Bring Digital’s SEO Director, Michael Scowcroft, explains why building solid relationships with your developers is essential when embarking on SEO projects — and how you can craft briefs that help them do their best work.


When I was growing up, I remember my teachers always saying to me: “Developers make the web go round.”

Well, they didn’t really say that, but they probably should have done — because it’s true. Without developers, those successful eCommerce websites would fall into disrepair or wouldn’t even be built in the first place.

Yet developers are too often an afterthought on big SEO projects. For every ambitious SEO manager with a list of weird and wonderful tickets as long as their arm, there’s a team of tired web developers trying to figure out why it’s worth their time when there are a dozen other “priority” projects for them to juggle.

But there is a better way. If you’re considerate of your developers at the beginning of the process, you’ll get far better results in less time and nurture healthy working relationships along the way.

In this blog, I’ll explain how you can better understand your developers and how to craft dev-friendly tickets that get delivered in record time.


Understanding your development team’s perspective

Taking the time to understand what your dev team is dealing with at any one time will pay dividends when it comes to getting their buy-in later. 

Here are three things to consider before approaching your developers with SEO tickets.


1. Development teams are almost always overbooked, regardless of their size

Before I worked at Bring Digital, I spent several years working in-house at a huge eCommerce brand in Manchester. The development team there was vast: in fact, there was an entire floor dedicated to just devs. 

Looking at it, you’d think the resource was infinite. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

When I spoke to the developers and scrum masters, it became clear that the requests for changes scale faster than the development team can grow. They were inundated with requests from every department, each with major projects that hadn’t been correctly scoped or “small” technical fixes that actually unearthed major maintenance jobs.

Remember: even well-resourced development teams will have an overflowing backlog. When preparing tickets for your development team, ask them about their current projects to understand which requests you’ll be competing against.

Development team discussing tickets in a scrum meeting
Developers often have to juggle your requests with those from dozens of other stakeholders.

2. Developers too often have to figure out what’s really a priority

When I worked in-house, I discovered that most dev tickets are labelled, rightly or wrongly, as “high priority” — and clearly haven’t been cross-referenced with requests from other departments.

The development team was then left to decode what was actually a priority in the grand scheme of things: what would have the most significant impact on business goals. Even then, people could pull rank to ensure their project was done before the others.

In a world where everyone is trying to shout the loudest, it pays to be someone your developers know and trust. 


3. Most developers know the basics of SEO

Developers have a LOT to learn. There’s little room left for them to be technical SEO experts between multiple programming languages, databases, and version control.

That said, most developers — especially front-end devs — know the basics of on-page SEO. A good developer will structure their code so search engines can parse them quickly, and tidy code is good for everything.

It’s important to remember this when talking to your developers about your project. Most of the time, you won’t need to dwell on the fundamentals; instead, focus your discussions on slightly more advanced elements like optimised pagination, robots.txt, and XML sitemaps. 

Your job is to know what to do; they can usually figure out the “how”.


How to write a developer-friendly SEO brief

Once you understand what your developers are dealing with daily, you can figure out how to make their lives easier when pulling together a brief. 

Here’s the process we use at Bring Digital to make dev-friendly briefs every time.


1.Summarise the Value, Urgency, and Time to Implement (VUT)

A brief should be like a recipe: you need to know what you’re getting from it before looking through the method. 

A good recipe will say what you’ll end up with (a Victoria sponge cake, for example — a favourite of mine), and the prep time, difficulty, and what you’ll need to complete it. Your SEO tickets must do the same so your developers or scrum masters can neatly categorise your ticket among similar ones.

Photo of a Victoria sponge cake
Like the recipe for a cake, a good tech ticket will should clearly explain the end result, time to implement, and difficulty.

Make life easier by quantifying three things right at the top of your brief:

  • Value — Quantify the impact the work is going to have. In SEO, the value of any activity usually comes down to the incremental traffic it generates, but if that’s unclear, try to connect it to some tangible impact on user behaviour. For example, rather than just saying, “Improve page speed”, you can say, “Improve page speed by 2s, decreasing bounce rate by approximately X%”.
  • Urgency — Be realistic about when the ticket needs to be delivered. Giving a clear deadline and a reason why will help your ticket get prioritised, even if that means it doesn’t go in the very next sprint. Help your developers understand why it’s urgent: for example, if a ticket is necessary for getting a Christmas campaign live, it’s easier for them to understand the negative impact of missing the cut-off date.
  • Time to Implement — You don’t need to be too specific here, but giving a ballpark estimate of the time investment required allows scrum masters to reserve a realistic amount of time to deliver it. Be conservative in your estimates: you’ll leave a good impression if developers often finish your tickets with time to spare.


