Over at the HighRankings forum this past week we've been having a bit of a discussion. Member “rolf” started it when he asked whether customers should expect web designers to know about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a matter of course, or if designers should presume customers know and will ask about SEO if they're interested.
Now some of y'all may know, I'm an in-house webmaster and a consultant, so I get to experience this issue pretty much every day, from both sides of the fence. And here's what I think: the answer to rolf's question is both yes and no.
I'm not trying to be a smart-aleck with that answer (despite what Stoney might think). I really believe those things are both true and false.
I think customers should expect a competent designer to know the basic principles of SEO. But I don't think they should presume their designer is optimizing their site for search unless they've specifically discussed it.
Likewise, designers certainly can learn what's needed to produce search-friendly sites (and, personally, I think they should). But they're free to offer whatever specific services they want, as long as they don't promise something they can't or won't deliver.
The problem arises when people on both sides of the question jump to conclusions, think they know what the other party wants or is prepared to provide and neglect to ask careful questions.
The way I see it, we as designers/developers have a responsibility to keep up with our industry. Search engines are an important part of the web landscape.
While we may not need to know how to fully SEO a site ourselves, my personal opinion is the knowledge of what it takes to make a site “SEO-friendly” should be part of the basic arsenal of every web designer out there. Of course, you're free to make your own choice.
Just be aware — often clients come to us with plenty of business knowledge, but not much experience with the Web. Just because a client doesn't say she wants a search friendly site, this doesn't mean she'll be happy with a site that's invisible to Google. Even clients who say “search engines aren't important” seldom mean they want a site that can't be spidered at all.
As professionals, we should provide clients with solutions that support their business needs, not simply those that allow us to use our favorite design tool or experiment with the latest awesome technology... no matter how cool the results might look.
It's just plain bad business to promise something you don't deliver. Don't allow your clients to assume sites you create will show up well in the search engines unless you understand what it takes to achieve search visibility. Don't tell them their site is search-friendly unless you've incorporated SEO principles in your site design and code.
And by all means don't sell them an “optimized” site unless you know what that means and you're ready to do the real work involved.
If you don't want to learn anything about SEO, that's absolutely your perogative. Nobody's here trying to dictate to you what services you should offer. But then at least have the guts to be honest about what your services include — and what they don't. It's disingenuous to allow your prospective clients to think they're getting an optimized site if that isn't what you sell!
So, now, pardon me for a moment as I step over to the other side of the fence and put on my client hat... Okay, to my mind it is clearly our responsibility as clients to make sure we understand what we're buying. If more clients asked hard questions and kept pressing until they get a good answer, there would be fewer unhappy clients.
Yes, it's wrong for a designer to assume we don't care about search results and will be happy with an all-singing, all-dancing, all-Flash site that's all-invisible to all the search engines. By the same token, it's naive and foolish for us to simply assume our designer or developer understands what's required for search-friendliness (much less that our provider is actually optimizing our site).
Look, I'm not going to go in and buy a used car without checking the reviews in consumer magazines, running a CarFax report and having my mechanic give the vehicle a once-over. And yet, people will happily hand over hundreds or thousands of dollars for a website without taking so much as five minutes to do even the most cursory online research into what it takes to have a search friendly site.
You don't have to become a mechanic to buy a reliable used car, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to totally ignore all the resources available to help you make a wise car-buying choice. You don't need to become an SEO to hire a competent web professional, but it's wise to take advantage of the wealth of resources out there to help you learn the principles of search-friendliness.
We need to ask questions. We need to educate ourselves. We have to be clear what our priorities are, and yes, I think ultimately it is our responsibility to insure we understand what it is we're buying and that it's appropriate for our business needs.
Designers/developers: Make your own decisions about what you're prepared to offer, and be up-front with your prospects. Don't promise what you can't deliver. Listen deep to determine what the clients need, not just what they say they want. It's your responsibility to educate your clients and provide them with solutions that will benefit their business.
Clients: Know your business and be sure to discuss your priorities and goals with your designer/developer. Listen to your web professional's advice, be reasonable in your expectations and be sure you understand what they're prepared to provide. Don't let yourself be intimidated by technobabble. Insist on an explanation in terms you can grasp.
Bottom line, it comes down to open communication on the part of both web professionals and clients. Educate yourselves. Ask questions. Avoid assumptions. And together you can produce a site that shows off the designer's skill and meets the client's business objectives.
Learn more about the ways Diane can help improve the performance and profitability of your business web site, or request a no-obligation personal consultation, by visiting www.NineYards.com.
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