By Alex Mason

Why SEO Comes First

By Alex Mason

I’ve been an SEO for many years and during that time I’ve worked with all sorts of web developers – each with their own mix of talents and enthusiasm. For all their hard work, good intentions and passion, generally speaking they’ve all been a massive dud when it comes to one particular aspect of online marketing: search engine optimisation.

It’s not the fact that web designers tend to be bad at SEO that’s the problem – in fact I’m glad they are otherwise there would be no work for people like me. The problem starts when they claim that they do understand it, partly in order to secure the work.

And for the record, whilst I wholeheartedly appreciate that there is a distinction between designers and developers, I have found each are guilty protagonists, so I apologize if I use these terms interchangeably. If pushed I would also say that your average Mac user knows far less about SEO than your average PC user (and take from that what you wish), but as I am about to explain, having a little knowledge could well be worse than having none at all.

Web Designers’ Views on SEO

Generally, when you ask a web designer what he or she knows about SEO – if their sun-starved faces don’t completely go blank – they may talk about title tags, pretty URLs and maybe even a sitemap.

What’s for certain is that they won’t discuss anything other than the on-site technical aspects of their websites.

That’s fine – these are important parts of optimization and many designers don’t even get that far. I’ll go further and say thank goodness that the days of frames are long gone whilst the irony of not a single Flash website showing up in Google for the phrase “Flash website” isn’t lost on an SEO.

So, let’s consider a typical scenario. Along comes your average relatively clueless client to a web designer studio and they (or their sales team) go through the sales process, show them how great their existing clients’ websites look and demonstrate their excellent hosting plans as the client nods along enthusiastically to the sales patter.

Five minutes before the sales meeting closes, the clients ask about this SEO they’ve read so much about. The design team issues a final gush about how all their sites are search engine friendly and will easily be found by the spiders and what’s more, they even install Google analytics for free! And so the deal is done.

Six months down the line and sales on the client’s site are lackluster, traffic is low and the return on investment is negligible. Along comes an SEO, and before he can even say “Your site has canonicalization problems and no call to action”, the client’s defences are up. He’s already “had SEO done” and it didn’t’ work – anyway, he’s now spending his marketing budget on Yell.com and an advert in the local press.

Thank you, Mr Web Designer – another potential client gone, another website without a marketing plan and another detractor of SEO as a profession.

SEOs’ Views on Web Design

Let’s flip this around and ask an SEO about Web Design and – if they even find the time away from their ridiculous workload to answer –  they may talk about HTML, headers, bodies and footers and maybe a bit about PHP or CSS. Ask them if they can also provide a website and they would have no hesitation in referring you to someone else who knows better – probably someone they are connected to through a LinkedIn account.

In the same way a car mechanic might be a dab hand at making a vehicle go faster, he wouldn’t for one second assume he’s also best suited to then race it. Web designers have to detach what they do from anything to do with what a contemporary SEO would do.

Web designers are hurting the search marketing industry at the very source. When clients whose understanding is only as good as the person who is telling them think that SEO is what web designers do, we’re at the bottom of a big uphill battle.

This is the fundamental problem – web designers are the gatekeepers. They are client’s first port of call and because their work is what the client sees and understands, it is they who influence the site’s design and functionality.

It’s generally up to the SEO to then clean up the mess and rectify the oversights the developers and clients between themselves have left. This is never good news – just as no mother likes to hear that their children are ugly, no web designer likes to be told their site needs changing.


Why SEO Comes First

The following list skims the surface of what a good SEO will do for their client. Immediately, it is clear that our responsibilities go way beyond onsite optimization and whilst the term SEO remains, our role and scope is considerably wider ranging. If there is a web developer out there who considers all of these aspects, then good on you – but I doubt you have time to do all this as well as design websites.

  • Site Accessibility
  • Keyword Research
  • Content Creation/Strategy
  • Link Acquisition
  • Social Media
  • Pay Per Click
  • Search Protocols
  • Community Involvement
  • Local Search

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Two parts of what an SEO provides are largely ignored by web designers, much to the disaffection of their clients: Keyword Research and Traffic Acquisition.

Keyword research should be the starting point of any web build. If you do not know what your prospective customers are looking for, how do you know what words the site should be optimised for? Formula One designers consider the tracks their cars are going to go around before they build the cars. Fisherman consider what fish they are after before they choose the nets they use. Why wouldn’t a website be built and optimized for the words they need to target?

The second and most important part of SEO which web designers fail to recognise is how the site is going to generate traffic. How and why should the site you are building get traffic and make sales? Pretty images and compliant code doesn’t get you very far.

Web developers rarely consider the strategy of how to make this happen: whether the solution is ultimately through content marketing via a blog, attracting inbound links through link bait or integrating a solid social media strategy, making these decisions before the site is built makes a huge difference to any website’s ROI.

Separation of Responsibility

Each party cannot be expert across the other’s discipline. It is important that each party has an understanding of the other.

What Web Designers need to concede and explain to clients is that whilst their sites may be search engine friendly, they are not offering SEO.

To claim anything else undermines our fledgling profession and misleads clients. We have enough bad SEOs doing that already!

  • Hi Alex
    Great article and definitely have to agree with you that we designers/developers should not call themselves SEO’s and vice versa. I think the problem largely comes from the fact that the SEO industry is still relatively young and has little or no formal training structures or qualifications. Thus in order to be an expert you only need to know just a little more than the client you are professing your expertise to.
    Perhaps when the industry grows up some more some of these problems will be overcome.

  • I thought We should offer services as per our strength. And one guy can be excellent in one technology only and he may have additional information or knowledge about other technologies. So he should not call himself as an expert of other domains. The same applies to web designers and web developers. Search engine optimization for a website should be carried out by a professional SEO expert. And he will be the right person to maintain and getting rankings for new clients a seo consulting has. So each expert should be responsible for his own expertise only.

  • Siebert Tenseven

    I know what SEO is, but what is “an SEO”?

    • Tj

      Maybe its just a case for correct grammar.

    • An SEO is to Search Engine Optimisation, is what a web designer is to web design. A little confusing perhaps for people outside the industry.

      Also refered to as Search Marketers or a hundred other different things – it’s a new industry (newer than web design!) which hasn’t quite settled on a single title.

      • I think Siebert is suggesting it should be “a SEO” not “an SEO” when the O stands for Optimizer, rather than Optimization.

        I’m a designer/developer and usually tell clients that I do the onsite stuff and build the site in a logical manner that search engines can index, but that a dedicated SEO campaign is a separate thing and I’m not expert in it.

  • annoymous coward

    Looks like you have a personal issue with web designers and developers. You may think your funny but the article isn’t informative at all and is littered with belittling comments to designers and developers and your personal opinion. Maybe you should get over yourself!

    • I’m not sure what you find so belittling? I work with designers and developers all the time and I wish I could do what they do.

      Most people in my profession would have seen websites sold as “SEO friendly” by developers which, because they were structurally bad, poorly targetted with no ongoing strategy, have ended up being complete white elephants.

      And yes it is personal opinion. But it’s important that web developers understand our opinions as we both ultimately work for the client.

      • Ove Klykken

        >I’m not sure what you find so belittling?

        Are you kidding me? I’m sorry Alex, but I’m calling BS on that comment.

        It’s *exactly* what it does. At an average rate of every second paragraph.

  • Ben

    Fair enough, I have worked in an office where designers think hey understand it all, I think it is just in their nature

  • Daniel Jevons

    Great article and some very important points on SEO and it’s importance to a fully functional website, plus totally agree there must be a divide between web designers and SEO experts. Cheers for that Alex

  • @Siebert Tenseven
    I think an SEO would be referring to a Search Engine Optimizer i.e. the SEO specialist.

  • …and, thanks Alex. This is an insightful read!

  • MattSEngland

    I think you will find it is so called SEO experts that are damaging the SEO industry.
    SEO should be a considered part of every aspect of a web project from before start to beyond finish.

    You suggest a design vs SEO type of argument.

    It is this “vs” mentality that you are demonstrating that is the problem. SEO is a part of web design. Web design is a part of SEO. I personally think web designers that don’t know SEO aren’t web designers. Lets face it, SEO is fairly elementary stuff.

    As for comments such as “sun-starved faces”.
    Are you referring to professional businessmen or teenagers playing with HTML in their bedrooms?
    I know designers and developers of both ilk’s. If you are working with the latter maybe you need to stop working with amateurs and realise professional web designers/developers can do your Job very well indeed and are actually grown men and women in offices.

    Dont get me wrong, I do agree there are a lot of designers/developers that don’t know the SEO side of things very well. But here’s the thing! For every designer I know that doesn’t know SEO I know 10 SEO’s that don’t know SEO.

    I have come across hundreds of SEO’s that take money for substandard results because the client doesn’t know what they are buying.

    Maybe, when looking for something to point your finger at, you should look a little closer to home.

    • I’m not suggesting anything as a VS at all – far from it. Just as every SEO needs a good developer to call upon, so it is vice versa. Good SEO’s take responsibily for the entire online marketing of a site. We’ve gone a long way from technical basics, far beyond “elementary stuff” and a developer who is up to speed on every aspect of search marketing probably isn’t very busy with programming work.

      As for sun starved faces, I was only making a light hearted observation that I’m sure there is a something to the correlation that most developers I know (and I am in the UK admittedly so perhaps the problem is more acute) seem to be “indoorsy” people, more interested in programming than outdoor persuits. I am sure that there are plenty of tanned developers out there too.

