Web developers

10 must-have SEO basics for web developers

You know the struggle… you just need those four or five tickets taken care of and that would mean so much to your SEO goals for the month.

But how do you onboard your web developers?

How can you help them understand the urgency of your SEO needs when they have so many other competing priorities on their plate?

Fifteen years ago, I could do about 90% of my SEO work myself for any given client.

Those days are over. SEO now relies on content creation, user experience, code development, IT, various layers/approval levels, etc.

I’ve written many times about how SEO can’t be done in silos and I’m glad it’s a discipline that now focuses more on alignment to create a quality experience for website visitors. .

During my career, I have always needed the support of web developers.

This meant going down the hall of my agency or working with a third-party developer under contract or employed by my clients.

Either way, getting web development buy-in and support is essential for SEO.

Even better is when developers understand the principles of SEO.

It is much more efficient if developers know the basics and incorporate them into their builds and site maintenance, thus avoiding any rework later.

Discover the 10 essential SEO basics for web developers and some group discussions with my teams of SEO specialists and developers.

1. Security

Website security is important to search engines.

Make sure you have an SSL in place and without any errors.

It’s the starting point.

Beyond that, have the necessary safeguards to ensure that the site does not have any vulnerabilities allowing injection, manipulated content, etc.

Getting hacked at any level hurts user experience and trust signals for users and search engines.

However, be aware of site speed (more to come) when securing the site with plugins, extensions or tools.

2. Response Codes

Server response codes are important.

There are often ways to get a page to render for a user and unique UX designs that prompt some creative development implementations.

Either way, make sure the pages show 200 server codes.

Source and update any 3xx or 4xx codes. If you don’t need redirects, remove them.

3. Redirects

Speaking of redirects, they are an essential part of the process of migrating and launching the website from an old site to a new one.

If you don’t do anything else in your launch process, at least implement redirects.

We’re talking about making sure all URLs on the old site have a 301 redirect to the most relevant topic page on the new site.

It could be 1:1 old site to new site pages or many to one if you streamline and update the content structure.

As with the server codes above, don’t trust the rendering of a page and assume everything is fine.

Use tools to validate that redirects are 301s.

4. Robots.txt

Nothing matters in SEO if the site cannot be indexed and displayed in search results.

Don’t let the robots.txt file be an afterthought.

Sometimes the default commands are too open, and in other cases too restrictive.

Know what is in the robots.txt file.

Don’t blindly push the intermediate file into production without verifying it.

Several sites with excellent migration and launch plans were foiled by a full staging ban order (to prevent the development site from being indexed) that was pushed to the live site.

Also consider blocking low value elements such as tag pages, comment pages, and any other variations created by your CMS.

You’ll usually have to deal with lots of low-value junk files and if you can’t stop pages from generating, at least stop them from getting indexed.

5. Sitemaps

XML sitemaps are our chance to make sure search engines know all of our pages.

Don’t waste resources and opportunities by leaving insignificant images, pages, and things that shouldn’t be prioritized for focus and indexing.

Make sure all pages listed in XML sitemaps display a 200 server code.

Keep them clean and free from 404s, redirects, and anything other than the landing page.

6. URLs

Good URLs are concise, include words relevant to the topic of the page, are lowercase, and have no characters, spaces, or underscores.

I like to see a URL structure of subfolders and pages that match the content hierarchy in site navigation and structure.

Three levels down?

Then “example.com/level-1/level-2/topical-page”.

7. Mobile Friendly

Again, remember that just because something works or looks good in a browser doesn’t mean it’s great for a search engine.

Mobile friendliness is important for search.

Validate it with Google’s mobile tool.

Make sure it passes.

Beyond that, consider the content rendered in the mobile version.

Google uses “mobile first” indexing.

This means they are viewing the mobile version of the site.

If you’re hiding or not rendering important content that you want search engines to consider in the mobile version for UX considerations, think twice and be aware that the content may be missing from what Google sees.

8. Site Speed

This is number eight on the list but perhaps the most important after making sure your site can be indexed.

Site speed is important.

Slow page loads and sites hurt user experience and conversion rates.

They also impact SEO performance.

There is no one set of ways to optimize site speed.

It’s really about keeping your code light, using plugins or extensions wisely, having an optimized hosting environment, compressing and minifying JS and CSS, and keeping image sizes under control.

Any code, file, and aspect that can cause performance changes or instability is a risk.

Integrate all protections for content management controls so that a 10MB image cannot be uploaded and accumulate a page. Or a plugin update is not detected in the way it slows things down.

Base, monitor and improve site speed continuously.

My primary developer’s favorite tool is web.dev or Lighthouse in Google Chrome browser’s dev tools.

9. Title Tags

Title tags are great context clues for search engines.

Keep in mind that they are for content, not CSS shortcuts.

Yes, attach your CSS to it, but keep them in order of importance.

Don’t have the largest first page title as H5 and a page’s subtitles as H1.

There are many comments on the impact (or not) of titles on SEO performance.

I’m not going there in this article.

Be as literal as possible in the hierarchy and how they are used.

Use them where you can instead of other CSS.

Have a single H1 on a page if you can.

Work with your SEO resources to understand the overall plan for page titles and content.

10. Content management and dynamic content

As stated above, CMS functionality can destroy the best development implementations.

Be smart about the control you give.

Understand the ongoing content plan and site needs so content creators have the control they want and need, but can’t destroy site speed or any of the on-page SEO elements.

Having so many dynamic aspects like markup, XML sitemap generation, redirects, etc. can save you time and protect your site and code to keep everything stable.


The intersection and collaboration between SEO professionals and web developers is important.

SEO builds on best practices for technical SEO and other things like enterprise scaling of on-page elements.

Developers who understand the basics of SEO can go a long way towards successful collaboration and SEO performance.

Additionally, it can make website development work more efficient and reduce the need for rework or “SEO-specific” updates and requests.

More resources:

Featured image: baranq/Shutterstock