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SEO for a Headless CMS

Mike HarrisCampaign manager
1 min read08 November 2023

So, your current website has been built with a headless CMS, or you want to migrate from a traditional CMS. One of the first questions you might have asked yourself is how your SEO performance and strategy may differ from that of an approach taken with a traditional CMS.

You may have found this article after hearing rumours that a headless CMS is not as SEO-friendly as a traditional CMS, or maybe you're simply looking to prepare yourself for an upcoming migration from traditional to headless. Either way, if you want to understand the effects of any switch on your SEO strategy, we'll provide the answers in this post.

In this article, we will break down:

  • SEO for a traditional CMS
  • SEO for a headless CMS
  • Headless SEO myths
  • SEO benefits associated with using headless CMS
  • How our own headless CMS, Contensis, improves Search Engine Optimisation


SEO for a traditional CMS

The principles of SEO remain the same regardless of whether you use a headless or traditional CMS, but how you are used to implementing SEO may differ slightly. Within your traditional CMS, you may be familiar with SEO tools and plugins that help manage your SEO strategies. One of the most common plugins is Yoast for WordPress. You can manage the most important on-page SEO elements within the Yoast plugin, such as metadata, URLs, alt text, headers, and sitemaps. These elements are just as essential if you're using a headless CMS. However, in some CMS platforms, the features needed to manage these elements aren't included 'out of the box' in the way they are with most traditional CMSs.

SEO for a headless CMS

Depending on your headless CMS platform, you may have varying degrees of control over managing your on-page SEO elements. This could range from having built-in tools for non-technical users to relying on web developers to implement custom solutions for you. This makes choosing a suitable headless CMS important if SEO is crucial to your marketing strategy.

With most headless CMS projects, you receive more of a bespoke service – your content strategist or development team uses the CMS platform to build a user interface that meets the specific needs of your content authors. As such, most SEO elements are built into your content model instead of being added through plugins. If you have specified SEO in your project objectives then any reputable headless CMS provider should plan this into your project build.

Ultimately, the basic principles of SEO for a traditional or headless CMS user are the same. Your strategy will remain the same. However, ensuring easy management of critical on-page SEO elements is essential. Ask your current headless CMS provider (or new providers if you want to migrate) if you can easily manage important on-page SEO components.

Basic SEO requirements

  • Meta titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Image Alt text
  • Internal linking
  • Page heading tags - H1, H2, H3
  • Sitemaps
  • URLs
"SEO is easier to manage in a traditional CMS than in a headless CMS" – FALSE!

Myth dispelled

A common misconception is that SEO is easier to manage in a traditional CMS than in a headless CMS. Granted, SEO plugins for traditional open-source CMSs are easily accessible with one-click installation. However, in many headless CMSs, these features are either included as standard or can be easily added. There are many SEO benefits to a headless CMS that you don't get with a traditional style content management system.

How can a headless CMS benefit my search rankings?

Enhanced user experience

As we enter the IoT era, the need to cater to audiences across many devices is becoming increasingly prevalent. Traditional CMSs have long struggled to provide a tailored user experience in this area, whereas headless CMSs were created for this very purpose.

With an effective API, a headless CMS means you can optimise your content for multiple touchpoints such as smartwatches, voice-activated assistants (such as Alexa and Google Home), and even VR devices like Oculus.

If you adopt a full-cycle SEO approach, you should consider the entire user journey – from the first search query to the goal completion (and conversion value if we are to close the loop on ROI completely). Enhancing user experience will increase your conversion rate and return on investment from all forms of SEO.

IoT definition: Internet of things – a term that describes the network of physical objects embedded with software, sensors, and other technologies connected to and exchanging data across the internet.

How is headless SEO different from regular SEO?

Headless SEO and regular SEO are both focused on optimising websites for search engine visibility and rankings. Still, they differ in how the content is delivered and presented to users and search engine crawlers.

Presentation Layer:

  • Regular SEO typically involves optimising websites with a traditional server-side rendering (SSR) architecture, where HTML content is generated on the server and sent to the browser. This includes platforms like WordPress, Joomla, or traditional custom-built websites.
  • Headless SEO involves optimising websites that use a headless content management system (CMS) like Contensis or a static site generator (SSG). In this architecture, the content is created and managed separately from the front-end presentation layer, allowing for more flexibility and faster performance.

