SEO is one of the most important sets of tools to run a successful business online. It is an ongoing process, necessary for the entire lifespan of your website. A CMS (content management system) can make your work easier, but unfortunately a faulty CMS can harm your site’s rankings in the SERPs. Depending on your needs, you can use open source or closed source CMS. Open source CMS – like WordPress and Joomla – makes sense if you have a small website, while the closed source is better for large enterprise solutions.
The best solution is a proprietary, closed source CMS, developed according to your business needs, your workflow volume, and your requirements. Closed source has the advantage of being more secure than open source CMS too, but it is far more expensive. Another setback is that migrating content from a proprietary CMS to an open source CMS can be costly and challenging too.
Regardless of what you choose, here are some of the CMS prerequisites you should consider for SEO.
- Your CMS should support creation and utilization of different content types, from URLs to pages, all kinds for files, articles, images, product or presentation pages, video and audio, RSS feeds, maps, events, variable page components, and much more. The CMS must also support streaming media.
- The CMS must allow trouble-free editing of the source code of any page for instances when the webmaster needs to implement specific tags and scripts, like Google analytics meta tags, and microdata.
- The CMS must allow webmasters to generate search engine friendly URLs, as well as complete control over the URL structure for both new and existing pages.
- The CMS must allow the webmaster to delete URLs or to implement 301 or 302 redirects when necessary.
- The CMS must support internal linking structure from page to files, and page to page.
- The CMS should allow webmasters to implement breadcrumb navigation to help both users and search engines to understand how to navigate the site.
- The CMS should create an XML sitemap automatically but allow the webmaster to modify said sitemap according to his SEO needs.
- The CMS should create a robots.txt file and locate it automatically at the root of the domain. The robots.txt file should be editable too.
- The CMS must allow full control over the CSS files that control layouts, fonts, colors, and other page elements. The webmaster must be able to also upload customized CSS files to the CMS as needed.
- The CMS must perform regular site backups automatically but also allow the webmaster to perform manual backups.
- The CMS must allow the webmaster to create custom meta tags for every page of the site: mandatory page titles and meta descriptions, as the meta keywords tag is obsolete. In addition, it must allow on-site optimization with page headings and other elements.
- The CMS must allow the webmaster to include image alt attributes and image title tags. It should also support no-index tags and canonical tags.
- The CMS should support Open Graph tags, as well as custom tags, microdata, and structured data.
- The CMS should allow webmasters to resize images for improved site speed, aesthetics, and usability.
- The CMS should produce mobile-friendly pages.
- The CMS should be secure: content management systems are often targeted by hackers. The CMS you choose should have regular security updates and site health checks to prevent Google manual penalties and other issues.
This list gives you a general overview of the mandatory features of a right CMS. The full list of requirements for a content management system is, much more complicated, but the basics suffice to help you choose the best CMS for your business.
Let’s consider and compare the world’s first two top CMS solutions to give you an idea of why WordPress passes as the most popular CMS for an SEO-friendly website. But is it the best?
According to W3Techs, WordPress is used by 31.1% of all the websites, with a market share of 59.9%. This makes WordPress the most popular CMS in the world, followed by Joomla (6.1% market share) and Drupal (4.0% market share).
WordPress powers many of the world’s best brand sites, as well as a wealth of second and third tier sites. It is so popular because it is easy to install and a breeze to use. It’s a well-designed CMS, with a simple, discoverable structure, and all kinds of built-in technical SEO elements necessary for the health of a site:
- WordPress offers you the ability to create a custom URL structure for your permalinks and archives.
- It has proper XHTML markup and can correct invalidly nested XHTML automatically.
- WordPress automatically notifies popular Update Services like Ping-o-Matic that you've updated your blog by sending an XML-RPC ping each time you create or update a post. A full list of Update Services is available here.
- It generates syndication feeds (RSS) automatically.
- It allows media uploads and organizes uploads into month- and year-based folders.
- It allows for easy content creation and image optimization (alt attributes, title tags, image resizing, etc.). It also supports media streaming.
