Today I met with a client who has been struggling with their search engine rankings. As I reviewed their Content Management System (CMS), I looked for some basic best practices that I could not find. Before I provide a checklist to verify with your CMS provider, I should first state that there is absolutely NO reason for a company NOT to have a content management system anymore.
A CMS will provide you or your marketing team to change your site on the fly without the need of a web developer. The other reason why a Content Management System is a necessity is because most of them automate best practices for optimizing your site.
Every Content Management System should have or be implemented with the following features:
- Robots.txt: If you go to the root (base address) of your domain, add robots.txt to the address. Example: http://yourdomain.com/robots.txt Is there a file there? A robots.txt file is a basic permissions file that tells a search engine bot/spider/crawler what directories to ignore and what directories to crawl. In addition, you can add a link to your sitemap in it!
- Sitemap.xml: A dynamically generated sitemap is a key component that provides search engines with a map of where your content is, how important it is, and when it was last changed. If you have a large site, your sitemaps should be compressed. If a sitemap exceeds 1Mb, your CMS should generate multiple sitemaps and then chain them together so the search engine can read all of them.
- Ping: When you publish your content, the CMS should automatically submit your site to Google and Bing without any intervention. This will initiate a crawl from the search engine and get your new (or edited) content reindexed by the search engine. Sophisticated CMS engines will even Ping the search engines upon scheduling content.
- Meta Descriptions: Search engines typically capture the meta description of a page and show that under the title and link in a search engine results page. When no meta description exists, search engines may grab text randomly from the page… a practice that will lower your click-through rates on your links on search engines and may even hurt your page’s indexing. Your CMS should allow you to edit the meta description on each and every page of the site.
- Meta Keywords: Search engines largely ignore a meta tag for keywords, but they can still come in handy – if nothing else to keep in mind the keywords that you are targeting with each page. Your CMS may not keep up with the latest SEO recommendations – so better to have this feature than not in the event that search engines weigh the element differently in the future.
- Canonical URLs: Sometimes sites are published with a single page having multiple paths. A simple example is your domain might have http://yourdomain.com or http://yourdomain.com/default.aspx. These two paths to the same page may split the weight of incoming links where your page isn’t ranked as well as it could be. A canonical URL is a hidden piece of HTML code that tells the search engines which URL they should be applying the link to.
- Microdata: Search engines offer microdata formats for pagination and breadcrumb identification within your site. Often, this markup needs applied within the theme you’re deploying with your CMS or you can find modules that allow you to implement it easier.
- Caching: Each time a page is requested, a database lookup grabs the content and puts together the page. This takes resources and time… time that hurts your search engine optimization. Getting a CMS with caching capabilities is key to speed up your site and reduce the resources required of your server. Caching can also help you when you get an onslaught of traffic… cached pages are easier to render than uncached pages. So you can get many more visitors than you can without caching.
- Content Delivery Network: A content delivery network is a network of computers that are geographically located that store static resources locally… allowing pages to load a lot quicker. As well, when a CDN is implemented, your page requests can load assets from your web server AND your CDN at the same time. This reduces the load on your web server and increases the speed of your pages significantly.
- Template Editor: A robust template editor that avoids any use of HTML tables and allows for nice clean HTML and attached CSS files to properly format the page.
- Mobile Template: Mobile search is exploding in usage as smartphones and tablets are adopted throughout. If your CMS doesn’t allow for a responsive website utilizing HTML5 and CSS3 (best option)… or at least a redirect to a well-optimized mobile template, you simply won’t be ranked for mobile searches.
- Content Editor: A content editor that allows H1, H2, H3, strong and italics to be wrapped around text. Image editing should allow ALT elements to be modified. Anchor tag editing should allow for TITLE element editing. It’s unfortunate how many CMS systems have poor content editors!
- Redirects: Companies often change and reconstruct their sites. The problem with this is that the search engine may still be pointing a URL to a page that does not exist. Your CMS should allow you to refer traffic to a new page and redirect the search engine there as well so they find and index the new page.
- Rich Snippets: The ability to integrate rich snippets to enhance search engine results and social sharing of your content without the need for content writers to understand how to code this additional meta data. CMS systems generate these automatically.
- Security: A solid security model and safe hosting will protect your site from getting attacked or having malicious code placed on it. If your site gets malicious code on it, Google will de-index you and notify you versus Webmasters. It’s imperative that you have some kind of monitoring or security features integrated in your CMS or on your hosting package these days.
- Backups: Backups and SEO? Well… if you lose your site and content, it’s not going to rank that well. Having a solid backup with incremental backups as well as on-demand, off-site backups and restores is extremely helpful.
I’ll go out on a limb here and state; if your agency is charging you for content updates and you don’t have access to a content management system to optimize your site… it’s time to leave that agency and find yourself a new one with a solid content management system. Agencies sometimes design complex sites that are static and require you to change for content changes as you need them… unacceptable.