If you’ve ever had the chance to use a CMS or Headless Content Management System, you know that one of the biggest differences between a traditional and a headless system (from the editorial side, at least( is the ability to edit metadata better on the fly, along with the ability to tweak content based on the type of device being used to view said content.
Headless systems also have better control over the structured data and work better with it. Lastly, they are also better when it comes to building user-defined experiences.
On the other hand, traditional CMS platforms are usually better integrated with domains and will have better control over how the content is being rendered. Platforms like WordPress or Drupal enable you to easily add and edit descriptions, page titles, create tags, and so on.
Headless solutions, (like GrapCMS for instance), the system has less control over how content is being rendered (due to cross-platform flexibility) and this is why this functionality should be addressed in a different way.
As such, in this post, we will discuss the best practices you should be implementing when it comes to Headless Content Management Systems and search engine optimization (SEO).
Approaching Traditional Systems VS Headless Solutions
When it comes to traditional CMS solutions, your users will pretty much be reliant on a myriad of plugin combos to deal with such important aspects as taxonomies, structured content, security, metadata, content optimization, and so on. In the case of Headless systems, users can configure these aspects in highly unique ways that work best for them and are in full control all the time.
On that end, the most common practices for optimization (both on- and off-page) rarely change. You would still need proper keyword choice and placement, high-quality content, domain authority, interlinked content pieces, backlinks from reliable sources, and social sharing to optimize the proper way.
You might remember the days of yesteryear, where SRP placement was all too much influenced by keyword volume and density. This trend ultimately led to poor content quality overall and the creation of a plethora of web pages that aimed to cater to robots and not so much for humans.
Fortunately, times have changed and the algorithms have managed to evolve. Now, content creators need to focus way more on quality, cut out the keyword-dense robot-focused gibberish, and aim to create readable content that holds value to (human) readers.
At first glance, traditional systems like WordPress and Drupal made it convenient and easy for marketers to optimize their efforts and content, using multiple add-ons and different plugins. However, as technological advancements continued, and the more emphasis on cross-platform experiences grew, along with techs like Voice Search, AI, and others, traditional systems started to show their limits and their inherent flaws.
As home voice assistants like Alexa, Google Home, and Siri emerged, along with various smart wearables and VR devices, the way the everyday user interacts with the digital world has changed and there’s a more pronounced need for new solutions that can no longer rely on a traditional CMS to push content to the myriad of different devices most of us use today.
Even then, interestingly enough, the basic SEO principles more or less managed to carry over to these new devices, even if we don’t really use them to look for search results anymore, at least, in the traditional sense. For example, the structure of a web page selling lawn mowers can have its pages qualified for Alexa or Siri answers. The same goes for news apps for wearables with a Headless CMS.
All these extraordinary changes have made the Headless CMS an increasingly important website platform when it comes to SEO as it more or less forecasts where the digital world is headed and how marketers should approach SEO to keep their rankings intact.
The Best Technical SEO Practices for Headless CMS Systems
When it comes to all things digital marketing, SEO will usually be seen as the “bad boy” as it’s viewed as something that’s “way too complicated”, “time-consuming”, and something that “requires constant work” as Google will usually spice up the algorithms.
Without a doubt, SEO isn’t the easiest digital strategy, but it’s something that’s a pretty necessary, and useful digital investment even if it won’t give immediate results as other marketing approaches would.
Even then, smart SEO investments are the strongest foundation of a great online presence, and even before you start creating content, you must focus on the basic technical factors for SEO:
- Website performance
- Great content creators
- Understandable page structure and ease-of-crawlability
All in all, going with a Headless solution won’t change these basic SEO priorities, although getting them right might even be a bit simpler.
There are several benefits that come from migrating a traditional CMS to a headless system, especially from the perspective of page performance, user experience, security, and delivering content to several platforms.
The only “problem” is that Headless solutions usually won’t give site owners the simplicity of simply installing add-ons and plugins to manage most of the SEO-related factors and tasks. As such, you will need to follow a few strategies to get the optimization off the ground.
As such, here are some key points that we will discuss in a minute:
- Using meta tags that are concise and correct
- Performing page audits regularly
- Focusing on website performance
- Using SSL
- Using CDN
- Going that extra mile to optimize media files and assets
- Considering using SSG
- Using structured data markup schema
The Benefits of Headless CMS for SEO and Managing/Distributing Content
All in all, a Headless CMS disconnects the front-end head from the content repository as a back-end body. A system like this has no traditional “front-end” out of the box, which means that the website owner has total control (and freedom) over how, when, where, and why the content is dictated across platforms without limitations that are often associated with plugins, templates, themes, and tech frameworks.
