Webmasters and SEO Implementation: Mission Impossible?

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Implementation can be the hardest aspect of an SEO campaign. Even after keyword research, content creation, and link building have all gotten underway, we often find that campaigns fail because the on-page optimization was never actually added to the site code. Invariably, it is the webmaster that is responsible for failing to implement recommended changes. Whether this is the result of an active distrust of SEO companies, or sheer incompetence, the result is almost always an aborted campaign, since no site owner wants to keep paying for results that can’t happen.

People with experience in the online industry know that the title of “webmaster” has little value in and of itself. In the same way that you can call yourself an ordained minister by filling out an online form and printing out your certificate, you can call yourself a webmaster even if you haven’t written a single line of code. All you have to do is use a program (or CMS) to create one web page, even if it is one a free hosting site. On one memorable occasion, we even talked to a webmaster who asked us what we were talking about when we mentioned “FTP.”

There are also some very competent web designers who are hostile to SEO for a variety of reasons. In many cases, their jobs begin and end with the design of the site, so there isn’t necessarily any consideration for how search engines see the final product, or even how the average person would navigate it. (The site Web Pages That Suck http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com gives examples of amateur and professional websites that show a serious lack of consideration for the end user.) There are instances where the “website” designed for the customer is actually based on a CMS template, which would require programming in order to add in unique titles and fresh content. People who design Flash websites (graphic designers especially) do not want to put “ugly” text onto a page that is designed solely for its visual appeal. On top of all that, many “webmasters” also fancy that they are “SEO Experts” and want to charge thousands of dollars just to put more text in the Keyword Tag.

How do you get such a webmaster to implement the code that you have prepared for a customer? The answer is not always easy. In many cases the webmaster will be adverse to any suggestion you make, and send the site owner outdated comment links from SEO forums explaining why an action will get the site banned. Instead of placing the customer in the middle of an argument, it pays to contact the webmaster personally and work with them directly. This can also minimize the webmaster’s embarrassment when you identify his/her knowledge gaps relative to search engine positioning. If you work for an agency (or even if you freelance) you can sometimes turn the webmaster around by explaining SEO and offering a commission on leads from their other clients. If the direct approach does not work, it helps to show the site owner an example of a competitor who is implementing similar SEO correctly and getting top rankings.  You can even offer to upload the code yourself, but designer/webmasters are generally against this because they believe you are going to “break” the website. Whenever possible, getting the developer to add code also saves you from the exposure (and blame) that can happen when something else goes wrong and your access to the site is called into question.

It also pays to remember that many webmasters are overburdened, charge by the hour (even to make a 2 minute fix), or may have full time jobs (unrelated to the Internet) with web design as a sideline. Sometimes the client’s webmaster is just a contact that outsources the work to programmers in Eastern Europe, India, or China.  While each webmaster experience is usually unique, it is always essential, for your campaign and the client’s success, to get the code straightened out as quickly as possible. Whether this involves simple metatag insertion or URL rewriting, the search engine should definitely be seeing an improving site when it comes around for its next visit.

While not all webmasters are hostile to SEO, or grossly incompetent, the importance of timely implementation cannot be underestimated.  If you are getting external links for  your customer’s site, and the SEO isn’t live, then you are wasting money. While it may be difficult to tell a site owner that they picked a bad webmaster, it is important for your reputation (and your bottom line) to make every effort to get rankings for the site as quickly as possible. Your client’s trust in your SEO work is directly proportional to the rankings and traffic you can deliver, so every now and then it may be necessary to use a little brute force with the developer in order to achieve your desired results. At the very least, continuous pressure from you and the site owner should compel the webmaster quit arguing and put up the code so you can get the project underway.

About the Author

Patrick Hare is an in-house SEO consultant for Web.com Search Agency. Over the past 10 years, he has created SEO and PPC campaigns for affiliate websites, ecommerce stores, and lead generation platforms. Learn more about Web.com Search Agency’s SEO affiliate program by contacting 866-721-8192.

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