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The Difference Between an SEO Bug & a Feature Request

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The Difference Between an SEO Bug & a Feature Request

“That’s not a bug, it’s a feature request.”

If you work in an enterprise SEO environment, you have probably heard this phrase.

If you haven’t heard the phrase, then there is a good chance you eventually will.

Understanding what the difference is between the two will save you when approaching SEO issues.

Understanding the SEO Bug

Most of what we do as SEO professionals is about finding foundational and technical issues on the site that causes SEO non-compliance.

Errors and warnings in Google Search Console and Bing’s Webmaster Tools are just the beginning.

Reports of non-compliant URLs in crawling/reporting tools like Botify constantly needing to be addressed.

In an agile environment, logging tickets through Jira make it clear and the bug is pretty straightforward.

Simply put, according to Techopedia:

“A software bug is a problem causing a program to crash or produce invalid output. The problem is caused by insufficient or erroneous logic. A bug can be an error, mistake, defect or fault, which may cause failure or deviation from expected results.”

The simplest way in which a bug should be written out is:

  1. Describe (in detail) what you are seeing.
  2. Explain what the expected outcome is.
  3. Add any screenshots you can to help visualize.
  4. For SEO, it’s good to add any reports you have to show the impact.

Attend the next sprint meeting and ask for the ticket to get picked up.

In some cases, you may have to justify the impact to help prioritize the bug, which is where any reports you can attach could come in handy.

As an additional means to track issues related to SEO, I have created a sheet (Excel, Google Sheet or Smartsheet) to track:

  • The issues with all documentation.
  • What team is working on them.
  • The link to the Jira ticket.
  • Status.
  • Level of effort.
  • Impact.

Some companies are large enough that you will have multiple SEO teams working off of the same document, and some are smaller that the SEO Manager is an individual contributor working with multiple engineering teams.

Regardless of your enterprise SEO company structure, keeping track of bugs and seeing them through to completion is a large part of your SEO success.

But, what if the bug you found affects the content on the page, changes how a user interacts, or requires a larger scope of work to tackle a series of related issues?

Feature Requests for SEO

Enterprise companies will mention “feature request” when an SEO addresses issues that users might be facing, or a change needed to help improve SEO that touches content, the design or usability of the site.

A feature can often be considered (or confused by) an “enhancement” which product managers and engineers will often describe as a request for additional functionality that does not already exist.

It depends on how your organization communicates and structures these requests.

When drafting up your feature request for SEO consider the following:

  • Product strategy: Does this request fall in line with the company’s long-term strategic vision?
  • Demand: Is the feature you’re requesting something that would benefit other lines of the business as well?
  • Level of effort: Work with the teams to understand how much work this would take.
  • Available resources: Availability of all team’s resources and where it fits in their priority list.

What You Need to Include in Your Request

Your feature request should be as specific and detailed as possible. Include user scenarios and acceptance criteria that are clear and precise.

With regards to SEO feature requests, user scenarios will often detail out what search engine crawlers should see rather than what an actual person would see.

In some cases, I will simplify the story a bit more to explain what a “first-time user” would expect since a bot is a non-cookied visitor with no known information available (no location data, no previously visited pages, no referring site, etc).

Include any documentation you can add that supports the problem you are trying to solve or any visual of expectations.

This is where your feature request will most likely need a designer to create a mockup and any copywriters to generate the content on the page that guarantees keyword placement and avoid any inadvertent SEO issues.

Attach any documentation you can that supports why this feature request is necessary.

You can add:

  • Crawl reports that expose why you need the work.
  • Webmaster guidelines.
  • Reputable blogs.
  • Case studies.
  • Or a proof of concept you have documented somewhere.

Adding documentation will help justify why the feature is necessary and help get it prioritized.

Advocating the Feature Request

Submitting a feature request with your product manager or engineering teams isn’t the end of your involvement.

A good enterprise SEO will follow-up and engage with the people that are working on their requests regularly.

I personally like how cPanel ends their “What Makes a Great Feature Request” guide:

“Take responsibility not only for your idea but also how you advocate for it. Would you get on board with an idea if the person proposing it was negative or angry? We wouldn’t either.”

I have encountered many SEO professionals at enterprise companies who don’t necessarily exercise the finer nuances of distinct expressions.

Ensuring communication is conscious, focused and effective with individuals is key.

By keeping a positive attitude and respecting feedback while the feature request is being completed will encourage teams to complete the work necessary for SEO.

By understanding what a bug is for SEO versus what you are asking as a new feature, SEOs will find that the teams they work with are more receptive to what is being asked.

This is all key to knowing what team(s) to work with, how much involvement there will be in getting to the end result, and helping to prioritize the work needed.

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Jenn Mathews

Contract Consultant Sr SEO Manager at Groupon

Jenn Mathews has been optimizing websites successfully for 20 years. Currently Groupon's Senior Manager, SEO and previously Nordstrom's SEO Manager ... [Read full bio]

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