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PHOTO: Brian McGowan

In his book "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus," John Gray provided a guide for understanding the opposite sex. Gray suggested ways for men and women to improve their relationships by acknowledging and understanding the differences between them.

At times, it can seem like SEOs are from Mars and web developers are from Venus. As senior manager, Global SEO at Under Armour, Dana Tan realized that to achieve her team’s SEO goals, she needed to forge closer ties with her peers in web development. 

Tan spoke at SMX West 2020, which took place Feb. 19 and 20 in San Jose, Calif. at the San Jose Convention Center. SMX West is a conference focused on SEO and SEM, produced by Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. Tan’s presentation was titled “Improving Relationships Between SEO and Web Developers.”

Just as Gray’s book taught men how to understand women and vice versa, one of Tan’s first steps was to better understand the role of web developers. She did online research and acquired basic knowledge about software development methodologies and techniques: agile, lean, waterfall, kanban and scrum. 

This research gave Tan an understanding of what a developer’s job is like, along with a high-level understanding of the terms they use. Here are a few more tips that Tan covered in her talk.

How to Provide Effective Requirements

Oftentimes, an SEO initiative requires new code for the organization’s website. This, in turn, requires SEOs to write and deliver requirements to the appropriate web development team.

Tan recommends that SEOs be as detailed as possible in their requirements specifications. For example, finding a post on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog and writing, “Google says to do this, so implement it on our website” is not useful. Instead, the request must be contextualized to the specifics of your website or to your organization’s business goals.

Tan developed the “IIHHA” acronym for writing requirements specifications:

  • Issue
  • Impact
  • How to fix
  • How to test
  • Acceptable criteria

Covering these in order:

  • Issue: Clearly define the issue.
  • Impact: Explain what part of the business will benefit and quantify the benefit, if possible. Describe the impact if the change is NOT implemented.
  • How to fix: Describe the solution if it’s known to you. It’s fine to say you don’t know how — after all, that’s the job of the web developer.
  • How to test: Provide a number of test conditions (e.g., what happens when it’s wrong, what happens when it’s right, etc.).
  • Acceptance criteria: Define specific conditions that validate whether the request was properly completed or had the desired effect or impact.

Related Article: 3 Search Marketing Takeaways From SMX West 2019

Provide Developers With a Reason for the Request

Don't just lob a request over the fence and say, "please implement this." Instead, tell web development why you’re requesting it. Tan shared this quote from author Robert Cialdini: “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

In addition to the reason for the request, document its impact. Web developers often have a backlog of requests from many groups. If a development manager is reviewing the pile of requests and yours sticks out because the business impact is documented the best, then it might be the one that’s completed first.

Some Gotchas to Avoid

Tan recommended SEOs not to prioritize every request as “urgent.” She compared this to colleagues who mark every email as urgent. Soon enough, you tune out the urgent flag and nothing is perceived as urgent.

In addition, Tan recommends not placing a “Level of Effort” indicator for each request. Instead, let the web development team tell you what the effort level will be. You might think a particular request is trivial, but didn’t see the many dependencies that developers must factor in when implementing it. By marking the request as “simple” or “easy,” you’re getting off on the wrong foot right away — in other words, you’re stuck on Mars.

Related Article: Why SEO Efforts So Often Fall Short

Close the Loop

Developers, like other team members, like to see the impact of their work. Tan’s team creates an internal email newsletter that features project updates. When an SEO request is completed and there are measurable results, they celebrate the “win” in the email newsletter and thank the developers who worked on it.

The developers love seeing their work recognized in the newsletter!

And guess what? When SEO comes to them with the next request, the developers are excited to explore the new ways they can help.

Never Eat Lunch Alone

Tan looks to her web development colleagues not as order takers, but as equal-minded partners. She used to eat lunch alone at her desk, but Tan now goes on regular lunches with her web developer partners. Getting out of the office gives them the opportunity to know each other better. And on subsequent projects, the closer relationship makes it easier to get things done together.