10 Questions Every Webmaster Should Ask Their CMS Developer

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Before Oneupweb, I worked at an online children’s store. One of my many duties there (my desk was always covered in toys) was to manage our store’s migration to an entirely new e-commerce platform.

The first thing I had to do was select our new e-commerce provider. Simple, right? Not quite. We’re talking about a major investment.

I embarked on a massive research project that spanned almost an entire year, comparing solutions as I evaluated everything from order fulfillment to inventory control to the subject at hand: Content Management Systems.

If you’re considering migrating to a new CMS platform, here are some things you should keep in mind (or perhaps avoid at all costs – as your friendly SEO advisor, I’m begging you):

1. Will my web site have dynamic or static pages?
Many search engines have difficulty spidering dynamic pages where the URL is always changing, and some engines also won’t index URLs that contain multiple dynamic characters, such as the “?” character.

2. Does your CMS attach session IDs to web site pages?
Session IDs create confusing URLs that are not only hard for search engines to follow, but can also lead to duplicate content issues.

3. Will every page on my web site be unique, or will content be duplicated across different categories?
Be sure that your CMS uses a flexible category structure where if you need to include a page in more than one category, it doesn’t create multiple copies of it (search engines don’t like duplicate content).

4. Do you allow custom title, meta, and headline tags for each page?
Believe it or not, many CMS programs don’t have this essential capability.

5. What can and can’t I change on my own?
Be aware of how much flexibility you really have when it comes to adding or changing content. Can you create static pages at your leisure? What about adding or removing categories, or having full control over directory and file names?

6. What’s the navigational structure like?
If your web site navigation is contained within Flash or Javascript, search engines won’t be able to follow links to any of your internal site pages.

7. Will the site be written in frames or Flash?
Similar to #6, websites that use frames or are written 100% in Flash have a nasty side effect of being largely invisible to search engines, except in these cases it’s not only the navigation – it’s the entire site.

8. How “clean” are the pages?
Search engines like pages that are simple and easy to follow. Be sure that your CMS doesn’t spew out bloated pages full of complicated scripts and style commands that eclipse your web site copy.

9. Could global updates overwrite individual page content?
We have seen some CMS platforms employ global updates with a nasty side effect of overwriting entire portions of a webpage (including actual on-page and meta copy).

10. Does any of this cost extra?
Many times a provider will say “sure, we can do that”, but will fail to mention the added cost. I’ve seen it happen, so the moral is to leave no stone uncovered.

Of course, these above issues relate largely to SEO. Although I don’t have time to go into other areas you’d want to consider, I can however offer two additional tips:

11. Document *everything*.
Make an exhaustive spreadsheet (and I mean exhaustive), listing what each solution needs to provide down to the most minute detail. Use this as a measuring stick against each and every platform you consider. You’ll be adding to this every day.

12. Put it in the contract.
If you’re not sure what is or isn’t included with a service, never assume, even if you have a verbal agreement. Request it to be added to the contract in writing.

In the name of facilitating friendlier search engine design for websites everywhere, I hope these brief tips have helped. Hang in there, and good luck!

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