Headless CMS: The Trade-offs and What They Mean for Your SEO

Headless CMS

You’re likely to have encountered the word ‘headless’ before, but it’s worth beginning by defining this backend construct. Simply put, headless CMS is one in which the backend of a system is separated from the frontend. Through this, developers can create content that can be displayed across different channels, rather than for a singular product.

While traditional monoliths contain a single application where all content is produced for a specific website, app or eCommerce platform, a headless content management system discards the presentation layer completely, allowing you to manage content more flexibly while removing the need to maintain a delivery system for each channel.

Is There a Difference Between a Headless CMS and a Decoupled CMS?

Now, you may be thinking that a headless CMS sounds exactly like a decoupled one, and we wouldn’t blame you for it. A decoupled CMS also has a separate frontend and backend, but it usually includes a frontend presentation layer, too. However, with a decoupled CMS, your front-end and backend are still independent of each other, so you can build your front-end without facing any limitations by the CMS.

What Are the Benefits of Going Headless?

Increased Flexibility

Firstly, in a headless environment, your content becomes independent of your frontend, meaning that your strategy can become content-first rather than front-end first. So, you can repurpose and update your content as many times as you want, and install that update to as many channels as you’d like. This means that you won’t have to worry about discrepancies between published content as much as you would with a monolith CMS, where everything would have to be input separately.

Better SEO

This consistency across multiple channels will ultimately benefit your search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO is the process used to optimise a website’s overall relevance and popularity, so ensuring that it’s up to scratch is pretty important. Headless CMS platforms tend to provide SEO-friendly features, such as customisable URLs and structured data support. The former is key in improving SEO, as you’ll be able to restructure your URL to include the keywords of your choosing, which is more difficult with a monolith CMS.

Optimised Workflow

Additionally, by centrally managing your content and communicating through an API (Application Programme Interface), your workflow will inevitably be optimised and your online presence will consequently be strengthened. A headless system tends to offer robust collaboration features so that multiple teams can work simultaneously. As a result, content editors and developers can collaborate efficiently, streamlining the process.

Stronger Security

As well as optimising your SEO, going headless comes with a host of other benefits, including being a safer option compared to a traditional CMS. This is due to the backend and the frontend being detached from the interface, which is the space where the user and computer meet. Outcome – less exposure to a cyber-attack. Access to the organisation is also restricted, and content can be encrypted.

Improved User Experience

You’ll also be able to prioritise user experience and select the frameworks that best serve your needs, rather than having to choose from the template engines of monolithic systems. By removing the need for a front-end rendering layer, headless CMSs reduce the overhead associated with traditional CMSs, resulting in quicker page loading times and enhanced performance.

Future-Proof

By going headless, you’ll also be able to integrate new technologies or channels into your content at a faster and more seamless rate. This is due to not having to rebuild an entire system from scratch, allowing you and your organisation to evolve promptly.

Mobile-Friendly

A headless CMS is inherently more mobile-friendly than a traditional CMS. This is due to a headless CMS having automated responsive designs made for different screen sizes, whereas a traditional CMS lacks responsiveness. In the modern age, this is a pretty important benefit. Anyone with a phone knows that there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to fill out a form or scroll through a website on your phone that’s just not made for mobile.

Cost-Effective

By reusing content across channels, you can reduce development time and costs associated with maintaining multiple platforms. If you’ve already got a sophisticated web developer to hand, then this means that you won’t have to splash the cash on hiring or training, and they’ll also be able to manage all of the channels effectively.

Scalable

Lastly, by deploying new content quickly and seamlessly across multiple channels, you’ll be able to scale and develop your brand at a faster rate than with a monolith. You can create as many pages as you’d like, all using the same structure but with different elements, through one singular backend, thereby speeding up your delivery time. Sounds like a dream, right?

Are There Any Drawbacks?

To put it simply, yes.

