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In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring(CMS) to rule them all, One Ring(CMS) to find them,
One Ring(CMS) to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Recently I worked with a fellow employee on implementing SEO site optimizations for several clients. To our frustration, we found that the Content Management Systems (CMS) they were using never seemed to have passed SEO kindergarten. Obviously, every system has a certain learning curve involved but it was like trying to floss and brush the teeth of a cave troll.

While not all Content Management Systems serve the same purposes, many aspire to SEO greatness and do a fairly good job. But where is that one perfect, all-encompassing SEO Content Management System? Does one exist? Is it hiding somewhere in a reclusive programmer’s basement cave, waiting to emerge at the right time? Well now would be a pretty good time. If you are familiar with the Lord of the Rings, then you might agree that we need an SEO Sauron to create one CMS to rule them all.

A web Content Management System aims to provide a simple application wherein the average user can create and manage website content. Therefore, the CMS should be user friendly and make it easy for non-technical people to manage the web content. How many CMS offerings truly accomplish this? In addition, many claim to be SEO friendly, but how many actually could be considered as such, and what does that even mean?

In certain terms, any Content Management System that could be considered SEO friendly should allow for, and accommodate any changes necessary to make the site SEO compliant. Any CMS that prevents or lacks that ability falters in its search engine friendliness. Furthermore, the term SEO friendly CMS may be a bit misleading since there are so many facets to search engine optimization. A CMS may possess features which can appease certain SEO factors, and miss others, yet they often prove to be anything but friendly to use even for experienced users. Of course with the right skills and time one can usually customize things as they please.

Perhaps you have already found that one Content Management System to serve all your needs. Great. It is not my intent to promote any one CMS, or generate a specific list of recommendations at this time; but with SEO in mind, let us consider several ideas that may help when looking for a CMS:

a. Built-in Management to Prevent Duplicate Page Content

I recently worked on a site using a particular Content Management System which used a template system that literally created multiple URLs for every page due to the various templates. Nothing was built-in to correct the problem.

This issue creates an SEO nightmare of duplicate content and possible duplicate URLs; not to mention the headaches when trying to implement fixes using redirects and base tags. It is like looking out the window and noticing tens of thousands of threatening, dirty orcs at your doorstep.

b. Customized URL Structures/Redirects

The ability to customize or define your own URL name and structures is a must. In addition, many users are not familiar with mod_rewrite or similar redirect tools so it is nice when a CMS provides user friendly solutions for implementing redirects where needed.

1) Do I Really Need a Content Management System?

Consider the purpose and goals for your website and maybe begin by asking some honest questions. Will you be updating the site content frequently, maybe more than once a month, at least? Are non-technical users going to be updating site content? Ask yourself, what do I really need? What can I do without?

You may discover after answering some of these questions that a Content Management System might not make sense. On the other hand, system preferences are generally relative to different business structures, goals, and markets, hence the choice of a certain CMS becomes very subjective, if not relative, to each individual. What one business website may require, another can do without. For example, a Wal-Mart site requires a completely different system than Joe Schmo’s Football Card Shack, based out of his garage.

2) CMS Inherently Implements Good SEO Practices

A Content Management System designed with SEO in mind should cover the basics, by default: customizable titles, headings, and meta tags for individual pages, implementing correct tags in general, and allowing for them to be customized if necessary, among other basic things.

How many systems really provide common SEO friendly features out of the box? Many require add-on modules just to accommodate the numerous demands of an optimized site. With that said, “add-on modules” offer a great structure for anyone that does not desire a full-fledged solution, but would rather prefer to modify the system according to their needs. So when we discuss a one-and-all CMS solution, perhaps it is important to keep this “module” concept in mind.
At present, two of the biggest problems I have run across with several CMS based sites include the following:

3) Blogging Functionality

Many, if not all, Content Management Systems I have come across support some type of blogging functionality. Search for something which enables you to setup a blog and also provides options to incorporate RSS and social media tools.

4) Open-source or Proprietary?

While a proprietary CMS can be specifically tailored to any one site, keep in mind that any modifications you may need at a later time can be costly. You may not have the resources or ability to make the needed changes to the system once it has been implemented.

Open source systems generally can be found for free and they receive wide support from a large open source community. They also will often provide a number of modules and templates to accommodate your SEO needs and changes, including documentation that can be quite helpful.

In my experience, people tend to over complicate things, including websites. I am not without fault here. Why build a boat when you can simply swim across the water? Likewise with websites, why use an extremely robust Content Management System when something simple will do the job just as well and avoid all the overhead.

So if you conclude that you require a Content Management System, which one do you choose? It would be wise to research and find out what others generally have to say about a particular system; keeping in mind that everyone has their own opinions. But usually you can get a good feel for the features and overall issues that a CMS might have with SEO. You can then select several that seem to fit your purposes and try them out, if possible, to see if any make the cut.

So is there one CMS to rule them all? Perhaps I may be too neutral here, but I would suggest it is mostly subjective and that each CMS really is relative to each individual. Understand that not every CMS can be everything to everyone. One CMS might be everything to one person, while another works just as well for the needs of someone else. So with that said, I conclude with an invitation for others to share their CMS experiences. What CMS has worked, or not worked, for you and why?