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Headless CMS: What You Need To Know

Do you want to know how a headless CMS can help you manage online content? Find out why so many businesses are switching to a headless CMS in our guide.

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard — 12 minute read.

The scalability and flexibility of content management are two of the most important factors to consider, and that’s why there is a headless CMS trend.

As digital marketing platforms have evolved over the years, their content infrastructure has changed significantly. With the tremendous boom in technology in the past decade, it has become crucial for enterprises to create online content that is accessible and adaptable to different digital platforms.

Headless Cms

Traditional CMS has failed to keep up with the pace of this extraordinary evolution, making room for headless CMS’s emergence. A new era dawned upon the digital content management sector with the development of headless systems.

But if you are new to the digital marketing scene, you might ask — how does a headless CMS work? We’re here to talk about headless content management systems and how they are better than traditional CMSes. So, let’s dig in!

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Headless CMS Explained

A headless content management system (CMS) is a back-end content management system where the content “body” or content repository is decoupled or separated from the “head” or presentation layer. You can distribute content in a headless CMS to any digital platform via devices like smartphones, tablets, AI-enabled voice assistant systems, virtual reality headsets, and more.

Headless Cms Works

Developers use Application Programming Interfaces (API), such as the GraphQL API or the RESTful API, to deliver content to various digital devices. Thus, with a headless CMS, managing content is much easier as it’s not restricted to a website or a web page. Instead, it can be distributed anywhere and everywhere, such as on mobile sites or your email.

Once you remove the presentation layer of a traditional CMS, you can create a headless CMS that makes accessing online digital content much more effortless. By developing a headless architecture, it can be possible to create omnichannel content across different devices and platforms.

A headless CMS doesn’t care how and where your digital content is displayed. It simply focuses on storing and delivering well-structured content and successfully enables editors to collaborate on various new content projects. It is the future of digital content management to create engaging and relevant content that can reach millions of audiences through any digital platform.

Traditional CMS Vs. Headless CMS

The main difference between a traditional content management system and a headless CMS is the “head” or the presentation layer. Most traditional CMSes are coupled content management systems making back-end and front-end tools inseparable. Everything is put in one bucket in a traditional or monolithic CMS, so templates and website design tools are inseparable here.

Traditional Headless Cms

Since content, images, and HTML codes are piled up in a traditional CMS, and it becomes almost impossible to reuse the content for a new project. When you think about monolithic CMSes like WordPress, content delivery application (CDA) and content management application (CMA) are coupled, limiting digital content’s availability.

On top of this, a traditional content management system uses webpage-oriented frameworks, developing suitable content for a single page. Usually, you can only access such content via a specific web browser and can’t distribute it to any shared devices.

But the API-first approach of headless CMSes allows easy online content distribution through different channels. You can access the content embedded in a headless CMS using a smartphone or any AI-enabled voice system. Hence, managing content across several digital platforms becomes much easier.

The headless CMS architecture differs distinctly from the content structure because it doesn’t have a presentation layer. Because the template and content are separate in a headless CMS, it is easier for content editors to edit or reuse the content however they see fit.

To sum it up, a headless CMS works for multiple digital platforms, unlike the traditional CMS architecture. Thanks to the decoupled content structures of the headless approach, content creation and editing have become much more effortless.

Content Infrastructure Of A Headless CMS

Content infrastructure is a form of headless CMS that doesn’t follow the traditional approach of creating and organising content hubs around specific pages. Instead, it follows a content model framework for organising online content types and defining how they relate.

Each organisation custom builds its content models in this headless CMS so the content creators don’t get stuck within the pre-programmed models of a monolithic CMS. This custom-built content model can break down any content into individual elements, like a blog post headline or similar features.

Using content infrastructure, content creators can define how every element relates to each other and create a flexible model that you can distribute through multiple channels.

What Is A Decoupled CMS?

In traditional CMSes, the front-end and back-end are tightly interlinked and inseparable. Creating, managing, publishing, and storing content within a single interface is possible. A monolithic CMS offers a seamless setup for non-technical users to publish straightforward content, such as a blog.

