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01 May, 2024

Headless CMS and SEO : 7 points to check for a successful site launch

Headless CMS technology is a tool designed to save time and make content management easier for all website owners, especially e-commerce sites, thanks to its ease of use.


With any good website it doesn’t just need to look good, it needs to be discoverable. In this article, we'll explore the ins and outs of headless CMS and focus particularly on the crucial importance of SEO optimisation before launching a site based on this architecture. We'll provide you with a detailed checklist, highlighting the essential aspects you need to check ensure your Headless CMS website is competitive for search

What is headless technology?

Headless CMS is a modern approach to managing digital content across various platforms and channels. Unlike a traditional CMS, a headless CMS decouples the content from its presentation layer, allowing for more flexibility and scalability. In a headless architecture, the back end, responsible for content storage and management, operates independently of the front end, which is responsible for displaying the content to users. This separation enables content to be easily delivered to different devices, applications, or websites, providing a seamless and consistent experience across various platforms.

Here is an example of how headless technology is integrated in an environment using Sanity CMS. On the front-end, Webpack and other modules are used to built the page, while external APIs are called on the back-end to deliver it to the hosting environment.

The SEO benefits of headless

Time savings :
We know the difficulties that can arise when optimising the textual content of a site. The struggle because a certain image doesn't fit with a certain content, or because the length of the H1 text displays well on mobile but doesn't look like anything on desktop, not to mention the discovery of zombie pages that had been left for dead in a corner of the website...

Using a headless CMS saves marketing teams a significant amount of time by simplifying content management. By dissociating themselves from the predefined structure, SEO teams can concentrate exclusively on optimising the text, without worrying about the constraints imposed by a traditional CMS. This flexibility enables rapid updates, the addition of new features without disrupting existing content, and agile adaptation to changes in SEO best practice, offering a significant competitive advantage.

Flexibility in Content Presentation :
The use of a headless CMS offers significant advantages for managing content presentation, enabling optimum uniformity and adaptability across different platforms. By separating content management from structure, a headless CMS offers the flexibility to present content consistently across all devices, ensuring a seamless user experience. This approach also facilitates integration with emerging technologies, ensuring that content remains attractive and accessible, whatever the evolution of devices or user interfaces.

Updating & freshness of content :
The use of a headless CMS offers a considerable advantage by enabling dynamic content to be created and distributed efficiently. With this approach, sites can easily update and customise their content without affecting the underlying structure. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for SEO, as search engines place greater value on content that is regularly updated, leading to higher rankings and greater visibility.

Heading hierarchy :
No more control of the structure. How does it sound? You'll no longer have to check that pages include a single H1 and well-structured H2s. Let headless do it for you.

The use of a headless CMS represents a significant advance in the management of a site's page structure. By allowing greater flexibility in the articulation of content and the management of title tags, this approach offers better optimisation for search engine optimisation, helping to improve the visibility and overall SEO performance of the site on search engines.

Speed improvement :
The use of a headless CMS offers significant benefits in terms of site load speed, contributing to a better user experience and improved SEO performance. By separating the back-end from the front-end, this approach enables each component to be specifically optimised, resulting in faster page loads. This reduction in loading time is an essential criterion taken into account by search engines, boosting the site's visibility and ranking in search results.

The disadvantages of headlessness

Configuration complexity :

The initial configuration of a headless site can be more complex, requiring technical skills to correctly define links, meta tags and redirects, which can lead to errors if not managed correctly. It is also required to define where and how to update tags that are crucial for SEO, such as the title, the alt attribute of an image or the meta description of a page. While most solutions provide modules for optimising these elements, it is essential to implement them from the site construction phase via a headless CMS.
Separating the backend can lead to potential tagging problems if coordination between the backend and frontend development teams is not optimal. This can affect the structure of HTML tags that are essential for SEO.

The overall use of Javascript language :

Yes, I know, working with JavaScript in SEO can be tricky. You prepare everything carefully, but in the end you never know whether the search engine will find its way to that beautiful rendering area you prepared.

