Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a marketing field that continues to gain momentum as more and more businesses recognize the importance of developing a strong online presence. Visibility on the Internet through means of on-site optimization techniques is as equally important as a website that is user-friendly and easy to navigate on the front-end.
Achieving top page status in search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! is no easy task. On- and off-page optimization campaigns are integral components to any Internet marketing campaign. If your website is built within a Content Management System (CMS) it’s important to make sure you take appropriate measures to optimize your pages to be effectively crawled and indexed by search engines.
Some of the major page components that must be optimized from the default settings in CMS platforms include:
- Search Engine Friendly URLs: Keywords are important. So are normal characters (as opposed to dynamic characters, including “?” in a random URL string). Kick the default to the curb and implement something that doesn’t include a string of system-generated numbers. Search engines also consider the length of each URL – typically those that are longer than 100 characters could be dropped from the search engine’s index.
- Description and Title Tags: Default modes do not include custom meta descriptions and page titles cannot be updated. Why are these important? Accurately describing the page content and giving the page a search-friendly keyword- rich title is a major step to on-page optimization. If your website has 30 pages, all with the same title and description, how does this help you differentiate your content for search purposes? Clearly, it doesn’t. To make matters worse, the existence of duplicate titles may lead to a duplicate content penalty, which could result in de-indexation of the pages.
- XML sitemaps: CMS and e-commerce websites quickly become robust when dynamic query strings are generated for individual users’ shopping carts and orders. Sitemaps help to give order to the complexity, and assist engines with indexing your website. Within an XML sitemap, search engines can rapidly crawl your pages. A sitemap also helps to set precedents for preferred URLs. Backlinks to your website may vary (i.e., www.yourdomain.com yourdomain.com yourdomain.com/index.html or www.yourdomain.com/index.html) adding to the confusion. The map will also help to communicate with Google which pages should be indexed when duplicate content arises for URLs differing only by a query string. Also in an effort to avoid duplicate content, the CMS platform should have the capability to add a “rel canonical” tag in order to allow the spider to look for the original content. Without the “rel canonical” tags, the spiders can spend a significant amount of time looking at dynamic versions of pages, expensing the spider crawl credit. The key is to help the search spiders complete the crawl in shortest possible time, increasing the chances of proper indexation and a greater future crawl frequency.
- 301 Redirect Capabilities: Broken pages due to content restructure can be costly from an SEO standpoint. CMS platforms that offer the functionality to re-direct pages to those with newer content, or properly direct pages that have expired, will ensure you don’t lose link juice or rankings in the search engines.
- Alt Tags for Images: Providing tags for images offers search engines another way to index content. Images that are linked also offer a rich way to provide anchor text through the alt tag.
SEO Plugins for the Major CMS Platforms
Fortunately, CMS platform developers understand the importance of properly optimized websites. Various plugins and modules exist on the three platforms to assist with implementing the elements outlined above, as well as other worthwhile on-page SEO tactics. The following are just a few methods for beginning the process of optimizing your WordPress, Joomla or Drupal CMS website.
- Settings -> Permalinks: This CMS comes ready with URL, metatags, categories and tags built into the structure. It’s the user’s responsibility, though, to update the default settings – especially for the permalinks to generate search-friendly URLs.
- SEO Ultimate: This plugin does it all – title tag rewriter, meta description editor, meta keywords editor, robot tags editor, canonicalizer and so much more.
- Simple 301 Redirect: A simple solution for managing your redirected or expired pages within your CMS admin panel.
- Global Configuration -> SEO Tab: The administration panel in Joomla addresses global SEO settings for the website. This is the first step for allowing meta titles, tags and search-friendly URLs. More steps will need to be taken, though, to optimize those tags and titles.
- Smart SEO: This Joomla plugin provides the ability to edit meta tags and titles for each individual page and component.
- SEO Canonicalisation Plugin: Rather than update a server-side .htaccess file to specify redirects, opt for this plugin. Acting like a 301 redirect, this removes the problem of search engine’s indexing duplicate content due to varying backlinks (i.e., www.yourdomain.com yourdomain.com your domain.com/index.html or www.yourdomain.com/index.html).
- Administer > Site Configuration > Clean URLs: This functionality is built within the Drupal admin panel. You’ll want to enable clean URLs as the first step to making your website search-friendly.
- Meta Tags/Nodewords: A wonderful plugin for managing meta tags for your page – including titles, keywords, descriptions, canonical URLs and more.
- Pathauto: This enables automatic generation of URL paths, replacing the default (i.e., /category/this-is-my-title.html in place of /node/789). The user can set a specific pattern for this process, organizing content in a clear, concise manner.
Each platform offers many more worthwhile plugins and tutorials for best optimizing a website. This has merely been an introduction to the topic of SEO within a CMS platform. The important take away is to recognize that SEO measures can be taken, but the default settings will not effectively index your pages within search engines. Careful planning and implementation can go a long way to help your website gain broader, targeted Internet visibility.