Headless CMS and SEO

This blog will explore the link between Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Content Management Systems (CMS), specifically focusing on how a Headless CMS can lead to impressive SEO results.

Alan Gleeson - CMO Contento

Alan Gleeson

Co-Founder / CEO

March 21, 2023

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5min read

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Introduction to Headless CMS

The curiously named category of Headless CMS is a relatively new category of Content Management Systems (CMS) that has emerged in recent years as an increasingly popular CMS. Its popularity has been primarily amongst B2B/ commercial users ranging from eCommerce sites to International brands to growing/ scaling B2B SaaS companies. The names of those brands who have moved across to Headless reads like a “Who's Who” of major brands and includes everyone from adidas to Nike to Netflix, through to B2B SaaS companies like Intercom, Stripe, and Teamwork.

Mass Exodus: So Why Are They Moving?

The benefits of a Headless CMS are particularly appealing to those looking to migrate to a highly performant platform and away from some of the issues associated with more traditional legacy platforms like WordPress. 

Issues with WordPress are well documented, and include security vulnerabilities from plugins, through to performance issues due to website bloat (amongst other factors), and maintenance overhead (over the years as the site matures and scales).

Other traditional CMS (also known as Monolithic CMSs) be they Squarespace, Wix, or Webflow can also be problematic for those looking to scale their businesses. 

What works well in the early years becomes a problem a few years down the line. 

There is thus a mix of push and pull factors informing website migration decisions, be they problems with existing CMSs or the appeal of a modern Headless approach that helps address many of the legacy issues typical with traditional CMSs.

Understanding Headless CMS and Traditional CMS: Key Differences

When it comes to Content Management Systems for powering websites there are some fundamental differences to be aware of.

Unlike Traditional CMSs which are designed to manage both content and the front-end, a Headless CMS focuses exclusively on ‘content management’. After creating and editing the content, it is published via an Application Programming Interface (API) without any involvement or impact on the front-end. The Headless CMS does not have any control or input on the front-end, unlike Traditional CMSs which aim to provide a unified solution for both content and front-end management.

What Does All This Mean In Practice?

It means that the initial website build for a Headless CMS website is not determined in the CMS by tweaking an existing template. A front-end designer will need to create and implement a design. Herein lies the crux, for those more resource-constrained clients a template-based approach will suffice, but for those who prioritize the user experience, security, and performance, the lack of a template won’t be an issue. They will be looking to engage a designer to create a beautifully designed site that is also optimized for conversions using the best tools and technologies they can find.

Hence when it comes to CMS selection the old adage applies - it is very much a ‘horses for courses decision. In short, your exact requirements should determine the CMS selection, and these evolve as your website (and company matures). Thus when it comes to Headless CMSs, they are rarely used to power a companies first website but do represent a natural upgrade path for those on a growth-oriented journey.

The Key Benefits of a Headless CMS

So what are some of the Key Benefits of a Headless CMS?

1- Unparalleled Speed

The Jamstack Headless CMS approach to web development, which combines Static Site Generators (SSGs) and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), results in exceptionally fast page loading times without the need for any supplementary optimization of the frontend code. A Headless CMS is a vital component of this approach, allowing for unparalleled website performance. 

2- Impressive Security Credentials

Headless CMSs are known for their exceptionally high level of security. With a decoupled architecture, a Headless CMS can offer better protection against a variety of attacks. Many Headless CMS platforms provide access controls and single-sign-on features that reduce the number of login credentials required and make monitoring CMS access more straightforward.

Compared to traditional CMS setups, Headless CMS can minimize the impact of DDoS attacks because the client-side performs content rendering in the browser. In traditional setups, login forms and other entry points may directly point to the server, necessitating constant attention to security measures to prevent unauthorized access. In contrast, with a Headless CMS, the provider assumes the responsibility for security, ensuring that the statically generated front-end remains safe from attack.

3- Perfect for Scaling

One of the key benefits of Headless CMSs is their highly scalable architecture, which allows organizations to handle increased traffic and content without incurring additional costs. By utilizing cost-effective hosting and licensing options, Headless CMSs can provide a more cost-effective solution than traditional CMSs.

4- Built Especially for Marketing Teams

Many Headless CMS solutions are primarily designed to cater to the needs of technology leaders, but Contento takes a different approach. Contento has created a Headless CMS solution that is not only user-friendly for the tech team but also enjoyable for the marketing team, who will be spending a significant amount of time in the application after deployment.