As JavaScript is still difficult to interpret by Google, a site developed using a headless CMS could be unreadable and impossible for bots to explore, and therefore unable to rank in the search results. This problem usually requires the implementation of a pre-rendering service (SSR, SSG, ISR, etc.), which will translate the site's content into a standard HTML format that can be read by bots.

SEO plugins are harder to use on a headless :

Yoast SEO, SEOPress, Metatag, whether you use Wordpress, Drupal, Shopify etc., you may already have used one of the many SEO plugins available for most CMS.
Easy to install and use, these plugins are more complicated to use on headless technology because they require access to the entire page (in the same way as a crawler) to give you optimisation recommendations. Headless CMSs are primarily designed to manage and articulate API content, and therefore do not offer the editorial creation facilities of other CMSs.

What to check on your headless CMS for a successful site launch

Content SEO

The main challenge associated with headless CMS when it comes to SEO-optimised content lies in the management of meta tags and URLs and page generation. In a headless architecture, where the backend and frontend are separate, the dynamic generation of these elements can pose problems.

Meta tag management :

With a headless CMS, the generation of meta tags (such as meta descriptions and title tags) can be more complex. Depending on the chosen frontend framework, developers must implement custom solutions to dynamically generate and inject these tags into the head of the HTML document.
This process may involve utilising the CMS's API to fetch meta tag content and integrating it with the site's routing and rendering logic to ensure that search engines and social media platforms can properly crawl and display the correct information about each page.

URL structure :

URL management is often dynamic in a headless architecture. URLs can be generated automatically by the Headless CMS and handled accordingly by the chosen frontend framework. With Sanity CMS for example, URL structures can often be predefined. This allows developers to enforce custom rules to ensure good URL structures are followed.

Ghost pages generation :

In a headless architecture, URLs can be generated dynamically, which can lead to the creation of new, unused pages, known as ghost pages. Make sure you identify what could be causing your CMS to create these pages, for example when an API automatically generates the creation of product pages or other elements without there being any inside the site.

Use a static site generator :

Using a static site generator (Like Astro.build) is useful to ensure your website can be crawled by search engines, the way you want it to be discovered by search engines. The pre-rendered static HTML pages contribute to efficient crawlability and indexability by search engines, reducing server load and providing compatibility with Content Delivery Networks (CDNs).

These challenges require close coordination between the frontend and backend development teams, as well as a thorough understanding of SEO best practice to ensure compliances with basic performance rules.

Technical SEO

Using a headless CMS can present a number of technical challenges that needs to be managed from an SEO point of view :

Loading time :

As with other CMS, inserting 3rd party scripts (such as Google Tag manager, Facebook tag, Hotjar for example) can slow down the loading of site pages. This is even more important in a site using headless because other JS calls are added to them. It is therefore necessary to put in place strategies for calling scripts to avoid long loading times. In particular, this means calling only the resources used on the page without overloading the rendering.

Internal link management :

Internal link management can be more complex in a headless context, requiring careful planning to maintain a logical and SEO-optimised link structure, as developers must manage how link paths are generated. This involves implementing systems or procedures that dynamically create and update link paths based on the content's structure and metadata within the headless CMS and the frontend while corresponding to SEO prerequisite (url content in adequation to the page main keywords etc.).

Pages responses :

Some JS code can also lead to a misinterpretation of the website content by the crawlers. It sometimes happens that JS requests used by headless technology may return information that is misinterpreted by search engines, which could be tantamount to cloaking.

This could lead to indexing issues or indexing penalisation. To mitigate these issues, developers can implement server-side rendering (SSR) or static-site generation (SSG) to ensure that search engines can crawl and index the site's content effectively, despite the complexities introduced by dynamic JavaScript execution.

These issues require technical expertise to ensure that the headless site is properly configured and optimised for search engines. Close collaboration between the SEO and development teams is essential to overcome these challenges.

Our website development company is experienced in the creation and optimisation of headless CMS. With nearly 10 years' experience in the field, we know how to provide the best answers to our customers' problems.

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