How to Prioritize Technical SEO Issues Without Rocking the Web Dev Boat
7 months ago on August 08, 2023
Do any of these sound familiar from dealing with your IT or development team?
“Why didn’t they run this by me first?”
“Were they even thinking about SEO when they did this?”
“Why aren’t they prioritizing my requests?”
Take a deep breath, you are not alone.
Remember how hard it was to get a meeting with the content writers for that keyword research workshop? Now think about doing that with developers – and on top of that, needing to add requests to their already busy queue.
Most organizations, especially when we talk about digital marketing projects, are still working in silos. Developers are also very busy! SEO professionals are always planning out the content to re-optimize or produce. The same can be said with developers. They have weekly sprints, tech debt, and are always on call for when something goes wrong with our website.
We need to better understand how to communicate with the development team, how to prioritize issues, and how we can change our process moving forward so we can work better together. In this column, you’ll learn more about how we can prioritize technical SEO issues without rocking the web development boat.
How to Educate the Development Team on SEO
There are so many different things you can do to help your SEO strategy become successful, which is why prioritizing what you need to do first is important.
And when talking about technical SEO, it becomes a whole new beast.
Educating Web Dev on SEO
The first step in prioritizing the technical issues is to make sure the development team is aware of what SEO is and the importance of it as a channel to the site.
Most of the time when there are technical issues hindering SEO, the development team isn’t aware of them.
They’re not creating technical issues on purpose. Technical teams can also be extremely defensive around their own work – I mean, who isn’t?
Make sure you aren’t blaming them for these issues but instead, showing them how you can work together.
Give Your Requests Context
When I’m creating a technical document of all the issues on the website, I also include why this is necessary and what the fix should be.
By including educational resources around what the issue is and what the fix is, the developers have more information available to them around why this is so important and how it can benefit the overall website.
Failing to include this context as to why fixing this issue is important adds more work to both teams as the information has to be chased down. Usually, the issue will not be prioritized.
Share Knowledge Openly and Regularly
It’s incredibly important to break down the silos of the marketing and development teams. Communication is key, especially in organizations where each department may have an impact on the other’s goals.
If you submit a ticket to update hundreds of canonical tags, you might be interrupting the last week of their sprint.
On the other hand, if the development team accidentally 404s a bunch of our valuable SEO pages, it might add more work for both teams down the road.
No one wants to add more work to someone else’s plate. By holding joint knowledge sharing sessions, the SEO team can explain what matters from an SEO perspective on the site and the development team can figure out how this can be incorporated into the current queue of projects.
I understand no one wants to have another internal meeting but try to make these learning sessions fun.
Try doing a hackathon or a workshop where you walk through an actual issue together. Collaborating on something that is actionable and real-life will make it more impactful as both teams can begin to understand how each department can truly work together.
Evangelizing why SEO is important and a necessary step to having a mature SEO organization, so it’s vital that we make sure we aren’t just delegating work to teams but discussing it as a team project and how all of our roles are interconnected.
One of the best ways to help educate the development team around how technical SEO can impact our website is by prioritizing the issues for them.
How to Prioritize Technical SEO Issues for the Business
When we think about SEO, it’s already incredibly hard to prove ROI compared to other marketing channels.
Now on top of that, we have to talk about technical issues and how they can improve our crawl budget or decrease duplication.
Not too easy to prove, right?
Well, yes and no.
We all know it’s much harder to prove the ROI of a technical issue. But we can prioritize these issues for the business and show the impact they might have on our primary pages or highest converting pages.
Here are a few different ways we can prioritize our technical issues for the development team:
1. Prioritize by Number of Technical Issues Impacting the Page
The simplest way to prioritize technical issues is by the raw number of issues that exist on the website.
There are so many different tools to help crawl our site and create a technical audit. But that doesn’t always mean these tools make it easy to understand what the impact of these issues is.
By using a crawling tool such as DeepCrawl, Screaming Frog, or even Google Search Console, we can begin to identify the number of technical issues on our site or on each page.
By looking at the raw data and the number of issues that are impacting a page or that exist on a site, this might get the ball rolling on fixing some of the issues that really stand out.
If there are hundreds of pages with duplicate titles and only a couple of pages that have a redirect chain, it might make sense to first focus on the duplicate title tags.
Break Issues Down in Terms Your Team Can Appreciate
I recommend trying to break down the issues in buckets based on what they are.
For example, I try to break down the technical issues by “Content” (think duplicate title tags, missing header tags, etc.) and “Indexation” (think status code, redirects, non-indexable pages in sitemap).
This way, it’s easier for the development teams to understand what issue is related to what.
So when we see we have missing title tags or header tags, they understand that it’s related to the content on the page, not necessarily a 302 redirect or a missing canonical tag which may impact indexation.
