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Tested: Is Joomla Good For SEO In 2021?


joomla seo check

This is the fifth post in our series where we test the on-page SEO of the world’s most popular CMS systems.

We previously covered WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and GoDaddy.

This time we’re turning our attention to Joomla. Specifically, Joomla 4 which was officially launched earlier this year.

Read on to discover:

  • how well setup for on-page SEO Joomla is out of the box,
  • how you can configure your Joomla site to rank higher in Google

Let’s get started with a summary.

In Summary: Is Joomla good for SEO?

Joomla is an open-source CMS. You’ve got full access to the underlying code and can also create your own plugins/extensions to modify the system’s core functionality.

Joomla 4

So with some coding chops (and the luxury of time), we would wager that there’s nothing you can’t do to fully SEO optimize your Joomla site.

But with that being said, in this series, we’re focusing on the out-the-box SEO functionality of the major CMS systems. Give or take a few plugins/extensions, we want to keep our hands (and website) reasonably clean.

Earlier this year, we tested Joomla 3. And while we liked it overall, there were definitely a few gaps in the CMS’s SEO functionality.

The good news?

Joomla 4 (and one super cool SEO extension) has pretty much plugged them all.

Everything we like to control for on-page SEO optimization can now be configured in Joomla’s admin area. And we were also impressed with Joomla 4’s out-the-box speed — with only minimal tweaks required to get an impressive score on Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

Any other improvements?

While not SEO-related, we felt that Joomla 3’s backend looked dated and tired. And we believe this was one of the reasons for the decline in Joomla’s popularity and market share over the years.

google trends - joomla vs wordpress

So we’re pleased to say that Joomla has completely revamped the admin area for version 4.

joomla 4 admin

The changes are mainly cosmetic (and we do still have some grumbles about grouping of options), but we feel the slick new look levels the playing field somewhat with WordPress and is likely to help attract new users to the platform.

JoomlaShine has a nice breakdown of the admin interface improvements here.

In summary, Joomla 4 is a big step forward from Joomla 3 and is now a great choice for SEO.

joomla 4 seo

How we tested Joomla for SEO optimization

Like WordPress, it’s difficult to test Joomla in isolation as much of its SEO performance will be down to individual configurations (i.e. host/server) and choices (templates/extensions).

But as with our previous tests, we tried to keep extensions/plugins to a minimum, configuration to as close to “out the box” as possible, and opted for popular templates.

Here’s what we did:

  1. We set up a small test site on a Digital Ocean server with the same specs as the server hosting our previous WordPress test site
  2. We added demo content similar to our other test sites
  3. We tried out 3 Joomla SEO extensions (and settled on one)
  4. We tested 2 of the most popular Joomla themes (Helix Ultimate, and Joomla 4’s default Cassiopeia template)
  5. Tests included manual review, running the site through our own SEO audit tool, and testing using third party tools such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix.

Which Joomla SEO extensions did we try?

While testing both Joomla 3 and Joomla 4, we purchased and road tested three SEO extensions:

  1. Joomla sh404sef
  2. Firecoders Route66
  3. 4SEO

So which do we recommend?

4SEO.

It’s as close as you’ll get to a WordPress SEO plugin like YOAST for Joomla. You’ll get snippet previews (a feature lacking in many other Joomla SEO extensions) and full control over all the key on-page SEO fundamentals.

4SEO

Quite simply, Joomla 4 and 4SEO go together like peas and carrots.

Any downsides?

Kind of. Unfortunately, 4SEO is a premium extension. So you’ll need to pay for it.

Our preference would have been to use a free SEO extension. But unfortunately, we were unable to find one that gave us anywhere near the level of SEO control we were looking for.

Note: If you’re still on Joomla 3 (you should really upgrade!) we’d recommend going for sh404sef.

Joomla SEO: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Before reviewing Joomla’s control of on-page SEO factors, let’s run through some of the SEO highlights (and lowlights) of the platform.

