5 questions to ask when comparing CMS options

January 18, 2012

We’ve shown that having a content management system for your site is important. But there are a number of content management systems available for use on sites. Web development companies usually pick one or two they like best; they might develop their own (for example, we built a CMS called datAvenger at Sephone), or they may choose to use an open-source CMS to power the sites they make.

But what should you compare if you’re looking at a few CMS options? Here are five questions to ask.

Is it hard to learn how to edit my site?

If you make a lot of changes to your site (or even if you don’t), the most important piece of the CMS puzzle is feeling comfortable with the area where you edit your site. If it’s a hassle or burden to find the page you want to change, wrangle with an editor, and then stumble to push the page to the live site, you’ll find yourself frustrated – fast.

If, on the other hand, editing makes sense and is easy to do, you can have an up-to-date site that changes whenever you like. There’s no reason why a simple content change on your site should take more than a few minutes. Don’t compromise on a CMS that makes you do more work.

Will my site play nice with search engines?

It’s important that people can find your site on the web. Search engine optimization (or SEO) isn’t all about the content on your site; it’s also about how your site itself is built. A good CMS can help your site shine on search engines.

A good first check is to see how the page addresses (known as URLs) look for your site. Many older content management systems use a combination of codes and ID numbers in the URLs for every page:

http://www.example.com/index.php?pageId=25&section=5
http://www.example.com/directory.php?dirId=25&person=52&view=standard

These kinds of URLs are tough for search engines to understand because they don’t say anything about what’s on the actual page. Look for a CMS that builds URLs using the title of the page, or another set of keywords you can customize:

http://www.example.com/about-us
http://www.example.com/directory/person/jim-smith

These make it easier for both search engines and your visitors to remember your site.

Bonus tip: Ask how a site’s CMS handles mistyped or broken links. In the tech world, we call these 404s. Ideally a CMS should show a screen that tells your visitor that the page is not available. It should also send a special server status code (a 404) so that search engines and other sites can tell that the page doesn’t exist. This helps search engines remove a page from their results after you delete it from your site.

What kinds of content can I have on my site?

Form moduleAs we mentioned in our “What is a CMS?” post, most content management systems allow you to edit text in a rich text editor. This allows you to style text, add links and images, and more. Chances are, though, that your site isn’t only text. What if you want to add a form for visitors to fill out, an image gallery, or a widget from another site? Make sure that the CMS you choose can support the kinds of content you need (or can be customized to adapt to what your site needs to do).

Can I preview my changes before everyone sees them?

The administration area for some content management systems allows you to see how the changes you make will look on your site before you publish them to your live site. This is a great feature if you’d like to be able to tweak what you write before the world can see it.

Bonus tip: See if your CMS saves drafts as you work. If your browser or computer crashes, you don’t want to lose all of your changes!

Are pages for my site ready to be shared on social networks?

A link shared on FacebookFacebook and Twitter make it super simple to share links. Will the pages you share look their best, though? Facebook, for example, lets pages choose what they want for a description and image of a page when it’s shared. Check to see if your CMS can control how this looks instead of posting just the first few words from the page (or just the page title with no text at all).

These five questions are a good starting point when you start to compare your CMS options. If you’d like to know more about how content management systems can help your site, read more on our blog or get in touch with us!

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Justin is a web and mobile developer at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Starting out with SEO

December 5, 2011

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine mentioned that she was trying to improve her business’s ranking when people searched on Google. Since so many people use search engines like Google to find information, there’s a huge benefit to be within the top few results for words and phrases you think people would use to find your site. It’s such an important topic that there’s a whole industry devoted to it called SEO, or search engine optimization.

Unfortunately, there are a bunch of services out there that try to trick or scam Google into thinking a site is more important than it actually is. There are people who will guarantee that your site will earn the top spot in results within a couple of weeks (or days). In reality it takes time and hard work to reach that top ranking – especially with so many new sites coming online all the time!

Google, of course, understands this, and they want people who create content to play by the rules. That’s why I pointed my friend to the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. It’s a PDF file with over 30 pages of tips, ideas, and best practices for raising your site’s position on search engines like Google.

