Content Management System (CMS)
A Guide To Leveraging Your Web CMS for SEO
These days when people talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the first topic of conversation is keywords (with good reason). To most people, keyword optimization is arguably the most important factor in SEO.
However, before you jump on the keyword optimization bandwagon, you should first focus on leveraging all aspects of your Web CMS to build an SEO friendly Web site that can present your content and keywords to the search engines correctly through the Web sites Infrastructure.
Without a proper SEO friendly Web site infrastructure, your site will continue to flounder in search engine rankings, even with the best use of keywords.
Using Your Web CMS To Build An SEO-Friendly Web Site
There are a number of standard concepts and page elements that one should be aware of prior to launching any Web site. These elements, if used correctly, will improve the flow of your page content as well as assist with SEO, accessibility and overall usability of your pages.
HTML (XHTML, XML, etc.) code for Web pages is structured based on relationships between tag elements and as a result, the code builds a hierarchy of content based on these relationships.
The hierarchy and elements that surround content are also what search engines tend to use to determine the relative importance of the content on your site and its relevance in search results.
For example, the most important paragraph of content on your page should be located directly beneath a first level Heading that is indicated as H1 (or Heading 1).
In this article we will discuss 15 basic Web content structure elements, why they are important, and how to use them within a Web Content Management System.
1. Search Engine Friendly URLs
Search Engine Friendly URL's are essentially well formed paths containing a domain, keywords and proper directory structure (using words, slashes and filenames only). You can quickly see the improper use of a URL with the use of symbols. When a search engine spider comes across a symbol (usually the presence of a question mark (?) after a directory or page name), the search engine perceives it as being a parameter and it will stop reading the URL and miss anything that exists after that parameter. This is not good, and many content management systems do this.
Having a properly built URL is a simple task when you are dealing with a static site that does not rely on parameters.
As soon as a site begins to deal with dynamic pages, sessions and parameters (which is usually the case with Web CMS's) it becomes more difficult to stick with properly formed and Search Engine Friendly URL's. The general rule here is to eliminate all use of parameters in the URL (by masking, using aliases or other techniques) in order to ensure that your URL's are well formed with keywords rather than symbols and numbers.
2. Directory Structure
Web sites are generally set up in a folder structure, exactly like you would organize your folders on your own computer, which allows for different levels of organization to be set up physically on a Web site. These folders and files show up in the address bar of the browser as a visitor moves through the site. Directory Structure is a great indicator of pathfinding for visitors, as well as being an important factor in how Search Engines index your Web site and crawl through it to find content.
Generally speaking, keeping important pages as close to the “root” or “Top Level” as possible is recommended because the deeper into the directory structure a page is, the less important spiders will perceive the page to be. We recommend keeping critical SEO keyword pages no more than three levels deep.
It is also important to avoid all use of spaces, capitals and symbols (except dashes) in the directory and file names. Symbols are generally associated with code parameters which search engines will perceive as contextually unimportant. Using symbols, caps or spaces in directory or file names might also cause issues in different hosting environments or even rendering in browser clients.
3. Page Titles
The Page Title is the first element that people tend to see on a page and is viewable at the top-left of your browser. There are two parts to the Title area that you will notice, the first is the actual Page Title designated in the code (or in Hot Banana when you create a page) and the second is the browser type (indicated below as Mozilla Firefox) which is controlled by your browser itself.
The significance of the Page Title is that it tells visitors where they are on your site and determines the theme of the page. After the URL, the Page Title is (arguably) considered to be the highest level of importance for search engine indexing.
Page Titles should be specific to the page, contain keywords related to headings and content of the page, and indicate at a glance where a visitor is. Best practice is also to show the site or company name if possible.
File names should be short, relevant and should not contain any special characters. Furthermore, they should not contain spaces (use dashes between words instead) because operating systems and browsers will replace spaces with garbage text on execution (i.e. %20 with windows systems). Dynamic pages should be identified with relevant names rather than dynamic parameters if at all possible. All files should contain lower case characters as some operating systems and older browsers are case-sensitive; using lower-case file names is the current standard.