But with the rapid digitisation of content, web developers have been working to create sophisticated and personalised content that can be delivered to a broader audience using various digital devices. And that’s how decoupled CMS came into existence to offer an improved digital experience while creating and managing content.

Decoupled CMSes separate back-end and front-end tasks to allow developers to design and code front-end tasks however they want without being restricted by the back-end technologies. But in a decoupled CMS, developers use APIs to seamlessly connect the back-end task, like content management and storage, to any front-end content delivery application.

What Is An API-First CMS?

Even though decoupled CMSes are mostly successful in separating front-end and back-end tasks, they can still come with some front-end tools, like module integrations and page templates. To overcome the limitations of a decoupled CMS, API-first CMSes were developed by web designers.

API-first CMSes are functionally similar to headless CMSes because neither has any default front-end tools. Developers can create as many delivery layers as possible using their preferred coding language and distribute content to new channels.

These CMSes are excellent if a team of skilled web developers have hands-on experience creating, managing, and storing some content. The API-First CMS effortlessly manages digital content and responds to the API call from a front-end delivery layer designed separately by the developers.

On the other hand, even though decoupled CMSes effectively separate front-end and back-end tasks, they might still require some publishing support for effective content management.

How Can You Convert A Monolithic CMS Into A Headless CMS?

Before converting a traditional CMS to a headless CMS, you must learn everything about a traditional CMS architecture. So, in this section, we’ve discussed the key characteristics of a monolithic CMS.

A monolithic CMS comes with the following set of features:

  • A database to read and write the content
  • An admin interface to allow content editors to manage the content
  • An integration for content reading or writing
  • A front-end tool combining data from the main database using HTML

Monolithic Cms

To convert this entire monolithic structure into a headless content management system, remove the front-end templating feature from this stack because that’s the head of a monolithic CMS. Once the template is removed, you can connect the back-end and front-end layers using a RESTful API or a GraphQL API that is easily accessible to other systems.

The APIs will allow users to access the published content from any digital platform. And thus, you can successfully convert a monolithic CMS to develop a headless CMS by modifying its architecture.

Benefits Of Using A Headless CMS

Headless Cms Advantages

1. Content Delivery Via Multiple Channels

Headless CMSes can power several touchpoints across any device or channel. From mobile apps to websites, email marketing, AI-activated voice recognition systems, smartwatches, and more. In a headless CMS, content is stored in a cloud-first content hub, and its distribution is quite simple because you won’t need to install or manage anything separately.

2. Fast Content Deployment

Headless CMS uses an API-first approach, making it possible for web developers to create and distribute content across different digital platforms as quickly as lightning. You can apply the Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) architecture to scale and deploy online content to several new channels within minutes.

3. Modular Content

Since the digital content embedded in a headless CMS is not dependent on any front-end tools, it becomes modular. You can easily manage, store, and deploy it across any suitable touchpoint without facing the risk of being reformatted or duplicated.

4. Limitless Integrations

A headless CMS allows users to display content to almost every connected digital device and software. Hence, in a headless CMS, online content is not sealed from systems, such as localisation platforms, personalisation tools, CRM, or Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

Why Are Companies Choosing Headless CMS?

With the boom of digital platforms, companies often have to face and handle various CMS instances. Consequently, they must duplicate multiple contents from a website to mobile apps and other digital displays. And they are more inclined to choose a headless CMS over a monolithic CMS in recent times, so let’s find out why.

Cms Differences

1. Unifies Data

You can forget unnecessary copy and pasting with content infrastructure and unify all online content within a single, centralised cloud hub. It makes content editing more manageable, allowing you to change the image or content body in one platform, and the change will automatically appear anywhere the content is available.

Unification enhances compliance and brand consistency, enabling content editors to effortlessly update their content across multiple channels and making brand campaigns a piece of cake.

2. Enables Collaborations

Another advantage of using content infrastructure is allowing simultaneous collaboration. It helps replace the tedious waterfall content development approach and promotes an agile and flexible framework where multiple teams can work simultaneously. This headless CMS offers a competitive advantage to companies that work on rapidly developing new software, microsites, and landing pages.

