How do you choose a content management system? There are a number of parameters you can go by and one of them is whether or not a CMS is search-friendly.
Surprisingly, not all of them are. Common complaints include indexing and crawling issues, default headings, unnecessary code, and many other problems that may result in poor rankings.
In this article, we discuss the ten most popular content management systems from a standpoint of SEO — advantages, disadvantages, and what it would take to optimize a website on each platform.
Content management systems are here to simplify the way we build websites. The problem is that sometimes they go too far. There are certain customization options that we’d keep rather than have them decided by the platform. Here is what we want to in an SEO-friendly CMS:
Customizable titles, meta-descriptions, headings, and alt texts;
Out-of-the-box blog option;
Simple and scalable website structure;
Possibility to set up 301 redirects;
The ability to generate XML sitemaps.
Nearly half the web is built on WordPress, including giants like Sony Music, The Walt Disney Company, and The White House. WordPress is often referred to as the best website builder. The platform is free, beginner-friendly, and allows you to build any type of website.
WordPress SEO guide recommends focusing on clean code and good content, as other aspects of SEO are supposedly taken care of. This is mostly true. WordPress allows editing titles, alt texts, headings, and URLs. Canonical URLs are set automatically. Website structure and navigation are easy, so no indexing issues.
Even more SEO features may be available through WordPress themes. They are generally responsive, include breadcrumbs, and sometimes even Schema markup.
And if you are lacking advanced SEO features, you can always turn to WordPress plugins. One of the more popular SEO plugins is Yoast SEO — it covers everything from metadata to keywords to robots.txt files. There are also smaller plugins that focus on narrow aspects of SEO, like image compression or code minification.
One of the problems when managing a big site on WordPress is the lack of scalability. Designed as a blogging platform, WordPress was not supposed to be used for big websites with complicated structures. So, as you scale up, your website gets slower, you experience crawling issues and problems managing large files.
Another disadvantage is layout design. It’s hard to create a nice-looking website using bare WordPress, so users resort to themes. They do a good job at beautifying your website, but will often add excessive code to your pages and slow your website down.
WordPress does not provide an SSL certificate — you have to get that from your hoster. Once you get a certificate, you’ll have to set up 301 redirects from the previous pages, which can’t be done without a plugin.
It may seem that WordPress plugins will deal with any SEO issues, but using too many plugins will slow the website down. Make sure you don’t overuse them. Most of the tasks performed by plugins can be done manually in the WordPress code. It’s a much-preferred option if you’ve got the skills.
Shopify is used by 3.4% of websites, which makes it the second most popular CMS after WordPress. It works best for small-scale e-commerce websites, but there are some relatively big names among its users, such as Penguin, Hasbro (Shopify Plus), and Heinz (Shopify Plus).
Shopify SEO guide says all you need to do is optimize the store navigation, use informative file names for images, and write descriptive anchors for your internal links.
Many of the aspects of SEO are indeed taken care of automatically. Schema markup is added to your product information, on-page elements are marked with proper tags, layouts are responsive, SSL certificates are supplied by default, as well as a sitemap and a robots.txt file.
A common complaint is that Shopify generates endless dynamic URLs. Indeed, each page will have a number of different URLs, depending on how if found. But it’s not a problem since canonical URLs are set by the platform as well, so there is no confusion for the search engine.
First off, your website will not get indexed unless you purchase a paid plan and it’s at least $29 per month.
Shopify themes tend to lack customization features, which is why most Shopify websites look nearly identical. From an SEO perspective, a common issue with Shopify themes is that they confuse H1 tags with page title tags — these are often filled out as one and you have to meddle with the code to split them up.
Same as with other platforms, there are plenty of search optimization plugins to choose from. Keep in mind that each additional plugin is a drain on your page speed. Whenever possible, stick to optimizing your Shopify website with external tools, like Google Search Console or Google Analytics. Alternatively, you can use a WebSite Auditor tool for even more in-depth analytics.
