Sometimes, “Good Enough” is good enough. But only sometimes. And when designing your web site, you need to step up to something better than good enough.

This isn’t going where you think it is.

When Answer Guy Central was very young (and in fact was just the home of “The Computer Answer Guy“), this is how our web site looked:

The Computer Answer Guy Website,  Straight HTML, 1998

As I looked at that this morning for the first time in about a decade, there was a part of me that liked it. It was simple, it pointed at the things that were important to my mission at the time and nothing else, and in short, got the job done. I had done about all there was to do with the tools available back in the day, and in its way it was innovative. A textured background? Items aligned in a table instead of just one long vertical stream? I ROCKED!

But if I was to design a web site today using nothing but straight HTML, I’d have a problem. No, this isn’t about design or cool bells and whistles, which are subjective; I tell clients all the time that if all they want out of a web site  is “an on-line business card”, then that’s what they should have. It’s about where Google ends and people start.

In short, it’s a Search Engine Optimization problem. You can’t do SEO unless your web site is built in a content management system.

Even with the bold, italicized passage and link to something I want you to buy, I’ll bet you still haven’t figured out what this article is about.

While it’s much easier to do great SEO if your web site is built on a Content Management System (CMS)—and I’m talking many orders of magnitude easier—the reason you need a CMS to do great SEO isn’t about Google or Search Engine Optimization. It’s not even about the mantra of expensive web designers who want you in a CMS and sell the idea by telling you how much easier designing your NEXT web site will be once you start using Content Management—and it will be.

The reason you need to use a CMS in putting your web site out there is rooted in the absolute lowest HTML command. It’s something that even people who know nothing about HTML or the way the Internet works always seem to have heard of.

It’s <H1>

H1 is the command that tells browsers “THIS IS THE HEADER AND NOTHING ELSE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT YOU SEE HERE!!!!!” H1 is what that very large, bolded paragraph just above is made with, and it’s truly the least common denominator of HTML. And without a CMS, every time you use H1 in a web page you’re going to get something that, let’s face it, looks very bad.

“Big deal”, you say, “I just won’t use H1”. And that seems fine; there are lots of great HTML editors available now that let you format your web site’s text in way prettier ways than you could back in the day when H1 tags (and H2, H3, etc.) were about all there was.

Except for this:

H1 tags are still what tells Google that you’ve written something important that needs to be paid attention to.

So you’re stuck, right? If you want to do Search Engine Optimization you have to show your readers something really ugly.

Well, no! And this is where Content Management Systems come in.

Here are two different versions of the front page at Answer Guy Central. One is the straight HTML that makes up the page, and the other has our CMS (WordPress) running over and controlling the same content:

No CMS  vs. CMS

Exactly the same page. But the second version—the one that’s formatted by a Content Management System—looks “better”. And our title, “Answer Guy Central” is formatted using that old school <H1> tag, which tells Google, in language they haven’t stopped understanding since day one, that we want to make sure the world understands very clearly that WE ARE ANSWER GUY CENTRAL.

But our CMS makes the text look like we want it to look, whereas HTML makes text formatted with an H1 tag look like whatever your browser thinks it should look like.

You need to have a CMS-controlled web site because unless you do you’re stuck deciding between Google not finding you and people who do find you thinking your site is ugly—and going away.

Is it hard to turn on a CMS? Surprisingly, no. There are several great CMS choices out there. We use WordPress, and generally recommend it to our clients, but Joomla and Drupal are great choices, too. You could even use Hubspot, says this consultant, but I usually recommend against that. I imagine that the folks at Facebook can even be thought of as having a CMS, although Facebook manages the content and you control almost nothing.

But for goodness’ sake, get yourself into a CMS, and soon. Once you’re in you’ll actually have an easier time changing and managing your web site, and until you use a content management system your chance at effective Search Engine Optimization is basically zero. For this, and other reasons.

Want to understand this whole Content Management and SEO thing better? Contact me here.

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