Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash
Traditional CMSes such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, helped many businesses to go online. Yet, those systems are for managing websites. So they have a web-centric content architecture. And it wasn't meant to build multichannel user experiences.
If you want to embrace a plethora of digital channels, look for more agile technologies. You need a system that would let you create and store content elements as separate modules. You'll combine them into a variety of page layouts for different interfaces. And that pretty much describes what headless CMSs do.
Traditional vs. headless CMS
Traditional CMSes have backend and frontend bundled into a single app. It organizes content as web pages. They have rigid page templates that tie content elements (texts and images) together. Such a webpage-centric approach limits the reuse of content elements for building alternative layouts.
If you don’t want to use a traditional CMS, you would need a custom app. But, building it from the ground up is difficult and expensive. Usually, custom-rolled apps put too much workload on developer or engineering teams. What's even worse, marketing teams become unable to launch new content without developers.
Headless CMSs help balance agile content production and resource-heavy software development. Those solutions provide you with a ready-made backend application. So, headless CMS vendors do the most difficult part of development for you.
It's easier to create multichannel digital assets with a headless CMS. But it comes at a cost. Using it implies more expenditures and requires changes in content production workflows. You’ll need to engage frontend developers. Someone still has to build custom interfaces and connect them to your headless CMS.
Do I need a headless CMS?
The decision to adopt a headless approach to content management should be based on the understanding of its business value to your company. There are several typical problems that headless CMSs help to resolve. Going headless would be worth the effort if you:
Can’t use a traditional CMS because you want to build a completely new user experience to differentiate from competitors all using similar standard solutions.
Have a custom web application where only developers can publish or update content, which results in delays and bottlenecks for any marketing site changes.
Use multiple CMSes for different platforms and need your marketing team to copy and paste content manually between them, which leads to inconsistency.
Constantly have delays in product launches because content production is slow, requires a lot of tedious manual work from designers and content managers.
Can’t find and retain developers who would be willing to update and customize your legacy PHP CMS because the tech stack is boring and the work is tedious.
Want to launch in new markets and need to speed up translation and localization.
Target new audience segments and require the ability to create a lot of one-off pages, A/B test, rapidly iterate, and experiment with new design and copy.
Migrating to a headless CMS can be a solution to all the abovementioned problems. It will empower your marketing team to make content changes without being dependent on developers too much or being limited by traditional CMS templates and layouts. Yet, it would require you to follow the content-first approach and build a solid content strategy.
How does headless CMS work?
Headless CMSs separate the processes of creating, storing, and delivering content from each other. The headless CMS provides a simple content editor tool for the marketing team and stores all the created content as data accessible to external apps via API. It serves as a single source of truth to ensure consistency across all your marketing communication channels.
Because of its decoupled architecture, the API layer of the headless CMS plays a very important role. Such systems usually support RESTful and GraphQL APIs that ensure fast delivery of content to any digital touchpoint.
As for the user-facing apps, developers get total freedom to choose whatever technologies they prefer to build them. They can use React, Vue, and other frameworks or static website generators, such as Gatsby, Nuxt, Jekyll, and the like. The frontend apps are independent and use API to retrieve the content from your headless CMS and reuse it for as many delivery layers as needed.
How to choose a headless CMS?
If you’re a Forrester client, you might want to look at their Agile Content Management Systems report. It compares the most popular headless CMS options: Acquia, Adobe, Amplience, Automattic, Bloomreach, Contentful, Contentstack, CoreMedia, Crownpeak, Kentico, Magnolia, OpenText, Optimizely, SDL, and Sitecore.
This list can be extended by open-source and less-known solutions. To find the best headless CMS, you can do your research and compare content management systems by the following set of criteria:
API-first approach. Choosing between a decoupled version of a familiar traditional system (for example, headless WordPress) and an API-first solution means picking either a page-based or object-based approach to structuring content.
Open-source vs. SaaS. A free-of-charge source code package that your developers modify and maintain vs. an off-the-shelf paid hosted solution with updates and tech support covered by the vendor.
Software architecture. The software design and infrastructure should allow parallel workflows for content and engineering teams, scalability, and ease of pushing content in production.
Content model. The set of content elements, such as blogs, calls to action, ad texts, images, etc., that you can create as well as content infrastructure to organize and manage those elements within the CMS.
Content operations. The editorial interface, preview interface, and publishing capabilities should ensure an easy and convenient flow of content from creation to delivery that can be a good substitute to (WYSIWYG) editing.
APIs and extensions. The CMS should be extensible to help you make better use of third-party marketing and analytics tools and get more value from your tech investments.
When you choose a headless CMS you shouldn’t hurry. Instead, you can make a pilot project and test it in parallel with your current system. After you test the headless concept and train your marketing team on a separate small marketing campaign, it will be easier for you to rebuild your old content production workflow.
After you decided on the system, take the next step to re-platforming and engage experienced web developers. With the help of our Proxify network, you can find tech experts with relevant knowledge and skills.