Headless CMS and SEO: What to Consider Before Migrating

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Rob Warburton
November 09, 2021 7 min read
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Planning to start your headless CMS journey, but feeling anxious about the SEO of it all?  

That’s understandable, but also not necessary. SEO for headless CMSs may be a tad bit complex, but if you do everything right, there’s nothing stopping you from success. In this blog, we want to highlight the practices that’ll get you there.   


What is a headless CMS?  

We’ve spoken about headless CMSs many times before, but let us repeat once again.  

A headless CMS is a content management system that separates the presentation layer from the admin panel, or the front end from the back end. Content creators/editors create content centrally in the CMS, while developers are responsible for how it will look on different devices.    


Headless CMS – Advantages  

There are a number of benefits that are causing headless architecture to grow in popularity. The most significant of them are certainly speed of content creation, omnichannel publishing, flexibility for developers and security.   

Since this is a topic we’ve covered quite a bit, you can find out more about the advantages of a headless CMS in our blog on why headless is the future as well as several other related blogs.  


But what about headless CMS and SEO? How is it different from traditional CMSs?  

Unlike traditional CMSs, headless does not control the rendering of the content and it does not come with built in SEO-enhancing features. However, unlike what many believe, this is not a red flag! So, don’t panic and don’t let this deter you from migrating to or building a website using headless architecture.  

Headless can only be bad for SEO if not implemented properly. The speed and security headless provides are actually already beneficial for SEO; you just need to give it that extra something!  

There are lots of things you can do to ensure your new headless site has a killer ranking on search engines. Plus, as you’ve seen, there are so many benefits to take advantage of with headless – it would be a shame to let that go.  

Traditional architecture is slowly becoming a thing of the past as the much less limiting headless and decoupled CMSs take over. So, it’s a matter of either being stuck in the past with easier SEO, or being future-proof but having to invest just a little bit more into a great search rank.  

Essentially, traditional CMSs are easier to crawl as they are HTML-based. They also come with different plugins and the like to help you manage SEO. With headless, you configure factors like that on your own, in a way that is tailored to the needs and skills of your business.  

The precondition to that is laying firm technical foundations, which is more than possible with all that headless has to offer. Once you approach the implementation of a headless CMS with SEO in mind, chances are your engine rank might be even better than with a traditional CMS.  


SEO for headless CMS 

What are the best practices?  

Here are the vital factors you need to consider if you want to make sure that there is harmony between your headless CMS and SEO when you go live.  

  

1. Metadata fields  

Metadata fields are a crucial factor in the process of proper crawling and indexing of a website by search engines. Headless architecture does not automatically provide such fields, so your developers are going to have to do that.  

The elements to consider are the title tag, meta description, the robots tag and, in some cases, meta keywords (irrelevant to Google though).  

Ensure the title tag can be a maximum of 70 characters and the description 150. Do not add too many keywords either; 5 or 10 should do it. 

With the meta robots tag, you can let search engines know what pages to index or you can hide specific pages from them. The same goes for links; you decide which links you want the engine to follow. This comes in handy, as too many links can lower your rank. 


2. Regular high-quality content  

Regardless of what CMS you’re using, content is always going to be a highly significant factor for your rank in search results. At this point, we’ve talked about it so much that there is no need to go into heavy detail.  

So, always keep in mind: create high-quality content that is reliable, shows expertise, and presents value to your users. Do so on a regular basis, too, as fresh content and updated existing content signal to search engines that your site is up-to-date and relevant.  

P. S. Don’t forget to spend time on internal linking as well.  


3. Keyword research and targeting  

Never underestimate the power of keyword research. It helps you brainstorm relevant topic ideas your users might be interested in, it keeps you in the loop with trends, and it helps you tremendously with ranking – if you do it well.  

Make sure to research keywords extensively, analyse the search intent behind them, and target the ones with a decent search volume that are not too competitive. Use them wisely in your content and meta tags, and never go overboard with them. Keyword stuffing is a thing – and it can cost you all your efforts.  

