How to Choose an SEO-Friendly CMS to Boost Your Web Traffic
Website management is a tough task, especially if your brand is consistently producing new content and assets for the website. Making all of those updates requires valuable time and resources. Luckily, relying on a content management system (CMS) can make website management easier - if you’re using the right one.
If you’re going to spend the time to keep your website updated, you should reap the benefits! That’s why we’re walking you through the must-have search engine optimization (SEO) features in a CMS and tips for choosing a CMS platform. If you are not using an SEO-friendly CMS, you may unknowingly be sending search engines the wrong signals and hurting your website traffic. Stick with us, and you’ll find out just how much positive impact these SEO features can have on your organic traffic!
TLDR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
- Without an SEO-friendly CMS, you might be unknowingly making it difficult for search engines to understand your content. You could even be accidentally hiding your content from search engines. Discover why an SEO-friendly CMS makes a difference.
- If your CMS does not offer on-page SEO customizations, you cannot edit the meta information users see when deciding which search results to click on. Plus, you may not be able to customize your URL structure or heading tags, which can send poor signals to search engine bots. Understand on-page SEO features in a CMS.
- Without an SEO-friendly CMS that offers control over noindex tags, canonical tags and more, you could have many extra pages showing in Google’s index that are meant to be hidden. This means your most important pages could be crawled infrequently, hurting your website’s overall SEO. Learn about crawling and indexing power.
- If your CMS does not allow you to enable technical SEO features such as schema markup, your website may not be eligible to show for SERP enhancements like reviews or FAQs. Additionally, you could fall behind competitors with more advanced SEO capabilities. See how technical SEO features in a CMS affect SERP presence.
- If you switch to an SEO-friendly CMS or begin to take advantage of the SEO features, you can see significant organic traffic increases and even greater increases in conversions. Find out how an SEO-friendly CMS boosts organic traffic.
Let’s start with the basics.
A content management system (CMS) is a software platform used to allow multiple users to create new web pages, edit existing pages and update website copy. With a CMS, even users unfamiliar with coding can publish changes to the website without development or IT involvement.
With a CMS, you can allow marketers and other members of your team to make website updates. The CMS administrator controls the permissions surrounding each individual user’s access level. Not all users require full publish permissions, and a CMS allows you that control while still opening access up to those with less technical knowledge. At Blue Compass, our website is changing often, and we would not be able to keep up and respond in a timely manner without Slate, the user-friendly CMS.
When it comes to choosing the right CMS, first, start by making sure you have access to basic content management features. If you’re not sure what to look for in a content management system, basic features include:
- Ability to add and delete pages
- WYSIWYG content editor
- Media gallery for adding images and videos
- Article system to manage blog posts
- Style options for headings and paragraph text
While these features are absolutely essential, these elements alone are not enough to offer you the control you need over your website. If you are using a CMS that offers only those basic features, now is the time for an upgrade!
More than ever, users are turning online to search for products and services, which makes search engine optimization absolutely crucial. When a user is considering multiple brands, they turn to Google to do research and, ultimately, make purchasing decisions. If you’re not showing up in search engine results pages (SERPs), you’re losing out on business.
You might not realize just how big of a role your CMS plays in your SERP rankings. Your CMS is kind of like the bridge between search engines and your content. If the bridge itself doesn’t have a solid foundation, it will be difficult to make it from one end to the other. The same is true for your CMS & SEO. If your CMS does not have a solid SEO foundation, search engines will have a hard time discovering your content, and all the hard work you put into content creation will be undermined.
Just like a bridge does the heavy lifting and makes it effortless to cross a body of water, your CMS should do the heavy lifting when it comes to SEO - after all, we use Slate to make our lives easier! Your CMS should provide you with the necessary features and framework for healthy on-page and technical SEO. And your content management system should make it easy enough that anyone with some basic knowledge can maintain the SEO health of a website.
Which Website Platform Is Best for SEO?
We often get this question, but there isn’t one straightforward answer. Choosing the right CMS depends on your needs, the size of your website and the diversity of the content you produce. However, there are a handful of SEO features that your CMS must have in order for you to successfully rank in search results.
So let’s talk about the content management system key features that you need to manage your website’s SEO.
Key SEO features in a CMS can be broken down in four main categories. Keep going to read through them all, or use the buttons to jump to a section you want to learn more about.