2. Explain the problem you’re trying to solve

Next, you should explain what the problem is, how you discovered it, and the negative impact it’s currently having on the site.

Explaining how you discovered the problem first allows your developers to try and replicate themselves. That way, they can eliminate anything you have yet to account for that could contribute to the issue. 

I like to include plenty of screenshots to illustrate the issue precisely, with examples of similar sites that have executed a solution I consider ideal. I’ll generally throw in a view of the live site and a snippet of the code with a link to the URL so the developers can jump in and understand it for themselves.


3. Lay out your proposed solution

This is the “method” in your recipe (to continue this strained metaphor). Tell your developer how you’d recommend fixing the problem and why you think that’s the best approach.

Be careful, though: there’s a balance you need to strike between micromanaging your developers and leaving everything open for their interpretation.

The best way to strike this balance is to back your recommendations with citations and data. That way, you give developers a chance to a) understand the theory behind your decisions and b) identify a potentially more efficient way to achieve the same end goal.

If you’re suggesting something based on a recent Google announcement (and let’s face it, half of your tickets will be), include a link to the original developer notes. If there’s a study with new data quantifying the value of a page speed improvement in your niche, add a link to all the unfiltered stats. 


Example ticket

Once you’ve put all of that together, here’s how it might look:

Example of a tech SEO brief from Bring Digital

This will set you up nicely for the next (arguably most important) stage: talking directly to your development team.


How best to share your brief with your development team

The trap I see SEOs most often fall into isn’t actually to do with how they prepare the brief — it’s in how they deliver it.

Formal ticketing systems are excellent for keeping projects organised, but it’s a mistake to drop your brief in there like a postcard and expect perfect results in a few weeks. 

I’ve learned that you need to talk through your brief with your developers to guarantee the best outcomes. You don’t need to do this on a brief-by-brief basis; instead, bundle tickets together that are part of one project (e.g. any ticket to improve site speed) and schedule a call to run through them.

Video call with developers
Talking developers through your initial tickets is an essential step in cultivating mutual understanding and generating new ideas.


The key benefits of speaking directly with your developers

  • You can identify any misinterpretations of the brief — If you simply hand over a brief without taking the time to talk through it, you’ll only discover any gaps in understanding at the end of the process, meaning you’ll have to start again. When speaking with your developers, ask them to summarise the brief as they understand it. That way, you’ll catch any misunderstandings at the beginning of the project so you can quickly course-correct.


  • They can iron out any lazy thinking in the brief itself — Be humble: you might have made the brief, but there’s every chance you’re recommending sub-par solutions. Explain your rationale and ask your developers if they would take a different approach and why. I’ve been pleasantly surprised on countless occasions by the ingenuity of the developers I work with across dozens of businesses and industries; they invariably save a lot of time and effort when given the space to think about the problem.


  • You’ll save time on future projects — Getting face time with your development team allows you to build relationships and mutual understanding that carries over between projects. Over just a few calls, you’ll find that your development team learns to deeply understand your goals and can anticipate the best approaches without you having to spell them out. I’ve even had developers proactively contact me about optimisation opportunities within upcoming deployments I wasn’t privy to, resulting in new pages launched with SEO best practices already built in. 


By growing SEO advocates within the development teams you work with, the health of those sites improves exponentially over time. The long-term gains are worth the short-term pain.


Advice for SEOs without development experience

Speaking with developers with an in-depth understanding of JavaScript and SQL queries is easy enough for SEOs with technical backgrounds. But it can be a scary prospect for SEO strategists from backgrounds like copywriting or PR

If that’s you, here are my three top tips for working with developers:

  1. Focus on the “what”, not the “how” — The quickest way to lose a developer’s interest is to teach them to suck eggs. Instead, spend your time on the calls describing the problem you’ve discovered and ask them how they’ll solve it.
  2. Always look for opportunities to learn more — If you speak to a developer and they talk about something you don’t understand, don’t pretend you do; ask them to explain it. Be honest with them about your level of understanding; it doesn’t undermine your expertise in SEO fundamentals. I’ve sometimes found that asking developers to teach me about concepts essential to their work results in a reciprocal relationship, making them more curious about SEO.
  3. Remember: developers are people, too — Developers may deal with code all day, but they’re not robots; they’re as human as you and me. Connecting over shared interests like games, sports, books, or TV can be the ice-breaker you need for better collaboration.


Need help with your technical SEO projects?

Even a fantastic relationship with your development team will fail to get the results you need if you’re not sure which tickets to draft up in the first place. That’s where we can help.

Whether you need an audit of your existing site or a complete migration plan for your new one, get in touch today to find out how we can help you with your technical SEO projects.