Google SEO Starter Guide

Google’s guide is a wonderful launching point for anyone interested in SEO. It covers a lot of the same suggestions we like to give:

  • Create great content that people will want to read and share
  • Use descriptive page addresses if your site allows them (http://www.example.com/about-us instead of http://www.example.com/?cat=52&mod=62-i)
  • Be sure to use accurate page titles and headings

But even for a starter guide, it’s a lot of information to absorb. That’s why there are services – like our own SEGenie search engine marketing program – that offer guidance and suggestions along the way. We’d also be happy to talk with you about some of the more technical parts of the guide (robots.txt, meta tags, etc.) to see what you can control with your current site or if there are better options available for you.

No matter how you decide to improve your site’s search engine rankings, use Google’s guide as a starting point. The search engines – and your customers – will thank you!

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Justin is a web and mobile developer at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

I Have This Website and Nobody Cares…

September 20, 2009

Every penny counts. And even before the latest economic challenges, I can say those of us up here in the Pine Tree State are famous for doing more with less, we drive our cars longer, we fix things instead of buying new, so being thrifty, green and recycling isn’t a new concept for us, it is a necessity and a way of life.

This goes the same for businesses. If you are a business owner (or a Marketer that has been sent to the Principal’s office because “nobody cares about your website”), then here are three questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. When you built your web site did you have an objective in mind?
  2. Were there expectations that were set for what things the web site was to accomplish? Save money, make money, sell your product worldwide?
  3. Do you measure the traffic and view those numbers regularly? (Do you know what the numbers mean?)

At beginning of 2009, this blog was posted for statistics on the internet for 2008.   Click here. The highlight being, the number of websites on the Internet in December 2008: 186,727,854. The number of websites added during 2008: 31.5 million.

If “nobody cares about your website,” do you know why? Has your site been online and not changed for a while?  If you are doing the 3 things mentioned above, then perhaps some tweaking to the construction, the background keywords or some content in order to make sure that today’s search engines are finding you.  If you answered “No,” to the above questions, perhaps you might sit down and think about it or call “someone in the business” to help out.  After all you are competing with 186,727,854 and 31.5 million of them were built recently. As daunting that these numbers may sound, remember these are from year end 2008!

For another post on this subject, click here.

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Kelly's been known as the Marketing Maven since before the term was hip. (That means she's old.) As a natural Community Builder, she loves to get people together, bring resources to the table and solve problems!

SEO – 101 session 1

February 13, 2008

The obvious and not so obvious things you can do to make your site more searchable without spending money on search engine marketing & How to apply to datAvenger and dALite.

The following may be basic, or obvious- but sometimes overlooked. People used to say computers were dumb. They can only spit out what they are given. So are Search Engines. They can only know so much about your website, but what your ‘tell’ them.

The responsibility falls with the site owner, because that is who knows the most about their business, but if the site isn’t built right or doesn’t support current methodologies, then that is our responsibility.

datAvenger 4.0 CMS and daLite both have META and content features that allow content editors the ability to manage and optimize what a Search Engine can see about a business or organization to assist in indexing and ranking a site when it gets crawled.

By no means are we stating that this is the end-all/save-all to having your site rank in the top 10; but not doing these basic things can almost guarantee that you will not be in the top 10.

OK-

Here are some OBVIOUS guidelines.

  1. Have a somewhat recognizable URL. Abbreviations are not the best when dealing with the web. www.cooc.com is quick to say but www.coloradooutdoorcenter.com (if available) is better.
  2. Find and arrange to have sites that are relevant to yours link to you. And link to them. By having this in place- you tell SE’s that your site is relevant in this category when they see that other sites related to yours link to you. SE’s actually find you through those links and then if you have a link back to that site- it is even more relevant. These links should be done with individual contact with each site owner.
  3. Submit your site to DMOZ, Yahoo, Google, etc. and other industry sites if applicable.
  4. Add a crawl-able site map to your site. The Google Site Map is great and is used by SE’s to learn about the sites architecture/navigation and adds exposure to all your pages.
  5. Maintain the site content regularly. Doing this not only shows regular visitors that you maintain the site with current/timely information, but also demonstrates to SE’s that you are in fact still around.
  6. Domain Registration- If you can- renew your domains for as long as you can. Domain names registered for a long time demonstrates legacy and longstanding meaning that adds to your ranking. Renewing a domain 1 year at a time for the last 8 years is less effective than renewing a domain for 5 or 10 years into the future at a time. Having an 8 year old domain name IS fantastic- but give it more value- renew it for longer periods if you can.

