Written by Written by Roland Benedetti, Chief of Product & Marketing, eZ Systems

How CMS (Content Management Systems) work with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a hot topic and will always be, as long as search engines continue to drive traffic to websites (and there is no reason why this would stop...). eZ Publish has been chosen many times for its strong capabilities in many fields, including SEO. A few years back, basics like SEO-friendly URLs or the ability to precisely define keywords were not common to many CMSs. eZ Publish is a very good platform for SEO, but SEO is evolving fast. Some of eZ's features can actually strike back and penalize your SEO ranking if you don't know exactly how the search bots are behaving. The following are 5 common pitfalls that you want to avoid when launching a new site with eZ Publish where SEO matters.

% SEO pitfalls to avoid with eZ

1. Don’t fall in the “duplicate content” trap (or the danger of Multi-location)

This one is a classic that many people still don’t know about. There’s no out of the box behavior to avoid it and there is not a unique or standard way things should work. Let us describe the issues you may encounter here:

When crawling and analyzing websites, Google and other search engines basically have robots behave like humans navigating your site. When these robots are going through different “pages” that deliver the same content, they tend to consider this as something wrong. It appears to these robots that someone is reusing content in many places to give a site more “meat". This was an old time “black hat” SEO technique to try and play with Google’s bots (by duplicating a lot of content). This no longer tricks Google (or others), but it actually negatively impacts the ranking of a site. This is a bit of a problem for systems like eZ that have the “multi-location” feature, which enables you to use the same content in different places, for different audiences. What is truly a good feature can paradoxically turn into a handicap, despite the fact that there are no bad intentions behind it.

Regardless, this is a fact that doesn't need to be discussed - one doesn’t argue with Google bots! The good news is that there are simple ways to work around this. A classic way is to use the canonical URL instruction on your page. This will tell Google’s system what is the preferred and the original URL for each page that is delivering similar content. Using this instruction explicitly will ensure that you are not penalized by the search engine for using duplicate content. If several URLs are delivering similar content and you define a canonical URL for them, Google will understand it as the “main” URL. This results in searches that always refer to your chosen url.

If you use a lot the multi-location capability with eZ Publish, this is something to be aware of.

Tools provided by Moz are of great help to understand the errors impacting SEO on your site, for instance Duplicate Content and Duplicate Page Titles errors are easily tracked.

2. When translating websites, beware of partial and changing translations of urls

This is a variation of the first pitfall mentioned. It is much more of an edge case, but can still happen from time to time. It relates to sites that are being translated. Actually, in general, SEO for multilingual websites are definitely a complex topic.

So, let say your main language is english, and you have a great story published on

http://www.mysite.com/myblog/my-great-story

Then you want to translate it on your french website. It of course depends of your eZ Publish configuration, but there is a high probability that you will get the french version available on

http://www.mysite.com/fr/myblog/mon-histoire-formidable

(assuming you translated the title, at least)

The next day, you’ll realize the title of your blog itself should probably be translated from “myblog” to “mon journal personnel”... You’ll do so and you’ll get the following url

http://www.mysite.com/fr/mon-journal-personnel/mon-histoire-formidable 

The way eZ Publish works, which is actually quite good and sophisticated, will ensure the “old” URL still works. So you will end up with both

http://www.mysite.com/fr/myblog/mon-histoire-formidable

and

http://www.mysite.com/fr/mon-journal-personnel/mon-histoire-formidable

working.

Google, which is very smart, but really doesn’t care about eZ Publish’s internals, will probably consider this duplicated content for the same reason as above, even if the original feature was designed to improve user experience. I know, it is not making a lot of sense, but that’s the way Google works and there’s not much you can do!

So here, as much as in the first trap I mentioned, what you want to do first is to make sure you track the mistakes happening in the real world using Moz, Google Webmaster or other tools. If different versions of the URL are out there in your templates, or even outside your site in some other pieces of content, then you shouldn’t think about implementing the “canonical” link introduced above. You can also consider using some smart redirection (301 redirect) on the URLs that are “mixed” like what has been done here: https://github.com/holzweg/hwseo. We’ve been using this successfully and can recommend it.

