64% of marketers actively invest in SEO, indicating that improving SEO and growing organic presence is important to their marketing strategy.
If you share this priority, then you can build a great foundation for your SEO efforts by choosing the right content management system (CMS).
To help maximize your efforts, you want to look for a platform with built-in functionality for optimizing your on-page and technical SEO.
Platforms that lack built-in functionality usually offer extensions that can simplify the optimization process — these can be particularly beneficial if you’re not familiar with SEO best practices.
Let’s take a look at the must-have SEO features you should look for when evaluating a content management system. After that, we'll review the best CMSs for the job.
Must-Have CMS Features for SEO
- Customizable Page Elements
- URL Settings
- Blogging Tools
- Internal linking
- 301 Redirects
- Responsive Themes
- SSL Certification
- Navigation Menus
- XML Sitemaps
- Analytics Tools
There are two major ways you can optimize your website:
- Technical SEO: This refers to elements that you don’t see, like site structure, load time, and XML sitemaps.
- On-page SEO: This refers to elements you do see, like keywords, meta descriptions, links, and images.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements and how they help either your on-page or technical SEO. Then, we’ll explore some of the best CMS systems for SEO.
1. Customizable Page Elements
Your CMS should let you customize the title, meta description, and image alt text of your posts and pages. These are essential to your on-page SEO. By including your target keywords in different spots, you’ll help visitors and search engines better understand what the page is about, which, in turn, improves your ability to rank.
You should also stick to a word limit for titles and meta descriptions (60 characters for titles and 160 for meta descriptions). Ideally, your CMS will count these characters for you, so you don’t have to.
2. URL Settings
Your URL structure is another crucial part of your site. Search engines, like readers, don’t like reading lengthy strings of words with complex structures. To keep your URLs short and descriptive, you’ll want to include only your target keywords. To fully optimize your on-page SEO, you’ll need your CMS to let you customize your URLs.
3. Blogging Tools
Blogs are one of the primary forms of media used in content strategies. That’s why you should pick a platform with blogging tools and templates to help you get started. A drag-and-drop editor with modules for images, videos, call-to-action buttons, and more can help you easily and quickly create engaging blog posts.
4. Internal Linking
Internal links are another essential on-page SEO element. Linking to your related content will accomplish two things. First, it’ll help search engines find all of the content you own on a particular topic, which improves your chances of ranking for the keywords associated with that topic. Second, linking to other helpful posts and pages can improve the visitor experience and convince them to stay on your site longer.
You can link your pages manually every time you create a new post, but a CMS platform with a built-in internal linking tool or add-on can help automate this process.
Taxonomy is another way to help both site engines and readers understand the structure of your site and quickly find content they’re looking for. Most CMS systems will offer categories and tags for organizing your content. With categories, you can separate your pages and posts into broad categories. You can then get more specific with tags.
Some CMS systems will offer more advanced taxonomy options, like topic clusters.
6. Navigation Menus
Navigation menus are also an essential element of your site structure. With a navigation menu, you can organize the multiple pages on your site in a way that allows search engines to easily crawl them and readers to find them.
Take a look at Vertical Measures’ navigation menu before its website redesign in 2018. It was linking to so many similar category pages that it was difficult for visitors to find the exact posts they were looking for. So, the company renamed, reorganized, and consolidated 14 categories into eight for a much cleaner look.
7. 301 Redirects
Ideally, your CMS will make it easy to create 301 redirects. Redirects are an essential part of any content audit strategy. For example, when you find outdated and redundant pages that bring in virtually zero qualified traffic for your business, you can redirect them rather than delete them.
Redirects not only allow you to avoid broken links and 404 error pages — but they also ensure that any visitors or search engine crawlers that end up on those pages are sent to existing content on your site. That’s why setting up 301 redirects is an important step in retaining traffic and rankings.
8. Responsive Themes
Mobile devices account for more than 60% of organic search engine visits. And for this valuable majority of search queries, Google displays the mobile-friendly results first.
To capture this mobile traffic, you need to create a responsive site. You can make that easy by choosing a CMS with mobile-optimized themes and templates. This will ensure every post and page published on your site is optimized for all devices.
9. SSL Certification
An SSL certificate is a standard security technology for securing information between a visitor’s browser and your website. Search engines prioritize secure sites — in fact, Google announced that SSL would be a ranking factor — and visitors prefer it because it ensures their sensitive information, like passwords and payment information, remains private.
The best hosted platforms include an SSL certificate in their plans, as do third-party hosting providers for open-source CMS platforms. That way, you don’t have to worry about installing, purchasing, or renewing an SSL certificate separately.
10. XML Sitemaps
XML sitemaps are exactly what they sound like: maps for websites. These files list every single page on your website so that search engines can easily find, crawl, and index your content.
