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  • SEO
  • JavaScript
  • static sites
  • accessibility
  • performance
  • frontend development

83. SEO and Accessibility

Hosted by Eric Chen, with guests Justin Abrams and Michael Rispoli.

SEO has become the digital nucleus around which websites are being developed. Far from being simply about search results, SEO work centers around accessibility, site performance, branding, and more. Increasingly, the gap between SEO work and frontend development is shrinking. Justin Abrams and Michael Rispoli from Cause of a Kind share how the two halves of marketing and programming are essential in helping websites stand apart from their competition.

Show notes

Eric Chen is an engineer on Heroku's Ecosystem team. With him are Justin Abrams and Michael Rispoli, who run Cause of a Kind. Cause of a Kind helps organizations with their SEO; Justin engages with the brands on a marketing level, and Michael looks after their frontend development. The goal for SEO has evolved beyond just having the right metadata appear in search results. It's also about understanding how to make better business decisions, both through marketing strategies as well as organizational and technical planning to create products that serves consumer's needs.

From the Internet's beginnings, SEO has been about helping search bots crawl sites through keywords. The thinking went that the better your metadata, the more likely your website was going to appear higher in search results. But these days, SEO is more about how users navigate sites. Justin and Michael explain how if you create a site with a user's experience in mind, the search bots and algorithms will rank you more favorably. You can use proper semantic HTML, provide accessibility through labels and aria tags, or define consistent URL routes; but you can also minimize frontend JavaScript dependencies to ensure that your page loads quickly.

Organizations are investing more in frontend experiences more than ever before, from SPAs to even providing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Michael believes that developing sites with an SEO-first mindset almost inherently leads to a better product, because your performance and accessibility improvements will be noticeable to your users, even if you're trying to get better search ranks. In the end, both marketing needs--getting people to visit your site--and frontend development concerns--making sure people can use your site--are no longer two distinct issues.


Eric: Welcome back to another episode of Code[ish]. My name is Eric Chen and I'm an engineer on the Heroku Ecosystem team. We deal with everything add-ons related. Today we have another exciting episode. We're going to be diving in and talking about SEO with Justin Abrams and Michael Rispoli. We'll dive into an introduction of what search engine optimization is and what does it entail? We'll talk about how to drive more traffic and the intersection between development and search.

Eric: Justin and Michael, you want to quickly introduce yourself, talk briefly about what you do, and we'll start with what SEO really means?

Justin: Sure. Thanks, Eric. My name is Justin Abrams. I do a couple of different things, one of which is work for BrightEdge. BrightEdge is a leading SEO technology. For them, I have the privilege of being a Senior Solutions Consultant, which simply means I'm a full-time SEO and I engage with brands in their earliest days as a global onboarding manager. I also have the privilege of working with Mike Rispoli, my dear friend and partner in a boutique digital agency here on Long Island, focused on organizations that have a social and environmental footprint and consciousness.

Michael: I'm Mike Rispoli. I am a software engineer. I work as the Lead Software Engineer at the Knot Worldwide, as well as with Justin as a part of Cause of a Kind, our boutique agency.

Eric: Cool. Just start off, give us some more background context of what is SEO. So my understanding, and it's very bare understanding, is that search engine optimization is basically a strategy around how to gain more traffic to your website and exposure to like Google searches and increasing marketing value through like maybe "appeasing" the search algorithms, right? Is that kind of accurate?

Justin: Well, Eric, pretty good job with some of the basic fundamentals and kind of the historical understanding of what SEO actually is. Fundamentally, that's all still relevant, but SEO has become the digital epicenter, for lack of a better experience. We focus on SEO as understanding the true consumer voice, what does the actually expect from the organizations and brands that provide solutions, products, services within the marketplace?

Justin: The goal for SEO as it equates with a business is understanding how to make better business decisions, not necessarily just within the marketing mix, but also throughout the organization, as we're here today, talking about development and how can we create a product that truly solves our consumer needs. Now, SEO also has this very traditional part, which has to do with obviously the algorithm and how do you improve the performance of your website from things like speed performance and understanding the different content and product services that you might offer, and then fine tuning your website towards the best practice and understanding your competitive environment. But at the end of the day, it really all is about what your consumer expects from you and your competition, and where does that experience need to evolve.

