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Search Engine Friendly Content Management Systems

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What is a Content Management System?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a third-party software application that allows website administrators to add, update or delete content, photos, and documents to their website in “real-time.” Many websites are modified using these web-based tools, requiring little to no knowledge of HTML or web scripting languages. CMS programs make it easy for a webmaster or site owner who does not know HTML or has access to a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML Editor, such as Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, to update their site.

In today's high-paced web world, a good CMS is integral to the efficient operation of a website. Many web admins and website developers are building database-driven, or dynamic websites, which require a third-party solution, such as a Content Management System, to update the content that lives in the database. In addition, a CMS allows the website owner to outsource content development remotely to contract copywriters and other willing contributors. With built-in access level hierarchies, web admins can enable various users to register as authors and submit articles and news to be published on their site.

How do Content Management Systems Work?

Content Management Systems create a dynamic website environment, where all the content is stored in a database or XML file. Using a web-based interface, the webmaster can select which page they want to update and then modify the web content in a text editor, with many familiar formatting keys found in a word processing program. Once the content has been updated, with the simple click of a button, the CMS will turn the text into HTML code and publish the content to the website.

Problems Between Search Engines and Content Management Systems:

Historically, search engines have had difficulty indexing dynamic pages. While their ability to index and rank dynamic pages has improved dramatically, there are some basic things to avoid. One of search engines' greatest enemies is URL strings containing many parameters. URL parameters are variables passed to the CMS through the URL, which tells it what information to retrieve from the database. URLs with too many parameters generally make little logical sense to the average user and may scare off search spiders. For example, see:

Limiting the number of URL parameters to two or three per URL is suggested to ensure that search spiders will not have difficulty indexing pages deep within the website.

Specific URL parameter names may automatically flag a filter on the search engine. One example is the URL parameter names that contain "ID," such as "sessionid," "sid," or "userid." Historically, search engines detect the term “ID” and assume it is associated with a session-dependent variable. As a result, search engines have learned to flag these parameter names, which can cause page indexing problems. Passing session dependant variables through the URL is a problem for search engines because the spider essentially sees a unique URL each time they visit the site. After all, the session-dependent variables change with each visit. For example, on one visit to the site, a page URL may be http://www.mysite.com/page.asp?sessionid=12345. The next time the spider visits the page, the URL may be http://www.mysite.com/page.asp?sessionid=56789. This creates a situation where a spider may think that there are multiple URLs with duplicate content, resulting in penalties that will negatively impact search rankings.

Based on the above, employing a CMS that does not pass session-dependent session-dependent son variables through a URL string is imperative. Doing so will not only create potential usability issues for the end user but also result in indexing problems for the search engine spiders.

Finally, search engines gather understanding from your website’s content by filtering through the HTML code. For this reason, your CMS must generate HTML code that adheres to the latest requirements of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Use the W3C Code Validator to determine if your code meets the W3C standards. Be aware that some CMSs add many lines of proprietary code or JavaScript at the top of the file, which can choke search spiders. This violates a cardinal rule of SEO; "To always have more content than code."

Finding a Search Engine Friendly CMS that will Work for You:

Now that we have explored many potential problems with Content Management Systems let's look at how to find one that will be both search engine friendly and suit your specific needs. First, you will need to determine what server platform you will be using. Many Content Management Systems use scripting languages and databases that are platform-dependent. If you are married to a particular platform, it may limit your CMS options. Ideally, you will want to find a platform-independent CMS that can run on any server.

Many search engine-friendly CMSs will allow the website owner to generate a URL structure that is both meaningful to their users and digestible by search engine spiders. Instead of having a URL packed with parameters, you can create a URL structure like this: http://www.mysite.com/children/hats/prodid/121576. Your next step is to check whether your CMS builds HTML pages to the latest standards established by the W3C. Most CMS providers can tell you if their solution generates valid code. If they can't, ask for a sample page and run it through the W3C Code Validator. To rank effectively in organic results of the search engines, your CMS must allow you to update your title tags, metadata, and alt tags on a page-by-page basis.

The most important aspects of a good CMS are the ease of use and richness of content formatting features. This one is a no-brainer because the very reason that you are looking for a CMS is that YOU DON'T WANT TO CODE. Any good CMS should provide an editing stage similar in feature and function to a standard word processing program, such as Microsoft Word. The technical term for this is a WYSIWYG Editor or a Rich Text Editor. This important feature will allow you to type and format your content using standard buttons and keyboard shortcuts. When you publish the content to the live website, the CMS will write the HTML, CSS, and scripting to display your content as it was formatted during the editing stage. Many Content Management Systems offer different technologies, such as RSS feed, shopping cart solutions, forums, and live chat integration, which can enhance your website's functionality. The key is to find a CMS that will suit your core needs and then determine what add-ons would be beneficial. The result will be a website that is easy to manage and usable for your customers and search engines.