Bridging the Gap Between SEO + Design:Development - BLOG

Bridging the Gap Between SEO + Design & Development

Since Break The Web solely focuses on Inbound Marketing, and most of our experience lies within the realm of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), we find ourselves working with agencies, brands & specialists in all different areas of marketing.

With redesign & rebranding projects, collaboration with some amazing design & development shops tends to be a regular thing. Because of this, it made sense to sit down, discuss, and learn all around how we all can play well together and let everyone accomplish what they need during a website rebrand & redesign.

In this video, we sit down with two key players at Barrel that make magic for their clients; Christine Carforo, Design Director, and Wes Turner, Director of Technology.

Check Out The Discussion


Video Transcript

Jason:
Hey again. Jason here from Break The Web. And today we’re going to talk about one specific aspect of marketing that Break the Web really doesn’t have a heavy hand on. That is web design, web development, especially as it correlates to a website or a brand’s rebrand or web development. Of course, we brought in the experts, Christine Carforo, the design director from Barrel, and Wes Turner, the director of technology at Barrel. Thank you guys for joining us.

Wes:
Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Christine:
Thanks for having us.

Jason:
So we worked together, Break The Web and Barrel, many times over the last few years. We’ve had a lot of joint clients and a lot of joint partnerships, especially with redesigns, redevelopments. And I’m very happy to say that we’ve worked tremendously well together. And I don’t think that happens too often in the marketing world.

There’s a lot of egos out there with specific agencies. I tend to see it personally more with freelancers, where sometimes people in different departments don’t want to step on toes. They may want to guide the client in specific frame or expectations, so that they’re the best at what they do and no one else is not as good. Have you guys experienced a little bit of that?

Wes:
Definitely. Yeah. So, I mean, I think one nuance to our agency is we do both design and development, but sometimes we do just design. Sometimes we just do development. And it’s in those cases where we work with another agency or an outside party, and they’re not used to our process and we’re not used to there’s. So there’s a lot of friction in those cases.

So, yeah, I can remember a couple of times where we were working with a design agency and they had great designs and things looked great, but when it comes to then translating that for the web, especially specifically for web development, a lot of issues typically come up and it’s just this back and forth and things get territorial.

Jason:
We always try to say for, at least from an SEO standpoint, that SEO comes second to design, UI, UX experience and all of that, just because if we’re bringing traffic and that traffic has a really crappy experience or they don’t convert, whatever that conversion goal might be, then it was all useless.

Jason:
With that, of course, design, you have your specific goals. Development and technology, you have your own specific goals.

Wes:
Right.

Jason:
How do you guys align those goals or first create those goals and then help the client understand the outcome with that?

Christine:
I think that, at least for design and development, we’re a team. We’ve always been a team. I like to think of ourselves as one unit before we go to the client. So there’s never an instance where there should be any fragmentation when we get to the client.

We really should be marching forward, whether that’s having daily check-ins with each other, we can show that the designers are always syncing up the developers. But whenever we come to the client, we should really be a united front.

Jason:
So how do you approach that with that goal creation for the specific client?

Christine:
Yeah, so I think just lots of meetings as a team and talking, making sure that everyone from the junior level to the senior level feels heard and feels really comfortable being able to speak, and just constantly having alignment.

So whether that’s team alignment, whether first a design and developer, then with the greater team, the accounts team, then with the client. And just making sure that at every single step of the process, there’s always alignment.

Wes:
It’s a lot of planning too. So we’ll do a lot of activities where we’ll whiteboard things and have giant post-it notes to make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to just the client’s business, what they do, what their current products are. So just getting that context and then aligning on that with the team, and then really understanding, why are they working with us? What’s our engagement about? That’s super important.

And so, we do that as a team and we talk it through, and we have the account people there. We have all the sales and business people who brought in the business and they help us get that context. We’re all asking questions, we’re all trying to figure out, well, all right.

So if we do this, then how does that affect this, right, in design, dev, design, development? You’re introducing this, but that’s going to blow out the scope. Right? Is that in scope? So that’s the big question always, right? Is it in scope?

