Search-Engine-Friendly Content Management

Do you have a large, constantly evolving Web site, and your marketing or content team doesn’t know HTML from XML and XML from .xls?

You might need a CMS (define). A Web CMS is used to more easily create, manage, and update site content. Typically it comes with an easy-to-use interface that looks something like a typical text editor (e.g., MS Word), known as a WYSIWYG (define) editor, which enables even the least Web-savvy person to update a site. Most systems manage workflow so you can get the content in front of the approvers more efficiently, with the aim of getting new or revised content live faster and less painfully.

Why Should You Care?

What does this have to do with SEO (define)? For many organizations, a CMS is unavoidable. Without one, the site would remain as stale as a day-old doughnut. Problem is, many people still think a CMS has to be the death of an SEO program.

That’s because in the past, a CMS wasn’t designed with any thought to search-engine friendliness. A CMS would produced dynamic URLs (which had previously been looked upon unkindly by search engines) and didn’t allow the addition of keywords into URLs. They lacked the capability to add unique title and descriptions to each page. They created unnecessary code clutter and didn’t enable the use of CSS (define).

While these shortcomings may still apply to a handful of systems on the market today, the majority now allow for some customization to benefit SEO efforts. Many have even gone so far as to market their products as “SEO friendly” or “marketing friendly” (e.g., Hot Banana).

So if you’ve been shying away from implementing a CMS because you’re afraid your search rankings will plummet, you can reconsider. Some systems will actually help you more easily implement SEO best practices on your site. Here are some tips, partially based on a white paper commissioned by my former agency.

How Can CMS Help With SEO Best Practices?

A CMS controls how your site is structured, how your content is organized, how that content gets named, and how it appears on a page. Does this sound familiar? It should, because I’ve basically described the on-site factors search engines look at when ranking sites.

There are certain SEO activities you can use your CMS to help implement. Capability may vary by system, but here are few things you might not know you can do with your CMS:

  • Improved internal linking/navigation. Search engines use links to troll your site to find and index site content, so it’s important to make it easy for them to do so. Most systems enable some type of automatic generation of site maps, which provide an easy way for search engines to get around. They also often perform internal link validation before content is published, thus avoiding broken links that can hinder a spider’s journey. Lastly, many systems allow you to automatically generate breadcrumbs (text links that show visitors where they are in the site). This is yet another way to help the search engines (and your users) find their way around your site.
  • Keyword-rich URLs and content. Dynamic URLs, while becoming more widely accepted, can still pose a problem for search engines. And even if these URLs are indexed, they don’t tend to have any relevant keywords contained within them. A mature CMS should allow you to establish URL aliases that contain your desired keywords for dynamic ones. Unique page titling and descriptions for each page can also be attained through most systems by enforcing the requirement that content authors complete these meta-data fields before publishing. Finally, enabling the usage of the standard header tags (e.g. H1, H2, H3) within the WYSIWYG editor will hopefully result in keywords appearing within important header locations.
  • Search-engine-friendly code. Most systems now enable the use of CSS to control page layout. Employing this option will help reduce the front-loaded code clutter that keeps search engines from finding a page’s important content. In addition, almost all CMS solutions offer the ability to lock down code to ensure it can be validated before published, and some even offer an optional code validation utility. Although unconfirmed, there’s some evidence to suggest that search engines look more kindly on with sites with valid code.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it might give you the incentive to rethink your current approach — or lack thereof — to content management and SEO.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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