Is a headless website good for SEO?
In a Hubspot survey in 2021, 61% of marketers surveyed said that improving SEO and growing organic performance was a top priority. While there are quite literally hundreds of things which have an impact on SEO, the technical performance and overall user experience of your website is an increasingly important ranking factor and sub-par performance can leave you struggling to move up the rankings.
A headless website is one in which the backend content management is separate from the frontend user interface – in contrast to a traditional setup where the two are coupled. This way of setting things up offers many advantages that are relevant to SEO – but there are some important considerations too.
How a headless website can benefit SEO
The way that headless websites are structured – with the frontend and backend decoupled – changes how content is delivered which can offer some performance improvements and technical advantages that can be helpful for SEO and organic performance.
Quicker and more efficient loading
When a user requests (loads) a page on a website based on a traditional architecture, the CMS must render the content each time. With a headless website, the content is pulled from the CMS as data via an API layer before the user requests a page, and then passed to the frontend – so when a user visits a page, a static, cached version is served, leading to quicker loading times, with content being loaded more efficiently on the page and decreasing the time between the user making the request and being able to interact with the page. Loading speed and performance is a key ranking factor for search engines like Google – so these improvements can help you to move up the rankings.
Core Web Vitals and headless
Google uses a framework called Core Web Vitals to review various performance metrics for a website around loading speed, efficiency and best practice which are then used as signals for how they rank search results. Essentially, the more fast and efficient your website is at loading, the more likely you are to rank highly on Google (there are many other factors of course, which we’ll get to shortly – but it certainly is a big help).
Looking at this in practice, before working with us on their new website project, Datatonic were running a “traditional” website setup. To create a flexible and scalable foundation for their future plans, we decided collectively to build their new website in a headless environment. This bought with it a host of improvements to their load speeds and performance against CWV metrics.
|NEW HEADLESS SITE
This in turn has led to a 46% increase in average position (ranking) and a 57% increase in organic impressions.
Security issues with your website can have a serious negative impact on your organic performance. If there is a vulnerability in your website that can be exploited, attackers can gain access and exploit it for a variety of reasons. Spammy or spoofed pages on your site can be indexed by Google, or if in the worst-case scenario your whole site is brought down, this could cause Google to de-index you if it can’t crawl your site. With a traditional CMS, your frontend and backend are coupled together, so a vulnerability exploited in one directly impacts the other, increasing the risk of attack. By separating the two, a headless CMS decreases the attack surface. And as headless websites are often delivered using cloud-based technologies, these usually come with enhanced built-in security features too. In this sense, a headless website can improve your security and prevent you from falling foul of Google’s index.
Gone are the days when you can afford to focus your SEO strategy solely on desktop search. Not only are around 60% of all online searches now performed from a mobile device, users are carrying out searches from an increasing range of devices including smart assistants and smart watches. It’s increasingly important that your SEO strategy and by extension your website experience considers a wide variety of devices. Headless CMS can be help in this way as the separation between backend and frontend means that your content can be repurposed across multiple clients and devices from one place. Equally, this can be helpful if you have a multi-language SEO strategy – content can much more easily be reused and repurposed for different regions in a headless environment.
Things to consider
Headless CMS and SEO plugins
In a traditional CMS environment, plugins and add-ons are regularly used as part of an SEO strategy in order to improve optimisation easily without the need for developer involvement. For example, Yoast, a popular SEO WordPress plugin, helps you to update metadata, create rules for how pages and categories are indexed, and generate XML sitemaps without having to do any coding. Plugins and add-on tools are available for some headless CMS platforms, but they may need some extra configuration from a developer to make them work as expected, unlike a traditional CMS where you can usually install and go. WordPress can of course be used as a headless CMS, and if you choose to go this route, you can still use plugins like Yoast to optimise your content, it’ll just need some additional setup.
Headless isn’t a silver bullet
A headless CMS is a great option for a lot of projects, particularly if they are complex or larger scale. But a headless setup isn’t the right option for everyone, and it is possible to make the improvements to security and performance mentioned in this post with a traditional CMS and the right approach to development. Equally, if you opt for a headless website, the performance enhancements alone won’t be enough to make significant improvement to your organic visibility – you still need to apply all of the multiple facets of an SEO strategy such as content, metadata optimisation, linking, etc.
KEY TAKEAWAYS – is a headless website good for SEO?
To sum up, a headless website offers performance, flexibility and stability improvements on a traditional CMS setup that can be beneficial for SEO, but there’s more to consider than your website architecture when it comes to creating a successful SEO strategy.
- Headless websites offer quicker and more efficient load speeds, a key ranking factor for Google
- Headless websites offer improved security – security issues can have a serious impact on your SEO performance
- It’s easier to repurpose content and publish across multiple platforms with a headless CMS – helpful for multi-language and multi-device SEO strategies
- Plugins and add-ons which aid SEO such as Yoast may need additional configuration in a headless environment
- A headless setup isn’t right for every project, and while it can offer some benefits related to SEO, you need a complete, well-rounded strategy to really perform well on search engines
Get more insight into headless websites and the benefits to your business with our guide.
Embarking on a new digital project and exploring headless as an option? Let’s have a chat and figure out together whether it’s the right approach for you, and we can help.