The idiom “Looks don’t matter” seems to have been taken seriously by the CMS world.
Headless CMS has made quite some noise as it no longer cares what is on the front.
Before diving deep into why and how of it, let us try to understand the need for “Chopping off the CMS Head”.
As a purely marketing tool, traditional CMS has a lot of baggage to carry around, such as:
• Content publishing restrictions.
• Customization limitations for developers.
• Coupling limitation with a dedicated frontend.
• The content must conform to the database structure.
• Frontend coupling puts restrictions on content to maintain the responsive aspect.
All in all, the content developers secretly wished for flexibility.
The wish has been granted!
A headless CMS is all that a traditional CMS, plus the added flexibility is like a cherry on top of a cake.
If you wish to know the in and out of Headless CMS and whether the tradeoff is good or not, keep reading the article.
Let us get down to the business – What Is a Headless CMS?
- 1 Let us get down to the business – What Is a Headless CMS?
- 2 Definition of Headless CMS
- 3 Why Headless CMS?
- 4 Headless CMS Architecture – how does it look from the inside?
- 5 Headless CMS Comparison
- 6 Traditional CMS vs Decoupled CMS vs Headless CMS
- 7 Traditional CMS
- 8 Advantages of Traditional CMS
- 9 Disadvantages of Traditional CMS
- 10 Decoupled CMS
- 11 Disadvantages of Decoupled CMS
- 12 Advantages of Decoupled CMS
- 13 Headless CMS
- 14 The Benefits of Headless CMS Architecture
- 15 The Challenges of Using a Headless CMS
- 16 Use Cases for Headless CMS
- 17 Headless CMS Pros
- 18 Headless CMS Cons
- 19 Headless CMS: What Marketers Need to Know Now?
- 20 Top 10 Headless CMS Options
The name itself evokes curiosity.
Head of a CMS that has been “butchered” away is the Frontend. The objective of the act was to unleash the content development of the limitations of how the content must look like on a website or mobile App.
Definition of Headless CMS
A headless CMS has no links to the presentation layer of the front end. It works the same way as the traditional CMS and lets you create, read, update and delete (CRUD) the content but without a publishing platform.
What was the need?
The Frontend world is demanding and rapidly changing. We are spanning content across websites, responsive websites, Apps, Smartwatches and god knows what in future.
It was a genius thought!
“Decouple the CMS from its front end and the restrictions that it carried.”
A traditional CMS was tied to the frontends every time and had to deal with the pressures of multi-screen compatibilities, progressive and futuristic frontend compatibility and device independence.
Why should our data or content be held back because of frontend? This thought always haunted the content developers. They were eagerly looking for a way to be free of all the ties. Headless CMS was an answer to all these questions.
Why Headless CMS?
Rising in popularity, Headless CMS is a much-needed breakthrough that lets you do what is required with the powerful backend
• Store the data
• UI to CURD
• API to the data
A right balance of robust APIs and backend technology works in complete unison to aid every aspect of content and its handling requirements. Developers can provide Content as a Service (CaaS) separating the storage and delivery solutions. It takes away a substantial amount of your headache.
You can only relate to it if you believe in product work channels. A Headless CMS is required to make the below tasks easy:
1. Content repositories can be easily maintained
2. Content development, modeling and creating a hassle-free task.
3. Workflow and productivity are enhanced as redundant tasks are removed.
Effectively with a headless CMS, you are free to take your content base to any frontend without worrying about how to make the content look. How that happens is quite simple. APIs act as a buffer layer between the frontend code and content taking away all the complexities this code-content relationship brings.
Break free from the shackles of adjusting your content for changes that happen on the frontend.
Headless CMS Architecture – how does it look from the inside?
A headless CMS architecture has been developed to support content creation, storage, and delivery without worrying about the presentation layer. A traditional CMS with a “head” deals with the tasks of Headless CMS along with the task of handling display related requirements also. The content is stored in a MySQL database and a call is rendered to it using PHP commands. That sounds too old school now.
