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A Definitive Guide to Choosing Headless Content Management (CMS)

Dhaval MajithiaOct 16, 2016

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If you’re up-to-date in the content management space, you know there’s been an enormous amount of change in the business and technology landscape of content. In fact, the space is growing so quickly that it can be a challenge to find a definitive guide to these changes. After reading this, you’ll understand the benefits of moving from a previous generation content management systems (CMS) to something designed for not just today, but into the foreseeable future.

Going Headless


First and foremost, the need to deliver content across multiple channels (mobile, web, smartwatches, and everywhere) has driven organizations to switch to a more focused, sophisticated, and scalable CMS – known as “headless.” Rather than a heavy interface that manages both user input and structured output, typically for the web, a headless CMS has that title because its content, the body, is independent from the presentation layer, or “head” (think of the well-known Wordpress presentation layer or “front-end”). A headless CMS provides the backend to create, manage, and store content, and allows an organization to build its own front-end based on business and technology needs.

This approach provides content creators with the tools and the interface to create and publish content, full stop. It does not provide design templates, themes, or presentation tools, and does not care about how and where the content will be presented. With this approach, content is fully decoupled from presentation, making a headless CMS a platform for content management in its purest form.

Difference from Traditional CMS

traditional-vs-headless-cms (1).png

A traditional CMS provides for management of all the important components of a website, which include layout, templates, content editing, and the final presentation. Many also provide visitor analytics, A/B testing, and several other related features.

Headless CMS, on the other hand, does exactly what a pure CMS should do: It focuses on the core task of creating, storing and organizing content. The front-end is a completely separate system that uses APIs, another very hot technology, to fetch content from the CMS.

In a headless implementation, when a request is made by a user (through a mobile app or a website), an API call is made to fetch the content. The requested content is pulled from the CMS system and is displayed on the mobile app or website by assembling content along with its design elements. This delivery of content via APIs is known as Content-as-a-Service (CaaS).

Downside to Traditional CMS

Traditional CMS offer many add-on features as a way to cover additional functionality. The benefits gained, however, translate to more management overhead and contribute to slower development and update cycles.

The Advantages of Going Headless

Add-on features increase complexity and create a significant challenge in a world where an incredible pace of change puts more demands on businesses to make systems more flexible than ever before. This is why a headless CMS offer many important advantages over traditional CMS.

Here’s a look at each of them below:

1. No presentation limitations – build the best design ever.

Headless CMS allows developers to rise beyond the front-end restrictions that come with legacy CMS, and gives full control over the design and user experience. It allows developers to use any complementary technology, including customizable layouts, rich web apps, and other content management tools to create their own custom front-end. Once created, the front-end can be redesigned any time, without re-implementing the CMS.

2. Content for multiple channels – create content once, consume anywhere.

Users consume content on a variety of digital channels: Web, mobile, smartwatch, displays, etc. Headless CMS lets you cater to all of these, independently, without the need to create content separately for each platform. Content is created in CMS, and then delivered to an endpoint via APIs. The same content can be served to other platforms throughout the customer journey. In other words, it allows you to distribute content anywhere, anytime from one central repository.

3. Highly scalable content – for all your devices and microsites.

Once you have stored the required content in the repository, the content management system can then be used to deliver structured content to multiple websites, mobile apps, or devices. This makes it highly scalable and flexible.

4. Minimum training required – get started, immediately.

Unlike the case with traditional CMS, content managers using headless content systems are not required to manage the front-end. This means they are not required to learn new skills (such as HTML, CSS, PHP, etc.) to use the CMS. They just need to learn how to feed data into the CMS. The front-end can be independently handled by the developers/designers.

5. Faster content delivery – for a smoother experience.

A platform dedicated for delivery of content can be faster and more responsive than a system that assembles a tailored response based on complicated rules.

6. Easy integrations – connect with everything.

Most CMS’s provide webhook integrations that let you connect with third-party applications. It lets you notify about events in your CMS to other applications in real-time. Similarly, CMS’s with APIs can be integrated with several applications on the web

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