Increased Difficulty

A headless system ultimately requires a lot more technical innovation than a monolithic CMS. It can be argued that working with a decoupled system is not for beginners. Many headless CMSs’ do not come with basic SEO tools, and you may have to build a big chunk of it by yourself.

For example, working with metadata becomes slightly more difficult due to the decoupling, and essential meta tags such as titles and descriptions must be generated properly. Similarly, you’ll need to ensure that your URL is kept at a stable structure, as well as a lot of other finite details that you’ll need to implement. If you’re a tech wiz, then this need not worry you. But for those of us with less experience in development and setting guardrails, this may be an issue.

So, managing a headless system will ultimately require some more work, and may not make sense for a small business. There’s a larger number of features that need to be set up and built according to your framework, and it can be a daunting task if you’re not familiar with the system.

User-Unfriendly

A headless CMS does not allow you to preview the content you’re creating, which can be extremely frustrating when developing a client-facing product. Without the presentation layer, marketers will effectively be blindly publishing content, which could result in mistakes.

Wasting Time

It’s also more time-consuming when compared to traditional monoliths, such as WordPress, which has all of the themes and plugins required to make your website user-friendly. WordPress also contains plugins such as Yoast SEO, which allows you to add metadata to all your posts at a faster rate. By going headless, you’ll have to implement the metadata yourself, which can result in mistakes.

Not So Cost-Effective

Maintaining a headless CMS can involve higher costs due to the need for skilled developers who are proficient in frontend frameworks. You’ll also need to rely on APIs to deliver content to the frontend, which can also be costly. An API is a mechanism that allows two software components to communicate with each other, usually explained in terms of a client and a server. These are essential add ins when opting for a headless CMS, which you wouldn’t need with a monolithic programme. Additionally, your current developers may need further training in order to take on the challenge of a headless server, and training is never cheap.

Increased Risk

Having a dependency upon APIs means that you’ll be at risk of its failures or changes. Any disruptions can negatively impact the website’s functionality and presentation, and you might be left feeling slightly helpless if this does occur. This is a big concern when it comes to client-facing companies, and it can be difficult to put your trust in an API, when you could have all the control with a traditional CMS.

Do the Pros Outweigh the Cons?

As we look toward the future, it seems that headless content management systems are becoming increasingly popular and are being adopted by big corporations that run multiple channels. But it’s crucial to take a step back from this and assess whether going headless is the right choice for your company. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to determine what the best fit is for your applications.

Firstly, consider your budget constraints. If you are on a limited budget or are running a smaller organisation, then going headless may be impractical, despite its benefits. Additionally, if being able to preview your content and ensure that it meets your frontend standards is important to you, then it may make more sense to stick with a traditional CMS. A monolith is certainly more marketing-friendly, and we wouldn’t blame you for being put off by the sole fact that you won’t get to analyse a draft on the frontend before publication.

Despite the hype that comes with serverless technology, it’s important to consider what software developers truly value, and this may be simplicity over flexibility.

On the other hand, although being a far more difficult construct to navigate, when done properly, a headless CMS is the better choice for those looking to improve workflow, enhance SEO optimisation and ultimately solve issues such as discrepancies or slow deployment.

With a headless CMS, you can reuse content across channels, meeting user behaviour at a faster pace, thus creating a better overall experience. If you’re looking to scale your content production in a major way and enhance collaboration between developers and SEO professionals, then going headless may make more sense for you. So, if you’re prepared to put in the hard work and pick your own tools to prepare your organisation for scaling, then it seems that headless is the way to go.

To conclude, your CMS should align with your specific requirements, size, long-term goals and budget. There’s no point opting for a more complicated system that requires sophisticated developers if your organisation truly doesn’t require it. There’s also no point sticking with your traditional monolith CMS if it’s not aiding your ambitions to scale and improve your workflow across multiple channels. So, it’s only once you’ve evaluated these criteria that you should decide.

Branislav Nikolic

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