News and insights • Posted on 07 June 2021

The headless approach: How it impacts SEO for the better

Max Singh is a former crewmate who is now in his final year studying Digital Media Computing at Birmingham City University. Here, Max offers specialist insights into his innovative research on how different web platforms affect ranking in the SERPs.

During my placement year with The Bigger Boat, I learned the fundamentals of SEO and PPC while gaining meaningful industry experience. I had many discussions with crewmates, managers and supervisors, which helped focus my research goals and shape my final year project. Collaboratively, we decided on subject that was as relevant then as it is now – headless websites. Now, I’m in position to share an abridged version of my findings and why I believe headless is the not-too-distant future of web development.

A comparison of SEO ranking factors on two different web platforms

A traditional CMS, such as WordPress, typically hosts all aspects of a website in the same place, including its database, content and front-end. By contrast, a headless CMS allows for a flat HTML website with the integration of a CMS through an API. For digital marketers and their clients, the key question is: would a website built in headless rank better than a website built in a traditional CMS?

To test this, I developed a flat HTML website and a WordPress website that were identical. I then conducted various SEO optimisations to see if the platform truly did have an impact on the organic rank. I selected niche keywords, as the aim was to achieve simple A/B testing without muddying the waters and competing on terms with other websites. These were similar optimisations I had performed on clients’ websites at The Bigger Boat, which provided more real-world relevance to the project and underpinned my conclusions.

From a macroscopic perspective, the flat HTML website outperformed the WordPress website. While I observed the WordPress website ranking for more keywords, the flat HTML website outranked the WordPress website in 80% of instances in relation to the same keyword. A significant difference between the two was speed – the WordPress site took longer to load on mobile and desktop. That’s not to say the WordPress site didn’t rank – it ranked well – but, more often than not, it fell in second place behind headless.

This leads me to believe that the headless approach is the way forward. Not only is it good for SEO, but it doesn’t sacrifice any back-end functionality due to the CMS being linked through an API. This means changes can be made just as easily as a traditional CMS website.

To learn more about The Bigger Boat’s headless capabilities, discover our web development service.

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Written by Andy McCaul

Co-founder and digital marketing guru Andy ensures all projects are shipshape, and that we generate the best return on investment for clients.

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