Synopsis – When you are looking for an expert to help you build and optimize a website, you will come across many different types of individuals, most of whom have expertise in some parts of the necessary skill sets, but perhaps are lacking in others. One can decide to hire a collection of different experts for each part of the process, and this may work very well in many cases. However, this kind of situation is a prime example of an instance where you might wish to look a little deeper to find individuals who have expertise in SEO and one of another onlne marketing area — the SEO hybrid.
In her article, “The Evolution of Search Engine Optimization: SEO Hybrids,” Shari Thurow discusses the development of the SEO hybrid — a person with multiple skill sets touching on distinct areas related to internet marketing. Depending upon which stage or aspect of development or monitoring of your site that you are at, you may need assistance from one of a variety of types of hybrids. For example, one of the most common is the hybrid who is skilled in both website design and search engine optimization. One major advantage of using this type of individual is that a lot of money and resources can be saved by working SEO into the mix before the site is built, rather than changing an already-built site to adhere to basic SEO principles.
Shari delves into a number of types of SEO hybrids in her article. If you want to see where you might be able to save resources, times, and headaches by employing such a person, this article fits the bill.
The complete article follows …
The Evolution Of Search Engine Optimization: SEO Hybrids
I have always been an SEO hybrid. Back in 1995, when I designed and coded my first website, I read and learned about search engine optimization from Danny Sullivan. As a result, I was careful to optimize that first site for search engine visibility during the development process.
Even though web analytics software was virtually non-existent back then, I still monitored the ROI from having a search-engine-friendly website. The results were phenomenal.
Since 1995, web analytics software has considerably evolved. And I have been able to see the types of web pages, graphic images, and videos that rank well and convert, and the types of web files that don’t rank well and don’t convert. I saw, early in my career, the connection between search engine optimization and website design. I saw the connection between SEO and website usability. And I also saw the connection between information architecture and SEO. As a result, this evolving and accumulated knowledge made me a better designer/developer.
As my knowledge of SEO evolved, I encountered many roadblocks. The reason? People seem to cling to outdated ideas about SEO and the skills that we SEO professionals possess.
For example, one of the biggest myths about search engine optimization is its perceived definition. Many people mistakenly believe that SEO is optimizing a website for search engines only. In reality, SEO is optimizing a website for people who use search engines. Notice there are two parts to this definition: (1) people and (2) search engines. In order for a website to be search-engine friendly, it should be friendly to both humans and search engines — not to search engines exclusively, not to humans exclusively.
Website owners often encounter SEO professionals who understand the technical part of search engine optimization, but are clueless about the human part. On the flip side, people often encounter SEO professionals who understand the human part of SEO, but have little or no technical knowledge. And what about a self-proclaimed SEO hybrid who claims multiple SEO skills as well as other types of skills? How can website owners differentiate true SEO hybrids from the snake-oil peddlers?
Figure 1: A search-engine-friendly website accommodates both searchers and search engines, not search engines exclusively or searchers exclusively. It is designed, coded, programmed, and written primarily for searchers, but always accommodates the commercial web search engines.]
What Is An SEO Hybrid?
An SEO hybrid is a person who possesses equal skill sets of search engine optimization and another skill set. SEO hybrids come in all sorts of combinations. For me, that initial combination included SEO and website design.
The benefit? Companies can save thousands, even millions, of dollars if they begin the optimization process before the site is built.
Even now, too many companies waste considerable time and money because website owners do not have the sense to learn about SEO and to work with SEO hybrids who can save them time and money (Figure 1).
True SEO hybrids are difficult to identify due to current marketing buzzwords. Is social media the hot topic? Then companies look for social media professionals who claim to know SEO. Is website usability the hot topic? Then companies look for usability professionals that specialize in SEO (or vice versa), even though search engine optimization has technical elements that few usability professionals understand. Whatever the flavor-of-the-month buzzword is, there will be SEO professionals who claim to be that SEO hybrid.
So what are some of the different types of SEO hybrids, and what should you know about working with them? There are advantages and disadvantages with different SEO hybrids. Here is important information you should know.
The SEO/Usability Hybrid
Some website owners mistakenly believe that if an SEO professional talks intelligently and logically about the “user experience,” then that SEO professional must be a usability professional, right?
Wrong. Here’s why.
Many SEO professionals use the term “user experience” to express their personal opinions about how a website should be optimized. They might even cite other well-known usability professionals as evidence of their knowledge. The key thing to know is that website usability professionals actually conduct usability tests to understand and to improve the user experience.
Sometimes, the interaction with users is face-to-face. Sometimes, the interaction with users is online. Regardless, the source of a usability professional’s expertise is actual interaction with users who fit a specific persona or profile. Usability testing is always conducted with test participants in your target audience. In other words, if your target audience is females who make healthcare decisions about family members, you do not test the website on teenage boys.