You can create a sitemap manually, but the process requires a bit of coding. Ideally, your CMS will create one for you. Or, at least have a sitemap plugin you can install to do the work for you.
11. Analytics Tools
You have to invest a lot of time and effort into optimizing your site’s SEO strategy. To make sure you’re investing in the right strategies, you want to track certain metrics daily, weekly, and/or monthly. Metrics like your overall organic traffic, indexed pages, leads, keywords, and inbound links will help you measure your success and keep your SEO plan on track.
Using a CMS that can create a dashboard with these and more metrics will ensure you understand what parts of your SEO strategy are working and what could be improved.
Now that we understand the top CMS features that matter for SEO, let’s evaluate the functionality of the platforms below.
Best CMS Platforms for SEO
To help you select the CMS platform that will help meet your SEO needs and goals, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the most popular solutions below.
1. CMS Hub
CMS Hub is one of the most powerful platforms for creating and optimizing small, medium, and enterprise websites.
In addition to offering blogging tools, responsive themes, built-in SSL certification, and an auto-generated sitemap, HubSpot’s CMS Hub offers auto-generated suggestions for optimizing your content, robust analytics, and several features to speed up your site. It also provides multiple tools for creating and managing navigation menus, a pillar page link module, and a URL redirects tool.
Not only can you customize the on-page SEO elements of a specific page or post — HubSpot will help by offering SEO recommendations as you write. For example, recommendations will include the long-tail keyword in the title, they’ll tell you to add a meta description, and include two subtopics.
On pages an blog posts, the Optimize tab will also show what SEO best practices you’ve successfully followed — like adding image alt text, staying within an optimal word count, and hitting a solid link count.
Before you publish, you can change the URL slug, add a tag, meta description, and featured image, and preview how the page or post will appear on mobile, tablet, and desktop.
Once published, you can view the performance details of individual posts and pages. For example, in the Performance tab, you can select the date range to analyze data — like views, submissions, new contacts, average bounce rate, exit rate, and more — over a specific period. You can also customize this dashboard by removing, reordering, or adding different metrics.
If the post or page isn’t performing as well as expected, you can view the Optimize tab to see additional SEO recommendations you can implement.
CMS Hub’s Recommendations tool can also scan your entire domain and associated subdomains, whether they’re hosted on HubSpot or another CMS, for a broader look at your SEO opportunities.
CMS Hub Pros
- Integrates seamlessly with HubSpot’s CRM platform, including Marketing Hub, Service Hub, and Sales Hub
- Plan includes an SSL certificate
- Sitemap auto-generated for you
- Useful editor UI for creating navigation menus
- Offers SEO-friendly website themes that can make it easy to create and launch a site
- Gives SEO recommendations based on performance without requiring an extension
- Includes A/B testing capabilities so that you can see which pages rank better and why
- Robust support options, including a direct phone line and a knowledge base
CMS Hub Cons
- No free version is available, though a trial is offered
- Pricing may be steep for local businesses, freelancers, and sole proprietors
- Migration may be lengthy depending on your previous CMS provider
- Hands-on onboarding costs $800 (one-time fee)
You can also create an SEO-friendly site using the WordPress CMS — and one would hope so, as this software is behind over 40% of all websites. Like CMS Hub, WordPress enables you to add titles, image alt-text, meta descriptions, headings, and custom URLs in your posts and pages.
You can also choose from an even larger selection of responsive themes in the official WordPress directory and other third-party marketplaces to design your site.
You can use a solution like the free Elementor Page Builder, which offers mobile editing if you’re looking for even more control over the appearance of your site on different devices.
Using WordPress, you can also add a complex blog to your site, change your permalink settings, create and manage navigation menus, and use categories and tags to organize your content right in your dashboard.
The similarities between the experience of optimizing your site on WordPress and CMS Hub end here, however.
WordPress is lacking in functionality beyond the standard SEO features mentioned above. However, that doesn’t mean you’re simply left with what WordPress provides out-of-the-box. To get tips on SEO best practices as you write, set up redirects, generate an XML sitemap, drill down into analytics, and speed up your site, you can download and install the appropriate WordPress plugins.
For example, you can install the Yoast SEO plugin to help you with on-page SEO. Offering a free and premium version, this plugin will provide suggestions for creating readable text, using your keywords, optimizing your meta descriptions and image alt text, and adding internal links.
Here’s a look at the results of a readability check in Yoast SEO.
Other plugins like RankMath, Smush, WP Rocket, Google XML Sitemaps, and Redirection will simplify or automate the process of optimizing your images, page speed, XML sitemaps, and redirects.
Downloading, purchasing, and updating these tools will require time and money, but they can vastly improve your site’s on-page and technical SEO.
