Last week on the SEO 101 WebmasterRadio.FM show I host with Ross Dunn, we talked about some of the pet peeves we have about working with SEO clients. One of the things that came up in the discussion was companies that hire out their web development and THEN call an SEO once the new site is live. Ross and I talked about the frustration of having to tell a potential client the site they just paid oodles of dollars for doesn't have a shot in the engines, and how nice it would be if companies would call in an SEO consultant up front.

Whenever I talk with a company in this position, I'm reminded of the public service announcements that run all over the country advising home owners to "call before you dig."

Call Before You Dig

The idea here is to call and have the utility company come mark where water lines, gas lines and any other underground lines are so you can avoid creating a mess when you start digging as part of your home improvement process. In other words, so you can avoid something like this:

It makes good sense. A little bit of extra time and expense before you start your project can save you a ton of time and expense if things go wrong. Building your web site works much the same way. Sure, you may be able to hire your site design out to company X and then hire company Y to do the search engine optimization on it, but you run the same risk as the person digging a hole in their back yard.

There still just as many (if not more) companies out there who are oblivious to the things that trip up search engines as there are companies who build things right. That's why it's essential to either hire someone with a skilled search engine optimizer on staff, or to bring an SEO consultant on board to oversee the development of your site architecture and code.

Rebuilding Costs More Than Building it Right

What happens if you don't do this? Well, in the case of a lot of the companies I've spoken to, it means starting from square one. Think of it like building the home of your dreams or the perfect skyscraper and then having to blow it all up to start fresh.

There are few things more frustrating than laying out thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars for a new web site only to find it will be nearly impossible to get it to rank well. Whether it's a site built entirely in Flash, a site too reliant on session IDs, a site devoid of content or a content management system that doesn't allow you to change things like Title tags, a poorly developed site can throw up massive obstacles for the engines. Generally, a site like this means if you want to rank, you have to rebuild. (or at least heavily renovate.)

Think of your SEO consultant as an architect and your web development company as a general contractor. A general contractor can build you a beautiful home, but they need to have the perfect plans to work from. A good SEO consultant can put together the plans and requirements for your site and hand them over to your web development team before the build. It's true you may find the perfect general contractor who has a broad enough skill set to not only build your home, but to build the plans for your home. It's also true you may find the perfect web development firm with a solid enough understanding of SEO to build you a search optimized site. You simply need to understand these things are still the exception and not the rule.

Do yourselves a favor and call an SEO before you dig yourself into a big old web development mess.

February 10, 2009

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


I had this "exact" conversation yesterday with a PR person who, thankfully, called me in for a new client meeting. She knew enough to know they needed SEO and turned to a specialist. Then, a Dirctor of a branding agency called who has a client needing SEO help. Now they're looking to provide SEO as an added value to new prospects.

Maybe the concept is finally trickling up the food chain to traditional marketers. At least one can hope.

Thanks for your great and always practical insight Jennifer.

"Call Before You Dig!" - what a great analogy Jennifer! I hope you don't mind because I am sooo going to steal that one :-)


It was a great article. "Call before you dig" is really something. When you look deeper to its meaning, it is very much true. In internet marketing, hiring an SEO specialist to do planning on how to optimized your page is a very good idea. SEO will be a very great help in succeeding in online marketing. It is just wise to have a good plan before putting yourself in a situation unprepared.

sound advice, i am sad to say i found this out the hard way. near $2500 down the drain couldn't believe it. But lesson learnt (the hard way). And ill never forget it

While 'call before you dig' is an ok slogan, I prefer 'dial before you dig'. It has more of a ring to it (no pun intended ;)

Is is enough SEO though? Hmm


Excellent post- and funny that I was just in a clients office like 2 hours ago and this topic came up as I presented them a quote for SEO on a "just completed" website. Happens again and again.

Yeah, these clients are crazy... it's like they're putting the cart before the horses, right... :)

I always tell my clients to start with the end in mind and always "SEO" focus their efforts...

Yes! It's amazing that this topic continues to be an issue in today's world -- 5-7+ years ago, it was more understandable. SEO and the importance of search rankings should not be a new concept for those building a website so it's shocking that companies still build first then hire someone to come remodel or reconstruct! This discussion is quite common place in our industry & with a handful of new clients and it definitely causes frustration to not only the client, but also the SEO and consequently the design firm who has to then make changes for a disgruntled client! Web designers who provide clients with non SEO-friendly or archaic CMS platforms that doesn't allow for simple SEO fixes are not providing value in the design process. Web development shops don't have to be SEO savants, but at least do the client some justice and give them the potential to succeed.

