WordPress v Joomla: Search Engine Optimization

By Mark Atkinson
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WordPress v Joomla

I’ve been looking forward to this part of the series; we’re going to compare WordPress and Joomla in the SEO department. We will be discussing the capabilities and limitations of each CMS when it comes to SEO, as well as linking you to some of the best SEO plugins and extensions.

We’re going to order things slightly differently in this post. Here’s how:


WordPress wins.

In my opinion, there can be no real argument against that assertion. Unfortunately, when WordPress junkies end up in metaphorical bar fights with Joomla junkies, the WordPress enthusiasts really end up flogging a dead horse on this point. It’s painful to see, guys — please don’t do it.

Yes, WordPress is generally better when it comes to SEO, but it has its limitations. Joomla isn’t horrible when it comes to SEO. It’s not the best, but it’s not as bad as I’ve seen some (usually biased) individuals suggest.

So you’ve got the verdict; now I’ll explain how I reached this conclusion.

Joomla SEO

Joomla can be an absolute nightmare to perform proper on-site optimization on if you’re a newbie. With Joomla 2.5, however, some attention was given to improving the SEO capabilities, which has helped somewhat. If you’re in a competitive niche, though, you’re still going to need to look to Components to do the bulk of your SEO work for you, and that’s where things get messy.

Joomla contains basic SEO-optimization functionality. You can turn on SEF URLs, take it a step further by enabling URL rewriting and also choose whether you would like to enable URL suffixes or not.

You can also add a global meta description and meta keywords, as well as define the meta tags and title tags at a page level, despite it not being as user-friendly a process as it potentially could be.

Something that some Joomla users may not know is that you can also choose to noindex and/or nofollow a specific menu item. (You can find the option in the Metadata options menu on the right when editing a menu item.)

If you’re wanting to do more than basic optimization for a Joomla website, I would suggest you be prepared to do some debugging, because those bugs will be there.

WordPress SEO

The great thing about SEO for WordPress is that it’s easy. Everything is where you’d expect it to be. It’s dead simple to enable SEF URLs and define your own permalinks for specific posts.

WordPress allows you to create tags for posts, something which Joomla doesn’t allow without the use of an extension. As far as I’m concerned, however, this is really not something that is important anymore.

All the general options are available. You can optimize your permalink structures and you can set all the appropriate metadata for your pages and posts.

The real SEO power of WordPress, however, doesn’t come out the box. It does most things right out the box, yes, but its real SEO prowess is found among the SEO plugins available for WordPress. There are some fantastic plugins which make advanced SEO super-easy in WordPress. (We will discuss these plugins at the end of this post.)

The bottom line is that SEO in WordPress is much easier to get right if you are new to the whole website game. Couple that with the fact that Matt Cutts and Google really like WordPress, and you have a winner in the SEO department.

Page Speed

The notion that Joomla is bulky and will make your website a slow-loading, bandwidth-eating monster is a myth! Having worked extensively with both CMSs, I cannot report any major advantages for either system here.

My own website runs on Joomla and I managed to attain a page speed score of 98/100, and had it loading in around 1.5 seconds. It required some tweaking, but all of the sites I’ve developed on WordPress have required no less tweaking to get into a similar position.

I wouldn’t believe anybody who tells me that one system has any major advantages over the other here. Plugins are available for both, which will assist you in achieving page speed good practice, such as a minifying CSS and Javascript, GZip compression, leveraging caching etc.

Link Structure

Some SEO enthusiasts tend to advocate having a “perfect” URL structure. While I’m not sure that there is such a thing, it is definitely important to make sure that your URLs are SEO-friendly. What I mean by this is just make sure that the website address (URL) of a page doesn’t look like a bunch of random characters strung together.

As a general rule of thumb, I would say that if a human could look at a URL and tell what the page is about and that URL isn’t incredibly long, then your URL structure is good enough.

WordPress and Joomla can achieve this out the box. Again, WordPress makes it slightly easier by allowing you to define your permalink within a post. Joomla, on the other hand, creates your link by using the category alias plus your menu item alias for the URLs (assuming you are using the default Joomla SEF URLs).

Both CMSs will allow more control over the URL rewriting through the use of certain SEO plugins/components.

Image Optimization

Once again, WordPress wins in this department — but with the release of version 2.5.x, Joomla has closed the gap. Both systems now allow you to add images with ease, add alt tags, image titles and define image dimensions, all of which are SEO good practices when it comes to images.

WordPress takes the cake with this one through the use of a plugin called SEO Friendly Images which basically does all of the above for you automatically.

One thing to note for Joomla users: Joomla bizarrely instructs search engines not to index your images folder. This defeats the entire object of image optimization. I would recommend you access your robots.txt file and remove the line that says:

Disallow: /images/

Internal Linking

If you’ve done your due diligence regarding on-site SEO optimization, you will know that a good internal linking structure is key for SEO success.

