Modeling SEO, Menu, and URLs in a Headless CMS

By Boris Pocatko

Traditional CMSs help guide you when setting up search engine optimization (SEO), such as metadata, sitemaps, and URLs on your website, but often they also limit you on how to use these tools. You’ll hear that it’s difficult to achieve great SEO with a headless CMS because these tools are missing. Is that true?

Headless is bad for SEO

There is this misconception—if a CMS doesn’t include SEO tools, it will automatically be a bad fit for an SEO-minded business. And, on the contrary, a CMS with built-in SEO tools can help kick-start good SEO practices. The often omitted downside is that to rely on these tools heavily is counterproductive. These tools are not being used as a baseline, but they are often the only thing set up to help with SEO. Your SEO setup, as anything around your content, should evolve. A set-in-stone metadata setup will not. 

Make metadata a first-class citizen

Why the jump to metadata? SEO, at its core, is a set of metadata describing, enhancing, and supporting your content. If you want to have great SEO, you need to have great metadata. To achieve great metadata and thus SEO, you need to treat it with the same importance as your actual content. Delegating this task to a set of out-of-the-box features and tools won’t do your content justice. Ideally, content metadata should be incorporated into the content production workflow, including taxonomy checks, audits, and thumbs up from SEO experts, just as you would incorporate proofreading, market alignment, and legal into your content creation process.  

Treating metadata with the same importance as content has its downsides, such as it may take longer to publish a given piece of content, but there might be fast-track workflows for less important content and other workarounds. However, the biggest advantage is the extensibility of an SEO setup built to match your needs. If you’d like to explore a more agency-centric view, check out why a headless CMS is good for SEO written by a web agency. 

To not get too much ahead of ourselves, how to achieve parity with a traditional CMS before leveling up the SEO capabilities beyond that?

Feature parity: Pre-defined SEO elements

A typical SEO-friendly CMS will boast reusable elements that can be applied to any number of content types. These usually represent SEO keywords, description, and title. These often allow you to enter any text and sometimes come with inheritance or translation support. A headless CMS can assist you in accomplishing this, as most of the industry-leading vendors support the concept of content type snippets, which are repeatable elements that can be reused in other content types. These are ideal for achieving a reusable SEO structure to get started with SEO in a headless CMS

Using content type snippets to force uniformity in SEO metadata handling.
Using content type snippets to force uniformity in SEO metadata handling.

Feature parity: Menu management

Mega-menus and other navigation functionality are also high on the SEO checklist of CMS shoppers. The truth is it’s never only a configure-and-forget setup, and every menu is, in the end, a custom build. A simple menu in a headless system can be modeled by creating a content type with a couple of elements representing the menu item title, URL, and a linked element, where you can link its sub-items. This simple setup covers many of the most common scenarios for managing navigation menus in a headless CMS

A simple a navigation item in a headless CMS.
A simple a navigation item in a headless CMS.

Feature parity: Vanity URLs

SEO-friendly URLs are a must. Every URL in your app or web should be readable and descriptive. In essence, a descriptive URL is a code-friendly variant of the content item title element. The URL can be a top-level one or nested under categories. Either way, both are achievable with a headless CMS. Most vendors in this market have the concept of an SEO-friendly URL-slug element with an auto-generated value based on another element, such as the content item title. If the URL is nested under some categories, these can be indicated by the content item linking, its navigation location, or categorization.    

Leveling up your SEO 

Recreating standard SEO functionality is one thing, but how about taking your SEO further? Improving your SEO beyond the standard set of techniques is necessary if a business wants to stand out. Google and other search engines refine their ranking regularly. How prepared is your SEO setup to cater to featured snippets, voice search, core web vitals, or simply having good-quality original content? A tailored and expandable SEO setup will allow you to level up beyond the standard set of SEO techniques very quickly.

Are you curious how we at Kontent manage SEO in our headless CMS? Check out this great article: Kontent Loves: SEO.

There’s even more to explore within this series:

Featured snippets

Featured snippets are a Google feature that includes text from your website in the search results for additional context if your content answers the user’s query the best way. Structuring and chunking your content will allow you to target these queries more accurately than your competitors. Creating reusable content items (chunks) used in any related content will reinforce your messaging across your online presence. Giving those chunks the same structure and configuration options, such as “allow as a snippet,” gives your SEO experts the control over excluding or including certain items from and into these snippets. 

Voice search

Is your content ready for voice search? Voice search is, in essence, a more conversational approach to querying for answers. It often includes the five Ws, such as “Where’s the closest cafe?” instead of a web search where users usually look for “closest cafe.” Some would argue that FAQs are an indicator of poorly discoverable content, and there is some merit to it. However, why not have both—make the content easily discoverable and target the “five Ws” questions? Having a FAQ section on your website isn’t as helpful as having these questions logically linked to the topic they are about. The beauty of highly structured content is that there is no limit when it comes to its reuse potential, so there can also be a dedicated FAQ section. Still, it would be much more beneficial to have the question and relevant content items bi-directionally linked. Creating a relevant “five Ws” question can be part of any content creation or SEO workflow. 

SEO depends on consistency

A big part of SEO that is frequently left out is content stability and consistency. Reusing content chunks to promote content consistency and stability is more common than it used to be, but how about promoting the same consistency and stability in metadata by reusing SEO keywords or parts of the metadata description? The great thing about a headless setup is that you can model your SEO metadata elements the same way as any element containing content. So why not allow the reuse of tags, keywords, or content chunks in metadata fields? 

Summary

All the above approaches are, in the end, creating semantic relationships in your content. Standard out-of-the-box SEO tools can bring you only the standard outcomes. Why not attempt more? Giving more thought when adding metadata and creating semantic relationships throughout your content gives you more flexibility, more content insights and helps you create more useful content for your audience. That’s what matters the most.

Key Points

Points to remember:

  • Although built-in SEO tools speed up SEO functionality development, they have limited expandability.
  • Standard SEO functionality can be achieved by standard headless CMS tools, such as content type snippets, URL slugs, and taxonomies.
  • Semantic relationships and a well-thought-out metadata strategy bring the biggest SEO and end-user value.

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