SEO is important. Depending on the industry you’re in, almost half of your website traffic should be organic, i.e. generated through search engines such as Google.
When we start work on new web projects, we usually get a lot of questions related to SEO-support from the marketing team, particularly on how the CMS of choice ensures that the web pages end up ranking as highly as possible in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). This is also why WCMS (Web Content Management System) vendors deliver support for SEO out-of-the box.
But how exactly can a WCMS, and by extension the WCMS implementer, help the marketer obtain an excellent search engine ranking?
New to SEO? This blog post gives you a good overview of how a good WCMS (implementation), can help you get your SEO juices flowing.
The Periodic Table of SEO success factors
Before we can say anything about the relationship between SEO and a WCMS, we need to identify what aspects of SEO can be influenced by a WCMS.
An amazing resource for this is the periodic table of SEO success factors, published on searchengineland.com. All the relevant SEO information is grouped in one, single table along with the level of importance for each.
In this table, three main groups of SEO factors are distinguished:
- On-page factors
- Off-page factors
The on-page factors are directly under the control of the content publisher. Examples of these are the titles that are used, the structure of the HTML, the content quality and so on.
Off-page factors are not directly controlled by the content publisher. Examples of these are the quality of links from external websites and, the level of authority of such a website. These factors are used to gain information about a site from other parties.
Violations are the things that you really shouldn't do if you want a good position in the search engine ranking. If techniques are used that are considered "spam" or "black hat" by a search engine, penalties can/will follow. Even an exclusion of a site from the search results is possible.
If we look at those three groups of factors, with the core functionalities of a WCMS in mind, the on-page factors and violations are certainly relevant.
The off-page factors are less influenced by the WCMS. There are of course tools available that can integrate with a WCMS and can help to address the off-page SEO needs, but these are not in the scope of this blog post.
On-page SEO Factors and WCMSs
When looking at the on-page SEO factors, there are three major groups of factors:
Let's see how a WCMS and the WCMS implementer can contribute to successfully implement those factors.
When it comes to SEO, content is the most important thing. Ultimately, content is what it’s all about for search engines. People search for content and a search engine wants to offer the best possible answer.
Good content from an SEO perspective is relevant, fresh and contains a sufficient amount of well chosen keywords.
Of course, this good content is not provided by the WCMS itself. It is the result of the hard work of marketing and content editing teams. Those teams invest time to find the relevant keywords and to create content that visitors want to experience.
The role of the WCMS at this level is more supportive. The WCMS needs to provide the editing tools to the editor so they can work on quality content and to optimize the SEO work.
First of all, a WCMS should, offer the basic functionality to edit the content. It should provide a decent interface for the editors that allows to:
- Define good titles
- Structure content
- Create the content with the correct keywords
- Provide meta information (description, keywords metadata, alt tag for images)
- Link content and create descriptive links
Advanced WCMSs offer more functionality and integrations with tools to support SEO during content editing. They can allow to automate SEO tasks, like the addition of metadata.
Other tools help the content editor to create better quality content that ranks also higher in search engines. Examples of such tools that offer an integration with a WCMS like Adobe Experience Manager are Crownpeak Digital Quality Manager (DQM) and BrightEdge Content Optimizer.
If the role of the WCMS was more supportive for the content editor from a content perspective, it is more dominant regarding the aspects of SEO that are related to the architecture of the website.
The WCMS and the implementation by the development team play an important role here. Some SEO functionality will be available out-of-the-box, but for other aspects one needs to rely on the skills of the developers.
An important aspect that needs to be taken into account is the crawlability of the website. If a page cannot be crawled, it won't be indexed by the search engine: all pages need to be accessible by links. This can be done by providing an implementation of the navigation structure and by providing a sitemap with links to all relevant pages. The WCMS can also allow the editor to give instructions regarding the crawling of a specific page, using meta-tags.
A second aspect that needs to be addressed by the WCMS is the provision of correct HTTP status codes. These status codes provide information to the search engine about the status of a webpage. This is important if a page is removed or redirected.
When it comes to duplication and canonicalization, search engines don't like duplicate content. The same content displayed on pages that have a different URL, confuses the search engine. If you have identical (duplicate) pages that can be reached by a different URL, a canonical URL can be added to the metadata of the page. This canonical URL indicates which page actually should be indexed by the search engines. The placement of a canonical URL can be provided by the WCMS.
Related to the topic of duplication, translated content is also very important. If alternate versions of a page exist in other languages, this should be indicated in the page and is also something that the WCMS can provide.
Since the Google Mobile-Friendly update of April 2015, the importance of support for mobile devices has been stressed explicitly. Search engines take this aspect into account. This is something that needs to be provided by the WCMS and certainly by the development team.
Speed is essential for the visitor of a website, but also for search engines. Websites that provide pages quickly, will have a benefit over slower websites. This is certainly a responsibility of the team that takes care of the implementation of the website.
The structure of the URL is where the WCMS can play a beneficial role. A good WCMS offers the editor the ability to create URLs that are human readable and describe the content of the pages they refer to. Since the addition of keywords to URLs is important for SEO, an editor needs to have the freedom to determine the URL.
The Google search engine reward site offers their content using https, because this improves the security of the web. This is something that needs to be supported by the WCMS and implemented by the development team.
The last group of relevant on-page SEO factors are exclusively determined by the WCMS and the development team.
HTML is the format in which a webpage is offered to the web browser and to the search engines. Therefore, it is vital that the implementation of this format is compliant to the web standards. The implementation of the correct format is, in most cases, the responsibility of the developers: they need to make sure that all rules are adhered to and that the implementation is as optimal as can be.
Firstly, a web page need to have a good title that is formatted in the correct way. The structure of the page, defined by the use of headers (e.g. h1 and h2) is also something to consider. The headers give the search engine an indication of the structure of the page.
In the second place, all metadata that is defined for a specific webpage, by the author and by the WCMS, should be formatted in the correct way. Important types of metadata are the title, content type, description and viewport. Some less important metadata from a SEO perspective are the language and keywords. The addition of an alternative text description for images (alt attribute) in the HTML is also key.
Some types of data are considered as structured data by the search engine. This means that they are recognized by the search engine and displayed in a specific way. A rating is an example of structured data - to allow the search engine to recognize this data, a specific HTML structure needs to be applied. This is something that can be done by the WCMS or the development team.
Can a WCMS help to prevent SEO violations?
Next to the SEO do's, there are also some serious SEO don'ts. In the early days of SEO, people tended to use tricks to mislead the search engine and improve the ranking of the pages. Since search engines get smarter all the time, they are now able to discover those manipulations. If they do so, the site in dispute will be penalized.
Examples of these "black hat" SEO practices are cloaking (display different views to the search engine and human visitors), keyword stuffing, link spam, hidden text etc.
Other violations are just bad practices like placing too many advertisements on a page, displaying paid links or offering content without respecting copyrights. Things you shouldn’t be doing in the first place, right?
Since most of these violations don't happen by accident, a WCMS can't do much to prevent them. It's up to the editor and the development team to make sure that the rules of the search engine are respected.
It's clear that a good, up-to-date Web Content Management System combines the business and technical needs regarding SEO. If well implemented, the WCMS is a great tool for the content and marketing teams, to help them execute their daily SEO tasks.
Next to this, the WCMS and the development team should take care of the more technical aspects of SEO. On the other hand, the most important aspect of SEO is the content that is delivered. And this has remained, until now, the responsibility of the marketing and content editing team.