Need to (re)build a website? Or make the most of SEO? Then use this checklist to choose, order or design the best CMS for SEO.
Great SEO results start with an SEO-friendly CMS (content management system). Many out-of-the -box or even custom CMS’s are not SEO-friendly. Proper configuration and changes are often needed to optimize SEO performance. Unfortunately SEO-professionals are often hired after a new website has gone live, after which it will cost a lot of additional time, money and effort to make the necessary changes.
The best CMS for SEO:
- Helps search engines to properly read your website (part 1)
- Helps you to find and optimize content for the right keywords (part 2)
- Facilitates the sharing of content and social media (part 3)
- Helps to provide and improve a great user experience (part 4)
- Provides tracking and optimization opportunities (part 5)
So before building a new website, check if your CMS complies with this checklist of SEO requirements:
1. The best CMS for SEO: technical optimization
SEO uses meta tags to describe the content on the website and make the website more accessible for search engines. Ensure that you can set or modify the following meta tags:
- Meta descriptions (used to show an excerpt in the search results, max. 156 characters)
- Meta robots index/noindex (to allow pages to be included or removed from search results)
- Meta robots follow/nofollow (to direct search engines to the right pages)
- Meta robots noodp and noydir (to block the DMOZ or Yahoo! Directory to override your meta description)
- Meta robots noarchive (prevents search engines to cache pages)
- Meta robots nosnippet (prevents search engines to cache pages and show snippets)
- Meta robots none (prevents any activity from search engine)
Note: make sure that the tag for meta keywords is NOT included. This function has been obsolete for nearly three years and will have a negative effect on SEO.
1.2 Content, style and technique are separated
A website is like a house: HTML provides the framework, scripts offer functionalities (like a bathroom), and CSS can be compared to the paint and the wallpaper. These have to be strictly separated in order to have a manageable, smooth running, and crawlable website.
- JS and (external) CSS are used to separate form and function
- No use of tables in the design
- No unnecessary use of code or tags
- HTML5 is used (instead of Adobe Flash)
1.3 Page loading speed is optimized
A website’s loading speed is important for SEO and a good user experience. Google Speed offers tools and services to measure and improve loading time.
- Content and style are separated
- Graphics are preformatted with the right format, compression, and size
- Pages do not contain unnecessary or hidden content
- HTTP-requests are minimal
- The CMS uses a CSS sprite sheet (or tile set)
- CSS scripts are on the top of the page
- Use of asynchronous scripts
- Proper use of compression
- Proper use of full page caching
- Use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- No Flash or iFrames
1.4 The robots.txt-file is editable
The robots.txt file is a text file that is located in the root of the domain folder. It tells search engines which pages and folders should not be indexed, such as login pages.
- The robots.txt file should be editable through the CMS
1.5 Duplicate content is avoided
Duplicate content occurs when the the same content is accessible via multiple URLs. This happens often with syndicated content, affiliate websites, or websites with AND without the “www.”-prefix.
- The CMS does not publish identical content on multiple pages
- The pages contain a canonical tag
1.6 The CMS generates a dynamic XML sitemap
As the CMS contains the information of all the pages on the website, it’s usually also able to create a sitemap. Sitemaps are used by search engines to find all the pages on a website. Especially websites with a lot of pages (e.g. e-commerce websites, forums, newspapers, etc.) benefit from this feature. An ideal sitemap is made available in XML and is updated automatically.
- The CMS creates separate sitemaps for different kinds of content (pages, images, videos, mobile data, news, geografical data (KML), etc.)
- The CMS automatically generates and updates XML sitemap(s)
- The XML sitemap(s) comply with the www.sitemaps.org protocol.
Separate content in multiple languages as much as possible. For national websites with multiple languages (e.g. a .ca-domain with English and French content) it’s usually best to separate content in separate folders (e.g. domainname.ca/fr/content). Companies with multiple local websites benefit from publishing to multiple websites at once.
- Languages should be organised in separate folders
- ccTLD support, publishing translated content on separate websites with a country-specific domain
- Pages contain the meta tag rel=”alternate” hreflang=”language“
1.8 Templates are used to facilitate creation and optimization
Templates facilitate and speed up the creating and performance of websites.
- The CMS uses a set of templates to define the look-and-feel pages
- Templates are optimized for SEO and caching
1.9 The CMS generates SEO-friendly 404 pages
An 404-error occurs when a search engine tries to load a page that does not exist. The website should return a 404-error, signifying that the crawler should try to load the next page. In addition, the website needs to show a 404-page that contains links to relevant pages. This will help search engines as well as visitors to stay on your website.
