Jonathan Saipe

An SEO Friendly CMS: 10 Factors To Consider

26 April 2009, Jonathan Saipe

When building a website, it’s pretty much a given that it’ll be deployed using some sort of content management system (CMS) or blogging platform allowing the publisher or site owner to easily amend the website content.
Content management systems come in all flavours from open source to industrial-strength fully licensed software.

And when it comes to CMS support for SEO campaigns, they all vary in terms of quality.

If SEO is a key marketing strategy within your organisation, then your choice of CMS clearly needs to meet your SEO needs by way of an “SEO friendly CMS”.

Let’s look at the key considerations when choosing an SEO friendly CMS:

1. Metadata
Having manual control over your site metadata is a crucial part of any SEO campaign. Whilst your website might be dynamically publishing your page title tags, meta description and meta keywords, your CMS should offer you manual control over that content as well.

2. URLs and Category Management
Ideally you want to choose CMS that publishes search engine friendly URLs where category or file names contain plain English keyphrases separated by hyphens (yes I know this blog post uses underscores – we’re working on it!).
Something like: http://www.emarketeers.com/training-courses/mobile-marketing or preferable to http://www.emarketeers.com/course.php?courseid=123ABC

The latter contains little in the way of searchable keywords or keyphrases.

An SEO friendly CMS will also let you modify the category or directory names that appear in the URL without causing broken links on your site.

3. Link Anchor Text
Link anchor text is the text that appears in hyperlinks and is an important aspect to link building – whether internal or external backlinks.

Whilst it is standard for content management systems or blogging platforms to enable editors to create and control links within body text, not all will give you anchor text control over your navigation as some content management systems will match the anchor text with the target page name which isn’t necessarily the the most popular search term.

4. Link Validation
Before you launch a website, we recommend that you carry out a series of link validation tests. Broken links not only affect the human journey throughout a site, but they also hinder efficient spidering and indexing from search engines.

Link checkers such as the W3C Link Checker are great to use, but it would be good see a similar tool embedded with your content management system.

A good CMS will also allow you to change your folder or page link names and allow those changes to cascade throughout the site without causing broken links. MODx CMS does this by giving each page or folder an ID number within MODx. Any changes to the anchor text or location of that page (if moved), does not affect the ID number and hence maintains the integrity of the link on the website.

5. Sitemap Pages and XML files
Your CMS should be able to dynamically generate an HTML site map page. Ideally you should also have control over the anchor text in your links (see point 4).

Your content management system should also be able to dynamically generate an XML sitemap file in accordance with search engine standards. Some content management systems will ping search engines such as Google every time the sitemap is updated. An example piece of software that performs this function can be found at http://www.xml-sitemaps.com.

6. ALT Attributes
If your CMS or blogging platform doesn’t allow you to add ALT (alternative) attributes to your embedded files such as images, I’d reconsider your choice of software.

It’s one of the most basic functions that the simplest WYSWYG editors or blogging platforms will offer, and it not only assists your search engine optimisation, but it also improves your accessibility compliance.

7. 301 Redirects
It would be nice to see a CMS offering content editors the ability to set up 301 redirects (permanent redirects) without having to edit your .htaccess file or have access to the web admin control panel.

Furthermore, it is important to set up 301 redirects from folders with extensions such as index.html or default.html that redirect to the root. This helps overcomes duplicate content issues where more than one URL contains exactly the same content.

8. Custom 404 Pages
Ideally your CMS should allow you to create a custom error 404 page i.e. the server code for “this page has moved or is missing”.

When moving pages or migrating a website you may find that the search engine index contains URLs of old pages that don’t exist any more. Having a customised error 404 page that points users in the right direction can prevent you losing essential traffic to your website.

You might also want to consider a customised error 500 (server error) page, although I’d say that the former is more important.

9. PageRank Sculpting
Google PageRank sculpting is the technique of manually adding “no follow” tags to on-page links in order to gain manual control over Google PageRank within a site.

In order to carry out PageRank sculpting, your CMS should enable you to add “no follow” tags to all links contained within a page, whether these are part of your internal navigation, body copy/image links or external links.

10. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is one factor that can affect your chances of search index inclusion. If substantive amounts of content are duplicated either within your site/domain or outside of it, it can spell trouble with index inclusion.
A nice to have within a CMS would be a duplicate content checker similar to that found at Copyscape.

I appreciate that some of the above are more essential than others; equally this isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list, but hopefully this article should highlight some of the essentials when choosing an SEO friendly CMS.

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