A Drupal SEO Expert and a Drupal Developer Hit the Mat

Responding to Drupal developer pushbacks to Drupal SEO requirements
two boys in a jujistu match on a mat

[Photo credits: Ben Finklea, Jan 2017. Photos captured from iPhone video shot at Texas Grappling Challenge Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Cedar Park, Texas.]

My Drupal developer friends and I (like any friendship) don’t always see eye-to-eye. While we have much in common—we both want stylish, high-performing websites—in some areas our goals are different. This can create the appearance of conflict. However, after working through the issues (or hitting the mats, as they say in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), we can find common ground and mutual respect.

In Drupal 8 SEO, I lay out a list of modules that should be installed on your Drupal website to enhance SEO. I wrote this book for marketers and provide the step-by-step details you need to increase Google ranking, website traffic, customers, and revenue. While most of these activities can be completed without a developer, there are times when more expertise is needed.

Recently, one of my readers contacted me with a problem: his developer was pushing back on SEO recommendations with “I don’t see anything here that looks critical to your SEO activities.” Respectfully, I disagree. I’ve done hundreds of Drupal SEO projects and have the results to prove that these methods work.

Who’s right? You decide. Read on as a Drupal Developer and the Drupal SEO Guy spar. This blog post is based on a real email exchange and includes pushbacks and recommendations for one particular project.

Common Drupal 8 SEO Pushbacks: “You don’t really need it.”

Drupal Developer: The Admin Toolbar is totally not related to SEO. If there is something you can’t find, just use the “Go To” link on the toolbar and type to search admin pages.

Ben Finklea, the Drupal SEO Expert: I agree that this is not *necessary* for SEO. It's necessary to make Drupal easier to use, though. The problem with using the toolbar is that it's difficult to know what to search for if you don't know Drupal well. In fact, I'm experienced in Drupal 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and still don't always know where to look. I use the Coffee module when I know exactly where I want to go and Admin Toolbar when I don't.

Drupal Developer: I’m skeptical of the benefits of using RDF UI.

Ben: RDF UI simply exposes the existing RDF. I have used RDF with much success. Every product you have on your site should have this. You can display ratings, reviews, price and more in google listings. It's amazing. The added product information gives your search listing more presence and searchers are more likely to click through to your website.

Drupal Developer: Linkit and D8 Editor Advanced Link are helper modules and aren’t relevant.

Ben: Internal linking is important for SEO. The only reasons you don’t need these modules is if you will never publish content on your site, never write blog posts or articles, or never create special listing pages for products or promotions. These modules make linking easier and more accurate. Linkit makes it easy to link on important keywords across the site. Is it necessary? No. But with Linkit, you reduce the time spent adding those links to your body content. D8 Editor Advanced Link prevents a problem that new sites won’t have right away. As sites grow and age, content is moved around (in Drupal parlance: the path is changed) and that breaks links and causes redirects. Redirects are bad for SEO. This module makes sure that links are formed properly so that they don't break even when content is moved.

Drupal Developer: Creating a sitemap isn’t useful for our platform. We don’t want to expose our human visitors to this.

Ben: Sitemaps can be very useful for bots and spiders (although not all of them use it), and it can also be helpful to site visitors if configured properly. I wouldn't put thousands of products on it. Instead, put your product category pages, taxonomies, tags, etc.

Drupal Developer: Scheduler isn’t relevant unless you feel the need to put front page callouts on a rotation.

Ben: This module works great for product promotions and blog posts, or a product released on a certain day or time. Leave it off until you need it.

Drupal Developer: AdvAgg is relevant to performance but not SEO specifically. I don’t think it makes a perceivable difference for users on high-speed connections but could save some seconds for mobile users on slow connections.

Ben: Speed is very important to great SEO results and the user experience. I talk about speed and Google SEO in this article: How to Improve Drupal 8 Website Performance. But you don’t have to take my word for it, Google has indicated the speed matters in this blog. You can also learn more at moz.com.

Google has also placed high significance on quality mobile interactions. That’s not surprising given that mobile devices have overtaken desktops as the primary search device.

