What Is A Headless CMS? All You Need To Future-Proof Your Business In 2021 [+ 5 Solutions]

What is a headless CMS? Is it the hero of your content or a headless horseman chasing after you?

Content management is and will be one of the most important processes of every company that wants to create a successful content strategy and improve its customer experience (CX).

I’m sure you’re already familiar with traditional content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress and Drupal. But how does headless software differ from them? Well,  headless CMSs are a response to the new IoT (Internet of Things) era and the need to deliver content on multiple devices simultaneously, as well as improve digital CX.

Today, we’re going to take a look at what this new system is, its benefits, use cases, and 5 CMS platforms to consider.

Need to update your memory first? Then feel free to head to the CMS FAQ section before we begin!

What Is A Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a content management system that organizes content without the help of a frontend presentation layer, i.e., your website. The lack of a “head” allows you to choose different outputs (websites, mobile apps, etc.) for your content with the help of an Application Programming Interface (API). This enables a seamless content display across different devices.

In a nutshell, headless architecture doesn’t focus on the display methods but on content delivery and storage. Here’s a simple depiction of an API-first system:

headless cms flow

Source

Headless CMS API Types

Of course, we can’t move on without explaining more about API and the types associated with headless content management.

As mentioned above, API is an Application Programming Interface that allows two apps to access data and work together. APIs are everywhere. For instance, the Twitter Ads API allows marketers to promote their social accounts and create targeted social ads to reach their audience.

Now, since their use is so broad, we’ll focus on the two API types related to headless systems:

REST API

REST stands for Representational State Transfer and is a set of constraints that follows a specific architectural style. This conformation allows REST API to interact with RESTful services.

When implementing this pattern, a client makes a transfer of the representational state of a data set. More specifically, the info is delivered through HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), taking the following formats:

  • JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)
  • PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor)
  • XLT (Microsoft Excel Template)
  • HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
  • Python
  • Plain text

Out of all, JSON is the most commonly used format for transferring resource representations to an endpoint. This is due to its readability and straightforwardness, as well as its cost-effectiveness and parsing speed.

GraphQL API

GraphQL, on the other hand, is an open-source data query API language developed by Facebook. This language came as a response to the less flexible RESTful applications, allowing you to save bandwidth.

More specifically, the language lets you fulfill queries, offering a simple representation of the information in your database. This way, you can easily ask for the data you need and get back relevant results:

graphql examples

Source

If you want to know more, make sure to check this GraphQL example by Github, introducing all the core concepts of the query language.

Headless CMS Vs. Traditional CMS: Overview

Before we take a more thorough look at their differences, let’s see a simple comparison table of these two content management systems:

Headless CMSTraditional CMS
DevicesUnlimitedLimited
WorkflowAgile (iterative)Waterfall (linear)
HostingCloud-basedIn-house
Backend SystemMicroserviceMonolithic, coupled
ScalabilityContent can be shared easilyDifficult to scale
PerformanceFaster and more secure due to the lack of frontendTraditionally slower and more vulnerable
CostAdditional implementation costsFixed price (including hosting)

Monolithic CMS

Traditional or “monolithic” CMSs like Drupal are web development applications that enable content creators to publish text and images on web pages.

In essence, these content management apps (CMAs) are “coupled,” meaning that they have everything you need to connect the database (body) with the presentation layer (head). Consequently, they take the hassle out of updating content through HTML or FTP (File Transfer Protocol). Monolithic CMSs are great for individuals, marketers, or business owners who want a simple tool to manage their site from a single place.

While traditional CMSs focus on creating content for a single website, modern systems have developed various plugins to give users the ability to share their content on other devices.

traditional vs headless cms flows

Headless CMS

Headless CMSs, on the other hand, focus on the content repository (body). This means that they will store data but won’t display them like traditional systems.

This gives web developers more flexibility, allowing them to use their favorite tools and programming languages without any limitations. Compared to traditional systems, headless systems are perfect for publishing content on multiple platforms simultaneously, keeping the content responsive.

What About Decoupled CMSs?

When we talk about headless CMS, the term “decoupled” also comes up. So is a headless and a decoupled CMS the same thing? Even though they have some similarities (database, API delivery, etc.), a decoupled content management system has the power to author content and present a formatted version of it to an end-user.

