The list of requirements can be long, but good SEO features are a must-have requirement for everyone. Search engines are one of the main drivers of traffic for many websites and showing up on the first page on Google, DuckDuckGo and all the other search engines is often critical for a business’ success. Your main focus right now might not be on SEO features, but that may very well change as having great SEO features in your CMS ensures great scalability.
But what exactly is required for a CMS to be SEO-friendly?
When is a CMS SEO-friendly?
A CMS is SEO-friendly when it takes care of the technical aspects and allows you to follow on-page SEO best practices for your website.
And when I say on-page SEO best practices, I'm not just talking about title tags and meta descriptions. It's so much more once you start thinking about it - with a lot of it tied to the technical features of your CMS. Especially the technical side has a lot more going on “under the hood” of the CMS than most ever think about.
So which features should you expect from an SEO-friendly CMS?
That’s a very good question and a Google search will give you many different answers. Unfortunately, a lot of them only touch on the very basic features, which is a shame. And since there’s no official “SEO-friendly” stamp that a CMS can get, it's left up to you - the user - to decide.
As an avid SEO-enthusiast (yes, it's a thing) I decided to do something about it: I made my own list of features that makes a CMS SEO-friendly. Here's what I found:
21 SEO-friendly features you should look for in a CMS
Because there's no "SEO-friendly" stamp, I decided to make my own list of features that I believe an SEO-friendly content management system should have. In total, I found 21 features across 3 main categories: Website performance features, technical SEO features and On-page SEO features.
Website performance features
Your CMS should be built for performance and enable you to have a fast website that can handle high traffic loads. This is important regardless of SEO, but with the introduction of Web Vitals and Core Web Vitals from Google, it’s clear that it will have a big impact on your SEO as well. So if your website isn’t performing well, you’re off to a bad start in your quest for page 1 on the search engine results pages (SERP).
Important features for all websites
- #1 - Responsive design
- #2 - Page speed
- #3 - HTTPS support
- #4 - Core Web Vitals parameters
- #5 - Tracking scripts
We'll be taking a closer look at these 5 features today.
Technical SEO features
As I’ve already mentioned, there’s a lot more going on "under the hood" than what meets the eye. That’s why this category has the longest feature list. While a lot of these things might be seen as obvious, it’s important to make sure that they are part of your CMS feature set. If not, you’ll most likely experience just how big of a difference they can make for your SEO (in a bad way).
Important features for technical SEO
- #6 - Crawlability and indexability of your content
- #7 - Robots.txt file
- #8 - Noindex and Nofollow settings
- #9 - Navigation menus and elements
- #10 - URL redirect management
- #11 - Handling of 404 errors
- #12 - Canonical tags
- #13 - URL structure and taxonomy
- #14 - XML sitemaps
- #15 - Schema markup
- #16 - AMP support
- #17 - Hreflang tags for multilingual sites
We take a closer look at these 12 features in part 2 of this blog series.
On-page SEO features
Last, but not least, we have the on-page SEO features that get most of the spotlight. These are core features that you should have when optimizing your content for SEO. One common thing with these features is that they should give you the flexibility to use them as you see fit. If you're restricted on any of these features it can hurt your scalability down the line.
Important features for On-page SEO
- #18 - Title tags and meta descriptions
- #19 - Page URL
- #20 - Content headers (H1, H2, etc.)
- #21 - Image ALT text
We take a closer look at these 4 features in part 3 of this blog series.
As you can see, I've decided to split this blog post into 3 posts instead of giving it all right now. Why? Well... Do you have 45 minutes right now to read about SEO?
No? I don't blame you.
That's why I've split this blog series into 3 parts; one for each category. That way we can dive into one category at a time without turning this into a novel where you end up skimming the last 80 %.
Don't worry if you get hooked and can't wait to read part 2 and 3 (SEO is exciting, I know). They will be published the following 2 Thursdays - so just come back next week and the next part is ready for you.
Let's get started, shall we?
Website performance features
Before I dive into the features that are primarily focused on SEO, it’s crucial to start with some overall features that you’d always want in your CMS. Regardless of how important SEO is to your business, these features are crucial for... well, anyone with a website. SEO is then a very nice side-effect!
#1 - Responsive design
How many devices do you have in your household?
If you’re like the average US household, studies show that you have an average of 11 connected devices. And with IoT devices growing every year, it’s only fair to assume that the number will keep going up the next couple of years.
While not all of these devices will be able to show your website, a lot of them will. That’s why responsive web design has been important for years now and will keep being important for a long time. That's why it’s important that your CMS can handle responsive web design and make your website look great on any device.
Responsive design and SEO
Back in 2015, it happened. The amount of monthly Google searches on mobile devices accounted for more than half of all searches made on Google (100 billion monthly searches at that time).
This change prompted Google to make a big move in 2016: they began the process of changing its search index to a mobile-first index. With most of their searches happening on mobile devices, they wanted to ensure that the websites that showed up gave a good user experience when accessed from a mobile device. Makes sense, right?
So what does that mean? It means that Googlebot, Google’s crawler, will crawl your website as if it was visiting from a mobile device instead of from a desktop.
Further, it means that if your website is not properly responsive and optimized for mobile devices, these issues will be picked up by Googlebot. And since these issues mean a worse user experience it will ultimately hurt your rankings in the mobile search results.
But as long as you're only getting traffic from desktop, you're good, right? Sorry, but no. If the user experience is deemed as bad on mobile devices, your desktop rankings will also suffer for it. Fair or not, those are the rules of the game.
Now you might wonder what has happened since they first announced the mobile-first index in 2016? Google went all-in, that's what happened.