#1 On-page SEO
#2 Crawling and indexing
#3 Technical SEO enhancements
#4 Tracking and reporting
#1: On-Page SEO Features
On-page SEO features allow you to control what your page says, how it appears to users in search results and behind-the-scenes elements for search engines. When these elements are not explicitly defined, search engines fill in the blanks. We’ll admit, search engines have come a long way in understanding web pages and user intent, but you still know your business and your audience better. Luckily, with the right SEO features in your CMS, you can take control.
Meta Title & Meta Description Editing
When a user is exploring websites on a search engine results page (SERP), your meta title and meta description are the first elements they encounter as they consider your page.
If you don’t grab their attention right away, they will scroll right past your result and click on a competitor. Without the ability to customize the metadata in your CMS, that first impression is out of your hands.
So, while these elements may not be direct ranking factors, they have a major impact on click-through rate, and thus are extremely important to have control over.
In addition, your CMS should also allow you to edit open graph and Twitter card information. These are the social meta tags which allow you to control the title, descriptions and images which show when your content is shared on social media.
Heading Tag Customization
Every good long-form piece of content utilizes heading tags. Heading tags make content more readable and user friendly by breaking up copy into smaller chunks and allowing users who may skim the article to find a relevant section.
While heading tags provide a visual indicator of a break in the copy, they also provide a hierarchy of concepts for your website page or article, which is a landing page UX best practice. For that reason, it is necessary that your CMS gives you the ability to control which heading tags are being used throughout the page.
How Should I Order My Heading Tags?
Always begin your page with the most important headline as the h1. For subheadings below the h1, always use an h2. Content should never jump from an h1 to an h3 or an h2 to an h4, they should always proceed in order. These mistakes are confusing to search engine bots as they try to understand your content, but even more so to assistive technology like screen readers. Because there is such a strong connection between SEO and user experience, websites which do not follow web design accessibility best practices to provide a friendly user experience for all may experience declining rankings.
SEO Capabilities for Images & Media
In addition to the body copy of a page, media files are used to provide relevant context about products or services. Google and other search engines are getting more advanced at understanding images, but there is still a long way to go. That is why we rely on image SEO like alt text and image title tags to describe images to search engines. Without this key feature in your CMS, Google may only be interpreting the written portion of your pages and you could be missing out on image ranking opportunities.
An SEO-friendly CMS will allow you to customize alt text so that you can accurately describe an image, chart or infographic. In addition, look for a content management system that allows you to provide unique alt text for the same image if it appears on multiple pages. Sometimes, the same image is used for two very different purposes, and you need this flexibility within your CMS.
Plus, like heading tags, image alt text is an important component for ADA compliance. Without these tags, screen readers are unable to interpret images.
Ideally, your CMS should provide URL suggestions based on the title of your page, but it should also allow you to override those recommendations. This gives you the flexibility to come up with a unique URL for specific campaigns or shorten the URL if it becomes too wordy.
Consider it a major red flag if your CMS does not allow URL editing and generates URLs which use long page IDs or confusing parameters. These types of URLs make it more difficult for search engines to decipher your page and can indicate the CMS is built with outdated coding practices which could hide other underlying problems.
HTML View in WYSIWYG Editor
WYSIWYG visual editors make it easy to populate content onto a website, but there are circumstances where you may need to switch to the HTML view to have more control over your page. If you do not have the ability to switch between HTML and visual editors, you will not only be limited in functionality, but your CMS may be hiding unclean HTML.
#2: SEO Features to Control Website Crawling & Indexing
Every company has some website pages which they do not want discovered in search. These might be landing pages for invite-only events or internal resources. Your CMS should give you the power to control what is available to search engines for crawling and indexing.
Auto Generated Sitemaps
Your sitemap is a list of all of the pages on your website which you would like search engines to notice. Without a sitemap, search engines can still discover many of your pages, but they do not have nearly as much information about how you would like them to use those pages in search.
Sitemaps are one of those SEO elements which are essential but a pain to maintain manually. And that is exactly why your CMS should handle sitemap management behind-the-scenes, making sure your sitemap lives in the proper directory and is updated often. This SEO feature is even more important if your pages are updated often or if you are frequently adding new pages.
Sites which use Slate don’t have to worry about sitemap issues because all sitemaps are updated on a daily basis to reflect the latest website changes. The process is completely automated making sitemap management a breeze!
