It should come as no surprise to you that one of the keys to the value of Web content is the ability for people to find it. But how to enable that is the question. Yesterday afternoon at Gilbane SF, Bill Rogers, CEO, Ektron, and Christian Burne of Oshyn, spoke to this topic during a presentation about optimizing SEO.

Moderator Tony White, Lead Analyst, Web Content Management, Gilbane Group, opened the discussion by asking the audience, “What sorts of things are you doing to optimize search on your site?”

The response? Just the lonely sound of crickets chirping.

SEO is Complicated

If you’re beginning to break a sweat, don’t feel bad. White continued by saying, “SEO is probably the most complicated part of implementing a content management system. I don’t think this is something that anybody, including vendors, has solved.”

Not exactly comforting, we know. But let’s look at the reasons why it’s so difficult, according to Burne:

  • Search algorithms are in a Black box: Do you know Google’s algorithms? We didn’t think so.
  • Unpredictability: Frequent changes in search algorithms make them unpredictable.
  • Competition: Burne stressed that there’s too much competition for commonly used keywords. He explained, “If you’re not out there finding keywords and using them to make your pages dense, your competitors are. If you don’t make moves, you’ll sink fast; you don’t just stay the same. Additionally, social media, which, is usually talked about like it’s the most magical thing about the Web right now, isn’t so great for the people down this particular avenue. After all, more promotion via social networks inspires more pressure and more competition.

Social media, the bad buy? Not exactly. In reality, it's just about knowing how to manage the amounts of information that are being created and are flying by at rocket speed. But more importantly, it's about being familiar with your tools.

Case in point: Tinyurl. Tons of people use it because they think, yeah, great, I'll simplify my URLs and people will appreciate it. But as Burne explained, "more than one link to your site decreases individual link value."

CMS to the Rescue

Included in Burne’s keys to a successful SEO life is intention. According to him, you want to get buyin from stakeholders, you want to have a strategy before you build, you want to understand the importance of what you’re doing.

Everything you do should be clear cut, planned and organized. And what can help you with organization? Why, content management, of course. Here are some ways in which it can do so:

  • Titles, keywords & descriptions: Make them required, put them through the workflow.
  • Manage sitemap.xml & robots.txt: Automated processes are our friends.
  • Site freshness: Take advantage of all the features included in your Web CMS, including the ability to schedule deployment.
  • Link management:Good URL aliasing and structure is important

Additionally, Burne quickly addressed moderating user generated content in order to make sure comments don’t have bad words or spambots, and response compression for better indexing.

“Response compression is fairly easy, but not well known,” he said. “Most search engines work by grabbing a certain amount of text to index. When Google indexes a page, it only grabs the first 200 kilobytes, so you can increase your chances of having the entire page indexed by using this thing called response compression. You should be doing this regardless; but sometimes your CMS can help you do this as well.”


Playing a kind of Devil's advocate, White stepped in to note that it's in this area that content management systems are actually wildly different. "Friendly URLs is an example of where content management systems tend to act differently," he explained. "Some can manage friendly URLs, some can’t do it at all. One client of mine had a URL that was 600 characters long because it was related explicitly to the content on the page. Unbelievable." 

The lesson here is obviously not to put all your eggs in one basket. Additional SEO problems related to CMS that were mentioned during the talk include the duplication of content being a bad thing, repurposing code causing cluttered html (also bad), and, of course, terribly long URLs. 

Of course, these can likely all be avoided if you follow Burne's advice and get up close and personal with your tools before you think about using them.

It seems that if there's one thing to be pulled from this talk, and many others we've heard at Gilbane this week, it's that awareness is key.