      Yes, there are hundreds of bad SEO’s and terrible SEO services. It’s a constant problem that we talk about amongst ourselves all the time: Absolutely no arguments there at all. But as you say, it isn’t a you Vs us and I am pointing the finger at our own industry.

      We need to make sure we do right by our clients and the best thing we can do for them, is make sure they have a digital marketing strategy which goes well beyond have a technically perfect website. How is the client going to generate regular content, are we considering whether we need specific pages designed for prospective PPC campaigns, have we set up event tracking to help measure the businesses KPI’s and so on.

      • MattSEngland

        Ok Alex. Fair enough.
        Your article does read a little like and attack on designers though which is the only thing that prompted my reply. Im usually happy to have a quiet read and go about my merry way.

        My main point is that a bad worker is a bad worker regardless.
        We cant say “Thank you, Mr Web Designer – another potential client gone” any more than we can say “Thank you, Mr SEO expert – another potential client gone!”

        Well, you can say it if you want, but its a mute point.

        Using your car analogy.
        I build cars, SEO’s drive them. Its a great analogy, but, If I build a car with no wheels then an SEO, and the website, is useless unless the SEO knows how to redesign the car with wheels. This is why SEO and web design cannot and shouldn’t be separated.

        PS – Im from Blackpool UK so plenty of pasty faces round here too.
        We have a joke in my office. Whenever a client crops up that has had a bad experience with an online presence we always ask “Was the website built in a bedroom by any chance?”
        Its not the most constructive question but the client usually knows exactly what we mean, just like SEO, bedroom designers are ten a penny. (Some are BRILLIANT but overall,,,,,, meh!)

        • I’ll pick up on your analagy – yes, most SEO’s wouldn’t know how to fit the wheels on. But a web developer is more likely to choose the wrong ones on in the first place. I still to this day haven’t met a web developer who begins a project with market research. (Competitive analysis, keyword research etc) Definitely not a seperation of tasks, just a re-ordering.

          It’s our job to take a complete overview of strategy, with most involvement before and after the build, educating the client along the way. If we’re able to “get at” the clients first, they will end up with a well designed, SEO friendly site, a better fit with their companies competences and a fully integrated marketing plan.

          • Firstly, great article and I agree on most points.

            You say, you haven’t met a web developer who begins a project with market research etc. Isn’t that because it is not their job? That is the role of SEO/SEM. As designers/developers, we can only advice clients on the need for marketing plans etc, if they simply want us to build a product are we supposed to turn them away because they are either not willing or will look after the keyword analysis, copy writing, online marketing plans etc themselves?

            To use the car analogy again, that is like a car salesman not selling an unsuitable car to an unsuitable candidate if that’s what they want.

      • It definitely came off as a “vs” article and it’s usually the expected stance. Drupal vs. WP vs. Joomla or Developer/Programmer vs. Designer/Frontend guy. I know programmer types (.asp to be exact) that blatantly hate on everything that is not in their range or lane. On the flip side of that coin, they can’t even put together a basic image scroller or design an effective layout without getting laughed at by the guys the live to discredit and oppose.

    • I think agree with MATT: “I think you will find it is so called SEO experts that are damaging the SEO industry.” – Every bloody day do I get SPAM from GMAIL account professing to do “SEO” and guarantee Page #1 Google – They infect my online forms, blogs and forums – they never leave a telephone number or real name (often different from the email address!). My clients get them and forward to me with a sentiment along the lines of “Is this any good. they can get me thousands of visitors?”
      …. As someone said anyone can call them selves and SEO or Web designer- it’s very grey and blurred – COLLABORATION is the way to go. As a Web Developer the skill set has become unmanageable and something has to give. My brain is not large enough to learn all this disicplines, ideas and skills in an every changing technical environment – Gawd I’l still struggling with Mobile browsers !! … time to make friends and make the ‘WEB and MARKETING TEAM’ a force to be reckoned with.

      … not easy when you’re client only wants to spend sub £1000 on his web project and still expect is bottomline to treble overnight though!

      • Couldn’t agree more with everything you say.

  • Hi Alex, I cannot agree with you more. My business partner and I build WordPress plugins. That’s all we do. When clients need web design we send them to an appropriate web designer. Knowing that SEO is of utmost importance, we always tell all our clients they need to work with an SEO first and foremost, but sadly we have yet to find a good one here in the USA. Can you either recommend someone OR can your company work with folks here in that States? Thanks in advance for your help! :-)

    • Of course I meant to say, “…folks here in the States?”

  • Sam Parmenter

    I think that you have a very different perspective to 90% of the web development community from what you have said. Your initial post does sound a little derogatory toward designers and developers but your subsequent replies have allayed my fears.

    From what I have seen, SEO is something that the vast majority of practitioners haven’t got a clue about themselves. We recently started working with a very good SEO company to complement our design and development areas and its been very eye opening.

    As you say, they complete an exhaustive research campaign to direct the rest of the SEO process on the site and determine the best course of action based on the clients needs / budget. I had rarely met someone who claimed to be an SEO expert who did this beforehand.

    Because of that, developers and designers are instructed to apply certain SEO principles to their design and code that are in reality very basic practices. When your SEO ‘expert’ tells you to do so little and then proclaims the sites SEO complete, the designer naturally says “Thats what I always do and its very simple”, thus propagating the idea that they as a designer / developer have a firm grasp of SEO.

    Put it this way, as a developer if you cannot code then you will not get far as you won’t be able to build a website. As a designer, if you cannot design then you won’t be able to produce a website that is good enough to sell. SEO sits in that nice position whereby a little knowledge and the general ambiguity and ease with which clients are misdirected allows them to add little value to a site without being caught.

    It sounds like you work in a good agency that follows best practices and does the job properly. In my experience that is simply not representative of SEOers in general.

  • Michael Levy

    Part of the challenge of working with an SEO expert is its difficult to tell if they are doing something of value. With design or development you can see a finished product, but with SEO it can often take months to see any results. Their recommendations are often rudimentary and could be found on any one page information sheet. One project I worked on, the SEO expert demanded changes that were very difficult to carry out spending hours of development time, but these changes bore no fruit. Often aspects of the site that stray from SEO guidelines do so for a reason. It is helpful when the SEO expert has a multi-dimensional perspective, as it is for all Web professionals. SEO is expensive and ambiguous which is why its not included in many projects.

  • Ed

    I tried to post before but the comment got lost in the ether. To summarize you should never start with SEO but you should finish with it according to the people who invented PR scultpting (mr theis and rohde)

  • Hello Alex

    I am am afraid that I feel your article makes unsubstantiated sweeping statements including a pointless comment on Windows users knowing more about SEO than MAC??? An unbiased approach would be to outline a problem such as:

    There are many web designers whom say they are equipped to handle SEO whom aren’t.

    With the problem outlined you could suggest useful questions that a client could ask to get an idea if the person/business can achieve what they say they can.

    Such an article would be usefull, it would help website owners identify whether their website developer can plan/handle the SEO. If they cannot then it makes goods sense to get in an SEO. But there are plenty of website developers who can perform SEO and implying otherwise seems a way of misleading people into thinking that a web developer who says that they offer SEO must be lying.

    The need for SEO experts has arisen as much out of the fact that developers chose to focus on what they love most (coding) rather than the fact they can’t do it. In that repect it is an efficiency saving which has been made by the developer/company, and common time management. I would recommed this practice which we employ in my own company, but I am proud to say that our SEO experts are all developers at heart.

    • I’m suggesting that SEO goes way beyond the sorts of things a developer would even have time to do. Technically optimised sites, are not going to magically develop huge visitor streams simply becasue they exist.

      The title SEO perhaps is the sticking point. We do more than optimise – we market, promote and network for clients. The developers role has changed little in the last 10 years – The same cannot be said for marketing as a whole online.

      • Thanks for your reply. I agree with your comments, however your article does not say that SEO goes beyond the sorts of things a developer would have time to do. Time being the operative word – instead it reads more like developers cannot do this. For example:

        “… web designers tend to be bad at SEO … I’m glad they are otherwise there would be no work for people like me.”

        Your article is generalised but seems to refer more to cowboys which frankly are on both sides of the fence.

        I do not think the title SEO is the sticking point. This assumes that the person must have a different understanding of SEO than yourself. Your article makes it clear what SEO is, I just do not agree that web developers cannot understand nor do this.

        I do follow SEO closely and am excited about where it will take the industry and the impact it is having on the complete project cycle. Developers are as much a part of this as SEO experts, and on smaller scale projects the difference between both is often obscured as they are able to manage both tasks effectively.

  • John S

    Your article is right on the button!

    I know of a client who recently went to a web designer to have him design a site. Visually he did this nicely but the new site was completely devoid of SEO, and the content was what the client fed to him. Dry, impersonal – a poor concoction lost in the desert of the web, never to see the light of Google’s page 1.

    Between the two of them they managed to screw up the opportunity to make this site a star in the welter of other competitive sites that also had no SEO awareness.

    If the designer had been on top of his game, SEO would have been the first on the list of what was discussed and would have become the focus for how the rest of the site was constructed.

    You either GET this or you don’t.

    Most designers don’t. For them, SEO is like a rusty trailer with two flat tyres tacked on to a 1960 VW without an engine.

  • Ben

    Great article, although I don’t necessarily agree with all your points, I love that you’ve inspired a conversation. I’ve learned so much more from this conversation caused by the disagreements and agreements, than from an article where everyone agrees with each other.


