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In CMS Fundamentals, James Williamson defines content management systems (CMSs) and explains their role in web site development. The course demonstrates the different CMS solutions available today, including WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla; reviews CMS terminology and best practices; and shows how to develop a content management strategy. Guidelines are also included for evaluating a potential CMS, whether hosted or self-hosted, open source or proprietary, and choosing a CMS based on a specific need or focus.
Another term that you're likely to encounter again and again when working with content management systems is SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it is a method of structuring sites and site content in a way that improves a web site's relevance and visibility to search engines. Now theoretically this allows your site be listed higher in a search engine's result list, which is the goal of almost every site owner. In reality, SEO is one of the most abused terms on the web, with so many different marketing firms and vendors selling tools and strategies that the term has almost been diluted to little more than appear marketing cliche.
Looking at the term practically, however, in order to optimize a site for search engines, you need to understand how those search engines work. Although most search engines guard their methodology quite closely, there are some almost universally accepted techniques that will assist in helping your site become more search engine friendly. First, your site should contain clean, well-structured HTML code that doesn't present any barriers to search engines indexing the site. Site content, including pages, should be tagged with metadata that extends the meaning of the content and explains the page's relevance.
Sites can also increase the amount of inbound and outbound links to make sure the links themselves use terms relevant to the subject matter. Finally, the site should focus on creating consistent, clear content that is relevant to the focus of the site. Now, oddly enough, you would think that that last point would take care of itself, but it's usually one of the techniques that organizations fail to stress when discussing search engine optimization. In the early days of content management systems, the SEO of CMS-managed sites was not really that great.
Links were automatically generated with numeric identifiers instead of relevant text. Page code was messy, non-standards compliant, or needlessly complex, and tagging structures didn't accurately reflect the focus of the site's content. While some systems still produce non- search engine friendly sites, for the most part these glaring errors are a thing of the past. There are, however, some things that you want closely monitor when choosing a CMS to make sure that the sites generated with it produce the best SEO results possible.
First, examine the HTML code the CMS generates as it creates pages. Make sure it uses clean, standards-compliant code that's not weighed down with extraneous markup. Also, make sure you can customize tags and categories to reflect your site's content and focus. Good taxonomies and consistent content tagging will go a long way to describing to search engines what your site's focus is. Second, check to see what level of URL customization you're allowed to perform. In some CMSs, when pages are dynamically generated, the page URL is created with numeric identifiers that does not describe the page content at all.
Being able to customize URLs so that a link contains descriptive text is very important to SEO. This is also true for CMS-generated internal links. Another thing to check out is how a CMS generates descriptive text for site media, like alt text for images. By making sure that you can control these, you not only create more accessible sites, but one that provides more information to search engines as well. Perhaps the biggest SEO problem regarding content management systems is the idea of duplicate content.
If a search engine finds more than one copy of content on your site, it generally decides which one is the most important one, indexes it, and then throws away the references to the other copies. In a CMS-driven site, blog posts, marketing campaigns, and related content frequently result in duplicate content. Now often, you can modify pages and links with attribute values, such as no follow or no index, to prevent this problem, but understanding how and when to use these requires a good bit of research into how search engines actually operate.
Due to these specialized nature of SEO site requirements, many content management systems have SEO tools either built in to the core of the CMS or available as plug-ins or extensions. When researching a CMS, check out what types of tools it offers and the type of control they give you over how your site is indexed and optimized. If SEO is critically important to you, you might want to consider bringing in an outside contractor to assist you. Just be really careful about the claims that some vendors make when promoting SEO.
Look for a reputable vendor who stresses site optimization over the page rankings. Regardless of whether you're using a CMS or not, this is a great document to read to make sure that all of your sites are structured properly for search engine optimization.
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