Article Archive by Jordan Sandford


May 29 2009

Content Management Systems and SEO Part 2

by Jordan Sandford

This is part two of a two-part topic.

In my last post, I introduced content management systems and listed a few of their benefits to a web site creator, including search engine optimization benefits. To review, a CMS organizes and stores the content portion of a website, separating the content from common visual page elements and from the inner-workings of the system used to organize and display your content. It can standardize a content creation workflow that simplifies can allow multiple authors and multiple site administrators. Standardizing your processes, as well as having organized content saves you time. Whether it is starting a website from scratch, or updating many pages at once, using a pre-built CMS can help you move towards your goal faster.

SEO benefits of quality content management systems include being able to easily and quickly create keyword-rich, SEO-friendly URLs and remembering to create accessible and valid HTML code when you forget. It can also help maintain and properly display your articles’ meta information and titles. The ease and speed in which a CMS will allow you to update meta information, titles, URLs and content can be a huge time saver, but can get you into trouble quickly if you’re not careful: the automatic and global nature of a CMS will multiply effects of any un-optimized aspects of your website.

For example, if you don’t realize that your CMS is not using search engine friendly URLs, (out of the box, many of them do not) every page in your website can suffer. An inflexible CMS may reduce the effectiveness your site if it does not support SEO-friendly html code such as alt (alternate text) attributes or allow you to control what text goes into the H tags. In addition, possible ‘code bloat’ may occur from including useless features which causes the user to wait for unneeded features to download. By its very presence, this extra code will reduce the effectiveness of your valuable content on your web pages, especially since it’s likely that your content will be pushed further down in the HTML code. A CMS can readily propagate all these problems to every page of your site instead of potentially only a few if you did not use a CMS.

You should be aware that without a solid transition plan, changing URL patterns (or structure) after your web site has been indexed can be extremely detrimental to your SEO efforts.

Before using a CMS, I recommend that you spend plenty of time evaluating different systems while considering your requirements. Also weigh heavily the skill level of the people who will be using the content management system day in and day out.

There are three final suggestions I’d like to leave with you:

  1. Be prepared to spend time tuning your CMS for the best SEO results possible.
  2. Remember that the more flexibility you require, the steeper the learning curve.
  3. It’s likely that someone has already developed a solution for the problem or CMS customization you’re working on.
May 28 2009

Content Management Systems and SEO Part 1

by Jordan Sandford

This is part one of a two-part topic.

The first commandment of a successful website is that you must have content. So, you’ve realized that maintaining that content is taking a lot of your time. You don’t want to keep track of URLs and meta data for all your pages. You need a content management system, or CMS.

In addition to helping you with the above tasks, a CMS can provide an efficient way to syndicate the content you create to other websites. Similar to a blog, it can also keep track of who created the content when.

Essentially, a CMS allows you and your staff to create and update content quickly and without the use of a stand-alone program like Microsoft FrontPage or Adobe Dreamweaver (and the maintenance and expensive licenses of such desktop software). The content you create can be web pages, sections of web pages such as a common footer, stories, blog entries, news items and pretty much anything your e-publishing workflow demands. A CMS can keep track of those content types (or custom content types) and whether a specific piece of content is viewable (or “published”) to your visitors or just in the draft stage, as well as putting content behind secure sections of your site. The CMS will automatically integrate the common sections of your web pages with your content so you only need to create clean and search engine-optimized code for your common sections once.

Using a CMS has benefits for your search engine rankings as well. Each content type or content category can be assigned its own section of your site even though it’s managed in a central location. This allows the CMS to create keyword-rich, search engine friendly URLs easily. Your meta data and title tags can be managed in a central location also, making changes simpler and faster.

While using a Content Management System can make your life easier, there are a few significant gotchas to be aware of including how they could become SEO unfriendly. Stay tuned next time when I review those pitfalls and offer helpful suggestions. While I can’t promise you’ll get a raise when you implement a CMS at your office, I’m sure you’ll wonder how you got along without a CMS.