Michael: I think from the development side of things, it's very easy to sort of fall into the idea that search engine optimization is all about bots and how they crawl a site. But really it's more about how users are using a site, just like Justin said. It's about creating fast experiences that are accessible to all people and the algorithm does optimize for those things. So it becomes sort of a byproduct of what you're building to actually make this a part of your development process.

Eric: I see. So it sounds like there's a lot of focus on the consumer and also the analytics side too. Can you guys talk a little bit more about that? What type of insights are most important to you guys when you look for these things? And how do you make these interactions better?

Justin: So in my world, in the marketing side, we have two personas that we always need to satisfy. One is the actual human, which obviously has a lot of sub-personas that we really need to take into consideration, but the other is that bot experience. Mike actually just nailed it a couple of seconds ago, which is saying, you ultimately create an experience, whether that's content, whether it's new technology, whether it's a new form of marketing and engagement. Whatever your initiative is, we ultimately are trying to determine what is the best decision for our customer to engage with, and that customer can also be a robot, right? That robot has to have an equally enjoyable experience. It has to be fast. It has to be easily understood. It has to have places to go with interlinking and connection.

Eric: You mean the robot because it's crawling your website.

Justin: Absolutely. And that experience, it mimics what your human is going to experience as well. So if you provide an experience with your human consumer in mind, which is ultimately the way that you gain authority and trust and become an expert in comparison to competitors that are in your space, you also satisfy that robot crawl experience looking for the different things that a human would find to be valuable.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, exactly. As I alluded to before, it kind of starts with even just coming down to the structure of your webpage, the way using proper semantic HTML, labeling things like forms correctly and your links, ensuring that there's always a way to move about the site, that navigation is easy for the bot to find, therefore, it's going to be easy for a human to find. So a lot of this stuff goes hand in hand, but just ensuring that there are actually routes or pages for every single resource in your site is pretty huge because yeah, for the robot, that is great, but we kind of went through this period of time, maybe a few years ago, where a single page apps were very big and routes were sort of falling by the wayside. You could go to a lot of websites and you'd be clicking around and you hit the refresh button and you'd be taken right back to the beginning. That's the kind of thing we want to avoid because even for a human, if they get someplace and they want to share it with somebody, that URL becomes huge.

Michael: So it really, on the search engine side, it all comes down to the URL, the resource, what does this page deliver and how is it going to index? But that also answers the question of why would a person want to share this page? What is a person looking to accomplish by being on this page? So really thinking about the two goes very much hand in hand. So that's why I like to not think of them as separate. And then it also ties back into that accessibility piece. Accessibility on the web is huge right now. All of those elements are things that particularly Google's algorithm biases towards, right? It gives you points for things like speed, but also things like greater accessibility and more texts, more information, things that would make your website more valuable to a consumer.

Eric: So what's an example? When you said accessibility, I really liked that. I think that's definitely super important in this digital age. Does Google crawl the site for like title or header tags in the HTML to make sure that screen readers can also read off of these, and doing so, does that factor into the way their search algorithm is displaying results, or yeah, what's the correlation?

Michael: So nobody knows the exact nature of the algorithm, which becomes the frustrating part. I don't know exactly what they bias towards, but in general we know, for instance, like you said, the header tags, right? An H1 should represent the title of the page. And then we went through a kind of period where people were putting H1s on everything to try and hack the algorithm, which is not semantically correct. A page should have a single H1 title, or even a section should have one H1 to it.

Michael: And then H2s and H3s should not be used to style, so to speak. They should actually represent the outline of the page, and that does help a screen reader as it moves through the page. But even things like having alt tags on all of your images, which are describing what the image is, a lot of people let that go by the wayside, just kind of put some kind of brief description in the alt tag, maybe it's the title of the image or something like that, but Google is crawling that. Imagery is really invisible to Google just as it would be invisible to somebody using a screen reader, so having better alt text provides them with a richer experience, and it also provides Google with more information about what you're trying to convey.

Michael: So really taking the time to go through and put those things together does help the crawler overall, and Google puts out tools like Lighthouse that'll actually give you a score around these things. So that's sort of our glimpse into the algorithm where we can use Lighthouse to see where are they taking points away from us. We don't know officially how much of Lighthouse Google uses in their algorithm, but we can be pretty sure that they're telling us, "Hey, these are things you should fix to get the most bang for your buck."