- The website returns a 404-error upon loading a non-existant URL
- A 404-page is shown with every 404-error
- The 404-page can be customized
1.10 W3C Validation
2. The best CMS for SEO: content and Copywriting
2.1 Meta titles can be customized
Every page should be able to have their own, unique title. This can be done manually for small websites. For bigger websites with lots of articles or products, the CMS needs generate SEO-friendly titles automatically, using tags. For example, the dynamic title:
- %class% %holidaytype% to %city%, %country% with %operator% | Travel Bookers
Would generate the titles:
- Luxury citytrip to New York, United States with Thomas Cook | Travel Bookers
- Low budget beach holiday to Bahia, Brazil with Star Travel | Travel Bookers
- Et cetera
What your CMS has to be able to do is:
- Set an unique <title>-tag on each individual page
- Control the structure of automatically generated titles per page (for bigger websites)
An SEO-friendly CMS uses a customizable tagging system for websites with many pages. Categories and tags offer the opportunity to automatically create pages with a strong focus on relevant search terms. These topic pages are also good showcases to show your products or authority on a topic.
- Customize static (sub)categories and tag pages
- Add an introduction (or SEO copy) at the top and/or bottom of the page
- Give categories and tags an unique, static URL (e.g. https://www.searchify.ca/blog/)
- Add pagination with rel=”next” and rel=”prev”-tags
- Avoid competition between tags and categories with the same keyword focus
2.3 The URLs are SEO-friendly
The CMS needs to create search engine friendly URLs. The URLs need to be able to contain relevant keywords.
- Generate readable URLs
- Set unique URLs on a page level
- Create URLs automatically, based on tags or categories (for bigger websites)
- URLs need to be static
- Spaces between words in the URL need to be separated by a hyphen (-)
- Create URLs without capitals, nor special characters
Note: different page types need a different makeup for their URLs. A vacancy listing should show different information than a product page. If you want to use automatically generated URLs, make sure that you can set them per page template.
Examples of templates that often have multiple pages are:
- Product page
- Accessory page (for cross- and upselling)
- Category page
- Tag past
- Glossary page
2.4 Control of HTML headers (h1, h2, and h3)
Search engines find HTML headers important: words in the headers earn extra significance. That’s why it’s important that the CMS supports the use of headers.
- The CMS needs to support headers
Links on the website (internal links) direct the flow and accumulation of SEO authority within the website.
- Adding links to content on the website
- Editing of the anchor text of each individual link
- Editing of links within title tags
- Control of automatically generated links (e.g. “Read more”)
- Adding the rel=”nofollow” attribute to a link
2.6 The website contains a log or news section
A blog or a news-section on the website is a great way to show your authority, generate additional SEO-pages, and update your website frequently. Frequent updates to a website entice search engines to crawl your website more frequently and boost your website in the rankings.
- The possibility to add new pages frequently
Some content management systems hide content on their pages, instead of actually removing it from the code. Multiple occurrences of such ‘cloaked content’ can lead to penalties in the search engines.
- The CMS does not create any hidden content
Breadcrumbs are useful to stress important keywords and emphasize the website structure. Mark breadcrumb-data in the website’s source code, as it will allow search engines to better understand your website and show more information in the search results.
- The CMS enables the use of breadcrumbs
- Breadcrumbs are marked with microdata or RDFa
- The page titles in the bread crumbs can be edited individually
2.9 Images have a custom URL, alt tag and mouse over text
Search engines determine what an image is about by looking at the filename, alt tag, and mouseover text.
- Images can be given an alt tag
- Images get a custom filename
- Mouse over texts can be customized
2.10 The CMS contains built-in SEO copywriting tools
An SEO-friendly CMS has integrated SEO tools. This makes it easier for content producers to find and focus on the right keywords, as well as measure results.
- The CMS provides keyword suggestions
- It also shows the keyword density within each article
- The CMS generates an overview of back links
- It offers the opportunity to manage back links
- Broken links are automatically found and reported
- A competitive analysis shows SEO opportunities
- Changes in ranking are reported
- Support for 3rd party software (e.g. Google Webmaster Tools)
2.11 The CMS generates Rich snippets
Search engines make more and more use of rich snippets: tags that identify content on a website. Examples are: sports results, events, authors, products, reviews, breadcrumbs, apps, news, and recipes. A full list can be found here.Rich snippets get a lot of attention in the search results, as they are often shown in widgets.
- The CMS automatically generates tags for rich snippets
2.12 The CMS contains automated SEO functionalities
Optimizing websites with many pages and frequent updates is very time consuming. SEO automation through the CMS can considerably increase SEO performance.
