Introduction to headless CMS: pros, cons and the future
Welcome to the age of headless technologyIn a digital era of a variety of devices and channels, an accessible and responsive website might no longer be sufficient. A seamless and interactive digital user experience across multiple channels is the key to success. CMSs have evolved throughout the years. Contentful, for example, has introduced content infrastructure as the modernized way of putting content management in your stack while Bloomreach promises a hybrid CMS solution. A headless CMS is an approach where the “head” is chopped off from the “body.”The head represents the presentation layer or the front end. The body refers to the back end where the content repository is the main component. The big promise of headless CMS is to enable you to reuse the same content delivered through different channels. The content is not restricted to just one form of presentation. The headless CMS is a good solution for seamless digital experiences in this fast-paced omnichannel world. With smart TVs, mobiles, laptops, etc., customers are now more connected than ever, and they expect a consistent experience and high-quality content across all digital channels. Imagine that you have a TV guide, and the content consists of the title and a description of the show. The description of the show is the same no matter what the channel is or when it will be aired, like in a show rerun 10 years from now. With headless CMS, you can use and reuse the description for several interfaces like in a magazine, a digital TV, an app, or on a webpage. The traditional CMS is very page-focused. Nowadays, there’s a need for the websites to become more dynamic and interactive.
Traditional vs headless CMSThe biggest difference between traditional and headless CMS is that headless CMS doesn’t have a presentation layer. The presentation layer is completely separate from the CMS, and can be controlled with code. With headless CMS, content comes first, then the presentation layer. It starts with what you want to say before how you want to present it. With a headless CMS, you need to start with a content model. A content model describes the content created, how it is structured and categorized. A good content model should reflect current needs, use cases, and customer journeys. The key thing in content modeling is to organize and structure the content in a way that allows for an easy reuse. It’s important to note that managing the content model and the content are two separate things:
- Content model is developed as a code. Manage it as you manage your code.
- Content creation and approval is something you keep on producing.
What drives separation of front end and back endThere are 5 things that drive separation of front end and back end:
- Consumer expectations for superior user experience are growing rapidly. The expectation-level for user experiences is no longer set by direct competitors. It’s the global giant vendors that dictate and set the bar for user experience. There’s an immediate need for the rest to exceed that expectation, be better, be more relevant and offer something more personal.
- There is a surging need for flexibility at the presentation layer because digital channels are driving the customer experience more and more. Organizations want to utilize their content on mobile sites and consider the IoT capabilities in the future.
- Software vendors in the digital experience markets want to offer a comprehensive suite of functionalities. This is well demonstrated in Adobe’s recent acquisitions of Magento (ecommerce) and Marketo (marketing automation). At the same time, organizations fear vendor lock-ins. With the explosion of screens and different places where users consume content, it’s hard to believe that one vendor can offer it all.
- Data gathering and deployment of artificial intelligence functionalities to your website requires a flexible front end. The front end and back end need to be separated to get the full benefits of AI. With these two detached, it is feasible to deploy artificial intelligence applications to your presentation layer.
Challenges of going headlessWith all these benefits, no wonder headless CMS is gaining traction. Going headless is much more flexible, but as many things in life, with flexibility and freedom come bigger responsibilities. Going headless isn’t for everyone. There is no “one-size-fits-all”, as organizations have different needs. Before reaching a decision, first consider how you want your content to be used, and how the content is currently used. Do you need it to be available in different formats for different occasions? You need to have either in-house resources or a good service provider that makes sure that you manage the content model appropriately. Front-end development has to be considered. Because there’s no out-of-the-box option available, some companies underestimate the development resources in the front end. The investment both in terms of time and money is a significant consideration. Getting the system up and running takes more time. Developing everything from scratch requires a lot of resources and proper budget and time allocation. Consider how often content is changing, what is required for SEO and make decisions on your website needs. Because content previews are not always available, measures should also be taken into consideration as to how the front end will turn out. Typically, growth organizations have a goal of optimizing organic traffic through SEO. For this, they’d need to tailor content specifically for the audience they are targeting as well as which channel those audiences will use to consume the content. Now this means they need to work with design, front end, and deployment model and make sure they deliver against the SEO strategy. To optimize the website for SEO, there needs to be flexibility in different content configurations or design to allow rapid testing on target audiences. This means it will need involvement from both marketing and developers. The easier you can generate content and rapidly test it, the better and more agile you can tailor your user experiences. With all the technology trends, there should be a deeper thought on the roles and processes in the organizations. A headless CMS changes the roles of developers, content creators and digital marketing/ ecommerce managers. Developers need to manage the content model and the architecture of the presentation layer. Content creators need to change their thinking and way of working from page-centric to content-centric and omnichannel. When the digital marketing or ecommerce manager is making decisions about behavioral targeting and continuous optimization, they need to give up out-of-box features of previous CMS and choose new technologies for the continous experience optimization.
About the writer:
Maija Erkheikki has over 15 years of experience in the international software industry and is driven by a passion to use technology to improve the quality of life. This passion was best exemplified in her role as a consultant for healthcare companies, working on business processes and performance management. This led to a career in the partner-driven software business, where it is critical to build win-win-win models. Currently she is fascinated by the digitalization of commerce and how artificial intelligence reshapes all industries.