Justin: And then, Mike, tell me if I'm wrong, but organizations are now looking to evolve with their web technology, specifically for special populations. Accessibility allows organizations like Apple as they release a new technology that accommodates all populations with the ability to interact with their device. That device then relies on the web experience to be able to provide information and ideas that people might be looking for that they might not be able to simply just type it in or simply click on the call to action that exists on a page, right? Relying on advanced technology built into web experiences to allow for accommodation towards all demographics.

Michael: Exactly. And what's happening is we're seeing kind of a... I don't want to say like a resurgence of accessibility, but people are definitely paying attention more. There have been a number of high profile lawsuits as well in the last few years that have probably brought more attention to this, particularly around e-commerce brands where people were not able to shop as they normally would, which is a problem. Like in a store, in a physical store, we have rules around this stuff, how wide a door has to be, where a wheelchair ramp has to be, and is there handicap parking? But with websites, there were sort of these loose guidelines and we knew that they had to be accessible, but nobody was ever actually coming forward and saying, "I can't use this person's website or this brand's website. It's really frustrating to me."

Michael: And so we're coming around to that now. Now there's really great tools out there particularly in the front end ecosystem. Whether you're writing vanilla JS or React or Vue or whatever your framework is, a lot of these frameworks now are baking in these tools to let you know where that stuff should be and if you forgot something. So it's really seeing a really big kind of almost like a Renaissance now and it's really important.

Eric: So they give specific examples in various frameworks that tell you how you should adhere to these accessibility guidelines, or what does that look like?

Michael: It's more like compile time checks like when your website's being built and stuff or when you run certain testing frameworks. I know like React testing library is one of the more popular ones and it's what I use most often. They actually right down to the way the tests actually work. The way that you can actually query DOM elements is built with the idea of querying text nodes or label nodes, which would be how somebody using a screen reader would be able to use your site. So instead of kind of querying by class name or an ID or something in the code, you're actually querying the way a user would actually use this site, and that helps you because now you say like, "Oh, well, if I want to be able to test this feature that this is rendering the right way, I want to query it the way a screen reader is querying." And so it takes you a notch further as well.

Eric: Ah.

Justin: We could also bring it full circle here, right? All of this has to do with the algorithm listening to what the human is actually finding valuable or frustrating on a web experience. It's no secret as to why we've ended up here, trying to accommodate everybody that potentially comes to our website. Everybody potentially has money or time to spend or something that our brand needs in order to quantify our existence. So the ability to actually listen to the consumer audience and then refer to the website to fine tune and capture that attention, and then ultimately get ranked for it in comparison to your peer competitors who are also doing the same thing to try and capture some of that audience, it all comes full circle as you think about where does this advice from the search engine and the authority has come from, and it's listening to the consumer.

Eric: Yeah, and that's the last part you touched on. The competitiveness is really interesting to me. So how does that work? Do you guys kind of look at their keywords and try to offer a more unique one, or look at analytics tools, like you mentioned Lighthouse, to come up with a score? What kind of metrics are you guys mainly looking at when it comes to things like that?

Justin: Well, now seems like a good time to introduce some of our roles and how we actually got here. So full time I have the good fortune of working for a technology organization called BrightEdge. BrightEdge is a leading international search technology that organizations utilize in order to help them understand these deep insights about themselves and their competitor environments.

Justin: But there are technologies in the space that give you the color and the context to these questions, right? How are we performing, and where is white space and opportunity for my brand currently right now? Where are my competitors performing? Where do I have risk? Where do I have opportunity as far as my competitive environment? And then take that a step further, which is the so what, the how to, right? What are these organizations doing to be so successful? The opportunity to understand their performance holistically from a multitude of different metrics to help marketers, to help search marketers and developers and all personas within the mix understand what competition is doing to be successful in the moment, significantly a roadmap, so to speak.

Justin: So BrightEdge is a suite of tools, but very clearly, there are tons of different tools that are out within the space and things that are regularly available just through the Google environment and being able to understand what the expectations are and how to understand competition and so forth.

Michael: Yeah. I think on my side, a lot of the bigger metrics tend to be sort of what you would derive from Google's own analytics. There's other things people use; Mixpanel, Segment. A big part of it is like looking at bounce rates and time on site.

Eric: What is a bounce rate when you get redirected?

Michael: It's not when you get redirected, it's how long...So like, do people go to another page? Do people stay in the site and in the experience, or do they kind of hit the page and leave? So when the bounce rate is really high, people are just coming to the site and immediately bouncing out. And so that's kind of where the-

Eric: Yeah, I see.

