SEO is a very broad discipline and it's important to understand that different types of SEOs specialize in very different skills. Among the most technical is the role of an SEO developer.
What Is SEO Development?
SEO development is a specific type of web development with an emphasis on optimizing web pages and websites for search engines. SEO development should not be equated with the broader practice of SEO itself.
SEO development shares the goal of broader SEO, which is to attract valuable search engine traffic and to properly capitalize on it. But SEO development requires a very specific intersection of skills:
- To a lesser extent, but still useful in many cases, familiarity with server-side frameworks, especially PHP.
- Familiarity with search engine algorithms and ranking factors
- Keyword research and market research skills
- The ability to track optimization results with analytics software
- Some understanding of broader marketing concepts such as copywriting, conversion rate optimization, lead generation, and the ability to measure business impact
In other words, an SEO developer combines an understanding of search engines, web development, and broad marketing concepts in order to positively impact business with traffic from search engines.
The SEO developer is the engineer of an SEO team. Their focus is on technical SEO, but they must have enough of an understanding of related disciplines like content marketing, copywriting, web design, CRO, outreach, lead generation, and so on, in order to perform their optimization in a way that boosts the efforts of others on the team, rather than undercutting them.
Does A Front-End Web Developer Need To Understand SEO?
While this answer may seem a bit recursive, the answer is that a web developer needs to understand SEO if an important goal of what is being developed is to attract search engine traffic.
For example, a web developer who is building a dynamic web application won't necessarily need to understand very much about SEO to do their job. This is because a dynamic web application is usually generating fully unique pages for every individual user and those pages are not meant to be seen by anybody else.
Of course, this isn't always true. A dynamic web application may be generating pages for users by compiling together pieces of static content, and that static content may very well be intended for public use. In order for the static content to be easily found in search engines, it must sit at a static URL, use meta data properly, and be optimized for various search engine ranking factors. A web developer needs to understand SEO in order for this to be accomplished effectively.
Alternatively, a web developer may be leveraging a database to generate dozens or even thousands of individual pages, all of them intended for public display, such as on an ecommerce site. Under these circumstances, an understanding of SEO becomes absolutely vital in order for these pages to perform sufficiently well in search engines and be found by consumers.
SEO Development For PHP, Java, C#, Ruby, etc
Do SEO development skills transfer between different frameworks such as PHP, Java, C#, Ruby, ASP, Perl, Node, Python, and so on?
In short, yes.
Technical SEO skills are rooted primarily in understanding how search engines interpret pages as they render in the browser. This includes both the pages themselves and the architecture, such as hyperlinks, that connects them. It can also be influenced by user behavior metrics.
The point is, search engine algorithms are primarily looking at static content, primarily what is rendered in HTML and CSS. Their concern for what is happening on the server side is limited to framework-independent things such as where the servers are located and how quickly the pages are rendered.
For this reason, SEO skills transfer between frameworks easily. There is no need to relearn technical SEO for each individual platform, only to learn the nuances of that platform for the purposes of web development itself.
SEO Development And Web Design
While web development and web design are different disciplines, SEO development and web design are closely connected, or at least they need to be in order for the SEO to be effective. This is because SEO isn't merely a back-end discipline for search engines. Search engines rank content in large part based on what users see when they visit a web page, and that means SEO needs to be built into the design itself for the impact to be maximal.
A particularly important example is that search engines look at the words in the title, heading, and subheadings of a page for guidance on what the page is about. This means that keyword research should be performed before the design phase begins, that keywords need to be included in those prominent places throughout the design process, and that the page is developed in such a way that the design is most effectively interpreted by search engines.
How Transferable Are SEO Development and Web Development Skills?
A professional who properly deserves the label of SEO developer would likely have an easier time going into web development than a web developer would have going into SEO development. This is because a skilled SEO developer is functionally a specialized web developer. Their skills with web development may be considered entry level for certain types of work, but the familiarity is there and it is only a matter of learning new platforms and increasing depth.
For a web developer to go into SEO, they must expand their skill set to include fundamentally different skills such as a familiarity with search engine algorithms and ranking factors, the broader world of marketing, conversion rate optimization, data-driven marketing, etc.
This isn't to say that some web developers won't find it easier to move into SEO development than it will be for some SEO developers to move into some areas of web development, particularly on the back-end.
SEO development sits at the intersection of skills between web development and SEO. SEO developers specialize primarily in technical SEO and front-end web development, but must have enough of a working knowledge of back-end development and broader SEO and marketing principles to maximize the impact they can make on the projects they are involved in.