  • I was enjoying this read, telling myself I could swap all references to SEO for references to Web Accessibility and it would describe the same problems/reality. Then I go to your part about SEO doing site accessibility and I felt all weird… So web designers aren’t fit to do SEO, but SEO specialists are naturally fit to take care of web accessibility instead of accessibility experts?

    What exactly do you mean by site accessibility? Are you referring to the W3C WCAG standards or some other meaning for the term?


    • When I refer to accessibilty, I mean the abililty for search bots to crawl and index the entire site. (or at least the bits that should be)

      Mainly I meant things like Robots files ,dealing with obfuscated internal links or solving 404’s. It the sort of thing that are important to get right and usually, it’s websites that have been running for some time or ones with a bad CMS with problems.

  • Awasson

    Wow Alex,
    Wrong side of the bed this morning?

    If you were looking for a reaction to your writing, you got it but if you were looking to compel readers who don’t already share your narrow point of view, I’m afraid you have failed.

    Now, I’ll agree with you that SEO is important and that it is not understood by the majority of designers I cross paths with but you’re going about it all wrong.

    Do you wonder why the designers you write about have pale sun-starved faces? It’s because they’re flipping busy. Your average design studio does more than design websites. They design websites, brochures, annual reports, books, ID Packages (logo, letterhead, business cards…), cards, posters, etc. They don’t just make things pretty, they understand the client’s business and partner with the client to reach their business goals. If they’re good, they provide the whole package and if they’re really good, they have the ear of the executives who make decisions so they can do what you apparently can’t… They can close the deal.

    Rather than insulting designers and developers with condescending blanket statements, you should be joining forces with them. If I thought you were good, I’d want you on my team so I could offer SEO to those clients who request or need it.

    • I work within a design studio and yes, we do all these things. Surely you do not expect that every developer works within that sort of environment with the support of graphics experts, sales teams and SEO’s.

      My point is that if a developer doesn’t have people they can refer to regarding their clients marketing plans, do you think that they will let the deal walk away or just claim knowledge of SEO and do take the sale.

      I’m not sure where you find insult from this article – yes, designers and developers are busy. They are so busy in fact, that they don’t have the time to sit down and work through marketing plans with clients before they begin building the site.

      I’m not sure how else to put this point across. If you read my comments below you’ll see I am suggesting collaboration. SEO’s always have to collaborate with someone, whereas designers do not. (but should).

  • Great post! And i am completely agree with you as a web designer.


  • I am SO HAPPY I found this post. I couldn’t agree with you more as a professional SEO and aspiring web developer.

    In my experience, it’s hard to get close enough to web devs because we (as SEOs) have a tarnished reputation among the community (spammers, scammers etc..). When I start speaking their language, they usually warm up to me and we get the collaborative ball rolling.

    However – some developers/designers just don’t give a shit, don’t listen, screw things up because they fundamentally couldn’t care less about SEO – and then wonder why “howcome my website doesn’t show up in Google?”.

    Yep, when I told you that site architecture does in fact keyword research, did you listen? Or when I told you to add a CMS content box on product landing pages, did you give a flying f%$”? Nope. That’s why you’re going to be on page 34 if you’re lucky.

  • SEO for me is more like a transitory form of communicating with an imperfect search engine. Hence, the art it’s most likely extinct, just that the SEOs don’t know it yet :)

    The rest of stuff SEOs try to link with their profession is really about good *design*! If a web designer is good, he rarely needs SEO advice. If not, he should learn design better ;)

    • Thank you for giving me the sort of response which demonstrates the endemic nature of the problem.

      If you think a great design replaces great marketing then you are doing your clients a disservice. Both are needed and the most technically perfect, stunning website isn’t going to do well if it hasn’t considered all the other things we “try to link with our profession”.

    • You may have read something wrong in there ;)

      I’m not talking about design as in “PSD slice” but about design as in “what element goes where”. So NO graphic design BUT page design.

      Granted, in the last few years, with all this SEO and HTML5 new vocabulary, many people just play around the natural meaning of words, making room for misconceptions. Like when you talk about page design, you may also call it SEO advice ;)

  • Tim Holt

    I believe this to be an issue of shonky practicioners with questionable ethics, or perhaps just plain inexperience, regardless of whether he or she is practicing web design or SEO. I’d say I’ve heard complaints of bad experiences with both SEOs and web designers: SEOs guaranteeing page one results (for which keyword phrase???) and web designers overcharging for dodgy work, not to mention the updates.

    I make it clear to my clients that SEO is essentially a form of marketing which is beyond the scope of my services (design & development), however I am happy to impart what knowledge I have to help them understand the importance of SEO and how it relates to the success of their web presence. I agree that it would be ideal for the client engage an SEO consultant before I start building their site, but in most cases this would blow the clients budget – its hard enough getting my own fees approved.

    In my experience, it is easier for the client to get the site up and running then start trying to find the cash to market it. Doing it the other way around is obviously not possible.

    Indeed this is a young industry with a very low barrier to entry, so it is no wonder there are plenty of unethical and/or inexperienced practicioners on both sides of this fence ready to pounce on the unsuspecting client.

    Sent from my PC.

    • Ah common sense from the PC user…;)

      Shonky practice is a big big problem and there is no way of denying that across the disciplines. I’m sure the wheat will seperate from the chaffe over time though but let’s help ourselves out along the way and not lengthen a systemic failure within the industry.

      What you say is right. Budget is an major issue (though I’d bang on about ROI) and for some businesses, they aren’t fussed about digital marketing but just want a site to back up their offline efforts. For those guys, absolutely visit a (good) web designer and be happy.

      My main issue is when a client enters the web development process with the full intention of “doing SEO” afterwards. I’d rather they spent that money before the development – Otherwise the first load of advice they’ll get is likely to be to hack away at the work of the developer – which could be small things such like adding in event tracking, changing the keyword focus of important pages, implementing PPC specific landing pages etc or it more major changes like changing the site architecture, content layout or calls to action. (Assuming of course the site is well optimised in the first place).

      Get the marketing strategy in place first, then do the build.

  • Yes but which type of SEO are you talking about in the post? Blackhat, or whitehat?

    Because if it’s whitehat, then yes, all SEO really consists of is submitting your URL to google, including a few META tags, and telling 10 or so people about it on twitter.

    As for blackhat, well, the techniques and methods it employs are in continuous flux. An example would be Google’s +1 button. It didn’t take long for blackhatters to game the system.

    The same principle applies to any emergent technology with real potential – it will be gamed….It will ALWAYS BE GAMED!!!

    • Search Marketing in general. (Always white hat)

      Surely you don’t think that – SEO involves so very much more and the developers need to understand that before leading their clients down a dead end.

      Don’t get hung up on the “optimisation” bit – SEO involves as much marketing as it does optimisation.

  • SEO in many senses resembles worshipping – you claim that it’s there, that it works, but you don’t know what exactly and you can’t really prove nor contradict it.

    • Ever heard of analytics?

      • Anjana Silva

        That sound deaf. People here doesn’t even know about Analytics.

  • Wow! This was really a gripping read! Not neccessarily the initial post but all the replies that followed. I think there are some great points here from both sides although some do remain rather ambigous (such as the comment about PC and Mac users). Although Alex says it is not a case of us vs them I do still sense a competitve nature to the article and the general feeling that everyone is trying to prove their worth. The online strategy is constantly changing and I really don’t blame anyone for being afraid of their future and if they will still have a job in a year’s time. However that said, I think that the best way to secure your future is to adapt to new trends and COLLABORATE with other people in the industry.

    • Not sure what I’ve said that actually contradicts that point – the need to collaborate.

      The perception of competitiveness perhaps stems from the fact that web designers perhaps do not like to be told that they are not the be all and end all of a projects success.

      • Hi Alex, it’s not neccessarily what you have said that gives me this impression, it’s more your attitude towards web developers and designers. It doesn’t exactly say come and work with me! That said rest assured that there are many of us that do understand the importance of working as a cohesive unit and I really do think that SEO, web design and development should all walk hand in hand and each area should be handled by the right person. Thanks again for a great post which has obviously generated a lot of interest and the fact that there have been over 44 comments is testament to that. I hope your SEO skills are as good as your ability to prompt responses to articles.

        • OK, I’ll give you that a few ruffled feathers wasn’t unexpected. But industries don’t change without someones feathers being ruffled. And for the record I have some excellent developers and designers I work with already – but it’s not them who are important but the clients we work for.

          You may judge my SEO skills as you see fit. But if someone offered me away to engage with my community, get a backlink from a page with high visibility on a domain with high authority, engaged readers with high social sharing along with the bonus of lots of referral traffic – you know what I might say ;)

  • Great post. Good to see the importance of SEO, while creating a website :)

  • Stevie D

    I’ll second, third, fourth or whatever all the comments below that call this article arrogant, condescending, divisive, patronising, and let’s add ill-informed and badly-written to the list.

    The implicit assumption that all SEOists are shining beacons of omniscience and all web designers are bumbling idiots is totally unjustifiable. I spend a lot of time reading and moderating the SEO section of Sitepoint Forums, and the level of knowledge and understanding of, well anything at all, quite frankly, shown by the majority of contributors who describe themselves as SEO professionals is pretty much nil. I’m sure there are some people out there who have extensive knowledge of the subject, but they are vastly outnumbered by the colossal number who are utterly clueless. I’m not saying all web designers are great – there are too many Flash and JQuery infested sites out there to claim that, there are undoubtedly some who will vomit up some pretty graphics and claim it’s a website – but my experience is that there are far more who are competent and professional.

