Can your CMS do SEO?


SEO is and always will be important, regardless of how loudly the “SEO is Dead” crowd howls. Because SEO is important, your CMS's ability to do SEO matters. If you haven't thought much about the convergence of SEO and CMS, this article will alert you to this crucial touchpoint, and give you insight into how your CMS may be performing in the area of SEO.

The Importance of SEO

You may not be an SEO professional, and that's fine. But that doesn't mean that SEO is any less a part of your job, regardless of whether you're a designer, a developer, a coder, or a content writer. If you work on, in, or around a CMS, you automatically play a role in SEO.

How well you do SEO doesn't merely depend on your knowledge of the SEO field. It also depends on the quality of your content management system. Some CMSs make SEO really difficult, even contributing to damaging SEO practices. Other CMSs, by contrast, were built with SEO in mind, making the process simple and rewarding.

You use a content management system, and you want great Google rankings. It should be fairly obvious that you want your CMS to facilitate improved SEO. Does your CMS make it easy, or are you ruining your SEO due to your CMS?

What SEO functions should your CMS be able to do?

Let's assume that your CMS does what every CMS should do — help you create content. Basic onsite SEO best practices include using good keywords and synonyms and maybe sprinkling in a few links and anchor texts. Beyond that, your CMS should allow you to do the following.

  • Create intuitive navigation. Simple site navigation allows you to optimize a user's experience, which improves search engine rankings. Navigation is important because it influences how long visitors stay on the site, whether or not they convert, and how your site gets indexed by the search engines. Make sure your CMS provides an easy way to simplify, restructure, or otherwise organize your site navigation.
  • Easily create links. Every page on your site should have a link to some other page on your site. The goal of inbound links is to increase the time spent on your site. Most CMS editors contain quick-and-easy ways to insert links and customize the anchor text. If your CMS requires you to code every link by hand, it creates an unnecessary SEO obstacle.
  • Keep your Robot.txt clean. Most content editors stay away from messing with a site's robots text file (Robot.txt). This file, which contains important instructions for the search engines, is crucial. Your CMS should give you access to this file in order to ensure that the site is cleanly indexed, and to remove any disallow or nofollows, which can corrupt a search bot's attempt to index the page.
  • Easily edit file and image information. Inserting a file or image into a site is standard practice on most sites. Less common, however, is naming these images with search engine friendly names. Your CMS should enable you to upload custom-named images, and then change the alt text and tags on the image for SEO power.
  • Create titles and descriptions. Two of the most important SEO features on a page are title and description. Some proprietary CMSs make it impossible, believe it or not, to change this information. Still others make editing it a chore. Either way it's a major strike against SEO. Make sure that your CMS allows you to add page titles and meta descriptions for every single page.
  • Use headline tags. Although WYSIWYG editors are nice, they sometimes create a hurdle for strategic use of header tags. These HTML tags, known by their abbreviations (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are helpful search engine signals, notifying the crawler what's important on your page. The presence of keywords in headline text can improve your SEO. Any CMS should allow easy editing of the header tags.
  • Customize URLs. Often, a CMS creates new pages with default URLs that are pure gibberish and absolutely horrific for SEO. If something like appears in the search bar when you create a page, a red flag should go up. This is a no-no for SEO. Your CMS should give you control over the URL, to ensure that it contains readable text and relevant keywords.

This may seem like a tall order for a CMS, but it's not out of reach. Some CMSs come with built-in power tools for such SEO customizations. Others, however, require labyrinthine paths for editing this information, or involve complicated code editing, which may be out of reach for the average content creator.

When you go back to work on your CMS today, find out how easy it is to do some of the functions above. If you're in trouble, you may want to think about installing plugins or extensions on your open-source CMS to improve your SEO editing. You may even need to consider a new CMS.