We’ve migrated just under 70 sites onto Episerver in 2017 alone (yes really – read about 58 of them here) so now’s a good time to look at why it’s a platform we like working with and why it works for SEO.
What is Episerver?
Episerver is an enterprise level content management system (CMS) written using Microsoft’s ASP.NET. Updates are frequent, so it’s useful for more security-conscious companies – and the admin area is visually appealing and quite intuitive, so it’s easier and more fun to build on than some equivalent platforms. It’s similar in size and scale to our old favourite Sitecore – another .NET based enterprise CMS.
“Enterprise” means that it’s suitable for companies with lots of users; who operate in lots of countries; and who probably want to customise the CMS to their needs – including help executing their SEO strategy. So if we built a website using WordPress we’d install the Yoast SEO plugin to manage meta data etc. for us – building in Episerver allows us to cater for these requirements without the use of plugins.
Episerver SEO plugins
There are SEO plugins available for Episerver – if you’re already using the platform and are missing some features we’d recommend one of these two options:
SEO Manager for Episerver
Mogul SEO Manager has features similar to Yoast, if you’re more familiar with WordPress. Like the CMS, there’s a license fee involved (it’s charged per site, so depending on your domaining strategy it can get quite expensive) but it has all the standard SEO features:
- When changing a URL the old version is automatically redirected to the new version
- Remembers the URL history of a page and automatically redirects older versions to the current version, minimising chained redirects
- Redirects can be managed in the plugin
- A single new redirect can be added to your current redirects without replacing them
- Bulk lists can be uploaded
- Redirects can be created using REGEX if you’re absolutely a professional (seriously, be careful)
- Canonical tagging
- Custom 404 pages
- Sitemap creation
There’s a helpful guide explaining how to install SEO Manager and there is a free trial version for 30 days. A word of warning: the documentation is poorly maintained so if you don’t already know what you’re doing with some of these features you should reach out to a partner (ahem).
Like Mogul’s gadget, SiteAttention has a 30 day free trial. It’s charged per page (so it can be very expensive for big sites – if you’re pushing 50,000 pages it’s probably more cost effective to ask your Epi partner to build the features instead) – but it does also work with Sitecore, Umbraco and Drupal, so you may even be familiar with the plugin already.
SiteAttention has more Yoast-esque features, like assessing keyword usage while you type, and is particularly customisable – Mogul is a better choice if you’re at all concerned about the team’s aptitude for SEO as it seems to focus on stopping you breaking things.
The real benefit of SiteAttention is governance. The gadget provides guidance within the Epi interface – great for users who aren’t confident with creating SEO content – and includes rank tracking capabilities. It will even send email notifications if your rankings drop.
If your organisation is well versed in SEO, you’re looking for the basic features and a way to streamline some resource-heavy processes like managing redirects we’d recommend Mogul SEO. If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution SiteAttention is great, but be aware that if you invest in search you might already have access to some better tools (keyword research, tracking and monitoring etc.) elsewhere.
One of Episerver’s greatest SEO advantages is site search solution Find. It’s built on Elastic and offers endless possibilities. You don’t have to be on Epi to use Elastic, but it’s good to know that there’s a solid search tool in place without hacking anything together.
According to BuiltWith, companies migrating away from the soon-to-be-retired Google Search Appliance are often ending up on Episerver – this is because Find is awesome.
Search engine optimisation out of the box
There’s no real issue with using plugins but we think the basic requirements for SEO should come as standard – things shouldn’t break if a trial expires or an upgrade catches everyone by surprise. Plugins can also over-simplify new technologies, so when you do see a check box for AMP in an SEO plugin it’s rare that it works – or works for long (incidentally there’s no way to implement Accelerated Mobile Pages on DXC using a plugin as far as we’re aware).
Within the admin panel users should be able to manage (without plugins but implemented by a partner):
- Canonical tags including hreflang tags and content-language tags
- Redirects (302 and 301 – it’s easy to switch temporary redirects to permanent redirects without asking a developer)
- Sitemaps (including multiple sitemaps, News and Video sitemaps)
- txt files
- Meta data (which can also be autogenerated)
- Some forms of governance, such as blocking the publishing of pages that don’t have title tags and meta descriptions specified
- Integration with site speed monitoring tools like YSlow
- Automatic resizing and optimisation of images for site speed and UX improvements
Most of these features are not available on a blank Epi install but are straightforward to incorporate. There’s also nothing in Episerver that makes it particularly slow, which for us makes it preferable to some of its main competitors which can be extremely clunky.
Effectively Episerver is more than useful for brands with growth as a primary objective. It requires more development resource than WordPress or Umbraco to get an optimised platform the ground (but less than say, Sitecore or Liferay) but it’s ideal for companies who want a platform that just works in search and lets them get on with the job.