WordPress makes internal linking easy out the box, and even easier through the use of plugins, by allowing you to select existing pieces of content directly when adding a hyperlink. With Joomla, unfortunately, you need to enter the relative link for the page you are trying to link to. It doesn’t have a graphic interface which allows you to do this out the box. I believe it can be done using certain plugins, but I tend to be a bit prehistoric in my approach and just resort to entering those darn links manually.

Custom 404 Pages

404 Pages are a pet peeve of mine. This is probably because Joomla used to make it extremely difficult to redirect to a custom 404. It’s easier nowadays with a bit of code tweaking, but once again, WordPress just works so much better here.

I’ve tried numerous SEO components for Joomla which are supposed to allow you to create custom 404s, but none of them ever worked as expected. I ended up manually setting up redirect rules in my .htaccess file and redirecting to a hidden menu item.

With WordPress, I’ve found that custom 404 plugins work much better.

This may or may not be an important factor for you. Just be aware that 404s can be frustrating in Joomla if you’re looking for a quick fix.

SEO Plugins and Components

Here are a few of my favorite SEO plugins and extensions:

WordPress Plugins

  1. WordPress SEO by YoastThis is as close to an all-inclusive SEO plugin as you will get for WordPress. It is simply fantastic. The description on their plugin page is brilliant as well — you don’t need me to explain it here.
  2. All-in-One SEOIf, for some absurd reason, you don’t like Yoast’s plugin, you can use this. It’s a lot simpler and quicker to configure, so it may suit your purposes perfectly if you don’t want to get your hands dirty or spend time optimizing content for SEO.
  3. SEO Friendly ImagesThis helps you easily optimize your images for SEO. If you use Yoast’s plugin, you may not need this.
  4. 404 Simple RedirectI use this to manage my 404s on WordPress websites. It’s simple and effective.

Joomla Extensions

  1. SH404SEFIn Joomla 1.5 days this was the flagship SEO component. The developers didn’t create versions for Joomla 1.6 and 1.7, but have released a version for Joomla 2.5. It does a whole lot more than just SEO, but it is a commercial (and expensive) component. I don’t use it because it has hundreds of options that I would never use. You may find it useful if you’re an SEO control freak.
  2. SEO BossThis is a neat little component which allows you to easily manage your metadata for every page on your site from one interface. It also includes some simple on-page tweaks, a Google rank tracker and the ability to ping the search engines with new content.
  3. XmapThe only component I use to create Joomla sitemaps. It’s easy, free and it works. Use it.

The Bottom Line

WordPress is superior in many ways to Joomla in the SEO department. Don’t let it discourage you, however, if Joomla suits your purposes better than WordPress. You can create a perfectly optimized website in Joomla — it just takes a bit more effort.

WordPress enthusiasts: WordPress rocks Google’s socks. We get it. Let it go now. :)

Next week we will be covering the support and community for WordPress and Joomla. In the interim, let me know what your experiences have been with SEO on your WordPress/Joomla websites.

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  • Cha

    I agree with you and thanks for sharing plugin infos. I have used both joomla and WordPress for my existing clients. We’re in the process of converting joomla based client sites to WordPress based. It’s just make sense. WordPress makes your life easier. To me anyway.

  • Very thoughtful article, what would be good to see is an SEO comparison monitored against agreed metrics.

    Joomla with 3rd Party SEO
    Joomla with built in SEO
    WP with built in SEO
    WP with 3rd Party SEO

    Many have a misconception that 3rd Party SEO will automatically make your site a Search Engine magnet and some ‘SEO Experts” build on this misconception …. its a real shame.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Mustaq.

      Unfortunately it would probably be very difficult to compare sites as you have stated. You would know that SEO is more than just on-site stuff and the results would be dependent on many other factors such as competition, backlinks and social exposure.

      I guess you could analyse the on-page metrics of the different setups you mentioned, though.

      I feel that you can employ good on-site SEO practices regardless of the system you use. They both support the most important on-site SEO factors..


  • Yannick Gaultier

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for mentioning sh404SEF in your review (I’m its author).
    Contrary to what you said, there were versions released for Joomla! 1.6 and 1.7. As you probably know, both were “short term” versions, with a lifespan of only 6 month, and were replaced with the long term 2.5 version. Using 1.6 or 1.7 on live site is not recommended, and any such site should be upgraded to 2.5 (that’s a one-click operation from site backend). Even though unsupported, sh404SEF for 2.5 will operate on 1.6 and 1.7.

    As for it being clearly labelled as “expensive”, everybody’s opinion is valid. Let’s just say that at $39/year with all features, support and updates (unlimited domains ofc), it’s about 20% cheaper than the WordPress counterpart you mentioned ;)


    • Hi Yannick,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Sorry, I must have missed the releases for sh404SEF. Were they on the JED? I clearly remember searching for it in the 1.7 days and only seeing a 1.5 version listed.

