Headless CMS SEO – How is it different?

Illustration of a person looking at how headless SEO works
July 22, 2021


You might have recently realized that your legacy content management system can no longer fulfill the evolving digital needs of your fast-growing team or enterprise. After investigating other options, you’ve probably learned that a headless CMS or a composable content platform like Contentful is more efficient, flexible and scalable. But, what about search engine optimization?

If organic search is one of your organizations’ main marketing channels, you’ll want to make sure you can maintain control over SEO elements including title tag and meta descriptions. And without a plugin like Yoast SEO, you might fear that you’ll have less control of critical elements.

While it’s true that there are no out-of-the-box plugins for headless CMS SEO, implementing SEO in a composable content platform comes with many advantages that you can’t get with a legacy CMS. This article will help put your mind at ease about headless CMS SEO, and give you an idea of how to set your site up for SEO success with Contentful.

Switching to a headless content management system

There are many reasons for digital-first brands to migrate to a headless CMS. Let’s just name a few before we move on to SEO.

  • Content can be deployed across any number of digital channels, devices and layouts.

  • New channels or digital products can be added and pull in existing content via APIs.

  • Content updates can be made in one place and are instantly present on all channels.

In short: Having a single headless content hub eliminates time-consuming and error-prone copy and paste work, making editing much easier.

Headless CMS SEO starts with content modeling

Content modeling is the foundation of structuring content in a headless CMS. In short, a content model gives structure and organization to your content. This allows content to be created, managed, and deployed to multiple marketing channels, including your website. 

With content modeling, organizing content is not focused on pages, but content types. These content types are made up of fields. Based on the type of digital channel, content types are used as modules, which can be assembled in many different ways. This includes web pages. 

Web pages are unique in that you will need to define content types and fields for SEO, in addition to the content on the page itself. Once these fields are set up, they will serve the same function as the fields from plugins like Yoast for WordPress.

The graphic below illustrates how your content models create predictable processes for SEO best practices. 

Graphic of a Headless CMS SEO content model

Clearly define your SEO requirements

Before creating content types and fields for your headless CMS, you should clearly outline and define all SEO requirements to make it easy for your developers to implement them.

As always, content creators and SEOs should be able to manually submit and modify:

  • URL slug

  • Meta title tag

  • Meta description

  • Canonical tag

  • Meta robots tag

Additional content types and fields that are helpful for SEO can also be created, including:

  • Schema structured data (JSON-LD)

  • Verification for Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, etc.

  • Open Graph

  • Twitter Card

Setting up SEO fields in Contentful

You may be wondering, what does this actually look like in Contentful? The answer really depends on your needs and how flexible you want your content model to be. 

For example, you could create a single content type that contains all of your SEO fields, create individual content types for each field, or use a combination of these two approaches. Here’s an example of the SEO fields that usually get optimized for primary keyword phrases:

Screenshot of SEO fields in Contentful

Once created, these fields will appear like this in your content editor:

Screenshot of SEO fields in Contentful

Let’s take a closer look at the title tag field. As you can see in the image above, you can set this as a required field, and even assign a minimum and maximum number of characters.

These guardrails help prevent missing SEO elements or excessive character counts with endless customization capabilities. When you set up your SEO fields, you can set them to be validated according to your specifications.

Screenshot of Setting guardrails in Contentful SEO fields

Another advantage of using a headless CMS for SEO is that you can require every title tag, meta description and H1 to be unique.

Any SEO expert will attest that the most common issues uncovered during site audits — duplicate title tags, missing meta descriptions and excessive character counts — can be the most time consuming to fix. The ability to customize your fields and parameters provides a level of flexibility and customization that is unlikely to be matched with an out-of-the-box template.

More technical SEO fields, like the canonical tag and the meta robots tag, can be set up in a similar manner. Please note that for flexibility with the meta robots tag, you can set up two fields, one for index/noindex and one for follow/nofollow. Let’s look at the index/noindex field first:

Screenshot of meta robots index in Contentful

When setting up the field, you can create custom labels that are more descriptive than a simple Yes or No:

Screenshot of condition custom labels in Contentful

For the follow/nofollow part of the meta robots tag, you’ll set up a second Boolean field:

Screenshot of SEO crawler follow boolean setting in Contentful

The Yes/No question can then be customized as well:

Screenshot of SEO condition links setting robots can follow in Contentful

Setting up two fields will give users the option to choose any combination of index/noindex and follow/nofollow.

You can get a step-by-step walkthrough to set up your SEO fields in Contentful in our Global Marketing and Localization demo. Hop to chapter six, “SEO and custom apps” for a brief tutorial. 

You can get started with Contentful today

Now that you have a better idea of how to set your website up for SEO success in a composable content platform, Contentful makes it easy to get started for free. Once you’ve set up your Contentful account, you can also import most of the fields at once from ContentModel.io.

If you’re looking for more resources to help you get started with Contentful, you can explore our Learning Center. And if you simply want to focus on web pages for now (instead of an omnichannel approach), take a look at Compose and Launch, two features in our Studio app, designed to help teams easily create and manage web pages (including SEO fields) in Contentful.  

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