Noindex Directive for Pages
The noindex directive allows you to indicate to search engines that a page should not be indexed or served in search results. We would never want to do this for main service or product pages, but we may want to do this for a page which is behind a login, or an exclusive resource that requires users to first give their contact information.
Your CMS should give you the option to hide any page from search results. Typically, this should be a checkbox, so that you can easily make updates down the road, should the page become available for public consumption.
This feature should also tie in with your auto-generated sitemap. Pages which are marked as noindex (or hidden) should be excluded from the sitemap to avoid wasting your crawl budget.
Proper Pagination to Reduce SEO Issues
Pagination, the process of dividing sequences of content across multiple pages, can be a confusing topic in SEO because there are a variety of scenarios and each one must be treated differently. Plus, improper pagination can cause a lot of SEO issues, such as duplicate content, diluted ranking signals and more. On top of that, in March of 2019, Google announced that they no longer respected the rel next/previous directive, which was commonly used for pagination.
Pagination is complicated yet very important for SEO success! We could write a whole blog about that topic alone, so we won’t go through every approach to pagination. But we recommend reading this pagination guide from Search Engine Journal, to learn about acceptable options. Before selecting an SEO-friendly CMS, make sure you do some research about how each CMS handles pagination and compare against the recommended options in the guide.
Canonical Tags for Controlling Duplicate Content
Since canonical tags help search engines identify the primary source of duplicate content, they are a key SEO feature to have in your CMS.
You may think that most sites don’t struggle with this issue, but duplicate content can be sneaky. Think about an e-commerce site which uses URL parameters to sort products from high to low or low to high. These two different URL versions are duplicate content of each other and the unsorted version of the page.
Maybe you manage two sites which provide the same services in different geographical regions and you post the same, or very similar, content to each website’s blog. Those posts are considered duplicate content.
These are just a few examples of how duplicate content can sneak onto a website. Thankfully, canonical tags are the tool to tell search engines which page you want them to index.
For standard templates, such as a blog with categories or an e-commerce system with sorting, your CMS should follow canonical tag best practices to control duplicate content. For custom templates, you or your developer should have the option to edit canonical tags to suit your needs. When implemented incorrectly, canonical tags can negatively impact your SEO, which is why this feature is often accessible to developers only.
Controlling 301 Redirects & Other Status Codes
Status codes are another way to help search engines understand which pages should or should not be indexed. For example, 404 errors indicate that a resource no longer exists and 301 redirects tell search engines to look for a resource at a new URL.
If your CMS does not serve proper status codes, you will lose significant SEO value when you change URL structure or retire an old page. At a minimum, your SEO-friendly CMS should allow you or your developer to implement 301 redirects. If this SEO feature is not available in your CMS, you should consider alternative options.
#3: Technical SEO Enhancements
Most of the features listed above have been SEO-standards for quite a while. The true test to determine if a CMS is SEO-friendly is how quickly it is adapting, updating and launching new SEO features. The next few capabilities are must-have features if you want to to be on top of new trends and stay ahead of your competitors.
Schema Markup Templates
Schema markup, or structured data, is one of the hottest topics in the SEO world right now. Schema is code which you can put on a webpage to summarize the main points of the page and help search engines get a clearer understanding of your topic.
Even if the phrase “schema markup” is new to you, we guarantee you’ve seen the results of properly implemented schema, such as star-ratings under a recipe result, top story news cards or FAQs appearing on SERPs.
Schema markup is the code which makes a website eligible for those types of search enhancements and many more. When search engines discover proper schema, they can display extra information directly in the search results, which can improve click-through rate.
As Google continues to change, these search result features and enhancements will only expand. If you begin implementing schema now, you will be ahead of many other websites within your industry, which is why this is an absolutely essential SEO feature for a CMS.
If your CMS boasts schema markup as a feature, be sure that they allow page-specific schema markup and that the code is properly placed in the head tag of the page.
Some content management systems provide you with an editor to place schema code, but leave you with the responsibility of producing the code. Writing schema markup code can be a difficult undertaking, so we recommend going with a CMS that either dynamically generates the code for you or supplies you with templates that you can fill in.