Michael: ... the bounce comes from. When I see things like that, there's a few things that could be wrong. It could be an SEO problem where they're surfacing for a result that they shouldn't be, that they're not offering, but that's sometimes a little bit more rare. Typically, you put a lot of time into SEO and keywords. So if you're getting to the top of a page, it's usually something that you do offer. So the issue is usually what about this page? What are people not getting from this page? And sometimes it can be even like a load time issue. That's probably the other side of accessibility. Aside from just like screen readers, it's just access across network connection.

Michael: So usually that magic number, like over three seconds is what they kind of talk about in e-commerce, like once it starts creeping over three seconds, the drop off rate is precipitous. You can look up statistics, and there've been a lot of studies around this that we really can't let things get up that high. That can be any number of things. That can just be slow infrastructure. It could be one. It could be shipping a lot of assets, right? Some people ship a lot of video, imagery and JavaScript.

Eric: Like the content is heavy on a front end like on a landing page. Maybe it's like a huge video in the background, right?

Michael: Exactly. Exactly. So those huge videos become... Then you get that tension with design, right? They want the big background video with the highest quality, but if most people who are loading this up on the phone, they hit the subway or they're on the phone in the train and now they can't shop or they can't get to what they're trying to do, that video is sort of not serving its purpose, so it's easy to get tunnel vision there. So you have to really look at that.

Michael: And then the other pieces is just not only your own JavaScript, like running a lot of heavy JavaScript operations, but just a lot of third party stuff. A lot of people are running a lot of third party chats and trackers and ads and all this stuff, and slowly that starts to drag the page down. So now you can find yourself saying like, "All right, I'm maybe learning more about my customer, but I'm also turning away a lot of customers." So it's always a balance with some of that stuff to try and avoid adding too many third party tools and to keep things really fast for everybody.

Eric: This is kind of tying into the development forefront as a whole and how it ties into SEO, but how big is that? How many developers are actually paying attention to SEO right now? And would you say what percentage of organizations are investing in SEO and having a content team do this stuff? And especially in 2020, what's the best way to organize all this data, right?

Michael: Yeah. So I think that organizations as a whole are investing more in this than they ever have. I think the key thing to organic traffic is it's something that stays with you. I think anybody who's ever tried, as Justin and I have, to start their own any kind of brand or work with brand new products, like people who just launched something starting from zero, you get into this hole of just sinking money into paid, your paid social, your pay per click, and all of a sudden, you start to realize as soon as you stop that money, the well dries up and everything drops to zero again. But when you focus on SEO, you have this organic footprint, right? It's an earned footprint that stays with you. It's got longer longevity. It doesn't continue to cost you money the way that ads might. So people are realizing that and they say, "This is the kind of growth that we want to stay in."

Michael: Specifically from a development perspective, I think one of the things that I've seen that can hinder things is developers and SEOs tend to work in two separate silos. And so developers kind develop to a design, and then SEOs come in in the end. In typical kind of agency fashion, there's a tension there because there's not enough time to get that thing in, or we wish we knew that we needed routes for this, or the search experience isn't very crawlable, right? Maybe we built something really interactive, like interactive, quick search with lazy loading assets and stuff, and now it's not great for the bots. Maybe it's better for the users, but maybe it's not because a lot of your users are still going back to Google to type in search terms, and they're not doing it on your website. So you're still losing that transient traffic.

Michael: So having SEO involved early I think is the trend that needs to happen more. It's not so much investment. People know that this is important, but developers and SEOs I think need to really come together and work together on this stuff because that's how Justin and I work. We have our small agency, Cause of a Kind, and everything we do, we're right next to each other with it. When we build a website from the ground up, search is taken into account right at the design phase from day one, and we've developed kind of a flow where we know that the core things you need, the table stakes, things like title and meta tags and H1s of course, but also how can we specifically craft this experience to target people for that industry? Do we need reviews pages? Do we prefer to have a team page? How should the products be laid out? What should the categories be? And a lot of that can be derived from search history of people.

Michael: So we're always working on that together, and I think that's the thing that gets really hard to do though when teams start working in silos, I guess.

Justin: Even at the level that I have exposure to with BrightEdge, I have the fortune of working with some of the most recognizable brands in the world. I can't tell you what the spread is between well-established, highly mature search teams that integrate with the rest of the organization from brand marketing to R&D, all the way down to a single threaded, just-thought-about SEO should be included in our globally represented brand. There's a significant spread where I see it over a large spectrum continuing to evolve. As search proves itself and becomes more important, I continuously see the head scratch moment, which is, man, we should have done this a couple of years ago.