Good: Joomla 4 is lightning fast out-the-box

Joomla 3 was pretty fast…

…but Joomla 4 leaves it in the dust.

Without installing any third-party extensions, our test site (when running on Cassiopeia) scored 99/100 on PageSpeed Insights mobile.

joomla 4 pagespeed

What did we do to optimize the site’s speed?

Not much. In fact, all we did was enable Joomla 4’s excellent inbuilt caching. See this guide for how to do it.

Note: Joomla 4 is super fast out-the-box. But poorly optimized templates, or sub optimal server configurations could still slow it down. So check out our page speed optimization guide for a ton of tips.

The bad: SEO parameters configured in separate admin area

This is more of a comment on the 4SEO extension, rather than Joomla itself. And either way, it’s hardly a deal-breaker.

But in an ideal world, we’d have liked to have seen the options for configuring an individual page’s on-page SEO kept within the article admin panel, rather than in a separate admin area.

Note: we should point out that if you’re editing pages on the front end this isn’t an issue as 4SEO supports front end editing. And anyway, we’re probably nitpicking…

The ugly: Out-the-box many basic SEO settings are buried

If you’re not using an SEO extension like 4SEO, it’s easy to miss basic SEO settings due to the way Joomla’s standard control panel is organized.

For example, on an article, the SEO title is buried right at the bottom of the options tab…

browser page title

…while the meta description is located under the publishing tab.

meta description

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have these in the same place?

On-Page SEO Fundamentals: How does Joomla measure up?

Now let’s turn our attention to control of some of the fundamental on-page SEO factors.

Does Joomla cover them all?

Pretty much. We’d have liked to have seen better control of templating for titles and meta descriptions. But other than that, Joomla 4 with the 4SEO extension installed has you covered.

Here’s our summary again.

joomla 4 seo

Note: having control of an SEO ranking factor is not equal to its optimization. SEO audit tools like Seobility offer advice on how to properly optimize each element, and find errors in optimization which may be holding back your site. See our SEO audit guide for more information on how to fully optimize your website.

SEO Titles and Meta Descriptions

Control in Joomla: yes

A page’s title continues to be one of the most important on-page ranking factors. And a well-written meta description can help you get more click-throughs (although Google won’t always use it).

The good news is, you can set page titles and descriptions in an out-the-box Joomla 4 installation. But you’ll need to know where to look.

The SEO title (which Joomla calls “Browser Page Title”) is tucked away at the (VERY) bottom of the options panel…

Edit Article > Options > Browser Page Title

browser page title

…while the meta description setting is bundled under the “Publishing” tab.

Edit Article > Publishing > Metadata > Meta Description

meta description

We think it would make more sense to keep these together. But no biggie.

If you’re using 4SEO, you can set a custom page title and meta description for any page in the extension’s admin area.

This will overwrite any previous metas set natively in Joomla for the page. And you’ll also get a SERP preview for both mobile and desktop.

Components > 4SEO > Select page

4seo metadata

Sweet.

When it comes to templating titles, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to do it.

You can choose to include your site name in your titles as a prefix or suffix in your site’s global configuration.

System > Global Configuration > SEO

joomla 4 site name

But again, this will be overwritten if you’ve set a custom title for a page using 4SEO.

And of course, if you want to write some custom code, you’re free to create a custom title (or meta description) format in your template (instructions here).

Learn more about SEO Titles and Meta Descriptions

Page slug / URL

Control in Joomla: yes

We recommend creating short, descriptive, 2-3 word slugs, including the primary keyword (or phrase) for each page. Use hyphens to separate words.

Previous versions of Joomla did support search engine friendly URLs. But the process was a little fiddly and you would probably have wanted to use an extension to manage them.

Fortunately, Joomla 4 has made the process of enabling (and managing) search engine friendly URLs much more straightforward.

Your first step is to enable “Search Engine Friendly URLs” and “Use URL Rewriting” in the SEO panel of global config.

