Content management systems (CMS) place the responsibility of content creation and maintenance squarely in the hands of non-technical users.With the promise of reduced IT involvement and expenditures, the benefits of CMS are clear.Or are they?For those leveraging Web CMS tools to manage their online content, there is a risk to be mitigated while implementing your WCM solution. In a series of two articles, we explore how a CMS deployment, without careful consideration, can have a detrimental effect on your search engine rankings and the general findability of your content.While this two-part series does not present a “silver bullet” approach to improving your rankings on competitive search terms, it does sketch established tactics for improving your search engine visibility and strategies for enforcing these tactics during your CMS implementation.

The Contentious World of What Matters

None of the major search engines make public the algorithms they use to sift through billions of documents.As a result, just about every Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practitioner holds a different perspective on the factors that matter.In the absence of a definitive understanding of search engine algorithms, SEO practitioners have experimented, observed, messed-with and republished web site content to try to gain insight into their inner workings.In general, these factors can be divided into four categories:
  1. On-pagefactors
    Factors that vary with each page on the site, such as the title of thepage. Individual authors frequently control or influence these factors.  Appropriate CMS configuration can help ensureauthors follow best practices.
  2. Site-widefactors
    Issues that can be addressed for the entire site, such as the creation of asite map. Frequently, site or content management administrators can control orinfluence these factors.
  3. Off-sitefactors
    Search engines are increasingly relying on factors such as the number ofexternal sites linking to a page and behaviour of visitors on a given site todetermine rankings.  CMS solutions canonly address these factors tangentially.
  4. Negativefactors
    A wide variety of issues can lead to search engines reducing the ranking ofa page; these range from unreliable site uptime to the inappropriate use ofredirects. Many of these factors can be addressed with an effective contentmanagement solution.
We'll addresses only thosefactors thought to influence search engine rankings that are relevant tocontent management deployment. For acomprehensive discussion of all search factors see Search Engine Ranking Factors available at (DOC).The following tables are a short summary of the more comprehensive discussion available in the complete report.

Site-Wide Factors

W3C Compliant Code

A page that is coded to match W3C XHTML standards issimpler for the search engines to parse and ensures all content is readable.

Site Maps

A comprehensive site map ensures that search enginespiders can find and index each page on the site by following a single link.

Google Site Maps

Google sitemaps significantly increase the likelihood of all of the content on yoursite being indexed by these engines. Yahoo! and MSN have also adopted Google’s standard.

Site Navigation asText

Create main navigation as text links – not images – toease the job of search engines crawling through the site.

Use Search EngineFriendly URLs

Avoid dynamic URLs; use static URLs.  If you must use dynamic URLs, use no morethan two parameters.

Publish to a Flat Directory

By using a relatively flat filestructure – no more than two directories deep – you may be able to increasethe relevance assigned to pages by some pages to search engines.

Eliminate Broken Links

Establish a process for finding and eliminating brokenlinks and create a custom 404 page. Search engines may penalize sites for out-dated links.

Appropriate Use of robots.txt

An improperly constructed robots.txt page can prevent yoursite from being indexed at all.

On-Page Factors

Effective Title Tags

The text within the title tag of a page is one of the mostimportant factors influencing its ranking at major search engines.

Effective Meta Description Tags

Every page should include a compelling description of thecontent of the page as a meta description.

Reduce Code Clutter

Eliminate extraneous HTML and JavaScript code through theuse of “includes” and cascading style sheets.

Image AltAttributes

Search engine spiders cannot read images, but they canparse and process the “alt attributes” associated with an image.

Ensure Links can beProcessed

Don’t bury links inside JavaScript or Flash Macromedia.

Avoid SpellingErrors

Invest in a spell checkingutility to improve page quality.

Use Key Words inURLs

The use of the search terms within a page’s URL appears tocontribute to search engine ranking – include terms separated by dashes.

Effective ContentStructuring

Make use of formal heading tags (<h1>, <h2>etc) to organize content and signify importance of specific terms.

Use DescriptiveText in Internal Links

Include key terms within the links that point to a pagefrom other pages on your site.


Duplicate Content

Ensure each page on your site is substantially different.

Duplicate Titles

The same title should never appear on more than one pageon a site.

Avoid SessionVariables

Avoid dynamic systems that assign a different sessionvariable to each visitor – including search spiders.

Canonical Issues

Make sure that search engines do not see similar URLs ( and for example) asseparate pages.

Associating with“Bad Neighbours”

Beware linking to sites thatpractice underhanded search engine optimization techniques – avoid “linkfarms.”

Next Week:We'll discuss how these factors can be addressed within a CMS.Read: SEO and CMS: Best Practices During Deployment (Part 2)

About the Author

Randy Woods is a co-founder of non-linear creations. With his breadth ofknowledge and experience in online strategy, content management and searchmarketing, Randy shares his lessons learned through the non-linear creationsLeadership Series; a number of published whitepapers including: Best Practices inCMS Governance, SEOand CMS: Best Practices and the NLC PerformanceFramework.