3. Predefined pattern for page titles

What was once a strength, can become a weakness. eZ had and still has great capabilities that automatically define page titles from the content and its position in the content tree. A few years back, this was seen as a strong SEO feature, and don’t get us wrong, it still is much better than an irrelevant page title. The thing is that page titles have been gaining importance in SEO. It’s now one of the key elements to really pay attention to.

Result: Page titles that are dynamic, and automatically derived from the content, are way better than having poor or wrong page titles. In many case however, it’s not effective. For instance, for a piece of content like:

http://mywebsite.com/myblog/my-great-story

A typical page title using the default eZ Publish demo configuration would be:

“My great story / My Blog / Home - My Website”

Developers can change the order, the separators and so on, which indeed is very powerful (if only they know about the issue). However, this is probably not the most optimized title from an SEO perspective. If you want to optimize your SEO, you will probably go for a manual entry of the page title.

Probably something like:

“My great story about my #keyword1 and #keyword2”.

Page titles should remain short, less than 70 characters, and should focus on the keywords that matter most to your story. The remaining parts that are added automatically from the home folders are indeed of very little value.

Our recommendation, if you really want to optimize for search engines, is to manually edit the whole page title. For that, simply add a "page title" attribute in your content type definition, and ask your web developer to base the page title on it - it’s that simple.

4. Unoptimized descriptions

After the page title, the description tag is another very important element. While its importance in the “ranking” is not always totally clear, its importance in the efficiency of your search engine result page (SERPs) is totally obvious. SERPs are the listing, as displayed by Google and others, that shows your content and its description. Whatever the position in the list, it is pretty obvious that the SERP should be appealing if you want users to click on them.

Out of the box, the description field is used in a very basic way by eZ Publish, just using a standard description all over the site. Of course, if you want to optimize your pages for search, the description should be based on content, and depending on the content, cannot be left generic.

Our recommendation for the page title is to provide it with a dedicated attribute. Avoid the automatic truncation of the article, this typically brings unhappy results. You could potentially reuse an “abstract” field if you have one, but there is a high chance that it will be too long. Going for a dedicated field is probably the best way to finetune your SEO as precisely as you want it.

When thinking SEO, a lot of people are still thinking about the “keyword” field, and forgetting about the description field. We would not recommend to forget the keyword field, but it is now proven that it is of less importance!

5. Navigation, navigation, navigation

eZ is a very powerful tool to organize your content from the administration interface. The content tree of eZ’s content repository and the many options you have for content architecture (choosing whether or not to map the site structure) are much appreciated. However, it can lead to a content architecture that is not end-user centric but seen and thought about from the back end.

For that, there are important and clear things to keep in mind:

  • Try not to keep your content tree too deep (from the outside), to avoid long URLs.
  • Make sure that your end-user navigation is clear, intuitive and follows a normal human flow.

Indeed, with dynamic systems like eZ, it is very easy to create a lot of linking as an attempt to enable all possible user journeys. It was, and still is, common to see SEO consultants recommending footers with tons of links. The tendency is that bots will either ignore those links, or penalize you for them -- too many navigation options kill the navigation! Don’t be over excited about the many “automated” linking options eZ can provide. The first, and by far most important thing, is to think about the flow of your website as humanly and naturally as possible.

Only 5 pitfalls?

No, in fact there are many other SEO pitfalls to avoid. The five above are however, in our opinion, the most common ones that people should have in mind. They are by no means limitations or defects of eZ Publish, but are more consequences of using a sophisticated content management platform. They also are true with many other modern CMSs or e-Commerce systems. If you have any other pitfalls to warn users from or any tips on how to avoid them, please share them in the comments box below!

Stay tuned if you want more SEO related content. The eZ Marketing team has decided to make it the topic for this week, and we will continue to share other posts related to SEO.

Cheers,

Roland

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