For small business owners, running their own website, an SEO-friendly CMS (content management system) software is a must. A good CMS lets you seamlessly manage your website’s pages and posts without writing any code, making it a valuable addition to any online business toolkit.
But as with most software solutions, there are a lot to choose from. Will any CMS program do? Are some better than others? What exactly should you look for to get your money’s worth?
In this piece, we’ll define what a CMS is, explain why search engine optimization (SEO) matters, and examine the features of a truly great platform. Finally, we’ll look at a few examples you can try.
What exactly is a CMS?
A lot of abbreviations get thrown around in the marketing world. SEO, CMS, KPI, CRM, SERP — it can get confusing. But it doesn’t have to be.
A CMS lets users create, modify, and manage a website, and the content within that website, without needing to manually code. If you’ve used template website designers like WordPress or Wix, you already have experience with a CMS.
CMS software drastically cuts down on the time and technical knowledge needed to build a solid website, so it’s become a key part of launching an online business.
Why SEO Matters
While a good CMS is a must, ones that are optimized for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will put your page over the top.
It’s widely believed that most of the features Google uses to rank your website are CMS-based. Search engines look at both the performance of your site and any on-page HTML elements — the page content — when they decide where to rank it. That’s why it’s so important to have an SEO-friendly CMS.
You’ll want to get a CMS that generates clean and accurate HTML markup for your page content. The best systems will also give you control of the SEO-oriented factors Google looks for, like page URL and meta description.
The easier search crawlers can read your page, connect the content to relevant keywords, and understand what your site is about, the higher it will rank. Not having this information is sort of like not hashtagging a tweet — you can put it out there, but it probably won’t get seen.
What to look for in a CMS
There are two types of CMS programs: hosted and self-hosted. Hosted programs are hosted on another company’s server, and site maintenance is included in the fee you pay for the software. Self-hosted programs have more flexibility, but you’ll probably need to work with a web developer to get the most out of them.
Whichever you choose, an SEO-friendly CMS program should have the following features:
- Customizable page elements
- URL settings
- Blogging tools
- Internal linking tools
- Taxonomy and tagging features
- 301 redirect capability
- Responsive themes
- SSL security certification
- Clear navigation menus
- XML sitemaps
- Analytics reporting
Each of these is important to your site ranking in its own way.
Customizable page elements
Your CMS should at least let you customize the meta description, alt text, and title for the posts and images on your website. Ideally, it’ll also let you customize the page URL for a little extra boost.
Most CMS software will include a character counter that will let you know whether or not your meta descriptions and titles are within the ideal length for search engines. Good CMS software will guide you toward optimal results with prompts — it could tell you to add more headings or adjust the length of your meta tags, for example.
Google’s crawlers get tripped up by long strings of letters and characters in your site URL. To combat that, look for a CMS program that lets you customize the URL for each page. You can simplify it for ease of reading, and insert SEO keywords where appropriate.
A drag-and-drop blog editor can help you get a powerful SEO tool up and running quickly. Just about any CMS platform worth its salt will come packaged with one that lets you add images, video, CTA buttons, and other interactive features.
Blogs are an ideal way to give detailed information about your profession or answer complicated questions — both of which add value for site visitors. Paired with the right keywords and used naturally, blog posts can be a lynchpin of your SEO content strategy.
Internal linking tools
Linking to your own content, as long as it’s relevant, is another way to boost your SEO ranking. Internal linking helps search engines find all the related content you have on a particular topic, which boosts your site’s authority and search rank. It also makes it more likely that people will stay on your site longer as they click through to other pages.
A good CMS will come with a tool or add-on that does this for you automatically or at least makes the process much easier. You’ll also have the option of manually linking to internal content regardless of the CMS you use.
Taxonomy and tagging features
“Taxonomy” is a fancy way to say a system for naming things. Your CMS should have a system for naming and classifying everything on your site. That makes it easier for search engines to read, which boosts your rank.
A CMS will let you separate pages and posts into broader categories and get more specific with tagging. For example, your blog page might drill down into several topics relevant to your industry, and those posts could be tagged into even more specific categories.
301 redirect capability
Your CMS should give you the ability to redirect traffic away from dead pages. Whether they’re outdated, redundant, or just not getting any traffic, redirects let you channel traffic in the right direction without having to delete pages from your site.
301 redirects also send search engines to other pages on your site, which helps maintain traffic and site ranking. 404 pages and broken links don’t do that, so taking the time to set up redirects saves hassle later on.
Since so many people browse the web on their smartphones, it makes sense to optimize your site for mobile. A responsive page structure that adapts to the platform your site is viewed on — like a laptop or smartphone — helps achieve that.
Also, search engines tend to display mobile-friendly results first since over 60 percent of search engine visits happen from a mobile device.
SSL security certification
Search engines prioritize sites with better security. Google flat out said that SSL security would be a ranking factor back in 2014 because people prefer to use sites with that added layer of safety.
Hosted CMS platforms usually provide SSL security by default, saving you the trouble of maintaining and purchasing a new certificate every year.
Clear navigation menus
People who can navigate around your site easily are more likely to stay. Search engines that can move through your pages easily are more likely to rank them favorably.
Make sure your CMS lets you categorize your pages and posts in a detailed manner that makes sense to the user. Detailed doesn’t necessarily mean twenty menu options — start with a few broad categories and build from there.
A good CMS program will create an entire map of your site that search engines can use to find and index your page. If you can’t find one that does that, try one with a sitemap plugin you can download.
A CMS that lets you track traffic, clicks, site visits, and similar metrics will help you determine if your SEO strategy is working. Good CMS software lets you create a central dashboard with relevant metrics, so you can get a bird’s eye view of the data.
Great SEO-friendly CMS platforms to try
The following SEO-friendly CMS platforms offer some of the features you’ll need from a good CMS, and are worth giving a shot. Experiment with more than one to see which works best for your business.
The original CMS that almost everyone has heard of by now, WordPress is more complex to use but has very good SEO tools. Plugins like Yoast SEO analyze your content, tags, and meta descriptions for readability and rank.
The interface also makes it very easy to add multimedia elements like images and videos to posts. A huge variety of plugins mean you can customize WordPress almost endlessly depending on your needs.
Adobe’s open-source eCommerce platform is another great CMS option that lets users manage all elements of their website from one place. Magento comes in two versions — the free open source version and a paid option.
Magento comes with many SEO friendly standard features including clean URLs without a lot of code, a robots.txt file for crawlers to read your site, tagging capability, and more. One caveat with this platform — you’ll have to pay to get the most out of it. The free version can cause slow loading times, which is never a good thing to have on your site.
Upgrade your SEO
Now that you know what to look for, test out a few of the many SEO-friendly CMS offerings out there. Find which ones have the features you need, which fit your budget, and which offers you the most flexibility. Optimize your SEO to your heart’s content, and watch your site rise through the ranks.