May 13 2009

Implementing Advanced Accessibility

by Jordan Sandford

After a hiatus, I’m back to give you what I promised: a discussion of advanced tips to help increase your site’s accessibility. One important thing I mentioned in my last post is that if you design or optimize your pages with accessibility as a goal, you may not only gain more visitors, but you will be helping your SEO efforts a great deal.

Keep in mind also, that accessibility not only includes catering to people with disabilities, but to people using non-mainstream browsers. This can include Web TV, Playstation or Nintendo Wii consoles as well as the large variety of cell phone browsers and other operating systems such as the Mac OS and Linux. All these varieties of browsers (most of the modern browsers anyway) endeavor to support the web standards, and the best way to cater to all of them at once it to support web standards in your front-end code (this includes HTML and CSS) and make sure your Javascript is error-free.

I validate (X)HTML and CSS code using the W3C validators. For HTML validation, visit http://validator.w3.org. I typically use the Validate by URI or Validate by Direct Input tabs, and before I run the validation, I make sure Show Source is checked under More Options. This helps to quickly jump to the line of code the error reports mention. You also have the option of listing error messages sequentially or by error type. Be sure to check out their list of error messages and their interpretation page because the error messages aren’t the easiest to understand.

To validate CSS, visit http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator. This tool will validate both CSS-only files and HTML files with CSS embedded.

It often happens in web development (and I believe in other industries as well) that increasing the user experience for disabled visitors increases the user experience for non-disabled visitors. One example of this is when you are creating forms (i.e. places that allow the user to enter information and submit their information to you.)

The current version of HTML (4.01) provides several notable features for user experience enhancements of forms. There is the tabindex attribute that allows the user to use the tab key on the keyboard to navigate sequentially through the entire form without using a mouse. The accesskey attribute is similar to the tabindex, but allows the user to instantly get to a text box (or any input area of the form for that matter). There is also the label tag that makes using forms easier: without the label tag, the user will usually have to click (barring the use of tabindex or accesskey) on the input (i.e. any form area that allows the user to enter information or choices into the form). If the input is small (especially relevant to radio inputs, the small circles that allow multiple choice questions), it can be hard for some users to position the mouse precisely enough and hold it still when they click the radio inputs. This may sound far-fetched, but I have witnessed this personally when training people on basic computer skills. The label tag is designed to allow the text describing the input to be clicked on which then activates the input. One easy way to use the label tag is like this:

label_tag_example_html

It will look like this in a browser:

10pounds

Now when a user clicks on “25 pounds,” the appropriate radio input will be checked.
Another accessibility tip for your web site is especially relevant if you are using any type of Javascript. First, always use the noscript tag, which, in the words of W3C, “allows authors to provide alternate content when a script is not executed.” Also, as websites are using more and more Javascript, what may often happen with browsers that are set to not use Javascript or browsers that cannot use Javascript, is that basic abilities to navigate the site become broken. For example, a user may not be able to go forward or backward in their history when clicking on a Forward or Backward button on the web page. Javascript may become so obtrusive that some web sites, even when viewed in browsers with Javascript enabled, will “break” the browser’s own forward or backward buttons. For more information about obtrusive Javascript, see the A List Apart article, Behavioral Separation.

I mentioned the Web Developer Toolbar in a previous post and want to briefly show how to use a few features.

First, you need the Firefox web browser. Visit www.getfirefox.com to download and install it.

Then, use Firefox and visit the page for the Web Developer Toolbar, https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/60.
To show the alternative text of any images, click the Images button in the toolbar and choose Display Alt Attributes. Also under the Images button, you can choose Disable Images > All Images to get a good idea of how well your page conveys its non-textual images.

Toolbar

To disable all CSS on the page, click the CSS button (two buttons to the left of Images) and choose Disable Styles > All Styles.
I look forward to seeing your fresh, new and accessible web pages soon. I hope this series has been informative and usable.

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