When there are a lot of issues on the site, this can be overwhelming for both the developer and the SEO pro. This is why it’s important to work as a team to understand what can be accomplished in the short term vs. the long term.
2. Prioritize by the Effort It Will Take the Development Team to Fix
SEO is a long-term game – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. This is why we need to learn what the developers are doing in their sprints and align it with the fixes we need to be made.
Keep in mind that not every fix is going to be quick or easy. Every website is different. Every tech stack is different.
There are some companies where the SEO professional can go into the CMS and update the canonical tag or the title tag.
Other times, they need to submit a ticket, get approved in the development process, and wait in the queue until the issue is fixed.
Imagine if the fix isn’t exactly what you wanted?
Since every development process is different, it’s important that we learn what we can easily do within the system, what might take a little longer, and what things we can never fix so and push out to another day.
Show Web Dev You’re Considering Their Time & Resources
Discussing the technical issues with the development team and showing them what you want done makes it easier for everyone to understand what is feasible in the short term.
Creating a document with the technical issues and the effort it will take for the development team is another great way to prioritize what to fix first.
The development team knows what they can or cannot do easily. Talk to them when you’re reviewing this document or you might keep submitting a ticket for an issue that will never be resolved.
Break out what issues are low effort, medium effort, high effort, or not even possible to do. Once we can figure out what can be done easier, we can begin to educate them on what might have the biggest impact on our site.
By allowing the development team to fix things that take less time, they will not only be appreciative as it enables them to focus on their other projects, but we can even get more buy-in to have more technical resources for SEO as we can start to see improvements quicker.
Figure Out Where to Focus First for Quick Wins
I typically like to get a lot of the low-hanging fruit out of the way early on such as cleaning up missing title tags, header tags, or descriptions.
These fixes are usually a lot easier to make and begin to report to the organization all the updates we are making to the larger organization.
Additionally, by fixing these content issues we can begin to understand if there is something in our template or content creation process that is creating these technical issues.
Maybe the content or development team was never taught the importance of the H1 tag or other header tags on the page for SEO.
Instead of being reactive towards these issues, we can start to be proactive and create guidelines around what is needed within these pages before they are pushed live on our site.
We don’t want to ignore the longer-term technical issues altogether as we know they can still hinder our website. But during these cross-departmental projects, it’s always nice to get a win early on.
People want to see progress on their work and with SEO we know how long that can sometimes take.
If we’re still having trouble getting executive buy-in around fixing technical SEO, we can always bring organic performance data to the table to show the impact these issues are having on our most important pages.
3. Prioritize by Organic Performance (Think Traffic, Conversions, or Keyword Rankings)
The best way to get the business to care about something is by showing them how their primary pages may be impacted by technical issues.
Once an executive hears they may lose traffic or conversions and we know how to fix the issue, this will absolutely help get things moving in the right direction.
The easiest way I’ve found to get more buy-in for technical SEO resources – or for the technical team to actually care about our issues – is by adding organic performance data around these pages.
Showing organic data especially keyword rankings is honestly one of the best ways to help resonate across different teams why SEO is important to your business and the same can be said with technical teams.
When thinking about organic data to show, try and bring in metrics that are easily understandable to the larger team:
- Organic traffic (sessions, pageviews, visitors, etc.).
- Keyword rankings (I even break this out into Page 1 keyword rankings to show how visible these pages are).
- Total search volume from the keywords ranking.
- Average position of the keywords ranking.
While the business or development team might not care or even know about SEO, they most likely know what pages on the website are the best performing or the most impactful.
From my experience, it’s also important to show them other pages that perform well organically that they may not know about.
Once they hear how well these pages are performing with technical issues, they will be very interested in prioritizing the fix to see how much better they can do without any issues.
At the end of the day, your business cares about what impacts them the most.
By bringing data around how these pages are performing and communicating expectations on what can happen if the technical issues are resolved, the queue magically opens up and issues are fixed much quicker than before.
In short, prioritizing technical issues can be done in several different ways. But without a strategy for it, the technical team will be completely lost on where to begin and more and more issues will continue to accrue.
We can have the best content in the world that’s optimized for all our relevant keywords. However, if we have technical issues on the site that hinder a user or a search engine crawler from accessing our content then it was all for nothing.
With Google’s recent Core Web Vitals update, they’ve put more emphasis on user experience than ever before.
This means we need to talk about page speed and updating our sitemap when we release new content. And the more we bring up technical SEO with our web dev teams, the more ingrained it will be in their process.
The best-case scenario for prioritizing these issues is that we get a dedicated technical resource, and we can knock out a bunch of things we’ve always wanted to get done.
Worst case scenario is that we still have to submit tickets to the development team and get them approved in the queue. But now at least we know it’ll get done correctly or in a timely manner, since we’ve explained the issue to them in depth.
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