Joomla! is often referred to as WordPress for big websites. The platform is used by 2.1% of websites worldwide, including the likes of IKEA, LINUX, and Lipton Ice Tea. Lately, Joomla has made leaps in search optimization and is now as SEO-friendly as WordPress, if not more.
Joomla’s main advantage is its architecture. Built for large websites, it allows managing a ton of pages without affecting website structure and speed.
Another major advantage is that Joomla allows using a combination of several different themes. You can use one for product pages, and then another for a blog, and so forth. There’s rarely a theme that’s good at everything, so it’s a good opportunity to basically assemble your own.
Most on-page elements like titles, meta tags, meta descriptions, URLs, headings, and image properties are customized with page editors — no need to edit the code.
There are some SEO features that are not included in Joomla out of the box but can be achieved with plugins. You’ll need plugins to generate sitemap files ( JSitemap, OSMap) and set up canonical URLs (Custom Canonical Pugin). You will also need plugins to adjust theme responsiveness (Responsivizer, DSC) for old versions (before Joomla! 3).
There is also a problem with a robots.txt file. Prior to Joomla 3.3, robots.txt used to block visual content. It’s now been fixed, but, if you used an older version, you have to implement the fix manually. To do that, you have to delete the old file and rename the new file from robots.txt.dist to robots.txt.
Squarespace takes fourth place with 1.6% of websites running on the platform. It’s quite popular among creative businesses, bloggers, and people of art.
Squarespace SEO guide says they run a clean architecture and all you have to worry about is content. They do take care of stuff like sitemaps, robots.txt files, and 301 redirects for when you activate an SSL certificate, which can be done in one click.
When it comes to on-page SEO, there is an intuitive editor, which let’s build your page block by block and adjust URLs, meta description, and other meta tags.
Another advantage of Squarespace is that you convert your website to AMP and make your website much lighter and mobile-friendlier. AMP is a questionable technology, especially since Google has revoked its ranking advantages, but it’s nice to have this option.
Squarespace doesn’t support plugins — you just cannot install them and that’s it. If you need advanced SEO, you’ll have to dig into the code. If you don’t have enough coding skills, you’ll have to find a developer.
E-commerce templates may not include all the needed structured data. If you need an e-commerce website, you’ll have to manually set up schema markup in the code editor. Otherwise, you will not get a rich snippet from Google.
Sitemap and robots.txt are not editable, so if you want to deindex some additional pages, you’ll have to use a noindex tag.
Finally, the structure is not scalable at all. Menus even four layers deep may affect the speed and functionality of the website, so there's no way to create a big e-commerce store. This limited scalability also results in poor customization options for themes.
Wix is used by 1.5% of websites across the web. Wix is mostly used by solopreneurs and small businesses, often related to art and any kind of design. Among Wix users are Karlie Kloss, AdMost, and Adam Grant.
First off, there is SEO Wiz — a wizard that helps you optimize your website for search. You can use it to customize page titles, meta descriptions, headings, URL slugs, and image alt attributes, set up canonical tags, and create a robots.txt file. The wizard will also generate a sitemap and submit it to Google.
Then there is the drag-and-drop editor, which can be used to build pages and menus. The builder setup is very similar to Shopify and follows similar website structures.
Other than that, the themes are responsive, there is an SSL certificate enabled by default, and you are free to set up 301 redirects or even group redirects.
The biggest downside of Wix is its speed. Wix’s code has been updated many times to deal with PageSpeed issues, but it still falls behind. Which is weird, because Wix doesn’t even allow building complex websites.
Another oddity about Wix is that it renames image files once you upload them to the editor. Wix gives images somewhat cryptic names with symbols and numbers. This is not ideal for those of you who are planning to rely on image search. Not critical either.
Wix adds extra attributes to your URLs and there is nothing you can do about it. They let you choose a part of your URL’s name and then a little extra if it’s a blog page or a product page.
Once you choose a theme, you will not be able to change it. You can only slightly customize it. And many of Wix’s themes have questionable responsiveness, especially when it comes to tablets.
Wix websites often experience crawling issues, and Google does not display them correctly. Although SEO Wiz generates you a sitemap and automatically submits it to Google, it does not re-submit your sitemap if you make any changes to existing pages or add new ones. You have to re-submit your sitemap manually in Google Search Console. Poorly optimized code is another reason for crawling issues, as Googlebot cannot easily read the website’s content and properly index it.
Drupal is used by 1.5% of websites. It can manage tremendous amounts of code and is often used by big businesses, such as Tesla, NASA, and Entertainment Weekly.
Drupal is one of the most customizable content management systems. All on-page elements are editable and so are sitemaps, robots.txt files, and menus.
Drupal offers plenty of modules and plugins for all manner of search optimization, including URL customization, canonicals, redirects, sitemaps, and structured data. So whatever is not optimized out-of-the-box can be optimized with platform extensions.
You can’t build a good Drupal website without at least some coding experience. The platform is getting more user-friendly with each edition, but there is still a gap that has to be covered with manual work.
Drupal does not host your website, so it doesn’t provide an SSL certificate. To add an SSL certificate, you first need to get it from your hosting provider and then do some manual coding in the .htaccess file to install it and set up redirects. Starting with Drupal 8.7.7 (including Drupal 9 and its updates), you can use an HTTPS and WWW Redirect module to set up redirects automatically.
Bitrix is used by 1% of websites and most of its users are from Russia and CIS countries. Some of the websites built with Bitrix are The State Duma (Russian government), VTB Group (bank), and OK-Magazine (Russian tabloid).
There is now a native SEO module in Bitrix, which can assist you with many aspects of search optimization. It helps you edit titles, descriptions, heading, URLs, and alt texts, as well as improve page speed and mobile-friendliness. It can also create templates for image file names and meta descriptions and apply them to groups of files or pages, which is a huge time saver.
In addition to the native SEO module, Bitrix allows narrow-purpose plugins, such as schema markup for e-commerce, or canonical tag (otherwise must be assigned manually). Easy redirect settings are also available with plugins.
Bitrix generates sitemap and robots.txt files, which are updated and re-submitted automatically if you make any changes to the website.
In terms of customization, Bitrix lets you combine themes, thus you can use different themes for different parts of a single page.
As Bitrix websites get bigger, they tend to become messy. You’ll face scalability issues, crawling issues, speed drops, and significant challenges in building a functional architecture. These issues can be fixed manually, so it’s not entirely hopeless, but it is a major inconvenience.
Bitrix is not self-hosted, so if you want to add an SSL certificate to your website, you’ll first need to get it from your hosting provider. Furthermore, an SSL certificate cannot be installed through the admin panel. You’ll have to install it manually.
The biggest downside of Bitrix is the lack of user-friendliness and steep learning curve. What’s more, despite the fact that you can switch the language of your Bitrix admin interface to English, most guides and learning documentation are available in Russian only.
Blogger is a CMS for blogging that belongs to Google. It is used by 1% of websites, is free and self-hosted. As a blogging platform, it is mostly used by beginner bloggers of small scale.
Blogger is user-friendly, but some researchers call this platform an SEO nightmare. We’ve conducted our own research to check if it’s true. Here’s what we’ve got.
As is expected from a Google platform, Blogger provides for most aspects of basic SEO. You get editable URLs, titles, meta descriptions, headings, alt attributes, robots.txt files, and redirects.
You can also enable your SSL certificate in one click and there is no manual work involved in redirecting your pages to a secure path.
Simple website structure is generally considered to be an advantage in SEO, but Blogger takes it too far. Designed for the most basic of websites, Blogger does not allow website structures other than homepage > post page. The themes do not offer many customization options, so there is really no way to build anything other than a blog.