A headless CMS architecture uses APIs as a bridge between the backend CMs and Frontend. The major advantage that comes along with it is that it brings flexibility for you to choose the frontend technology. Understanding what it has to do makes it easy for you to understand the architecture.
The content data is stored in a method of choice and the APIs work to deliver the data to the frontend.
Headless CMS Comparison
Are the terms confusing you more?
Let us start with comparing the three different types of CMS to understand what headless means and how it is making the waves of changes the way traditional CMS is being used.
Traditional CMS vs Decoupled CMS vs Headless CMS
When you go out to the CMS world you may face these three names. Understanding what they are and how they work, will make it easy for you to decide which one is a sound choice for your requirements.
The coupled architecture of traditional CMS means the backend and frontend are packaged in one. If dissected it reveals:
• A content storing database
• A Content creation backend
• Applications for design schemas
• Frontend for publishing
The world was united before someone thought about chopping the head (frontend) off the architecture. Even today for some dedicated applications, Traditional CMS remains a preferred choice for it to easily set up workflow.
Advantages of Traditional CMS
1. Traditional CMS is easy to set and deploy
2. Publishing and content creation is handled from a single platform make the entire ecosystem more reliable.
3. Ease of administration for the solution handlers. They have to manage only a single black box.
Disadvantages of Traditional CMS
You would not agree more to this. The architecture was putting heavy restrictions on the way content was created and handled only because of the direct ties with the frontend.
1. Restriction on content due to frontend- The content has to be created in sync with the frontend development.
2. Complex architecture- Database scalability made the coupled CMS handling more complex.
3. Content Handling limitations- Integration and migration difficulties were increasing as the content to be handled is increasing day by day and adding new variants.
4. Long-development cycles- A complex CMS had to be created that had to handle both content creation and publishing making the task longer and not so agile.
5. An overall system not optimized- System performance struggles as the CMS and frontend have to be in a compromised symbiotic relationship that leads to a difficult situation of selecting both as the best.
The term is interchangeably being used with Headless CMS. Making the point very clear here.
The Decoupled CMS may not necessarily mean it is headless.
It also is the case that a layer of API is present to decouple frontend and the backend but the frontend is still present inside the architecture.
Disadvantages of Decoupled CMS
1. Complex system – Did they add another layer to the complexity of a system having the frontend, backend, and APIs? The answer is sadly a ‘Yes’.
2. More Failure points- Multiple soft spots for failure with increased layers.
3. Less optimized architecture- User experience may suffer as the optimization of such a complex system to make the publishing end look and feel intuitive is a new scale of difficulty.
Advantages of Decoupled CMS
Despite the major disadvantages, the Decoupled CMS is being used so of course, they have few great advantages tagged along too.
1. Traffic handling capacity- High traffic density websites work well in a decoupled ecosystem where the content database has to be approached multiple times.
2. Backend stands independently- The decoupling with API brings around the advantage of independence between backend and frontend. If there are any changes to the frontend, they need not impact the backend as APIs will handle the changing demands.
3. Isolated complexities- The complexity of the modules is isolated. The architecture does not magnify the complexities. Even if the frontend is complex, it will not shadow the simple backend.
4. Better as a CMS- Stable and high-performance CMS due to decoupling.
5. Flexible and Scalable – Even if the migration or sharing needs arise they can be supported easily.
6. Versatile Architecture – Multi-site and multi-channel support comes across as a simple extension as the publishing channel is present in the ecosystem.
7. Multiple Frontend support – Content sharing is easily supported with the multiple frontends in the cohesive relationship.
8. APIs make it simple- Feature-rich CMS can be developed as the complexities are isolated and each system is independent of the other. APIs manage all the complex calls.
9. Secure CMS- A developer does not leave the ecosystem making it more secure and reliable.
Make sure you never confuse both the terms decoupled CMS and Headless CMS. While the decoupled CMS is capable of handling publishing as well as the traditional CMS, Headless CMS is architecturally very different and without publishing and the headaches along with it.
Even though we may sound repetitive, but it needs to be emphasized that the Headless CMS comes without the publishing end or frontend. Pushing its architecture far away from traditional and decoupled CMS.
Does going headless sound compelling? Everyone today demands freedom and flexible solutions and that is where Headless CMS is finding its fan base. As a highly flexible solution for its developers and users, the Headless CMS offers enhanced user experience.
A few facts, you need to know about Headless CMS:
• All you need to do is change the Frontend as per the requirement. Whether it is the responsive website or Mobile App same set of APIs can be used.
• Content does not need to be duplicated and can be easily shared across multiple device platforms.
• Content can be displayed in versatile ways; it leaves the choice open for content developers and front-end developers.
• CMS does not intervene with the changes required on the frontend. They all function and grow independently.
• Improved reaction time as the front-end and back-end interacts without wasting any time and resources.
Pick up the one that works for you
A market analysis report favors the use of a traditional or coupled architecture for Apps– both mobile and Web. These projects need to be developed within stringent timelines and cannot take the leverage of separating the components. Make sure the choice is made when you know the future of the frontend does not change frequently or needs to support multiple interfaces that are different.
A decoupled architecture whether headless or not makes a perfect choice for websites that need high-level performance and customizations. The idea behind going decoupling is enhanced user experience and extensive functionalities of them without altering the content base across multiple devices.
eZ’s Chief Product & Marketing Officer, Roland Benedetti explains what a headless CMS is and what the buzz is all about.
The Benefits of Headless CMS Architecture
By far we have seen what is a Headless CMS and the architectural details. The benefits of opting for Headless CMS Architecture have been quite profound from the developer’s standpoint.
• Clean way
It is a clean way to implement a CMS. The architecture takes away all the complexities of the frontend and communication handling between the backend and the frontend. A developer’s focused effort goes into developing an optimized base to handle content purely.
We all agree CMS development is a complex task. Developers do not need to rebuild the CMS from scratch if the frontend changes. All they need is little technical involvement in setting up correct APIs to make the existing backend CMS support the new frontend.
• Secure solutions
With a decoupled CMS, developers need not fret about the security of the CMS. The content can be published anywhere through an encrypted channel to keep the CMS protected from any attacks.
• Easily extendible
Developers would need to put in no effort to CMS changes if any new servers need to be added. All they must do is add and point it to the CMS.
• No major business impact
SLA breech’s become less common as even if the CMS goes offline, the frontend is not impacted saving the developers face the stringent deadlines.
• Design freedom
With Headless CMS developers do not face any design “Lockdown” as the designs of frontend and backend CMS never overlap.
• Low-cost Solution
Developers can save the licensing fees on the frontend as they would not require the copy of CMS.
• Quick set up
Developers can easily and quickly establish cross-platform solutions with same CMS.
Could it get any better for developers?
The Challenges of Using a Headless CMS
Yes, you read it right. Every budding architectural change has some drawbacks and so has the Headless CMS. With the potential it holds and the strong community support it has, we are highly positive about it to overcome the drawbacks. The list includes:
• If your function is simple, Headless CMS will make it only complex. A friendly suggestion, avoid it if your needs are minimalistic.
• Traditional REST fails while handling the complex data transfers making the entire CMS to more susceptible to failures.
• Customization is a challenge with Headless CMS as it is complicated to set up. Complications intensify if you give customization a try.
• It is not useful for websites that do not have multiple content modifications expected.
While you go for a Headless CMS, your existing web developer may have to manage a lot more over two different segments of Headless CMS.
Use Cases for Headless CMS
It has been questioned time and again, why you would leave the already established Coupled CMS to a new territory of Headless CMS. It can be a great value add if your requirements encompass the below areas:
1. Content to be published on mobile Apps
Mobile apps have an altogether different approach towards handling content. They are not like websites that can access content only when online. The mobile App frameworks save the content temporarily so even if they are offline, they will display content. A headless CMS is a perfect solution for Mobile Apps so that the resources do not go waste.
2. Content to be published on multiple frontends
Bigger enterprises need their content to be published on website, web app, mobile app, smart watches and more such frontends. Does it sound sensible for an organization to develop a separate dedicated CMS for each frontend?
