A CMS these days automatically takes care of much of your basic SEO responsibilities. However, many publishers are still saddled with legacy technology that necessitates manual SEO optimization as content is entered into the system. Either way, the editors who are responsible for the content production often don’t realize what’s going on behind the scenes. Here’s a quick primer on what your CMS does for you, and what you can be doing to make sure your content is optimized for search.

David Newcorn, VP of emedia at b-to-b publisher Summit Publishing, has herded his company through three content management systems—and he’s about to work through a fourth, albeit less painful conversion. His current CMS, a hybrid open source Joomla/Drupal system, will soon be shifted to Drupal full time.

SEO, he says, is largely an automated process, though there are areas where publishers can switch to manual operation when necessary. Manual steps, however, depend on your editorial team’s appetite  for and affinity with a few extra steps in the workflow and technology in general.

The Basics

The title bar is a fundamental, but important component. It identifies the content displayed on a particular  Web page. Search engines use it in the search results page and crawl it to identify the topic of the page. "You need to make sure your CMS exposes the headline of the article in the page titles," says Newcorn. "Some people recommend having a separate field for the editors to enter the browser titles bar—one that the editors would write."

This step depends on two things: Your editors’ ability to write straightforward, Web- and keyword-friendly headlines, and their willingness to do so. "That ain’t going to happen with our [editorial] staff," says Newcorn, who adds that editors at his company are still largely print focused and have not made a complete transition to a digital skill set. A separate production staff handles content flow into the CMS.

One step that his editors are beginning to incorporate is writing a separate Web headline at the article origination stage. The journalist simply writes two headlines—one for print—as oblique and pun-filled as they want—and a second one that’s tailored for search engines and the quick-scanning reader experience online. "When it’s archived to the Web, it gets copied and pasted into the title bar field. We’re constantly battling the ‘punny’ headline, so having a Web headline is something the editors can do," says Newcorn.


Summit’s CMS automatically tags stories based on predetermined keywords it finds in the article. This saves a step for the staff, who don’t have to scan the article for keywords and manually enter them into a field. "That’s a relief for editors. They’ve historically hated tagging," says Newcorn. "The downside is [the CMS] is right about 80 percent of the time."


A cross-linking feature—related articles, most popular articles, and so on—is not just a helpful reader function, it helps search engines crawl through more of your site. Without it, search engines may not be indexing as much of your content as you’d like. It’s a very common function in today’s content management systems, but requires diligent attention from editors who typically need to enter or select article headlines and their assigned urls into a related links field.

Meta Description Tag

Newcorn’s team has set up the CMS to automatically pick up an articles dek as the meta description tag—a brief summary of the content on a page. Deks inherently market the angle of the article, so this makes sense from an SEO perspective. Meta description tags factor into search engine ranking algorithms, but also influence a searcher’s decision to click on a link in the results page. "If you have a choice of programatically making the meta description come from the dek or making it blank, make it happen. Get some Google juice," says Newcorn.


Summit has a print-first workflow, which puts some of the CMS prep-work burden on the front end of content generation. The production editors who work with the CMS don’t necessarily know which words or phrases to link within stories. Editors must do that at the front end. "If your editors are not going into the CMS, it’s much harder for the production staff to indicate which words get linked. Now we have the editors spend more time thinking about the terms that get linked within an article when it’s originated," says Newcorn.


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