The headless Content Management System (CMS) has continued to gain traction around the business world, leading to the renewed excitement around the content management model that can help businesses handle the relentless number of emerging devices and channels. The need for headless architecture arose from the evolution of digital experiences. In the past, organizations only needed to deliver content through a web browser. Currently, consumers usually intake content via a wide variety of channels, including mobile devices. Here is everything you need to know about headless CMS.

What is a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a content management system that provides a way to author content, but instead of having content coupled to the particular output (such as webpage rendering), it rather provides your content as data over an Application Programming Interface (API). The "head" relates to where your content ends up, and the "body" is where your content is stored and authored. The point of a headless CMS isn't that you don't want or need a head, it's that you get to pick and choose which heads (outputs) content.

Recently, there has been an uptick of CMSes that try to be more flexible in their ways of making content available. These are usually called "Headless" or "API-first" CMSes. Some of them market themselves as Content Infrastructure, Content Hubs, or even Content as a Service. However, when you take a closer look, they all pretty much boil down to some database backend with a web-based user interface, and content made accessible through an API.

Headless CMS vs. Traditional CMS

To better understand what a headless CMS is and how it works, let's compare it to the traditional CMS:

With a traditional CMS, the frontend and backend of the system are tightly coupled together. Everything from creating and managing, to storing your content usually happens within the backend of the CMS. The system (frontend) is responsible for presenting content to the users and is normally confined within the same space. Because everything exists within one place, these platforms are commonly referred to as monolithic.

With a traditional CMS, developers are bound to the frameworks and technologies given by their software vendors. These template structures are designed to only render a single fronted experience, primarily a browser-based website. Due to this, it is difficult for organizations to create experiences that are well-suited to different touchpoints, such as mobile apps or Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

What is a Decoupled CMS?

Headless and traditional content management systems are often compared to another architecture, the decoupled CMS. A decoupled CMS is similar to a headless CMS in that it separates, or decouples, the back-end from the front-end and makes content available via an API. However, a decoupled CMS also comes with some tools for front-end presentation, such as code templates.

The decoupled CMS approach makes it possible to build basic front-end displays, such as a website, with your content, but it also makes content accessible to other channels. Thus, decoupled CMSes are something of a compromise between a traditional and a headless CMS architecture, a balance between website-oriented and front-end agnostic.

How a Headless CMS Works

The functionality of a headless CMS can be scaled down to just three steps:

  1. Editors and marketers input content into the headless CMS. The content exists there, often in small content blocks, and without worrying about how it will be presented to end-users.
  2. Thanks to the headless CMS facilitating API calls, the content blocks can be selectively delivered to any channel or device.
  3. Front-end developers can then design and present that content for whichever channel they like, using whichever front-end frameworks they prefer

Basically, this is how a headless CMS works.

Uses cases for Headless CMS

  • Separating your content from the tech stack of your website to be able to move faster
  • Websites, Web apps that use JavaScript frameworks (Vuejs/Nuxt.js, React/Next.js…)
  • Native Mobile Apps (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
  • Enrich your eCommerce Stack with a proper CMS for your marketing team.
  • Use it for feature flags of your own product to schedule releases of new features.
  • As a configuration interface for your home automation solution.
  • Or to manage content for your intranet.

Why Do You Need a Headless CMS?

The headless CMS is an essential piece of technology because we're currently in an omnichannel world. The content that your enterprise creates for your website needs to appear on apps, integrations, newsletters, and other platforms. Managing a duplicate copy of that content for multiple channels is also a difficult and inefficient process.

If your business makes an update to the way it describes a product, that update shouldn't be copied and pasted on 20 different systems. You should rather be able to make the update in one centralized location and push the change out to all of the other places where it matters. This is the power of a headless CMS. It works as one central source of information for all your company's content and assets. It also gives you one place to manage, edit, update, and publish that content.

Headless CMS Benefits

Here are the benefits of using CMS:

Faster Editing Experiences
Traditional CMS architectures have to spend resources on content editing and content rendering. A headless CMS has an advantage over traditional alternatives because it doesn't have to deal with the rendering side of things.

Manage Content for More Channels
Truly, headless content isn't tied to a single presentation concern, so it can find an audience across multiple channels. You can use a headless CMS to manage content for apps and websites as well.

Developer Flexibility
Since the headless content is usually served over APIs, developers can choose their own frontend tools. If you prefer working with Javascript instead of PHP or Ruby, you can do that.

Easier Scaling
Headless lets you manage your content from a single source of information and truth, change developer tools at any time and benefit from sending your content to high-performance cloud-based hosting and build services.

Enhanced Security
Since headless content is separated from the presentation layer, it's a smaller area of attack. This keeps your business and content secure from cyberattacks.

At Harlo Interactive, we help you develop a content management system (CMS) that fits your company's needs and generates results. Kindly contact us to learn more and get started.