Schema is constantly evolving, but we consider these a few of the essential schema template that you should have access to:
- Organization or LocalBusiness
- Article schema
- FAQ schema
- Event schema
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Site speed is an important ranking factor because 53% of mobile visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load, according to data collected by Google. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), initially a collaboration between news publishers and tech companies, make nearly instantaneous load times possible. An AMP page is a secondary version of a website page with most coding elements stripped out of the page. Usually this page contains only the main article and sometimes a scaled back version of navigation. Because these pages are so minimal, they load very quickly.
AMP is not right for every site. Often, an optimized mobile experience has the same SEO benefits as AMP. But this is a key feature which your CMS should have available, should it make sense for your content and brand.
#4: Key Tracking & Reporting Features in a CMS
One very important component of successful SEO is the ability to track and measure the success of your efforts. Without tracking capabilities, us marketers can only make educated guesses about what is working. But if you’re anything like those of us on the team at Blue Compass, you prefer to rely on the data.
That is why your CMS must allow you to place tracking codes and pixels. At the very least, you should be able to place the sitewide Google Analytics tag and additional event tracking through Google Tag Manager.
If you use Slate, you even have the option to use our custom dashboard which allows you to see highlights from your Google Analytics account while logged into the CMS.
If you are relying on other tools or platforms, you may need to place additional tracking pixels on a page-by-page or sitewide basis. Both should be an option in some capacity. Though we will caution you, incorrect placement can cause website loading issues, or could cause a pixel to conflict with or override another tracking tag you have in place. For that reason, this feature is often locked down to developer access only. Even if you cannot access this directly, your web development team should be able to help.
As you can see, there are a lot of SEO elements to consider when choosing a CMS platform. It might take some time up front, but if you do your research and choose an SEO-friendly CMS, you can see major increases in organic visibility.
You might be wondering if these SEO elements will actually affect your website’s organic traffic. The answer is yes! If your SEO elements are optimized, your site may see some of these major benefits of an SEO-friendly CMS.
Your Most Important Pages Are Crawled and Indexed
We talked extensively about the SEO elements which impact crawling and indexation. But why does that matter?
Every website has a unique crawl budget indicating how many pages on the site a search engine will crawl. For every unnecessary page which a search engine crawls, they are crawling one less valuable piece of content. Not only does this mean existing pages are revisited less often, but new content takes longer to be discovered. This can be detrimental if you are making important updates or announcements.
Your Brand Pushes Competitors Down to Page Two
When you employ technical SEO enhancements, your brand can take up more real estate on page one of SERPs. With an SEO-friendly CMS, your brand might begin to show up for SERP features like knowledge panels, Google Local Pack, FAQs, and more. In addition, updated on-page and technical SEO can increase your chances of ranking for featured snippets and voice search.
With Google’s diversity update decreasing the number of traditional organic results for which any one website can rank, SERP features are the only possibility for your brand to take over page one.
The Ultimate Goal: Increase Organic Traffic and Conversions
Visibility is the first step, but ultimately, we want to see an increase in the number of qualified users visiting the site and taking desired actions. When combined with high-quality content, an SEO-friendly CMS will help you reach this goal!
At Blue Compass, we work with clients of all sizes across countless industries. Despite these differences, we see major traffic improvements when clients switch from an old CMS to Slate.
In one example, a client switched to Slate, the SEO-friendly CMS, and with only minimal content updates saw organic traffic increase of 28% in the year following when compared to the previous year.
After a small dip in organic traffic right after launch, traffic picked back up and has steadily increased ever since.
Because of their ranking and organic traffic improvements, they saw form completions increase 106% in the year following their switch to Slate.
This is just one of the many fantastic SEO transformations we’ve seen after switching over to a CMS which prioritizes traditional and advanced SEO tactics.
Increase Traffic with Our SEO-Friendly CMS
As you can see, there is a strong connection between your CMS and SEO success! It’s imperative to review your CMS for these SEO features and take action if you are missing any key elements. We’re here to help!
Slate, the user-friendly content management system has all of these key SEO features and more! Our goal is to make SEO easy and manageable so you have no excuse to skip a meta title here or image alt text there. If you’re ready to increase quality website traffic and conversions, contact our team of digital experts to learn how Slate can benefit your business.
Lisa enjoys developing data-driven digital marketing campaigns for her clients. Passionate about SEO, she thrives on challenging projects which require creative thinking to implement advanced SEO tactics. Lisa comes to Blue Compass with a degree in Marketing from Drake University and previous agency experience.