Does Google Need Me to be a Programmer to Succeed at SEO?


My students often inquire into what kind of technical skills are necessary to do well at search engine optimization. They may be especially intimidated because I might have more technical skills than the average SEO practitioner, as a Distinguished Engineer at IBM. Do you need to be a programmer to succeed at SEO? I usually answer "It depends." But in most cases, the answer is no.

If you think about what tasks you undertake in search marketing, they are more often about marketing than about search. Keyword research doesn’t need any programming skills. You need to know what your customers are searching for, and you need to be willing to brainstorm, to look at analytics, keyword research tools,and competitive sites to learn more. No messy coding needed.

Building quality content and attracting links and social media activity is also decidedly low-tech. No matter how much Java or PHP you know, it doesn’t help. You need the ability to create high quality content that attracts the attention of others, and no software can do that for you.

But there are a couple of areas where programming skills can help:

  • Infrastructure. If the spiders are not indexing your content, you probably have some kind of technical issue bedeviling your site architecture–anywhere from incorrect redirects to overuse of Flash to poorly-formed URLs to JavaScript links…the list goes on and on. You don’t literally need to be a programmer to fix these problems, but it certainly helps.
  • Dynamic content. If your site is generated programmatically, where software uses templates and databases to construct your site on the fly, being a programmer can be very helpful–sometimes necessary–to optimizing your site for search. Even folks using very polished tools such as WordPress need to modify the underlying PHP code once in a while. You can get away without being a programmer, but once in a while you’ll be stuck.

Now, so long as you have the budget to pay a technology person to take on the tasks you can’t do, you will never need technical skills. But if you are on a low budget, you might need to beg or borrow some help to optimize your site every once in a while. Every year that goes by, however, there are fewer and fewer reasons for technical skills in SEO, but they do remain.

So, if you have no programming skills, don’t worry. You’ll probably be fine.

Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

Mike Moran
Mike Moran is a veteran digital marketing and technology consultant who serves as a Senior Strategist for Converseon, a leading digital marketing agency based in New York.   Mike writes for the Biznology® blog, as well as a regular column for Search Engine Guide.
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