How headless commerce impacts SEO

4 min read
November 8, 2021

Search engine optimization has always been a pillar of eCommerce success. As merchants consider headless commerce, it’s natural to question how going headless will impact the effectiveness of SEO efforts.

SEO can be a bit of a moving target with ever-evolving algorithm updates fueling SEO strategy, but one thing that doesn’t change is this: Google and other search engines reward websites that provide a great user experience, which is the ultimate goal of headless commerce.

Search engine results pages (SERPs) are positively impacted by excellent site performance and engagement as measured by traffic, clicks, and more. Headless commerce can boost the metrics that count.

Going headless with a progressive web application (PWA) is the best way to address SEO considerations, largely because of the direct and indirect SEO benefits that come from site speed—a cornerstone of PWAs.

These aren’t guarantees, but based on what Google and other search engines signal, site speed, mobile capabilities, content, design, and more are all taken into consideration when ranking a site.

This article will dive into the relationship between PWAs and SEO, and also explore some of the 2021 Google algorithm updates that could be positively impacted by going headless.

Table of contents

Progressive web applications for eCommerce SEO


A progressive web application is an application delivered through the web that provides a user experience similar to the experience of a native mobile application. PWAs can be accessed through a browser, but shoppers also have the choice to install them on a personal mobile device like a native app.

Access on the web

Unlike native apps, PWAs are discoverable on search engines and have features that can improve domain authority and ranking position. Google views PWAs as an indicator of an upper-echelon website and even dictates PWA requirements and best practices.

Available offline or in low-quality networks

PWAs can continue to function offline or on low-quality wifi networks, which is important to keep the integrity of the user experience for shoppers who might be on slow data or offline completely.

Site speed

Site speed is crucial to the shopping experience, and Google has prioritized speed in its ranking considerations recently, especially for mobile. PWAs target site speed and are often powered by a single page application or by static site generation, though it doesn’t have to be.

With static generation, the HTML renders ahead of a user’s request, which benefits search engine “crawlers.” Heavy reliance on client-side JavaScript has historically been a problem for SEO. Today, crawlers can execute JavaScript and there have been advancements in coding to account for traditional headless-SEO pitfalls, like enabling unique URLs to discover and index content.

2021 Google algorithm updates and Headless commerce

There have been several Google algorithm updates in the past year that require users to optimize for SEO accordingly. Most have little connection to headless commerce, but there are a few 2021 updates worth mentioning.

The first update is that all websites—both old and new—are now indexed by the mobile version of the site by default. Google has been emphasizing mobile-first for the better part of a decade, and it only continues to ramp up. This means eCommerce merchants need to optimize for the mobile version of their site, first and foremost.

There are things merchants can do to address this change like optimizing for site responsiveness and image compression, but investing in a headless solution can also inadvertently be a big win for mobile-first SEO.

By using a headless PWA, developers only have one codebase to manage, and mobile takes priority. Also, if using static generation, because the website is pre-rendered ahead of time, issues with speed and responsiveness are practically eliminated. Google is also crawling the site on a page-by-page basis and headless commerce can get page-to-page loading speeds down to milliseconds, thus improving the user experience on each and every page.

Another key update is a page experience update prioritizing Core Web Vitals. Google has metrics to quantify a person’s experience on a webpage. These metrics have existed for a while, but they now have a greater impact on search engine rankings.

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How fast the main content of a page loads

  • First Input Delay (FID): How quickly a webpage responds to the user’s first action on the page

  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): How stable the layout is

Some ways to address Core Web Vitals include improving the server response time and optimizing the content on the page. This is an update where headless commerce takes the cake, as it has the potential to improve all of the Core Web Vitals.

Other ways to prioritize eCommerce SEO

There are also a few headless commerce-adjacent suggestions that many merchants optimize for during their headless build. Frontend design is one of the most consequential. Some merchants choose to do a website redesign when going headless, though it’s not required. Some do a pixel-to-pixel build when going headless and make design changes later.

The website design should be anchored in giving shoppers the best user experience possible, but it’s also important to think in mobile-first terms. For example, if it’s too easy to accidentally tap multiple buttons at once while accessing an eCommerce store on a mobile device, Google will interpret that as a negative user experience and rank accordingly.

Another common change merchants make when going headless is adopting a third-party content management system (CMS). Many merchants keep their eCommerce platform like Shopify Plus and move content management to a headless CMS solution. This opens the door for non-technical team members to have more ownership and control over aspects of the site that impact SEO including text and images.

Nacelle + SEO

The webstore build process converts JavaScript to HTML, which is more conducive to SEO. The main goal of headless commerce and SEO is to provide users with an incredible shopping experience. Therefore, the benefits of going headless with a PWA inherently translate well to SEO initiatives, including engineering best practices and the benefits of boosted KPIs.

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