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I often hear and read that if you are serious about SEO you should avoid using a CMS.

Are there any credible reasons as to why a CMS can be bad for SEO/Website optimisation?

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Have you got any links to recent articles that say this? –  nthonygreen Nov 3 '10 at 3:58

7 Answers 7

The only reason I can think of is they may not use search engine friendly URLs. This reason was much more common in the past but nowadays every major CMS is search engine friendly by default or offers the ability to be search engine friendly either by choosing the proper setting or installing a plug in.

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Fair point, so that means most modern CMS systems would be fine? –  BradB Nov 2 '10 at 14:46
    
They should be. Just be sure they mention search engine friendly URLs in their features or offer a plug in that does it. But I think at this point you'd be hard pressed to find a modern CMS that doesn't offer this. –  John Conde Nov 2 '10 at 14:54

Depends on the CMS and the theme. Many popular CMS's support friendly URLs and have SEO friendly themes and plugins.

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The main reason is about URLs.

Raw CMS' URLs aren't friendly, easy to crawl, index, and with relevant keywords.

Of course, as afore mentioned, you can tune those settings or use a plugin or addon to correct that.

Other reasons are about the semantics. I never saw a rich editor with full capabilities to compose even a POSH (plain old semantic html) code, so you can imagine about the really semantic code, with microformats, RDFa or microdata.

By full capabilities on code, I mean the possibility to correct use of tags as caption, code, dt, dl, fieldset, label, and so on.

Thing is, you use a CMS for speed up common publishing. To help you on repetitive tasks. But if you have SEO in mind, you won't start a project with the CMS. You'll start it on a IA session, deciding what put on each page, how sections are related, and getting the sitemap (with URLs) even before the pages actually exists. Then will start designing the page concept, in the most semantic way possibile to ensure the proper indexing.

There is nothing repetitive in this process, and publishing content. Thus, if you really really really serious about (on page) SEO, probably will drop a CMS and adopt other process for creation and deploy.

And this is true not only for CMS. Frameworks also tends to suck even more then CMS when the subject is friendly URLs.

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Another reason, is that in some cases the links on a CMS make a big mess out of the hierarchical structure of information on the website. It can be fixed, but there are a lot of CMS users who don't care about SEO and just use the defaults -- which are usually not the very best for SEO.

There are some themes and plugins for every CMS that will be very well suited for a great search-engine friendly website, usually the free themes are not it. (but there are exceptions).

The important thing, is to analyze your website, and use your brain to apply best-practices -- and then check if it worked in practice or didn't.

Personal example:

I have a Wordpress blog used as an e-commerce website where most pages are landing pages for a particular product.

When a user gets to such a page I would want to convert him into a buy, and not lose his interest. There are several things that were wrong with the defaults of wordpress blogs I changed.

  • Categories and tags in wordpress were links, these showed up in Google Analytics as having 10% or more clicks on them -- this beats the purpose of why I brought the user to that page, so I made these non-clickable
  • Another 10% of users were clicking the title with the shop name.
  • Another 5% were clicking the Next/Previous post links at the botton instead of the buy button.
  • The website title was in a <h1> tag, I put the content first title in <h1> instead, with that page keywords in it.
  • Pages did not have a unique <title> and <meta description> tags, so I installed a plug-in that adds the ability to specify these.

All these things are usually defaults, but for the purpose of my website were bad defaults that did not contribute to convergence rates. All were easy to fix. I regularly inspect Google Analytics and plug any holes that users use to escape my intent of the website.

Maybe for a different website the above tweaks are not required, it all depends on what you need your website to accomplish.

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It's not so much that CMS's are bad for SEO, but that you can achieve better SEO when you have more control over the webpage. And CMS's are made to make it easier to produce websites, often at the same time taking away control over the page construction.

Basic SEO, like search friendly URLs and sitemaps, are nowadays build into most CMS's. But more advanced technologies like microformats and semantic HTML are often more difficult to achieve with a CMS than without one.

However, at the end of the day it's the actual content that's most important for ranking high, not any technical trickery!

