Feature Article (Pub: December 04) How Content Management Systems affect SEO by Paul Rudman

If you were to ask someone who was looking to invest in a website or ecommerce venture nowadays what their priorities were, they would more than likely reply:-

  1. To have easy to manage and author content
  2. To be found by search engines

However, with the growth of the more established CMS solutions such as Vignette, MS CMS, and Site Solved, there are custom, bespoke systems created on-demand by smaller businesses, for smaller businesses. If you are in a position where money is tight, then the temptation is to go with the local, cheaper option for controlling and making it easier to author your own content.

One of the biggest pitfalls of going down this route is when it comes to one of your major necessities in being online, and that's being found in the search engine listings.

Content management systems are built on dynamic databases which can cause all kind of problems with Search engine optimisation, and if not considered during the outset of a project can cost you in terms of potentially lost clients and also in further investment at a later date to get around the problems.

So what are the problems?

Most of the problems with CMS and search engines is the dynamically-drive nature of the URL strings. Some systems will put the session ID of each visitor in the URL string as a method of tracking user activity on the site, which can also be used with Cookies. Another issue is the number of potential variables in each URL string on your website, so for example, if your site was written in PHP then this could be in the form of www.yourdomain.com/webpage.php?template=15&content=5&footer=1.

Search engines crawl your website with spiders, and spiders are not good at handling dynamic URL strings (Google being the exception but still rarely indexes pages with more than 2 variables), which is a throwback to the days when a spider could follow a page into a database and bring down your site by causing a recursive loop.

So there is the issue of indexibility on one hand (will my pages get crawled?) and the problem of session ID's (how do I increase rankings and page rank when my pages appear like a different URL each time?) which are very common with today's Content Management Systems.

There are several search engine optimisation methods to get around this problem, and any SEO firm worth their salt will be able to give you alternative solutions to work around the technical restrictions of your current systems, although in the longer run you should really consider either switching your system to another, more flexible, usable system or chasing up your current supplier and asking when they will get with the programme and make provision for search engine friendly websites, so you are no longer hindered from promoting and optimising your website to the degree of your competitors, who until that day comes, will be taking search engine traffic that could be destined for your site. So make sure that you consider SEO before you make that crucial investment in a content management system, and if not, then shop around for who can offer you the best SEO solution for your website.

Ok, so your website may already be indexed with your CMS-driven content, what other problems could hinder your search engine rankings? Well, the most common problem you will find is the limitation imposed on the SEO firm that is trying to help increase your search engine presence. Some CMS's do not allow you to directly access the code, some have been created to a very basic specification which might not allow you to add Meta Data for example. So while your content has been indexed by the spiders, you will struggle to get the high ranking placements to promote your products and services with Google or Yahoo!

Be sure if you approach an SEO firm that they understand the technical make-up of your website before you spend your money with them. Some companies may promise the earth and then be unable to deliver as they cannot implement their SEO strategies due to the technical limitations imposed by your current system.

This is a very brief introduction into the area of CMS limitations in search engine placements, and more will follow in the next few months as this is a hot area as more and more companies take the plunge into CMS-driven websites for ease of authoring. If you have any questions on information mentioned above, then please drop me an email as its great to exchange ideas and information. Best of luck with your website, and have a merry Christmas and New Year!


Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.

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