Jason:
Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure during the onboarding phase, you guys talk a lot with the client and try to understand their position in the market, their audience behaviors, what issues their audience might be having and what’s solved by, of course, getting in touch with that customer. What is that like?

Christine:
Yeah, definitely take a deep dive into onboarding. So starting with the background, like where’d you guys come from? What’s your business context? Moving into the project goals, the technical approach, we use this framework called AgencyAgile, which we’ve been trained on as a team.

And it’s a really great way to all get on the same page and then make sure that we’re on the same page with the client. So immersing ourselves in their product and their experience is really integral for us understanding who they’re serving and what’s good about their products.

Jason:
So one of the questions we get asked all the time is where SEO can fit in, or squeeze their way in to a huge rebrand project that typically consists of new technology from a platform standpoint with the website itself, new design user experience.

We always, of course, try to make sure that, again with SEO being the goal, that the information architecture and the site map and the way everything’s interlinking falls along with the SEO goals. And of course you guys have your goals, especially if for two different agencies. It could be challenging.

Wes:
Definitely.

Jason:
Where would be the right time, given that, for example, we want to give advisement on information architecture, site map, maybe hub pages and all of that? In your process, when would be the right time for us to squeeze in?

Wes:
Same time, say it.

Christine:
At the beginning.

Wes:
Yeah, upfront.

Jason:
Right at the beginning.

Christine:
Yeah. You should be on the team too. So it shouldn’t be like you’re coming in to consult. You should feel like you’re a team member. So at every step, when we do a presentation, we want to be floating that stuff by you.

If you can’t make the meeting, it’s okay. You should be able to get your eyes on it and see it. And admittedly, we’re not an SEO agency, we’re a design agency. So just making sure that everyone is really humble when working together I think is really integral.

Jason:
Absolutely. We try to, as early on in the process, give an idea on what we’d be looking for in terms of website structure from an SEO standpoint.

But what happens if an ideal SEO structure, maybe a topic cluster or a page that’s medically relevant on a specific topic, and then they might have sub pages and that might go against either what you guys need to do from a user experience standpoint, or even what the client wants? How would you guys handle that?

Wes:
Yeah, there’s some nuance there. I mean, for when it comes to SEO in terms of development, we do our best to make sure things are structured properly, make sure from a hierarchical standpoint, the content, it can be expressed.

But it really depends. If we don’t have that upfront strategy, then we’re just using our own best practices when it comes to SEO and implementing them both from a design and development perspective.

But when we have that partner in the beginning and they can help us, we can work around that.

Jason:
Okay.

Wes:
And that’s what we want. We want that partnership, like Christine was saying, to be able to get the best strategy for whatever content or client or brand we’re working with.

Jason:
Absolutely. And then, of course, a big aspect of what we do is the technical SEO, which has a lot of backend, sometimes front end technology, whether it’s ESS CSS bloat potentially, or accessibility, all these other random things that might happen within the backend.

We typically like to see or have the ability to crawl a staging site, just so we can see what’s going on behind the scenes, run our crawlers through everything. Does that typically fall in line with how you guys are projecting?

Wes:
Definitely. I mean, Christine knows we do a lot with accessibility and she’s very passionate about that.

Christine:
I am.

Wes:
And I’m certainly passionate about the structure of things and the performance of things, which Google cares about and hopefully a lot of other search engines care about that too. So we’ve done a lot as a team to improve those best practices.

When it comes to staging, we usually always have staging, and in many cases, we also have additional environments to accommodate for additional features or differences in content. Or maybe we’re trying to test something out from a performance perspective and we just need that additional environment.

So we definitely have the ability to have these different places for scans to be run, for users to test with screen readers, the whole nine.

Jason:
What are expectations that you try to give to the client around launch time, because they may think that, Oh, we’re going to launch. The site’s just going to kick ass right off the bat. Things are going to go amazingly well and that was a great investment. We’re all set.

How do you guys handle those kind of expectation setting aspects?

Christine:
I think, back to the other answer, just making sure it’s at the beginning.