    As to the things that you consider essential SEO aspects of website creation:

    • Site Accessibility
    Any web designer worth his salt will be making an accessible website, and that’s not because of SEO, it’s because it’s basic good practice. Any website that is accessible to people using assistive technology or bare-bones browsers will also be Googlable, which is a happy synergy. Although accessibility was often ignored in the past, there has been a big push on it in recent years across the design world, and the majority of new sites now use much better practice with regard to semantic markup and accessible navigation.

    • Keyword Research
    Assuming that you’re creating a site because you or the client have some knowledge or interest in the subject matter (and if you don’t, the chances are that it is going to be lacklustre, uninspiring, outdated and will fall flat on its face), keyword research is a tiny aspect of the process. The chances are that you know what words and phrases are used in the industry already. If you’re writing content to match what Google reckons are high-value keywords then it’s likely to read badly and to come across as keyword-stuffed and artificial. Use the vocabulary that comes naturally, that fits the site and that is used in the industry, and you’ll have a much better chance of creating an engaging site.

    • Content Creation/Strategy
    What, you think this isn’t part of web design? Any half-way competent designer knows that you need content. Content creation for the initial site and as ongoing developlment is a basic part of the business plan. Sure, there are some hacking designers out there who are happy to fill a page with Lorem Ipsum around their pretty pictures, but not professionals. Creating content as part of the search engine strategy, like the point above, leads to a site that looks as if it was created for search engines, and that is not a site that is going to engage people and encourage them to stay and participate.

    • Link Acquisition
    Yup, this is SEO, I won’t disagree with that.

    • Social Media
    If you’re looking at social media as a way of boosting your search ranking, that’s SEO. If you’re looking at social media as a way of engaging visitors and building a community, what’s that got to do with SEO? Nothing at all.

    • Pay Per Click
    You seem to be confusing SEO with marketing. If you mean marketing then say marketing. It’s a different beast to SEO, with a wider scope.

    • Search Protocols
    I have no idea what you mean by that, and you haven’t bothered to explain it… Google turns up nothing meaningful for the phrase.

    • Community Involvement
    Again, if you think that the reason for community involvement is to boost search rankings then you’re not going to get a good response.

    The extent to which a web designer considers the content strategy and ongoing marketing and community involvement will depend very much on the designer/team, the client and the relationship between them. But any and every web designer should be thinking about the page structure, the site structure, the accessibility and the content. These are the basics that determine whether a website has the foundations to be successful. If you haven’t got that right, it doesn’t matter how much marketing you do, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to get people to use a site that isn’t worth using.

    • You may assume whatever you wish as to all SEO’s being “shining beacons”. Perhaps you failed to read the last line of the article…

      To take your points in turn

      Site Accessibility – Yes – agreed. I never said anything to the contrary but not every developer get’s it right. But as SEO’s we don’t always get to work with shiny new websites – old CMS’s can create all sorts of problems.

      Keyword Research – Well written content yes. If you think keyword research equates to keyword stuffing you are ten years out of date or perhaps you are suggesting that no regard should be given to what your potential customers are searching for. Just make up those title tags based on gut instinct maybe?

      • Content Creation/Strategy – So a business which has a blog just magics it’s content up? Who in the business is going to write it or do they need a copywriter: Who is going to manage the social media side of things? Do they want to do content marketing at all? If you don’t think about these things beforehand, you end up with (and you can’t deny you don’t see this everywhere all over the web) a blog with half a dozen three year old entries. hmmm, is that the fault of an SEO or a developer who sold the client the idea of a blog for an additonal x hours billable time?

      • Social Media – Perhaps you missed the point. What we are responsible for is now way more than just on-site stuff. Our roles has evolved and grown as the web has changed and social media is an essential part of what we do. It’s not to boost ranking directly, but to spread content, to spread ideas and to network.

      • Pay Per Click – Again, the roles are blurred. Admitedly, there are PPC specilistat but even in these cases, we need to work with the PPC’er to ensure we have cohesive strategy (avoiding SERPs canibalisation)

      • Search Protocols – I mean things like Robots or xml sitemaps.

      • Community Involvement – Do you think that sites like sitepoint exist without a great community. Do you think that without a community which has been developed and looked after over many years, you would have posts with debates running to twice the length of the article it is about. Can you appreciate how having a vibrant community helps spread content and bring in new visitors. How many of the people who read this have never been to Sitepoint before but came from a tweet they saw sent by a hard core sitepoint fan. Developers don’t always think about these things: SEO’s do.

      • Stevie D

        “Developers don’t always think about these things: SEO’s do.”

        Sorry, but that is absolute nonsense (self-censored) of the highest order. If you think that 99% of the people who peddle SEO services even understand what community engagement is, let alone consider it as part of the service they provide, then you really need to spend more time out of your ivory tower and in the real world. Why not come and pay us a visit in the forums some time, and then you’ll understand why you’re getting so much vitriolic ire spat at you.

        I repeat, the majority of the work that you’re suggesting needs to be done is MARKETING, not SEO. And the vast and overwhelming majority of people who promote themselves as SEOists do pretty much none of it apart from keyword stuffing and link spamming.

        • This wasn’t an article about the problems with SEO’s – a lot do just do link spam etc and if you came to visit US in SEO forums, you’d see that this is widely vilivified.

          Perhaps your pre-conceived ideas (which may be justified) about SEO is stopping you seeing my point. If you don’t understand what a “genuine” SEO (perhaps we chould use SEM) does, I encourage you to see some of our communities out there to see just how much ground we cover for clients. Please allow the caveat that I wouldn’t expect “bad seo” to come first and perhaps I needed to spell out more just how much has changed in our profession – but that wasn’t the point.

          If you think your clients are best served by you and you alone, then that is your perogative and I’m sure it’s a succesful status quo. You may know all you need to know but many don’t – and why should they? We consider it a competitive advantage that we are able to back up talented designers and developers with another skill set and a focused view point.

          I believe that customers (who let’s face can sometimes be pretty clueless) who have a firm grasp on how a website and digital marketing in general works, are far better equiped to give more concise and better design briefs to their developers. As a further result, because we also take responsibilty for the marketing (sometimes in conjuction with non digital methods) we have the platform and tools at our disposal to best promote the website.

      • Stomme poes

        [quote]Just make up those title tags based on gut instinct maybe?[/quote]
        What? Randomly make up titles? Those are based on the content. How can you not have the right title when the title is based on the content???

        • Yes they are based on the content and the content is written for users, to convert people, or to inform. But by having an eye on what people are actually searching for helps (it’s not silver bullet, just best practice). A lot of the time common sense is enough but sometimes human assumption creates a big balls up. Why not back up decisions on content or titles with data which is freely available and can make a big difference to the bottom line of the client.

  • There are some good, valuable points on the article, but the overall tone of it seems a bit harsh, like if the author was in need of some kind of self-assurance & job-security marketing & group hug.

    I tend to distrust anyone calling him/herself a “professional expert” on some Web-related field.
    Yes, there are probably some “professional experts” out there, but let me tell you they don’t call themselves that way. And no, probably you (reader) aren’t one of them.

    My point: how can you call yourself an “expert” on an *ever changing* industry that is less than 20 years old? (and most of the so-called experts probably have less than 10 years of experience)

    This is even more shameful when coming from SEO people: how can you claim yourself to be an expert on a highly speculative & changing field, where there are some rules/facts like: “can’t guarantee #1 spot”, “nobody knows how [insert search engine brand]’s algorithms work”, “links are good, but link building can backfire”, “you probably can’t get #1 spot for every search related to some niche”?

    Also, about being “professional”:
    Can’t I be a professional if I do solo-work at home/bedroom?
    That’s how I currently work.

    Do you have to work for a firm, have “big clients with big budgets”, at a cool place to become “professional”?
    To me, SEO is far more important (and more interesting) for small business with tight budgets, that have to squeeze the best from their (maybe built in a crappy way) website and online presence.
    In my experience, some really basic SEO adjustments/improvements at a code & content layers can make a huge difference for them.

    Did you start learning all this stuff (web-development, SEO, etc) at an institution (red flag for me) and is it about having some certificates?
    Sorry, but I learn web-related stuff at the Web, from people who knows.

    Rant being said, here is a bit of “me me me”: I like to call myself a “jack of all trades, maybe master of one or a few”.
    I’m a always-learning web-developer & a pragmatical white-hat SEO guy/enthusiast, trying to keep up with good practices (while also knowing that current knowledge may be already outdated).
    And here is my advice: the best (and probably only) place to learn all-things Web-related is… the Web (a.k.a. “University of Internet”).

    • Didn’t want to be harsh -Perhaps you do not agree that putting someone with the responsibilty for a websites marketing should be involved before a site is built.

      I agree with you on the “expert” point – I’ve never once in my life called myself an expert in anything. I may be confident and forthright in my assertions. I cannot help though what inference anyone takes from that.

      As for professionalism, I’ll let the other web developers here argue whether or not you can be a professional working out of a bedroom. I wasn’t intending to broach that subject but for the record, I started this career from a spare bedroom – I think the nature of the industry is full of people like that as we all tend to love what we do as a hobby foremost.

      Now, about that group hug…

      • Thanks for the prompt reply, Alex. To be fair, I have foisted (not sure that’s the word) to you some of points made by other commentators (ie. working on a bedroom), and not ideas or points you made in the article.

        Also, now that I re-read my loose comment, I’ve been a bit harsh too, sorry.
        I’d like to clarify that when I said “how can you cal yourself an ‘expert’ on(…)”, that I wasn’t referring directly to Alex, but talking generally about people that market themselves as “experts” on ever-changing Web ecosystem.

