How to Pick an SEO-Friendly CMS

SEO-friendly CMS

Picking a CMS (content management system) platform for your website is a smart idea. And there are many good content management systems to choose from that offer you the ability to update and control content on your website without advanced technical knowledge.

But which CMS should you choose? A PHP platform such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla? Or a .NET solution such as SiteCore or Umbraco? Or perhaps an e-commerce CMS platform such as Magento or Shopify? There are several factors to consider including ease-of-use for technical users / editors, security, customization, and scalability -- the ability to add or update CMS features.

And certainly one of the most important features for most CMS-driven websites is the ability to develop a search-engine friendly product. After all, getting found on search engine result pages (SERPs) is often critical to the success of a business or organization.

Here's my checklist of some of the most important SEO features we insist that the content management systems must have.

On Page / Content SEO

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Search engines learn about your website by indexing the text on your website. Open page SEO includes text that is visible when you look at your website's interface and the stuff 'underneath' your website that's hidden in the programming source code. The ability to control this text is critical. Here is the most important text your CMS needs to give you control over.

Text Control

META Information

Title Tags - This is meta text content that you can see at the top of your browser or in search engine results pages. Search engines place more importance on this text than any other on any given page. A good CMS will limit the number of characters in your title tag to keep them search engine friendly.

Meta Descriptions - You won't see your page description when viewing your web page online. But it will typically show up in search results. A well-written description can make the difference between people clicking on your website versus your competitors' sites. Similar to title tags, a CMS that will limit the number of characters in your description can be useful for search engine optimization efforts.

Meta Keywords - While keywords haven't been indexed by search engines for many years we include them to help our website's internal site search. By placing appropriate keywords on each page this helps the site search return better results. And having these keywords indexed in your website's site search can be very helpful.

Navigation Text

Main Navigation and Sub-navigation - These should typically be made up of HTML text, and not images so that search engines can index this content. The ability to update the navigation text on your website is another key feature that any quality CMS contains.

Sitemap - Most websites should contain a sitemap that shows the key pages and sections of your website. And you should have the ability to customize the text that appears for each page in this sitemap.

On-Page Text

Friendly URLs - Having the ability to control the words that appear in your web page name is also critical for SEO. And we prefer that our web page URL's don't have extensions such as .php or .html or .net. They look cleaner without extensions and usually make for a better user experience because they are easier to read quickly. And if you provide a better user experience on your website this can impact search engine results. Every little bit helps!

Breadcrumbs - These provide users with an intuitive way of knowing where they are in a website. And breadcrumbs are proven to have SEO benefit if the keywords appearing in breadcrumbs accurately reinforce the content on each page. Does your CMS build breadcrumbs automatically? It should.

Image ALT tags - ALT tags are meta text that you won't necessarily see when looking at a web page in normal view. But the text attached to each image in the source code gives search engines a good idea of what the image is about. And adding the ALT tags can also help with accessibility such as screen readers used by the visually impaired. Does your CMS ensure that you are adding ALT tags to any images you add to your content? It should.

Link Title Tags - Are meta text attached to links that help reinforce what the link is about. You can often see these title tags when you put your mouse over a link. Again, properly selecting text to match the content of the page it's being linked to can be helpful for SEO. Your CMS should provide the ability to add link title tags.

Social Media Integration

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More and more search engines are placing emphasis on tracking social media as part of the algorithm used to produce search engine ranking results. If your website or a specific webpage receives a lot of Facebook Likes, Tweets or Google Pluses that can positively impact SEO.

Social Signals - Those little icons / buttons on websites you visit are meant to encourage people to share content. And the search engines track this sharing and clicking. So your CMS needs to be able to accommodate these social signals.

Integrated Social Media Feeds - such as a Facebook feed or "Facepile" or a Twitter feed can encourage social media use and followers. So it's another feature that your CMS needs to be able to offer.

Fresh Content Feeds - such as blogs and event calendars are great ways to boost your search engine visibility. Search engines generally love blogs and other fresh content. And RSS feeds that help distribute this content also make an impact on search engine visibility. So make sure that your CMS has this sort of functionality. And then routinely create new content. It's often said that the new winners in the online world will be those businesses who are 'publishers'.

Technical SEO

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There are also key technical issues that a good CMS needs to address beyond text control.


Site Search - is a great SEO tool and also good for user experience. When people conduct a search on your website's "site search" feature you can see what keywords they are using. This can be helpful to determine if you need to improve the content visibility on your website based upon these searches. A review of these keywords is also extremely helpful for guiding what content and campaigns you use. Does your CMS have an integrated site search … that also works really fast?

Duplicate Content Control - means that if two or more pages might be perceived as been too similar you can designate to search engines which of these pages should be indexed and what pages should be ignored. This is often referred to as canonical programming. Your CMS should also have the ability to signal to search engines that archive sections or category pages that often contain very similar content are evident and coded properly so Google, BING, etc. won't mistake such pages as duplicate.

Page Speed - is absolutely critical to a search engine friendly website. Google has made it very, very clear that it will reward websites that load faster. Your CMS should allow for such optimization for images. Your CMS should have efficiently designed, well-written code that loads quickly. You would be surprised how many CMS-driven websites we see that are full of "bloat code" that increase page load time. Not good!

By the way, if you want to check out how your website performs for both mobile devices and desktop computers add your website address to Google's PageSpeed Insights tool. Your score might surprize you!