In September 2020 the mobile-first index will be fully implemented on all websites in their index and will be the default way of indexing going forward.
To get good results with SEO, you need to ensure that your website doesn’t have any issues on mobile devices.
#2 - Page speed
A huge part of website performance is page speed. With the spread of mobile devices around the world, this has become increasingly important for websites to give a good user experience. To ensure a fast website there’re many tips and tricks out there to help you improve your page speed. But key to all of these tips and tricks is that you can actually implement the changes in your CMS. If it doesn’t allow you to minimize CSS and JS or leverage browser caching, it’ll be hard to get a truly fast website.
Page speed and SEO
Page speed has been a ranking factor in Google since 2010 and that alone should be enough to tell you how important it is for SEO. It also means that if you have a slow website you can’t expect to be at the top of the search engine results page.
Having a slow website gives a bad user experience and will often result in a high bounce rate and pogo sticking. While these are not officially ranking factors, Google definitely won’t see it as a good thing if a lot of users quickly return to the search results after being on your website.
#3 - HTTPS support
No matter what type of website you have, you should make sure that it’s secure.
And if you’re looking for a quick way to secure your website, here’s the bad news: making a website secure is not something you can just turn on/off. Sorry.
Here's some good news though: there are some quick-wins that you can do. One of the simplest ways to secure your website is to protect the data connection between the user’s computer and your website.
This is done by adding a security certificate to your website and enabling HTTPS for your site. By doing so, you’ll be protecting the data being sent between your users and your website via Transport Layer Security (TLS). This provides three layers of protection and makes your website more secure and less vulnerable.
HTTPS support and SEO
For most websites, this might seem like an obvious recommendation, but it’s important to underline its importance - also for SEO. Not that many years ago, it was not a must-have to have an SSL certificate for your website. Actually, a lot of big websites didn’t have it and weren’t really considering it.
That has changed though. Since it’s very important for web security in general, it’s something that was strongly advised by pretty much everyone - including Google.
To help incentivize people to switch to HTTPS they even included it as a ranking factor in their algorithm back in 2014. And the logic is quite clear here: if Google is sending users to a website from their search results, they want to be sure that the website is secure.
And having a valid TLS certificate is a very good start.
#4 - Core Web Vitals parameters
If you are unfamiliar with Google’s Web Vitals and Core Web Vitals, I would urge you to get familiar with it (This article is a good place to start). With Google’s launch of the Core Web Vitals, they have also announced that these will be included as ranking factors in their algorithm. The official name of the update is “page experience update”. The rollout started in mid-June 2021 and was completed by the end of August 2021. As of writing, there are currently 3 metrics that Google uses but have said that this might very well evolve. For now, I’ll focus on the 3 metrics we know.
LCP - Largest Contentful Paint
This first metric is used to measure perceived load speed. Notice that it’s not about actual page speed as much as it’s about what the user perceives. This metric is essentially measuring how long it takes to render the largest image or text block that is visible to the user when a new page starts loading.
The great part about the Core Web Vitals metrics is that they all have very clear thresholds for when something is good or bad (wouldn’t that be nice for other ranking factors?). As you can see in the image, Google has set very specific targets that you need to meet if you want to be considered “Good”, “Needs improvement”, or “Poor”.
Here’s the official Google blog post about LCP.
FID - First Input Delay
The second metric is used to measure interactivity. Boiled down to its core, this measures how fast a user can interact with a page. A relatable example is how fast a user can click on a link or button, and expect the page to react to it.
Again, we see that there are clear targets for when a page is good, needs improvement, or is poor.
Here's the official Google blog post about FID.
CLS - Cumulative Layout Shift
The last metric is used to measure visual stability. It is used to measure how much your page changes when it loads, where you want as little change as possible.
That might sound a bit abstract, but if you’ve ever tried clicking a link in a news article only to end up clicking on an ad because it suddenly made the link move further down the screen, then you know exactly what CLS is.
And if that has never happened to you, then go watch this 12-second screencast from Google, and continue reading after. I’ll wait for you to come back, don’t worry. Enjoy.
Not to sound like a broken record here, but it’s nice to see that there are clear targets that you can optimize for.
Here’s the official Google blog about CLS.
Core Web Vitals parameters and SEO
The impact of these is quite obvious since Google told us that they will be part of their ranking algorithm. As always they won’t tell us how much it matters, but you can bet that having a “poor” score in these will hurt your visibility in the SERPs to some degree.
#5 - Tracking scripts
The last overall performance feature is a bit different from the others. While the others were about ensuring high performance, this one is about monitoring and analyzing your website performance.
Tracking scripts have been a staple for most websites for a long time and using website analytics tools like Google Analytics and Matomo (former Piwik) is the norm. Being able to implement these scripts on your website is a must-have for multiple reasons and if your CMS does not allow you to add them, you might be forced into using inferior built-in tools or use none at all.
Tracking scripts and SEO
If you’re not tracking your website with web analytics tools like Google Analytics, how will you know if your website is generating organic traffic or not? And if you’re generating a lot of traffic, which pages are having a high bounce rate and which are converting visitors into paying customers?
Tracking scripts and data analytics do not directly impact your SEO performance, but they have a big indirect impact. Knowing is half the battle and if you want results with SEO you need to track your performance, so you know what's working and what's not.
Is your CMS SEO-friendly?
Today we looked at the first 5 features that can help you get SEO success. How many of them does your CMS have?
Whether these are built-in features or something you need to build yourself will depend on your CMS and how it has been implemented.
Do you want to know if Umbraco supports these 5 features?
Then go read more about how each of them is handled in Umbraco - along with the other 16 features that I'll cover in part 2 and part 3 of this series.