Essentially, a headless system will enable content creators to create and deliver content to any device in any given format. They can create anything for VR devices, to everything smart (watches, car systems, heck, even fridges).
Also, these features ensure that headless systems can integrate and easily connect with every MarTech stack, enabling easy automation CDP, analytics, CRM, A/B testing, performance marketing, and personalization.
Headless systems will also save time because only the content needs to be created and can be deployed and customized across all platforms natively. without the front-end and the limiting features of traditional CMS systems and performance, That being said, a Headless CMS can improve performance metrics for SEO in every aspect.
Best Practices for SEO with Headless Systems
So, after all this tech talk here’s what you’ve been waiting for.
Focus on Important Factors such as Load Speed and Site Performance
To improve things in the performance and loading speed department, there are a few necessary precautions to take with Headless systems to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Those components that don’t read properly will be assumed empty by crawlers.
To manage your metadata efficiently, (let’s say, of a Reach web app), you need a component like React router that will make the URL structure more crawler-friendly as it will create paths between different pages.
Using Schema.org structured data markup Schema to Improve Crawlability
Visit Schema.org, as it offers developers cool sets of predefined properties that can potentially enrich and maximize HTML tag potential. For starters, the on-page markup adds more structure to the content and makes sure that search engines will understand it better. With this method, your Headless CMS will rank better in the search results.
Helping search engines understand the meaning of the content and structuring the page also improves indexing.
SEO Knowledge Graph
Depending on your specific case, structured data might be useful to Google’s Knowledge Graph to give your readers better results, more relevant upfront info, and more relevant links.
Common info that’s part of the Knowledge Graph includes such common factors as reviews, contact info, directions, operating hours, source links, and so on.
The info in the Knowledge Graph is often used to answer direct spoken questions in Google Home Smart Devices.
Opt for CDN
Deciding to use a CDN allows for faster media delivery on most websites. It’s definitely faster than opting for single or multiple server solutions as it uses global content distribution on servers.
A CDN allows faster and better content delivery, improves loading times on servers, improves latency, and makes your content more available without damaging security and overall user experience.
You don’t have to be an SEO whizz to know that one of the most important things when it comes to optimizing pages is satisfying basic content needs. No matter how you will take a shot at your SEO campaign, you will pretty much have to know the search terms your target audience is using when browsing for products and services.
That’s why it’s imperative to use resources like Google Search Console and Google Keyword Planner (and a wide range of different tools), as they can help you identify the necessary short-tail and long-tail keywords to get started.
Building your content around the most essential keywords can drastically reduce bounce rates and improve reader relevance.
Upgrading to HTTPS is a simple way of satisfying your audience’s growing concerns regarding security. Also, as Google marks every HTTP website insecure, you need that added layer of safety and encryption to improve not just to improve security, but to adhere to the latest SEO trends as well.
On the other hand, HTTPS sites load faster and page speed has also become a pivotal factor in ranking. So, it’s pretty much a win-win situation.
Use SERP-friendly URLs
To improve your SEO with Headless systems, you need to ensure that your pages all follow a clear and readable URL structure.
A fine example of that would be example.com/about-this-page.
These clear URLs are designed to match the majority of things people look for on the internet. It improves relevance and transparency, meaning your users will always know what they should expect from visiting your pages the instant they look at your URL. Also, don’t forget that good URLs should be shorter and keyword-rich.
Regularly Perform Website Audits
Use popular tools such as Lighthouse if you want to audit your pages. Tools like this will run a few simple tests on each page and will generate reports with general scores and with a few recommendations on how to improve the areas which underperformed/need some tweaking.
These tools will thoroughly examine several categories. They will assess things like performance, accessibility, and so on.
In recent years, the rising popularity of static site generators (think Hugo and Gatsby) also made compelling arguments for going fully Headless for new projects. For instance, Gatsby’s starter usually receives high scores when compared to basic traditional CMS themes, giving new projects a clear edge in terms of optimization and performance.
Optimizing Metadata for Search Engines
When we’re talking about page content, meta tags are among the most essential descriptors. Even though users won’t be able to see them, search engines do. They help them determine what the content’s actually about.