5- Supports Omnichannel Strategies

Due to the proliferation of new technologies and the widespread use of smart devices, businesses are increasingly focusing on delivering seamless and consistent experiences across multiple devices and touchpoints. Brands that rely on traditional content management systems often struggle to provide responsive content that can adapt to different digital platforms. In contrast, with a Headless CMS, businesses can produce content once and publish it instantly across various channels, providing a highly efficient and effective solution.

Traditional CMS and SEO

When it comes to SEO and Traditional CMS it is apparent that in many instances SEO is primarily an ‘afterthought’ and is thus not a crucial concern.  

Looking at some examples:

With Squarespace, there is a rudimentary SEO setting (as of March 2023) within the Page Setting tab which consists of three elements:

  • SEO Title (Optional), 

  • SEO Description (Optional), 

  • and a toggle related to “Hide Page from Search Results”. 

This is a pretty basic SEO deployment.

When it comes to WordPress, the world’s most popular CMS, the plugin Yoast is the leading WordPress SEO plugin. 

As numerous commentators have pointed out, site speed is a key ranking factor and WordPress sites often fare poorly on Lighthouse speed tests serving to undermine the efforts of a dedicated SEO plugin.

Of course, your SEO success or otherwise is contingent on a whole host of factors, some within your control, and some not. A lack of in-house SEO ‘know-how’ is often a primary cause of issues as in many cases junior content creators simply don’t know the basics. 

However, if you can marry ‘best of breed’ SEO know-how and execution with a blazingly quick CMS you are going some way towards giving yourself a shot at the much-coveted page 1 ranking on Google for a chosen keyword.

How Headless CMS Improves SEO?

While we don’t know the exact criteria that impact SEO we do know some of the factors that are typically at play. 

These consist of a mix of technical SEO elements (often on-site elements) as well as off-site elements. Off-site elements are largely related to securing backlinks (preferably from high Domain Authority sites) based on a key premise that the more ‘good’ 3rd party sites that link to your content the higher the perceived value of the content. 

On-site elements typically include:

  • page loading speed, 

  • internal linking, 

  • keyword use in meta titles and meta descriptions, 

  • URL / slug configuration (incl canonical URL’s)

  • structured data markup, and 

  • how a site renders on a mobile as well as many other factors.

With Headless CMSs and SEO, several underlying factors play to the strength of the Headless CMS category:

  1. Site Performance (Site Speed)

  2. Mobile Experience (Responsive design)

  3. Structured Content Emphasis (a structured content-based approach helps with SEO)

When it comes to other on-site elements it is fair to say that some Headless CMSs fall short. However, Contento, the Headless CMS we describe further below, has been built with SEO in mind, and thus includes the technical SEO elements baked in so that those working on content can ensure they are taking care of the SEO elements within the platform. 

It is also worth pointing out that site speed is not just about SEO, there is a direct correlation between site speed and conversion rates. Targeting a 1 second page loading time makes a commercial difference also in terms of increased conversions.

The Importance of Structured Content in a Headless CMS for SEO

According to Carrie Haine, a Digital Strategist and Founder, Tanzen 

Structured content is content that is planned, developed, and connected outside of an interface — so that it's ready for any interface. It means breaking down content into the smallest reasonable pieces — with each of those pieces holding the characteristics of the thing it represents.

Although there are numerous advantages to adopting a structured content approach, we'll focus on its primary SEO benefit: it enables search engines to better comprehend the content's subject matter. Structured content achieves this by explicitly and visibly linking the searcher's query to your content.

Structured content is a technology-agnostic way of organizing and tagging content in consistent, predictable ways. Think of it as a way of enabling people and systems to take advantage of patterns across a body of content, making it easier to find, mix and match, and redeploy content components at a moment’s notice to any device, channel, or format.

— Source: Getting Started With Structured Content

Most Headless CMSs including Contento, are set up to leverage a structured content approach, with the use of fields, blocks, and ‘reusable components’

From an SEO perspective, it helps search engines like Google better understand what your content is about, increasing your chances of that content being ranked more highly in search results, and of it being shown to the right users.

In short, the structured content approach common in most Headless CMSs aligns well with the requirements of Google’s search engine as it tries to understand what the content is about so it can serve it based on relevance.

How Headless CMS Affects Page Speed and SEO?

Site speed has been a known ranking factor for over 10 years since the 2010 Google announcement:

You may have heard that here at Google we're obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we're including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests. We encourage you to start looking at your site's speed (the tools above provide a great starting point)—not only to improve your ranking in search engines, but also to improve everyone's experience on the Internet.

— Source: Google Search Central Blog (2010)

As Matt Southern went on to argue in the Search Engine Journal in 2022 

Google is said to prioritize speed when it comes to ranking search results, giving fast sites an advantage over sites that take longer to load.

While relevance will always be the key driver for Google, the user experience will likely remain a key ranking factor as illustrated by their ongoing focus on speed be that through Lighthouse (Google) or PageSpeed Insights. 

In short, the evidence indicates that Google rewards fast sites, and as a ranking factor for SEO it is one to focus on. Of course site speed is not really about SEO, it is also tightly correlated with conversion optimization. The faster the site the higher the conversion rate all things considered. 

Key Considerations for Choosing a Headless CMS for SEO

When evaluating a new Headless CMS it is worth assessing the SEO capability especially if the site you are migrating has significant numbers of pages, and has decent organic ranking. 

Some Headless CMSs put more of a focus on SEO than others so it is worth asking the question on a Demo so you can assess how sophisticated the SEO module or feature is. All vendors will likely claim their SEO module is strong, but from our experience, that is not always the case. Ideally, you’ll want your marketing colleagues to be able to:

  • Edit / customise URL’s (slugs)

  • Set Meta Titles and Descriptions (with validation rules flagging breaches of wordcount and the like)

  • Optimise images including Alt Tags

  • Set pages as “No index no follow” where appropriate (e.g. on pages where gated assets are housed)

  • Manage canonical URL’s so you can signpost which content is the best representative page

  • Easily identify internal linking opportunities for the target keyword

Headless CMS and Content Optimization for SEO: Best Practices

When it comes to best practices I recommend that those responsible for content creation have a good understanding of key SEO principles. Ideally, they use a selection from the following tools to help their content creation process:

  • aHrefs

  • Grammarly

  • Surfer

  • SE Ranking

  • SEM Rush


Topic ideation is also important:

  • Is the content they are writing valuable to key target personas?

  • Are they writing content to a clear plan (as captured in an editorial calendar? 

A common issue I see on B2B SaaS websites is that content creation is farmed out to a junior marketing person who lacks the domain knowledge, and experience to craft a compelling piece. 

Finally, once published content needs to be amplified through a range of channels incl social from both personal and business profiles. 

An Introduction to Contento - Headless CMS

Contento is a Headless CMS with some distinctive characteristics. It offers all of the key features you’d come to expect from a leading Headless CMS including:

  • A REST API for super fast and flexible querying

  • A visual editor that allows you to preview your content in real-time

  • A first-class asset manager to manipulate and compress images

  • A  structured content modeling capability to manage content

However, it has a particular focus in mind which helps it to stand out from the crowd.

  • Unlike most of the competition, it is designed with the needs of marketing in mind (the majority of others are very developer-centric)

  • We assume the primary use case is for powering a B2B SaaS or technology website (this assumption allows us to bake in features that support this specific use case).

  • We’ve doubled down on usability so it is genuinely intuitive and even enjoyable for content creators to use

Contento PageSpeed Insights

So when we looked at our site homepage as powered by our own Headless CMS, Contento the highly performant nature of the site was evidenced in some pretty impressive scores:


  • Performance 100

  • Accessibility 98

  • Best Practises 100

  • SEO 92

  • First Contentful Paint 0.6S

  • Largest Contentful Paint 0.7S

As the site is a relatively new site the Domain Authority is low and thus our SEO efforts have yet to pay off in terms of organic traffic. However, as we continue to embark on our SEO journey we do so, confident in the fact our underlying CMS architecture is supporting our efforts.


When it comes to SEO, there are lots of areas that freelancers and agencies focus on, be that ‘on site’ or ‘off site’ activities. A typical engagement starts with an audit, an analysis of keywords, and an editorial calendar. Popular third-party tools like SEM Rush, aHrefs, SE Ranking, Screaming Frog, and Uber Suggest may be referenced as tools to support content generation efforts.

An often overlooked element is the underlying Content Management System (CMS) powering the website. Most SEO specialists will be familiar with WordPress (and Yoast) given the market dominance of the platform. However, running a mature site on WordPress can be a significant factor inhibiting the potential of your SEO efforts. Marrying a Headless CMS, with a clear SEO and content strategy will help ensure you are giving your site every chance of succeeding. 

Finally, it is worth noting that SEO relies on numerous factors from technical elements, to employee know-how, to site speed, to the content and its relevance for those searching for answers. Migrating to a Headless CMS won’t in isolation deliver results.

Alan Gleeson - CMO Contento
Alan Gleeson

Co-Founder / CEO

Alan Gleeson has 15+ years extensive B2B SaaS experience working with several VC backed Startups & Scaleups in the UK, US & Ireland.

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