Headless CMS: What Is It and How Do We Use It?

By: Hileman Group  | 05/05/2021

Once upon a time, websites were built using HTML, CSS and a lot of other acronyms to make them look pretty and function the way you wanted. When the website was complete, you’d pray that there were no edits because, to implement them, you’d have to hand over your first-born to a web developer. Over the years, technology got smarter and we were able to keep our babies because content management systems (CMS) were created to allow anyone to create and update websites. As technology evolves, so do new approaches to content management. Enter headless CMS.


What Is Headless CMS?

A traditional CMS couples together the front-end and back-end of a system, managing both the functionality and presentation. On the other hand, a headless CMS is a back-end only content management system that makes content available via an API so you can display that content on any device. The presentation side (or front-end) can be whatever technology your developer wants, without having to learn a set technology that a traditional CMS might use.

You might be wondering, why “headless?” The term comes from the idea of cutting the “head” (the front-end) off the “body” (the back-end). The headless CMS does not focus on what your website looks from a front-end perspective; instead, it only cares about delivering content where and how you need it.


What Are the Benefits of Headless CMS?

A headless CMS isn’t for everyone, but there are a lot of benefits, including:

Flexibility. Because a headless CMS delivers content through a dynamic API, there is more freedom to build your front-end in the framework that best matches the project goal. This makes headless CMS popular among developers because they have the autonomy and creativity to use their favorite tools and aren’t limited by a traditional CMS’s restrictions.

Speed. A website can be built in a shorter amount of time with a headless CMS. Traditionally, content editors have to wait until a site is 99% built before they can load copy and images. With a separate front-end, content editors can begin at the same time development begins—as soon as wireframes are approved.

Security. When front-end and back-end are coupled together, they are more at risk for a security breach. With headless CMS, there is no database to secure, which lowers the risk for attack. 

Scalability. Keeping the front-end and back-end decoupled means you can scale, upgrade or customize without worrying about downtime.

Omnichannel approach. One of the best reasons to use a headless CMS is the ability to serve up content across multiple channels. The API isn’t tied to one presentation and can feed content into whatever front-end you choose: websites, mobile apps, AR/VR and more.


What Are the Drawbacks of Headless CMS?

While there are a lot of pros to headless CMS, it’s not without its limitations, including:

Complexity. A benefit of a traditional CMS is the set of templates to choose from, making your work easier. With a headless CMS, you have to design and build your own infrastructure from scratch as well as find and manage the presentation component.

Cost. Building from scratch adds an additional layer of complexity to your project. Which, in turn, adds a lot of development hours to set up your website, app, gaming system, etc., test and implement.

Formatting. A headless CMS does not allow you to preview your content on a webpage. Therefore, you’ll almost always have formatting issues before it is published.

Less accessibility. Since we cut off the head of the CMS, we lost our What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) abilities. That means non-technical users can’t easily edit the presentation of the digital experience.

Less personalization. This is a biggie. Cutting off the head does more than lose the WYSIWYG editor. You also lose the ability to transfer customer data from the front-end to the back-end, resulting in an inability to return personalized content to your prospects and customers.


Why Might You Want a Headless CMS?

If you need a stand-alone website for your organization, a traditional CMS will most likely be your best bet. However, there are plenty of industries that have embraced the headless CMS.

A headless CMS is a good option if:

  • You need to create a unique user experience with complex features
  • You transact with customers across multiple platforms and devices
  • You want to use modern JavaScript frameworks for your project (React, Vue.js, Angular)


What Do You Need to Implement a Headless CMS?

Once you’ve decided that headless CMS is for you, there are several platforms to choose from. But, mostly, to get started, you need a developer who knows how to do it. As a Kentico Gold Partner, we like Kentico Kontent to build websites and apps for our clients. As technology continues to advance, headless CMS might end up shaping the future of web development. 


The Bottom Line

To go headless or not to go headless, that is the question. And the answer is: it all depends. Before deciding on a headless CMS, you must first think about your goals. Questions you should ask yourself include:

  • What kind of content structures do I need?
  • Do I want to manage content hosting and maintenance?
  • Will my content be stored securely?
  • Can I scale easily?

Headless CMS definitely has its place in the world. If you have questions about how we can help you implement a headless CMS for your organization, contact us today!



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