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The Perils of Content Management Systems

Any website owner with any common sense is using a Content Management System (CMS) for their site nowadays. Clients of ours use WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal amongst others. One of the things these systems do very well is to create automatic indexes of pages by various categorisations – but in doing so, they can kill your site for effective search engine optimisation. Here’s how.

Let’s say your company sells widgets – two different types of blue ones, and two red. If you were sketching out a website, you’d probably have a home page, then beneath this a ‘products’ page and an ‘about us’ page. Beneath the products page, you’d probably have pages for blue widgets and for red widgets, and beneath these, pages for each individual widget model.

So far, so good. Each of these pages would contain some substantial content. The home page would give some background to widgets in general. The products page would talk about the difference between blue widgets and red widgets. The pages about blue widgets and red widgets would talk about the differences between the different models. On all of these pages, the content would be designed to help people choose which page to click down to next.

Now, the problem with a CMS is that it allows you to miss out the information required to help people choose the next page down. The ‘products’ page and the blue widgets or red widgets summary pages beneath this might not actually exist as pages. Instead, when you create the pages for each of the models, you give them a category and sub-category (e.g. ‘widgets’ and ‘blue widgets’), and those intermediate pages are created on-the-fly as indexes.

So from the home page, when someone clicks ‘products’, they’re taken to an artificially generated page which just lists all the subcategories under this (i.e. blue widgets and red widgets). When someone clicks either of these two links, they’re taken to another artificially generated page which just lists all the subcategories under this (i.e. the models of that widget type).

These intermediate pages might look OK, even automatically picking up images. But they contain no explanatory content. On the red widgets page, users might just see two links, representing the two models. With no explanation, they have to click on each one in turn, returning to the listing page, in order to see the differences. You would never design a page like this, with so little explanation, if you were creating each page manually:

That’s bad enough. But here’s the real killer. Your one shot at getting a really good ranking in Google search for ‘red widgets’ is the page about red widgets. And what’s on that page? Just two links. No content. A few hundred words explaining what red widgets are, and describing the two models which the page links to, and suddenly you have a page which appeals to Google, not to mention helps your prospects. Everyone wins.

Content Management Systems are great. But don’t let them offer you shortcuts which make the user experience harder and destroy your chances of ranking in the search engines. You need content at every level.

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