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SES SJ Session: How to Speak Geek: Working Collaboratively with Your IT Department...
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Great panel for this session with Sage Lewis, Chris Smith, Greg Boser and Matt Bailey. I was a little surprised to see the sparse attendance, but then again Search Bash took place yesterday evening. Matt Bailey was up first and is always entertaining.

Matt started out by discussing how marketers can identify some architectural issues starting by looking at the robots.txt file. Some IT or technical personnel can easily "screw up" the robots.txt because it is a very simple text file. One of the first things marketers should look at is the robots.txt file. The second thing to take note of is the homepage redirect. Make sure that there are permanent 301 redirects redirecting variations of the homepage to the true homepage.... i.e. http://www.yoursite.com. This will ensure that your true homepage is getting all of the link love and not having to share it with other versions of the page. Matt mentioned that he used is Webbug to evaluate the redirects. The third item Matt discussed was inconsistent linking, followed by duplicate content. The best tip that SEO-Space can give here is to always, always, always ensure that you have one final destination page. Redirect and/or utilize the no index all other versions. Avoid duplicates. Also avoid use of what Matt referred to as "crappy URLs". It's just common sense to have logical URLs. Brand your URLs with a favicon. Matt touched on diluted content. Having too much content on one page can work against you. The seventh item that Matt mentioned was about unclear instructions. Make it simple for the user to find the information that they are looking for. Messaging is a marketing problem not an IT problem.

Matt discussed communicating and educating the user as to what things such as RSS buttons are so that the user knows what to do with them and why they should click on them. These are all fundamental site issues that need to be communicated to the design and IT teams to ensure the search engines friendliness of your site.

Next up was Chris who began by discussing how you get in touch with your "Geek" site and how to work with IT departments. Some of the tips that he discussed included:
  1. Begin with an SEO Health Diagnosis - browse your site like a search engine spider would. Chris had a good tip to use server side redirects rather than javascript/meta refresh. He mentioned a cool tool called http://www.web-sniffer.com to check for redirects. Get in the "know" about some of the technical issues with your site.

  2. Befriend your IT Colleagues - collaborate with the IT team, give credit to IT when credit is due, follow standard IT processes. Build that relationship and work with the IT team, not against them.

  3. Get your Company to Recognize SEO - make a business case as to the benefits of SEO and why your company needs to do SEO. This will help IT open up and be more understanding of your needs.

  4. Consider Outsoucing some IT Needs - current IT team still not cooperating? Then go to someone else who will assist your needs
Greg Boser mentioned his thoughts on how marketers and IT departments. He stated that he requires IT to be present at meetings from the start. He offered the tip of educating the IT team from a high level. Here's what we need to do, here's how and here's why. This helps everybody get on the same page.

Sage Lewis compared this to how he and his wife are different.... the same can be said with marketers and IT teams. As marketers, you need to empathize with the IT team as they often need their ego stroked. They need praise as well. Try to communicate the way the IT team will communicate.

The question posed was to where somebody who is not technical can gain an initial understanding of technical issues. Matt mentioned SEMPO and his company Marketing Motive. The best thing that you could do is pose questions to the IT Manager or IT person who has the knowledge to answer your questions. You really need to know things such as client side vs. server side terms just so you can speak the geek language. Greg stated that its helpful to find someone with code experience.

An audience question was in regards to developing a new website from scratch. What is the best platform to go with? PHP, Java? etc. Boser suggested php or open source platforms that can be easy to build on. Stay away from Microsoft due to the bugs and iterations the MS platforms undergo.

Greg made the excellent comment that it is almost always better to use Open Source or existing systems (ie CMS) than building one from scratch. You are just asking for "long-term" trouble whenever you create proprietary CMS systems for your website. Of course there are exceptions, but chances are there is some existing technology that should do the trick for you.

Great comments from the panel in the Q&A.

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