What the SEF is Your SEO Doing?

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I’ve worked with a number of website designers and developers over the years, many of them good people with a plethora of skills I couldn’t even dream of having. But one thing gets under my skin: when developers claim to know SEO when they clearly don’t.

Many developers do have a solid grasp and understanding of SEO concepts and some even dig in to become tried and true SEOs as well. Those that fit this latter group are few and far between, and those from the former group know as much about managing an SEO campaign as a community organizer knows about managing a country.

Many (but not all) developers know what it means to create a search engine friendly (SEF) website. But that is not the same thing as optimizing a website for top search engine ranking performance. Think of building a website as building a car. You may have created a high-performance machine, but it’s not ready to compete in the Indy 500 when it rolls off factory assembly line!

I don’t want to discount the developer’s role in the overall optimization process. This is critical work and becomes the foundation the SEO has to build from. But SEF isn’t SEO!

You have to be SEF before you can do SEO

Many web developers who claim to know SEO really don’t know that it’s much more than throwing a few meta tags into the code. Presto! Your site is now optimized! Too bad it isn’t’ that easy.

By claiming to have a solid understanding of SEO, these developers do the entire industry a huge disservice. I’m sure no designer would like me claiming to be a web designer when my best artistic creation is a stick figure hanging from a noose. (No, I’m not being morbid. Think: H_NGM_N.) Well, neither do I like it when people with very limited SEO skills or knowledge claim to be SEOs.

Every web developer should be skilled at building websites within a very strong SEF framework. They should have a grasp of how to create a solid architecture, understand visitor usability, know how to design reliable conversion funnels and have a basic understanding of how the search engines spider/index websites. This is Web Design 101 and SEO 101, but this knowledge doesn’t get you a degree in either.

While SEF is generally (or should be) done in the development stage, SEO is continuous. If your web developer says they will SEO your website as part of the one-time design fee, you know right there that something’s not right. If they tell you they’ll create a search engine friendly or SEO-ready site, then you know you may have a developer that has a clue.


It is impossible to design or program a search engine optimized website. But you can design or program a search engine friendly website. The website design/development process and SEO process are two completely different strategies, though very closely tied together.

This is why it’s a good idea to get your SEO involved in the development process early. The SEO can work with the developer to ensure that the site is developed to be as search engine friendly as possible. Even if the developer has strong SEF knowledge, the SEO can make sure that everything they need will be in place so they can move forward with the actual optimization quickly and efficiently.

When you get your SEO and website developer in communication early on in the site development process, your site will be built on a strong search engine friendly foundation, laying the foundation for a successful SEO campaign.

Two roles, one desired outcome

When site development is completed on a strong search engine friendly foundation, the SEO can then begin the work of actually optimizing the site to get traffic for your important keywords. The SEO process requires hours of additional research beyond what is done in the development stages. (Keyword research and IA are important SEO factors in the development process.)

At that point, the SEO has the ball and it’s their job to run with it. There may be times when some development changes are required, as development issues are uncovered that might fall afoul of the optimization efforts, but the earlier the SEO is involved, the less frequent these should be.

It’s not the SEO’s job to to do the work of a developer, nor is it the developer’s job to do the work of the SEO. SEOs and developers have very different areas of expertise, but one area where they should overlap is in making websites search engine friendly and helping you, the customer, grow your business.

Both the SEO and the developer have a unique role to play with some overlapping skill sets. Just be careful about your expectations. If you think your developer is also an SEO, you might be mighty disappointed with the results. If you’re wondering what the SEF your SEO is doing, it may be that you don’t have an SEO at all!

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!, and President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading web presence optimization firm... Read Full Bio
Stoney G deGeyter
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  • Monochromeseas

    “…know as much about managing an SEO campaign as a community organizer knows about managing a country.”

    Someone hasn’t hopped on the hopenchange train yet I see…

  • I offer SEO advise however I also see a huge area in educating the client & developer about both SEF & SEO.
    Most developers I deal with have very little actual knowledge about SEO. They are talented people & think they understand SEO but the reality is they know only the basics, and often not even that.

  • @ Monochromeseas – LOL. Not yet.

    @ Gary – I agree, developers are talented people and SEOs have to treat them as such. I just wish developers didn’t often treat SEOs as adversaries set out to destroy their beloved work. It’s like when law enforcement agencies fight over jurisdiction and evidence. We’re all on the same team people!

  • So true, maybe its because the developers can see their finished work on the screen but no one can “see” our work as clearly. Therefore maybe they consider us somewhat predatory to the “real” work they do.

  • I have seen web design companies marketing themselves as expert SEO firms, only to have websites with no title tags, headings, and less than 3 inbound links. It’s absurd and what makes it an even bigger problem is that normal people have no idea what a good SEO firm does.

  • Its a good plugin to customize the url in Joomla CMS.

  • Bravo Stoney. Bravo! Excellent article.

    I honestly feel that the entire web development industry as a whole is like this. There are so many out there that feel they can build or SEO a website without a solid understanding of what is really done. I ask them, “You wouldn’t build a brand new home with hiring an architect to design plans, would you?” Building and optimizing a website should be no different and you did touch on a similar analogy in your article about building a car.

    Anyways, it was a great read. Thanks!

  • Shauna

    AMEN!! Thank you!
    I have trying to tell my CMO the same thing!! People truly believe that SEO is an IT issue….WRONG!! Thank you so much for writing this and letting me know I am not alone in this battle

  • Brilliant post my friend; I work in a full-service Digital Agency here in Australia, and let me tell you, the “debates” will still continue on for some years yet.

    I’m not entirely sure how web developers got to the stage of thinking they’re an SEO guru by throwing in a few meta tags… those years have long passed since that was all that was needed… Get with the times, web developers! 🙂