The Contentful SEO guide
Headless & SEO
Joshua Lohr, Rob Remington, Nick Switzer, Allan White
Updated: December 6, 2023
The Contentful SEO guide
Is a headless content management system (CMS) SEO-friendly? What are the tradeoffs? What should we be aware of?
You’ve likely encountered questions like these about headless and SEO before, or even asked them yourself. If SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a site in organic search results to increase qualified traffic, you need your technology to be able to meet increasing demands — to adapt and scale beyond chasing those 10, first-page unpaid links, and compete in a space dominated by knowledge panels, maps and localized results, rich media results, and ever-expanding paid results.
What is a headless CMS?
Let’s pause for a moment to define what a headless CMS is. Headless content management systems separate a backend content repository, the “body,” from the presentation layer, the “head.” This allows you to manage content in one place and deploy that content across any digital channel you choose, whether that be websites, mobile apps, digital signage, kiosks… you name it.
Myths of headless SEO
The most common myth is that this separation of the backend and frontend makes headless SEO more difficult than with monolithic systems. The reality is that this decoupling frees your content and empowers your digital teams. Monolithic CMSes, also known as traditional or legacy CMSes, make a lot of decisions for you, and at first this may feel comforting. As you scale, however, the constraints introduced by your CMS become ever tighter. With headless, your content creators can not only build the experiences they require, but also reuse their content across any digital experience. Your developers iterate quicker using the power of application programming interfaces (APIs) to build those experiences using best-of-need technologies.
Benefits of headless SEO
Here are a some examples of how a headless CMS benefits you from an SEO perspective:
1. Headless is everywhere
One of the greatest benefits of using a headless CMS for SEO is the ability to centrally manage content, particularly content that is used across multiple channels. With a headless CMS, you can update a piece of content in one place and deploy that update everywhere that the content is published. If you’ve ever found yourself having to manage the same piece of content across multiple pages or experiences, you will understand the pain this solves. You’ll never have to worry about discrepancies between content published on your mobile app vs. your website, or anywhere else for that matter.
2. Headless is flexible
Moving pages into any desired URL structure is simpler with headless, something monolithic CMSes often have significant challenges with, leading to a thorn in the side of many SEO practitioners. Want to change a URL structure to be more SEO-friendly, include keywords in the URL slugs, or just need to move a page in your monolithic CMS, only to decide it isn’t worth the hassle? Learn how Contentful makes this easier in this guide on managing redirects in a headless CMS.
3. Headless is scalable
Imagine you need to create tens or hundreds of new pages, all using a similar structure and content, while also allowing you to customize each page with unique elements to ensure you’re avoiding duplicate content. An example might be where you have dozens of brick-and-mortar locations and you need landing pages for each location in order to capture localized searches. By using a structured content model in a platform like Contentful, you’re able to predictably target the necessary components, whether they are shared across all content types or only specific ones, and speed up your time to delivery.
Additionally, our AI Content Generator can help accelerate your go-to-market time serving as a helping hand to create content elements, generate your SEO metadata, or even localize that content in about 100 languages. Learn more about our AI content generation abilities.
4. Headless is fast
Headless means your dev team can select the frontend frameworks that best serve your business goals and make decisions that provide the optimal user experience, rather than fighting the bloated templating engines that plague monolithic systems. Core Web Vitals measure user experience metrics based on factors rooted in performance which help influence your site’s page ranking. Contentful’s lightning-fast response times, dynamic image optimization, and global caching capabilities out-of-the-box mean Core Web Vitals won’t be keeping you up at night.
What about SEO plugins?
While Contentful doesn't use plugins, Contentful Apps are like plugins — but far more powerful — extending and expanding the capabilities of the Contentful web app. Beyond our AI Content Generator highlighted above, there are dozens of apps in our Marketplace that can help level up and streamline your SEO efforts. Here are a few favorites:
The Surfer SEO app is one of the most exciting. It allows you simultaneously to optimize your content while writing through real-time optimization feedback by providing keyword usage suggestions, outline and heading recommendations, and image and word count thresholds –– all through competitive search result analysis.
While you can use the Writer App to provide AI-powered writing recommendations –– such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation suggestions –– you can also use the Writer AI Content Detector to help evaluate how well your content reads like a human wrote it.
The Google Analytics 4 app allows you to see your content’s performance metrics directly in the sidebar of your Contentful entries. There’s even the ability to link directly to GA4 reports to dive deeper into a page’s performance.
Let’s take a look at content modeling next, since it will be your foundation for SEO success.
Head of SEO
Joshua is the SEO Lead at Contentful. With over 13 years of experience working directly in SEO for global brands and agencies, he gets his kicks playing drums in a grunge punk band and appreciating the nature of his adopted home in Scotland.
Rob Remington is a Practice Architect at Contentful, where he collaborates across all areas of the company to ensure our technical teams have the resources they need to help our customers succeed.
Senior Solution Engineer
Nick is a technical people-person who lives for solving business problems with technology. He is a solution engineer at Contentful with 14 years of experience in the CMS space and a background in enterprise web development.
Senior Solution Engineer
Allan White is a Senior Enterprise Solutions Engineer at Contentful. A former Contentful customer, he has 25 years of experience in design, video, UX and web development. You can catch him on Twitter or in the Contentful Slack Community.