November 1, 2022

The Headless (CMS & Search) Hunt

Understanding the best way to manage your content can be stressful, so it helps not to lose your head. The world is constantly adapting to innovative technologies, and as we increasingly embrace the internet of things (IoT), adapting to "Headless" content management systems may be the right call.

That's the message Jonathan Meyer and Jonathan Read cover in HawkSearch's latest webinar, "The Headless (CMS & Search) Hunt," just in time for the spooky time of year.  

What is Headless CMS?  

A headless content management system (CMS) is a strictly backend-only platform. It serves as a content repository, making content accessible for other venues to use through an Application Programming Interface (API). This content management focuses more on building a complete omnichannel experience.

Why Headless?  

With the headless CMS's omnichannel experience, visitors can consume content from anywhere. As an API, a headless CMS can connect to various front-end presentations, for example, mobile applications, kiosks, Point-of-Entry systems, or even billboards. The real value of a headless CMS is its ability to quickly and uniformly present content across all these platforms at once. That level of presence can thoroughly increase traffic, conversion, and average order value to any eCommerce site.  

While it has more technical aspects and requirements, headless CMS can benefit content creators and web developers equally. No matter the type of site, whether eCommerce or not, every millisecond spent not offering content can potentially lose revenue. As Jonathan Read describes, robust front-end frameworks can achieve faster loading speeds by using a headless approach to content management. Additionally, headless CMS offers seamless cross-platform implementation so every end-user can simultaneously consume your website's content.

The Different Headless Approaches

As website owners and eCommerce merchants look to integrate a headless CMS into their operations, they need first to understand what their needs are from their content management. Headless CMS platforms are versatile and can combine with other media. It all depends on which approach a website owner decides to take.

The Couple Approach

The first approach is the couple approach. This approach follows more traditional content management practices, where the presentation of the content is tied to technology. This means that the content is created and presented in a single application.

For example, the drag & drop and text editing functionalities that most traditional CMS platforms offer will allow you to draft content and present it to your audience. This approach is typically the easiest for non-technical content creators to use.

The Headless Approach

The following approach is the headless, or non-coupled, approach. This style uses a headless API to share content across different platforms or technologies. With the headless system, the presentation of the content is not reliant on the platform where it was created.

A headless API is a back-end system that works to collect and structure content information. It then can implement that information in various ways across various channels. For example, if the API is connected to a front-end application and a kiosk, the same content would be formatted differently to fit those channels and devices.

The Hybrid Approach

The hybrid, or "Frankenstein," approach is a mixture of the first two. It is also known as the decoupled approach. The hybrid approach is more in-depth and equally beneficial to both technical developers and non-technical content creators. This approach allows you to build the front end within any application and integrate headless APIs. This process offers the same easy-to-use content creation features found with traditional CMS platforms and the content repository that comes with a headless platform.

Couple Vs. Hybrid

There is no right or wrong approach to using a headless CMS. Each course offers its own set of pros and cons. As stated above, website owners need to understand their content needs and find the approach that best works for them and their operation.

Couple Pros

One of the most significant benefits of the coupled approach is its ease of use. Traditional CMS platforms usually offer powerful features that make creating and managing content more accessible. For non-technical creators, it can be simple to organize information and flesh out the front end of a website to better the user experience.

Additionally, traditional CMS platforms are easy to integrate with, connecting to site search widgets and APIs to increase the functionality of a website. The coupled approach offers an all-inclusive platform that can develop the content you need to drive traffic and revenue to your website.

Couple Cons

By that same token, that means you and your content are limited to one platform and framework. That framework might be difficult to customize, so a developer team might become hindered in what technologies they can integrate. If the CMS isn't already as robust as it could be, it can be harder to improve upon, making it harder for website owners to improve the user experience.

By not being able to improve the user experience, a website runs the risk of losing its SEO (search engine optimization) rank and missing out on potential revenue.

Hybrid Pros

The "Frankenstein" hybrid approach has pros and cons in staying with the spooky theme. It is considered the best of both worlds between a coupled and headless system.

A hybrid approach can offer the same level of security and simplicity as a coupled approach while offering the omnichannel experience that comes with a headless one. This method allows content creators to work from a comfortable and familiar framework. Additionally, this makes it easier for any development team to integrate a headless API. This comes in handy if you have another application you need to work with; rather than uproot the framework you've already built, use this approach to enrich any additional applications with quality content.

Hybrid Cons

The cons associated with the hybrid approach deal with increased complexity. Unlike the coupled approach, this method is more technically challenging and can be harder to handle for smaller teams or operations.

Additionally, while the other approach uses a single platform or framework, the hybrid system will require the website owner and their team to learn several platforms to get the best front-end aspects.

The hybrid approach may be a good middle step for website owners looking to upgrade their content management. While this approach is more technically demanding, the benefits can outweigh the cons after time and effort.

What to Expect from Your Headless CMS

When a website owner is selecting a headless CMS, it is essential that they know what their content needs are so they can meet them. All CMS platforms can manage content and information, so what different value can headless CMS provide us?

Any headless API you want to integrate should always be robust and offer the right features to enrich your content correctly. For example, content filtering features are essential for ensuring the right content goes to the right system. Additionally, it helps if the API has tools to help you render your content on whichever method you connect. Posting to a blog and posting to a WIFI-enabled Kiosk are quite different things.

A regular, non-coupled headless CMS helps you manage your information, content, and data and lets you choose where you want to render it. The difference between a regular headless CMS and a good headless CMS is that a good headless CMS will not interrupt your workflow. As a website owner or content creator, you need to be able to structure your content without uprooting your entire business practice.

Search & Headless CMS

Site search becomes even more imperative when dealing with headless CMS. Website owners must prioritize site search solutions strong enough and robust enough to integrate with any headless CMS they use.

HawkSearch, as Jonathan Meyer points out, operates very similarly to a headless CMS. HawkSearch pulls information from other data sources and indexes or re-indexes so, it can be searched for and presented on the front end.

Site search is vital when dealing with headless CMS because it impacts the user experience. Having multiple content repositories means that you need to be able to accurately pull from each one when a visitor enters a query. Visitors will expect to be able to find whatever they're looking for, regardless of where it lives or wherever they're visiting. For example, whether a visitor is searching for information on a mobile device or a kiosk, they will expect to find the relevant information they need.

With so many systems, frameworks, and platforms in place with headless CMS, website owners need a way to obtain a uniform, universal search results no matter where the visitor is coming from.

Your Headless Journey

The beautiful thing about headless CMS platforms is the versatility they offer. Of all the approaches to headless CMS, there is no right or wrong way to move forward. As a website owner, all you need to do is evaluate your own content needs. With a better understanding of headless and its functionality, you can better understand where you can expand your content and your audience.

Headless CMS works to build that omnichannel experience, and as more websites and technology embrace it, it will be essential to use it to help you stay competitive. The best approach for you is the one that offers the best tools to enrich your content. Work to discover how it can help you and engage with your audience on a level not possible before now.

Don't worry. It's not as scary as it sounds.

by Nick Zerbst

Latest blog posts