Why Headless CMSs Fail in SEO

Websites can fail to get traction on search engines for any number of reasons. Sometimes the problem boils down to mismanagement or a lack of on-page SEO. If either of these are the case for your site, you can count yourself lucky because these issues are easy to solve, especially with an expert SEO team on your side.

Unfortunately, there are times when the cause is systemic and almost impossible to fix without rebuilding the site from scratch. This is often the case when a business uses a “headless CMS” to manage its content.

What are Headless CMSs?

Without getting too technical, headless CMSs are backend-only content management systems where content is kept in a repository and made accessible through an API that allows the content to be displayed properly for any given device.

Headless CMSs allow content to be easily reused and readapted for any situation. Reusing content is sometimes more challenging in traditional CMSs, as these usually intermingle content and code.

Headless CMS platforms are generally considered to be convenient for web developers, particularly those who are concerned with ensuring that content is easily deployable regardless of site redesigns or the devices used.

Learn more about how these systems work here:

Why Do Some Developers and IT Teams Push for Headless CMSs?

Here in the Philippines, there are widespread claims that these types of CMS are more secure and faster than traditional CMSs. Content management and mobile adaptability are also supposedly easier on these systems.

Are These Claims True?

Let’s examine each of these claims. Please note that these are just observations based on our experience and professional opinions:

Claim #1: Headless CMSs are Faster

Better loading speeds are achievable through any content management system. In our experience, coding and development practices are more important than the technology used by the CMS. Developer skills are also more important than the choice of a headless or legacy platform.

Claim #2: Headless CMSs offer better security

The security of legacy and headless CMSs is pretty much the same when accounting for the scale of usage. However, popular legacy CMSs like WordPress and Drupal have many more users than any headless CMS, which means they are more likely to be attacked.

But if we’re considering security levels, consider the fact that even the White House uses WordPress, a legacy system and the most popular CMS there is. This means that for people who understand security, legacy systems are still seen as viable and secure.

In any case, all CMSs can be penetrated by a sufficiently skilled and motivated hacker. When maintaining security, adhering to best practices is a bigger factor than the specific technology used.

Claim #3: Headless CMSs Offer Better Content Management

If anything, there may be some additional challenges when retrieving content from a typical headless CMS repository. In most cases, however, the differences are negligible for the editors and writers using the CMS. Generally, the claim that headless CMSs are somehow better at the core function of content management is either largely unsubstantiated or a matter of personal taste.

Claim #4: Headless CMSs are More Adaptable Across Different Platforms

This is mostly false. All popular legacy CMSs can also be mobile adaptive or responsive. In our experience, with thousands of different websites, adaptiveness or responsiveness has never been an issue when using legacy platforms.

In most cases, all you’ll need to make a legacy system work on multiple platforms is one of the hundreds of freely available plugins. In the remainder of cases, a competent developer should be able to do the job.

Reasons Headless CMSs Fail:

Headless CMS platforms have legitimate applications and may be the right choice in some specific cases. However, they have failed to take off with most site owners even though they have been available for several years.

Here are some possible reasons why headless CMSs have not lived up to their promise:

1.) Fewer Developers and SEOs With Headless CMS Expertise

Developing sites with a headless CMS can be expensive because very few web developers and SEOs specialize in them. This means that if you commit to a headless CMS, you will usually have to pay more as headless CMS specialists are still rather scarce.

The costs may eventually go down as more businesses adopt a headless CMS. However, this does not yet seem to be happening en masse. For now, anyone who wants to get more out of a headless CMS will continue to pay more for being an early adopter.

2.) Fewer SEO Plugins

Even Contentful, arguably the most popular headless CMS platform, admits a lack of SEO plugins. You will be even less likely to find the plugins you need on the other less popular headless CMS platforms.

If you have no web development skills, this can be a serious impediment. You will be almost obligated to hire a developer to implement changes that would have taken minutes on a legacy platform with the right plugins. This makes headless CMSs a less recommended choice for SEO professionals who primarily work with content rather than code.

3.) SEO is More Than Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

While most headless CMSs will allow users to fill out title tags and meta descriptions, virtually all other on-page SEO factors are not readily covered by headless CMSs. While it may be possible to optimize some things, popular headless CMSs do not make it easy for SEOs.

Considering that SEO professionals have to handle a wide variety of tasks, going with a headless CMS adds a cognitive load that translates into less efficient campaigns over time.

4.) Google Still Doesn’t Crawl Headless CMS Content Effectively

This is probably the biggest reason to stick with legacy CMS platforms. Google’s bots still work in a way that overwhelmingly favors content on legacy CMSs. Because Google Search remains an enormous factor in ecommerce visibility, site owners that are serious about reaching more customers will almost always choose a more crawlable CMS.

Unfortunately, headless CMSs do not seem to prioritize search visibility. Instead, they seem to prioritize resiliency, simplicity, and flexibility. While this may change, over time, as of now it seems that headless platforms may be more suited for larger businesses that have very specific needs, not for your average SME.

Final Thoughts

Generally, we do not accept clients that use headless CMSs because of these challenges. Also, there are still many other clients who still use CMS platforms that respond better to the kinds of services we perform.

We can’t say for sure whether headless CMSs will take over legacy platforms like WordPress or Drupal, particularly in the context of Philippine ecommerce. At present, however, it still looks like legacy platforms are still the way to go for anyone interested in being found through Google Search.

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