You also don’t get to customize your domain name out-of-the-box— you are stuck with yourdomain.blogspot.com. Domains like these are perceived as lower quality, amateurish, so it may be challenging to build authority through backlinks. If you need a custom domain, you'll have to buy one from Google Domains.
Finally, Blogger doesn’t let you create a sitemap. The .xml file generated by Blogger only features recent posts, thus most of your older posts may not be indexed at all. This may be fixed with some third-party sitemap generators that let you create a full sitemap file to be further submitted into the Custom robots.txt field.
Magento is only used by 0.7% of the websites, but there are some big names among them: Coca-Cola, Nike, Ford, Liverpool FC, Jaguar, Land Rover, Ahmad Tea, Christian Louboutin, Olympus, and many other industry moguls.
Magento is much like Drupal — you can customize virtually anything. Themes, layouts, titles, tags, meta descriptions, headings, URLs, and image alt properties are all editable through the admin panel.
Magento scales easily and there is no bloat in the code as your website grows, so no crawling or indexing issues. Page speed is also above average and can be further improved by enabling caching options and deferring non-essential JS and CSS.
Magento’s SEO and Search guide covers most of the issues that you can face when building a website on Magento. It describes how to avoid duplicate content with canonicals, create navigation menus, set up 301 or 302 redirects, manage breadcrumb trail, and layer navigation.
If your website is hosted on Magento, the CMS will automatically provide an SSL certificate for the pages that contain sensitive information. You can expand it for the whole domain by enabling the option in the Stores > Configuration > Web menu section.
Magento automatically generates a sitemap and a robots.txt file, but you can edit both if needed. As for the sitemap, you can define the number of images included in it, and set up automatic updates frequency to make the tool automatically resubmit the sitemap as often as you need.
Magento is an e-commerce platform, so it has schema markup present in all the themes by default.
There is no blog feature out of the box. If you want it, you have to buy it from Magento marketplace. Or get a free extension, although these are generally frowned upon.
Not all themes are responsive, especially when it comes to the free ones. Magento frontend developer guide suggests using its own Blank and Luma themes as a starting point for building a responsive website. Paid themes are mostly responsive but pretty costly.
If your Magento plan doesn’t include cloud hosting, you may find it hard to set up an SSL certificate. In addition to above-average coding skills, you will have to create a Magento support ticket to inform them about your certificate and let them track and process the changes.
OpenCart is a free e-commerce platform used by 0.7% of websites across the web. The platform has one of the most user-friendly interfaces, which makes it popular with small and medium businesses that don’t want to hire developers.
With OpenCart, you can assign keywords to the product pages. The tool will analyze the content against the keywords and provide some optimization suggestions, which a unique SEO feature among CMS platforms.
Basic SEO options include editable on-page elements, editable robots.txt file, and customizable 404 pages. Most themes are also customizable and responsive — theme flexibility is somewhere in-between Magento and Shopify.
Much like WordPress, OpenCart offers many plugins that can boost your SEO capabilities. These plugins let you add SEO-friendly blog modules, set up additional analytics, enable caching options to make your website faster, enable rich snippets by adding schema markup, create more advanced navigation menus, and so on.
OpenCart is not self-hosted, so you’ll need to get your SSL certificate elsewhere and install it manually from the admin panel.
Bare OpenCart versions lack certain SEO features. Without the plugins, you will not be able to set up 301 redirects, define canonical tags, edit metadata without coding, and start a blog.
OpenCart also falls behind when it comes to page speed. Although you can boost the speed of your website with the help of paid plugins that enable caching and ignore unnecessary JS and CSS, it is still not enough to compete with most other websites created with other platforms.
OpenCart doesn’t create you a sitemap by default. To create and submit your sitemap, you’ll need to use the Feed extension and then submit it manually to Google in your Google Search Console account. The sitemap will not be dynamic, so you’ll need to re-generate and re-submit it manually once you make any changes to your website.
Although CMS platforms are not exactly interchangeable, let’s stack them up against each other, just for fun:
Have you ever used any of these CMSs? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments.