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CMS and SEO - an unhappy relation.

..... or a real possibillity?



3:33 pm on May 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have just over 5.000 pages online in 21 different languages and spread over 33 domains. Our translators are pestering me about a CMS, in order to make their work easier. But I am really concerned that a CMS would destroy our excellent organic rankings and pass us into oblivion as far as the search engines go. The reason is that I have been examining a major CMS based system with content adjacent to ours.

While their 5000+ page site has 1600 inbound links and enjoys a #5 ranking in Google for *the* most important high volume keyword, it is impossible to lift any of their pages up into the top 100 even using full page titles, headlines or unique expressions from the text. Consequently, they get all their traffic from inbound links and the one single top keyword and none from hits on their rich editorial content - created and maintained by more than a dozen employees in 10 or so different countries.

Looking at their pages, it is clear that the CMS has bloated them beyond all reason. A small page that might need 3kb of code at the very most, actually uses 10 times that amount. All styles are on the page itself, so that one simple link requires 170 bytes instead of around 65. And not only that, high up on each page is a massive 20 Kb script, that fills some function that no one understands, pushing real content way down on the page.

To further aggravate the situation, the CMS assigns a new name to a page every time it is changed and links it into the site, without leaving a re-direct at the old place. So bookmarks become obsolete pretty quickly.

Is this the way CMS:s usually work? Or is there any system anywhere that writes clean compact code with styles left to external style sheets and no funny scripting? I have been looking around, but found none.


8:28 pm on May 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Bearing Brett's advise about Google and directory names in mind, this would be extremely important, right?

rencke, i think keeping the same structure and page names is the single most important thing!

i have to say i disagree with bedlam's comment about basing a decision on a bunch of forum posts - i use webmasterworld as my #1 sounding board for almost all technical decisions - where else can you find so many expert and diverse opinions which are freely given with no thought of comercial gain.

i do think the idea to test various options is a good idea. i built one myself because it was a convenient time for me to learn this type of skill - not everyone has the opportunity to do that.

i hope you find the right one, a CMS opens your mind in so many different ways (and saves you so much time!).


10:19 pm on May 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

First, great question Rencke.
Second, thanks to the posters in this thread for the an awesome set of responses here.

I am pretty much in the exact same boat here. I would love to remove the /forumX/ directory system and go to a keyword based directory (eg: /google/ instead of /forum30/).

After reading this thread, I am pretty sure I am going to leave things alone for the moment.


1:16 am on May 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

"In most instances, rolling your own might be the best option."

I don't neccesarily think this is the case. Some of the open source cms's out there like your Typo3s and Mambos are very mature products with thousands of developers around the world working to improve the system.

This is a great base to start from, and it is always nice to have a pool of people to collaborate with, some of which are working to solve the same issues you are running into.

I feel the same way about CRMs. I'd much rather work with a product like SugarCRM and know there is a community of developers behind it, rather than going at it alone.

Again I totally see the argument for a custom CMS, but I don't think it is always the better option by any means. Especially for small to medium sized companies.


5:04 am on May 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

One point - techie webmasters are usually quick to recommend building your own CMS, writer/ content-oriented web pblishers on the other hand are often unequipped to handle that.

Also, getting the right programmer for customizing / rolling your own also wold mean that often you are dealing with an SEO-ignorant coder - and you end up doing a bit of teaching. For example, why not to use a meta refresh, 302 vs 301, why page title and h1 should be different.. If you just give him the specs, you may end up with say, meta refreshes all over. Or javascript menus. I don't know. Getting coders to think like SEOs have mostly been a failure for me.


2:58 pm on May 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

There is an enormous amount of good and bad advice on the boards here. Exercise caution. (bedlam)
I used to moderate at WebmasterWorld for a couple of years just after the Ice Age. If you knew what's going on backstage in the moderators forum, you wouldn't be any more worried than I am. Really bad advice will be corrected by a mod or some expert called to the scene within a day or two at the most.

you don't necessarily need to import any page until it needs changing (bedlam)
Interesting point. Didn't think of that. Will run it by our translator group for input.

5000 pages may or may not be a large number, depending on what they're like. (bedlam)
If you look at my profile site, you can see what I am talking about. These pages were created from just a small handful of templates, four or five.


8:14 pm on May 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I think writing your own CMS is OK if you want a simple, functional setup. If you are looking for a feature-rich environment, though, you'll probably be better off with tweaking a standard CMS package.

I've been involved in "make vs. buy" software decisions numerous times, and almost always come down on the side of buying (or just "using" for open source). Why? Because it's almost impossible to anticipate all the features you'll need, either immediately or in the first year or two of use. I deal with different kinds of community software, also an area where some people want to write their own. My preferred package has an admin panel slightly more comprehensive than that of the Starship Enterprise. I don't use all the features, but they are there when I want them because thousands of past users have identified the need and refined the approach. In addition, I've got hundreds of free modifications available just in case the standard software doesn't do what I need. There's no way I could ever specify all this, and it would be a gigantic development project even if I could.

One of the biggest complaints about CMS software like Typo3, Drupal, and even Joomla/Mambo is the learning curve. The reason there's a learning curve is because a powerful CMS can't be trivially simple. You need flexible menus that can change by section or page, varied page layouts with different modules, and much more. (Want simple? Try WordPress, actually quite good for very mundane CMS tasks.)

Even if you do decide to develop your own, play with one or two of the open source packages - that will help you understand key features and help you write your specification.

As far as converting the existing content, I suspect that's a project that a coder familiar with your software package could handle for your quite easily. And specifying that project would be much easier than a full-blown CMS spec.