Compression - means the ability to optimize website code so that it loads as fast as possible. Using tools to minify JavaScript and CSS files will help with page load speed. If your CMS allows for this type of file compression that's a very good thing.

Rich Schemata Data - refers to HTML tags that can be added to your website to markup pages that can be recognized by search engines that gives them data to make decisions on what your web pages are all about. Take location data for example. If your CMS allows you to add coding to your website that shows your business's physical location in latitudinal / longitudinal programming code this can really help when it comes to your website's search engine visibility for "local search" e.g. searches like "Vancouver hotels" or "Maui pizza".

XML Sitemaps - are sitemaps "underneath" your website that provide search engines with details about your website's page structure and the content contained within images or videos. Think of this as providing search engines with a table of contents for pages, images and videos on your website. The easier you make it for Google, BING, etc to determine what's on your website the more apt your pages, images and videos may be to turn up higher in search results on Google Search, Google Images, or YouTube, for example. Your CMS should provide the ability to manage and update XML sitemaps. By the way, did you know that YouTube is the world's second most popular "search engine"? Hmmm…. food for thought!

Website Access Control

Index / Follow Commands - give you the ability to signal to search engines the content you want to get indexed and what you don't. Your CMS should provide the ability to signal "index" or "noindex" and "follow" or "nofollow" commands for each page on your website. NOTE: You shouldn't typically need to add "index, follow" tags on pages as this is assumed by search engines.

301 Redirect Programming - is a vital feature that your CMS must contain. If you unpublish or delete a web page you must have the ability to let search engines know that links or direct referrals to this page are automatically forwarded to another page.

Broken Links Check Tools - can often be built into a CMS. Getting reporting of internal or external broken links on your website is a huge plus. When you know they are broken you know when and where to fix them. After all search engines don't like websites with broken links.

Updated Copyright - offers a good user experience. You know the copyright that typically appears in the footer of websites you visit? Your CMS should have coding that automatically updates the copyright text on a yearly basis.

W3C Compliance - means adhering to standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. These W3C standards have been developed to encourage coding that will work on a wide variety of browsers on a variety of operating systems. If your CMS can check for this compliance it can ensure that your website will provide users will have a positive experience no matter how they are accessing it.

NOTE: While we encourage strong programming and compliance to standards like W3C we also recognize that very few websites online fully meet such guidelines. We don't sweat it if our sites aren't fully compliant to W3C but we still recognize it's a very good standard to shoot for.

User Experience

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Focusing on User Experience is also Good SEO. Google, in particular, is putting more emphasis on rewarding websites that provide a good user experience with better search engine visibility.

Mobile First - is a critical approach to being online. We've written a lot about our "mobile first" approach when it comes to website development. It should be no surprise for you to learn that the number of online searches made on mobile devices has or soon will bypass the number of searches made on laptops and personal computers. Mobile is the way of the future!

Responsive Web Design

Responsive Design - refers to web development so that websites work on a variety of devices from smartphones and tablets to laptops, personal computers or larger monitors like televisions or larger panels. Responsive websites often shrink or expand and stack or collapse depending on the device the website is being viewed on. Google has made it quite clear that it favours responsive websites. And having a responsive website can positively impact your search engine visibility. So your CMS needs to be able to accommodate responsive website design.

Dedicated Mobile Sites and Apps - are sometimes a worthy alternative to a responsive web platform. In this case, you may have a dedicated mobile website or app designed specifically for a mobile device such as an iPhone or iPad. So does your CMS allow you to manage both your desktop-oriented website and your mobile site or app in the same control panel? It should as this has SEO ramifications.


Analytics 100Tracking your website visitors' behavior, outcomes and experience is also vital to the SEO process. So your CMS needs to accommodate the addition of code and tags that allows the use of analytics tools such as Google Analytics.

Clickstream Data Tools - like Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics allow you to track what's going on with your website traffic. Where does your website traffic come from? What pages do visitors spend the most time on? Where do they leave? How many leads or sales does your website generate?

Qualitative Data Tools - help you determine the "voice of the customer". Did your visitors find what they were looking for? Are they satisfied with their experience on your website? Why did they buy or why did they leave? Tools like Qualaroo or Fluid Surveys can be helpful for you to get vital feedback and insights pertaining to your website's user experience.

Testing Tools - allow you to run "experiments" on your website. A/B testing tools allow you to track things like headlines, button colours, messaging and a lot more. Such tools allow you to optimize your website and significantly improve performance. Visual Website Optimizer or Unbounce for landing pages are two great A/B testing tools.

Your CMS needs to provide the opportunity to add the coding to add all sorts of analytics and testing tools to be effective so that you can improve your website's search engine optimization.

Whew! That's a Lot of Info

WordPress? Drupal? Joomla? How to Pick an SEO-Friendly CMS

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Is that what you are thinking? Well, you're right. And we could probably add more features that your CMS needs to have and address for it to provide you with the ability to continually improve the performance of your website via SEO.

So choose your CMS wisely using the features noted above.

Need help with this? We know selecting a CMS can be a daunting experience. If you need help feel free to contact us … whether you have a question or two or want a (free no-hassle) consultation. We know SEO. We know content management systems. And we're here to help!

Roy McClean
Jan 28, 2014
By Roy McClean

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