Recently, there was a thread in the High Rankings Forum asking whether SEO is an extra skill or a prerequisite for any website designer/developer. It was a great question that spurred a lot of conversation.
It goes without saying that the average small-business owner in 2007 knows that they need a website. But do they know that they need SEO, or do they just assume that once they have a website it will naturally be found in Google for search queries for which it’s relevant?
Some website designers mention SEO as part of their services, either built into the design or as an add-on, but there’s often not a lot of detail describing exactly what sort of SEO services are offered. Other designers or agencies never mention SEO at all. It’s doubtful that a small-business owner having their first website designed would know what SEO is, let alone have the knowledge to ask for it.
Whose responsibility: The client or the agency?
If the client doesn’t bring it up, is it proper for the designer to assume that the client isn’t interested in having their website organically found in the search engines? Certainly, that sounds like a foolish assumption. It’s more likely that the uninformed client assumes that their website will automatically be found by virtue of its existence online. Until, of course, they are rudely awakened months later when they realize their website is more of a ghost town than a thriving community.
On the other hand, many clients aren’t willing to pay the extra costs involved in designing the website in a crawler-friendly manner. If the client opts out of SEO services because they learn it will substantially increase their costs, it’s certainly not the designer’s fault. Under those circumstances, they have no one to blame but themselves. Surely they will be unpleasantly surprised when they realize their mistake. They may be even more surprised to learn that the cost of SEO after the fact just doubled because their original, un-SEO’d design will need numerous fixes.
In this day and age, one has to wonder if website design companies should have an actual obligation to create crawler-friendly websites, whether they are asked to or not. That may be taking things too far, but maybe it’s time to move in that direction. SEO can no longer be considered an option that can simply be added on later. Let’s face it, a website that can’t be found in Google is nearly useless. Sure, the client can advertise their website offline, but then it’s little more than an online brochure. Plus, today’s younger generation doesn’t use phone books, nor do they read newspapers, so it’s doubtful they’d even see the offline ads. Everything they need is easily accessed by a quick search in Google, either at their laptops or via their mobile phones. They are not going to suddenly start doing more things offline as they get older.
A site that is invisible in Google may as well not exist, and yet, design agencies of all sizes do not educate their clients about this. Some agencies go as far as telling clients that they don’t need SEO, or that SEO is impossible because they’ve never been able to get results. They convince the client that they can simply get their site found on Google via paid search. Which is fine, they can definitely do that, and surely Google is quite happy about this as well!
The solution to this problem lies in more designers partnering with SEOs. There’s no reason why even solo website designers can’t have a trusted SEO consultant that they work with to ensure that they’re not designing an invisible website. Sure, the costs of entry would be higher for the small business, but the investment at this early stage would be well worth it. If the costs for SEO were built into the price from the start, and budgeted for accordingly, it would benefit everyone—the designer, the SEO, and most importantly, the client and his/her business!
Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings, a search marketing firm outside of Boston, and co-founder of SEMNE, a New England search marketing networking organization, has been performing SEO since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.