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Drupal SEO: A Marketer’s Guide

July 6, 2023 12 minute read
Is Drupal SEO-friendly? Get answers to this and more in our in-depth guide to Drupal SEO.
Line art of SEO on page with pencil

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Even though ChatGPT and other large language models (LLMs) are changing the digital content landscape, SEO remains critical. In fact, technically sound SEO might be more crucial than ever. That’s because your content needs to be higher quality, easier to find, and more organized than before to compete with faster content production.

A website that takes two seconds to load will convert visitors at a rate of 34%. One second more and that rate drops to 29% — falling lower and lower as load times increase. And page speed optimization is only one facet of SEO on your website. Your content management system (CMS) needs to load your content quickly while using simple URLs, structured metadata, and multilingual sitemaps to win attention at a global scale. 

Drupal is a popular open source CMS that has all these SEO features and more. Here’s a guide on how to use Drupal to improve SEO across all the sites you manage. 

Is Drupal SEO-friendly?

Short answer, yes it is. While a CMS alone doesn’t guarantee higher rankings and organic search performance, Drupal has all the SEO-friendly features you could want from your CMS. Good SEO also depends on factors like the quality of your content, the structure of your website, and the number and quality of other sites that link to yours.

Organizations of all sizes — across industries and worldwide — use Drupal to build and manage corporate websites, e-commerce sites, mobile applications, digital signage, social networking sites, intranets, portals, microsites, resource directories, kiosks, and more. 

Here’s a short list of features that make Drupal SEO-friendly:

  • Clean URLS
  • Customizable metatags
  • XML sitemaps
  • Page speed optimization
  • Mobile optimization
  • SEO modules
  • Multilingual capabilities

SEO modules

Because Drupal is open source, users can run or modify it as they see fit – including developing their own modules for it. There are a host of SEO modules that can enhance your Drupal website's SEO performance. These modules provide functionalities like metadata optimization, automatic generation of SEO-friendly URLs, XML sitemap generation, and more. 

  1. Pathauto: This module automatically generates URL/path aliases for various kinds of content (nodes, taxonomy terms, users) without requiring the user to manually specify the path alias.
  2. Metatag: This module allows you to automatically provide structured metadata, aka "metatags", about your website.
  3. Redirect: This module allows you to redirect from old URLs to new URLs.
  4. Simple XML Sitemap: This module creates a sitemap that conforms to the specification. This helps search engines to more intelligently crawl a website and keep their results up to date.
  5. SEO Checklist: This module provides a checklist of good Drupal SEO best practices. It keeps track of what has been done and what still needs to be done.
  6. Real-Time SEO for Drupal: This module offers real-time content analysis to optimize for keywords, post length, meta descriptions, and other elements of SEO.
  7. Token: The Token module provides a centralized API for using placeholders in Drupal. It's not strictly an SEO module, but it's often required by other SEO modules like Metatag and Pathauto, as it allows for dynamic data in fields like path aliases and metatags.
  8. Hreflang: This module is particularly useful for multilingual sites, as it helps improve the way search engines understand your language versions and presents search results to users in different regions.

These modules not only make it easier to manage your SEO efforts but can also provide additional functionalities like tracking your keywords' performance, validating your structured data, and more.

Drupal SEO checklist

Images need to load quickly, URLs have to be simple and organized in a predictable structure, and your XML sitemaps need to be up-to-date with every new piece of content added to your site. Setting your Drupal CMS up for maximum SEO output takes some time and effort, but it’s pretty straightforward using Drupal’s built-in SEO features as well as the SEO modules we’ve listed above. 

Here’s a checklist you can use to improve SEO on any Drupal website.

Optimize URLs

URLs play a significant role in SEO. They should be succinct, include keywords that reflect the content of the page, and follow a strategic format to help Google and users understand the website structure. Drupal allows you to customize the URL of each piece of content (also called a node), giving you the flexibility to include your targeted keywords. 

