Search-Engine Friendly Content Management Systems

  |  October 10, 2005   |  Comments

The wrong CMS can make your site disappear, as far as search engines are concerned. The proactive approach to SEO meeting CMS.

Migrating from a static HTML site to a database-driven Web site poses many challenges, especially if a site already has outstanding search engine traffic. If you purchase a content management system (CMS) that doesn't generate search-engine friendly Web pages, then your site's "natural," or organic, search engine traffic can disappear.

URL Structure

Many people mistakenly believe a content management system is search-engine friendly merely because it generates a search-engine friendly URL (Web address) structure. Below are three examples of URLs that aren't search-engine friendly:

  • http://www.domain.com/sr/javasr/search.do?BV_UseBVCookie=Yes&vertical=CLTH&cat=Mens
    &subcat=Accessories&displayTarget=Subcategory

  • http://www.domain.com/cd/fp/prod/0,,1_2_52358_53887_130435_108992_5:view=-1,00.html?
    CM_MERCH=PAGE_52249&sid=6243170865-0088104670

  • http://www.domain.com/2005/10/01/sports/06detain.html?hp&ex=1166747600&
    en=c214ef00a9dh2d91&op=9877&partner=homepage

A better CMS should allow Web site owners to generate a URL structure that makes sense to their target audience, such as the URLs below.

  • http://www.domain.com/children/hats/prodid/77898

  • http://domain.com/2005/10/05/news/politics/supreme_court/77643

The first URL clearly communicates the Web site sells children's hats. It's probably an e-commerce site. The second URL communicates the Web page contains news about the Supreme Court on 10/5/2005. This site is probably a news or a publisher site.

Certainly, simplifying the URL structure is a huge step in the right direction. I applaud all software developers who keep this in mind as they create and modify their CMSs. However, URL structure is not the only reason a site is search-engine friendly. Other factors must be taken into consideration.

Graphic Images vs. Text Links

As many of you already know, an effective Web site strikes a balance between the use of CSS-formatted text and graphic images. Some Web sites require more graphic images and multimedia files than others due to industry and client expectations. I've found sites in the entertainment or games industries generate more page views per visitor when pages are more graphics intensive.

When I evaluated a number of search-engine friendly design software packages, I was dumbfounded at the overemphasis on text links. It appears the engineers who create this software believe every link on a Web page should be CSS-formatted text.

Furthermore, the page templates were created primarily with search engines in mind, not the end users. What should a category page look like? What does a product page look like? What are the up-sell links, and how are they formatted? What does a reference page look like? Is it a reference page for a small, medium, or large database of terms and definitions?

What became ever clearer to me as I spoke with both sales reps and software engineers is their lack of understanding of visitor behavior. The solution appears to be, "Make every link into a text link. Problem solved."

As a Web designer and developer, I don't need a search-engine friendly CMS to change graphic image links into CSS-formatted links. I can save thousands of dollars and do it myself. I believe most Web pages need some kind of text-link navigation, but I also know when it is and is not appropriate to use text links.

A search-engine friendly CMS should therefore be able to work with both graphic image links and text links. Software developers should focus on creating CMS that help both the Web developer and users first, not software spiders. Some of these so-called search-engine friendly CMSs are nothing but expensive doorway-page generators.

Software Developers As Search Experts

In the SEM/SEO industry or some odd reason, the concept of beginner, intermediate, and advanced SEOs isn't logical. When one becomes an expert in any field, he starts with a basic skill set. An expert becomes an expert through education, training and experience.

In SEO, the primarly beginner-level skill is effective copywriting. At a recent Search Engine Strategies conference, I was particularly amazed that two of my colleagues publicly admitted they weren't good copywriters and didn't have the time for it. In the same breath, they claimed to be expert SEOs. An expert SEO who isn't good at writing search-friendly copy? Sorry guys. You're not an expert if you haven't mastered a basic skill.

An intermediate SEO skill is the ability to code and program user-friendly and search-friendly Web pages. Many SEOs feel usability isn't a skill they need because they format Web sites for search engines, not end users. I believe an intermediate SEO must develop sites that meet user goals, business goals, and search engine goals.

Why did I go into this little rant? Because many developers who create search-engine friendly CMSs are self-proclaimed "experts" who don't possess even basic or intermediate SEO skills.

Conclusion

Before you purchase any CMS, make sure the CMS system generates a user-friendly and spider-friendly URL. If it doesn't, work with the CMS company's technical staff to create workarounds (if possible) so the URL is spider friendly.

Second, don't rely on the CMS company's staff to generate search-engine friendly design templates for you. All too often, these CMS companies don't have usability professionals or truly qualified SEO experts on staff. If your current design templates are effective, they should easily integrate into the CMS with a few modifications.

The best advice I can give anyone is to hire an SEO consultant during the purchasing process. I understand there are many reasons for purchasing a CMS that have nothing to do with SEO. Nonetheless, you can save thousands or even millions of dollars in expenses, advertising and marketing costs, and staff time if you take a proactive approach to search-friendly Web development.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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