Several times now I’ve sat down with clients to go over what their current SEO rankings look like, and what we might do to create more traffic coming into their sites through effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, only to find out at the end of the discussion that their administrator or Web person doesn’t actually know how to implement SEO-friendly elements into their Web pages. Or worse, that their current Content Management System (CMS) is so locked down that we have to tweak the templates they are using by hand.
How do you pick an SEO-friendly CMS, and which one is the best for SEO? Opinions differ, but here are some generalizations among the most popular “big three” CMS systems as of March 2013, those that have the most market share:
- WordPress – WordPress has grown from a blogging tool into a fully-featured Web site creation environment. It’s got the largest number of users, and it’s very well-supported, with frequent updates, a lot of available support and customization options, and tons of third-party “plug-ins” (extensions that perform particular features like the popular Yoast SEO plug-in that adds SEO meta tag fields into the WordPress post/page editor, and the well-known All-in-One SEO plug-in). For most clients I’ve encountered who will be developing a site for a small/medium-size business or event, WordPress suits their needs very well – however, if you’re going to run an e-commerce site, incorporate forums or a membership site with many (possibly thousands of users), WordPress is not the tool you’ll use, you’d need something much more scalable.
- Joomla – Joomla is the second most popular CMS currently. It was created as a full CMS from the start (unlike WordPress), so it’s more versatile, but that versatility comes at the cost of being a much more complex tool, with arguably a more difficult interface, depending on the degree of functionality you’re trying to develop (there are many more in-depth comparisons of Joomla versus WordPress). If you use Joomla templates, it can be a good option for those who have never used a CMS before, as it allows the user to be shielded from the complexity of many style and design elements and focus on the Web page copy itself. However, this also means that it can be hard to match the different fields in the interface to what they are actually doing, meaning what HTML and/or CSS elements you are affecting, and what the final code will look like in a user’s browser. Personally, I’m annoyed with some of the clunkiness of implementing very simple SEO elements with some Joomla versions and templates, like templates that don’t allow you to write unique meta descriptions and page titles for each Web page, and not having SEO-friendly URLs as the default.
- Drupal – Drupal is very full-featured as well, and very extensible, Drupal 7 was released in Jan 2011. There are now many Drupal “modules”, and there is a full-featured Drupal application programming interface (API) that enables you to create all sorts of custom functionality. However, to add this custom functionality, you must have a competent programmer handy, and it just doesn’t have the market share or number of third-party add-ons that WordPress does. This smaller user community also means it may be more difficult to find the answers you seek if you are developing a site yourself, again forcing you to look for skilled help. This could explain why Drupal is a distant third, though still a popular solution. Again, if you are going to create a complex, large, very full-featured site, then Drupal may have better possibilities to support what you are doing (some more technical details of Drupal vs WordPress here), with plenty of programming work upfront; most clients I’ve worked with choose a simpler tool for their needs.
Does picking the most popular CMS mean you’ll have great SEO? Unfortunately, no. Many designers do not design their WordPress themes (a “theme” is a pre-packaged Web design look and feel you can add into WordPress) or WordPress frameworks (a “framework” is a back-end interface that adds features and design tools into WordPress’ own interface, like the Thesis and Genesis frameworks) to be SEO-friendly. Many don’t consider it a priority, preferring to focus on how the design looks to a user in their Web browser, rather than how the design looks to the search engines.
So what can you do to ensure you have the best SEO with the CMS you’re using? Use a browser extension that checks the SEO of a Web page, like SEOQuake or one of the numerous Web developer add-ons. Also, check the speed at which your Web site’s pages load with YSlow or similar tools. These add-ons will let you know how search engines see your Web pages, regardless of the CMS you’re using. If you see problems, fix them – make sure you have the best on-page optimization you can, your pages load quickly with no HTML errors (clean “HTTP 200” access messages, no “HTTP 302” redirect issues, etc.), and you’ll get the most traffic you can.