In Drupal 8 and beyond, “clean URLs” are enabled by default to help improve your website's SEO performance as it makes the URLs more user-friendly and readable. This setting removes the "?q=" from the URL, which was used in URLs from earlier Drupal versions. 

Build a sitemap

A sitemap helps search engines crawl your site and understand its structure. It's like a roadmap of your website that leads search engines to all your important pages. Drupal offers several modules, such as the Simple XML Sitemap module, to help you generate and maintain your sitemap efficiently. 

Your Simple XML Sitemap module can automatically update the sitemap as you add or modify content. This ensures that search engines always have the most up-to-date view of your website content. To get started with the Simple XML Sitemap module, check out this tutorial.

Optimize content

Relevant, high-quality, and unique content is still king when it comes to SEO. Drupal's content creation interface is intuitive and powerful, giving you all the tools you need to create and manage your content effectively. Drupal's flexible content architecture allows you to create different types of content like blogs, articles, polls, and more, encouraging you to produce a diverse range of content that can engage different segments of your audience and improve your SEO performance.

Outside of dialing in your content strategy, there’s a list of technical things you can do to optimize your content for SEO in Drupal. 

  1. Review your content: Make sure that all of your content is high-quality, relevant, and includes important keywords. It's also important to use headers properly, to break up your text and make it easier to read.
  2. Use relevant images: Always ensure that the images you use are relevant to the content of your page. Irrelevant images can confuse users and search engines.
  3. Use descriptive file names: Rename your image files to something descriptive that relates to the content of the image. For example, instead of "IMG_1234.jpg," you might use "black-kitten-playing.jpg." This helps search engines understand what the image is about.
  4. Use alternative text (alt text): Always add alt text to your images. This text describes the image and is used by screen readers for visually impaired users. It's also used by search engines to understand the content of the image. The alt text should accurately describe the image and can also include relevant keywords.
  5. Compress images: Large images can slow down your site, which can harm your SEO. Use an image compression tool to reduce the file size of your images without significantly reducing their quality. Drupal modules such as "Image Optimize" can help with this.
  6. Use the right image format: The format of the image can also affect its file size and quality. JPEGs are generally good for photographs, while PNGs can be better for images with text, line drawings, etc.
  7. Multilingual content SEO: If your website is multilingual, be sure to use the necessary Drupal modules for language and translation support. Correctly configuring hreflang tags and ensuring search engines don’t view content as duplicative is key to a successful multilingual SEO strategy​.

Optimize metadata

Metadata, including titles and descriptions, plays a crucial role in how search engines understand and rank your content. Drupal's Metatag module allows you to automatically provide structured metadata, also known as metatags, about a website.

The Metatag module supports a wide range of metatags including Open Graph, Twitter Cards, and many others that can enhance your content's visibility on social media platforms and contribute to your overall SEO efforts. Learn how to install and configure the Metatag Module for Drupal in our tutorial.

Improve performance

Page speed has a significant impact on conversion rates with every second your website takes to load. Drupal offers various methods to improve your website's speed and overall performance —including caching, image optimization, and more. 

  1. Enable Drupal caching: Drupal has built-in caching features that can significantly improve your site's speed. There are several settings that control how long content is cached, and when the cache should be cleared.
  2. Use advanced caching modules: There are several Drupal modules that provide advanced caching features. For example, the Memcache API and Integration module allows you to use Memcached for caching.
  3. Aggregate CSS and JavaScript files: Drupal offers options to aggregate and compress CSS and JavaScript files. Enabling these options can reduce the number of HTTP requests and the size of the files, which can improve load times.
  4. Use a content delivery network (CDN): A CDN can greatly speed up loading times for users by serving your site's static files from servers that are geographically close to the user. There are several CDN services available (including Acquia Cloud Edge).
  5. Consider your image size: Large image files can significantly slow down your site. Use the Image Optimize module to automatically optimize your images. You can also manually optimize images before uploading them by reducing their size or compressing them.
  6. Enable Gzip compression: Gzip compression can reduce the size of the files sent from your server. This can be enabled in your server's settings, or through the .htaccess file if you're using Apache.
  7. Optimize your database: Over time, your Drupal database can become fragmented and slow down. Use the Optimize DB module to regularly optimize your database.
  8. Update and maintain your Drupal site: Ensure your Drupal core, themes, and modules are all up to date. Updates often include performance improvements. Also, disable and uninstall any modules or themes that you're not using.
  9. Choose a good hosting provider: The performance of your hosting provider can have a big impact on your site speed. Choose a provider that offers good performance, and consider a plan with more resources if your site is large or gets a lot of traffic. (Learn more about Drupal hosting with Acquia here.)
  10. Use a profiling tool: Profiling tools like the Web Profiler module can help you identify performance bottlenecks on your site.

