Chris Purcell
Chris Purcell 1 June 2021

Losing Your Head Over Headless CMS?

With consumers increasingly embracing new social media platforms, apps and smart devices like watches and voice-activated devices, we’re now faced with a larger number of touchpoints than ever before. These are becoming important channels through which brands can create engaging digital experiences. But the ever more complex omnichannel environment can result in ‘experience siloes’ where content is created and delivered in a fragmented way, discouraging customer engagement.

A good content infrastructure enables companies to deliver a range of content across a multitude of different channels, and this where businesses often consider adopting a ‘headless CMS’ to unify this content and eliminate siloes.

But headless CMS is not a one-size-fits-all solution, requiring a careful consideration of its pros and cons to understand if headless is the right solution for your business.

What Exactly is ‘Headless CMS’?

Put simply, a headless CMS translates your content into raw data that can be consumed by any platform. It is a content-only data source without a presentation layer. In other words, the head, or frontend (what the user sees), is removed from the body, the backend (the developer’s side). A bit of a gory analogy, but it works.

In a headless CMS, content is managed separately from its delivery. It is prepared on the backend and then delivered and presented in the frontend through application programming interfaces (APIs), enabling content managers, editors and designers to work on the frontend, while developers work on the backend.

In contrast, in traditional CMS systems the frontend and backend are bound together, with the content being created, managed, stored and delivered in the same system.

APIs are key enablers of headless CMS. They allow systems to talk to each other, receiving commands from the users into the headless application and pulling content into a presentation layer.

In the context of digital experiences, headless means digital marketers can use their CMS to power any number of customer-facing experiences, including native mobile apps, smart devices or existing web applications.

Learn the 4 key considerations when selecting a headless CMS in the Headless CMS Buyer's Guide.

Consistent Experiences Across all Touchpoints

Headless CMS has been riding the wave of popularity in omnichannel publishing, with marketers and digital leaders requiring greater flexibility to support multiple channels. It has enabled them to respond to changing customer expectations in an agile way while maintaining a continuity of user experience.

As smart devices expand in adoption and maturity, headless CMS helps businesses reach customers via new and emerging touchpoints. One of the key benefits of headless CMS is that it can integrate with the underlying framework used by smart devices to deliver the content and experiences the end user expects.

Finally, headless CMS also integrates with legacy web applications or mobile apps that power various phases of the customer journey, removing the need to spend large sums of money on swapping out these legacy systems with a new, traditional CMS.

The Drawbacks

However, digital marketers may discover that while headless CMS helps solve some problems, it can potentially introduce some new challenges. It is important to understand these and map out the trade-offs before choosing a headless CMS solution.

It may be initially appealing and straightforward to translate content into raw data consumed by any platform. But companies sometimes find they need more functionality than is already built-in to the headless CMS, so they have to customise. Ongoing investments in the development of custom templates and system maintenance can drive up total cost of ownership.

Headless CMS does not always provide the technology or the integration capabilities needed to differentiate your customer experiences now and in the future, such as personalisation, experimentation and optimisation engines.  

Best of Both Worlds?

Businesses may not need to make the choice between a traditional and a headless CMS as there are several ‘hybrid’ systems that offer a mix of headless and traditional architecture.

Hybrid systems can operate in a traditional coupled architecture, but also have the tools to serve content ‘headlessly’. Put another way: there’s a headless CMS inside a more fully-featured web CMS, bringing digital marketers the best of both worlds.

In practice, this means users can support the traditional web channel with the help of rendered, consumable documents, and, using the same content repository, consistently re-use content in any emerging channel your developers are coding to support.

This hybrid CMS approach enables digital marketers to deliver consistent experiences across all touchpoints (traditional and emerging), while serving personalised and relevant content that fosters customer engagement.

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