More threads by Ray Litvak

Jul 20, 2012
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Being the owner of a Local SEO Copywriting and SEO services company I have always wondered if it was incumbent upon me to learn/know HTML/CSS/WP and all the other code/platforms that it takes to build/manage an effective website. Thus far, I've been focusing on the business side of things (lead generation, sales, client retention/satisfaction) whilst working in tandem with my clients' web designers/developers. I am curious to know if other Local SEO's are in the same boat. As I move my business more towards Local SEO Services I feel that I should get deeper under the SEO hood and thus get a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes in addition to the fact that I hate relying on other people (web designers/developers) to do what needs to be done in a timely and proper manner.
Thanks in advance for those that reply.
Hi Ray,

My background originally was in physics and real time interactive simulation (videogames) so when I first started getting into SEO years ago, I was also neck deep in trying to offload a fast fourier transform onto the GPU to try and speed up my water simulation. In other words, I tended to look at the technical side and picked up that stuff relatively quickly. I wouldn't say I'm an expert at it, but I know my way around html and CSS, PHP, MySql, even a bit of python (that I've since mostly forgotten).

So, here's the other side of the fence: was that investment of my time worth it?

Your most valuable offering if you're going to be a local SEO consultant, is your roadmap, and your ability to diagnose and troubleshoot. There are a lot of tasks that need to be done (troubleshooting GMB profiles, backlink building, citation cleanup, review building, onpage optimization, keyword tracking and other ways of measuring progress, potentially relationship building with industry editors and other backlink opportunity gatekeepers, etc) and html/css is a pretty small piece of that puzzle. Even if you learn the basics, you're going to encounter clients using Wix, clients using Joomla, clients using some horrendous mess they cobbled together themselves, etc. Knowing just enough to think you can do it yourself is a good way to waste your time, and sell them a subpar job that's going to embarrass you if they ever ask someone really in the know for an opinion on the quality of your work. if you're a kick ass local SEO but you did some shoddy coding for them, it's going to make them doubt your work as a whole if they hear that from someone they trust. It's not just about design after all, good code is elegant, easy to update, etc. For modern responsive sites, that means getting up to speed with some of the frameworks out there to help, like bootstrap, sass, compass, and so on. Getting on your A game is going to be a real learning curve, and you're going to need a mentor to get your work not just functional, but clean. Coding conventions are a mess on the internet compared to what you see in a 'real' dev studio... lot of self taught people doing 'what works'. Don't be that guy.

If I could go back and skip all that stuff and focus elsewhere, and found a good outside resource to fill in the technical areas for me, I would have saved myself a lot of time. Trying to be a jack of all trades is, in my opinion, a good way to limit your income, or at least slow down your growth. On the plus side, if you did put in the time, you'll at least be in a better position to assess someone else's skill when you are ready to expand.

All that said, I do think it's worth it to know the basics, and some of that can at least superficially look pretty technical. Google Analytics referral tracking for example can be thrown off if you have an http site, and if you don't know a little bit about how that information is passed in the first place, it might seem like an unintuitive random fact. The actual technical stuff you should spend time learning though probably isn't html/css.

tl;dr - unless you actually like being a jack of all trades and want to add web design onto your list as a service (after hundreds of hours of learning curve that you shouldn't do on a client's dime + the effort of finding a mentor to look over your work and help you get up to speed) you should stick to your core value you're bringing to the table: SEO. It's perfectly fine to tell a client with an unacceptable website that they'll need to get it fixed, but that that's not something you do. You should have a referral network built out though, so you can point clients towards a good resource.
Hey James,
And that's kind of what I thought.
I see the 'Local SEO Expert' more and more as the maestro...meaning he/she doesn't have to play every instrument; just has to know how and when they work together. In other words, focus on the stuff that makes the SEO and the client $$.
Yep, totally agree with James here: "Trying to be a jack of all trades is, in my opinion, a good way to limit your income, or at least slow down your growth. On the plus side, if you did put in the time, you'll at least be in a better position to assess someone else's skill when you are ready to expand."

I decided years ago I wanted my expertise to be in Google My Business and recently in MapMaker because I realized that was the area and tool that was most powerful that would make the biggest impact on my clients. I know a bit about web design and I think there are essentials you have to know to do SEO, but you don't have to know everything. I could build a Wordpress site using a template - I could not build one from scratch.

IMO, there are far more web designers out there than people that really get Local SEO so I chose my path accordingly. It is essential that I have great web designers I rely on though. Couldn't do my job without them.
I definitely think it behooves you know enough to be conversant (helps solve issues, migrate clients, hire, etc.) but I think it is best to hire or contract someone who is an expert. There's only so much time in the day and becoming a great web designer won't have the greatest effect on your clients' visibility.
I think you absolutely should learn HTML and CSS. Knowing those skills will help you not only communicate more effectively with developers to explain exactly what you want, but it will help you diagnose and fix critical site issues.

No one said you have spend the time building sites from scratch, but you should know how to do it. Can I build a site from scratch? Sure, but it will take me 10x as long to get to the same place as a full time developer. I'd rather spend that time doing something more productive with my time, and partner up with someone who can design a site quicker than I can.

If you don't know HTML/CSS and don't have the time to learn, then definitely partner with someone who does. You don't need to spend all your time building websites, but you definitely need to understand how they work so you can explain to others how to optimize/set them up for success.

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