I was recently asked by a web editor contact of mine to give him a bit of advice about his company’s new website. When I came to look at the site, I was shown their CMS (content management system) that had been written in-house. CMSs are notorious for not being very SEO-friendly but this particular one was especially bad. When I advised my client on how to go around optimising the various pages, it turned out there was no way for him to perform even the most basic SEO tasks from within the CMS itself. The title and description tags, for example were set site-wide, rather than per page and had obviously been hand-coded somewhere down the line. There was no other person in the company whose job was to optimise pages and the company’s programmer was too busy to hand-code HTML tags into hundreds of pages. I ended up having to give my client a list of changes his programmer needed to make in the software before any SEO work could be done on any scale.
This example is of an extreme case, but the sad truth is that most CMSs are not geared towards search engine optimisation.
Unfortunately, it seems most programmers in charge of writing CMS have little or no knowledge of good SEO practices and even the basics are often neglected. This often means that many content-rich pages virtually go to waste because trivial technical hitches make them less search-engine friendly.
There are lots of CMS out there: free, cheap and expensive. Some are obviously going to be better than others and some of them now have SEO plugins written for them by people with a better understanding of online marketing.
Whichever option you choose to go with, there are some things you need to keep in mind if you want your site to stay competitive as far as SEO is concerned.
Here are four very important things you want your CMS to have:
- Complete control of each page’s SEO-related meta tags: title, description and keywords – I’ve seen quite a few CMS that only offer an overall meta tagging facility, which could land your site in duplicate content hell.
- A friendly URL option – in the earlier days of SEO, people used to say that if your pages have dynamic URLs, they wouldn’t get picked up by the search engines. In practice, the search engines generally index even the weird dynamic URLs generated by the CMS, but if you want to make full use of your URL structure, you want to have some nice keywords in there, rather than random strings. Many CMS now offer a URL rewriting option that takes care of this.
- The ability to create an SEO-friendly internal linking structure with straightforward text links. Generally speaking, the flashier the navigation, the less likely it is to be SEO-friendly.
- The ability to keep spiders away from pages with duplicate content - the most common occurrence of such pages is in the various blogging platforms' archive pages. With so many small businesses using such platforms to create websites, this feature is an important one to look out for. Many blogging platforms now have plugins that solve this problem quite elegantly.
The example above highlights the need to start thinking about SEO even before the site itself is written. If you don’t, someone in your company may well end up getting the dirty job of having to go back and optimise thousands of pages one by one later on.