When you’re looking for a Content Management System or CMS, don’t just accept the first proposal made by your familiar web designer or developer. There are tons of great and easy to use content management systems out there, but most of them aren’t search engine friendly. And if there is one thing you don’t want to be behind on your competitors, it is your online visibility and findability. By presenting your web designer or developer a checklist of requirements the CMS should meet, you can avoid a lot of problems regarding rankings in the search engines up front. Adjusting the CMS later on can cost you a lot of time and money.
I’m going to present to you a list of requirements a search engine friendly CMS should meet. This list is not exhaustive and your additions and comments are more than welcome. Whether the content management system runs on PHP or .NET, whether it needs Apache or IIS, it doesn’t mind, these are some main criteria for a CMS you won’t regret :
1. Search engine friendly URL’s
Make sure the CMS can produce readable URL’s. This means URL’s without parameters. If the URL’s are readable to the user, they also fit for the main search engines. Be sure to use some of your important keywords in the URL structure. Examples :
Bad URL : http://www.mybikewebsite.com/index.php?category=112&product=77〈=en
Good URL : http://www.mybikewebsite.com/sports/mountainbikes/blue-mountainbike.html
Also check the CMS replaces spaces in the URL by dashes (underscores are acceptable, but dashes are preferred).
2. A customizable title tag for every single page
One of the most important factors in SEO are unique titles for every single page. Those titles are not really something your site’s visitors look at, but they are very important because the link people click on in the SERP’s contains the same text as your title tag. Unique titles also help your site stay away from duplicate content issues.
Make sure you add important keywords to your title tag and present them with a nice call-to-action. Do not stuff your title tags with keywords, use a nice and clear indication about what they will find when clicking your result in the SERP’s.
3. A customizable description tag for every single page
Unlike the title, visitors of your website will never notice the description you added to a page (unless they start checking the code). But what it has in common with the title tag is that the page description is showed in the SERP’s. Use keywords, don’t stuff it and use a nice description of what a visitor might find on the page.
You might expect a customizable keyword tag in an SEO friendly CMS, but keyword tags can be almost ignored nowadays. If you really have too much time, you can put an effort in filling your keyword tag, but since the weight of keywords has come close to zero, you are better off spending your time on other things.
4. A permanent redirect of the home page
Your index or home page should be redirected to your domain name to avoid duplicate content and make your home page the most prominent page on your website. Most external links to your website will point to www.yourdomain.com. If your internal link structure links to the home page with www.yourdomain.com/index.php, your link juice will not be distributed the way you want it to be. So redirect www.yourdomain.com/index.php to www.yourdomain.com using a permanent redirect (301 !).
5. Every page has a unique URL
All content should be reachable through 1 URL and 1 URL only. If two different URL’s offer the same content, you can get into trouble with duplicate content and you are not using the full potential of your website. So every page should have its unique URL.
6. A permanent redirect of domain name aliases
If you have multiple domain names that all point to the same website, pick the best and use it everywhere. The other ones need to be redirected using a permanent redirect (301 !). See if you can define a base URL in the CMS.
7. Crawlable navigation
The search engine bots or crawlers must be able to follow the links in your navigation. This means :
- DON’T use navigation based on sessions
- DON’T use navigation based on cookies
- DON’T use navigation in Flash (can look nice, but the bots don’t follow the links)
If you want your site to be indexed in its entirety, make sure every page can be indexed and your navigation doesn’t prevent the bots from crawling every page on your website.
8. Configurable error pages that return the right status code
If a request is made to a no longer existing page, when an error occurs on your server or when your CMS messes up, it should present the visitor a customized error page. This prevents the visitor from leaving the website and offers the possibility to continue browsing your site. Also make sure your CMS returns the right status code. For example a request for a non-existing page should return a 404 status code.
9. Possibility to automatically generate a sitemap
Every page on your site should be reachable within three clicks (for usability as well as for the search engines). In the eyes of the search engines the deeper a page is buried in a website (the more clicks you need to reach it), the less important it is and the lower it will rank. By adding a link to your sitemap on the home page, every page on the website can be reached in 3 clicks and even the less important pages get a boost in importance.
When your site starts to grow and hundreds of pages are added, it might become difficult to monitor and keep up with your sitemap. That’s why a good CMS offers the possibility to generate a sitemap and you have one thing less to keep an eye on.
10. Possibility to work with templates
You create one or more search engine friendly templates with clean HTML-code (use div’s instead of tables…), implement them in the CMS and from then on every extra page you add will be search engine friendly and consist of nice code. Templates can also spare you a lot of time.
That’s it ! Suggestions and additions welcome !
If a CMS is presented to you that doesn’t seem to meet all requirements in the standard version, don’t throw it away immediately. Some great content management systems can be made search engine friendly by installing and configuring the right plugins or add-ons. For example Typo3 is a beautiful, stable and open source CMS that can be made perfect for the search engines by installing some free extensions (RealURL, metatags, …).