System > Global Configuration > SEO

search engine friendly urls

Once enabled, you’ll need to rename htaccess.txt (found in your site’s root directory) to .htaccess if you haven’t done so already.

htaccess

And then you can use the “Alias” field to set a search engine friendly slug for an individual article.

Learn more about URL slugs/permalinks

Canonical URLs

Control in Joomla: yes

On smaller sites, you probably won’t need to worry about this.

But if you have a series of similar pages on your site — i.e. targeting the same keywords, or with very small variations in content — there may be times when you’ll want to set a canonical (master) URL.

This helps to avoid duplicate content issues.

You can set a custom canonical URL for any page in the 4SEO admin area.

Components > 4SEO > Select page > Canonical URL

canonical url

Index control (robots meta tag)

Control in Joomla: yes

The robots meta tag instructs Google to either index (1), or not to index (2) a page:

  • <meta name=”robots” content=”index, follow”> – index this page please Google
  • <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”> – ignore this page please Google (but follow the links on it)

You don’t actually need the first one as (assuming your page meets their quality standards) indexing is Google’s default action. But it doesn’t do any harm to have it in place.

Joomla 4 lets you set this in the “Publishing” tab of an article’s edit screen.

Edit Article > Publishing > Metadata > Robots

Or alternatively, you can control the robots meta tag in 4SEO.

noindex page

Learn more about index control

Heading Tags (h1, h2, h3 etc)

Control in Joomla: yes

Heading tags (h1, h2, h3, etc) help Google understand the structure and topic(s) of your page.

They should be properly nested.

For example, an h1 tag would generally be the main topic (level 1), an h2 could be a subtopic (level 2), and an h3 could be a sub-sub topic (level 3) etc:

<h1>Pets</h1> (topic of the page)

<h2>Goldfish</h2> (subtopic)

<h3>Caring for your goldfish</h3> (subtopic of goldfish)

<h4>Clean your fish’s tank regularly</h4> (subtopic of caring for your goldfish)

<h2>Cats</h2> (subtopic)

<h3>Caring for your cat</h3> (subtopic of cats)

Joomla supports a full range of heading tags from H1-H6.

joomla 4 headings

As it should!

Learn more about heading tags

Structured data (aka schema)

Control in Joomla: yes

Structured data (also known as schema) can help Google understand:

  • the type of content on a page (i.e. recipe, review, product, article),
  • the entity behind the website (i.e. organization),
  • and can also be used to show additional search features (rich snippets)

If you’re not familiar with structured data and its impact on SEO, we recommend reading our rich snippets guide.

You’ve got several options for including custom schema on your Joomla website and pages.

First up, there are several specialized extensions, such as this one from tassos.gr (free and paid versions available).

But you can also manage schema with 4SEO.

In the example below, we’re going to use 4SEO to add FAQ schema to a page. We’ll start by adding a new rule and giving it a name (for our use).

Components > 4SEO > Structured Data > New Rule > Name & Ordering

faq schema name

Next, we’ll select which conditions will trigger the rule.

In this case, we’re choosing a specific URL (yoga-classes). But you could also choose to show the schema on all pages, specific categories, or even on specific dates.

Components > 4SEO > Structured Data > New Rule > When to run

joomla 4 schema

And finally, we can choose which type of schema to display (i.e. FAQ page, event, recipe, etc), and how it will be constructed (CSS selectors, shortcodes, or custom values).

Components > 4SEO > Structured Data > New Rule > What to do

joomla 4 structured data

It’s pretty intuitive and covers most of the common types of schema markup you might want to use on your site.

The full process is documented here.

Learn more about structured data and rich snippets

Image SEO

Control in Joomla: yes

The three most important elements of image SEO are:

  • Alt text (description of the image for screen readers and search engines)
  • File size (smaller = faster = better)
  • File name (we recommend using descriptive file names)

Joomla 4’s standard WYSIWYG editor supports alt text…

joomla 4 alt text

…and they won’t mess with your filenames. So as long as you use a descriptive filename when saving before uploading to Joomla, that’s what you’ll get.