- You can use and install WordPress without speaking to a sales team
- Large library of plugins to choose from, many of which are specifically designed for SEO
- Thousands of responsive themes available
- Easy-to-use and intuitive interface for most SEO marketers
- Highly customizable with capabilities for editing the site’s theme files, HTML code, and CSS code
- Out-of-the-box, WordPress lacks standard SEO functionalities like web analytics
- Have to install at least one SEO plugin to make up for the lack of built-in functionality
- Installing too many plugins and extensions can cause page speed to increase
- The built-in page editor can be un-intuitive and could warrant the installation of a page editor plugin
- Not all themes are SEO-friendly or receive frequent-enough updates
- No dedicated customer support in case something goes wrong; you’d have to work with a freelance developer or fix it on your own
If you’re looking to build and optimize an online store for search, consider Magento.
Magento will provide a similar experience to WordPress. There are some standard SEO features built directly into the platform, but for more advanced functionality, you’ll have to download an extension.
For example, with this open-source ecommerce platform, you can select a responsive theme, add meta descriptions to all your product pages, and optimize the alt text of product images. You can also create an XML sitemap for your site, add navigation menus, remove any duplicate content, and set your checkout, account, cart, and admin pages to “nofollow.”
You can carry out these tasks manually if you have SEO experience or the time to learn best practices. Or, you can download extensions like SEO Content Optimization by ReloadSEO, Magento SEO Suite Pro extension, Advanced SEO Suite by Mirasvit, Manadev Layered Navigation SEO, and Creare’s Free Magento SEO Extension to automate or simplify these tasks.
Take a look at Reload’s dashboard, for example. You’ll see sections for keyword research, content optimization, backlinks, and store monitoring — all of which are crucial to your store’s SEO.
- You can remove the “Category” subfolder from your product pages’s URLs, making the URLs more SEO- and user-friendly
- Magento gives you the ability to add descriptive meta descriptions to your product pages
- You can set up canonical URLs, preventing duplicate content and self-cannibalization
- An XML sitemap is included out-of-the box
- You can include personalized product recommendation carousels on product pages, which will increase dwell time, a major SEO ranking factor
- Large integration marketplace with many SEO apps and tools
- Requires extensions to offer full SEO capabilities and tools
- You can’t create meta information templates for product pages unless you purchase an extension
- While it does create an XML sitemap for your site, Magento doesn’t create an HTML sitemap, which is beneficial from an user experience standpoint
- No built-in blog functionality — you’ll need to install an extension
Joomla was designed to be the CMS that balances power with flexibility, sitting somewhere between WordPress and Magento or Drupal. It’s also the most popular CMS in use today after WordPress.
In many ways, Joomla is similar to WordPress — it offers software extensions to extend the functionality of your website, and templates to customize your site’s visuals. Joomla also provides more site and content management tools out of the box than WordPress. However, the process of installing them and configuring other aspects of your site is not as straightforward as WordPress. It’s a tradeoff of convenience for capability.
As far as SEO features go, Joomla is a solid choice for optimizing larger business and ecommerce websites. The CMS allows users to easily make key SEO tweaks without extensions, like writing meta descriptions and titles, enabling gzip compression, and managing URLs and site architecture, the latter being especially relevant to bigger sites that routinely add and remove content.
Aside from native features, Joomla’s extension directory contains a wealth of SEO add-ons to change how your URLs are generated, structuring your content for Google snippets, creating an XML sitemap, and implementing redirects.
- More in-house SEO options than other CMSs while remaining relatively user-friendly and codeless
- Joomla is considered one of the faster content management systems, one of the most important factors in search ranking and user experience
- Hands-off caching for your site’s pages, further boosting performance
- Diverse extension library to make SEO tweaks with minimal or no code editing
- Automatic gzip compression, no extension required
- Joomla templates are responsive by default
- Extensions allow canonical URL designation to help search engines locate the most relevant version of a page on your site
- Joomla’s wider range of features and less intuitive interface may pose a challenge to those transitioning from WordPress or an all-in-one website platform
- XML sitemaps require a plugin to generate and submit
- SSL certificate is not included and must be installed manually via file edits
- To enable crawling of images and other media, manual edits to the robots.txt file are required
5. Adobe Experience Manager
If your enterprise uses Adobe Creative Cloud, keep Adobe Experience Manager top-of-mind when searching for an SEO-friendly CMS.
With Experience Manager, you can create SEO-friendly URLs, assign canonical tags, build an XML sitemap, create 301 redirects, include breadcrumbs, and use robots.txt files to prevent indexing of private or development-stage pages. You can also include meta descriptions and edit the HTML page title so that it’s SEO-optimized. (Some CMS platforms automatically create an un-editable title based on the page’s H1.)
Other notable features include a drag-and-drop interface, built-in responsive design, page template editor, responsive form creator, and single-page web app creator.
