what to look for in regards to SEO while deciding what modern CMS to use, a little Joomla bashing and a WordPress love story

Today we are inundated with a plethora of available CMS’s that are free or relatively cheap. These CMS’s are often so powerful that they can blot out the sun. The usability and functionality of these CMS’s make them so attractive to large businesses trying to make their mark online. The thing about it is with so many options to choose from people often make the wrong choice.

When people choose wrong we SEO’s are hired to clean up the mess and get the privilege of applying make-up to a grotesque hog, or happily changing CMS’s. I personally hate a bloated CMS that does not align with proper web standards, does not allow functionality for basic SEO best practices and has poor backend usability. These are common trends but there are some extremely beautiful exceptions.

What I look for in a CMS as it pertains to SEO:

- easily changeable meta tags [titles, descriptions and the works] on all pages
- easily manageable FTP access or easy backend source-code editing
- easily manageable redirects and rel=canonical tagging
- clean indexation
- easy image description & alt text changes
- easy to set, proper permalink URL structure to avoid duplicate content and parameter strings
- active plugin directory
- active theme design community
- lightweight enough to keep a fast page-load speed
- easy to set up Analytics and Webmaster Tools


Functionality that makes me giddy as a goat:

- drag and drop site-structure functionality
- bulk meta tag and redirect uploads via CSV
- ability to edit the title tag, h1 tag and menu name separately
- automated XML sitemaps
- automated video sitemaps


CMS stupidity that makes me want to tear off my own face:

- inability to change title tags for home page and other major pages
- non-intuitive interfaces that have no “native” feel whatsoever, as if they tried to make something edgy and different but it isn’t cool
- having to press a “close” button on a page I am working on in the backend instead of clicking away using navigation
- slow backends
- Joomla in general


Now that we know what to look for, why don’t we ask some SEO’s what CMS they Prefer?


john dohertyJohn Doherty, head of Distilled, NYC

“I use WordPress for all my sites these days. While it has its limitations, it’s built on an easy-to-understand PHP platform, so it is relatively easy to customize if you know code at all. It can handle large sites with the enterprise package as well (Techcrunch runs off it, for example).”  


jonathon colmanJonathon Colman, SEO & Content / Experience Architect at REI

“I’m new to blogging, but using WordPress with Yoast and Google Analyticator essentially took care of my SEO concerns. Other plug-ins like Simple 301 Redirects and WP Robots Txt took care of the few holes that remained.”  


dev basu twitterDev Basu, Founder and CEO of poweredbysearch.com

“95% of the time it’s WordPress for pretty much any type of site. Combined with NGINX it’s pretty scalable too, as evidenced by large sites like Mashable and Techcrunch running on it.”


dan shureDan Shure, owner of evolvingSEO

“Hands down WordPress!! Any time I’ve spent just doing an SEO review of a site built in Joomla or Drupal ispainful. Then try to find a developer for one of those two platforms? Many people end up just migrating the site to WordPress because in the end, it’s easier.”


             ^ these men speak truths


There seems to be a lot of love pointed in one direction;

wordpress banner

As John and Dev mentioned above, there are some very large brands with a huge viewer base using WordPress and for good reason.

  1. built on PHP/SQL which is one of the most common and powerful programming languages
  2. one of the most easily customizable CMS’s with a giant custom theme market
  3. extremely multi-functional with a massive, highly active plugin directory
  4. it is free
  5. it’s the shit


if WordPress is so good, who uses it?

Here’s a list of a few brands you may be familiar with:

Noticing a trend? Yes, WordPress is primarily used as a publishing CMS. Tim Ferris, the New York Times best selling author actually runs his blog off of WordPress and for a single-user-written blog gets mind melting traffic. It is the perfect layout for pushing out quick, indexable, organized content.

Critics of WordPress often proclaim that it being a primarily publishing CMS is a negative thing. They are fools. We as SEO’s know where the web is going, we have our finger on the pulse. Unique content is the blood that is being clogged by poor CMS’s that don’t prioritize optimal content delivery.

