The Headless CMS Explained

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How do traditional Content Management Systems (CMS) differ from headless CMS? And what is “headless” in relation to online content management?

Just a few years ago the watchword in the marketing world was: “Content is king”. Now content is the norm, the very ground on which companies move to expand their reach. Marketers need to constantly produce new content and possibly launch it on multiple online channels: website, mobile app, e-commerce, smartwatch, augmented reality. In response to this challenge, headless CMSs have emerged, which clearly separate content from the presentation layer.

This makes it possible to optimise the production of content that is automatically sent to the various platforms.

Headless content management systems are slowly but constantly replacing traditional CMSs such as WordPress and Joomla. From MNEs to innovative SMEs, more and more companies are adopting this solution convinced by the benefits of separating front end and back end. According to a report by Business Wire, the headless CMS market will grow to $1.62 billion by 2027.

Why are headless CMSs getting so much attention and what are the advantages over traditional CMSs? As a digital agency, we at Moka Adv want to help our clients making conscious choices. By the end of this article you will have a clear idea of what headless CMSs are and be able to understand if your business really needs one.

WHAT IS A HEADLESS CMS (OR API-FIRST CMS

A headless CMS is a “back-end only” content management system, which acts primarily as a repository for content.

Why is it called a ‘headless’ system? In jargon, the ‘head’ is the front-end of a website, the ‘body’ is the back-end. In the headless CMS, what the user sees (i.e. the head) is separated from the body. A headless CMS is therefore defined as a CMS in which content and presentation layers function independently.

Compared to a traditional CMS, headless no longer has just one main head (the desktop site), but several ‘heads’ (all the channels you want to include in your online communication strategy). In this way, none of the platforms prevails hierarchically over the other and a truly content-first online marketing approach can be developed.

Content stored in the back-end is exported via APIs (application programming interfaces) for a smooth user experience on all platforms. For this reason, the headless CMS is also called API-First CMS. APIs perform the important function of sending responsive content for a perfect multichannel communication strategy.

Still not sure what a headless CMS is? Don’t worry. Let’s start from the basics with the definition of “Content Management System”.

WHAT IS A CMS?

A Content Management System is a tool that allows you to create and manage a website without having to work on the code. With a traditional CMS, the management of individual contents is extremely simple. The whole website is managed from one place, technical barriers are minimal and you can usually benefit from the support of a large community.

But the website is today only one (albeit fundamental) part of an online communication campaign. This is why responsive companies with an omnichannel approach are adopting this innovative software. There are already dozens of open-source and paid-for solutions.

Before you rush out to look for the best headless CMSs such as Strapi, Magnolia and Sanity, we recommend that you consider whether it is worth for your company to abandon the traditional CMS.

As is always the case when it comes to new technologies, the choice of CMS is also a very sensitive issue that can impact your business for many years. Let’s see what the difference is between the two types of Content Management System.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HEADLESS AND TRADITIONAL CMS

The headless CMS is a more flexible version of the traditional CMS, in which all programming languages and contents are placed in one place. In classic content management systems, which have been around for several decades, the reuse of materials is longer and more artificial.

If you still don’t have clear the difference between the two types of systems, you will find a table with the main characteristics below.

HEADLESS CMS

  • front-end and back-end are decoupled;
  • more freedom in the front-end;
  • it is good for websites, applications and other devices;
  • optimisation is automatic for different layouts;
  • easily scalable.

TRADITIONAL CMS?

  • front-end and back-end are not separable;
  • rigid templates;
  • only good for websites;
  • optimisation has to be implemented and monitored;
  • scalability is limited.

In principle, the headless CMS therefore offers several advantages over the classic CMS. But is the game worth the candle? There is no one-size-fits-all answer for all companies and all business models, so it may be useful to carry out an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of headless CMSs.

HEADLESS CMS ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

In recent years, there has been a revolution in the way customers consume content online. The average person is connected to three different devices and uses mobile for more than half of their browsing across browsers, e-commerce and social media.

For companies that have an online presence, the first component to focus on is (content) marketing. Today, it is content that attracts customers, strengthens the online presence and brand, and thus grows the business.

THE ADVANTAGES

In the era of digital transformation, marketing content (advertising campaigns, product sheets, landing pages, social commerce content, etc.) has an high quality user experience. The digitalisation process has accustomed users to integrated cross-media experiences. In this respect, headless CMSs have many advantages for content creators, whose role remains quite separate from the front-end developers.

With headless CMSs, content changes in form but not in message. A single piece of content can be immediately sent to multiple platforms via the API. Authors can concentrate on the content, web designers on the front-end.

THE DISADVANTAGES

In all likelihood, at least at this stage of the digital transformation, many companies can do without the headless CMS. While it is being touted as the future of content management, this type of software may still be an unnecessary investment. You shouldn’t need a headless CMS, for example, if your current website can handle all processes adequately and you have no intention of launching a mobile application, or you don’t want to invest in cross-platform advertising campaigns.

Many traditional CMSs such as WordPress now have built-in functions that mimic headless behaviour, although everything remains monolithically linked to the website.

When you create content on a headless CMS, unlike traditional CMSs, the software does not give you an immediate idea of how your content will be viewed by users. This is because the approach, as we said, is cross-platform. You therefore need to make some imaginative effort and be able to communicate with the developers about the layout you want.

As for costs, headless CMSs are generally more expensive. There are plenty of open-source headless CMSs, but again, migration costs should be considered (especially if your current site has many pages). In addition, free solutions usually have a limited number of users.

If you don’t have a website, however, you could get ahead of the game and request the development of a website directly with headless software.

IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON THE HEADLESS CMS MARKET

The market for headless CMS software is growing exponentially. From a value of $328.5 million in 2019, per Business Wire it is expected to reach $1.62 billion in 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.6%. The boom is also due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted more companies to use digital channels to create interactions, conversions and revenue.

In the acceleration of digital transformation, online experience management software such as headless CMSs are therefore taking on an increasingly crucial role.

HOW TO CHOOSE A HEADLESS CMS

There are many options on the market for those looking for a headless CMS. Each software has different plans and functionality, so the choice can be very difficult. The decision must be made in relation to current and future needs. Before proceeding, we always recommend that you seek advice from a web agency that deals with website development.

To keep up to date with the innovations of digital transformation, keep following our JOurnal. If you would like to receive information about Moka Adv’s services on website development with headless CMS, please fill in the contact form. Our team will get back to you as soon as possible.

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