With a Headless CMS, the enterprise has to simply re-use the existing CMS. Even if in future any new interface is added, the Headless CMS is future-proof. A headless CMS needs to just take a call from where it needs to be published how that needs to be handled is frontend’s task.
3. Heavy content base
Enterprises like banks and financial institutions have a massive content as per each user records. The records span over years and may need to be accessed anytime. These Apps can become potentially heavy if they carry the CMS in coupled form.
For such applications, a Headless CMS is a perfect way to keep the CMS off the App and make a call to the content only when required.
4. Temporary Content requirements
Many websites or Mobile Apps do not need a dedicated CMS as the content needs may be minimalist. For such setups, you need not dwell on the complexities of attaching it permanently with a CMS and bear the development costs.
Using Content as a Service offers flexibility and cost-saving factor for the setup.
Headless CMS Pros
Headless CMS is not only a strong support from Developer community but the business world also. Harnessing the potential of Headless CMS, enterprises are edging towards a new era of growth.
1. Content that focuses on business
A traditional CMS needs a content developer to handle the technicalities too. In case a content creator is not familiar with the same, he end ups a struggle that impacts the quality of content and impacts its publishing too. With a Headless CMS set up the Content creator would never indulge into the complexities of installing or configuration of hosting environment.
Any upgrades on the frontend, which tend to be quite frequent will not impact the content creation part and will not intervene with its security standards.
2. Quick CMS solutions to enterprises
A flawless content management system that reaches the market and target audience quickly is a need of the hour. Business ideas are evolving daily and they need a digital channel to reach out to the audience. A Headless CMS is built independently of Frontend. For enterprises to reach out the audience, they can overlap the development of Backend and Frontend simultaneously making the market reach quickly.
They can deliver a functionality rich frontend quickly to develop an astounding web presence and then keep on improving the CMS without impacting the frontend. No more wait cycles for the time taking CMS to be developed.
3. Innovative and Intuitive frontend designs
Frontend design is no limitation for a Headless CMS. Whether the CMS caters a website, mobile App, Smartwatch or any time of digital assistants, APIs can easily channel it through.
Such a set up opens up a world of opportunities for businesses to showcase their content over multiple channels and capture the audience across.
Headless CMS Cons
Coming along with lots of flexibility and performance enhancement the cons of the Headless CMS are not at bay.
The users find it time-consuming to get a frontend web functionality to be developed separately and then take the burn of coupling the two to work in sync.
A headless CMS is of no use for enterprises unless it is supported by a beautiful UI as UI is what sells. The frontend development may get limited if the users do not have a web developer who can make the headless CMS work for them on the frontend.
Users need to maintain the integrity of two separate systems always at an additional cost to be incurred for the same.
Despite all the complexities and cons, Headless CMS is paving the path to outscore all the previous CMS. It is no more a long call.
Headless CMS: What Marketers Need to Know Now?
Headless CMS for WordPress
WordPress is inherently powerful and flexible CMS supporter. A decoupled or “headless” CMS WordPress sounds even more powerful. The WordPress developers can innovate headless CMS and make them future-proof. It significantly reduces the marketer’s cost of paying to develop a new CMS every time they move to a new frontend.
WordPress CMS driven websites can interact with any frontend with a WordPress REST API that is a very power packed combination. With the support of a REST API, the WordPress CMS can easily provide more information to the frontend.
WordPress- APIs have become the new hero of the Headless CMS ecosystem. You can use Headless WordPress CMS to support Apps and gaming consoles without much to do.
Headless CMS for SEO
Your SEO efforts can get a major push if backed by a Headless CMS. Designed with search engine marketing strategy, a Headless CMS does wonders and overcomes lots of SEO bottlenecks and helps in higher indexing of the websites.
Optimized Dynamic URLs
Search engines prefer a good structure Dynamic URL to index the website. Usually, the CMS generate very long and special character loaded URLs that face indexing issues. With Headless CMS, users can get a clean URL that is indexed much better.