Great post!

This is a great point and it is so so important for people to remember, but I often times find that people forget this step and want to make their site look pretty first! SEO should definitely be set up first, better for the long run and will result in less time spent trying to find workarounds.

I appreciate what you're saying, but I don't think SEO is the equivalent of the site's architect. The look and feel of a site rests with the designers and they hate being marginalized. (Matter of fact, hell hath no fury like a designer who thinks they're being told what to do.) SEO is more of a mechanical engineer position. We can't tell the client not to build the bridge or a skyscraper of their dreams nor can we tell them how to build it -- that's the architects job. However, once they've decided to build it, we can tell them how to do it safely.

Extra cost at planning stage is much better than extra cost to fix the damage. I like how you make a great analogy of "Call before you dig" for web build.
Lucy Andrez

Don't hate me, but I'm going to steal: "Think of your SEO consultant as an architect and your web development company as a general contractor."

That sums up the SEO's role in development perfectly!

Some good points and then some even better ones.

I 'm afraid you have reason. I'm in the process of building a great website for a client, Tourisme charlevoix and I have to build it with SEO in mind or else I'll have to start over!


Your post is totally right. I think the reason that most companies set up the website first, then SEO, is because of the lack of knowledge of how the internet and the search engines work from the outset. Most people/companies at the beginning, are hoping they can set up a cool website and it will magically appear at the top of the search rankings. After the reality sets in, then they contact an SEO service.

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It really is amazing. Businesses small and large, still think that just having a page online is all they need. They completely forget or ignore any SEO. In fact, most who forget about SEO forget about the marketing laws as well. They apply even more so online.

This is great advice and important for us and those are doing Search engine optimziation (SEO). They should know how can get better result and what changes should be on the website? etc.

Great advice.

One of the main services that I provide is to redesign existing websites that are not delivering results.

And the main reason that I find that they are not working is because they have been 'designed' with little thought given to how they look to the search engines.

Number 1 consideration always needs to be the user experience with the website.

But conducting the keyword research and content creation with SEO in mind at the beginnning of the process can save major grief down the track.

Very good post.

In Denmark SEO is very low on the agenda when a site is planned and implemented.

It's very hard to get in the proces as a SEO, and many of the web-developers "think" they know what they are doing - but this does not seem to be the case.

Did a small study of 8 of the biggest web-developers in Denmark, and most of their sites did not meet even the simplest SEO rules. Like 6 out 8 did'nt have meta description, 2 out of 8 used flash to and extreme extentend ... and i could go on.

If they cant fix the SEO on their own sites, how can you trust them to build yours.

Steen Öhman, SEO Check

Great article and it makes sense. As I'm a web designer I build my site before putting in the SEO but unfortunately I don't have a choice. Once the site has been built I can implement the SEO and set it live so it starts to get cached by google.

It would be nice if I had the SEO while I was building the site and save me time, so then I could just get the website out of the way in one go instead of having to come back to it to do the SEO.

Thanks for another great article.

Totally agree with the quote Rebuilding Costs More Than Building it Right. We better put extra effort at the beginning rather than get back to fix up.

Robyn Goldstone

Good read mate, Love the quote you used “call before you dig”. SEO is the thing and without it, a site becomes a desert and a home to few.

Thanks for the intresting read wish you luck

Great article - its surprising that such a large percentage of businesses still go about SEO this way.

The objective of most website re-designs is to increase sales, which is also the main driver for SEO - treating the processes separately makes no sense

Great article, Thanks.
SEO and Build should work together, not separately to achieve the best result.

Could not agree more. It's always easier and makes more sense to base the site build around the keywords and seo factors. It takes so much more time to make a website and then go in and apply seo tactics. The seo can make a difference to your menu links, page titles, your content, your layout and so many other areas. The cost is certainly a major factor and one that gets clients right where it hurts. Let's hope the message gets out there loud and clear. Thanks for putting it so clearly and making it great to read.

great post. We see loads of clients come to us for optimisation and the state of some of the websites we have to work with is really bad. If you cannot develop websites with search engines in mind you shouldn't develop at all....what is the point in a company paying for a website that will hardly ever be seen.

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