- Titles and meta tags are automatically generated
- Internal links are automatically updated
- Automated content automatization
- Automated link placement on preselected SEO-keywords
Showing a list of related pages or products increases engagement and cross- or upselling, but also improves the link flow through the pages.
- Related products, articles, or otherwise relevant pages appear at the bottom of the pages.
When a CMS generates duplicate content, canonical tags should be used to show search engines which page has priority.
- Canonical tags can be changed on page level
3.1 Automatic 301 redirects
When the URL is changed, the old URL should automatically be redirected to the new URL. This prevents 404-errors, loss of authority, and improves user experience.
- Old URLs are automatically redirected to a new URL or another relevant page
3.2 Obsolete pages are archived or redirected
A page’s URL builds up authority from links on other websites and social media activity. That’s why it’s important to keep an URL active or redirect it to another page on the website.
- Archive pages with blog posts, products or services, and/or
- Redirect obsolete pages to new ones with a 301-redirect on a page level
3.3 Social media is integrated into the website
Social media activity helps to increase SEO authority.
- Add buttons to relevant social networks, such as: Facebook like, Tweet this, Linkedin share, Google+1, etc.
- Facebook Opengraph support
- Add a Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ box
- Show Tweets on the web page
- Allow visitors to log in with Twitter, Facebook, Google, Disqus and/or LinkedIn
- Allow visitors to comment using Facebook or Disqus
3.4 RSS feeds are used to spread content
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) gives your visitors an easy option to receive updates from your website. This brings in additional traffic, but also increases social activity. RSS feeds are also used to share your content on other websites, increasing the amount of backlinks pointing to your website.
- Content is shareable with an RSS feed
- RSS feeds can be customized, e.g. feeds for new products, blog articles, images, etc.
3.5 The CMS can create customized XML feeds
Feeds can be a great way to publish content from the website through to 3rd party websites or networks. For example, a product feed can be imported into Google Shopping. Especially article feeds that automatically post on other websites can have a beneficial effect on SEO.
- The CMS can create XML feeds
4. The best CMS for SEO: user experience
4.1 AB-testing software
AB-testing improves sales rates and user experience. As user experience has also become an important factor for SEO success. The ultimate SEO-friendly CMS supports AB-testing software, such as:
- Google Analytics Content Experiments
- Visual Website Optimizer
4.2 Most of the browsers are supported
The CMS has to generate a website that complies with web standards. This will ensure that the website will be rendered correctly on various browsers, screen sizes, and operating systems.
- The website is rendered correctly on various browsers and platforms
4.3 The website design responds to the device or screen size
Responsive web design is a technique that shows the website in optimized layout, depending on the screen size, device, and/or browser. This is especially important for websites with many visitors using mobile phones or tablets. Responsive design ensures that content is readable and navigation is easy.
- The CMS supports responsive design
- The CMS contains templates especially designed for mobile devices and tablets
- Templates and scripts for mobile devices are optimized for speed
4.4 Proper usability and user interface
Engaging websites get higher rankings. Proper design and useful features will result in a better user experience, which boosts SEO.
- Navigation has to be clear and concise
- Buttons and links are clearly visible
- Add an internal search engine to facilitate visitors (especially on e-commerce sites)
- All content on the site has to be accessible within 3 clicks
- Color schemes generate an appealing visual
- Visitors should always have an option to engage more
- Add clear calls-to-action
4.5 The CMS includes a stylesheet for printing
Separate pages for printing causes duplicate content. Instead, create a print stylesheet (media=”print”), without unnecessary navigation and images.
- The CMS generates an CSS stylesheet, optimized for printing
5. The best CMS for SEO: additional functionalities
5.1 Custom tracking codes or a tag management system
Although this is not a prerequisite for SEO, measuring the results of your marketing activities is paramount to the success of your website. As tracking codes and conversion codes have to be updated frequently, it is important that your CMS handles them well.
Alternatively, the support of a tag management system (such as Google Tag Manager or Adobe Satellite) enables you to manage and control all your tracking, conversion, and testing scripts through an individual interface.
- The CMS supports custom tracking codes
- Alternatively, the CMS supports a tag management system for handling tracking externally
5.2 It is possible to include a favicon
A favicon helps to support your brand, as it is shown in the navigation bar and bookmarks.
- The CMS supports favicons
5.3 The CMS can create customized landing pages
Online marketing campaigns often use landing pages to test and optimize their campaigns. The CMS must be able to generate landing pages, excluded from the navigation and not interfering with SEO.
- The CMS provides the opportunity to create landing pages
- The landing pages can be excluded from the website’s navigation
- Landing pages are fully customizable
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