    • Julian, thanks for doing the job, I would have written a similar comment.

      Almost all web designers are able to do SEO = Search Engine Optimization, for a particular website. What you do should have a different name, as you create social network accounts, maps, review sites, statistical data collection and analyze, finding link networks, etc.If those “SEO experts” would have a clear list of what they really do, they might get more business! ;-)

  • Gary Baldwin

    Hmmm I don’t think you should worry about us web developers losing you your clients

    I think with an attitude like that you’ll do just fine losing customers on your own

    Of course what would I know, i do all my work on a mac, how could I possibly understand all those really long words you use

    Grow up…

  • Alex, I could not agree with you more. There are likely some website builders who know marketing, but it is typically never been their talent. All my work comes from incompetent web designers who never consider the sites success and never recommend additional expertise – yes, expertise. Your article is right on the point and every professional SEO artist knows it.

  • Ricardo Torres

    I went to FDC website…. Clearly you guys choose SEO before anything else :(
    Size 10 light grey text on white bg?

  • i think the reason you’re getting so much hate here is because of the way you went about getting to your point. SEO should come first. That’s the title and I believe what you’re working towards. The problem is, just like a shoddy web developer giving SEO a bad name by totally mus-understaning it, you are painting developers/designers in the same light.

    Instead of giving a constructive piece in which you give a scenario which needs fixed and give some ways these web developers can help, you basically turned it into an editorial for you and your “profession”.

    The best chance at a successful SEO campaign, traffic building, SEM/PPC, (generally an all-encompassing internet marketing plan) is to plan from the beginning. That’s where you’re point is totally correct… Deciding the target market, which markets you want (and can) use/afford, & developing an overarching plan with a web developer/internet marketer is key. Whether that team consists of one person or 30, that’s going to give you the best chance of success.

    So maybe, just maybe, you could/should have suggested that these developers find and work with a “real” SEO/SEM professional for there clients. A developer who fails living up to clients expectations hurts both industries AND hurts there company. Developers should be teaming up with focused marketing experts who can earn extra money for referring/sharing clients, while at the same time promoting a much more positive experience for the users.

  • Very interesting discussion. Maybe I come from a different perspective; my background is business, software and sales. I have been a VP of sales, a CFO, etc. Now I am near the end of my career and have been working on website development, for my own website. As it is now rolling out, I am much more active in the marketing side of it.

    My first observation of SEO is that there is a lot of talk about what constitutes it, but very little on specifically how to accomplish certain aspects of it. That makes me suspicious. In particular, things like link building. Find a good article on link building and it’s hard to stay away from some backhanded approach, which I won’t do.

    Also, I think terminology is a real problem here. It is all marketing. Once a site is developed, as soon as you talk about getting someone to come to the site, that is marketing. So the use of terms like SEO and SEM are one in the same, or should be. Or maybe better to say work together under the same umbrella. Let’s not split hairs on the semantics of one term vs. the other.

    And to say most developers don’t lean toward marketing is probably true. If your career has been in development, what would your point of reference be. Now before anyone jumps on that, again there are all degrees of difference here. I am not saying a developer cannot understand marketing, but I do believe their bent will be toward the web site side. In my case I understood marketing before I understood development so the understanding is there but the steps to accomplish everything are somewhat nebulous.

    I recently had a discussion with a friend who had hired an SEO firm to get them to the first page. My head started spinning. Did they actually tell you they could do that? For what search terms specifically? Etc. Amazing since everyone pretty much agrees and Google absolutely says that nobody has access to their algorithms. Without that, it’s all speculation anyhow. Yes, there are hints, many of which by the way relate to the structure of the site. But you can never get away from content.

    Lastly, I like to think of this from Google’s perspective who live in a very competitive world as well and fight for their lives every day also. Their sole lot in life is to deliver the best page with the most relevant content to a user who does a search on their site. Think about it. The answer lies therein. Focus on quality of content, presentation of content, relevance of content, structure of content and you will go a long way to the Search Engine part of your marketing effort. But the operative phrase is does a search on their site. What are they searching for?

    There are many other aspects of marketing that must be considered to make any business successful that reside outside the search engine component and they must be considered and included in any marketing plan. I think that is part of Alex’s point. The marketing starts with design once you decide what it is you want to market. And then based on those plans and insights, it goes to development who should be including all those considerations in the site itself. Then a marketing plan is put in place that includes Search Engine access but all the other components as well.

  • Rich Holding

    Utter rubbish. A professional front end developer knows far more about SEO than many so called SEO specialists claim they do. It’s part and parcel of their job. Semantics, page weight, accessibility etc, etc.

    • Greg

      Front end developers may have excellent knowledge of making technically accurate code. However, while semantics and accessibility are worthwhile endeavors, they aren’t strong ranking signals.

      Further, the issue is that most web specialists are indeed “specialists” and therefore aren’t likely to focus on much beyond their areas of expertise. It’s the SEOs job to help web staff maintain focus on marketing objectives.

  • KJN

    Wow. You mean you can actually have a career doing SEO?

  • Chris M.

    Funny article but in all probability the term SEO will be dead within the next ten years. It will most likely be replaced by another term or acronym that exists as a partial surrogate to term SALES and MARKETING. Ironically the Sales and Marketing Department could write the similar article directed at SEO with the title ‘Marketing comes first.’

  • Mike

    I’m sorry to say but SEO is total crock as a standalone skill.

    SEO is part of marketing. The SEO part is easy. You don’t need a specialist for that.

    The marketing part is an art form. If you want your site to be noticed/make money/get lots of traffic, etc… Call an ad agency and they will create a unique solution for your specific needs.

    I have seen miserable, non-optimized sites rise to stardom because of something unique, proper advertising, or even a local graffiti campaign.

    Even better, do NOT build a site unless you talked to an agency or consultant. You first need to identify what you need to sell your service/product, and only THEN you decide on what type of site as part of your total marketing mix.

    Marketing is an art, SEO is a tiny part of it, and NEVER to be singled out by an “SEO”.

    • Richard

      You must working in Marketing.

    • Anonymous

      Mike, I’m 100% percent with you. Time and time again we encounter these self-righteous SEO “specialists”, that clients hire after the fact, and they do little more that create conflict of interest & the ever present though much maligned “blame it on your predecessor”. After all, they have to justify their bill somehow & simply admitting the to client that the initial SEO effort is sufficient, but should be supplemented with alternative marketing (e.g. print & visual/audio media marketing), would very much impact their usefulness in the grand scheme of the web and making a success of your online presence.

      Oh how many times have we received instructions from a client that the SEO “specialist” said we must do X to the site and he guarantees a top 5 ranking. Utter bull.

      Like Mike says, integrate the SEO aspect into the marketing strategy holistically.

      • That’s to do with bad SEO’s and I’ve seen some of the stuff these guys do an it’s utter crap. Anyone who gurantees anything like top 5 positions or the like is probably not the right sort of person to deal with.

        Yes, intergrate it – what I’m suggesting is that rather than you having to deal with a client who has taken on an SEO specialist, (which you have no control over) you would be better placed to have a relationship with an SEO you know and trust and can work with that works in conjunction with you rather than you having to service his demands.

        Please ask yourself the question why som many clients do come back having hired an SEO – it’s becasue their sites aren’t performing as they had expected, often because they didn’t have an online marketing plan put in place from the outset – which is my whole point.

    • Most SEO people I work with are from backgrounds in either web design (such as I) or marketing. It was once a small part of marketing but has grown and grown to become a much stronger part of marketing and is developing even more as online strategies become stronger.

    • Yes SEO and marketing have huge overlaps and the technical aspects of SEO are only a small part. Our responsibilities though have grown to considerably more than just on-site optimisation.

      I will perhaps have to write an article on what we actually do I think as there is clearly a bit of a knowledge gap. In fact, the working title for this piece was “Why Web Designers Are Bad For SEO” I could have added in then the additonal point that they are bad becasue they are led to believe (and therefore spread) that SEO is “crock”

      As for being a crock, you are tottally and uterly wrong. My last client had an uplift of 15,000 visits per month based upon actions carried out following a site audit. Conversions (enquiries) have doubled also based upon our advice and it will make them tens of thousands of pounds extra per month.

      A small part of that uplift was becase we changed the way the site is laid out and implemented better sales channels and calls to action. We could not have made those implementations without supprt from developers so it isn’t all our doing – but it took someone focused on these aspects (as part of a wider set of responsibilities) to spot and make happen the changes.

      The point of this article is that if an SEO (search marketer, digtal marketer, call us whatever you want) had been involved during development, this particualr client would have been making all that additonal money from the outset.

  • Think you were a tad harsh on Web designers. Most people don’t even have title tags set up, hardly write any content and don’t look for any keywords.

  • ScallioXTX

    I rewrote the “Web Designers’ Views on SEO” section for you. I hope you like it!

    Generally, when you ask an SEO specialist what he or she knows about web developent – when their greedy fingers aren’t too distracted spamming twitter, facebook, and forums of people who are not even remotely related to -let alone interested in- the product they are “promoting” – they will talk about title tags, meta tags, meta keywords, pretty URLs, more meta tags, sitemaps, link building, link wheels, meta keywords again, web directories, alexa, SEO hosting, keywords, social media, twitter, more social media, facebook (definitely facebook!), and more, until the point where they get blue in the face and you need to stop them because they are in danger of suffocating themselves.

    What’s for certain is that they won’t discuss anything that will actually help your website, and they certainly won’t suggest you think of writing content that people care about, let alone write it (imagine that!).