Additionally, usability is not a set of focus group opinions. Website usability is all about user goals and task completion. Usability professionals measure very specific items through testing, including but not limited to:
• Error prevention
• User satisfaction
For example, usability professionals want to know whether or not users are able to complete their desired tasks on your website. If not, what were the roadblocks they encountered, and how can those roadblocks be fixed? Furthermore, user satisfaction is heavily tied to task completion. If users were able to complete their desired tasks, then user satisfaction is high. If users did not complete desired tasks? Then user satisfaction is low.
An SEO/Usability Hybrid conducts usability tests to ensure that people can discover and locate desired content. This hybrid also is heavily involved with personas to ensure that testing is conducted on the right group of people. The SEO/Usability Hybrid does not only rely on usability testing to make more findable websites. He or she also relies on web analytics data, keyword research tools, A/B and multivariate testing data, and site search analytics to get a clear picture of the target audience.
In other words, an SEO/Usability Hybrid not only understands what users do to locate desired content, but also understands the reasons why users behave the way they do. This combination of “how plus why” tends to deliver a higher return on investment (ROI).
Many usability professionals do not have highly advanced technical skills. They might not know how to code or program a website. However, they do provide guidance for technical teams for an improved user experience (and sales).
The Designer/Developer SEO Hybrid
A Designer/Developer SEO Hybrid does have considerable technical skills. This hybrid understands how search engine spiders interact with various (X)HTML, scripting, and programming elements on a website. Web pages cannot rank in search engines if search engines do not have access to those pages. Additionally, if search engines do have access to content but have a difficult time interpreting what the content is about, then pages with that content will not rank well or convert.
Designer/Developer SEO Hybrids understand how to provide access to content and to ensure that search engines understand what content is about. Very advanced SEO Hybrids of this type know how to configure servers to minimize duplicate content delivery to search engines.
Some terminology to listen for to identify a Designer/Developer SEO Hybrid:
• Crawlability: The ability for a search engine to access content.
• Indexation and index count: Refers to the number of web pages available to rank. Web pages must pass through multiple filters (spam, advertising, duplicate content, etc.) in order to rank.
• URL structure: Refers to a web address. A credible technical SEO professional understands how to configure web addresses so that search engines can access and understand content.
Even if you do not understand this terminology, the Designer/Developer SEO Hybrid should be able to explain it to you with clear examples.
Designer/Developer SEO Hybrids are extremely valuable members to have on your SEO team. Perfectly usable and desirable websites do not get enough search engine visibility because designers and developers may unknowingly block search engines from accessing website content or the technical team unwittingly delivers duplicate content to search engines. Web searchers really dislike duplicate content in search results, which is why search engines created duplicate content filters.
However, also understand that the Designer/Developer SEO Hybrid does not necessarily understand the human side of search engine optimization. They tend to think like people with technical skills because they are people with technical skills. Does your target audience think and act like a person with considerable technical skills? Probably not.
So if you work with this type of SEO hybrid, remember that you might have to supplement this tech-savvy hybrid’s knowledge with an SEO professional who understands the human side of SEO. The human part of SEO addresses searcher behaviors, usability, and information architecture.
The SEO And Information Architect Hybrid
This SEO hybrid is perhaps the rarest hybrid you might encounter. I consider this hybrid one of the most desirable to work with because information architecture focuses on both findability and usability. In fact, the Information Architecture Institute (iainstitute.org) defines information architecture as, “The art and science of organizing and labeling website content to support usability and findability.”
Commercial web search engines are far from perfect. All too often, they do not bring a searcher to the best page within a site. An Information Architect Hybrid understands this and knows how to deliver users to desired content (via browse paths) in spite of a search engine’s mistake.
How do information architects accomplish this? Well, believe it or not, information architects conduct specific usability tests to determine how content should be categorized, cross-referenced, and labeled. Navigation labels are refined and prioritized (i.e., placed in a specific order) based on business goals and user expectations. A site’s information architecture evolves into a site’s navigation scheme. And a site’s navigation scheme provides access and “aboutness” to both search engines and to searchers.
Moreover, some Information Architect Hybrids have a background in library and information sciences. Since information scientists typically have considerable technical skills, this particular hybrid can be perfectly suited to building findable, usable, and profitable websites.
Some terminology you might hear from an Information Architect Hybrid includes:
• Thesaurus and controlled vocabularies (keywords)
Again, this SEO hybrid is very rare. If you wish to hire this hybrid, this person not only needs to have education, training, and experience in information architecture but also in usability. The deliverables from information architects are often wireframes, low- and high-fidelity prototypes.
Figure 2: The cost of fixing a poorly architected and optimized website is considerably less if an SEO hybrid identifies and fixes problems early in the design and development process.]
Being an SEO hybrid from the outset of my career has allowed me to evolve into a better user experience designer and SEO professional. Like Jared Spool at User Interface Engineering, I believe the future of user experience design lies with hybrids. Talented SEO professionals bring a better search experience to both users and search engines. So if you are an SEO professional, evolve into a hybrid. Your clients will appreciate it. Even more so, your clients’ customers will appreciate it, too.