Joomla! is a content management system (CMS) designed to organize your entire website and display it with ease.
Before we dive in, know that I won’t be including the “!” at the end of Joomla every time I write it, because that’s just not necessary. Picture it there, in your mind.
Joomla is a common alternative to WordPress, and calls itself the most popular open source CMS on the market.
WordPress is still far more popular, but Joomla can be one-click installed from a number of hosting services and offers a robust set of tools that can dialed in for complex coding.
Oh, and it’s free.
After selecting a web host, laying out your content and publishing your site, most people face one gaping issue: they can’t be found.
You need to optimize your Joomla site for search. Here’s how.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the primary factor in getting your website noticed today. It’s a bummer, I know.
SEO is boring, borders on a tech project, and requires you to read up on ever-changing rules handed out by Google and Bing.
You already know you can’t throw your site up and expect the traffic to come to you — the Internet is no longer a “Field of Dreams”. It maybe was, once, in the late ’90’s, if you were on your game.
Today it takes time, sweat, blood, and years, and then a healthy dose of research to make your website SEO friendly.
Search engine giants like Google and Bing use algorithms to find the best content on the web. These algorithms are also known as spiders, crawlers or bots.
They do precisely what their name implies — devour the contents of the web with innumerable legs to categorize every website in existence, rank it against every other website in existence, and then present that information to you in a reasonable way; all in under a second.
In short, you want to be tight with those spiders so by the time they come sniffing around your website it looks like a giant tasty morsel.
Making Joomla SEO Friendly
I’ll dispense with the insect/food talk because it was beginning to creep me out, which means it has probably done the same to you.
The methods for making Joomla SEO friendly are roughly the same as making any other website SEO friendly — you need to make it findable for those crawlers.
The how of this is even similar to WordPress, but because Joomla is inherently structured differently at a core level, and presented to you differently on a graphical level, getting a Joomla website optimized is its own project.
There will be familiar words, phrases, and concepts, but navigating those will be a little different than you’re used to. Or unfamiliar at all, if you’ve never done this and are starting with Joomla.
Good thing you’re here.
Let’s get started.
Creating and Submitting a Sitemap to Google
A sitemap is exactly what it sounds like — a map of your website.
This step isn’t so much about increasing the SEO significance or content of your website, but rather making it very easy for Google to recognize and organize your website.
Creating a sitemap is, essentially, a benign process.
Using either a web-based generator, a dedicated application or a plug-in, you will send out a program to comb through your website, compiling every page, how the pages are structured, and other identifying information in order to create an overall map.
After the program has finished you will be able to download the sitemap, which you’ll then submit to Google.
As with anything, there are a huge number of sitemap generators out there. There are free versions, paid versions, applications to install on your computer, plug-ins to install on your website, and everything in between.
I’ll highlight two options below:
- XML-Sitemaps.com: This is a standard, web-based sitemap generator. It works best for small sites, and doesn’t have many complex tools for disallowing certain pages. You simply enter the URL for your website and click “Start.” This will generate a sitemap, which you can explore (read the code for) and download to your computer.
- OSMap (formerly XMap): This Joomla plug-in is recommended by the experts, and is one of the most-used in its category. You will install this to your Joomla site directly and watch as it creates a sitemap for you.
For more options, check out this list of sitemap generators by SEMRush. Pick one based on your needs and the size and complexity of your website.
Also, if you’re a visual person, consider picking a sitemap generator that doesn’t just show the code, but an actual map. It can be a fun experiment to see how your website layout is visualized, especially if you’re having trouble organizing it.
Submitting the Sitemap to Google’s Search Console
Creating a sitemap without submitting it is like owning a dog but never playing with it — it just doesn’t make any sense.
After generating your sitemap you’ll need to submit to Google’s Search Console (formerly called Webmaster Tools).
First, you’ll need to verify your website with the Search Console. After doing that, there will be an option to upload a sitemap to your website (or “property,” as Google likes to call it).
Do this and you’ll watch as Google sends its own bots through your site, confirming page after page.
Search Engine Friendly (SEF) URLS
One of the easiest ways to make your Joomla website more SEO friendly is with a simple tweak of how the URLs are displayed.
The standard version of Joomla used to use really messy code-language to catalogue each page on your website.
Here’s an example of the old standard Joomla URL:
Ugly. Also, terrible for Google’s search engines. The crawlers read through websites like humans (but at robot speeds), so they want each page to have a URL that makes sense to humans.
Doing this is called a SEF URL, human readable, or a clean URL.
The most recent version of Joomla converts your URL to a SEF URL automatically, but it can still be optimized better.
For this I recommend using a plug-in: sh404SEF.
It’s sort of ironic that a plug-in built to make your URL clearer has such an unreadable name. Oh well.
Regarded as the best tool for URL optimization on the market, sh404SEF will give you complete control and customization over your URL structure, with suggestions for how to do it best for Google.
