SEO can feel a little nebulous sometimes. The pure breadth of potential ranking factors at play, combined with the semi-secrecy of search engine preferences, occasionally makes the SEO process a bit, well, difficult to process.
We've written at length about a lot of those factors on this website, but there's still an enormous amount of ground we haven't yet covered—not to mention the fact that SEO is a constantly-evolving entity that demands its practitioners to be regularly plugged in to industry happenings.
Often we use this space to talk about topics pertaining to on-page and off-page SEO, and today will be no different. But instead of just looking at what those things are, we'll be looking at them through the lens of web development, a critical decision-making arena that every business with an online presence must address.
Each step of the web development journey should be made with SEO in mind. So with that said, let's look at a key part of that journey, website building, and how it might play a role in SEO performance.
A brief overview of website building methods
If you're reading this and have little-to-no knowledge of how one goes about building a website, here's a brief overview of how it works and what one's options are.
Back in the day, website building was done exclusively through simple text programs that processed early coding languages and regurgitated them out into web pages. Though that basic formula hasn't necessarily changed, the methods through which it is done—and the degree to which it has become accessible to non-techy folks—certainly has.
The other two categories are options that evolved out of the desire to have viable website-building methods for those who don't have much web development expertise. One is to have the site built around a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. A CMS is ideal for content-heavy websites, proving worthy of both amateur bloggers and high-end publications (yes, WordPress is the development aid of choice for CNN, USA Today, and many more reputable outlets). CMSs leave room for administrators to add some of their own coding touches to a website, but can be relied upon to do most of the heavy lifting in that department.
That's even more so the case with website builders such as Wix or Squarespace, which really simplify the web design process. Their 'drag and drop' approach allows website administrators to have an almost physical type of control over the aesthetic product of their sites. What sometimes gets sacrificed in that, depending on the particular service's offerings, is the complexity and freedom that a self-coded or CMS-managed website would afford the administrator.
How different website building methods factor into SEO
So now let's bring all of that context back to the original question: how do different website methods affect SEO?
Here's the first thing that one should understand when attempting to answer that question: search engines have no inherent bias towards one website building method over another. It's not as if these methods are like universities and search engines like potential employers, who might have a hiring bias based on what university a candidate attended.
But they do have subtle differences, which could—in somewhat marginal ways—tilt SEO ranking factors in one's favour. Lots of bloggers and industry afficianados have done assessments and comparisons to really nail down what those things are. One looked closely at the on-page SEO capabilities of different website builders, finding that some were more accommodating for things like headings, alt text, 301 redirects, etc. Another did a similar exercise, delving a bit deeper into expert testimony and the non-builder choices that will determine the bulk of SEO performance.
For whatever reason, there are a lot of myths out there about which website builders and CMSs are or aren't good for SEO. Last year, Google Webmaster John Mueller dismissed the one that claimed Wix was an SEO liability by specifically clarifying "WIX websites work fine in search" in a public forum response. On the flip side, there is also a myth that states WordPress gets preferential treatment over other CMSs, which Mueller dismissed as well, tweeting: "no. WP is a great CMS & works well in search, but afaik our algos don't explicitly check for any particular CMS."
As we can see, website building methods as a whole do not explicitly factor in to ranking algorithms. But those subtle differences between them will exist, and when starting a website, it's important to investigate and find out whether the one you choose will enable you to maximize your SEO capabilities (i.e. a photography blog would certainly want to optimize alt text).
Stay tuned for...
In our next blog post, we'll turn our attention towards hosting services, and how one's choice of host may impact his or her website's SEO.