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Selecting an SEO Friendly CMS

January 17, 2011 by  

When looking to build a website, the first step is determining which CMS (content management system) you are going to use. Sure, you could code it from scratch, but why waste the effort when you don’t have to?

There are literally hundreds of choices, and it can be hard to determine which is best. Unfortunately, not all content management systems are created equal, and some can actually do more harm than good.

As an SEO, one of the problems I see most often is clients who’ve built their websites on a CMS that does not support SEO best practices, thus making it difficult (if not impossible) to rank for their target keywords.

Let me give you an example. I recently had a client who paid $6,000 to have an ecommerce website built. The web design company, which claims to build SEO friendly websites, built his site on the Adobe BusinessCatalyst CMS. 9 months later, this client came to me wondering why they weren’t ranking on Google, Yahoo or Bing for any of their keywords even though they had paid for an “SEO friendly website”.

When we went into the CMS to determine what was wrong, we found out that BusinessCatalyst didn’t support all the necessary SEO functionality that was needed, and that was why his site wasn’t ranking. That was a pretty expensive oops, and totally avoidable with a bit of research.

To help you avoid making the same mistake, here is a list of the things you want to find in an SEO friendly content management system.

10 Must Have Features

1.      Static, customizable URLs – You should be able to define both the page name and the directory structure for the entire website. Keyword rich and search engine friendly URLs are an SEO must have. If this feature is missing it should be a deal killer.

2.      Support for custom URL redirects (301s, 302s, etc.) – At some point you will change a page name, move it, or change its structure in your site hierarchy. In order to keep the trust and value of any inbound links to that page, you MUST properly redirect it when you move it using a 301 permanent redirect.

3.      Customizable Title tags and Meta tags on Every Page – The Title tag and Meta description tags are important SEO elements, and should be unique for each page. They should always be carefully written, and never duplicated from page to page. Meta keywords tags have no value, and should be left blank.

4.      Custom Image Filenames and Image ALT Tags for Each Image– Search engines look at image filenames and ALT tags for keyword usage to help define the topic of a page.

5.      Support for Rel=Canonical tags and Meta Robots tags on Each Page – These elements help to prevent duplicate content penalties, especially with ecommerce websites.

6.      The Ability to Directly Edit the HTML on ANY Page – This is important for customizing link anchor text, NoFollow tags, heading tags and other HTML elements.

7.      Automatically Generated and Updated Sitemap.xml File – Search engines use this file to find and index all of the pages on your site. It can be a real pain to maintain manually, so the automatic feature is a must.

8.      Support for Blog Integration – Every website needs a blog, since that is the best way to ensure ongoing content growth (which search engines love.)

9.      Clean, Lean Coding – Your CMS should make use of HTML best practices, using clean, current code (validates with W3C), and that loads quickly. Valid, fast loading code is appealing both to visitors and search engines. Avoid code filled with useless JavaScript, unnecessary non-breaking spaces and antiquated tables instead of clean CSS. If possible, find a CMS that supports HTML5.

10. eCommerce Support – Every CMS should support the selling of products, either as a core component or available as an add-on. Even if you don’t need it now, you might want it later, so better safe than sorry.

Nice to Have

1.      Web 2.0 Integration – If you want people to share what they read on Facebook or Twitter or any other social site, you need the ability to integrate buttons to make that sharing easy.

2.      Custom 404 Page – Hopefully your site will never have any 404 errors, but if it does it’s nice to have something show up other than “404 error – page not found”. Create a custom 404 page that lists your most popular pages and perhaps a search box. Keep them on the site.

3.      Automatic Link Management – Whenever you change the name of a page, any links to that page break. While implementing a 301 redirect for the changed page will fix this, you would ideally want to go through the site and change all links to reflect the new page name. Doing this manually sucks, so find a CMS that supports automatic link updating.

With the above in mind, there are really only a handful of options available that don’t require extensive customization or programming skills.

  • WordPress (.org, installed on your own domain/hosting, NOT wordpress.com.)
  • Drupal – a bit more complex than WordPress, but also more versatile.
  • Joomla – I’m personally not a fan, but the features are there.
  • ExpressionEngine – I haven’t used this one, but I’m told it has the above features.
  • MODx – Just recently learned about this one.

There are 2 other CMS options that come pretty close, and those are Weebly and Shopify. Both are easy to use and visually appealing, and have most of the features listed above. Some are missing, but nothing that would prevent you from ranking well.

In my opinion the absolute best CMS for most websites is WordPress, hands down. The best for eCommerce CMS, from what I’ve experienced, is Drupal. Both have massive user communities and plenty of plug-ins and add-ons to expand the functionality of your site.

If you are building your own website, please keep these things in mind. If you are hiring a company to build the site for you, take this list with you and INSIST that each of the 10 must have elements must be present (except #10 if you don’t really need eCommerce functionality.) Regardless of what they try to tell you, stick to the list. If you don’t, you’ll regret it.

Once you have your SEO friendly website built, do it justice and host in on a dedicated IP address with a reputable hosting provider.

Sam McRoberts is the CEO of VUDU Marketing, a Utah SEO company. He has been involved with online marketing since 1999 and has worked with hundreds of clients, from small local businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

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