Why Coding Is The Most Important SEO Skill

Last week in response to Lee Odden’s What type of SEO skill is most important? poll I argued that copywriting was that SEO skill. I mentioned that you could really make a case for many of the items on Lee’s list and thought I would take my own challenge and build a case for coding skills as the most important for an SEO to have.

Let me say once again that I think the best SEOs are the ones who can develop the majority of these skills and quite a few others as well. I still stand by what I said about copywriting, but if you’re writing copy for the wrong target market you may end up with brilliant prose and very little sales. Shari Thurow wrote an article about a year ago on why the best seo experts are named Mike and while the title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, Shari is making the case why a variety of skills lead to the best SEOs.

Coding gained only 3% of the vote in Lee’s poll. Actually it was 2% until I just voted again. Sorry Lee, I’ve tainted the poll with my double vote. I wonder why such a low vote since the way you code a site can have some of the biggest impact on your SEO efforts. Just as I did with copywriting in my previous argument I’m going to look at coding in the liberal sense of anything you might do in developing a site, from the information architecture to the use of css to the way you name your files and folders. If it’s the kind of thing you have your developer do we’ll count it here.

Small Coding Changes Can Make A Big Difference

SEOmoz member, Dr. Pete posted an article on Monday in which he describes eleven small changes he made to a site to get it out of the supplemental index. If you look over the list you’ll note it’s some pretty standard seo. It’s the kind of stuff you probably want to do to all sites. A couple of the changes are beyond the obvious, but most really are basic. Those basic coding changes though, have helped move over 24,000 pages from the supplemental index to the main index.

It’s too soon for Dr. Pete to know what increases in search traffic the changes will lead to, but if you remember my own escape from the supplemental index and the subsequent increase in traffic I’d suggest Pete will begin to see an increase of traffic to the site very soon.

It’s important to note that in neither Pete’s experience nor my own are the coding changes responsible for increased marketing of the site. When you build another link into a site you create a new avenue for someone to find you. When you participate more actively or advertise in places where your customers spend their time you increase your brand recognition and gain mindshare. Coding for seo often works in a sort of reverse way.

Poor Coding Builds SEO Dams

While the way you structure a site can have a positive impact on seo, much of seo coding is about making sure you don’t make mistakes that hinder the rest of your seo efforts.

Take for example the relatively simple canonical URL issue. It’s standard seo practice to use 301 redirects to make sure both the non www and www versions of your domain resolve to the same place. Visitors should not be able to access both versions of your domain as search engines will see domain.com and www.domain.com as two different domains. Imagine for a moment that you haven’t done the redirects.

You get two links to your home page, one pointing to domain.com and the other pointing to www.domain.com. That should be two backlinks for your site, but from the perspective of a search engine it’s one link each into two different sites. You’ve just cut your links in half by not paying attention to a coding issue.

Again the good code hasn’t increased anything, but rather the poor code decreased what you should have been getting. Think of traffic into your site like a flowing river. Each of your coding mistakes is akin to another block in a dam that impedes flow. Put up enough blocks and complete that dam and what happens to the water? The water is there and it wants to reach you. The search traffic is there and it wants to reach you too. But the dam prevents the flow of water and coding mistakes prevent the flow of search traffic.

Another way to look at the effects of coding on your seo is to think of it in terms of good coding maximizes everything else you do. With the canonical issue the lack of 301 redirects halved our backlinks in the simple two link example. Poor coding in that case minimized your link building efforts. The same is true of unfriendly URLs, unspiderable navigation, and a host of other common cosing issues.

SEO coding can improve how a search engine sees your site, but more importantly poor coding can hamper everything else you do in your seo campaign. If your code isn’t it order it may not matter what else you do. You could very well have put up so many obstacles to getting crawled and ranked that the rest of your optimization has much less than the effect you’d like.

Again I’m curious to know your thoughts. Do you think coding is important to seo? Can a poorly coded site overcome itself? Should basic coding skills be required of all SEOs?

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