Justin: Really, search is about creating this foundation for your brand. Google is the thing that's working 24 hours and, as Mike said, does not require you to invest more liquid into in order to perform if you come from an SEO first methodology. And then again, to bring it full circle, when we say an SEO first development methodology, we're developing for an audience. If you truly, as a developer, understand your consumer persona, it might in fact change the way that you actually create this product service or solution for that audience. That's really where search becomes really the art side of the science to it, which is, do you truly understand the persona? And developing for that persona is evolving as we take SEO into consideration. It significantly impacts the way that developers think about the product that they're creating. It almost removes their own personal emotion. Developers are attached to the products that they work on and what they create in this world. And if they think about it not from their own portfolio perspective, but from who are they creating it for, it actually significantly impacts the course towards development.

Eric: Hmm. So what is the exact persona of the target consumer who is searching for like specific keywords that might be related to your website, right? So I'm just trying to understand maybe a little more concretely, but what is an example of something that you've seen to optimize a search result in terms of either a site map or a keyword?

Justin: Sure. A really good example of this, Eric, is for an organization that we have the pleasure of working with called Factory Direct Chemicals. Factory Direct Chemicals is an organization actually out of New York here, where they are a retailer that sells eco-clean products and solutions. Those can be things like drain openers. Those can be things like irrigation supply for agricultural, dust control, all sorts of different things that are normally maybe toxic to environments, but they have eco-friendly solutions for.

Justin: Now, a very interesting niche to try and stand your business up, especially when your domain name, Factory Direct Chemicals, doesn't necessarily describe a very environmentally friendly experience. So right off the bat, they're starting with a little bit of a struggle as to their brand identity and to what their intention is to their consumer audience. Now, short of a migration to an eco version of their brand name, you kind of have to stay within the confines of what that brand currently is. Now, as we engage with that team, we have to advise them as to what are the things that they can do to ultimately improve their recognition for that brand and the products that they currently service. So now it becomes about understanding their consumer audience and understanding their competitive space.

Justin: For example, their competition could be somebody like a Lowe's or an Ace hardware store that carries their products, but ultimately competes against them. They are organizations that resell their service, and just due to sheer authority and size of the organization will compete with them for visibility on the search result page. However, this is the brand themselves, the manufacturer. They have an authority, they have an expertise that does allow for them to perform at the level of all of these other big box retailers. So as we advise them and help them to make decisions, we turn to big box retailers, what are they doing to perform so well? Everything from a technical perspective, all the way up to a new development perspective, all the way to new content that they might be putting out in the world. How do you tell this comprehensive story? That outperformer, maybe it's a big box retailer or maybe it's a blog talking about some of their information, what are those organizations doing to be so successful?

Justin: That advice can come from a multitude of different perspectives. It can be technically fine tuning the mobile experience to perform a little better and to capture more of that mobile audience. It can be redesigning your images and hyper optimizing your calls to action and adding new bottom lines for your email collection list. All of these things are about what does your consumer audience expect from your website and why are they going somewhere else and not to you? You take all that insight, you package that up, and you have hopefully a team on the ground that can execute on that deliverable.

Eric: Maybe this is a question for Mike, but what does the future look like, either in the SEO industry as a whole, or development specifically? Will it be even more JavaScript heavy or, like you said, kind of invest in performance as well as accessibility and come up with a more SEO first approach? And you guys have talked a little bit about that, but, what kind of trends have you been noticing? If we can make some predictions on where this is going, what do you guys think there?

Michael: I don't think the JavaScript heavy apps are necessarily going anywhere. I think that people love the interactivity, the power that they push. Specifically with web apps in particular, I think we're on this steady march towards native app-like performance from web applications, and JavaScript enables things like that. So I don't want to downplay. Some people are very anti-JavaScript. I definitely don't have to be like anti... It also enhances things like keyboard navigation and a whole bunch of other accessibility features can be enhanced with JavaScript.

Michael: So the key thing I think is working to bring the bundle sizes down. We see this every single framework. No matter which one you use, all of them are getting smaller rather than bigger year over year. They're all trying to push out there with giving you more power with less weight, all the way down to a framework like Preact, which is only three kilobytes, as a library dependency. A framework like Svelte that's kind of just seeing the early stages of its takeoff now as a JavaScript framework that really compiles down to just vanilla JavaScript, no library dependencies. So it's showing even more speed games than any of our previous frameworks by taking this compiled approach.