You can also integrate the CMS natively with Creative Cloud. This CMS is a great option for Adobe Creative Cloud users who would like to marry their asset creation efforts with their content management efforts. For seamless integration, Adobe provides a list of best practices for integrating Creative Cloud and AEM.
Adobe Experience Manager Pros
- Offers a multitude of built-in tools (vanity URLs, XML sitemaps, breadcrumbs) that would require a plugin or extension in other platforms
- Drag-and-drop editor allows you to create a responsive, SEO-optimized website with little to no coding
- Critical out-of-the-box SEO components include page titles, robots.txt files, canonical tags, 301 redirects, page navigation, and search
- You can create image presets with a set compression rate, ensuring that large images don’t slow down your site
- Includes a blog feature that allows you to create informational, SEO-optimized content
Adobe Experience Manager Cons
- Pricing is not available on Adobe’s website but it’s estimated to cost between $100,000 and $200,000
- Onboarding can take months, making it a poor fit for those who need a website quickly
- Steep learning curve to configure the platform according to SEO best practices
Wix is another go-to option for small businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to launch a website quickly and easily, emphasizing simplicity and drag-and-drop building. As such, Wix helps you cover the SEO essentials on your website without getting too deep in the weeds.
As a Wix user, your main SEO resource will be Wix SEO Wiz, a knowledge base that explains how to build and publish a website capable of competing in the SERPs. Use it to evaluate your site’s SEO, discover useful tips, and learn how to improve it on the Wix platform.
Wix lets you handle SEO essentials from your dashboard — this includes alternative text for images, SSL, sitemaps (though you’ll need to resubmit and manage your sitemap through Google Search Console), canonical URLS, redirects, meta descriptions, and URL tidying.
Still, if you’re a larger business or one looking to implement advanced SEO, Wix probably shouldn’t be your go-to CMS, as it’s better suited for and more reputable among small websites that aren’t looking to scale significantly. While you can incorporate schemas and modify robots.txt, that’s as sophisticated as it gets out of the box.
- All-in-one, easy-to-use platform tailored for beginners to implement SEO at a high level
- SEO Wiz is a valuable resource for new website owners to learn the basics and make tweaks to their sites
- Fundamental SEO features are available through the dashboard, and no extensions are needed
- Wix sites are SSL-protected
- Automatic XML sitemap creation and submitting to Google Search Console
- Ultimately, Wix was made for individuals and small teams with limited to no prior coding or SEO knowledge, meaning it’s much more limited than an open-source tool
- Wix doesn’t let you change your site’s template once it’s been applied to your website, so choose carefully
- Wix has been known to create pages that are bloated with code, and as a result may be slower than competitors
- Not all Wix site templates are guaranteed responsive
Those in need of an ecommerce site platform have probably heard of Shopify, the highly popular website platform for online stores. On top of its wealth of built-in ecommerce tools, Shopify does enough to make sure users, even beginners, follow SEO best practices.
Like Wix, Shopify was made for individuals and small websites in need of a simple site with minimal hands-on customizations. In exchange, the platform is known for its simplicity — everything from designs to hosting is taken care of, including SEO fundamentals.
With Shopify, you can target keywords, add alt text to media, optimize your website structure, create redirects, create XML sitemaps, manage canonical URLs which are generated for you, and choose from its library of responsive themes.
Those new to all of this can get help from Shopify’s thorough documentation. Plus, Shopify has partnered with the CDN provider Cloudflare for improved load times across Shopify sites.
However, there are drawbacks too: You can’t edit robots.txt directly, and there’s no native way to edit your XML sitemap. You also need to have a paid plan to get indexed by search engines — Shopify doesn’t allow indexing of trial sites. Finally, you can’t remove the category subdirectory from your store’s URLs. In other words, you can’t remove “/products”, “/pages”, etc.
- Essential SEO tools are all included in Shopify, with no need for additional plugins that may slow your site
- Intuitive interface and options screen, saving you time that you might otherwise spend figuring out a simple process
- Automatically generated canonical URLs, robots.txt, and sitemaps
- All themes are responsive
- Pages load quickly thanks to an integrated CDN
- While Shopify makes a sitemap and a robots.txt file for you, you can’t edit these directly in the tool
- Indexing requires a paid plan — there is no free option beyond the trial.
- Limited customization of your URLs
- Relatively limited customization in terms of design and site functionality when compared to open-source tools
CMS Hub, WordPress, Magento, Joomla, Adobe Experience Manager, Wix, and Shopify are some of the best content management systems for SEO. Offering powerful features and vast opportunities for personalization, these CMS platforms will help you build a site that ranks.
Choosing the Best CMS for SEO
A content management system with the right features and extensions can help you build and optimize your website or online store for both visitors and search engines. This is an essential step in bringing your business online. Investing in a platform that aligns with your SEO strategy can help you get more organic traffic and boost your visibility in SERPs.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.