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Headless CMS Explained and Why You May Need One?

Headless CMS Explained and Why You May Need One?

In the simplest possible terms, a headless CMS is a backend content management system (CMS) that exists independently of the front end - the presentation layer.

What Is A Headless CMS?

How content is consumed evolves every day. We’ve gone from computers and laptops to smartphones and smartwatches, smart fridges, and various other IoT devices in mere two decades. This quick shift has given rise to headless CMSs and a headless approach to web development in general.

Faced with the ever-changing content consumption landscape, companies and their marketing departments had to prioritize content platforms to use or spend an immense amount of time optimizing and publishing content to each of the different platforms.

With a headless CMS, that dilemma is quickly becoming history.

With 64% of enterprises already going headless and more than 90% of those planning to evaluate headless solutions over the next year, it sure looks like the right time to ride the wave of headless is NOW.

What Is a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a content management system where the front end, the presentation layer, and the back end, the content database, exist independently of each other.

To illustrate, let’s compare the headless solution with the traditional, also called monolith or coupled CMS (think WordPress, Drupal, Sitecore, etc.). The traditional CMS has one default front end where the content is displayed. In the headless CMS, content can be published on numerous front ends independent of each other (desktop, mobile, tablet, etc.).

The front-end layers are defined in advance, and the content is served to them through APIs which enables the high flexibility and speed necessary in today’s day and age.

But what exactly are the differences between headless and traditional monolith CMSs?

What Is a Headless CMS?

Coupled vs. Decoupled vs. Headless

Traditional or monolith CMS architecture is a coupled solution, i.e., the front and the backend are directly connected.

All the content is stored in the website’s backend and pushed to the default frontend layer, including pre-defined code, HTML templates, CSS, and JS files.

The front and backend are dependent on each other, meaning that you can’t change one without changing the other, too.

The coupled CMS consists of the following: 

1) The backend

  • The database where content is stored,
  • CMS, where content is created and published.

2) Connected front end to present the content to the consumer.

In decoupled CMS architecture, the front and the backend are kept separate. We use the backend to create, store and manage content and APIs to deliver the content to the predefined presentation front end.

Think of it as one step away from coupled architecture but not yet headless. So, we have: 

1) The backend

  • The database where content is stored,
  • CMS, where content is created and published.

2) Pre-defined but separate front end to present the content to the consumer.

3) API that connects the backend with the front end.

Coupled vs. Decoupled vs. Headless

With headless CMS architecture, while the front and backend are also separate, headless doesn’t include a pre-set frontend using standard templates to present the content. Instead, APIs that lay in between the front and the back can deliver content to multiple channels seamlessly.

Headless CMS consists of the following: 

1) The back-end

  • The database where content is stored,
  • CMS, where content is created and published.

2) API that connects the front with the backend.

3) Numerous front ends, i.e., different screens and or channels.

Okay, so headless is more flexible than the other two. What else does it bring to the table?

The Benefits of a Headless CMS

The flexibility of choice. Because the front and the backend exist independently of each other, your developers get to choose the technologies they want to use to build frontend experiences. Not only that. By nature of the headless architecture, your CMS becomes a part of a best-of-breed stack, i.e., tech stacks that fit perfectly to your business needs and allows you to pick and choose solutions independently of each other.

Omnichannel presence. Not too long ago, all you had to do was to publish content on your website only. Today, however, in order for your business to thrive and grow, you have to publish content directly to mobile apps and various digital and IoT devices, and maybe even different marketplaces. A headless approach helps make that happen, all stemming from a single touchpoint.

Future-proofing your tech stack. Headless makes any future development or modification super easy. For example, if your app design becomes outdated, your developers can quickly redesign the front end without modifying the whole CMS. In case another channel appears, you can add it to your stack without re-implementing the CMS. Modern web development trends and solutions are changing fast. Going the headless way makes sure you are not left behind, or rather you can easily pick up on a trend.

Overall better user experience. By now, you’ve definitely heard about the mobile-first approach. While certainly better than desktop-first, the mobile-first approach is in itself a limitation.

With its multi-channel capabilities, headless enables every-front-end-platform-first experience. And we all know the value of a great user experience today.

Easy maintenance, scaling and redesigning. Because the front isn’t tied to the backend, headless enables easy maintenance of both ends, eases scaling efforts, and makes redesigning your front(s) a piece of cake.

Increased security. In traditional architecture, a cyberattack on your front also means a cyber attack on your backend.

In headless, your database and the actual CMS are out of reach of cybercriminals, and the worst that could happen is your front-end layer being down for some time.

Increase time efficiency for your team. Multichannel is important, but having to do multichannel with a traditional CMS architecture takes extreme amounts of time.

On the other hand, headless means that your marketing team only uploads the content once, and APIs then further distribute it across the channels, freeing up their time to work on other things.

The Drawback of the Headless CMS

No built-in presentation layer or live preview functionality. Headless CMS typically doesn’t come with out-of-the-box templates, so you’ll likely have to have developers on the team to develop your front(s). On a similar note, the headless CMSs usually don’t have live preview functionality (or you need to do a bit of work/code to enable it), which may make your marketers wary of it.

Witch brings us to the second biggest drawback of headless CMS.

Reliance on developers. Headless CMS significantly increases your dependence on developers. The first-time integration, updates or upgrades, and maintenance will have to be done by them.

❓What About Headless Commerce?

We’ve already talked about headless commerce (follow the link). The thing is, for many modern-day businesses, the lines where the content and commerce side of businesses end/begin are blurred.

More and more, we use stories (content) to sell a product, just as eCommerce does not refer to selling physical goods anymore. In a climate such as this having a complete product story engine designed for headless architecture, composable commerce, and composable stacks is way better than running separate solutions for each approach, be it content, product, or marketing focused.

Headless CMS and Your Business

Today’s customers demand a great user experience on any and all channels, and going headless will help deliver that and increase your user acquisition, retention, and engagement rates.

To find out whether headless is right for you or not, ask yourself these two simple questions: 

1) Does your business need a multichannel approach? 

2) Do you have a dedicated web development team at your disposal?

If the answer to both questions is yes, you won’t go wrong with headless.

Go beyond the headless with a composable content platform built for modern product storytelling. Schedule a 1-on-1 demo so we can talk about your business requirements and show you how Crystallize fits your use case.

Follow the Rabbit🐰

What is PIM?

What is PIM, and How Does Product Information Management Work?

PIM is your centralized product information system from which the product data is distributed to all relevant stakeholders, teams, and sales channels.

Return on Investment (ROI) of Headless Commerce

The benefits and competitive advantages of headless commerce are many. When done right, of course. Let’s look at some of the primary advantages that a proper headless commerce buildout can provide.