally, there is always a shortage of good qualified developers. Web programmers are much more likely to have their career negatively impacted by their employer's inability to find enough good programmers than by a surplus or too much competition.So promoting consistent best practices across the industry is inarguably good for everyone. If I'm a coder, helping you be a better coder is far more likely to help than hurt me in both the long and short run.

In contrast, SEOs and internet marketers much more commonly work as individual consultants. Our work is much less likely to be handed off amicably to another SEO to take over. If I figure out a technique that works particularly well in a post-Panda environment, it's a harder sell for me to give out those juicy details to the public in a forum or blog. Also, SEO is fundamentally tied to competition in a way that development is not. A web application that functions correctly is successful whether it performs better than other similar applications or not. Another word for SEO is "competitive webmastering" -- you're always being judged based on whether you're beating the competition or not. It doesn't behoove you to put information out there that could be used by that competition. 

That said, SEOs seem to have difficulty even coming to agreement online on fundamental basic good practices. We should be able to at least agree enough on the basics to give those trying to learn a clear starting place. Designers may differ on how to apply basic principles of good design, but they can generally cite those principles.

There's also a deeply significant difference in perception from the outside. People who are not programmers or coders tend to automatically assume that most programmers and coders are at least competent and honest. SEO and internet marketing unfortunately has, at best, a shady past and reputation. Too many scams and scandals have left a bad taste for people to assume honesty and competency from SEOs and internet marketers.

Unfortunately, the cloak and dagger regarding our methodology does not help this image much when people start looking into the industry.

So what is the solution? Probably not something that will fit into a blog post. As with most big problems, first attitudes will have to shift, and then practices will need to shift to follow those attitudes.