One of the most important SEO decisions you make is the selection of your content management system (CMS). Your CMS can make SEO easy, or, in some cases, make SEO virtually impossible. Here are 14 crucial elements you should verify in a CMS before you commit to using it.
1. Control over titles, H1 headings and meta descriptions. In this day and age it may shock you that there are CMS’ that don’t allow you control over these basic page elements, but sadly, they exist. Worse, the vendors of these systems often charge exorbitant fees to fix the job as part of a customization project. Simply insist on these capabilities, and if it costs anything extra (at all) pick a different vendor.
2. Control over image alt attributes. Make sure you have the ability to implement the alt attribute within your image tags. This is the best method you have to tell a search engine what an image is about, so the capability is a must.
3. Custom anchor text. Another must have. Make sure the CMS you choose allows you to do this. Don’t assume that it can, because many systems can’t.
4. Nofollow, noindex support. While you might be able to live without this one, remember that this capability can save you from duplicate content nightmares, and it is also useful to to do some basic PageRank sculpting.
5. Avoid hidden text issues. Not too long ago I wrote about how some CMS systems make legitimate use of display: none, but there are many other ways to create hidden text. Many of these uses are legitimate, and should not be a major worry. However, do some searching for comments about your potential CMS on the forums and see if anyone has had hidden text problems with it.
6. Canonical redirects. Verify that you can implement a proper canonical redirect (using 301s!). In addition, check out the way the CMS handles the default document. Are you going to end up with all your internal links pointing to www.youdomain.com/index.html (or something similar)? This is not desirable.
7. Default redirects. Hopefully, the default redirects are 301 redirects. If not, it must be simple to select a 301. Otherwise at some point in the future some well meaning developer will end up using a 302 by accident.
8. Clean URLs without session parameters.. It is critical that your CMS not rely on session IDs on your URLs, or clutter URLs with other parameters. The CMS should rely on cookies to pass data about the user, and just accept the fact that users without cookies get less optimized performance.
9. Customizable URL structure.. The CMS designer should not be the one deciding the URL structure of your site. Your SEO team should. Don’t accept a CMS that does not allow you to control this.
10. Breadcrumbs. These really help reinforce the structure of the site for the search engine crawlers. It also passes the “theme” of sections of your site in an optimal way.
11. Duplicate content control. This is one of the most common CMS problems. Many of them create reams and reams of duplicate content. The good ones either avoid this altogether, or they give you a way to address it.
12. Scalable optimization. On large sites you will not be able to hand-optimize pages. You will need a scalable way to address these, and flexibility from your CMS is required to help you with that.
13. A way to publish articles on an optional basis. On a large site you may have a catalog of similar pages you publish with content from a database. You may wish to supplement that with some handwritten content, but if you have thousands of these pages you may be able to only do it for some of them. If your CMS allows you to handcraft articles for only some of the pages and not others you can simply write the articles as your team has bandwidth to do so, and publish them as they get written.
14. Sitemap generation.. Since your CMS is helping in the generation of the site, it should be able to help you create an XML sitemap.
Invest the time upfront to address these issues. It can really save your bacon in the end.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.