If you are planning to create a large and complex content managed website then it is very likely that you will come across Joomla. Joomla started off as a fork of Mambo, today it is one the best free & open source content management systems available.

There are tons of large public-facing corporate websites as well as intranet sites based on Joomla CMS, an example of large website can is linux.com (as a *nix enthusiast shout out to RedHat & Suse).

I used Joomla for a large and complex news site from 2007 to 2009. There were times when it pleasantly surprised me as well as some gotchas which led to sleepless nights – in short we have had a love-hate relationship. Joomla like everything in life has its advantages as well as drawbacks and depending on your requirements it may or may not be the best solution for you.

If WordPress sat at one end of a complexity spectrum and Drupal at the other, Drupal being the most complex, then you will find Joomla right in the middle. For example, if you are required to create faceted navigation based on proper hierarchies then you should go for Joomla instead of WordPress.

So before talking about Joomla search engine optimisation, I believe it’s necessary to outline some of Joomla’s benefits and drawbacks.

Disadvantage of Joomla:

  • Bigger learning curve in compared to WordPress
  • Javascript and CSS get slightly bulky which can slow your website down
  • Joomla development is not a trivial task, particularly if you are not familiar with MVC frameworks and principles
  • Development can be complicated if you want to revamp/change layout
  • Not search engine friendly out of the box

Advantages

  • Joomla is cross platform compatible.
  • Over 200,000 communities with vast number of resources such templates, components, plugins and modules.
  • Sophisticated hierarchies that allows you to create complex faceted navigation routes.
  • Joomla can adapt to almost any vertical i.e forums, news sites, multimedia sites, social networks, directories etc.

Above are some but not all advantages and disadvantages of Joomla. Given the complexities of its inner workings it would be unrealistic to list almost all its vices and virtues, as previously mentioned you need to outline all your requirements and carry out a thorough analysis of Joomla’s capabilities as well as restriction before you finalize any decisions with regards to its adoption.

3 years ago when I developed a news site using Joomla, I had taken every technical aspect of the project into consideration however I had overlooked one critical thing. Joomla is not SEO friendly out of the box, but it does come with a built-in and pretty inefficient SEF functionality. There are however some clumsy SEF plugins around, but they will create unnecessary complications if you are using advanced hierarchies or complex and custom modules.

SEF Advance 2008

Sakic’s SEF Advance is a Joomla SEF component which extends Joomla’s built-in Search Engine Friendly URL fuctionality and raises it on a higher level. Unlike other components SEF Advance has an application interface (API) that allows 3rd party components to take advantage of SEF Advance’s functionality.

Sakic protects its proprietary code and licensing by encoding its PHP source code, therefore in order to implement SEF Advance your support must support ionCube. Below are some other requirements:

  • Apache (IIS not supported)
  • PHP
  • mySQL
  • Joomla! 1.x or Mambo 4.x
  • mod_rewrite (if you can run built-in SEF you have it)
  • Safe mode off (make sure PHP is not running in safe mode)

One thing to remember about SEF Advance is the fact that it has been development and maintained by one of Joomla’s core developers Emir Sakic. Emir is world renowned developer in the Joomla community offering excellent support for all his Joomla resources.

Joomla SEO Tips

Below are some top line tips (in no particular order) to make your Joomla installation robust and search engine friendly:

  1. Avoid populating your sample data, although this helps novice users it can create duplicate and redundant pages and content.
  2. Joomla uses some unique classes for page titles and other page features, this is not semantic. You can use Article H1 plugin to rectify this issue.
  3. Don’t go overboard with extra modules and plugins. Remember you want a lean website!
  4. Switch off PDF links – you want your webpages to dominate the SERPs not your PDFs.
  5. Avoid tag clouds and the likes thereof.
  6. Turn on native cache, this is one feature in the Joomla Configuration Panel that is often overlooked and not used. If you have the cache enabled you have turn on caching on the modules. Go to the Modules section and then look at the published modules check if they have a caching ability and active it if they have, especially the Menu’s. So what is the drawback? You need space on the server to do this.
  7. Make sure you accurately describe page content and create unique title tags for each page. Short/Descriptive!
  8. Be sure to tick off as many points as you can when it comes to Speed Optimisation, don’t forget to use Google Page Speed Labs to determine changes.
  9. Have a useful 404 page.
  10. Handle canonicalisation, use SEO Canonicalisaion plugin.

I will write a detailed & hands on technical post on Joomla 1.6 search engine optimisation in a few weeks, be sure to check out this space & don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS.