What should a content management system do? The answer to this question has changed a great deal over the years, and as a result, the way we design CMS platforms today has also changed.
One of the most significant developments in the world of website development and digital content publishing is ‘decoupled’ systems and specifically Headless CMS architecture. Simply put, these designs detach the way data is stored and managed from the way it is displayed – so the ‘head’ is detached from the body, in a way.
But what are the reasons for this? The crux of it all is that we simply needed a better way to deliver unique content across different devices, screen and outputs. We no longer wanted our digital assets to be restricted to any one place. With this in mind, let’s explore what Headless CMS really means and whether you need it.
Headless CMS – The Basics
- Allows you to create and store content without planning how it is to be displayed or visualised
- Requires CMS APIs that connect the content management back end to specific devices or channels
- The ability to connect with any publishing front-end technology using the same raw content
Understanding Headless CMS architecture and how you can benefit from it
Traditionally, the back and front end of a website were tied. As well as a place to store, manage and even create content, the back end was also where the visual elements of the website were developed. All things in one.
Breaking away from this model, decoupled CMS site architecture separated the back and front ends of a website into two completely different systems (albeit still connected). The back end became used primarily for organising, managing and creating content and information, while the front end became the visual interface.
This ‘decoupled’ system, or front-end agnostic approach, allows developers to do a number of things, including adding and updating content without affecting the visual presentation. For publishers of media content, this is ideal as it means no more complicated update processes when content needs to be altered in any significant way, or ported to a different technology.
And then came Headless…
Unlike previous methods, Headless architecture goes beyond the decoupled model in that it has no defined front-end presentation layer connected with it. While APIs will still have to be developed to deliver content to various platforms and technology, a Headless CMS can essentially be created independently of any front-end interface.
While decoupled systems prepare content in order to actively present it in a certain format, Headless is a content-only data source. Because of this, content will have to be delivered to applications and systems with an API. And yes, APIs need to be developed for each platform you want to publish on.
Traditional vs Headless CMS – What’s the difference?
A traditional CMS provides data storage functionality, a place to edit the user interface and a way to create, display and publish data. A headless CMS on the other hand only lets you store and edit data, requiring an API for content to be published to different platforms.
One of the biggest benefits for any organization that publishes large amounts of content is that Headless CMS allows you to do more with your raw content. Going beyond your website, you can use the exact same digital assets to be displayed on a number of platforms.
- Mobile applications
- Tablet applications
- Google AMP
- Social media
- Virtual reality (VR)
- Interactive displays
- Internet of Things (IoT)
Content on a Headless CMS can be pushed out to any number of devices, as long as the API has been integrated. So your website content can be channeled to a number of exciting places, such as wearable products that connect to the internet or mobile applications. There are no restrictions effectively.
You may have to invest more into building the different APIs that connect your content with various channels, but you’ll never be trapped within any one technology or device. This is a great bonus for many publishing and media companies, as content can have a much larger reach and amplification, spreading your valuable information or branding across today’s growing number of platforms.
If you are developing editorial content for your website, there is no reason you can’t make it available to mobile applications. You can even maximise your reach by building APIs that function with social media channels too. What you do with it is really up to you, but a Headless CMS gives you the option to go further with what you already have.
Supporting better content management
A Headless CMS provides the greatest flexibility when it comes to publishing content on multiple platforms. And this is necessary to make sure you have the best possible reach. Good content is good content, but where it ultimately appears will have a significant impact on your engagement levels. With content fitted to more channels, this means better control and exposure when it comes to delivering it.
Benefits of Headless CMS for your company:
- Faster and more flexible content delivery
- Adaptability for different user interfaces (including those not even developed yet)
- Greater security
- Simple third-party integration
- Provides more practical website functionality for marketing team
- Frees your data from any one-way platform
Where does headless fit into your content development strategy?
Content needs to be flexible. That’s just the world we live in. When it comes to your CMS and your content development strategy, your priority should be in removing as many barriers to quality and amplification as you can – as early as possible.
Your CMS needs to be adaptable, efficient, multifunctional and scalable if you want to compete with others in your sector. And this will let you future proof your operations and content management processes for years to come.
The onus is still on you to create next-level content, but a Headless CMS will do a great deal in making sure you can deliver this great content, wherever you want it to go. It will also help you deliver your content much faster than with systems where content management and display are unnecessarily intertwined.
Headless also lets your marketing team operate independently of your web development team, which reduces workplace complications tenfold. Ultimately, you can safeguard the creative, editorial and marketing process without it being confused with the technical requirements of your CMS. No more waiting around for the dev team to hand out a CMS guideline or template.
Major considerations for Headless CMS investments
A Headless CMS may not be for everyone just yet, but it is certainly the CMS model of the future. We admit, there is an obvious lack of functionality around content presentation with this architecture model, with the inherent need to seek out additional elements such as APIs before content is delivered to users. This can be a complicated process and could prove time-consuming if you don’t have the capacity to deal with this.
Potential drawbacks to consider:
- No content presentation functionality
- No live preview feature
- Requires additional technology integration
- Difficult to migrate content from a traditional CMS to a Headless CMS
- No traditional plug-in functionality
- Generally requires a robust development team
Investing in Headless CMS
Headless CMS is something you need if multi-channel publishing is important to you. Sooner or later, this will probably become the default CMS model, but for now, you’ll need to weigh up the benefits against the negatives.
A good way to look at Headless CMS is as an investment. A strong framework now will have sustainability. If you predict plans to grow or adapt your brand, you’ll need to have the right structure in place to support this; relying on traditional CMS builds probably won’t last you very long when trying to make your content outshine your competitors.