You can find detailed steps on how to speed up your Drupal website here.

And because mobile traffic accounts for a significant portion of internet usage, having a website that works well on any device is a must. Drupal's default theme is responsive by default, ensuring that your website looks great on all devices. In addition to the above tips, there are some specific steps you can take to make your site more mobile-friendly. 

  1. Minify your code: For mobile sites to load quickly, it's vital to minify your code. Minification is the process of removing unnecessary elements from your site’s code, so that it will render more quickly and enable faster loading times. As mentioned above, you can use the Advanced CSS/JS Aggregation module to help compress files and speed up page load times.
  2. Implement browser caching: Browser caching is a way of storing data so that a visitor’s browser doesn’t have to download the same files repeatedly. Caching tells browsers to save certain information, so that it doesn’t need to be requested and transferred every time a visitor opens a new page on your website. In Drupal, browser caching is a built-in tool that you can configure in your control panel.
  3. Use a mobile-friendly theme: Not all themes are created equal when it comes to mobile responsiveness. Choose a theme that is specifically designed to be mobile-friendly. This will help ensure your site looks and functions well across a variety of devices. If you need a custom theme, the Drupal community provides a multitude of responsive themes designed with modern web standards in mind. This ensures a high-quality user experience across all devices, further enhancing your SEO.

Provide multilingual support

In our increasingly connected world, having a website that caters to a diverse set of languages and regions is a necessity. Drupal provides extensive multilingual features, allowing you to create a site that serves your content in multiple languages, which can significantly boost your SEO performance and reach a wider audience.

Moreover, Drupal allows you to set URL language detection and customization, ensuring that your multilingual site's URLs are optimized for local search visibility.

Here are some steps to optimize your sites for multilingual SEO:

  1. Translate your content: A host of translation capabilities are built into Drupal core. These include the ability to install Drupal in any of 100 different languages from the start; translation for content items, including nodes, taxonomy terms, menu items, and user profiles; and an interface to translate your website configuration into multiple languages. What’s more, the Translation Management Tool (TMGMT) module is also available to facilitate integrations with common translation providers.
  2. Understand the difference between multilingual and multiregional: A multilingual site should not be confused with a multiregional one. While a multilingual site offers content in more than one language, a multiregional website explicitly targets users in specific countries. Some sites can be both multiregional and multilingual. With multilingual sites, you’re translating your website content with the goal of impacting SEO. While with multiregional sites, you’re optimizing website content based on keywords and trends in particular regions. These efforts will likely overlap, and if you’re hoping to rank in a targeted region, it’s more beneficial to have translated and targeted content for those areas.  

Getting started

Drupal is loaded with a wide array of SEO-friendly features and functionalities that can boost your page rankings. Whether you need to optimize image sizes, keep an up-to-date sitemap, or translate your website into many languages, Drupal is up for the job. 

That’s why Acquia DXP is built on Drupal. We combine one of the most SEO-friendly content management systems on the planet with features and capabilities that improve marketing workflows, speed up content production, and make it easier to manage content and digital experiences at scale. Work through this checklist and you’ll improve SEO on any Drupal website. To learn more, check out a free, instant clickable demo.

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