So in that first meeting, making sure that we understand, why are they launching on a certain date? Is there a product coming out? Is there something happening that’s in tandem to the launch? Then we can build that empathy as to why does that launch matter so much.

When the client’s really, really stressed out, we should also be cognizant of that because if anything maybe comes off as a little hasty in their responses, we know where they’re coming from, and really making sure that we’re setting them up for success.

And then to your question about post-launch, so just making sure that all the things related to analytics are set up so that we launch it, we can just see how it happens. So whether that is Hotjar or more of a visual analytics tool like that, whether that’s Google analytics, just making sure that all of our ducks are in a row upon launch time so that we can in three months revisit the site and make sure that what we did worked out.

Jason:
And one of the things that I’ve seen over the years working with you guys, we run typically quarterly technical SEO audits. With that, and that ever-evolving aspect that we’re always looking to make sure from the technical SEO side of things, make sure everything’s good, do you guys typically continue to work with clients after on maybe a small project thing?

What would you recommend in that instance, if we would come back to a client and say, “Hey, we noticed that a weird code came up or something isn’t linking properly, something that might’ve gotten missed from the SEO side of things.” How would you guys handle that?

Wes:
Expectation setting is important here. We do have a post-launch period, where if any critical bugs come up or any issues with content typos, things like that, we will fix it, jump in there and make those changes.

But we do like to continue to work with the client and part of that upfront discussion and expectation management is letting them know that we can continue to optimize, this idea of continuous improvement.

Being able to run those scans and say, “Well, we did great here, but this one we can improve. We can make this better and here’s how we’re going to do it.”

So we have what we call Barrel Client Services. It’s what we do from a design, development and continuous optimization standpoint, even when it comes to marketing, right? Being able to see how content is performing from an SEO standpoint, how the content is performing from social and search and all the other ways.

Even email is super important here. We talked about websites a lot.

Christine:
Yeah, email.

Wes:
But all of these other things like Facebook and Instagram and email, they’re super important to the engagement of a website, of a brand. So we continue to optimize on all those fronts through BCS, which is a great way for us to not only build that relationship with the client, but also continue to just optimize and make sure things are improving and always getting better.

Jason:
You’ve touched on something that reminded me of the conversion aspect and conversion rate optimization that I feel like tends to go unnoticed quite significantly in marketing.

People, again, have their website, they might have their SEO strategy and bringing in traffic all is great, but when you’re not testing that conversion on, if people are picking up the phone, buying a product, whatever it might be.

Is that something that you guys would focus on in BCS as well, that conversion rate optimization? Testing with Hotjar, as you mentioned?

Christine:
Yeah. We have a UX audit, which is one of the services that we provide. So, we basically will audit sometimes our own work, sometimes other people’s work and really benchmark it to best practices from Baymard Institute. They’re one of the companies that are the UX bible, if you will.

So just making sure that we’re making sure that we’re doing everything to best practice, and then making sure that it all ladders up to the client’s goals at the end of the day. So it’s a very humbling thing to do a UX audit on your own work, but it’s also an incredible learning tool.

So we really look forward to those opportunities where we can see how we did after launch, and then report back to the client and workshop, what are the ways to prioritize those initiatives that came out of that audit?

Jason:
Absolutely. I actually learned a lot from this interview with technologies, with of course the way which I think we have over the years been working together so that you guys can get what you need, we can get what we need and play along together. So this was absolutely awesome.

Where can people find you guys, learn more about Barrel?

Christine:
Yeah. BarrelNY.com and then also on our Instagram. You can find us there too, same @BarrelNY.

Wes:
And we’re based here out of New York city in Chinatown, Little Italy.

Christine:
We also have a Los Angeles office, small team out there too.

Jason:
Just growing and growing. That’s awesome. Congratulations on the success, the growth. Thank you guys for joining me. It was a real pleasure to have you.

Christine:
Thanks for having us.

Wes:
Thanks for having us.

Jason Berkowitz

SEO Director


Jason leads the Break The Web Search Engine Optimization team.

Based in New York City, when he’s not nerding out to SEO, Jason can be found falling from the sky as an avid skydiver.

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