With regards to optimizing image file sizes, you’ll have to handle that in a different way.

Your options are to either:

a) make sure your images are compressed before uploading, or

b) install an extension to compress your images for you

If you go for option b, then the Image Recycle extension should do the trick.

image recycle extension

Note: Joomla 4 includes lazy loading for images out-the-box, which is definitely going to help with initial page load times. But we’d still recommend compressing and optimizing your images.

Learn more about image SEO

HTTPS

Do Joomla sites run over HTTPS? yes

HTTPS has been a confirmed Google ranking signal since 2014.

And in 2021 there’s really no excuse for any site to still be running over HTTP. Notwithstanding any SEO benefits, it’s unsecure.

Making sure your Joomla site runs over HTTPS is your (or your hosts) responsibility.

Learn more about HTTPS

Robots.txt file

Control in Joomla: yes

A robots.txt file allows you to stop search engine bots from accessing certain areas of your site.

For example, you might have a section with user-generated content that you don’t want crawled or indexed by Google.

Since Joomla is self-hosted, you can use FTP to directly edit your robots.txt file.

Or, if you’re running 4SEO you can also edit the file in the admin area.

Components > 4SEO > SEO Tools > Robots.txt

joomla 4 robots

Learn more about Robots.txt

XML Sitemaps

Generated by Joomla: yes

An XML sitemap helps Google find (and index) all the pages on your site.

And the good news is, 4SEO will automatically create a sitemap for your Joomla site.

Components > 4SEO > Sitemaps

4seo sitemaps

Even better? You can exclude specific pages from the sitemap with the click of a button.

Components > 4SEO > Pages > Sitemap checkbox

exclude page from sitemap

Learn more about XML Sitemaps

Are Joomla sites mobile friendly?

One word answer: yes

When designing your Joomla site there’s a good chance you’ll be focusing on how it looks on desktop.

But mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic in 2017. And Google now prioritizes the mobile version of your site for crawling and indexing.

Most Joomla templates are mobile-friendly. And if yours is not…

…then it’s time to find a new one!

If Google does find any issues with the mobile version of your website, they’ll let you know in Search Console.

mobile issues - google search console

So keep an eye out.

In conclusion: when combined with the premium 4SEO extension, Joomla is a great choice for SEO

Joomla has been around for a long time and has a relatively large community.

So it’s no real surprise that there will be a solution (be that with an extension or some code tinkering) for most technical SEO tasks that you want to complete.

When we previously reviewed Joomla 3, we were critical of the tired admin interface and gaps in SEO functionality. And we felt that all things considered, WordPress was probably a better choice for SEO, and generally as a CMS.

But Joomla 4, when combined with the premium 4SEO extension has (in the main) filled the SEO gaps, and the slick new admin interface is going to make it much more appealing to new users.

On top of that, it’s super fast.

Quite frankly, after spending the last few years in a slumber — allowing the competition to march ahead — Joomla feels like a project that’s alive again.

And with the right knowledge and a solid SEO strategy, there’s no reason your Joomla site can’t rank highly in Google.

So if you’re running a Joomla site, here’s what we recommend:

  • run a full SEO audit (you can follow this SEO audit guide),
  • allocate time to fixing issues and optimizing your site (where possible),
  • focus in on creating high quality content that helps your users and fully answers their search queries,
  • build your site’s authority by earning high quality backlinks (check out our recommended link building tactics)

Next up we’ll be comparing the SEO pros and cons of each CMS we’ve reviewed in our series in a roundup post, where we’ll also reveal the best CMS for SEO in 2021. Sign up for our email list below to follow this series, and for loads more fresh SEO tips, tutorials, and guides straight to your inbox.

PS: Get blog updates straight to your inbox!

David McSweeney

David is our chief editor for expert SEO content at Seobility. Unsurprisingly he loves SEO and writing. He combines 20+ years of experience in SEO with the passion for teaching you guys how to optimize your websites the right way.



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