The Ultimate SEO CMS Wishlist


Choosing the right CMS Platform for your Website.

Throughout my years in the SEO industry I’ve worked with a multitude of businesses from local information and service based business to global e-commerce organisations. On numerous occasions I’ve helped businesses through re-development processes advising how best to incorporate SEO techniques to maximise exposure within search; yet this question is one which eludes almost every webmaster…

What factors should I look for in a CMS to maximise search exposure?

Many CMS platforms are built for exactly that, content management. Rarely does a CMS fully accommodate the complexities of SEO. Given the complex nature of search and the ever changing ranking signals this is not completely unsurprising; however there are key factors which many often overlook. Enter The Ultimate SEO CMS Wishlist!

Whether you are looking to utilise an off-the-shelf Open Source Content Management System such as MODx or Drupal, or if you’re looking at investing in a fully bespoke content management system it’s essential that the functionality of the system caters for search whilst offering ease of use.

The Ultimate SEO CMS Wishlist ChecklistIn this post I’ll cover some of the key SEO factors which you should consider when seeking a new CMS. There’s quite a lot to digest/remember so if you’re going to see a developer or perhaps discuss CMS options with your team internally we’ve created this handy CMS Wishlist Cheat Sheet to take with you.

For ease of use this wishlist has been broken up into some key areas relating to on-site SEO;

  • Indexing & Spider Accessibility - Can the major search engines successfully crawl your site?
  • Relevancy - Are you able to serve quality content which is relevant to your keyword targeting and more importantly, your customers?
  • Architecture - How is your website structured, is clear and easy to use for users and search engine spiders?

Download the checklist here - it’s free!

Right, on with the post…

Indexing & Spider Accessibility

Crawlable Navigation

SEo Wishlist SpiderThe structure of navigation is essential to ensure a search engine spider can adequately access the various sections of your website. Search engine spiders are effectively sophisticated text readers therefore it’s critical that all of the key parts of your site can be “read” or crawled without error.

The important thing to consider is that the CMS allows for the navigational structure to be coded in such a way that it won’t cause any crawl problems. Flash based navigational structures are generally considered as a no no!

The easiest method is to ensure the CMS utilises an HTML based navigational structure, styled using CSS to create the most appropriate User Interface (UI). If you require a funkier UI it is possible to use a JavaScript based mechanism; however these can prove problematic if not coded in the correct manner. So ensure any JavaScript based navigational structure renders hyperlinks correctly within the source code.

Canonical Tag Definition

Canonical tags are one of the most flexible ways of dealing with potential duplication issues and are a crucial factor which any good CMS should preserve. Canonical tags operate in a very simple way. If you have a page or a series of pages which are virtually identical, the canonical tag is used on each URL to inform Google which is the preferred URL which contains the original/authoritative version of the content.

www/non-www redirects

For those of you who don’t already know, it’s possible for a search engine spider to index duplicate versions of your website via the www and non-www version of the website, for example:


The CMS should provide a solution to allow 301 redirection of non-www URLs to the www counterpart, or vise versa if this is preferred, as long as it’s consistent throughout the website.

Editable Robots.txt

The robots.txt exclusion protocol is used to give instructions to “robots” (e.g. Googlebot) on how to crawl the site, usually defining which areas a robot should or should not crawl. Typically restricted areas include admin/members areas, as are preview pages or URL parameters that may cause duplicate content issues. All good CMS platforms should allow custom entries in the website’s robots.txt file.

Page Level Meta Robots Tags

The Meta index/noindex and follow/nofollow commands give you the ability to manage the indexing of specific pages within your website by limiting the extent that Google (and other robots) crawl your site. In my experience most off-the-shelf CMS platforms will not offer this level of functionality by default and instead rely on the robots.txt exclusion protocol.

Whilst the use of robots.txt is arguably a good alternative, the ability to tailor custom Meta index tags is preferred. “Why?” I hear you ask! Well I won’t go into the full complexity of the issue but, at a basic level, blocking a URL via robots.txt will not pass any link juice/trust which those URLs may have built into other areas of the website as the links which those pages hold will not be crawled; therefore effectively losing any authority which those pages may have. The use of noindex/follow would be the preferred option to retain authority where possible.

Optimised Page Size & Site Speed

Over recent years the size and speed of a website has had increased influence on search rankings as search engines attempt to serve webpages to visitors as quick as possible.

Many off-the-shelf CMS platforms do not adequately handle size and speed. Magento for example has historically been very slow at serving pages due to several factors including the use of the Zend framework and the heavy code-bloating on default Magento templates.

It’s worth querying the size and speed of the website with developers prior to making any final decisions. Look for a CMS which:

  • Optimises and minimises coding - no unnecessary code bloating, compacts CSS/JavaScript files
  • Minimises the number of requests - limits the volume of requests sent to/from the server
  • Leverages browser caching - maximises the expiration of files within the browser
  • Uses file compression - compression of images files, CSS, JavaScript, HTML
  • Avoids landing page redirection - does not automatically redirect landing pages to alternative locations

These are just a few of the top size and speed factors. For full insight visit

Control Over URL Redirects

301 RedirectA must have for any CMS is the ability to easily create redirects. This is essential in case a page’s URL is modified to a new destination.

A prime example of this is throughout the re-launch process itself whereby the URL structure of the website may unavoidably change. In this instance the ability to redirect your old URLs to your new URLs is essential, firstly to avoid any direct loss in visitor traffic, and secondly to retain any link equity and maintain natural search rankings.

NB: I have seen this performed incorrectly on too many occasions. When you re-launch your website ensure you redirect as many URLs as possible to their new location!

The primary method of redirection is via 301 (Moved Permanently). This approach retains the vast majority of the PageRank which the original page had created and ensures this flows over to the new destination.

Customisable Internal Links / Navigation

Whilst this may not be applicable to all businesses I would recommend investigating the platforms flexibility for internal referencing. By internal referencing I refer to the platforms ability to link to other related areas of the website. If you’ve ever used Amazon you should know exactly what I mean! For example, if you’re an e-commerce website you may wish to link to ‘related product’ or ‘perfect partners’ on product pages.

This is a fantastic method of interlinking related sections/pages of the site, in turn helping to promote internal relevancy and improve internal navigation. So the CMS will need to contain a mechanism to support this type of internal referencing.


Editable Content - On Every Page!

Great ContentThe importance of content on-page is unquestionable. Considering Googlebot’s primary nature as a text reader unique and relevant content is one of the surest ways of illustrating the worth of each page. In turn this contributes to its ability to rank accordingly within search.

It’s essential to ensure that each page on the website has unique content which is targeted/relevant to the keywords for which you want that page to be visible for. I emphasise “that page” because I often encounter keyword cannibalisation whereby multiple pages appear to target identical keywords. Keep it simple, keep it relevant!

Whilst your website will inevitably contain some pages which you don’t want to rank for any terms (or even indexed by Google) the ability to add content containers onto every page will give you the flexibility in the future.


Ideally the content editor function within the CMS will have a WYSIWYG editor or otherwise hold the ability to add bespoke HTML, allowing you to emphasise text, insert quotes, and insert custom anchor text hyperlinks where appropriate.

Customisable Heading Structure

Heading tags are HTML elements used to help inform search engines (and other types of text reader) as to the structure of a page, much in the same way they’re used in printed media.

It is important that your CMS allows for a fully-customisable heading structure, enabling you to maintain a complete and coherent structure throughout the site, accommodating any keywords you are looking to target.

Geographic Targeting / Multilingual Support

For websites with multilingual variants the ability to target different geographic locations is an essential function of the CMS. The use of the specific ‘Link’ tags rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” allow Google to serve the correct URL for language and/or region.

Whether this is handled automatically ‘on the fly’ or whether you have given the ability to add these tags manually it is essential for geographic targeting via a single site.

Customisable Titles and Meta Data

The ability to amend Titles and Meta description is fairly standard within CMS builds nowadays.

Well written Titles and Meta Descriptions are instrumental to defining the on-page content as well as creating a compelling listing in search engine results pages. Ideally being able to preview the Meta data prior to publication would aid effective writing of the Titles/Meta descriptions. Ensure the CMS allows fully customisable Titles and Meta descriptions. This means checking to see if the CMS automatically appends the company/website name to the end of the URL which can consume valuable characters.

Internal Blog - Posts / Comments / Sharing

Blogging and content creation is a must for websites who want to display consistent and organic growth. Since the introduction of the Google Caffeine algorithm change back in June 2012 content can also gain relevancy/authority based on how “fresh” or new it is.

Ensure your CMS allows for growth over time through a blog or news section. Even if you have no immediate plans to produce content on a regular basis, this will future proof the site and avoid future costs.

Authorship - rel Author and rel Publisher

The author and publisher tags are ones which we are yet to see the full benefit of, although within SEO they are expected to be one of the most significant elements to come in 2013 and beyond. Authorship configurations should tie directly into the blog functionality defining individual authors and providing them with ranking ability known as AuthorRank. The Publisher status links a brand to its Google+ page and will start to feature different information in branded searches, often using the knowledge graph to enhance what is seen by the user. (see how to configure authorship for your website)

Remember to check to see if the CMS supports authorship!

User Generated Content (Reviews / Comments)

User generate content (or UGC) can come in many forms. For informational websites UGC may come in the form of comments on news or blog article. For e-commerce related website UGC may come in the form of user reviews. In either instance the use of UGC helps to add a level of unique content to an otherwise static webpage. With increased emphasis on freshness and unique content the ability for a CMS to allow UGC is an extremely important area.


Customisable / Search Engine Friendly URLs

Friendly URLs IconThis is crucial for CMS’s now as the URL is still one of the strongest indicators as to the content to be found on any given page. It is important that you have full control of rewriting URLs in the CMS you pick/build as this will give you the flexibility to define or rewrite any given URL with the keywords which best reflect the content.

A friendly URL is one which typically contains no more than 5-6 keywords and does not include parameters or session IDs. This is important because parameters and IDs appended to a URL are treated by Google as different pages, even if the content is the same. The common issue which can arise from websites which use parameters and IDs heavily is that Google will attribute PageRank to different versions of a page if they are linked to differently, the sum of this being that relevancy is being split across multiple pages.

A high proportion of URLs which contain the same content can also lead to duplication penalties.

A good example of a friendly URL is - as you can see the URL is short and it contains the main keywords which the page is targeting and there are no parameters, IDs or otherwise excess elements.

Breadcrumb Navigation

Most, but not all CMS’s will incorporate the use of a breadcrumb navigation system. For ease of navigation around the website - both for the User and Google - breadcrumb navigation is key as this will act as a constant reinforcement of where you reside within the hierarchy of a website.

Pagination Handling - Rel next/previous

For websites which make use of a series of pages in sequence, the use of pagination handling techniques is essential to help search engine spiders understand the sequence and avoid duplication issues. This is often the case on e-commerce websites whereby pagination is utilised to limit the number of visible products on a single page. This can be handled through the use of Rel=next/prev tags.

Custom Error Pages with Correct Server Responses

When a user requests a page or element which doesn’t exist (i.e. clicks a broken link) the server should return a 404 ‘Not Found’ response which tells Google and other spiders that the page doesn’t exist. Many CMS’s, namely .NET platforms, utilise a 302 temporary redirect upon request to a non-existent URL, subsequently leading to a 200 ‘OK’ response, implying to search engines that the page exists. This can lead to soft 404 errors and/or continued indexing of redundant URLs. Make sure your CMS supports true 404 errors.

NB: For user experience purposes, within the 404 error page, include information to the users, such as relevant links or other suggestions so they don’t abandon the site!

Google Analytics/ Google Webmaster Tools Setup

Ensure your chosen CMS allows you to implement the Google Analytics tracking code for valuable visitor statistics as well as the Google Webmaster Tools verification code/file allowing you to access a broad range of website performance data and configurations.

Bonus Features:

Social Sharing / Integration

Get SocialWith the ever increasing importance of social signals on visibility within search it is crucial that the ability for users to share content quickly and easily is built into the CMS (or at least then incorporated in easily through plugin or add-on). Being able to share your product listings, features, services and blog content is crucial at gaining that extra exposure and promoting positive brand signals.

Microformat Data

Structured Data is an increasingly important factor in web development and it is something that Google uses more and more to highlight specific data/information within search results, through rich snippets (i.e. author details) and the Knowledge graph (extra data, booking times, event information etc) as some of the examples we can already see.

Ensuring that the website can take advantage of structured data is relatively simple, but by adding this functionality within the CMS (or at least the template system) it can be utilised in a more efficient and consistent way.

For more information see Google’s help page on structured data.

Editable / Auto-Generated XML Sitemap(s)

In essence, an XML sitemap is a structured list of your websites URLs. The XML sitemap is an aid to Google and other crawlers which indicates the full extent of the website in question. Whilst most crawlers (like Googlebot) have their own means to establish how much of a website they crawl and how often they revisit it, a sitemap is the clearest indicator you can give. It is strongly recommended that most CMS’s have the ability to generate a sitemap automatically, ensuring the sitemap stays up-to-date and accurate.

Google Analytics E-commerce Tracking

Google Analytics e-commerce tracking is essential for any e-commerce platform. The ability to track transactional data within Google Analytics will open a breadth of statistics. Many website owners believe you simply enable e-commerce tracking through Google Analytics but overlook the need for specific code within the checkout process to send the required data to GA.

Google Merchant Product Feed

If you plan on listing your product within Google Shopping via Google Merchant Center (now a paid search service) you will require a specific feed format.

RSS Feed Generation

An RSS feed is a type of content feed widely used for the syndication of content, mainly on news/blog platforms. This will allow visitors to subscribe to your content, notifying them each time a new article is published. A good CMS will utilise an automatic RSS feed generator, updating on-the-fly each time an article is published.

What to avoid in a CMS


Exclamation MarkFrames are an HTML element used to embed a document within an HTML document. Frames are notoriously bad for SEO as the frame is not part of the parent page and therefore the content of the frame will not be crawled by a search engine spider. This can inevitably mean a vast proportion of content will go un-indexed. Avoid the use of frames for important areas of content or navigation.


Flash sites are also notoriously bad for SEO. Google has developed over the past few years and it’s ability to crawl and index Flash based websites is ever improving. Google themselves recommend utilising HTML based content and navigation techniques as opposed to Flash.

Whilst there are techniques to improve the indexing of Flash based systems we, like Google, recommend minimising the use of Flash for content and navigational purposes, instead using Flash for the more “decorative purposes”.

Hidden Content

On the surface of any CMS it may be difficult to ascertain whether the CMS utilises any content hiding techniques; but be sure to ask the developer to ensure hidden text and/or links are avoided.

Non-SEO Related

Being an SEO it’s in my nature to look at the technical factors of a CMS i.e. those which may restrict the usability of a CMS and those which may hinder the performance of the site within search. But what about non-SEO related factors? Well the list could be pretty huge depending on your flavour however there are a couple of factors which it would be rude to ignore.


The security of any platform is essential. Every hour of every day cybercriminals are working to compromise website with (or without!) security vulnerabilities. Sometimes these are attacks which infect a website recording keystrokes to obtain valuable information such as passwords or bank details. Other times the attacks inject malicious code to help the offender steal PageRank or otherwise obtain link equity from your site, like the infamous payday loans hacks. Whatever the reason, ensuring you operate a secure platform is essential.

