The best time to start working on SEO is before you start building your site. It goes back to that old saying: “If you don’t have time to do it right, will you have the time to do it over?” And, of course you don’t have time to do it over. One of the biggest ways to shoot yourself in the foot is at the very, very beginning, when you select your Content Management System (CMS).
With a poor CMS selection you can truly ruin your chances of success. The reason for this is that SEO is a relatively new discipline and most CMS systems were created before SEO was an important consideration. As a consequence, the product managers and software developers who created most CMS systems did not have SEO on their radar. In addition, SEO friendly website code has no real direct relationship to smart coding practices. Here are just three examples (of many) of dire consequences that can occur when you choose a CMS that’s not search friendly:
Massive duplicate content issues. A lot of CMS systems create this problem by allowing specific pages on your site to be addressable at multiple different URLS, and then they compound the problem by actually using more than one URL to refer to those pages. As a result, this becomes a guaranteed duplicate content problem, and in some cases, it can occur on a massive scale.
This can really hurt the search engine traffic for a new site by slowing down the crawling of the site. More precisely, every time a search engine crawler spends time crawling a page with duplicate content on it is time that crawler will not spend crawling new unique pages on the site. As a result, indexing of the pages of your new site is slowed. In addition, any links to these duplicate versions of pages are completely wasted. The cumulative link juice (aka PageRank) of your site is a precious resource, and you don’t want to squander any of it on pages that will never be included in the search engine index.
No control over meta data. Hard as it may be to believe, there are CMS systems that do not allow you to create unique meta data for your web pages. For example, imagine every page of your site with the exact same title tag. Given that this is the single most important on-page SEO factor that you have complete control over, well, not having control over it seems silly doesn’t it?
Or, imagine every page of your site with the same meta description tag. Meta description tags do not affect rankings, but they are often used as the description shown for your web pages in search results. What a wasted opportunity! Well written meta tags tell users why they should come to your page instead of going to the other 9 web pages listed in the results next to yours.
Dynamic URLs that change over time. This is an interesting one. It’s kind of like playing “now you see me, now you don’t” with the search engines. The content appears on one URL, and a short while later it has moved to another URL. Can this really happen? Yep.
The consequences of this are clear. The search engine will have indexed your content, and will begin to return that content in the results. Users see your stuff in the results, click on it, and land on a 404 page. In addition, the search engine comes back and does not find the page either, and must rediscover it at its new location through crawling. Search engines are not dynamic systems when it comes to understanding your web site, and rediscovering the page could take months. That’s another ouch.
Can these CMS problems be fixed later? You can certainly replace a CMS but this is likely to be a huge expense, and it is also likely to set back your SEO by the time it takes to rebuild the site plus a solid 6 months. Ouch. Alternatively, you can use products like Netconcepts GravityStream to retroactively address these problems. This is a great solution for many companies that have been burdened with a bad CMS choice, but it is not free, and also takes time to implement.
Whatever you do, don’t come out of the gate with an SEO unfriendly CMS. And, rest assured, there are still a lot of CMS systems that are SEO unfriendly. For the record, I should also state that there are CMS systems that are truly SEO friendly too. The trick is to evaluate this up front, and not simply be satisfied with claims by the software publisher that they are SEO friendly. Make sure they show you some live examples of SEO friendly sites built using their CMS, and have a competent SEO evaluate those sites for you.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.