Article

Alan Gleeson
Alan Gleeson 11 October 2023

What is a Headless CMS and Why Should I Care?

WordPress is now over 20 years old and while it remains the most popular Content Management System (CMS) on the market, there are a growing number of situations where it is simply not fit-for-purpose. A new category of CMS called Headless has emerged as a modern alternative. This short article explains what a Headless CMS is and why you should care.

Context

When it comes to websites, CMS like WordPress represents the most popular option for many business websites. However, issues with WordPress are becoming an increasing issue, especially for growing companies with mature websites. These include:

  • Website bloat - sluggish site speed
  • Performance issues - page load times that are too high
  • Security vulnerabilities - concerns around the plugin ecosystem
  • Usability - a complicated interface for non-technical users
  • Scalability issues - a CMS not optimized for multiple collaborators

For companies looking to transition from a simple brochure-wear site to a growth engine to drive customer acquisition, there is a growing sense that WordPress is not a great fit for this use case. 

An Introduction to Headless

So what is a Headless CMS and what do I need to know about it?

A Headless CMS is a modern CMS that approaches a website build differently to a traditional legacy (known as monolithic CMS) like WordPress.

1. Separate Front End and Back End

With a Headless CMS, the front end is separate - the whole point is the content sits in the content repository and can feed multiple heads i.e. can be sent via API to different "heads" be they a website, a mobile app, or an in-store display. 

2. Bespoke Design

In recent years, most CMS-managed content as well as design. Theme-based solutions were popular - choose a theme and off you go.

With Headless the front end is usually designed independently - the whole point is you can select best in class for the constituent pieces of the site and link them all together via an API.

3. Reduced Ongoing Maintenance

With a WordPress-based CMS there is a need for constant maintenance. Managing theme updates, checking for plugin compatibilities, and ensuring known security issues are patched.

Often you'll need a WordPress freelancer or agency on retainer. With a Headless CMS, all of these issues are the responsibility of the enterprise vendor. Marketing is now simply responsible for the content (be that content upgrades or new content).

4. Enhanced Security

Security concerns are always present with WordPress - after all, given its popularity it is the most hacked CMS on the market.

With a Headless CMS, the attack surface is reduced and the API -lead design means a breach in one area is contained.

Why are Headless CMS Becoming Popular?

So what are some of the drivers behind the explosion in sites using a Headless CMS?

  1. Performance
  2. Security
  3. Design
  4. Flexibility
  5. Scalability
  6. Omnichannel

Performance - a Headless architecture is built for high performance. It is possible to get page load times under 1 second (something WordPress can struggle with in comparison unless you throw a lot of money at the problem).

Security - As outlined above, a Headless architecture is also a more secure approach to managing a website than a WordPress one.

Design - Whereas some WordPress sites look a little cookie-cutter when based on popular themes, a Headless CMS lets your developer decide on the front end - hence you get a bespoke website design.

Flexibility - With WordPress you are constrained by what is baked into it, using plugins to extend the functionality. A Headless CMS functions like Lego bricks. Your developer has the flexibility to connect their preferred tools and frameworks to deliver on your specific needs

Scalability - A Headless CMS is built for scaling - be it's ability to cater for traffic spikes or new additions to the content team.

Omnichannel - A key driver of the adoption of Headless has been due to its omnichannel capability. Content can be fed via API to multiple heads, and thus can act as a "single source of truth".

Contento - A Headless CMS for Websites

Finally, a word about Contento - a modern CMS for websites.

Contento is a Headless CMS with a few subtle differences.

Firstly, it assumes you are using the Headless CMS to manage and maintain a website. This is a simple but powerful assumption the others fail to make. However, it helps shape everything from the feature set, to the interface to the product roadmap.

A second area of focus is on ensuring the content and marketing team can easily manage the site after handover. Again many of the other Headless CMS solutions miss a trick here.

They focus exclusively on the building part, meeting the needs of the developer community but falling short when it comes to ensuring ongoing site maintenance meets the needs of the marketing team.

Finally, at Contento, we try and make the technology more accessible to non-technical users.

Summary

Headless CMS refers to a fast-growing category of CMS designed to meet the needs of mature websites that need to scale. WordPress will always remain a popular choice, particularly for more early stage budget contrained companies, however, as you grow and seek to scale, it is worth looking at the category of Headless. 

Alan Gleeson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Contento.
 

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