SEO friendly? What to look for in your next CMS
Search Engine Optimisation

SEO friendly? What to look for in your next CMS

24th November 2020

There are a lot of considerations to make when you are choosing a new platform for your website. How much will it cost? Does it allow us to publish the content we want to publish? Is it suitable for ecommerce or is it more of a blogging platform?

These questions are important if you want to choose a CMS that will meet your business needs. However, it is also crucial to consider how suitable for search engine optimisation they are if you want to be competitive in the SERPs.

There are a myriad of CMSs to choose from. Some are exceptionally well-known. Others are in their infancy. In some instances you may well be looking to build a bespoke CMS within your organisation. However, identifying if its core functionality is suitable for your SEO needs will help you in the long run. Whichever route you take, ask yourself these questions before committing.

Does it require a lot of technical knowledge to update?

There is a reason why template-based website builders like Wix and Squarespace are so popular. It is easy for someone with little technical knowledge to create a functional website that looks good. Consider who will be using your CMS. If the primary audience has little to no coding knowledge then they need something that can be edited easily. They need to use the site without worrying about how it might break the styling, or stop the functionality of the site from working.

The more technical knowledge someone needs to edit the site, the lower the chances of your colleagues following those SEO-best-practice guides you spent hours labouring over.

As a quick rule of thumb, when considering your CMS options investigate their ability to easily configure the following.

Page titles and meta descriptions

Most CMSs, although not all, will have the facility to add and edit a page title attribute and a meta description attribute without needing to edit the HTML code of the page. This is important if you as an SEO, or your colleagues in the admin or copywriting teams, need to upload pages and ensure they are optimised well. You don’t want to have to put a ticket into your development team or agency every time you want to make some change to the page titles.

Header tags

Most (again, not all) CMSs also have the ability for you to easily identify which text should be wrapped in a header tag and which needs to remain body text. This is usually in the form of either fields that you enter your <H2>, <H3> etc text in, or you can highlight it in the content editor and make it a header.

The issue sometimes is the Header 1 tag. In a lot of CMSs this is by default the title of the page. So if your colleague sets up a page called “Our shoes”, that will become the <H1> of the page. The solution – changing the page name to reflect your ideal <H1>. However, the page name field is often used to populate other aspects of the site, for instance how the anchor text for the page on the menu navigation. In this instance, the primary navigation link which fit “Our shoes” nicely, now has to wrap to several levels to encompass “Luxury stiletto and kitten heeled shoes for sale” which you want as the <H1>.


Similar to the need for editable header, page title and meta description tags, you must be able to edit the robots.txt with ease. Some CMSs will allow you to edit the robots.txt from within the software. Others will not. If your website develops crawl issues then there might be quite an urgent change needed to the robots.txt. This isn’t something you want to be added to the bottom of a development queue to process.

How easy is it to add redirects?

A common issue with websites that have a lot of people working on them is that pages get turned off, or the URLs changed without redirects put in. As an SEO, this can be very frustrating but not always easy to minimise. Some CMSs will automatically create a redirect from the old URL to the new one if a page’s URL is edited. This removes the need for someone to add the redirect manually. When working with teams who are not thinking “SEO first” this can limit the risk of redirects being missed.

There will be other times when the redirects will need to be manually mapped. In this instance, the ability to use a redirect plugin or native functionality of the CMS is very helpful. Without this ability to add redirects through the CMS they will have to be added directly to the .htaccess file or equivalent. This will be beyond the permissions and technical-comfort levels of most people editing the site. This will mean redirects may take longer to implement as there will be fewer people who can do that.

Will the CMS auto-generate XML sitemaps?

XML sitemaps will need to be generated frequently if your site often has pages added, deleted or redirected. One way to save time and energy is by choosing a CMS that auto-generates XML sitemaps. Some CMSs have this functionality natively, others will have plugins that can do it.

Without this, you may need to be frequently crawling your site to identify if the XML sitemap is up to date, and if not, create a new one to upload. This is a very manual process and can be time consuming if done regularly. Auto-generating XML sitemaps is much more efficient.

Are these necessary features available without subscription?

Some CMSs are free or cheap to use. However, they may well have a premium tier that has additional functionality. Before committing to your new CMS make sure the functionality we discuss above is available on the free version or subscription you are choosing. It would be painful to discover during the build of your new site that the customisation you thought you could do is actually locked behind an expensive subscription.

Does the CMS load quickly?

Some website CMSs are notoriously slow. Not to mention any by name, but speak to any developer who has tried to make them run faster and you will likely be met with tears.

The speed at which a page loads can be the difference between a visitor completing a purchase and bouncing back off the site to visit another. If your CMS is a slow loading one then there might not be much you can do to improve this. Even if you can, it might be time and money intensive to achieve.

A quick Google of the CMS name and “load speed” will likely bring up forum threads and how-to guides that will give you a sense of how much of an issue load speed is.

Some CMS are slow in themselves, others can become slow if they are customised without considering load speed. For instance, adding a heavy theme or many plug-ins can slow a site down unnecessarily.

With Google Web Core Vitals becoming a ranking factor in May 2021, how your site loads is even more pressing a concern. Make sure you are aware of any potential struggles your new CMS might have in this area.

Is there sufficient support and documentation for the CMS?

No two CMSs are identical in how they work. There will always be differences in how you utilise them to get the best performance from your website. Most of the time it is quicker to turn to articles and forums to get the answer you need to your specific question rather than poking around in the settings trying to work out what needs to be enabled or configured. Working with CMSs that are new to the industry, or simply built in-house, means you may not have guidance from other marketers on how to use the CMS.

If that is the case, make sure the CMS you are choosing has great support. Are you able to speak to an account manager at the CMS company? Or if it is a platform to be built by your own company, how receptive to your questions and requests will your development team be?

When working with a popular CMS you will probably not be the first person to have encountered your issue. You will be able to ask the CMS’s community your questions. I once worked with a CMS that was relatively new to the English-speaking market. All of the documentation I could find online was in German which I can’t read. Learning more about that platform was very difficult for me because of that.


You may find a CMS that allows you to create an amazing looking website but does it have all the features you need to perform well in the SERPs? Don’t neglect these questions when choosing or building your CMS, otherwise you might find yourself struggling to stay competitive.


Written By
Helen is Managing Director of Arrows Up, an SEO training and consultancy agency. Helen has over ten years of experience in digital marketing, SEO and analytics. She regularly speaks at industry events and loves sharing her knowledge through teaching and writing.
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