Meta tags are the short description of your page that you see on the Google Search index page. A Search Engine values this HTML code component greatly as that gives it a brief idea of what the page holds. Pages with no or bad Meta do not rank well. Headless CMS allows users to assign Metadata that is closely related to what lies ahead on the website.
URLs are not limited to being Dynamic, if they have keyword too, it is an added advantage. The Keyword-Rich URLs are created on the Headless CMS helping a website to perform better on the search engine indexing.
It has been proved across that a Headless CMS offers support for Search Engine friendly content development. No Headless CMS product refuses to support better indexing thus promising a website that is SEO friendly inherently.
Top 10 Headless CMS Options
You just made up your mind to go ahead for your first Headless CMS. Knowing where to start will give you more confidence for the future ahead.
We just made your task simpler. Here is the comprehensive list of top Headless CMS available in the market with their extensive feature list.
The GraphCMS is a CMS infrastructure provider for all kinds of digital frontends. With GraphCMS one can build the desired APIs. How it deals with content backend and function-rich frontends is powerful.
The GraphCMS gives you a flexible content manager platform with text editors and workflow trackers that can be connected to multiple platforms.
As a content creator, you will experience full freedom of content creation without struggling with the complexities of publishing the content. It comes across as a scalable and secure platform that supports multiple platforms seamlessly.
A good way to future-proof your CMS with Minimum payload and extensive toolset, GraphCMS comes with a webhook that lets you develop your own business logic for extended functionalities.
ButterCMS is being used by the Headless community supporters extensively as the CMS can be set up within minutes so that you can focus on more important tasks. The ButterCMS not only saves the development time but saves you productive hours that translate to more money.
Upgrades are no issue with extensive support offered to the CMS from the company. Its security and performance are worth to be noted. The API of ButterCMS is simple and works flexibly with multiple frontend languages making it easier for any developer to work.
Through an intuitive dashboard, ButterCMS makes it easy to manage and organize the content.
No longer you need to waste your precious time struggling with complexities of CMS. Whether you need a new launch or re-branding, ContentStack is a complete solution for your needs. Supporting multiple digital platforms with content as a service, ContentStack proves to be an advantage for the future of content.
It is a smart collaboration CMS that offers extensive features. It makes life easy for digital assets management, automated publishing, versioning, multi-language support, and image enhancement.
The Contentstack CMS is a reliable, secure and scalable solution. It is quick to integrate and can be even connected to AI driven frontends.
Tools it supports are
- RESTful APIs
- Web frameworks
- Content Migration
- Scheduled publishing
- Multisite support
A highly futuristic open source Headless CMS is backed with an ASP.NET core. With Squidex you can open up to various professionals and assign them the variety of roles to help your projects grow. Multilingual support helps target multiple geographies with a trail of history being recorded.
You can easily filter your content and save them for later use. API publishing support with asset management and access keys. The editors like Markdown or WYSIWYG make it more versatile for users.
5. Cloud CMS
It markets its self a limitless platform for CMS development. It is easy for content developers to use so that they can focus only on content development rather than engaging with technicalities of publishing. Putting API first, this Cloud-based CMS is in the technical sense a decoupled JSON and content platform. A high-performance API and backend support re-usability of content across many platforms.
A feature rich and easily extendible UI helps content creator to work and get the content published easily on any platform. The tool supports features like versioning, publishing, content modeling, workflow maintenance, security, WebHooks, built-in search engine and import-export facility.
Headless CMS could not get better
Open source and headless, imagine the kind of flexibility it renders. Supporting an accelerated development cycle of CMS, it is a robust CMS platform. The RESTful APIs support the headless CMS and offer dynamic user experience.
It facilitates global publishing and multichannel support the much-required necessities of the digital world.
Available as dotCMS Enterprise and dotCMS Cloud, you can avail the services as a dedicated CMS or CaaS. It is a flexible and scalable solution to fit your content needs.
