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A content management system (CMS) is not a search engine optimization (SEO) magic bullet, but it can make the SEO job less painful by standardizing format and structure; adhering to best-practices; making it easy to promote internal links; and ensuring easy, flexible integration with analytics tools.

Let's take a closer look.

Is Having a CMS Enough?

Lots of basic SEO checklists start out with the same list of to-dos: use descriptive title tags, use header tags (h1, h2, and so forth), and use a CMS. Some of those lists make it seem as though building your site in a CMS is enough, that Google will magically rank you higher if it detects your site is running Drupal or any of the many tools that have emerged for building content-rich websites.

Of course, we know that's not the case. Landing pages made of handcrafted HTML regularly rank high in search engines, and I recently encountered a site built in WordPress that fell to the fourth page of results for the company's own name!

Obviously, a CMS is not a silver bullet. But content management can work in concert with content creators to make sites that are attractive to not only people but also Google.

How a CMS Can Simplify SEO Efforts

Content management systems automate the repetitive work behind good SEO. It's what computers were invented for. After all, most of the editors behind our favorite sites' articles, blog posts, and photos just want to make exciting and useful content. They're optimizing for human beings, not machines. When they title an article, they're more concerned with a clever turn of phrase than a modern page title stuffed with keywords. And when they write an article, they pay attention to visual hierarchy and the rhythm of the text, not the heading tags, microformats, and other fiddly bits of metadata that tell the search-engine spiders what pages mean.
All major content management systems are backed by communities offering free or low-cost themes (design elements) and freelancers and agencies that can tailor a unique solution to reach a certain audience. They bake in the basics of good SEO and test their work across multiple browsers and screen resolutions. Some even go the extra mile to ensure that sites built with their themes are completely accessible by the visually impaired. In addition, modern content management systems will automatically turn a title into an SEO-friendly URL, and plugins can simplify the creation of title tags and meta descriptions. It's possible to finish half an SEO checklist before writing a single word.

The following are two excellent plugins for managing SEO metadata:

Content management systems don't just embellish the content they display. They usually include some type of "widget." These pieces of content appear in a sidebar and offer useful information or relevant links. By automatically generating a list of recent or related posts, or even displaying a curated list of featured content, widgets allow every page to highlight internal links and drive traffic to important parts of the site. They can also offer valuable external links to outside landing pages and partners' websites.

Take a look at the boxes to the right of a MarketingProfs article (here's an example) to see CMS widgets in action. Halfway down the side of the page, there's a box with tabs and links to featured posts, articles, and seminars related to the article's topic. Under that is a box with links to topic pages. Such widgets are handy ways of navigating the site but they also direct search engines to resources for popular queries like "email campaigns" and "search engine marketing."
Tracking SEO Results Using a CMS

It's surprisingly easy to integrate analytics tools (like Google Analytics) with content management systems to track the results of your SEO initiatives.

Instead of simply adding a script to the footer of every page, the analytics modules for popular content management systems go a step further. They not only simplify the initial setup but also offer finer control over whose activity is tracked and what information is recorded. Even the basic ability to ignore logged-in users (usually in-house developers and content creators) helps analytics tools paint a more accurate picture of how audiences find and use content. These plugins even make it easy to track download and outbound links without having to manually paste Javascript into every link.

Here are a couple of great plugins for integrating Google Analytics:

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So, no, using a CMS to build a site doesn't automatically imbue it with SEO magic. SEO is a process, not a feature, and today's tools make it easy to automate the important (yet repetitive) tasks of SEO management. With that out of the way, content editors can build further SEO value by creating the kind of content that their flesh-and-blood readers will enjoy and share.

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Dave Ross is lead developer at Straight North, an online B2B marketing agency in Chicago. Follow Straight North on Twitter: @straightnorth and on Facebook.