Being a successful web developer requires constant effort to refine your existing abilities while expanding your skill-set to include the new technologies that are continually released, so when I first started my job as a search engine optimization analyst I was fully expecting my web development skills to dull. I could not have been more wrong.
Before I get to the list of reasons why being an SEO analyst made me a better web developer I'm going to give a quick overview of how I got into search engine optimization in the first place. Search engine optimization first captured my interest when I wanted to start driving more search traffic for a website I developed for the BCDA (and continue to volunteer my services as webmaster). Due to some dissatisfaction with our hosting provider I decided that we would switch hosting providers as soon as our existing contract expired and go with one of my preferred hosts. However, as a not-for-profit organization the budget for the website was limited and the new hosting was going cost a little more, so I decided to set up an AdSense account to bring in some added income.
The expectations weren't high; I was hoping to bring in enough revenue through the website to cover hosting costs. At that point I did not have much experience with SEO so I started researching and looking for strategies I could use on the site. As I read more and more articles, blogs and whitepapers I became increasingly fascinated with the industry while I would apply all of the newfound knowledge to the site. Soon after I responded to a job posting at an SEO firm, applied, and was shortly thereafter starting my new career as an SEO analyst.
My first few weeks at the job were spent learning procedures, familiarizing myself with the various tools that we use, and, most importantly, honing my SEO skills. I spent the majority of my time auditing and reporting on client sites, which exposed me to a lot of different websites, programming and scripting languages, and tens of thousands of lines of code. During this process I realized that my web development skills weren't getting worse, they were actually getting better. The following list examines the reasons for this improvement.
1) Coding Diversity
To properly analyze a site, identify problems, and be able to offer the right solutions I often have to go deeper than just HTML on a website. This meant that I had to be proficient at coding in a variety of different languages, because I don't believe in pointing out problems with a site unless I can recommend how to best fix them. Learning the different languages came quickly from the sheer volume of code I was faced with every day, and got easier with each language I learned.
2) Web Standards and Semantic Markup
In a recent post, Reducing Code Bloat Part Two: Semantic HTML, I discussed the importance of semantic HTML to lean, tidy markup for your web documents. While I have always been a proponent of web standards and semantic markup my experience in SEO has served to solidify my beliefs. After you have pored through 12,000 lines of markup that should have been 1000, or spent two hours implementing style modifications that should have taken five minutes, the appreciation for semantic markup and web standards is quickly realized.
3) Usability and Accessibility
Once I've optimized a site to draw more search traffic I need to help make sure that that traffic actually sticks around. A big part of this is the usability and accessibility of a site. There are a lot of other websites out there for people to visit and they are not going to waste time trying to figure out how to navigate through a meandering quagmire of a design. This aspect of my job forces me to step into the shoes of the average user, which is something that a lot of developers need to do more often. It has also made me more considerate when utilizing features and technologies, such as AJAX, in respect to accessibility, such that I ensure that the site is still accessible when that feature is disabled or is not supported.
4) The Value of Content
Before getting into SEO, I was among the many web developers guilty of thinking that a website's success can be ensured by implementing enough features, and that enough cool features could make up for a lack of simple, quality content. Search engine optimization taught me the value of content, and that the right balance of innovative features and content will greatly enhance the effectiveness of both.
That covers some of the bigger reasons that working as an SEO analyst made me a better web developer. Chances are that I will follow up on this post in the future with more reasons that I am sure to realize as I continue my career in SEO. In fact one of the biggest reasons I love working in search engine optimization and marketing is that it is an industry that is constantly changing and evolving, and there is always sometime new to learn.