“Mobile has grown so fast that it’s now the leading digital platform, with total activity on smartphones and tablets accounting for two-thirds of digital media time spent…”

Source: comScore

Having a slow page speed can cause higher bounce rates and lower average time on page. It can also mean that search engines crawl fewer pages which can lower your SEO results.

Common Drupal 8 SEO Pushbacks: “It’s too much work.”

Drupal Developer: The Easy Breadcrumb module would require a rework of our theme and will cause too many problems.

Ben: If you have a budget to make the changes, I highly recommend it. Easy Breadcrumb helps with SEO especially when you tag the breadcrumbs using Schema.org's RDF or JSON-LD. This improves your listing in Google by displaying the breadcrumb instead of the URL. Your search results will be clearer and should get more searchers clicking on your links.

Breadcrumbs are especially good for users on e-commerce sites. This article by BigCommerce has a great explanation of the importance of using breadcrumbs. According to the article, breadcrumbs not only improve click-through rates but also make it easier for search engines to crawl the site.

Drupal Developer: Yoast SEO makes sense. But keep in mind it depends on the Metatag module which takes a long time to configure.

Ben: Yes, Yoast SEO requires the Metatag module. Configuring it is indeed very time-consuming. It takes me about a day per site and I’m a pro.

Drupal Developer: The Metatag module can be used to add these page header tags, but I can do better. The Metatag module lets you dynamically add tags based on entity content but those tags can be added through our theme layer as well. I can program the website to use meta tags well outside the capability of the metatag module.

Ben: Metatags are mission critical. It's much more than just a tag. It's used by search engines, social sites, crawlers, browsers, etc. in a lot of ways. For example, the description tag is what shows up as the description in a Google search. The OpenGraph image tag determines the image that Facebook will show when a product is shared on their site. Twitter tags have a similar function.

In your past, presumably you tried it and it didn't work so you programmed a different solution. It’s possible your products are complicated and can't use straightforward Drupal SEO methods, but I can't really say so I'll withhold comment for now.

Generally speaking, unless it’s absolutely necessary, don't go out of your way to recreate functionality that a module already has. Other modules work well with Metatag—like the Realtime SEO for Drupal and the Schema Metatag module.

(Psst...Would you like to learn more about these and other Drupal 8 SEO modules? Check out Drupal 8 SEO.)

Drupal Developer: The Drupal AMP module would require a new mobile theme, so this is not one you should install.

Ben: AMP is more for news sites, so if you don’t have a lot of news, skip it. However, if you want your news to be top-of-page for Google, make sure this fits with your theme.

Common Drupal 8 SEO Pushbacks: “I can do this, but...”

Drupal Developer: Yes, we can do this but W3C Validator is more or less a one-time thing, not something that needs to be run regularly since we won’t be doing regular markups.

Ben: I agree and good call. Do this on the W3C site instead of using the module. As of right now, the module doesn't work like it should. I've posted a support ticket to Drupal about this but it hasn’t been resolved.

Drupal Developer: Search 404 sounds like it might be useful.

Ben: Search404 helps users and bots find content that has moved or find a relevant page if it has been deleted. As products go away and are replaced with new ones, you don't want to strand your visitors.

Drupal Developer: Diff gives you a view into what has changed between revisions, so this is just a content management aid. If you want you can install it, but revisions are not supported for products, promo boxes, brands, collections or mini-sites so I say don’t bother.

Ben: I use Diff to identify revisions that may have caused an increase or decrease in website traffic, but I didn’t know that it doesn’t work on products.

And the Winner Is...

Okay, shake hands–the match is over. Who won? You did! When the developer and I are on the same page, we can agree on most things. We just need to get our wires uncrossed and work out a solution that makes everyone happy. Sometimes that means I need to know more about your specific installation, and other times, the developer needs a little more education on Drupal SEO.

If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend getting Drupal 8 SEO to learn more about my recommendations. While the book is written for marketers, if you are a developer, you may find it useful too. If you have any questions about how your Drupal SEO should be set up, give me a call.