What is a Headless CMS?

What is a Headless CMS?


Before we answer the question, "what is a headless CMS?" It's essential to offer a bit of background on CMS in general. 

CMS stands for Content Management System. A CMS is a software that helps users create, modify, and manage website content without needing specialist skills. 

Put simply: a CMS can help you build a website without knowing or learning how to code. WordPress is perhaps the best-known example of a CMS.

So, then "what is a headless CMS?". 

Headless CMS is a kind of content management system that helps you create and manage your website content without connecting to the front-end layer, i.e., the display or presentation layer.

A headless CMS is a back-end system that holds your content and assets. From there, you can connect it to a content API which can distribute your content and assets to your:

  • Website
  • Mobile app
  • CRM
  • Email marketing
  • Wearable devices
  • and more.

The use of the term "headless" comes from the idea of chopping off the head, i.e., the front end, and just keeping the body or back end. 

Of course, that's not to say that you want to discard the head entirely. You still want your content to appear on your website, mobile app, or CRM. However, with a headless CMS, you can define which of these heads that you display your content on.

Traditional vs. headless CMS

There are many differences between a traditional and headless CMS. A traditional CMS — often called a "monolithic" CMS — is a piece of software you install or manage yourself. Everything is done inside the system: i.e., back end and front end.

On a traditional CMS, you create, manage, and store your content on the back end. Additionally, this is where your templates and customizations features are kept. When the content is published, it becomes accessible via the front end to your website visitors. Everything is written, edited, and managed on the same system that your website visitors are accessing.

On the other hand, a headless CMS doesn't dictate how the content appears. It stores content as raw data that is ready to be sent to a variety of places, like mobile apps, digital kiosks, or wearable devices.

Unlike traditional CMS, a headless CMS is not concerned with linking to the front end. Headless CMS simply deals with the content, which it publishes via APIs. This allows the data to be served to any device, allowing developers to use their choice of frameworks and tools.

Benefits of a headless CMS

The benefits of a headless CMS are significant.

Enhanced performance

A headless CMS helps you build and manage more quickly. Additionally, traditional CMSs are complex and constrained, leading to slow page loads.

Many web developers use a headless CMS and display omnichannel content via React.js. This results in a far better performance than publishing using WordPress.

Faster performing webpages can lead to better SERP rankings and conversions, which can boost revenue.

Quicker Editing

Traditional CMS architectures require a lot of time and effort for content editing and rendering. A headless CMS leaves the rendering process to other parts of the software stack, leading to far quicker editing and updates.

Omnichannel content management

Headless CMS isn't limited to providing content for a single website or app. These modern systems can manage content for a wide range of front ends like websites, apps, wearable devices, CRMs, and more.

By storing your content on a back end and connecting to different channels via API, your content is always standing by, ready to be re-used by whichever medium you need.

Better security

Headless content is separated from the presentation layer. As a result, the content publishing platform can't be accessed from CMS data. 

This arrangement reduces the likelihood of DDoS attacks that lock you out of the system or network resources.

Easier to scale

Headless CMS is easier to scale because the front and back end is separated. This process reduces downtime and lets you change your developer tools whenever you want.

Additionally, content sent by API is easy to manage and distribute without reducing website performance.

Building websites with rich UI components

Several organizations use a whole host of legacy mobile and web apps across the entire customer journey. For example, most banks use custom-built web apps for personal banking. 

Instead of spending countless resources to update legacy systems, a headless CMS can be used to display information inside the apps, reducing costs significantly.

Headless CMS use cases

A headless CMS has several great use cases.

#1. Websites

Consumer expectations have risen markedly in recent years. Most users won't accept anything but quickly loading and secure websites. A headless CMS is the best solution for these issues because they're compatible with high-performance Jamstack websites.

#2. E-commerce sites

Headless CMS is an excellent choice for e-commerce websites. Their flexibility allows users to adopt them as an e-commerce back end or to integrate their headless content with e-commerce platforms and inventory management systems like Shopify.

#3. Products and services

Most CMS architecture is built to serve websites only. However, headless CMSs can be built to push content for a variety of products and services all from the same places. These include websites, apps, voice assistants, and digital kiosks.

Why do we need a headless CMS?

The world of content management has changed significantly in recent years. In the past, your website was the main point of contact for your brand. However, now users engage with your business across a wide range of channels.

In this omnichannel age, content needs to appear on your website, mobile apps, integrations, email newsletters, and social media. Trying to manage separate content for each individual channel is hugely inefficient.

If you make updates or changes to your content, like prices, copy, data, etc., you shouldn't need to go through each system to make the change painstakingly. By centralizing your content management, you can update each system easily.

The most significant benefit of a headless CMS is that it allows you to write, edit, manage, update and publish your content from a singular, authoritative point. 

In an age when your content needs to appear across a wide range of places, a headless CMS will save you an incredible amount of time and energy.

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