3. Makes Content Resources Accessible

Reusability of content is an added advantage of content infrastructure. You can easily optimise your resources to create and publish high-quality and super-engaging online content. When your content is accessible to the users via multiple digital platforms, it becomes easier to utilise different features, such as localisation and personalisation, to their maximum potential.

Who Uses Headless CMS?

If we go beyond theory, several industries and organisations have embraced headless CMSes as an integral weapon. By using the headless CMS, the brands aim to enhance their customers’ digital experiences across multiple platforms and devices.

The headless CMS enables companies to connect and interact with their customers at a larger scale and adapt quickly to emerging market opportunities. It helps to streamline all content operations to maintain consistency and flexibility effectively.

Below, we’ve highlighted some industries that use a headless CMS to manage content operations.

1. Sports Teams

Sports teams can build an omnichannel digital platform using a headless CMS to enhance fan engagement. Sports teams can create high-quality personalised content with a headless CMS and help dedicated fans to feel more connected to their idols.

2. Airline Companies

Airline companies have to deal with some of the most complicated content requirements compared to any industry. Their teams must manage critical, real-time communications, international content translation, and localisation.

They also must create a multichannel presence that includes hundreds or even thousands of touchpoints for individual customers. A headless CMS can help airline companies maintain clear, simplified, consistent, accurate and up-to-date communication.

Plus, it’ll enable airline companies to distribute their content across various digital platforms, such as mobile apps, email, official company websites, physical displays, and third-party search sites.

3. Financial Services

Customers depend on real-time information and content for making crucial financial decisions in the financial service industry. They also want to access personalised content that can help them easily navigate through complex financial processes and enable them to make smarter financial decisions.

Financial firms must have the flexibility to nurture innovation while maintaining their reliable foundation to manage content. Hence, a headless CMS can significantly help financial institutions manage the effective personalisation of readily available content to every customer.

4. Online Retailers

The customer is always right in online retail, and customer experience triumphs over anything else. When it comes to online shopping, customers quickly criticise brands that cannot meet their needs or offer a poor buying experience.

But, thanks to headless CMSes, online e-commerce brands can build one-to-one connections with their customers. They can include marketing and product content information into the purchase history to offer millions of customers a unique personalised shopping experience.

Possible Disadvantages Of Using A Headless CMS

Even though a headless CMS is quite effective in managing content, it cannot fix every drawback of content management. You might face two significant limitations while using a headless CMS while creating content.

Firstly, while a headless CMS offers more flexibility, accessibility can be problematic for non-technical users. As web developers build the front-end presentation layer using JavaScript, non-technical users can’t use the “What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)” features for writing or editing.

And when you separate the head from the content body in a CMS, you can’t share any real-time customer interaction data between back-end and front-end tools. It means running any content analysis or personalising online content becomes quite troublesome.

Over the years, content personalisation has become a fundamental requirement of content creation. With high-quality personalised content offered by industry leaders like Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix, users are beginning to understand the power of personalised content. Hence, the difficulty of creating personalised content is the greatest letdown of a headless CMS.

Converting To A Headless CMS

We end our informative guide on headless CMSes and how they differ from traditional CMSes in content architecture and operations. After going through our article, we hope you better understand different headless CMS solutions that can help brands create and manage engaging online content.

If you want a detailed understanding of how to design a headless CMS, it’s best to start with the primary content architecture of a traditional CMS. With a headless CMS, it can be possible to distribute your content at a larger scale across any digital platform. However, consider the drawbacks of the headless CMS before applying it to improve your brand’s market presence.

Get in touch with our sitecentre® team if you need assistance with your CMS, content creation, or website design.

On that note, we’ll sign off. Take care and see you next time!

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey is the CEO of sitecentre® and a data analyst in the SEO, Paid advertising space that uses machine learning and AI to advance sitecentre® as an industry-leading digital marketing agency across Australia.

Find them on their website: sitecentre®, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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