arts website

The Limitations of Your CMS

I’m working on a live refresh for the Walton Arts Center, a local arts organization. It’s making me think of the Diocletian Baths, now the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs.

This is because, unlike many owners of old domains, WAC hasn’t simply let their site get old and outdated. They’ve kept it up. But they’ve done so in gradual ways, so you can see lots of hands in it. This is an arts center, so the site looks good. However, some of the pages have bulleted lists built with HTML and others have them made as though on a typewriter. Some have lovely prose and some have punctuation problems. Some have the pictures placed with tables and some have them done in more modern ways.

The Basilica I mentioned has parts designed by Michelangelo and built onto ancient Roman baths, an 18th century interior sundial and astrological chart, 20th century art works, and a marvelous new pipe organ, all put together into one wonderful architectural mishmosh. You can see a picture of it below. If the owners ever decide to fix something primary, they’re going to have a tough time. And this is what the WAC is looking at. Aggressive SEO competition by ticket resellers has caused them to lose rankings for searches they deserve to dominate. I’m going in to make the content stronger for them.

They have a proprietary content management system, a CMS created by their most recent designer. It combines static pages much like those of WordPress, DNN, or Joomla with a database that creates their home page and some other sections as dynamic pages. Unlike the major content management systems, it allows no static content on those pages at all. What’s more, the home page is built mostly with Flash. Naturally, search engines can’t tell much about the website from the home page. The obvious first thing to do to optimize the site is to add a good chunk of keyword-rich text for the home page.Diocletian Baths and Basilica of St. Mary

Unfortunately, the CMS has no mechanism for doing this. This creates a nice little problem from the point of view of SEO. WAC certainly deserves the rankings they want for phrases relating to the tickets for their own shows; the ticket resellers certainly don’t, and have only gotten them by using terms like “Walton Arts Center” and “tickets” dozens of times on a page, while WAC’s homepage has each term only a couple of times. How can the forces of good vanquish the forces of — well, if not evil, at least not quite as good?

And, putting the question more broadly, how can you help the search engines figure out what your site is about if your CMS puts you in a similar position?

Here’s what we came up with:

  • Add keyword-rich content to all the pages we can usefully access through the CMS. Helping more pages from the site rank well for important keywords will help the homepage, which has already established itself as the official site for the organization.
  • Clean the content up and make it more uniform, to improve its overall quality. Overall quality is considered by search engines along with relevance.
  • Optimize the code to the degree possible within the current CMS (another company is taking this on) and consider changing to a more cooperative system at some time in the future.

The takeaway here is fairly simple: when your CMS keeps you from doing the best thing you can do, look for other things that can be done. We often hear people say that they can’t improve their site because of technical issues. The long term solution may be to rebuild the site. In the short term, there are usually steps that can be taken. It just requires some lateral thinking.


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