    That’s fine – the other things the SEO specialist will suggest will help too a little bit, but just a little bit. Without this specialist your website would be just a little bit behind. The irony that wikipedia (who probably never built a single link in their lives and doesn’t even have a meta description!!1) comes up number one for “SEO” isn’t lost on web developers!

    So, let’s consider a typical scenario. Along comes your average relatively clueless client to a web designer studio and they (or their sales team) go through the sales process, show them how great their existing clients’ websites look and demonstrate their excellent hosting plans as the client nods along enthusiastically to the sales patter.

    Five minutes before the sales meeting closes, the clients ask about this SEO they’ve read so much about. The design team issues a final gush about how all their sites are search engine friendly and will easily be found by the spiders and what’s more, they even install Google analytics for free! And so the deal is done.

    Six months down the line and sales on the client’s site are lackluster, traffic is low and the return on investment is negligible. Along comes an SEO, who instead of suggestion they take a critical look at what content is on the site and if that could be made better, instantly refrains to spamming links all over the place, and tweeting the crap to everyone who does and doesn’t want to hear it (mostly the latter), and manages to get the website banned from google completely in a matter of days.

    Thank you, Mr SEO – another website gone to waste, another website stuffed with keywords, reduced to a steaming pile of crap that no one in their right mind would ever want to visit.

    See — it works the other way around, too (:

  • I think no one ever said it better than Derek Powazek: Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists

  • Gemtlemen, we all dwell in a very fickle profession. I believe the lack of face to face confrontation encourages this negative behavior. I am a designer/ developer that knows very little about SEO outside of the basic knowledge everyone seems to be aware of. I have never tried to use it as a selling point. I would love to be able to refer a client of mine to an SEO expert, but that will most likely never happen since I am labeled incompetent. Discrediting your livelihood is beneath me, having issues with your approach seems to be where the bridge of communication has completely collapsed.

  • It just so happens that a few hours after posting my previous comment about unethical/inexperienced designers, I was CC’d on an email from a graphic designer to client regarding my involvement in the development of a website which included the comment:

    “Once the new site is live Tim will also install Google Analytics for us which is the Search Engine Optimization tracking tool I mentioned this morning”

    And so the deal is done.

  • SEO is marketing, a well rounded Front-End Developer (hence one that understands the 3 layers of the Rich User Experience – HTML, CSS, JS, and knows how to layout design) that understands the importance of semantics, should have schooled themselves on the importance of Meta Data and accessibility, if you adhere to the proper practices as a developer, you’ll be covering 80% of ‘SEO best practices’.. the other 20% are really good content development and Keyword research… thus trumping this as a so called profession, and really should be a layer to marketing.

    This is similar to ‘IA’s and UI designers’ say that’s a profession as well…..

    Its all Web Design and Web Development with analytics which comes from Marketing.

    – Kenneth Davila – Manager Online Strategy & Internet Marketing – Herbalife International, North America Region

  • john

    I would absolutely agree with the points of this article. 90% of websites are terrible in design. Website designers generally do not have the have the goals of the business in mind. I am in the insurance industry and consistently write 1 million dollars of premium a year. So I am not a web expert or a SEO expert. But years ago I invested quite a bit of money in a costume company, and quickly learned an expensive lesson in web design, content and SEO.

    The design was amazing. Then I spent 40k on articles and another 50k on SEO. The site did not move one inch from from page 30. So I learned how to do it myself. To the person who stated you cannot tell a company they can be on page 1 of Google, you should find another job.

    It is not difficult at all to get a company on page one, especially for local and regional searches. I have been helping my clients for years to do just that. To the person that stated Google’s mission to deliver quality content, you are correct. But there are plenty of sites that have great content and relegated to pages that a potential visitor will never see.

    Of course SEO is part of marketing. A site seeds correct metatags, images and videos optimized correctly, relevant RSS feeds blogs, proper use of H1 tags, a blog that has fresh content added consistently, an automatic pinging system when content is added, different titles for different pages and plenty of internal linking.

    Off page optimization would be a marketing function, WP and Blogger blogs, independent and relevant external websites fully optimized and pointing back at the main site and relevent pages, You tube video’s properly optimized and other video’s syndicated. Social Media is a bonus, but Google+ links will not hurt either. A properly optimized mobile site seems a best bet going forward, whether a subdomain or a .mobi site.

    I recently put a site up using a wyswig and had it ranked #1 for 2 searches, spots 3-5 for 4 search terms and #1 on page 2 for 2 search terms. The main keyword had 22,000 searches a month on Google, 12,000 on Yahoo and 8000 on Bing. The other terms at most had 2000 searches. But it took 3 weeks to get that spot over national companies.

    I then took that site and moved it completely to a Joomla site, it took 2 weeks to get it back, although the highest ranking was #3,

    I then took that down and put the site on a WP theme. Needless to say I fell off the map again. This time I left 2/3 of the pages blank, made an ugly site with to many images (not optimized) and it has already moved back to the top of page 2 for most terms and the bottom of page 2 for the 22,000 searches a month. Next week I will start optimizing it again and I am sure it will be back on page 1.

    Getting google rankings has changed in the last 14 months, but optimizing good content correctly is more important than all the black hat linking. 90% of websites are outdated, and it never fails to amaze me that I go on multi billion dollar financial websites and cannot get images, or the site to appear on my iphone or ipad because of flash. Or how many title tags and meta descriptions are done incorrectly.

    It is not just most web designers that have their heads up their fanny, but most SEO gurus do to. Maybe it is just laziness. But you do not need a 5 – 10 grand website, a 2k website with the rest of the money going towards giving that website a ROI would be more sensible

  • robyn

    I agree with this article & i am assuming all those who are against this are either web designers or builders

  • All said and done, under the current economic situation there’s no magic portion that could bring in huge sales. Oh yes, window shopping is still on and you see a lot of window shoppers hopping around shops (websites). That’s as far as it goes for ‘traffic’ – simply empty statistics, and it pleases the analyst. The till is still empty. The only real selling at the moment is “clearance sale”. So much for SEO/SEM.

  • Stunned

    Wow. If I wasn’t put off by SEO peddlers before, I sure am now.

    The best part of this article are the well-written comments below by the people you are so quick to dismiss as “massive duds” and “sun-starved” (really?! what would that have to do with any of this?). Not to mention, your declaration that “your average Mac user knows far less about SEO than your average PC user” (I’d like to see the data on that.).

    I especially liked Bob Briggs’ comment of, “My first observation of SEO is that there is a lot of talk about what constitutes it, but very little on specifically how to accomplish certain aspects of it.” I couldn’t agree more.

    I am stunned that SitePoint included this article in my, normally, informative and appreciated newsletter. I find you offensive and your diatribe useless in any effort to promote better SEO in general, and especially toward relations with designers and developers.

  • Clare

    Starting a website with seo in mind is a good thing to do, unless your client is on a budget. Selling one website which includes a “free seo analysis” is much easier than including an ongoing seo plan in the price. As a designer, I find it works best to build an “seo friendly” site, and at the end secure a meeting to go over key words and competition, and offer to do seo on a monthly basis then. Comes back to the financial aspect. Otherwise including seo initially would make the price unaffordable, or unappealing, losing the client. This is from the perspective of a designer who works with smaller or one person run businesses. To your comment about not knowing about seo, I have to know more about what goes into seo than just the onsite optimization as a freelancer.

  • Well you got the repsonses – and your SEO link in the author’s notes. Some of your points are good ones but don’t like the way you wrote them. Still you got a good debate and SitePoint will love you for creating a ‘sticky’ page! Well Done.

    >> http://www.fdcstudio.co.uk/ I urge with developers to check out Alex’s website and give him some feedback – but maybe that’s being helpful!! I did and ironically in the Home Page Title TAG SEO doesn;t come first.. but ‘Web Design’ does !

    Web Design, Branding and SEO in Leicester | FDC Studio

    • But that’s because we are mainly a branding and web design company: We are not a dedicated SEO company. We back up our clients by providing web designs with the support of people dedicated to focusing on the long term marketing of the site. Each supports the other, but the first thing we do in the process of building a site is market research, keyword research and speak to the client about the options they have for marketing and what best fits in with their business.

  • Ally

    I work full time as a UI/UX designer in marketing department of a large company and freelance in my part-time.

    I agree that there are designers and developers that don’t provide there clients with all the information they need to build and maintain a successful website. I recently had a client come to me after her previous designer charged her for a lot of work that wasn’t up to current standards. Among other issues, there was a lack of content strategy and an approach for continued growth. Since I can’t provide her with that expertise, I explained and recommended that she hire an experienced professional. This is me doing my part to help her with marketing that will hopefully include good content and optimization of her site.

    In my day job, the “optimization specialist” is considered a stakeholder in every design project. This allows for SEO/SEM requirements to be included before a design is built. Requirements will often include items such as a page must contain an HI and H2, a tabbed widget or article that can hold multiple links. If the content is irrelevant to the end goal, its poor user experience. This is where I have an issue with SEO.

    Creating an emotionally engaging experience will provide you a connection with your customers that a marketing campaign or optimization can never provide. Part of that is word of mouth & the feeling a customer gets when they have a real person help them. There have been proven cases of businesses greatly benefiting from this approach.

    I can see optimization roles diminishing as methodologies such as this progress withing design teams.

  • The reason you’re getting so much flack about this post (whether it’s true or not) is that right up front you say this:

    Thank you, Mr Web Designer – another potential client gone, another website without a marketing plan and another detractor of SEO as a profession.

    This just makes you sound like a cry-baby, sorry! If SEO is not a web designers job, then it is up to the SEO industry to make this clear to clients commissioning web sites. This is NOT the job of the Web Designer, who may or may not know any better.

    Web Design/Development faced the same issues back in the late 90s with Accessible and Standards compliant design. They won this battle not by complaining about those churning out, awful, awful, AWFUL sites loosing them clients. No they got together created organisation such as webstandards.org. They went out to clients and banged on about the importance of doing it right. And eventually the message got through.

    For my part, I think the issue is with Search Engine Optimisation actually NOT being what you do. On your list of 9 items about SEO few of them are really about SEO. It’s more about brand management or creating an online presence. Maybe you guys need to come up with a new “brand” yourselves.

    • Robin,

      good (constructive) comments.

      You are right that it is up to SEO’s to make our own case as we know that what we do makes a huge difference to clients – Hopefully this article is a good part of that debate.

      As for the new “brand” for us – answers on a postcard for that one but you are right. Clearly, designers/developers in general have entirely the wrong idea about what we do – is that our job to forcibly educate them or their responsibilty to learn about the wider industry they are in?

      • No need to forcibly educate anyone. You (ie real SEO specialists) need to raise awareness of what SEO is and isn’t. But I really think you need to come up with another term. Because to most web designers, clients and an awful lot of SEO “specialists”, SEO is simply about optimising your site for Google. What you describe in this article goes well beyond this.

        You really need a different brand in order to differentiate yourself from this. Search Engine Optimisation is NOT what you described in the article. Your article title is wrong!

  • James

    Your company is based in Leicester, England. I Googled SEO Leicester. Your company was half way down page three. There were lots of SEO companies listed before yours.

    I also agree with another respondent: your site design is not pretty. I definitely wouldn’t waste my time on all that tiny text; surely, it’s a simple message, clearly stated.

    • You may also note that I have been at FDC for only a few months and within that time we have re-designed the entire site as the previous one had no marketing plan and was poorly optimised. But the fact we’re now indexed for any broad match SEO phrase is great to hear. Perhaps all we need now is some high authority links pointing back to that page to boost SERPs positions. Oh oh hang on wait, take a look where is this page linking too…

      And I will pass your comments onto our web designer about the site not being pretty. We are waiting for phase two of the build and we know there are changes we want to make.- It’s lovely that you have seen our site; alas I have never been compelled to ever see anything you have been involved with. I never said search marketing replaced web design – we all have our own skill sets if only we could all work together as the article suggests.

      • James

        You comment: “we have re-designed the entire site as the previous one had no marketing plan “.

        Your company’s site emphasises Digital Marketing and Email Marketing. It’s surprising these skills were not utilised.

        • It’s great you are looking so closely at our site but a shame your resorting to trying to criticise the talented web designers here who recognised that they should offer their clients even more. We’ve moved a long way in the last couple of months, traffic is up, we know the direction we’re travelling in and the site is generating new business independantly for the first time since the company was founded. Our developers and designers have done all this alongside producing great client work and our own ecommerce platform. Busy guys indeed and I couldn’t possibly do my job without them.

          Phase one is more or less done now but please come back again and visit us again when the new section is built to engage with our local business community, the business information platform (business smart if you wanted to delve on back in and learn even more about what we do) the two additonal copywriters to help with our content marketing strategy are here (we have already employed two people since I started) and of course the resources and tools our developers are creating to provide great free resources for others to use (and link to).

          You clearly have a bee in your bonnet James, not everyone has to have the same opinions in the world and I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on how you think clients are best served. Maybe even you’d like to give me a link to some of your work and I’ll give you some pointers. Please don’t think for one second you are adding to the debate by having ago at some of your peers. tut tut indeed James.

          Our developers and designers have done all this alongside producing great client work and our own ecommerce platform. Busy guys indeed and I couldn’t possibly do my job without them.

  • molona

    To be honest, at first I was thinking that people was being a bit too harsh about the whole article but I understand that attitude a bit more… Furthermore when you stated that you didn’t mean to be or sound harsh or anything similar… but I had to reconsider after reading some of your other comments.

    Just a brief example: Site Accessibility.

    I quote:
    “When I refer to accessibilty, I mean the abililty for search bots to crawl and index the entire site. (or at least the bits that should be)

    Mainly I meant things like Robots files ,dealing with obfuscated internal links or solving 404′s. It the sort of thing that are important to get right and usually, it’s websites that have been running for some time or ones with a bad CMS with problems.”

    That’s a too narrow view on site accessibility. If the designer/developer has done his job right, he shouldn’t need to worry about this at all. Why? Because he would focus on the end user and get it right from the start. That means that the code will be ready for search engines too.

    You don’t create a sitemap for Google (or any other search engine). You create it so your user can benefit of a fast and easy way to navigate your site and view its structure and organization at glance.

    You don’t add titles or alt attributes for the Search Engines, you do it so people who needs them (whether by choice (images turned off) or by real need) can benefit from them.

    I also feel that there is a lot of misunderstanding about SEO and what it implies. As someone said before, this article is more referred to marketing than SEO.

    My experience is that marketers don’t really understand SEO apart from searching for keywords and optimized articles with those keywords.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of great marketers out there that do a fantastic job. But social media, inbound marketing or PPC campaigns are not SEO.

    A well built site will be at least 85-90% optimized by default because SEO deals on how to optimize your site for the search engines. But, I insist, if you think about accessibility and, I’ll even take it a step further, usability, your code will be already optimized. The other 10-15% comes from optimizing the articles

    I will agree with you that marketing should be present from the very first stages of the process even before that design because good marketing should help to target your customer, understand their needs and how to satisfy them and, after that, should help you spread the word.

    I will also agree with Stevie D who posted before. Many so called SEO experts (right now, I’m talking in general and not directing my comments towards anyone in particular) confuse link building with SEO but, what it is by far much worse, they confuse link building and site exposure with spam. They don’t even know that they’re spamming and they will never call themselves spammers and yet they do. You see it at any forum any time (and, of course, at SitePoint Forums too). They think they know lots but they prove that they know nothing and talk rubbish… only to expose a signature or drop a link.

    In summary, if you ask the right questions and get the right answers (why am I building the site? what is my goal? who will use it? what would he need and want? How can I make it easy for him (even if he’s disabled)? How can I let the world know that I exist?), most of the SEO will have already been added to the mix. It is the whole marketing strategy that needs to be defined from the very start and yes, marketes, designers and developers need to collaborate and listen to each other… but never forget who is really important: the user.

    • This isn’t a SEO 101. I can’t list absoutely everything that we do so to say it’s too narrow is a bit rough. I was referring to accesibilty for googlebot and the like – user accesibitly is also of course important. As for sitemaps, I meant xml sitemaps which certainly are not made for users.

      Please, also don’t assume that every site we deal with is box fresh from a designer who knows what they are doing. Hence, we are responsible for a lot of the things which normally would be totally the developers job to get in place.

      As for link building, SPAM is a problem and google will help sort that out as it’s algo improves. Whilst we do still have an element of link building as part of our activities (there are many flavours of how to do that either good or bad) What an SEO tries to do is develop a site or community which naturally gathers in bound links with content which deserves links or content that earns shares or tweets etc.

      Your last para is key. It’s that bit that we are best placed to handle as it is our raison d’etre. It allows the developer to spend their time solely on building kick ass sites to a razor sharp brief.

  • The problem is though, I have never met an SEO who isn’t a charlatan. Makes it hard for us to work with them when they promise the earth to your clients then NEVER realize it.

    • Agreed.

      Glad to be your first. Pleased to meet you Bob.

  • Can SEO bring a million people to your site? Perhaps, but content and design keep them there. Have something to say/sell before you advertise. Otherwise they just bounce out. All the traffic in the world amounts to nothing if your site sucks. SEO is not first.

    • Bill

      I totally agree. SEO is important, but if your website isn’t good the traffic will leave and won’t come back. Another quick note…Many clients that I work with, when asked about SEO, Keyword research, etc., say to me “I don’t care about that stuff, I just want a website.” Then, 6 months later they ask why nobody is finding their website. When you then tell them about SEO and changing the site around to better fit their market they don’t want to pay anymore money for the website. Businesses want the best websites and marketing they can get at the lowest cost possible.

    • I didn’t say it was more important. Just that is should come first in the order of how we deliver great websites to our clients.

  • Nik

    Nice article mate, I don’t usually read whole articles but your tone and light hearted cynicism just made we want to keep on reading.

    On the most part I agree, web designer generally have to garble a bit to cover the keyword density, first link priorities and slightly garbled, under researched keyword strategy…. I have to do it every day.

    There’s always someone claiming to know what they’re doing when they don’t… at the end of the day they’re just making us look good!

  • Deb K.

    Right on Alex! I have been doing SEO and building websites (from scratch, handcoding HTML) for 10 years. I am also a designer and graphic artist. SEO is first if the client wants anybody to even find their site. The design is also important in order to keep the visitors there, but comes second. The SEO is built into the design and VERY difficult to add later. SEO to websites is as important as location is to real estate.

  • Interestingly I noted you are a long experienced; Search Engine Obsessive (SEO), I wish you luck and hopefully you’ll recover from the affliction some day…

    As the article seems to imply from you own personal experience you consider that a web designer cannot successfully comprehend pandering to a robot, etc.

    Then you seem to be ‘stereotyping’ or pigeon holing a user of a platform then brashly saying a little knowledge is dangerous and more so than none – misusing sufficient knowledge is just as dangerous. Therefore it’s hardly surprising you are getting a slew of negative comments since you have projected negativity – even if for comical effect – and hence it has been reflected back via the looking glass.

    Regarding the “Web Designers’ Views” again you seem to imply the typical client is clueless; again that is making a presumption. Since I’d be hard pressed to say, I have come across any good designer that only talks about technical aspects and not about the content first and fulfilling user needs.

    Then you seem to be blurring the term “Search Engine Obsessive” with a marketing consultant or business stagiest the former essentially makes love to a robot. Now, if you consider that too restrictive a description; then think twice about how you have defined the generic web author. I thus must assume what you are really trying to convey (engine aspect; is a minor skill-set that may complement) has been lost with a poor choice of wording.

    The plain truth being the web author is always “required” if there is to be any website whereas the “Search Engine Obsessive” is not – always. Don’t get me wrong the author might be either; good, a cowboy, novice or one of those appalling WYSINWYG chimps though it is a plain fact.

    Flipping the coin “Search Engine Obsessives’ views” seems to imply they tend to flounder when it comes to markup, accessibility and usability, efficiency and content. Though since it’s the actual basic mortar they don’t understand that is worrying. For example I have lost count the amount of times I have heard to idiotic term ALT tag in association with marketing.

    Again, you refer to the designer as “hurting” marketing, how about rephrasing that; a ‘marketing guy’ may be better suited to advertising presence or enhance and outcome.

    I seriously dislike the wording of bullet point term: “site accessibly” (as it leads to disambiguation) when you possibly mean “site visibility” pertaining to an engine rank or a hyperlink, visitor, etc.

    Web Accessibility, is mainly relational to removing barriers to humans and accepting diversity. I know for certain there are people replying to this thread that have disabilities such as dyslexia. Else have English as a second language or are surfing the page without JavaScript enabled require glasses (a form of assistive technology) or have low computer literacy. A grey 10px text on white is not a good example of web design due to contrast and font size units.

    Community Involvement is more ‘human interaction’ than ranking. If you look at SitePoint Forum (SPF) and compare and contrast the ‘Optimisation’ and ‘Accessibility’ forums; the former forum; is on the whole choked with junk (from self-proclaimed specialists) the latter is consists of relatively “informative” conversation (as has been previously mentioned).

    There are both bad and good web authors as there are appalling and good marketers so don’t for one minute think I am bashing; I am merely balancing with a grain of sand in a desert.

    On the whole the article comes off as weak purely because it seems to have an undercurrent of taking stabs (even if in jest) at web authors in every section. It could have been a good article if a little more though and common sense and better was used. All it has mainly ended up being is a huge magnet for stern comments and the author trying to defend (or try explain) himself over twenty-six times at the last count…

    I think the simple message you were trying to convey was; people have different skillets and a long term strategy and cooperation is needed for ‘optimum efficiency’ but it didn’t seem to read that way. I am not a web designer so don’t jump to conclusions.

    • Stevie D

      “The plain truth being the web author is always “required” if there is to be any website whereas the “Search Engine Obsessive” is not – always.”

      Exactly. I have written websites that have been very successful, within their niche, since long before I took any interest in SEO at all. Those sites became successful through having good content, good site and page architecture, and being aesthetically pleasing (I hope!). Those sites became successful purely through the work of a designer/author.

      Could an SEOist achieve the same level of success without the involvement of a designer/author? No. So how the hell can you say that “SEO comes first”?

      • So you think design a website first, then think about how it’s going to be marketed. Bet your clients love you for that.

        It’s not one or the other. But one has to be first in the delivering great sites, with the best chance of maximising the ROI.

  • Clearly, with this article, Mr. Mason has demonstrated and revealed to us its #1 secret of SEO: drama :)

    Its “marketing” move, publishing a material of controversy, SitePoint and the site where he currently activates benefited greatly.

    I’m not sure if I, as a mere tech reader, can appreciate the real value. Perhaps I’m not the type, since I don’t watch Jersey Shore or other truly success stories like it ;)

    The last paragraph is for stepping on my developer tail with nonsense like “marketing makes a site great”. Yeah, right, that’s why PPV has such a success over traditional television, because it manages to squeeze every drop of patience out of its viewers with its marketing commercials. Oh, wait, it’s NOT! It’s actually the CONTENT! Go figure.

  • Finally, there is a lot to be said about why clients need SEOs.

    My humble opinion is that they resort to SEO people because they still aren’t clear about what they’re doing online. Their purpose is vague, their heart is not in this from the beginning, because most of them perceive the online presence as a chore, a hole in the pocket rather then a trampoline for their business.

    It takes good business advice to get that. Those that have it, manage w/o SEO. Why? Because they are very very very clear about what they’re looking for online. As such, they are very specific about what content they put in the website from the beginning. This being the golden key: how to be articulate about you and your purpose online.

    SEOs mumble around this golden key mostly hoping that time and a few spammy links will be enough substitute for their client. But sometimes the client does their job instead and manages, in time, to put the right words in its website content, in beautiful set up ;) That’s all it takes to accomplish a healthy traffic.

    That’s why I believe SEOs to be mostly web editors hacks, “professionals” w/o a license. They ride on the lack of good content and most times admit that: it’s called managing the keywords: reading the crystal ball rather guessing the future rank of their clients.

    Guess what: they never ever will guess bad things. That’s why I never ever heard no SEO dotting the i: content is king. Because they thrive on content being weak. Once the content is right, they’re out of the job.

    And that includes competing business sites also. The one that manages to better describe its services wins. Simple as that. Those others, even resorting to SEO will only get forced generated traffic, and slowly die in time. Quality over quantity. This is serious business we’re in, it’s not made up reality show where loud skanks get all the attention, you know :)

  • Firstly, great article and I agree on most points.

  • Deb K

    Seems that many people replying are missing the point. I am a designer, developer, and SEO specialist. SEO done to existing sites after the build is mostly a waste of time. SEO should be built into the site in the initial authoring. It requires careful planning, research into the business and hand-coding. Designers who do not understand SEO are doing their clients a disservice. What is the point of a website, even the most beautiful site, if nobody can find it? A properly built site is like free advertising in the yellow pages…and that is what provides true value to clients.

  • shark

    It seems every one wish to be number one in the ranking is there really number one or is it shared I
    am new to SEO did read and search info about it WOW is there any basic info if i find 10 sites that say the same stuff I belive it. Too many design for them selfs not for the customer I was at a bus stop sign says text number for next bus ok where to I text too I have bus stop number but no number to text too go to web site no info about it call them they had to phone tech person to find out said enter in search box for how to use it ? I ask one thing do you take transit both said NO! they drive to work and any where eles so are theses the ones you should hire ask a user

  • Yeah, he lost me at “Why SEO comes first.” Or rather, that’s when I realized I was listening to yet another snake oil salesman — someone with a bottle of ointment that cures the soul and is full of cocaine or opium or whatever.

    The User comes first. Let me say that again. The User comes first. And if your client doesn’t have that straight in their minds, then move on or live the life of an American Banker who takes bail out money from the tax payers and then forecloses on the the homes.

    SEO is real and most often, and tragically, the domain of the ripoff artists. And as a Web Designer, Developer, whatever I’ve found it crucial to work with a good SEO person. One tracks what the search engines are up to, and one who isn’t into gaming. Then we sit down with the client and talk about their business and what is important to their clients about their business. That is we build the content of the site and then we starting thinking about emotions, content, the entire deal.

    This “I am the King” attitude of this article does nothing but harm the clients and the industry. We are all servants, equal, sitting in the master’s kitchen unwashed. Get used to it.

    • You aren’t alone in this so I won’t be too harsh, but you clearly aren’t reading the full article.

      To all of us, the customer comes first. And we do that by making sure we think about how they attract their customers.

      It is a joint effort as you say – but in the process of delivering sites to clients, the guy who considers the long term marketing of the site needs to be first in the process of site creation. This results in handing over a clear vision to the designers and developers so that once the build is done, the site has all the component parts with which to compete.

      This isn’t a we’re better than you article or we’re more important – it’s about the order of the process.

  • Wow there are a lot of comments on this, which I’ve only read part of.

    One thing I figured worth pointing out is that the term you’re missing is “marketing”. What you are doing/describing is Internet Marketing – not SEO. A small subset of Internet Marketing is SEO.

    Unfortunately, both SEO people and Internet Marketers (as an industry/profession) have generally negative connotations – mostly because there are many people who have self-described themselves as masters (very similar to Social Media Experts) and haven’t delivered results. This also includes web designers/developers who put themselves in these categories as you mention.

    Similar to web standards – if internet marketers were to shed some light into what they do more (often its seen as a bit of black magic) then it would be much harder to call it all a bunch of BS. Avoid the “secret sauce” syndrome and show a direct correlation between what you do and what happens (in a repeatable way) the same way developer, engineers, doctors, salesmen, etc do and you’ll gain the respect you desire (and selectively deserve)

    • What you say is right.

      SEO isn’t confined to the optimisation bit though anymore – it does include the wider internet marketing activites you describe. It’s semantics which are the problem mainly as even though we do all these activities, we still usualy refer to ourselves as SEO’s. I certainly know that I am adament about what SEO should involve.

      Generally, most of the SEO’s I know are happy to share what they do. Even the bad ones do! It’s a great test of whether or not someone should hire an individual or not to ask them what there activities actually are and if it’s understandable, and seems genuiune then go for it – I’ve found a lot of business owners have been tainted though with the wrong idea of what it’s all about and that is a difficult obstacle to overcome.

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