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How SEO and Engineering Can Successfully Coexist – Michelle Robbins // Aimclear

Episode Overview: Departments with conflicting goals within a company can make achieving departmental and company goals difficult. SEO and engineering departments are no different, and often conflict frequently due to their complex technical natures and the differing needs of both. Join host Ben as he continues Integrated Brand SEO Week with Michelle Robbins, VP of product innovation at Aimclear, as they discuss how SEOs and engineers can align goals and coexist peacefully.


  • Engineers often have to prioritize competing initiatives between different company departments, including initiatives that may hurt SEO efforts but complete other organizational goals.
  • Organizing a monthly meeting with engineers to present and explain SEO department needs is the best way to help them prioritize and implement SEO initiatives.
  • Present engineers with the SEO knowledge and toolkits they need to successfully implement SEO initiatives as not all engineers understand or have SEO knowledge.
  • The technical nature of engineering can often be a social barrier for colleagues outside of engineering. Having lunch together without talking about business can help remove company organization barriers and improve working relationships and communication.


Ben:                  Welcome to Integrated Brand SEO Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day talking about how you can think about how your brand is impacted by SEO and how SEO impacts your brand. Joining us for integrated brand SEO week is Michelle Robbins who is the vice president of product innovation at Aimclear, which is an integrated digital marketing agency that focuses on elevating brands to beloved status by reaching everyone ranging from uber-focused audiences to mass market branding.

Ben:                   Aimclear integrates paid and organic search, social, leading edge creative PR data, human expertise, and performance marketing so you can make more money. So far this week, Michelle and I have talked about why brand marketers think that content is everything and what SEOs could learn from brand marketing principles. Yesterday we talked about how SEOs can be more tuned into the integrated marketing efforts of their organization. Today, we’re going to turn the page and talk a little bit more about how SEOs and engineers can coexist peacefully. Okay. Here’s the fourth installment of Integrated Brand SEO Week with Michelle Robbins from Aimclear. Michelle, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Michelle:          Thanks for having me back.

Ben:                    Happy to have you here. Always a pleasure to talk. We’ve covered a lot of ground this week, talking about everything from how brand marketers think, why it’s relevant to SEO, some of the signals that Google can take in that are going to impact your SEO visibility and rankings, and yesterday we really focused on talking about how to have some empathy and understand what’s happening in the rest of your organization, thinking about what your customers are going through, and even the big boss, the CMO, understanding what they’re trying to accomplish and working your SEO strategies around that. There’s a flip side of the coin here where, as an SEO, you also need to have your finger on the pulse of some of the technical optimizations that are happening within your organization. Talk to me about some of the things that you’ve seen, and what do you advise for SEOs to build good solid relationships with the technical part of their organization?

Michelle:            This is something that I’m fascinated that 20 years in we’re still actually struggling with … The kind of loggerheads that it seems SEOs sometimes get to be at with our developers, because my own experience has been very different. I came from a technical background. I have the technology as well as the SEO, so I was always very able to speak to the marketing department, speak across departments, and to understand their needs. I think that the best thing they can do is actually just practice good communication, good effective communication, and what you talked about with empathy …

Michelle:             Understand that your IT team and your development team is not just sitting on standby to solve SEO problems. They’re tasked with solving a lot of problems throughout the organization … Keeping the website up from a technical perspective, not just keeping it performing well from an SEO perspective, so they have a lot of competing priorities often. They’re working for all of the divisions, not just the SEO division, unless you’re lucky enough to have a DevOps engineer assigned to just the SEO department, but I assume we’re talking about not having that.

Ben:                       Boy, wouldn’t that be nice … If the engineers only sat around waiting for the SEOs to come by to tell them how to fix their website. In reality, that never happens, does it?

Michelle:             It really doesn’t. Getting frustrated with a developer for not understanding SEO fundamentals would be similar to a developer getting frustrated with an SEO for not understanding how to fix DNS problems. You shouldn’t know how to do that to do your job, and they shouldn’t know how to do SEO to do their job. You can help them. You can bring them along by educating them. You can do lunch and learns. I think lunch and learns are terrific opportunities for cross functional training … If not capability training, just understanding just to open up the doors to understanding. “Here are the things that we’re working on, and that we’re struggling with. We could use your help in this particular issue, and here’s why it’s important.” Oftentimes, if you approach someone and say, “I need you to fix this,” they’re going to add it to their list of things that need to be fixed without any context or understanding of priority.

Michelle:             If you sit them down and say, “If we can solve this problem we’re having here”, and let’s say it’s something like speed, which is huge for a website … Work with them on the problem instead of just handing them a problem and say, “Here are the benefits to solving this problem, so what do we need to do to solve the problem?”, because oftentimes these aren’t problems that exist because the developers are unwilling or incapable. It’s because they’re given competing priorities. For example, if somebody in the marketing team is giving them 5000 different JavaScripts to drop onto a website, that’s going to slow your site down. If the marketing team says, “We need these so we can track this, and we can track that, and we can track this, and we can track that,” the developer’s going to do it.

Michelle:             Their marketing team says, “Put it on the site,” and they put it on the site.

Michelle:             The SEO comes to them and says, “Our site’s too slow. Look at our speed score. We’ve got to get rid of some of these scripts.” The developer is sort of sitting in a really uncomfortable in-the-middle position, so sometimes your problem isn’t actually with the development team. It might be explaining the challenges for SEO and ranking to other people throughout the organization as well. This gets back to what we talked about with being integrated and working across divisions. You’ve got to consider your development team as part of that equation as well and not as separate from it.