Content Delivery:

  • Regular SEO relies on traditional HTML pages where the content is directly embedded within the HTML structure. Search engine crawlers can quickly parse these HTML pages to understand the content and index it accordingly.
  • Headless SEO relies on APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to deliver content to the front-end. Content is typically stored in a headless CMS or a database and retrieved via API calls.

Dynamic Content:

  • With regular SEO, dynamic content generation often happens on the server side, where content is generated based on user requests and interactions.
  • Headless SEO allows for more dynamic content rendering on the client side using JavaScript frameworks like React, Vue.js, or Angular. With Contensis, you get the best of both worlds, as you can quickly implement SSR with your framework of choice.

Page Load Speed:

  • Headless architectures often lead to faster page load speeds due to decoupling content management and presentation layers. This can positively impact SEO since page load speed is a crucial ranking factor.
  • Regular SEO may have varying page load speeds depending on the efficiency of the server-side rendering and the complexity of the website.

Technical SEO Considerations:

  • Both regular SEO and headless SEO require attention to technical SEO aspects such as meta tags, structured data, URL structure, canonicalisation, sitemaps, etc. However, implementation methods may differ slightly due to the architectural differences between the two approaches.

Example - Product review

Product review pages must be hyper-optimised to be competitive in search engine rankings. Using a traditional CMS, the trick was creating a template with optimised headings for editors to create web pages. This is fine until an editor decides to go rogue and create content outside the optimised format. This happens when content creators get bogged down in the look and feel of the content and lose focus on what needs to happen for SEO rankings.

With a headless CMS, search engine-optimised content can be modelled so that editors fill out an optimised form, and the front-end presentation layer is handled separately. This means you can optimise the data for use across multiple platforms without considering how it will be rendered—no multiple versions for mobile and desktop, just one content type with perfectly optimised content.

Easier integration with MarTech tools and software

Because a headless CMS is separated from the front-end of the website, content can be transferred more easily through APIs to MarTech tools, software, and platforms that cater to CRMs, analytics, and marketing automation. This means your content and data can be synced through multiple channels and your processes automated, leaving you to concentrate on the quality of your content.

Increased page load times

As of July 2018, Google has made mobile page speed a ranking factor in mobile search results. This was no surprise to the marketing industry after Google revealed that 40% of users will leave a website that takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

The introduction of AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) helped marketers improve page load speed times; however, this had limitations. Traditional CMSs using AMP still had the issue of catering to multiple devices with back-end and front-end code, which was sometimes difficult or impossible to separate. On the other hand, a headless CMS doesn't suffer from this, and its back-end code can be made lightweight and better optimised for page load speed from the ground up whilst still serving AMP content if required.

Contensis headless CMS SEO

SEO with the Contensis CMS

The Contensis CMS is a hybrid headless content management system. By combining the power of a headless CMS and the user-friendly features of a traditional CMS, Contensis gives you the best of both worlds.

Optimising your content and website with the Contensis CMS is easily manageable, and all of the features below are possible. Not all are standard – as with most headless CMS platforms, your project is built from the ground up to meet your requirements, and many of these features will be incorporated by your development team as part of your implementation.

  • Metadata – the ability to add and edit
  • URLs – the ability to create and edit human-readable and SEO-friendly URLs
  • Sitemaps – the ability to generate and update
  • Alt text for images – the ability to add, edit, and require alt text before an image is published (also benefits accessibility)
  • Headings – the ability to add and edit headings (also benefits accessibility)
  • Internal hyperlinking of text – the ability to add and edit internal links
  • Schema structured data markup – the ability to add and edit
  • Breadcrumbs – the ability to add and edit
  • Robots.txt – the ability to edit
  • Redirects – the ability to add redirects when a URL is removed
  • Aliases – the ability to add and edit alternative paths for web pages
  • Canonical URLs – the ability to choose which path is the canonical URL for a web page

Wrapping up

A headless CMS doesn't mean your content will suffer in search engines, or your SEO efforts are all for nothing. A headless CMS can unshackle your SEO strategy and remove your reliance on plugins and third-party tools. It may be time to move into the headless CMS world with your website.

Try the Contensis CMS

If you are a current headless CMS user and want to experience the benefits of the Contensis CMS, or if you are thinking about transitioning from a traditional CMS, give us a call and speak to one of our experts at 01584 824202. Alternatively, you can book a demonstration here.

Mike HarrisCampaign manager

Mike is a campaign manager in our marketing team. His background is in digital marketing, specialising in search engine optimisation and pay per click advertising.

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