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How does a CMS make it more difficult to use microformats and semantic HTML? Anyone serious about web development will use a CMS as trying to maintain a site with any significant amount of content without a CMS is completely impractical. –  Lèse majesté Nov 2 '10 at 17:52
    
I have a CMS that I have rolled out for various clients. Out of the box, it can generate events listings with vCalendar support, so it depends on the CMS. –  Martin Bean Nov 3 '10 at 15:07
    
A CMS can make it more difficult to use microformats and semantic HTML, because you are dependent in what the CMS offers. If it supports it out of the box, it's great. But if it doesn't, then it can be a lot of work to add yourself. Our CMS for example doesn't, so you have to go into the HTML view, which is both difficult to access and needlessly difficult to edit. –  Peter Nov 12 '10 at 10:01

Hum ... Nevermind what can be read or said about SEO, what counts ? Results. Unfortunately, there are almost more so-caled "SEO gurus" than inhabitants in the USA. It tells you to what extent the answer could be if not wrong, totally diluted or partial. SEO is a structured science and "savoir faire" that does not rely on the Chaos Theory but rather on Search Engine Algorithms and best practices. Hence the importance of structuring a website, and a good CMS can help. There are more and more CMSs proposing SEo features and plug-ins, it proves the interest of CMS companies in the ever growing concern of people about building and running an SEO-friendly site with an SEO-friendly structure and environment. I would to suggest our readers and webmasters to have a look at an SEO-CMS called SEOTOASTER. No personal interest here, it's free and open-source. Among other interesting features (SEO or not), this SEO-CMS proposes online editing right off the site and page by page if you wish. When you want to edit the properties of a page, the system allows you to edit and align :

  • The H1 tag
  • The URL display
  • The Browser title display
  • The title display in the navigation
  • Page Teaser Text
  • Keywords
  • Meta Tags

All of this from a single page.

We were discussing structured SEO, the way this SEO-CMS organizes pages is really made easy through a drag and drop panel (arrange and sort indifferently your pages or categories) from which you can also edit and alter the same Navigation display, Keywords and H1.

This system also enables the creation of silos of links java scripting out the rest of the site's links.

And much more ...

So it seams that all of these SEO routines might be possible without a CMS. But how long would it take ? How efficient would it be ? How structured would it be ? I think all CMSs are perfectible of course, but would a restaurant rather wash all its cutlery and plates by hand instead of using a dishwasher because sometimes there are still a few stains on a plate ?

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Hi @BradB - It really depends on your CMS. I won't duplicate what everyone else here has said but I will say that if you use a CMS like WordPress you'll find that not only is it not bad for SEO, you'll probably find that your results are better for SEO with WordPress because so many themes focus on it and so many plugins are available to add features.

With WordPress many of the things you'd want to get around to doing on a custom site are features that are just readily available for free (several great SEO-related plugins) and/or inexpensive use (i.e. commercial themes.)

Why is WordPress so great with SEO when the currently highest voted answer here from Peter says the following?

"It's not so much that CMS's are bad for SEO, but that you can achieve better SEO when you have more control over the webpage. And CMS's are made to make it easier to produce websites, often at the same time taking away control over the page construction."

The reason is WordPress doesn't control the output, the themer does. To theme WordPress (from scratch) you start with a pure HTML-based design and then add in calls back into WordPress' engine. So with WordPress you really do have full control over the webpage and this is a key reason I think so highly of it.

As for the comments from @John Conde and @Dave about URLs, WordPress doesn't currently offer you full control of URLs (without an awful lot of extra word) but the control it does give you is probably 100% sufficient for any SEO concern you might have. (And if nobody else does in the next year, I plan to address that problem too.)

And as for @Evgeny's comments about structure and WordPress, it appears he simply started with a theme that didn't pay attention to SEO but even so WordPress is flexible enough that he was readily about to make the changes he needed.

There may be other CMSes that are similarly flexible but I gravitate to WordPress because it has such a large number of users and hence a huge support base with lots of themes and plugins. So I reject the implication in your question that all CMS are bad for SEO; it's just not true, at least not true for all of them.

Hope this helps.

-Mike

P.S. Full disclosure, I'm an admin for Pro Webmaster's sister site WordPress Answers.

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