What’s an SEO-Friendly CMS?

An ex-colleague asked me to optimize her real estate website for her sales business. Their vendor platform combined website management and lead generation. She published her properties on the site and collected leads from prospective buyers who expressed interest. Her focus was on a particular locale in California.

Eager to help, I started to understand her site before providing recommendations. I audited its internal link structure and sections. Read the content. Analyzed the title tags. Checked page speed. Observed if it ranks for any search terms. The usual SEO assessment stuff.

And then I researched their website management platform.

The vendor’s website touted SEO as a key feature. The ability to set titles and descriptions. Publish blog posts. Fast loading speeds for pages.

The platform didn’t fully deliver on SEO management. Property listing pages (category pages) featured fixed title and description formats, not allowing the user to change them. If I wanted to include “California Real Estate” in the title or description meta tag, that would be impossible. The same situation was present on property pages (product pages) and content pages. Only blog pages and the homepage permitted anyone to change title and description meta tags. The platform barely allowed a user to add content to property listing pages, a common tactic employed by SEO professionals to help those pages rank for important search terms. I say “barely” because basic HTML editing was possible—this enabled me to add hyperlinks and format the text. However, I may have used a Javascript hack but I don’t remember. Plus, I also lacked the ability to create 301 redirects, set the canonical tag (I don’t think the platform added a canonical tag), and had no control over the ROBOTS meta tag (I don’t think the platform added that tag, either).

The result is a website management platform that’s SEO-unfriendly.

This episode led me to think about what would be considered an SEO-friendly platform. What should non-SEO people ask CMS providers about SEO management? Any company can promise SEO but not deliver the features needed to maximize it.

Here’s my list of features that every SEO-friendly platform should have so that website managers can properly manage SEO from within the platform.

Title and Description Meta Tags

An SEO-friendly platform should easily allow you to modify the TITLE and DESCRIPTION meta tags easily for every page on the website. A good platform will also let you adjust them for social media as well. For example, optimizing for Facebook’s sharing snippet requires shorter titles and descriptions plus a large image displayed on the page, all of which can be set using “Open Graph” meta tags.

Canonical Meta Tag

Search engines view pages with URL parameters as separate pages. Which version (which URL parameter, or page without URL parameters) of the page should search engines focus on for indexing and ranking? You can decide this, or at least have an influence, by using the canonical meta tag. It’s important for SEO and thus your platform should have the capability of editing it.

Redirects Manager

Changing URLs on your site will cause “404” (page not found) errors for visitors accessing the old URL. Plus, all the positive “link-flow” going to the old URLs will vanish. You can solve this by creating a redirect from the old URL to the new URL. This is normally complex for a non-developer so it’s important for the platform to have a mechanism for easily creating redirects. The best redirect is what’s called a “301” redirect, which is a special server response code (similar to “404” for page not found) indicating a permanent URL change. A “302” redirect is second-best, but strive to create a “301” redirect when URL changes are necessary.

Template Editing (developer required)

Can you change the HTML syntax of pages that are published by the platform? Sometimes you may need to modify the template of certain pages. A good template editor should allow you to incorporate variables into a page’s template. Think price, name of a product, title of a page, author, etc. Template editing can allow you to implement a feature that gives you an edge in ranking for search terms.

Content Blocks

Want to add custom content alongside all the automated content outputted by the platform? A good platform should have this feature, which can help individual pages rank for certain keywords. It would be ideal to have a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) page builder since it allows you to make easy changes to text formats and content layouts without HTML knowledge. At the very least, a good content editor makes it simple to implement HTML text formatting (such as bold, italic, and hyperlink text).

Schema Types Manager

Schema is a data structure that provides extra metadata about a page. Is it a product page? A data set? What about the organization that owns the page? What about the author of a page’s article? This extra data can help you rank for search terms. The most common usage of Schema is for products; you can show reviews, ratings, and brand information in search results snippets by implementing the Product Schema on product pages. There’s plenty more to read about this topic, but for the scope of this article, a good SEO-friendly platform allows you to manage the input data for a Schema and also outputs it automatically to a page. There are two ways to output Schema: within existing HTML tags, and using JSON (the preferable way).

How to Overcome an SEO-Unfriendly Platform

It’s difficult to overcome the limitations presented with an SEO-unfriendly platform. It’s probably very proficient in one area important for the business (usually sales management, customer service, email marketing, and lead generation). You need to figure out how to maintain the platform’s proficiency while combining it with ways of generating traffic to your website. Here is one way to think about this problem and plan for it.

API and Migrate

Let’s think about the scenario I start with at the beginning of this blog post. My ex-colleague’s goal is cash flow, attracting leads for her property listings, and managing the sales cycle. SEO is probably a nice-to-have but not imperative to her business at this point. Still, she realizes that SEO implementation is necessary when it’s time for traffic growth. But, the platform lacks the capabilities of implementing SEO in a way that’s competitive with other websites in the same industry and she’s already using it. Her alternative is to pay LOTS of money to hire developers and contractors to rebuild her business systems on something else that’s SEO capable. Taking attention away from other important business matters and exhausting her resources.

Instead, in the beginning, think about whether the platform you’re considering can grow with your business. Look for API capabilities. What if you want to migrate the site content to WordPress but retain the sales management/customer service/email marketing/lead generation functionalities? Visitors can browse listings and read content on the WordPress site. They submit their personal information on the site, which is sent to your existing platform via an API. You’ll still need a designer and a developer to design and build the WordPress site and implement the API, but that’s far less expensive than rebuilding everything. You save money in the beginning by using the CMS platform for everything, but then you migrate all the elements needed for traffic to another CMS platform that’s more tailored for SEO and managing content. Leaving your original platform dedicated to serving your core business needs while you grow website traffic.

Ask whether the platform you’re considering has an API for every feature. This gives you the freedom to grow your business outside of the platform if it lacks certain marketing capabilities you need. Otherwise, you’ll become a hostage to the limitations of the current platform because it’ll be too cost-prohibitive to migrate to something else.

If you want success with SEO, consider the SEO-friendliness of your desired platform. Your future success might thank you.

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