October 6, 2022

Everything you need to know about Headless CMS (Part 1)

More and more, the world of digital is becoming a back-end developers’ playground as headless CMS continues to rise. 

But what exactly is it, and why is it the word of the moment? 

Headless CMS is a back-end content management system where the content repository—the ‘body’—is separated from how it’s visually presented or delivered to the ‘head’. Headless CMS can be likened to a digital all-purpose cabinet filing system, looking after an entire company’s content and data files. They don’t care so much about the client-facing side of things, or dictate how the content and data should look. 

Common terminology used when discussing headless CMS

  • Headless
  • Content infrastructure
  • Content Hubs
  • Content as a Service

The technology of headless CMS has been a key player in the post-pandemic digital transformation of companies and brands, as they seek to create more unified brand experiences across different channels. Let’s look at how they can achieve this with a headless framework.

How is a traditional CMS different from a headless CMS?

​​For a long time, most digital content was delivered through a web browser. These were built in traditional CMSs which consisted of a singular body connected to a singular head. Also known as a ‘monolithic platform’.

For most straightforward webpages, the back-end consisted of -

  • Individual pages to create content and organize unique layouts
  • A media library to store digital assets
  • Restrictive content editors (WYSIWYG)
  • An application layer to create and apply design frameworks

The front-end pulls through the content, media and design scripts, and publishes them to an HTML page, much like a visually-merchandised storefront window display. 

With the capability of each individual page to be custom-designed, the upkeep of each ‘storefront window’ can require more manual time and labor.

Aside from the additional time required for front-end upkeep, the content and data that sits in the back-end is usually quite restricted to just the presentation on the webpage. As the data and content is formatted uniquely and spread across many pages, it can be hard to repackage and repurpose these to other ports. Managing and reusing content across different channels is incredibly difficult, or requires complex API integrations.

Back-end tasks include logistics—making the signage, storing the inventory, and managing the movement of goods around the store

What is the purpose of a headless CMS?

​​For quite a while (from the ‘90s to the 2000s), most digital content was delivered solely through a web browser. In the last 30 years, the growth of digital usage in our lives has been momentous. New devices, appliances and ordinary every-day objects are becoming AI-enabled and connected.

This umbrella of smart objects used by the general public and across various professional industries is commonly referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). When it comes to digital marketing statistics, here’s an eye opener: according to IoT Analytics, there were only 260 publicly known IoT platforms; this surged to over 613 platforms in 2021.

Here are some of the most popular IoT devices to give you an idea of how widespread technology is in our everyday lives.

  • Google Home & Amazon Echo
  • Mr. Coffee Smart Coffeemaker
  • August Doorbell Cam
  • Flow by Plume Labs Air Pollution Monitor
  • Nest Smoke Alarm
  • June Intelligent Oven
  • Logitech Harmony Universal Remote

These kinds of products can be connected to apps on devices such as phones, or portals on desktop computers and televisions. Consumers are embracing the array of new technology, and the latest website statistics reflect this. 

This means the same data, content and media needs to be easily accessed and displayed responsively across different front-end devices, which is where headless CMS platforms can deliver. They allow businesses and developers flexibility and the potential to scale up quickly.

A concise snapshot of B2C & B2B IoT sectors

  • Consumer media and internet devices
  • Connected vehicles
  • Payment terminals
  • Asset tracking and monitoring
  • Personal monitoring and tracking
  • Specialist robots

In a headless CMS, managing textual and multimedia content is easier, along with distributing it to web, eCommerce systems, mobile applications, smart devices, smart appliances, digital signage displays, touchscreen information kiosks, virtual reality headsets and new digital devices. The ways the same content can be utilized and presented are endless.

Benefits of a headless CMS over a traditional CMS

Companies can manage content across different channels easily and create a more seamless omnichannel experience for their customer. This system allows for growth in a start-up with grand plans as APIs can be integrated effortlessly in the future. 

It also suits large corporations who have complex customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, product information management (PIM) software or enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools. For the latter it is especially valuable as it allows marketing teams to utilize data across multiple checkpoints and ensure information isn’t just singular use. 

Analysis for the purpose of optimisation, immediately becomes a lot valuable with the use of cohesive and accurate data. Investment into data analysis technologies such as Reveal or Google Analytics can yield findings from up-to-date inventory and customer databases.

The key strength of a headless CMS is in its ability to store and deliver structured content, such that it can be flexible for the developers to integrate new APIs easily. It is also time-saving for the content editors and designers who are in charge of editing and presenting the content, for example if they are optimizing content, they can do it from a master source, which replicates the changes efficiently across different front-end platforms.

Here are the pros for a company to choose a headless CMS system

  • Increased flexibility and scalability in content reusability
  • More global control in how content is stored, accessed and utilized
  • Device agnostic—can be used across different front-end interfaces
  • Hosting and delivery of content is in the cloud
  • Future-proof—unlimited potential connection to scalable supported devices
  • Allows for developers to work with an agile workflow 
  • Streamlines manual processes (editing, copying and pasting)

Most up-to-date & popular headless CMS 

Not all headless CMS are created equal. Different frameworks will pair better with different programming languages, developers, sales and marketing teams and content editors. Here is a list of the most popular headless CMS to consider.

  • Butter CMS
  • Contentstack
  • Contentful
  • Cloud CMS
  • Cosmic JS
  • DotCMS
  • Enonic XP
  • Mura
  • Cockpit
  • Core dna
  • Directus
  • DatoCMS
  • Ghost
  • GraphCMS
  • Keystone JS
  • Kontent.ai
  • Prismic
  • Storyblok
  • Strapi

What is the future of headless CMS?

Recent business statistics showed that eCommerce sales are higher than ever before after the pandemic caused years of growth in just a few weeks. With 3 years in the making, user expectations and behaviors have irrevocably shifted. These newfound expectations extend to expecting seamless digital experiences from brands, from digital kiosks in shopping centers to the apps on their smartwatch.

With an estimation of active IoT devices surpassing 25.4 billion in 2030, there is incredible necessity and growth predicted for the department of headless development. “This is the future of digital conversion optimisation campaigns, as new strategies can be rolled out and tested across different platforms, instantaneously”, says copywriting head of conversion, Alice Khau, at Neon Bright

Headless CMS delivers unmatched content accessibility and repurposability, especially valuable for enterprise teams with many departments. It is the much-needed successor to traditional CMS, one with evergreen potential to integrate with new systems, new operations and deliver more cohesive experiences for your clients and consumers.

Author Bio

Irwin Hau is the Founder of website development agency Chromatix, and copywriting agency Neon Bright—two agencies focused on web conversion, one on CMS website designs and the other in copywriting. Commonly known as the"Website Whisperer", the also manages business strategy consultancy Irwin Hau, an independent consultancy that specializes purely in digital transformation and business efficiency, utilizing custom web app technology and digital solutions.

Irwin Hau

Latest blog posts