When a headless CMS is the way to go
Headless content management systems (CMSes) have picked up steam over the last few years, and for good reason. They give developers the flexibility to create custom front-end frameworks and enable marketers to efficiently deliver omnichannel experiences and content
I’m a big fan of the headless CMS and at DPDK we work with partners like Prismic and Drupal to build next-level digital experiences for our clients. That being said, like all CMSes, a headless CMS isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and may not always be the most suitable option.
But before I get into that, let’s first answer the question: what’s a headless CMS?
What is a headless CMS
Simply put, a headless CMS is a back end-only CMS that exclusively manages content. This is different from a traditional CMS, which uses a coupled front end and back end to manage and display content. The front end is what is shown at the ‘front’ of a user interface, while the back end refers to what goes on behind the scenes, from site structure to data and everything in between.
With a traditional CMS, the front end and back end are connected, which means that content displayed on the front end is dictated by the back end. On the other hand, a headless CMS is front-end agnostic: it uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to retrieve content from the back end. Because of this, a headless CMS doesn’t determine how content is displayed. Developers can build custom front-end frameworks, or ‘heads’, for various channels and devices.
You might think that a headless CMS makes the content delivery process more complicated by adding a middleman (in this case, APIs). The truth is that such a setup can tremendously benefit your marketing and tech teams.
The benefits of going headless
Today, there is an increasing need for brands to be agile and create innovative omnichannel experiences with speed. While traditional CMSes have their fair share of benefits - we’ve used traditional CMSes like WordPress to build stunning websites for clients like AkitaBox and Kondor Wessels Vastgoed - they’re designed for website-only content. This can be limiting for brands who want to present their content on multiple channels.
That’s where a headless CMS comes in. A headless CMS uses an API to deliver content and enables developers to apply custom front-end solutions. As a result, content isn’t limited to any single platform or device; instead, the same content can be displayed in various formats on different channels.
In a headless CMS, all content is stored in the back end, independent of its presentation. Not only does this make content management easier, but it also removes the need to use a different CMS for every channel. Instead, developers can attach any number of front-end frameworks to publish that content on different channels. For this reason, a headless CMS is the way to go for brands with large content repositories and those wanting to deliver omnichannel experiences.
Unlike traditional CMSes, which typically use set themes and templates, headless CMSes give developers the freedom to present content where and how they want to. This way, developers can create truly customized and unique user experiences.
While changes made to a traditional CMS’s back end must also be updated in the front end, developers working with a headless CMS can make changes in the back end without affecting the front end. This also enables marketers to publish content without waiting for the front end to be updated.
A stellar example of a headless CMS in action is HKliving’s stunning new corporate website. The world-renowned interior brand asked us to design and build a future-proof website with an integrated e-commerce store. HKliving has an extensive and ever-growing product portfolio and frequently publishes catalogs. Their team updates and publishes content often, and they needed a CMS that would give them the flexibility, ease, and speed to cater to their content activities.
After comparing different CMS options, we decided to opt for a fast, easy-to-use headless CMS called Prismic. We built a one-of-a-kind website that serves as a source of inspiration and offers a seamless shopping experience. The website received an Honorable Mention on Awwwards and is now running for Site of the Day - stay tuned!
Is a headless CMS for you?
While a headless CMS can be more powerful than a traditional CMS, it’s not always the most suitable solution. Whether or not you should invest in one comes down to your specific needs, wants, and team capabilities.
Traditional CMSes offer a simple, website-based experience that is perfect for creating basic websites. If you’re focused strictly on building a website and don’t need to share content to other channels, a traditional CMS may be the best option.
Setting up a headless CMS is a time intensive task and requires a dedicated tech team to develop and maintain it. Because there are multiple components working alongside the CMS, these also need to be designed and managed. Which is why for smaller brands or brands with fewer tech capabilities, a traditional CMS might be a more effective option.
Picking the right CMS can be an overwhelming process. After all, it can make or break your digital experiences. Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you of the benefits of investing in a headless CMS. Are you ready to reap the rewards?