4. Headings And Paragraphs
Headings are hierarchical elements that indicate the importance of the heading and the body content immediately following it. This hierarchy is extremely important for both Search Engine indexing and Text Reader content weight (Text Readers read Heading levels with varying annunciation), while also providing a clear structure for organizing content on a page.
Headings are usually designated from h1 to h6 and should be used on a page in descending order (h1 being the most important). It is also recommended that each page heading level only be used once on a page wherever possible, although there are situations when content should be given equal weight on a page, which could warrant the use of a heading level more than once.
Any link on your page, whether it is a link to another page on your site or a link to an external site, is important from an SEO standpoint. Search engines will place more importance on links that follow along with the hierarchy of your heading/paragraph relationships. In other words, a link within a paragraph will have more weight than a link anywhere else.
How a link and its destination page are worded will also dictate how important spiders perceive the link destination page to be. For instance, if you have a link that says “Web Content Management”, then the title of the page that it is linking to should have a similar title or URL (i.e. /web-content-management/) and should contain content that is related to Web Content Management.
Along with the name of the link and its destination, any title or description attributes added to them are important from an SEO standpoint. Titles and descriptions can be added to links for display (in the code) of more information regarding the link. These attributes are generally for text-readers and spiders to use when interpreting the importance and the relevance of a link.
External links (links to sites other than your own) will not directly increase your ranking. In fact, having many of them on a single page might actually hinder your ranking because search engines may consider this to be "link farming", so be careful. What external links can do is increase the ranking of the site you are linking to, which could potentially increase your ranking over time if the other site also links back to your's. Backwards linking to your site is therefore more desirable if the link is relevant.
Search Engines and your Web site visitors will both react negatively if they find links that do not go anywhere, even if you have a proper 404 "Page Not Found" page on your site. It is extremely important to be aware of where your links are going at all times and be able to control the removal of links to a level that prevents "dead-links".
It is also important to note when adding a large number of links on a page, it is generally agreed that any number of links over 100 on a page is considered "link farming" and might be detrimental to your rankings. You might wonder where you would ever find a page with 100 links? Site maps are the number one culprit for having a large number of links. Therefore, where possible, large site maps should be reduced.
6. Site Maps
Every site should provide a quick and easy to follow site map containing links to all pages within the Web site structure. Search engine robots will crawl these pages and will index your site with more accuracy. A site map is also considered best practice from a usability standpoint as it provides a central spot for a visitor to find access to all important links from your entire site.
While regular HTML sitemaps will do the trick, a properly structured XML sitemap can actually be submitted to the major search engines (i.e. Google Sitemaps) and will be indexed with higher priority. XML sitemap structure can even indicate the importance of pages in relation to each other and how often content is changed.
As mentioned in the "Links" section above, be careful how many links reside on your site map pages. If you are close to the 100+ mark for links, consider reducing deep-page links (further than 3 levels deep) or splitting your site map into smaller "contextual" map pages.
7. META Tags
Meta tags are a series of tags that are located in the “head” portion of a Web page but are not viewed in your browser. These tags are used specifically to identify and classify the contents of the page. In the past, most spiders were only concerned with the "Meta-keywords” and "Meta-description” tags. These days, most search engines essentially ignore the Meta keyword and description tags, however, they should still be used because there are spiders that still use them to index your site. This is one of the quirky sides to SEO, as even though Meta tags may have minimal to no importance, you should still use them because they can also be a big help for your internal search Web site tool.
Another common Meta tag used for search engine spider communication is the “Robots” tag, and there are a number of other Meta tags that can and should be utilized as the situation dictates. As regulations change, it is very likely that meta information will again become important. For more information on additional Meta tags and their use, see the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative Web site.
Meta descriptions are a must and should be used on all pages. Providing one global Web site description that appears on all pages is acceptable, however, a Web page specific description is optimal.
When using Meta keywords, use them on all Web pages. Use keywords specific to your page and relevant to the content of that page. It is always better to target fewer specific words rather than lots of general words or terms. Do not use words such as "and/or", "etc" because search engines ignore them. Furthermore, it is not necessary to include plural forms of words.
8. Robots Meta and Robots.txt
There are two ways to target Robots (or Search Engine bots/spiders) to indicate to them how to handle a particular page. One way is to include Robots and Revisit Meta tags on your pages which tell search engines whether or not to index the page and how often to revisit for updated content.
