How to Speak Geek: Working Collaboratively With Your IT Department to Get Stuff Done

Aug 21, 2008 - 2:14 pm 0 by

Are you in charge of marketing the website, yet have to deal with unfamiliar IT issues? How do you handle a mean IT department? Do you want to improve your relationship with your IT staff? This session provides clear advice and translates the geek-speak into real-life examples. Learn specific steps to analyze your website for potential search engine road blocks such as duplicate content penalties, canonicalization, circular navigation, and other technical horrors. We'll help you identify potential problems and provide clear advice on how to approach your IT department with your request and an olive branch of peace.

Jeffrey Rohrs, Vice President, Marketing, ExactTarget

Matthew Bailey, President, SiteLogic
Chris "Silver" Smith, Lead Strategist, Netconcepts
Greg Boser, Three Dog Media
Sage Lewis,
Matt Bailey started. He started in IT, would deal with marketers wanting IT stuff, then went into marketing and had to go to IT to have them do things.

Think of robots.txt as a welcome mat for the search engines. Welcomes the bots, but also says here is crap in our index that we don’t want you to look at.

Example of very basic robots.txt file.
User-agent: *
Disallow: /admin
Disallow: /test

Do NOT just say Disallow: / as it will exclude all content.


  • Change or URL
  • Change of index page
  • 301 (permanent)
  • 302 (temporary)

WebBug is a good software tool that lets you know if there is a redirect for a site. Redirects within a site is OK, but need to examine how they work on your home page (sorry, didn’t get exact explanation of this).

Inconsistent linking. Gives example of that has inconsistent URLs, multiple URLs for home page.

Duplicate Content. Shows Brookstone again with multiple URLs for same battery. Think of duplicate content as having 4,000 mailboxes in front of your house. You need to figure out which mailbox is getting the mail. Which mailbox is Google going to think is the right mailbox?

Crappy URLs. Long URLs are not user friendly, especially ones with a lot of numerical parameters instead of shorter with words in URL.

Favicon. Get a favicon, gets you more opportunity to brand.
Short. vs. long. Words in URL also help.

Diluted Content
Putting everything on one page, gives example of 200 gadgets on one page, not focusing on good categories.

Unclear Instructions
Need to give marketing information to user. Site may be technically fine, but not good for marketing, unclear to users.

404 pages
Marketing and IT both need to work on good 404 pages. Marketing needs to give users a friendly message.

Don’t point fingers, before you blame IT make sure that it’s not a marketing problem. Gives example of marketing complaining about no sales, blaming IT, but marketing had never gone and tried to buy a product from their site.

Chris Silver Smith

Getting in touch with your geek side

  1. Check for problems: SEO health diagnostics
  2. How are we today? Ongoing analytics
  3. Watching recurring issues
  4. befriend IT colleagues
  5. Get company to Prioritize SEO
  6. Still can’t win?

Check for problems: SEO health diagnostics
Get Web Developer Toolbar for Firefox (and a couple of other browsers).
View your site like a search engine spider would. Web Developer Toolbar lets you disable things like javascript, CSS, images, etc. Shows Coca Cola website without images, etc. sees very little information and especially keywords about Coca Cola.

User Agent Switcher: signals site that you are googlebot, slurp, etc. See what site looks like to googlebot.

Example of bad redirection: Coca-Cola. He shows javascript or meta-refreshes being used instead of server-side redirect. Need to use server-side redirect. Check the header, should return 301 if redirected, not a 200.

How are we today? Ongoing analytics

  • Check daily referred visits for each of the search engines. If you get a huge drop from search engines, especially zero, work with IT and try to figure out what had happened.
  • Track conversions from SEO traffic vs. other sources
  • Track bot requests over time. Need to look at log files, Google analytics doesn’t help because it only looks at java script.

CMS Hell (recurring issues)
Recurring CMS/Legacy Issues? Check and re-check SEO factors – titles, metas, H1s, etc. Don’t assume once fixed, always fixed.

Befriend your IT Colleagues

  • Befriend and collaborate with IT
  • Give credit to IT where/when credit is due
  • Understand that improvements can be handled iteratively, be satisfied with baby steps towards goals – all progress is worthwhile
  • Follow standard IT process for prioritizing/scheduling SEO changes

Get company to recognize SEO

  • Make business case for why SEO is needed. Look at news about money left on tables, competitors’ successes to help convince the rest of the company why SEO is necessary.
  • Equally important to success are user experience, usability, legal requirements, branding, etc.
  • Take every opportunity to educate others about SEO.
  • Once worth of SEO is recognize, it can be prioritized along with other projects, and IT can take it seriously get needed work scheduled.

Still can’t win?

  • Go to another IT department.
  • Legacy system/hellish CMS? Build Parallel
  • Use a proxy system –

Q&A and comments from panelists.

Greg Boser requires IT to be a part of things. Marketers don’t have terms to explain to IT what it is that they want done. Take presentation to IT, show what they want done, and why they want it done. If IT is not on board, he won’t even take project.

Panelists suggest reading some basic books on website programming so you can speak to the IT  department with their language, to some degree. You don’t need to learn the language in-depth, but useful to learn the basics.

Have lots of employees go home and try to buy something on your own website (with dummy credit card), and take screenshots of any problems. Often users will not tell you about problems, this is a great way to get that information complete with screenshots.

Coverage provided by Keri.


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