Ben:                        I think there’s a couple of different components here that are important. First and foremost, as you mentioned, being integrated, actually sitting down, having a regular conversation, and carving out time within the quarter, within the month, within the day, or whatever it is … Whatever your cadence is to sit down and understand what’s happening with the technology team within and without the SEO sphere of influence, so you can have an idea of what their priorities are.

Ben:                       I think that the second thing is also the education. SEO is not something that everyone understands. It’s not something that every person in your organization has a lot of experience working on. Mostly if you’re working with junior developers, they might have no idea how to optimize a page for speed or keyword density or any of the things that you need them to do. Giving them a toolkit to actually understand what the best practices are is very important. Michelle, what are some of the pieces of advice that you have to start educating engineers on the best practices for SEO?

Michelle:             I think it’s the only approach, right? I think you need to approach it from a, “We need to work closely with you guys. Let’s figure out a schedule. How can we best communicate with you?” Because sometimes the way that marketers communicate is very different from the way that programmers communicate. Programmers tend to need big chunks of focused uninterrupted time. Marketers live in a world of interruption, whether they can be on Slack doing an email, or doing five different things at one time because they’re getting a lot of different things done. Programmers don’t work that way. If you just suddenly show up, and you interrupt the flow of somebody in programming, it’s a lot more disruptive than you might think, right? Just having some empathy around the process is really important. Having some empathy around setting up scheduled times to meet with them versus everything always being a fire drill.

Michelle:             If you have regular meetings with your dev team, and you have regular times where you’re like, “Let’s meet this week and talk about what are your priorities this week and what are our priorities this week? What can we get done this week? What can’t you get done? What do we need to adjust in our priorities to help you get to getting to our priorities sooner?” Yeah. All of those kinds of things. It sounds really simple, but I think most of the problems that we have between anybody in marketing, whether it’s SEO, PPC … I mean, any marketing person and any development team tends to be that the communication styles are very different. The work styles are very different, and the expectations are not level set.

Ben:                       I have good news and I have bad news. I’ll start with the bad news. The bad news is that engineers in my experience hate meetings.

Michelle:             Yeah.

Ben:                       The good news is the only thing they hate more than meetings is disruption.

Michelle:             Yes.

Ben:                       You running by their desk with a fire drill is actually worse than scheduling a meeting and having it on a recurring basis. Honestly, you could use that as the justification for your meetings. “Hey, I don’t want to come to you with fire drills, so if we’re able to set a regular cadence, I could deliver all of our requests at once, and then let you get to work,” because really engineering is very much about finding flow, getting into details, working through multiple very complicated processes. That requires a lot of concentration.

Michelle:             Yeah. 100 percent. The meetings don’t have to be long. They just have to be structured and prepared. If you come prepared, and it is something that happens every week, then it’s actually very easy to put that as part of an expectation. Then, the dev team gets to know you. First of all, you’re having regular interaction. That’s just always better. Secondly, they know that you become part of their flow, and they figure out how to fit you in. The better you communicate with them, the more you’re going to get out of them.

Michelle:              Again, this just goes to basic human psychology. I had a developer one time that had to work with somebody in a different … In part of the marketing organization, and they were just oil and water. It was really hard to understand why they had such a hard time working together, but it became a problem for me, as his supervisor, and for my colleague, as this other person’s supervisor. I decided that the next time we were all together for one of our events, we would go out to lunch and we wouldn’t talk shop. Her and I would get the two of these guys together, and we were all going to go out to lunch and just talk and be human beings.

Ben:                       And sing Kumbaya.

Michelle:             And we didn’t. We just had lunch and they never had another problem after that, because they actually got to know each other as people, and not as problems. He got to understand that she’s actually a very nice person, and she got to understand that he’s actually a very nice person. They found a way to communicate better after getting to know each other as people, not as job titles.

Ben:                       And then they sang Kumbaya together.

Michelle:             They certainly worked better together, and that was the goal. That worked, so I recommend lunch. I recommend lunch.

Ben:                       Lunch. I’m always a big advocate of a booze, may I suggest? Mostly when times are tight at the end of the year, when everybody’s under a time crunch, and when you’re going through your code freeze, that nicely timed bottle of wine or whatever you’re into, a six pack of beer, and a “Thank you,” card for all the work that you’re doing and for squeezing you in under the deadlines is always appreciated. Hey look, if you’re not into that, go buy some cookies or something else.

Michelle:             It takes very little. It really takes very little. I think people over complicate things.

Ben:                       Yeah. Human relationships … It turns out engineers need them too.

Michelle:             Yes.

Ben:                       Okay.

Michelle:             And they’re capable.

Ben:                       Good to know, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Michelle Robbins, vice president of product innovation at Aimclear. Tune back in tomorrow morning when Michelle and I wrap up our conversation talking about her, everything is data philosophy. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Michelle, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact her on Twitter where her handle is Michelle Robbins, M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E-R-O-B-B-I-N-S, or you could visit her company’s website which is, A-I-M-C-L-E-A-R-.-C-O-M.

Ben:                       Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about … If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests, and you can send us your topics, suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, and my personal handle is benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. If you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week. Hit the “Subscribe” button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feeds soon. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember … The answers are always in the data.