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Mike Valentine (RealitySEO) Posted by Mike Valentine (RealitySEO) February 25, 2016

Content Management Systems' SEO Elements Ensure Search Engine Visibility

Requirements for Content Management Systems' SEO capabilities are not always considered early when choosing a platform to power a business website. Thinking about SEO during website planning and involving an SEO specialist early on will add value and guarantee that teams avoid unexpected failures down the road. Enforcing the technical aspects of on-page SEO - incorporated into site structure through an effective CMS - will ensure and enhance search visibility.

Solid Content Management SEO requires the following list of seven elements as core technology considerations. They must each be easily accessible through user-friendly admin dashboards or page authoring interfaces. CMS concerns are all technical code-based issues that should be built-in to any CMS and enabled by default for optimal SEO settings. This holds true across most industries, whether it's retail e-commerce, publishing, consumer products, financial services, entertainment or B2B inbound marketing and blogs.

From a high level view, there are several basics incorporated in the outline below. For sake of simplicity, details are limited to those most critical to SEO, and every search engine specialist should understand necessary details.

  1. Solid hierarchy & full use of schema.org breadcrumb markup are important to most business sites. Taxonomy is critical to effective SEO and must be exposed in breadcrumbs with linked landing pages. First home page, then categories, subcategories and finally article or detail page must use "BreadcrumbList" schema (details here). This technical SEO item is listed first here because it is among the most important elements toward setting up a clearly understandable hierarchy to establish page authority and internal link equity for optimal search visibility. You'll find most large publishers and retailers incorporate breadcrumbs on their sites.
  2. The CMS generates & updates both XML and HTML sitemaps for search engines so they can fully index content. Both of these sitemap types are intended entirely for search engines and are rarely accessed by site visitors.
    • The XML Sitemap file is dynamically updated by the backend system (change frequency is determined by publishing schedule). These documents must list only pages which do not redirect or 404, as search engines will reject all pages listed there if these errors or redirects exist. XML sitemap files are a simple list of important pages on the site that should be indexed by search engines. There are change frequency, priority and other elements included in the XML file, and there is usually a pointer to the XML sitemap from the robots.txt file.
    • HTML Sitemaps are crawlable HTML files showing and linking hierarchy and detail pages, as well as most important landing pages. HTML sitemaps should dynamically update as new content is added and should reflect the site structure, beginning with top level category pages and drilling down through category and subcategories to detail or article pages. The top level index of category pages should be linked from the footer of every page to ensure frequent crawling by search engine spiders.
  3. Editable HTML title Tag (page code) which is NOT tied to URLs, although both title tags and URL are initially created by page title in the system. The page title may be edited for SEO effect without changing the URL at any time after initial publishing to live. Many systems are set up to incorporate the initial page title into the URL structure, but the overall URL word count must be limited to no more than 5 or 6 words without "stop words" (details here on URL structure). If the system is set up to change the URL when titles change, then an automated 301 Permanent Redirect must be activated to ensure that the old URL is removed from search engines.
  4. Editable headline H1 which does not trigger URL changes. The H1 tag (code) is usually wrapped around and used to denote the page headline. The H1 should be editable from a CMS dashboard to allow changing for optimal SEO. As with the separate HTML Title Tag, the headline is sometimes tied to the URL in some systems, which can change the URL when the headline changes. Again, where this happens, automated 301 permanent redirects should activate which will ensure prior URLs be removed from the search engine index.
  5. Keyword focused URLs built initially from the page title, which should be editable, with character length & directory depth limitations. The URL should be about 5 or 6 words separated by hyphens, stop-word removal as mentioned above, 2 directories deep maximum (i.e. domain.com/directory1/directory2/landing-page.html). All changes to the URL should trigger automatic 301 Permanent Redirects, which will ensure prior URLs be removed from the search engine index.
  6. Navigation elements that are based on CSS, not JavaScript. This is because JavaScript is less effective in passing link equity and therefore page authority through the site. Links should link to all top level categories from all pages and subcategories to subcategories only within the active category, so keep JavaScript out of navigation menus (except ads & click tracking). Search engines can crawl and index information in JavaScript, but have not yet begun to treat JavaScript internal linking the same way as HTML links.
  7. Capability to incorporate schema.org markup for varied content types (products, recipes, video). This presents the ability to deliver enhanced display within search results, which can include rating and review stars, recipe prep time and calories, along with recipe images and video thumbnails beside video results. These make search results stand out among others and encourage increased click-through - simply by including additional metadata within the page. Search engines provide the benefit to everyone equally, but just a small fraction of sites take advantage of these benefits by including that simple code within their content management system backend.
  8. Bonus - ability to incorporate "related content" modules within leaf node detail pages (product detail pages in e-commerce, article pages in publishing sites). These modules increase relevancy of the site topics via internal linking all related topics together, especially across categories.
    • Headline keywords, categories and tags weighted to determine related stories, products, recipes.

The above represents the technical requirements of CMS SEO elements. If all are incorporated into site functionality, there are three strong benefits associated.

  1. Crawlability is enhanced, and therefore search engine indexability is ensured via elements #1 and #2
    • Hierarchy and site structure are strongly stated via metadata.
    • Sitemaps guarantee the path (links) to every important page on the site.
  2. Topic relevancy is established through incorporating keywords in critical elements of HTML title, page headline and URL structure and each are editable, covered in items #3, #4, #5 and #8.
  3. User experience elements of navigation and schema markup of page elements (items #6 and #7) contribute to increased Google click-through from search results - as well as engagement and retention.

When these considerations are addressed upfront, before site launches, search engine visibility is dramatically improved.

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Mike Valentine is a 17 year veteran enterprise SEO consultant with deep enterprise publishing background from top 20 ComScore properties, who also has a passion for start-up SEO. Mike founded RealitySEO in 1999, working with clients nationally and internationally.