WordPress does content delivery better than all of their competition which is why they have ~60,000,000+ sites using their CMS. The funny thing is that even though WordPress kills the competition in blogging ability, a website set up on this CMS could be just as in depth as any other site completely apart from it’s blogging ability.


For Pimping out WordPress

Regarding Plugins: I prefer to have a few plugins set up to make WordPress just that much better. These plugins include Yoast’s SEO plugin. This makes any SEO problem you may have with WordPress evaporate into the ether. I would also recommend WordPress’s own plugin, Jetpack. This is essentially a mega-plugin with 15+ functions and high powered tools completely free. Disqus is a high-powered comment system with social integration. Disqus is used on many blogs including CNN’s, Fast Company’s and IGN’s.

Regarding Design: There is no lack of custom theme designers specializing in WordPress themes. Designers will often design very beautiful pre-built themes and host them in places such as ThemeForest. Probably the most popular designs in the custom wordpress theme market come from StudioPress. A designer I specifically like a lot is Mike McAlister who founded OkayThemes. Mike builds some very high quality, beautifully aesthetic themes; I’m definitely a big fan of his work.


my favorite CMS winner is:


pimpin' wordpress


and since I have bludgeoned this WordPress horse into the ground, I would like to say a few things about some other CMS’s that I like, and some that I do not.


other CMS’s I recommend:

Shopify Logo

- Shopify

My favorite CMS other than WordPress, and honestly it’s hard to rank below WordPress because it’s just that good. Shopify is built on my absolute favorite programming language, Ruby. Shopify is my favorite E-Commerce CMS bar-none, it is the absolute solution to any e-commerce business. It is just as good as WordPress in nearly every category except more tailored for the E-Commerce niche.

Something cool about Shopify is that it is easy to run off of an already existing blog or website. This means you can run Shopify in conjunction with WordPress on the same website under separate subdomains. The Oatmeal is a good example, his website with hilarious comics is run off of WordPress and uses Shopify for his website’s store. Just as a fun fact, Mathew Inman (the owner and creator of The Oatmeal) was a co-founder of SEOmoz – that says something about both CMS’s he runs his site on.

I personally love the aesthetics of the backend and would recommend this to absolutely everybody as their full-on E-Commerce solution. I would have loved to put more about this CMS in this post but I will definitely be covering it more in depth in a later post.


Squarespace Logo

- Squarespace

A very interesting, minimalist blogging CMS platform that is aesthetically and functionally brilliant. One of my favorite designers, Andrew Kim has his blog  set up on squarespace. If anyone knows about design, it’s him. To say something about SEO, Squarespace has slapped this quote from Rand Fishkin right on their homepage.

rand fishkin on squarespace


RefineryCMS is a very refined (go figure), lightweight CMS also built with Ruby. This CMS is lightweight but not to be overlooked, it is very powerful and has some of my “giddy as a goat” functionalities. Definitely worth a look.

shameless plug for this niche of a niche e-commerce solution, the Flowermanager. This CMS was built by my buddies and colleagues at GravityFree as a full-rounded solution for florists and flower shops. This is a very thorough e-commerce solution that covers pretty much every single base that a florist could need in their web-store.


CMS’s I loathe passionately:

- Joomla
- Drupal
- DotNetNuke


Honestly I could go on for hours about why I hate these CMS’s, but the honest truth is that it is 2:10 am at the time of writing this post. I don’t feel like wasting a key stroke on these poor excuse for CMS’s, but I will give the short and snappy. All three of these CMS’s are bulky, non-intuitive, grossly under functional, un-refined, outdated and simply ugly. It is beyond me why the three of these happen to be in the top 10 most used CMS’s but it brings me back to my first point, people make the wrong choice.

So what is your favorite CMS and why? What might you look for in a CMS? I would love to hear some opinions, because lord knows you’ve heard mine.

Please up-vote this post on Inbound.org and discuss this post with me there or in the comments below!

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