With the lightning-fast speed of CMS development, Contentful is a perfect friend to both developers and content creators. The developers can easily develop and integrate it into the frontend with powerful APIS. It comes with a flexibility of languages and frameworks to quickly deliver the best.
As a content creator, Contentful is feature packed and customizable solution with a good workflow management. Now you can easily manage and create content.
8. DNN Evoq 9
As a microservices architecture, Evoq 9 is all about exciting features. Using a cloud-based micro service, a content creator can manage, organize and store all the content that can be published on multiple sites. With the integration of tools like dynamic lists, form builder, analytics and personalization support.
With MailChimp integration, you as an owner can run email marketing campaigns immediately after your CMS is set up. You can launch webinars based on your content and touch the Global audience.
Performance optimized CMS offers features like
- Unlimited Content creators
- Content Localization
- WYSIWYG Editor
- Inline Image Editor
- Advanced URL
- Web Farms
- Role-based Security
- Multi-site Management
- Community Management
The API driven content management system is a perfect framework for customized database support. A perfect decoupling approach makes it simple, secure and scalable solution for both developers and content creators. It is an extensible platform.
The multi-client projects are handled with flexibility when your CMS is on Directus. As a content manager, it facilitates content management with the support of
- Table Listing
- Item Listing
- Editing items
You can filter and bookmark the content for easy and quick access. All your activity is present in the revision history for the quick check.
Responsive and flexible layout frameworks coupled with API to the CMS make it a versatile headless CMS. Tools like Visual Page Management help in the easy drag and drop the content building. Above all, it has easy to use templates that can be shared for quick content development.
Want to take a deep dive in analytics of content access, you can easily do with the integrated Google Analytics tool. The APIs and IDEs are empowering the backend and frontend to develop a robust web solution.
If you are looking for the one-word summary I may disappoint you.
A headless CMS is a massive new age CMS solution that is still unexplored. Currently, the traditional CMS is being put to good use for
1) Content data storage
2) A platform to let the users handle the edits
3) A channel to display and publish data
Headless CMS was bold enough to remove a significant part of the architecture- the Frontend. Still, it manages to provide ways to store and edit the same. It is a simple API that bridges the backend CMS to frontend so that all the data publishing can be done.
The headless CMS space is exploding with new players incorporating new innovative tools to make it easy. One that will stand out and help you be unique from the crowd would be the feature-packed headless CMS.
With the frontend, its development and requirement changing every other day sticking with traditional CMS would mean stopping the growth. Immensely beneficial headless CMS is helping users as well developers by offering them flexibility and scalability. Whether it is multichannel, re-branding, and multi-branding or re-use, Headless is the CMS one must opt for to be independent of the frontend restrictions.
What are you waiting for?
No matter how much we try to explain about Headless, when you work on it, only then you would be convinced that it definitely offers advantages. With everything moving on Cloud, Headless CMS is a classic example of the how things are evolving in the digital space.
Take some simple project and build it with headless CMS.
Some of your competitors are already where you want to be as they made a fast and smart move to Headless CMS. Ride the technology wave to stay ahead in competition before you out beat them. Time has proved headless CMS is way better than the other two architectures.
Do you realize how complex are the multi-platform publishing needs getting? It is nothing new to the developers’ world but it is the era of optimization, cost-saving, and flexibility and that is why you need to go Headless, oops I meant… go for Headless CMS.
Headless CMS revolution did not stop there. The cloud Headless CMS is the buzz word of the town. With it, vendors are able to provide Content-as-a-service (CaaS) to the developers.
Did you just discover a new channel to save dollars? No longer do you need to pay for CMS that may be used by your website seldom.
Headless CMS has so many rustic benefits to offer to the community that I always lose track of them. Let me recall them again:
- With Headless CMS, you save time.
- With Headless CMS, you save Money.
- With Headless CMS, you get flexibility.
It seems to be quite exciting to see how developers and users change their use trends of CMS and take out the advantages that have not surfaced yet. Do leave us your comment as to what you think about the Headless CMS and how you used it for your projects.
Waiting to hear back from you, drop your thoughts in the comment box.