As such, here are the four key meta tags that you need to focus on:
- Title Tag (70 characters max)
- Meta Description – a short content description (no longer than 160 characters)
- Meta Keywords – relevant keywords for the page (5-10)
- Meta Robots – What search engines should do with the page
Because most developers will design the entire content architecture freely with Headless systems, the metatags should be implemented as String fields to all relevant content models.
Metadata could be then added by the authors freely and comfortably.
Optimizing Images and Media for SEO
Optimizing the size of your images and adding alt text to them is also a crucial factor with Headless systems as well. Also, most experts will tell you that Lazy Loading images and videos can also do wonders for keeping your speed metrics higher.
Always focus on what’s the most important: always make sure that the most important content loads first, and after that, the rest of the content can get fetched. This way, even larger pages will load pretty fast.
Also, using the popular “blur-up ”technique or a solid background color to enable a preview of the loading image can help you a great deal.
Make sure to use WebP or SVG formatted images when possible. These are vectorized to enable fast loading while remaining the best possible quality.
Always Create Content for Humans First, Robots Second
As mentioned above, long gone are the days of keyword-dense gibberish that make no sense for the average reader. Nowadays, creating high-quality, value content should be your main focus. Create content that’s fun, relevant, and informative. Content like that will improve UX, reduce bounce rates, and increase the overall time your audience spends on your pages.
Aiming for a conversational and friendly tone is your best option, one that matches your brand’s image and blends in well with its overall online presence.
And even though humans should be your main concern, don’t forget to describe your content by focusing on your keywords early on, and also, include focus keywords in key structures like the URL.
Make sure that at least one of your target keywords is in clearly defined tags like H1 or H2. Together with including a keyword in the URL, you let search engines know what the content is about and enable them to determine its relevance for searching users.
Aim for Regular Content Delivery/Publishing
Even if creating high-quality content is time-consuming, you will still need to keep pumping it out regularly.
This is because SERPs usually prefer larger, more content-heavy websites which will usually indicate a more established and mature brand.
This also has to do with UX. User experience usually isn’t that exceptional when you’re looking for info and only find a website with a few pages.
Put some time and effort into making your website larger. It will take time, but it will get you into the habit of publishing high-quality content regularly.
Use Internal Linking and Canonical URLs
SERPs tend not to favor sites with too much duplicate content, even in cases that pretty much call for it (like in the cases of eCommerce sites that have multiple versions of the exact same product).
However, it’s less about the main content body but has more to do with the tag and HTML duplications.
To avoid this problem, implement canonical URLs with minor differences that will signal search engines that the content that’s duplicated is doubled for a reason.
Also, internal linking helps improve the authority of your pages and helps search engines understand what content is relevant to the other. Strong internal linking with pro content only further enriches site extensions allowing readers to get even more immersed in your content.
Mobile and Voice are a Must
As more than half of all searches are taking place on mobile devices, there’s no other way than optimizing your website for all traffic from all device types.
In the case of Headless systems, stay away from using Flash to improve mobile experiences, and use HTML5 instead.
Furthermore, don’t block JS, CSS, or images. Now, pretty much all mobile devices have the juice to support all these elements, and trust us, Google wants to see all of these elements on your website to see whether your design is responsive or not.
As a matter of fact, Google is getting more and more aggressive when it comes to the “mobile-first” approach which heavily favors mobile-friendly sites ranking and indexing them higher.
Apart from all this, voice searches are becoming more and more widespread. With these trends emerging, voice optimization has also become pretty much “default”.
The topic of Headless systems and Voice Search should pretty much be a standalone topic, there are a few factors that can help you with improving your voice search results:
- Focus on using structured data
- Be mobile-friendly
- Contribute to the Knowledge Graph
- Create content that answers questions rather than discussing topics
Just ask any expert and they will say that SEO isn’t particularly that difficult when you do it right and regularly. Focusing on creating an optimal atmosphere by laying down the right technical foundation first, before the content/marketing team starts to create content will give you a head start in the rankings.
Approaching SEO and content marketing this (the right) way, you will save tons of time and won’t have to meddle with smaller and larger fixes on the fly later on when you will be preoccupied with regular content creation, publishing, and distribution
As such, putting the right technical parameters in place and using the right tools enable the content team to focus on only what they need to.
Lastly, by implementing these best practices outlined above, and by regularly engaging with your content team to see to learn about the latest shifts in the world of SEO and ranking factors (and with continuous auditing), you will be able to run a website that’s always optimized both for search engines and most importantly, your audience.