I met with a client who has been struggling with their search engine rankings. As I reviewed their Content Management System (CMS), I looked for some basic best practices that I could not find. Before I provide a checklist to verify with your CMS provider, I should first state that there is absolutely NO reason for a company NOT to have a content management system anymore.
A CMS will provide you or your marketing team to change your site on the fly without the need of a web developer. The other reason why a Content Management System is a necessity is most of them automate best practices for optimizing your site.
The SEO purists may argue with some of the features I discuss here because they may not directly attribute to ranking. I’d argue with any Search Engine Guru, though, that search engine ranking is about user experience – not search engine algorithms. The better you design your site, invest in great content, promote that content, and engage with your users… the better your site will perform in organic search rankings.
The mechanics of how a search engine crawler finds, indexes, and ranks your site haven’t changed much over the years… but the ability to attract visitors, have those visitors share your content, and have the search engines respond has demonstrably changed. Good SEO is great user experience… and a content management system is critical to your success.
Content Management SEO Features
Every Content Management System should have or be implemented with the following features:
- Backups: Backups and SEO? Well… if you lose your site and content, it’s pretty difficult to rank. Having a solid backup with incremental backups as well as on-demand, off-site backups and restores are extremely helpful.
- Breadcrumbs: If you’ve got a lot of information hierarchically organized, the ability for users (and search engines) to understand that hierarchy is critical to how they view your content and index it properly.
- Browser Notifications: Chrome and Safari now offer integrated notifications with operating systems. When someone lands on your site, they are asked if they’d like to be notified when the content is updated. Notifications keep visitors coming back!
- Caching: Each time a page is requested, a database lookup grabs the content and puts together the page. This takes resources and time… time that hurts your search engine optimization. Getting a CMS or host with caching capabilities is key to speed up your site and reduce the resources required of your server. Caching can also help you when you get an onslaught of traffic… cached pages are easier to render than uncached pages. So you can get many more visitors than you can without caching.
- Canonical URLs: Sometimes sites are published with a single page having multiple paths. A simple example is your domain might have http://yourdomain.com or http://yourdomain.com/default.aspx. These two paths to the same page may split the weight of incoming links where your page isn’t ranked as well as it could be. A canonical URL is a hidden piece of HTML code that tells the search engines which URL they should be applying the link to.
- Comments: Comments add value to your content. Just be sure you can moderate comments as there are a ton of bots out there spamming CMS platforms to attempt to generate links.
- Content Editor: A content editor that allows H1, H2, H3, strong and italics to be wrapped around text. Image editing should allow ALT elements to be modified. Anchor tag editing should allow for TITLE element editing. It’s unfortunate how many CMS systems have poor content editors!
- Content Delivery Network: A content delivery network is a network of computers that are geographically located that store static resources locally… allowing pages to load a lot quicker. As well, when a CDN is implemented, your page requests can load assets from your web server AND your CDN at the same time. This reduces the load on your web server and increases the speed of your pages significantly.
- High-Performance Hosting: Speed is everything when it comes to search engines. If you’re trying to save a few bucks on hosting, you’re absolutely destroying your ability to get indexed and ranked well on search engines.
- Image Compression: Images are often exported into unnecessarily large files. Integrating with an image compression tool to reduce the file size and resize images for optimal viewing is critical.
- Integrations: The ability to extend the functionality of your content with lead generation, email marketing, marketing automation, social media marketing, and other platforms that help you acquire and retain traffic.
- Lazy Loading Images: Search engines love long content with a lot of media. But loading images can slow your site to a crawl. Lazy loading is a means to load images while the page is scrolled. This allows the page to load much faster, then only display images when the user reaches its location.
- Lead Management: After prospects have found your article, how do they communicate with you? Having form designers and a database to capture leads is a must.
- Meta Descriptions: Search engines typically capture the meta description of a page and show that under the title and link in a search engine results page. When no meta description exists, search engines may grab text randomly from the page… a practice that will lower your click-through rates on your links on search engines and may even hurt your page’s indexing. Your CMS should allow you to edit the meta description on each and every page of the site.
- Mobile: Mobile search is exploding in usage as smartphones and tablets are adopted throughout. If your CMS doesn’t allow for a responsive website utilizing HTML5 and CSS3 (best option)… or at least a redirect to a well-optimized mobile template, you simply won’t be ranked for mobile searches. Additionally, new mobile formats like AMP can get your content ranked well for searches made from Google devices.
- Pings: When you publish your content, the CMS should automatically submit your site to Google and Bing without any intervention. This will initiate a crawl from the search engine and get your new (or edited) content reindexed by the search engine. Sophisticated CMS engines will even Ping the search engines upon scheduling content.
- Redirects: Companies often change and reconstruct their sites. The problem with this is that the search engine may still be pointing a URL to a page that does not exist. Your CMS should allow you to refer traffic to a new page and redirect the search engine there as well so they find and index the new page.
- Rich Snippets: Search engines offer microdata formats for pagination and breadcrumb identification within your site. Often, this markup needs to be applied within the theme you’re deploying with your CMS or you can find modules that allow you to implement it easier. Rich snippets like Schema for Google and OpenGraph for Facebook enhance search engine results and sharing and will drive more visitors to click through.
- Robots.txt: If you go to the root (base address) of your domain, add robots.txt to the address. Example: http://yourdomain.com/robots.txt Is there a file there? A robots.txt file is a basic permissions file that tells a search engine bot/spider/crawler what directories to ignore and what directories to crawl. In addition, you can add a link to your sitemap in it!
- RSS Feeds: If you have other properties and want to publicize your blog, having RSS feeds to easily publish excerpts or titles on external sites is a necessity.
- Search: The ability to search internally and display relevant results is imperative for users to find the information they’re seeking. Search engine results pages will often provide a secondary field for search users to search within a site as well!
- Security: A solid security model and safe hosting will protect your site from getting attacked or having malicious code placed on it. If your site gets malicious code on it, Google will de-index you and notify you versus Webmasters. It’s imperative that you have some kind of monitoring or security features integrated in your CMS or on your hosting package these days.
- Social Publishing: The ability to automatically publish your content with optimized titles and images will get your content shared. Shared content leads to mentions of your content. Mentions lead to links. And links lead to ranking. Facebook is also launching Instant Articles, a format to publish entire articles directly to your brand’s pages.
- Syndication: While people reading posts in RSS readers has largely fallen by the wayside in lieu of social sharing, the ability to syndicate your content across sites and tools is still critical.
- Tagging: Search engines largely ignore a meta tag for keywords, but tagging can still come in handy – if nothing else to keep in mind the keywords that you are targeting with each page. Tags often help find and display relevant posts and search results within your site.
- Template Editor: A robust template editor that avoids any use of HTML tables and allows for nice clean HTML and attached CSS files to properly format the page. You should be able to find and install templates without having to do any significant development to your site while maintaining your content with no issues.
- XML Sitemaps: A dynamically generated sitemap is a key component that provides search engines with a map of where your content is, how important it is, and when it was last changed. If you have a large site, your sitemaps should be compressed. If a sitemap exceeds 1Mb, your CMS should generate multiple sitemaps and then chain them together so the search engine can read all of them.
I’ll go out on a limb here and state; if your agency is charging you for content updates and you don’t have access to a content management system to optimize your site… it’s time to leave that agency and find yourself a new one with a solid content management system. Agencies sometimes design complex sites that are static and require you to change for content changes as you need them… unacceptable.