The second way to target Robots is through a file named robots.txt. Having a robots.txt file works the same as the page-level meta-tags except that it allows you to have this file situated in the root of your site and create a global Robots instruction set for how to index the site as a whole.
Your Web site navigation is more important to your site visitors than it is to search engine spiders. Spiders will classify it as less important based on page structure and proximity of links versus the more important in-content links. That said, it is important to optimize the navigation because it is still one of the primary ways that spiders crawl your site.
As much as possible, your navigation should be simple, relevant and TEXT-BASED. The beauty of using modern Web content management techniques, such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), means that you can have a navigation that is text-based, but also use a method to replace the text with images to retain a creative looking, image-based look and feel.
Alt and Title tags are used primarily to provide relevant information about images on the page to visually impaired visitors who are using screen readers or to visitors who have images disabled in their browsers. Therefore, it is essential that Alt tags accurately describe images with clear names or descriptions. Title tags are also recommended on all images for the same reasons, although Titles are not as crucial. Title tags tend to be used to categorize content.
11. Strong And Emphasis Tags
Strong and emphasis tags are the new replacements for Bold and Italic tags. They do exactly the same thing that their predecessors did, but they are also considered important for SEO. When your content is indexed, words and phrases that are contained within an emphasis or strong tag will be considered of higher importance and relevance than normal body text.
Not only will using these tags (and other important notables like the "small" tag) be beneficial for spiders, but it will also assist visitors to your site using text-readers which will actually change tone and inflection based on the tag used.
12. Duplicate Content
It can be extremely negative to your rankings to have duplicate content on your site.
The definition of what constitutes duplicate content is often unclear. Duplicate content generally does not apply to your navigation, calls to action (smaller sections on a page that are structured globally for instance) or RSS feeds.... all other content on your site (especially the big chunks of content that make up the bulk of a page) are not to be duplicated on the site if at all possible. Search engines generally see this as trying to "dupe" the spiders into indexing the content more than once which in turn could increase your ranking for keywords contained in said content. The search engines are very aware of these tactics and will often lower your ranking or blacklist you altogether if you have the same content on one site or (even worse) on multiple sites.
Of course, there are reasons that you might need or want to have duplicate content on one or more sites. The best way to do this is either to add a Robots: No Follow, No Index for the duplicates (at the page level or in a robots.txt file), or to create a proper redirect on the duplicate content pages to the original content (see 301 redirects below).
13. 301 Redirects
A 301 redirect is a "permanent" redirection for a file or folder on a Web site.
Generally these are created for the purpose of redirecting visitors from content that no longer exists (at a particular URL or path) to a currently existing URL. These types of redirects allow for domains, pages and directories to all be pushed to other areas without running the risk of a search engine spider indexing the original items and / or their content (thus eliminating any risk of duplicate content). There are many other ways to create redirects at the server and page level, but currently 301 redirects are the only 100% search engine friendly solution when creating a redirect.
14. Only Use Tables For Tabular Data
Years ago, using tables for layout was common practice as there really wasn’t any other way to accurately control the positioning of content or design without them. These days with strong CSS support in modern browsers, there is absolutely no reason to use a table on your site unless it is to display actual Tabular data (See "Separating Content and Design" for more information).
Tables add extra code to your site that does not need to be there, and they are not search engine friendly as they prevent spiders from quickly and accurately finding your content, and most importantly, the hierarchical importance of the content within the tables in relation to the page content is completely lost.
15. Separating Content And Design
Less code and more content is always the way to go - the sooner the spiders can find the actual text content, the better.
The quickest and easiest way to do this is by taking all “look and feel” presentation elements out of the page code, leaving only structure and content using a Cascading Style Sheet (CSS). It’s also important to present the bulk of your content as close to the top of the code as possible. Search engines simply find the keywords more quickly.
CSS is a format for designating “look and feel” of a site (Presentational Markup) that resides separate from the content (Structural Markup). The advantage of CSS is that it removes all superfluous code and words that are not “content” and allows search engine spiders to reach the real content of your site quickly without having to parse through useless presentational markup in the process.
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