Michael: So we're seeing on the web app side, people are taking this very seriously to try and get the speed up, to try and offer even more accessibility tools inside, like the compile step. Svelte also takes that a step further. And then on the website side, like specifically public facing web pages, we're seeing kind of this rise of static site generators, where people are writing apps using maybe a tool like Gatsby or Gridsome, and it compiles down to static pages. So you're still getting this like server-side rendered experience. Server-side rendering is huge for SEO, but now we're getting just complete statically built pages that serve and then get hydrated by the JavaScript. So we are seeing people take that very seriously where they're like, "I want to get this interactivity in, but I really want to be able to deliver it in a rapid way."

Eric: Yeah, because I don't think front end would be much of a factor here since it's mostly like what the content renders on the page. But I guess if we think about loading a static page from some dynamic server rendered data, then that makes sense, right? Yeah.

Michael: Exactly. Exactly. Like sometimes we do a lot of this with our clients in our web builds, is building something statically is not always an option. They have lots and lots of blog articles, or they want to be able to publish a product immediately. Sometimes it's not an option to do a static build and you have to do server rendered, but there's frameworks like Next.js which we use and Nuxt if you're a Vue person. They work really well and they continue to push the limits of getting the pages served faster dynamically, but also kind of like Next.js is towing this line where you can have static rendered pages and dynamic rendered pages living in the same code base. So we're seeing a lot of this with the rise of serverless technology, is the ability to kind of mix and match these different tools as you need them.

Michael: So I would say the future is definitely really bright. I think in terms of delivering more interactivity with less weight to the page, it's really bright. I think that's going to be the future. There is definitely a little bit of a resurgence to the old way as well, where people are like, "I'm just going to work with vanilla JavaScript and kind of do that." I actually think that that's really important too, like vanilla JavaScript, CSS. I mean, that's how I got my start. It's important to know that and know that you should use that when you don't need a framework. I think that that's the other piece. People are starting to say, "I don't want to see myself as a framework developer. I really want to know how to use all the tools. If I have to use vanilla JS or if that's the right tool for the job, that's what we're going to do, and we're going to keep this site really lightweight." So I think that we're seeing developers expand their toolkit to meet this new kind of demand of both accessibility and speed.

Justin: I also have some ideas for how the world is going to evolve around the web, and not all of mine are about performance and speed. Sometimes brands have to make sacrifices for their identity and ultimately to capture the cutting edge that meets the needs of their environment. For example, one of the first things that comes to my brain is development for augmented reality, which is something that's currently being heavily tested within Google. Native sites, I work with a lot of really well-known makeup brands and a lot of really well-known interior design and contracting brands that are using augmented reality on their sites to help their consumer audience understand what would that experience look like.

Eric: Their landing page is AR?

Justin: Yeah.

Eric: Wow, that's cool.

Justin: Yeah, they all have like a certain custom build that's on their website or a technology that allows them to take their product portfolio and allow organizations to create an experience through a level of engagement. What does the environment expect, right? And then fast forward, now you're in a pandemic. Now your brick and mortar experience slows down, and now you're heavily relying on the development interaction with an SEO first mentality to try and identify, is the risk worth the reward? Is the loss of performance worth the innovation in augmented reality or the innovation in like a tip to tail full media service, like full video, a transcription? Or is it more important for the business to just continuously bleed cash to a page strategy and not evolve your marketing strategy and not really build yourself for a sustainable future?

Justin: So I see development, and Mike and I go back and forth like, is the juice worth the squeeze? All the time. Most of the time it's not really worth the squeeze. But if you think about your consumer and what do they want, I'll use the example of Iron Man's JARVIS., that's not so far fetched for a phone to help you with your entire verbal experience and be the command center of your life, but that relies on a developer having insight into that to have created it for you to find. It's where we're headed and organizations will choose, is it worth the effort a year down the line to be a pioneer in a new level of technology that sets them apart from competition?

Eric: That could be the future too, right?

Justin: Yeah, always.

Eric: Thinking too just about voice and searchability around voice, there are more search engines than just Google. When you think about Alexa and as more of these kind of smart home devices pop up, they could be crawling the web and kind of building their own search algorithms and we'll have to adapt to that. So I think it's really important to think about that as well.