For datAvenger 4.x and daLite users-

We have already taken care of clear text page names and paths for SE’s to be able to index. Again, though, refrain from Cryptic abbreviations or extra long page names when creating them.

  1. Title all your pages from within the Admin area look for the <M> icon for META data. Then review all pages for a good Page Title. Titles should be more than “Home” or “Contact US”. A better Page title contains your primary category for your business or Organization and the name of this page;
  2. When including images, make sure they all have meaningful names AND you include alt-text for ADA assisted browsers. A typical photo from a digital camera may be given the name DSC0001.jpg. Only YOU know what it is and therefore you should rename it to “snowmobiling_in_maine_08.jpg before uploading it; and include an alt-tag for ‘Snowmobiling in the North Maine Woods, Maine – Colorado Outdoor Center- 2008”
  3. Add links within content to other relevant sites
  4. Add links to associations Rotary, Professional Associations, etc.
  5. Have relevant, current and orginal content
  6. Avoid tricks and other “Sure ways to get ranked”
    1. hidden links or text to attempt to trick SE’s
    2. unnecessary or duplicate content
    3. doorway pages created just for search engines
  7. Fresh Home page content that includes links to your internal pages with in the context of the content- Whew- what does that mean – Try to have the pages linked within the actual text of the home page. This aids in showing SE’s that the site has relevance; re-using the navigation terms, which is also relevant, that is keyword density. The higher the relevance and density, the higher the rank. That’s why you dont place popular/trendy keywords on a site if they have nothing to do with the site. At one time this was a big trick. Placement of these terms almost guarenteed SE’s would rank the site- Now they know better.
  8. Keywords placed in the Admin Area for <Meta data> should be ordered by the relevance to the actual services provided. IF you sometimes serve lunch- dont put it # 1.
  9. Description should be detailed but NOT more than a sentence or two. A paragraph or marketing tagline is not what this should be.

Periodically- we will update this and share insight on the do’s and don’ts- If you have any questions please send them to support@sephone.com

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In addition to being a partner at Sephone, a Bangor, Maine-based web solutions provider, Joe is a father of two and active in little league, soccer, hockey and gymnastics. By being active is meant 'a proud supporter'. Skiing, reading and movies are his hobbies.

A serving of alphabet soup

February 4, 2008

Whenever you talk about technology, you’re likely to get an earful of abbreviations and acronyms. We know it’s confusing – we deal with it every day! Here’s a little “geek glossary” to help you navigate some of the more common things you might hear us mention.

  • dA / dA lite: dA and dA lite refer to Sephone’s content management systems, datAvenger and datAvenger lite. The content management system is the administrative area where you can edit your site.
  • HTML: HTML is really the language of the Web. Just like Word documents are used for word processing and PowerPoint is used for presentations, HTML is used to display Web pages within a browser. When the browser reads the HTML, it adds the right colors, links, text sizes, and more to create a readable Web page (like this one!). (It stands for “hypertext markup language”, which is a really complicated way of saying that HTML pages can use text formatting and can link to other pages.)
  • PHP: Most of the sites we create use another programming language known as PHP. PHP allows us to build sites that change based on what the site owner tells the site to do: display an image gallery, post press releases, or allow you to check out on an e-commerce site. All of these happen before the page even reaches your Web browser.
  • SEO: Short for “search engine optimization”, SEO is an ever-changing study of how to make your sites look their best in search engines like Google and Yahoo. This is done through a combination of stuff that we control (easy-to-read page addresses, clean programming, and more) and a bunch of things that are up to the site owner to control (page titles, meta data, and most importantly, the actual content of the site).
  • WYSIWYG: Many of our products use a tool known as a WYSIWYG, or “what you see is what you get” editor. A WYSIWYG editor looks like a stripped-down version of a word processing program like Word; it will give you the ability to boldface, italicize, or resize text, as well as a number of other functions. Some WYSIWYGs even let you insert links or images into your text. The WYSIWYG in datAvenger, for example, has over 25 different actions built right in.

Is there anything else that you think should be a part of this list? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Justin is a web and mobile developer at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.