9:26 pm on May 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

"More recently, we're seeing serious third-party SEO mods/plugins for software that can accommodate them, and even the original software developers making an effort to build in better SEO. "

Exactly like vbseo module for vbulletin

I would recommend to use any CMS you like for now,once tiem goes on and you learn what you need/want from CMS you may consider ordering custom one


3:35 am on May 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Another important issue I forgot to mention when it comes to evaluating using a custom solution vs. an open source cms is what happens when the person who builds the cms leaves the company or the relationship with the company dissolves.

They are left with a custom solution, typically little documentation, and you walk off with all of the in detail knowledge about the application.

Bringing in a developer, programmer, seo specialist etc.... whatever is going to be much more cost and time effective by using a recognized and community supported CMS rather than having another consultant come in and try to figure out what was done.

Of course this is a tactic used by web development companies to lock clients into using them, but that discussion is for another thread.


6:35 pm on May 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I think that's easier said than done. How do you identify a programmer who understands your needs and the needs of search engines, and who can be trusted to deliver a CMS that works for you?

To be very honest I have had very good luck online at script lance websites. Here are some tips that have helped me secure exactly what I want:

1. When writing up the project details of what you want be very specific. Talk specifically about the administration, installation of the CMS system, the hierarchy and layout of all template / post pages. Be very clear that you wish it to be coded in div / css if this is the case (tableless deisgn) Talk about project timeline.

2. Look for the programmers who have a substantial amount of reviews over time and a high rating.

3. Have a clear mind of what your terms are budget wise, but leave the maximum and minimum bidding open. Why? I have had projects where high end companies have bid 5 times the amount of the samll time programmer, however I chose the smaller guy and got excellent deliverables from him. Often higher end companies mass bid and often overbid. The smaller guy who is getting his feet in the business is often every bit as good or better and will take on projects for less.

4. Specific items you might ask for in addition to what you already want.

div /css pages
named files according to Title and or post / page slug. Option to rename files while retaining Title.
Smarty templates if possible


8:33 pm on May 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I saw this thread on the front page and I thought it was so five years ago. In a past life I helped develop several custom content management systems. As with any software development project it all depends on prioritization, time, money, and the quality of the development team.

Of course there are CMS'es and sites using them that do exceptionally well in search engines. Look at the blogs. Any blogging package is basically a one person content management system. Blogs are all over the search engines now. Several of the blogging packages have multi-author features.

Now one feature of a content management system that was a huge deal to the clients I was working for, was work flow. They wanted an elaborate author, editor, main editor approval and feedback loop system to control just what gets published and when. The other CMS I worked on wanted things to be a simple as possible for the end user to encourage as many people in the organization as possible to publish stuff online. Different goals lead to different custom system.

Several packages have been mentioned, some of them must have prioritized search engine optimization-ability, valid and lean HTML, and whatever else you want. What I would look for is a package that is currently underdevelopment, as an active community around it so you can get advice, and developers who know what they are doing. Just because it is open source doesn't mean the people working on it are the best or that they are all that devoted. Open source codebases can end up laregly abandoned or ignored.

The question shouldn't be whether you need a CMS if you got 5000 pages but why didn't you plan ahead and choose the correct tool/system before you published 5000 pages? One of the biggest problems I've seen is a lack of planning and a lack of experience in people setting up webpages. Look at MySpace, most of the so called designs are abominations, the thing is a hodge podge of features, yet somehow people use it and it sold for like 750 million dollars. Now when I use Technorati I find many MySpace blogs these are rarely worth reading.

Your choice of tools says a lot about you.

Anyway I've rambled enough.



4:07 am on May 12, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

My favorite CMS so far is SubDreamer. It uses mod_rewrite and lets you decide what the name of the pages will be. It's not free but it gets the job done and the template structure consists of one page with php includes. These days, unless you have requirements that an existing CMS can't meet an open source solution will probably work fine.


12:26 pm on May 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

"I think that's easier said than done. How do you identify a programmer who understands your needs and the needs of search engines, and who can be trusted to deliver a CMS that works for you?"

EFV, we don't always agree but you are 200% spot on with this one!


10:56 am on May 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Unhappy relationship!

One just has to see the debates in the CMS developer forums to understand that SEO doesn't matter much to the core developers.

For example, some of the most famous CMSs dont give you control over the title tag - your headline is your TITLE! You have to hack the code, and they are not easy hacks for a non-coder.

I even saw vague promises that title tags will appear in the next versions etc.. and thats a long way down the line.

I would be vary of any CMS. Not for the content people, let me tell ya!


6:20 pm on Jun 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I tried to use SLAED CMS on one of my sites - so far, I'm pretty happy with it.


2:41 pm on Jun 16, 2006 (gmt 0)

I use a .php system called i-edit developed in-house by our design agency Imaginet (based in UK).
Have a look at the case studies on their site and the code and SE rankings of their clients' sites. I have found that it avoids the major SEO unfriendly pitfalls.


3:44 pm on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Howdy guys,
I'm a develeoper/programmer. This thread is very interesting, i've read it from the very beginning. I have a couple of questions:

- Is it impossible to build a CMS which can be customized, so it integrates with your layout and SEO goals?

- If its not impossible, then what would you, as a user, find the easier way to customize that CMS? For example, I was thinking about letting advanced users edit the HTML code used in the header and footer of each page through the admin area. Would that be good enough?


7:52 pm on Jun 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Is Drupal a search engine friendly CMS?


8:12 pm on Jun 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I guess Drupal is more optimized than others
This 48 message thread spans 2 pages: 48

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