In general, you’ll want your URL to match the content of the article or page, including the keyword and any other identifying factors.
The key is making these congruous, so when a bot does come around, it’s able to identify exactly what the page is about.
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
sh404SEF is not a one-trick pony, though it is one of the best plug-ins for most SEO needs.
I’ll go over two more key SEO concepts that are handled excellently by this plug-in.
Title tags and meta descriptions are small pieces of text that are essential to your SEO and the categorization of your content.
If you have a blog, or multiple pages on your website that each present unique information, you will need each of these to have a meta title and meta description.
This is typically the title of an article, and what readers will find when they search a term in Google.
In short, you’ll need this title tag to be very specific to your content, compelling to your readers, and excellent in terms of grammar and command of the language.
Think of like an old newspaper headline — what do you want say, in 70 characters or less, that defines your article or page?
The title tag should also include your keyword, which is another factor of SEO that you probably already know a lot about. If you don’t, you’ll need to read more about it. Keywords are a core aspect of SEO, for Joomla or any kind of website.
However, don’t overstuff your title tag with keywords. Use the keyword once, expertly, while creating an interest for readers.
Lastly, you want your title tag to be honest to your content.
If you label a blog post “15 Ways to Care for Puppies,” but the article is actually a list of dog videos and has nothing to do with caring for them, Google will not only rank you lower, but it will (sometimes) change your title tag to be more appropriate.
You don’t want this.
Much like the title tag, the meta description is a short paragraph that goes into further detail about said article or page, and will show up when users do a Google search.
You want your meta description to be less than 155 characters, as any more will be truncated by Google in the search display.
Think of the meta description as a further way to market your article, include your keyword, and entice readers into clicking.
If you can write a fascinating paragraph that aptly describes the article and invokes some desire in a potential reader or consumer, all in 155 characters, you are doing your job right.
In terms of SEO, Google ranks this factor highly.
Also, just like title tags, if you provide a less-than-accurate meta description Google will create its own, often from content within the article, which is probably a lot more boring than what you can write.
Adjusting title tags and meta descriptions
Joomla has both title tags and meta descriptions built into its platform, so every time you create a new page or article you’ll see the option to enter the information.
While this works effectively, I again recommend using sh404SEF to do this.
By using the plug-in you’ll find all of this information centralized, with more immediate help tools for getting your verbiage correct, from an SEO standpoint.
Caching Your Site
The last major step in making sure your Joomla site is optimized for search engines is to actively cache your website.
For those not entirely sure what caching is, don’t worry. It’s simple.
When you go to a webpage for the first time it can take a little while to load, maybe three or four seconds. This is because you are seeing the content on the webpage for the first time; the images, text, video, graphics, etc. are all new to your web browser.
Caching makes it so that after that first visit, your web browser will remember the information on that website, and it will load much faster, almost immediately.
For our purposes, caching is a great way to get your site to load much faster, which is a huge aspect of SEO.
Joomla has a built in plug-in (I don’t know why they call it that, if it’s built in) that allows you to turn on caching for URLs and content.
In your back-end, head over to Extension, then Plugin Manager, then System – Cache.
You’ll want to turn the Browser Cache setting to “yes,” and make sure the plug-in has been enabled.
You can find a plug-in that will help with caching, but most Joomla users find the settings built right in work perfectly.
Speeding Up Your Website
While this article is primarily about specific fixes to SEO-based issues, the above brings up an important point.
Google and other search engines want a responsive, quick-loading website.
Caching helps with this quite a bit, but making sure your hosting service is up to the task is also critical.
There are countless web hosts out there, and you’re probably using a decent one.
However, if you find your site is loading slowly, consider checking out the speeds of your web host, then doing a comparison by calling other companies.
Typically I say go with what’s cheapest, but you don’t want to sacrifice too much speed for cost, because you’ll be ranked poorly by Google for a slow-loading site.
This matters more as your site gets bigger — a subpar host won’t handle the traffic well.
Endless Joomla Plug-ins (Extensions)
Joomla is open-source, which means plug-ins number in the thousands. Plug-ins are also called Extensions — the Joomla Extensions Directory is the place you’ll go to find all of your plug-ins.
If you’re serious about ramping up your SEO efforts — or any other part of your website — browse the vast extension market available to you.
Not all of it is free, but a lot of it is, and the stuff that costs money is usually excellent.
Joomla has a category for SEO based plug-ins, so scroll through to find something that fits your needs.
When it comes down to it, optimizing a website for Joomla is similar to WordPress or any other CMS.
The specific names and back-end clicking are different, sure, but Google demands the same concepts for everyone and every website.
SEO is a field that will only increase in its importance as the web grows and competition becomes fierce.
Make sure you have a handle on it — even a small one — and watch your website flourish.