What Is Headless CMS (Content Management System)?

The Headless CMS, or Headless Content Management System, technology is currently more widely used than the traditional Content Management System architecture because corporate needs and customer expectations are becoming more complex. This page defines Headless CMS and explains why “headless” was adopted as the industry’s term of choice. Continue reading to learn more!

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a content management system that divides the backend, where content is controlled, from the presentation layer, where content is displayed. With a headless CMS, you can manage your content in one location and distribute it to as many digital channels as you want. Your content is unlocked when the frontend and backend are separated, enabling marketers to manage content on their own and developers to build quicker, automate updates, and manage digital at scale. A typical CMS makes it difficult to reuse content and develop cutting-edge digital experiences since content is entangled with code and trapped in silos.

The origins of headless CMS

It helps to first examine the traditional content management system and the tasks it was intended to perform in order to comprehend what a headless CMS solution is. Traditional content management systems have existed since the beginning of the web. Website content elements including text, images, and videos were particularly intended to be stored and presented using platforms like WordPress, Drupal, and Sitecore.

Content, pictures, HTML, and CSS are all combined into one large bucket in the conventional CMS approach of organizing content. Because the text was mixed up with the code, it was impossible to reuse.

More adaptable solutions are now required as a result of the development of digital channels and gadgets. In the modern day, businesses create websites, mobile apps, digital displays, conversational interfaces, and more. The conventional CMS, meanwhile, was unable to keep up. Why? It is impossible for the same content to match various digital platforms or software since a CMS organizes content in frameworks that are webpage-oriented.

Headless CMS vs. traditional CMS at-a-glance

Use this table as a quick reference to see how traditional CMS stacks up against headless CMS when it comes to critical tech features needed to do your job properly.

Traditional CMS Headless CMS
Hosting & delivery In-house In the cloud
Development mindset Project-focused Product-focused
Content model Built for a single page Building block for many products
Supported devices Limited Limitless
Reach One-to-one One-to-many
Workflow Waterfall Agile
Updates Scheduled Continuous
Backend system Monolithic, all-in-one Microservice, best-in-class
Investment Large up-front cost Quick proof of concept
Technical debt Inherent to the system Managed

How does a headless CMS solution work?

APIs are used to deliver content stored in a headless CMS for seamless display across any website, device, or other digital touchpoint. As a result, content in a headless CMS is infinitely reusable, independent of the current omnichannel customer experience or any future channels. As opposed to WordPress and other monolithic CMSes, which tightly marry the frontend and the backend and keep you restricted in terms of how material can (and cannot) be shown, this one allows for flexibility.

Consider headless architecture and APIs in the following way: a headless CMS’s primary function is to manage and store your content. What you wish to do with that content is irrelevant to it. Presenting material to users is the primary function of display platforms like a website or mobile app. How such content is maintained or stored doesn’t really matter to them. The frontend systems (like a website) and backend systems (like a headless CMS) can only communicate in the ways that a digital team specifies thanks to APIs, which act as magical connecting points.

The difference between headless CMS and decoupled CMS

Another word you’ll likely run into as you learn more about various content management options is “decoupled CMS.” The separation of the backend and frontend, as the name implies, is what distinguishes a decoupled CMS. Similar to a headless CMS, this separation has a head, however employing the head in a decoupled CMS is entirely optional. Although some people use the names interchangeably, they are not the same. The primary distinction is that a headless CMS gives developers complete freedom to choose the presentation layer and does not at all contain one. Static site generators like Gatsby or interactive JSON frameworks like React or Vue.js are frequently used for this.

Best practices to setting up headless CMS solutions

Although a headless CMS software solution makes it possible to distribute material across any presentation layer, it does not address the fundamental issue of giving your content structure. Your content cannot be easily repurposed across many platforms and channels as long as it is unstructured. A generic phrase for content that is divided into manageable building units, arranged predictably, and categorized with metadata is “structured content.”

Let’s use a webpage as an example to show how unstructured content is commonly used. Unstructured content combines all the text and code that go into making a webpage. This is frequently carried out via a WYSIWYG editor, which stands for “what you see is what you get.” WYSIWYGs are frequently used by those who create digital material since they allow for backend content editing. The material is locked inside that format even if this produces perfectly good webpages. You receive exactly what you see. not a single other.

The author, title, body, image, image description, definitions, e-commerce information, product pricing, terms and conditions, and other elements are divided into discrete sections using a structured content strategy. All of these elements can still be put together to make the same homepage, but they can also be put back together to make other iterations of the webpage that are customized for a certain audience, rearranged for a particular campaign, or condensed for a mobile experience.

A concept known as a content model is used to implement this structured content on the backend. All of the many content categories that an organization employs are defined and organized using a content model. The author title, image, caption, body text, and other elements indicated in the aforementioned example are all regarded as various content kinds. To avoid forcing content creators to utilize the overly prescriptive page templates of a standard CMS, content models are made up of and can reuse these content kinds in order to become adapted to the specific demands of each company.

Benefits of headless CMS and why you need it

Now that we’ve defined what a headless CMS is, how it works, and the ways in which it is a better solution for your content management than traditional CMS, let’s dig deeper into the value implementing headless CMS into your organization can bring.

Unify content into a single content hub

By making content endlessly reusable, the structured content of a headless CMS eliminates manual processes like copy and pasting. This makes editing way easier — change the copy or image in one place, and that change applies everywhere the content is located. With all content stored in one centralized content hub, content editors can easily apply the COPE principle: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. Another way to think of this principle is to edit once, update everywhere.

Enable collaborative workflows

By separating the frontend (or presentation layer) from the backend and organizing content with reusable content models, a headless CMS allows content editors and developers to work in parallel. Content editors can nimbly update content across all channels without developer support, freeing up developers to tackle more strategically important work. This offers a competitive advantage for companies that want to increase their speed to market and make the best use of their developers’ time.

Increase reusability and scalability

Headless CMS makes content reusability a breeze. Content reusability is a key component for making the most of resources spent on content creation. When all content is accessible for use on any digital endpoint, digital teams can repurpose content across devices and channels. It also allows content to scale across different regions, use cases, and campaigns. Content can be optimized for various user experiences by integrating tools for personalization and localization to ensure the right content reaches the right audience at the right time.

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