      If you’re referring to Yoast, they have a (very good) free version available. sh404SEF is something that you’re forced to buy (last time I checked) and I feel that it’s probably not necessary with free versions of other components (like JoomSEF) available. I personally try to avoid SEO components and employ good practices on my websites manually.

      That said, I do feel that sh404SEF is a very, very good component, and this has always been the case. Consequently, I’m sure many people do feel that it’s 100% worth the cost.

      Perhaps it’s because I’m from South Africa where, the R/$ exchange rate is not pretty, that I’m averse (as are my clients) to forking out on subscriptions to components wherever its avoidable.

      Thanks for providing your input!


      • Yannick Gaultier

        Hi Mark

        Yes, sh404SEF’s been always available for all versions of Joomla!. It took about 2 months after Joomla! 1.6 came out (in january 08), as it had major architectural changes, but the sh404SEF for Joomla 1.7! was available the same day as Joomla! 1.7 itself.
        I perfectly understand natural tendancy to avoid paying for things if you feel you can get them for free, don’t think it’s specific to South Africa. I do the same. I just believe – as we’re talking about CMS extensions – that there are many of them worth paying for it as you definitely cannot get anything close free of charge. The other side of it of course being that most of those extensions would not exist, in the same state, should no one would pay for them.

        That’s why comparing free versions to pay version don’t make much sense to me. If you can do with what Yoast or others software free versions can provide, that’s fine. My philosophy with sh404SEF has been , from the very start in 2006: everything’s included, for the lowest price possible. That’s why sh404SEF has always been the cheapest such extension, and for instance is 30% cheaper than All in one SEO, though sh404SEF is quite larger in scope and features.


  • I also think wordpress is more popular than Joomla. Because I use wordpress and like it. that’s it.

  • Hi Mark,

    I think this is a great series. However, I’m surprised you didn’t mention Joomla 2.5’s built in Redirect component. It makes it easier to find 404 errors and redirect the links elsewhere. Although I haven’t tried, I suspect you could also use it to redirect users to a custom 404 page.

    Also, Joomla is much closer to WordPress in the SEO department if you install the free JCE Editor. It makes internal links a breeze, it automatically fills in dimensions and alt tags for images etc.


  • I don’t have any experience with WordPress SEF tuning, but I suspect what I’m about to say would apply to both CMSes. (Not a comparison of the two CMSes, but just some advice generally.)

    When considering adding a third-party extension to help you make it easier, check carefully at how it might interplay with other extensions you have. In my case, in Joomla 1.5 a few years ago, I believed the hype about needing an extension to do SEF (I suspect it was someone’s tutorial of “this is how you do this”, not all of which are well written). So I added one (I don’t remember which one), but it didn’t get along with Joomfish (multilingual content manager that was absolutely essential for me). After fighting with it for months, I realized that the core SEF can do the job (at least the basics), so I uninstalled the extension, turned on the core SEF options, and simply made sure I used nice logical aliases whenever I created a new entity. Works like a charm! So my point is, if you do the right things in your alias naming conventions, you might be able to use the KISS philosophy in this area. Anytime you have multiple extensions (especially ones that affect how your whole site works, like SEF and i18n), you run the risk that they haven’t been thoroughly tested together.

    And remember that every time you change how you’re doing URLs, you take the chance of losing someone who might have put a link to you on their site (or some user who put it in their bookmarks), having Google’s most recent link become a 404, etc. So don’t change unless you need to!

  • Hi Mark,

    I, again, enjoyed this article. Great write up with great info. Although I do like both CMSes, in my own personal opinion/experience I do not think Joomla even remotely compares to WP in page speed, out of the box. I have now built numerous different sites of numerous different metrics in both CMS and I constantly hear myself complaining about the Joomla site’s page speed.

    P.S. The only dead horse I really see being beat though, is you telling the WP community they need to keep quiet :P

    • Hi Stan,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I must admit that it often takes a couple extra steps with a Joomla site, but I would go so far as to say that a number of my Joomla sites actually load quicker than similar WordPress sites we’ve built.

      For me it’s really six of one and half a dozen of another. I believe that as long as the site loads within a couple seconds, you’re fine either way. :)

      And touche, mate. ;-)


  • Great article. I still think joomla is a far better platform, but that is just an opinion. Great research!

  • Hi Mark,

    An amazing SEF extention for Joomla! that did not make it onto your list is SEF Advance .

    SEF Advance is the only pure-logic SEF solution, not relying on database for URL storage, resulting in stunning performance and total control over your URL’s.

    If you are serious about Joomla! SEF and not interested in bloat and purging database records all the time, check it out.

  • Interesting article.
    Wondering what your thoughts are on the use of tools such as:
    YSlow (I use the Firefox plugin)

    Search engine optimsation does include page titles, good content, etc but of increasing importance is fast loading pages with optimised http requests, etc.

    I guess at a technical level, this is a different discussion than what this series is about. But it should never the less, be a genuine consideration for both CMS’s if web developers have SEO near the top of their list of goals for the site.