Here is an example of a great keyword to target. The research was done in SEMrush, who recently also added a ‘Search Intent’ feature to help marketers create relevant content faster.  


Example of keyword research in Semrush


4. Schema.org  

Schema.org is extremely useful for your SEO. It’s a set of properties that you can add to your code to give content structure, expand on data, and help search engines understand your site better. Search engines always strive to provide the best possible results to users quickly, so it can be of huge benefit to you to have as much information about your site as possible. These can be ratings, reviews, publication dates, you name it.  


5. CDN  

Headless architecture already provides additional stability and security in itself. However, this can be enhanced even more, particularly for users and SEO, by implementing a content delivery network.  

CDNs – groups of servers distributed in different areas – help deliver content across the globe faster. The loads on servers and network latency are reduced and websites load quickly. With loading speed being one of the top ranking factors for SEO, it’s easy to see why implementing a CDN can help you enhance user experience and thereby your search rank.   


6. URL   

A simple, straightforward and accurate URL structure will save you a lot of pain when it comes to ranking in SERPs. They should contain the focus keyword of the page and be descriptive and short, so that users can easily recognise the topic and assess its value for them. When you cater to users, you cater to SEO.  

DO: Use a concise, “SERP-friendly” URL like www.example.com/blog/why-use-short-urls.  

DON’T: Use symbols (other than hyphens), unnecessary numbers, or be unclear/unspecified, such as in www.example.com/page-ig-23212/30-%-off/product-2013934/ 01-01-2021/.  

Side note: Always use HTTPS! Headless may be highly secure in itself, but HTTPS makes that clear to search engines no matter what CMS you’re using.  


7. Optimise images and videos  

Text is not the only thing being scanned by search engine crawlers. Your images and videos should also be optimised for users and SEO. It is recommended to make sure the file names are specific and contain your keyword, so instead of “file-120404-20211004”, call it “headless-vs-traditional-cms”, for instance. You should also add alt-text, as sometimes media will not be displayed on a page and it’s important to have a description of it in some alternative form.  

To make sure loading speed is not compromised, always compress images. In the case of videos, don’t forget to optimise the thumbnail and add metadata. Providing a transcription of the video is also an excellent way to enhance user experience and SEO. 


8. XML sitemap  

There are a range of tools that you can use to generate XML sitemaps for your website. These are files that include all of a website’s important pages and make sure the engine discovers and crawls them. This also helps the engine understand the content structure better. Once completed, your XML sitemap should be submitted to tools like Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster.  

  

9. Don’t forget about mobile SEO  

The great thing about headless is that an omnichannel experience is guaranteed, as your content is automatically published across different devices. However, just because it is adapted to these devices does not mean it is completely optimised for them.  

Due to the increasing frequency of mobile searches, Google has put mobile SEO first. Keep in mind that mobile and desktop searches are evaluated separately, so optimising for one won’t influence the other.   

To optimise for mobile, keep doing the usual SEO best practices, and also:  


  Mobile phone user


10. Pre-rendering  

Pre-rendering is a handy concept that can improve performance and be beneficial for SEO. For example, when you use the React component Next.js, every page is automatically pre-rendered.   

What does pre-rendering even mean, though? It means that HTML with minimal JavaScript code necessary is generated for each page in advance. This prepares pages to be seen by web crawlers.   

It can happen at build time (Static Generation) or upon each request (Server-side Rendering). It’s recommended to statically generate pages whenever possible. This is because Static Generation allows caching by a CDN and doesn’t require additional performance boost configurations.  


11. Regular audits  

Schedule regular audits to make sure your website is up to standard and to quickly spot and eliminate potential issues.  


Conclusion  

See, headless CMS and SEO is not such a bad combination, is it? In fact, it can be super powerful if you follow all the best practices.  

If you’re looking to future-proof your online presence by switching to headless, let’s talk! The team of digital strategists here at our digital agency can help you leverage the power of headless architecture and fully optimise it for search engines.