Regular Backups

The ability to create backups of your system is also an added bonus. Query with your provider the ability to schedule frequent backups of the website so on the off-chance that something should go wrong (perhaps hacking, or server failure) you can restore your site efficiently.

Import/Export Website Data

Similarly to backups, the ability to import and export your data in a specific format is often a requisite of a good CMS.

Does it meet the needs of your business?

Whilst a high level of SEO compliance is essential for a CMS, it does have to meet your requirements now and in the future. Whilst this may seem like a glaringly obvious point it’s better stating the obvious now, rather than 6 months down the line when you’re having to make unplanned development work just to add basic functionality.


So there you have it! You now have all the ammo you need to begin investigating the best CMS platform for your business. You may wish to consider some or all (hopefully not none!) of the factors within The Ultimate SEO CMS Wishlist but now you can make an informed decision based on your needs.

I would love to go into the pro’s and con’s of each off-the-shelf CMS but unfortunately this is neither the time nor the place + I think you’ve done enough reading for one day. However you may wish to consider the following open-source platforms:

Don’t forget your can download our handy little CMS checklist to help you when choosing a CMS!

Share Your Thoughts!

Do you have any gems which you look for in a content management system?
Do you have a preferred CMS?
Would you like to do a review for us?

We’d love to hear from you so get in touch and let us know!

This entry was posted in SEO and tagged , by Chris Ainsworth. Bookmark the permalink.

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About Chris Ainsworth

Chris Ainsworth is Senior SEO Consultant and Head of the Technical Team at High Position boasting 9 years experience within digital marketing. As technical team leader Chris has a wealth of technical SEO knowledge in a search verticals, and has helped business of all sizes and all industries achieve digital marketing success! Get involved with Chris on Twitter @chrisains or via Google+. Alternatively Chris's professional profile on LinkedIn or visit his website at

4 thoughts on “The Ultimate SEO CMS Wishlist

  1. Chris… this is an EXCELLENT list. I am going to share this via our social media channels.

    May I also suggest Umbraco has an Open Source CMS platform. It’s a .NET open source content management system that offers all of the items noted on your checklist.

    Our business develops in several of the CMS platforms you have added but we like Umbraco so much because of it’s flexibility to add in plug-ins or custom apps that helps keep the CMS current as new SEO site requirements come up.

    You can learn more about Umbraco at

  2. Hi Roy,

    Many thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, and thanks again for sharing this via your social channels.

    I must admit I have not heard of the Umbraco CMS before but I’ll be sure to check it out. It certainly sounds intriguing so thanks for sharing this with us.


  3. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for an in-depth CMS wishlist (from an SEO point of view). I have a client right now who just paid a small fortune for a website that runs on Symphony and amazingly, it has none of the features we’d all like!

    I came across your post because I was writing up a sort of wishlist and needed to communicate to the hosting company in order to set up some additional database fields. It irks me to see a CMS platform in 2014 that has an “SEO” tab where the only thing you can do is add a META description and META keywords SITE-WIDE. It’s so sad, it’s almost funny!

    You can imagine, no H1 tag editing, no title fields, no URL rewrite, basically nothing. Now if my client were selling ice resurfaces (like the Zamboni) in Malaysia, he might still have a chance but being a real estate vacation rental site, there’s not much hope unless we can add custom fields.

    On a separate note, am finishing up another site that uses Joomla 3.2 and I must say that so far I’m impressed. It has nearly all of the items our wish list. A CMS system cannot just be a Content system. It must integrate SEO and not SEO from 2007…

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Henrik,

      Thanks for the comment - I’m glad you found the post useful.

      I’m yet to use Joomla 3.2 directly but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. Joomla has always been a pretty decent system in my opinion hindered only by developer misconfiguration. But that’s the benefit of open source platforms, they can be adapted quickly and effectively as technology develops and things change :-)


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