- It supports a plethora of third-party plugins that make SEO a breeze: Yoast SEO, Broken Link Checker, W3 Total Cache, WPtouch Mobile Plugin, etc.
- It has hundreds of free themes, as well as third-party premium themes that can be customized to create a unique, search-engine friendly business or personal website with ease.
Because it is so popular, WordPress is a target for hackers, thus making your site secure is imperative. A plugin like iThemes Security should do the trick to keep your site safe. The free plugin is very good, but you get even more when you upgrade to the pro version.
The WordPress community of developers is robust, and they work on improving the CMS continuously. They have regular system updates with backward compatibility – the newer versions remain compatible with previous versions, meaning that you can upgrade to the latest CMS automatically, without affecting the layout of your site. Of course, database backups are mandatory for every update.
Users can choose from over 37000 themes, but WordPress also offers opportunities for developers to build a theme from scratch or with a framework like Genesis. This makes WordPress highly flexible for both novices who know nothing about coding, and developers.
Joomla! is open source too, but it’s designed for developers with coding experience. This doesn’t make the CMS as attractive as WordPress for novice users. It is the second most popular open source CMS in the world, and it is used by many sites, including some famous brands.
Unfortunately, Joomla!’s SEO capabilities are weak, and extensions like Easy Frontend SEO (EFSEO) don’t offer enough to make this CMS attractive for creating an SEO-friendly website. The out of the box SEO features of Joomla! Only include:
- Metadata and Keywords
- Mod_rewrite support for SEF URLs
- Menu creation built with the thought of creating clear and consistent sitemaps (each menu item can have its own meta description, keywords, and robots settings)
- Good security, with built-in two-factor authentication and great access control levels.
- Integrated cache management.
- Joomla! uses Bootstrap for perfect responsive designs.
- Joomla! features LESS CSS.
Unlike WordPress, Joomla! Doesn’t offer a directory of themes, so users need to find templates by browsing the web. There is, however, a directory of extensions with many free and paid options available. Because Joomla! is less popular than WordPress, there are also fewer developers available for hire to customize or build a site on this platform. However, Joomla!’s CMS is easy to use so it will not be too challenging to learn.
Like WordPress, Drupal is a free, open source CMS. However, unlike WordPress, which is almost a plug-and-play solution, Drupal, which is a “platform by developers, for developers,” requires high-level technical expertise to create sites and to manage updates. Drupal is a solution for websites with heavy content (thousands of pages). Many famous brands use Drupal CMS to power their websites.
According to experts, Drupal is a better choice for SEO than WordPress, and it also has many modules that transform your website into an SEO powerhouse. Here are some of Drupal’s built-in SEO features:
- All of Drupal 8’s built-in themes are responsive.
- It includes RDF (Resource Description Framework) in its core, so you have native Schema.org markup, which creates the rich snippets that appear in search results.
- It features Semantic HTML5 and extensive support for accessibility standards.
- Drupal boasts excellent browser language detection, easier right-to-left styling, and built-in transliteration support.
- It installs clean URLs by default.
- Mobile-responsiveness is built into Drupal 8’s core functionality.
- BigPipe module built into Drupal 8’s core functionality makes your site load faster.
- Simplified WYSIWYG editor makes content creation and management a breeze.
- Drupal boasts enterprise-level security and is used by many government sites.
To boost your SEO even more, you can install the Drupal “SEO checklist” module to see what to optimize and how.
As you can see, Drupal is better in terms of speed, security, and SEO, yet its updates do not have backward compatibility, meaning that you need to hire a developer to redesign and migrate content. This can be costly for businesses with small budgets. As your Drupal site grows, you have more a more content to manage so you will need a dedicated webmaster in charge of maintenance too.
In conclusion of the three CMS analyzed, Drupal is the best for an SEO-friendly website. Yet, keep in mind that Drupal is not suitable for beginners, and it’s recommended for sites with a lot of content. WordPress, on the other hand, can become an SEO powerhouse with some free plugins. It is also the most affordable and flexible solution for small businesses.