Justin: And Mike, we talk about this sometimes, the urgency that developers should have when creating this stuff, because everything is moving to personalization, right? Your Alexa knows you, probably knows your whole schedule at this point. So that personalization, if I'm a brand, I have very limited opportunity to be part of your minimum requirements for life, like where do you get your morning news from? That brand won you. It's probably the same brand over and over. So developers should have this urgency as they create things and put them out into the world to be part of this minimal need that consumers have. We are all creatures of the same habits and our technology is no different.

Eric: Also, what's really interesting here is that when I walked into this podcast today, I thought we're going to be talking about search, but it's just so much more. It encompasses a lot more and you guys touched on a lot of interesting points. So I think we're at time here, but if you guys have any advice to our listeners as to what kind of tools and publications to look at or play around with, if someone would be interested in learning more about SEO, where would they go? Any resources that come to mind?

Michael: Yeah, yeah. I'll start off. I think the first one I mentioned it a few times is Lighthouse. Lighthouse is probably the single most important tool in a developer's toolkit.

Eric: It's Google owned, right?

Michael: Yeah, it is Google owned. You run it, it kind of gives you a score around speed performance, best practices, accessibility, SEO, as well as if you're doing a progressive web app, it'll help you with that as well. So I think that Lighthouse is kind of like your general web tool. Even if you're building pages that are password protected like dashboards and things like that, Lighthouse will still help you because discoverability is a universal thing. Even if Google won't be crawling that site, those best practices are still going to help you build a better kind of a web UI in general for a product.

Michael: And then just around publications, a lot of things... I think Smashing Magazine is great, A List Apart is great. Those are two publications that I read because I think that they kind of give a little bit of an alternative perspective to the push towards heavier pages, more JavaScript, and give you other ways of thinking about this, thinking about how to keep your pages lightweight and fast, how to use a little more CSS and how to have a little more finesse around your development. I think there's enough resources out there that will teach you how to make your page heavier. There aren't so many publications like those two that'll help you. Especially A List Apart, I think that one really will help you with the design side of things, but also helping you how to keep your pages more performant and provide that alternative perspective.

Justin: Yeah. From my perspective, we'll keep it focused on the developer persona. I obviously work for a technology organization, but that's focused to the marketer. So from the developer perspective, the greatest piece of advice that I can possibly give you is a reverse engineer of what I would tell to an SEO, to a search marketer. Find a search marketer that has development first mentality. There are plenty of them within organizations that are very well-rounded. Even if you find generalists, digital generalists, find a partner within the organization to help you understand what the business's focus is and how you can better create your portion of the technology of the service of the environment to suit the consumer need. The individual that you're really focused on is trying to make partners internally within your organizations or trying to find consultant additives to your private organization that truly have an understanding of search marketing, that truly have an understanding of the consumer that you're trying to target. What this gives you the ability to do is navigate things like demand and navigate things like seasonality and opportunity within the marketplace.

Justin: My greatest piece of advice is not really about a piece of software or technology. It is really about bridging gaps and evangelizing search within your development environment and truly becoming a student of what is currently happening within the thing that has the majority of our attention, which is search engines. In one way, shape or form, they're all part of all of our lives at some moment, and that's an important chasm to cross when you start thinking about how do you develop for tomorrow and how do you create technology that ultimately is incredibly valuable and sustainable as far as our consumers turning them into customers.

Eric: Well, thank you, Mike, thank you, Justin, for your guys' time. I really appreciate this, extremely grateful in having this opportunity to learn so much more about SEO. I'm definitely going to look into some of those resources that you described there. And for those listeners, we'll be able to link those below after this. Thank you for joining us and we hope you have a wonderful day.

Justin: Thank you, Eric.

About code[ish]

A podcast brought to you by the developer advocate team at Heroku, exploring code, technology, tools, tips, and the life of the developer.

Hosted by


Eric Chen

Integration Engineer, Heroku

Eric is a junior software developer at Heroku on the Ecosystem Team. He is passionate about learning, collaboration and fitness.

With guests


Justin Abrams

Senior Solutions Consultant, Global Onboarding Specialist, BrightEdge

Justin has 10+ years in MarTech and FinTech & is co-owner of the digital agency, Cause of a Kind. He specializes in consumer experiences with SEO.


Michael Rispoli

Lead Software Engineer, The Knot Worldwide

Michael is a full stack engineer who specializes in web app dev with a passion for finding novel & creative ways to apply tech to business problems.

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