To put it simply, a decoupled CMS combines the flexibility of headless systems and the ease-of-use of monolithic CMSs.

headless vs decoupled cms

While you might think that a decoupled content system is perfect for content creation, choosing a headless CMS has more pros than you think. Let’s take a look!

Headless Content Management Benefits

Of course, every system has its advantages and disadvantages. Here’s what you need to know before choosing a headless CMS platform:

The Pros

  • Seamless content delivery on multiple platforms.
  • Better omnichannel marketing approach.
  • Increased functionality.
  • No need for templates and themes.
  • Frontend flexibility for you and your developers.
  • Ability to improve your digital customer experience.
  • Manage and maintain your backend system more easily.
  • Increased content scalability.

The Cons

  • More complex than traditional CMSs.
  • Not as many personalization options.
  • More expensive in terms of development and infrastructure.
  • No content visualization for content editors and creators.

As you can see, a headless CMS has its strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day, though, it’s up to you to explore your options and make the final call.

Headless CMS Use Cases & Examples

Now that we found out about the pros and cons of a headless content management system, let’s see some use cases and real-life examples of companies using it:

Retail Brands

To promote your retail store successfully, you need to provide customers with seamless digital experiences. To do it, retail brands have to select the right tools to make it possible.

A headless CMS will help retailers with multiple websites and web apps achieve growth in the competitive retail landscape. Now let’s see how a major brand did it!

Example: L’Oréal

L’Oréal aspired to be the #1 digital beauty brand in the world. To make it happen, they got their hands on Sitecore’s Experience Platform (XP). According to this case study, out of its 3,000 websites, only 20% generated traffic.

To fix this, they launched the “The Website Factory” to manage their websites, improving the way they organized and deployed content. The result? They increased their loading time from 10” to less than 3”!

Implementing these changes was a big step for L’Oréal that not only increased their loading speed, but also managed to achieve scalability in a cloud-based environment, improve their digital experience, and re-invent their marketing strategy.

Ecommerce Stores

Headless CMS has also found its way into eCommerce territory. From bridging the commerce stack with promotional content to establishing a direct line of communication with all your APIs, headless CMS enables business owners to create powerful online stores and apps.

Investing in headless eCommerce will also help you deliver better customer experiences, taking advantage of localization, personalization, and marketing automation software.

If you are serious about turning your eCommerce website into a major conversion channel, sign up for a free Moosend account and streamline your efforts with smart AI-powered tools!

Example: IKEA Place

IKEA Place is an Augmented Reality (AR) application that allows user to virtually place 3D models of items found in IKEA’s catalog:

The company’s AR app is a prime example of using a headless CMS and an eCommerce platform to change the way customers experience and buy products. Improving their experience with advanced technology can really work miracles, don’t you agree?

Websites

According to statistics, 46% of online users won’t revisit slow websites, and when I say “slow” I mean those taking more than 4 seconds to load.

To reduce site abandonment, you need to make your loading time as fast as possible. Not only that, but you should also improve your security to provide a great customer experience. Investing in a headless CMS will help you solve both issues. Let’s see how the following organization did it!

Example: Spectrum Health Lakeland

When Spectrum Health Lakeland decided to redesign their website, they had speed, responsiveness, and security in mind. Choosing a headless CMS enabled them to turn their website into a safe place for visitors and patients alike.

After the implementation of a headless system, Spectrum ended up with a high-performing website that looked nothing like the old one.

spectrum health lakeland website

Services/Products

Businesses who want to update their products and pricing in real-time can utilize headless systems to provide a seamless experience to their customers.

Similarly, SaaS companies can also use such systems to establish links between products, videos, and blog posts. This way, they can improve the searching process and allow users to find what they are looking for more quickly.

Example: Spotify

Spotify is one of the most popular music streaming services out there. To step up their game, they created their Spotify.Design page using Gatsby, a static site generator, and Contentful’s CMS.

spotify design website

5 Headless CMS Solutions To Consider

If the above examples were convincing enough, and you decided to give headless architecture a chance, your next step is to find a great CMS platform.

Below, you’ll find some great options to get you started! Let’s explore them:

1. Sitecore – Full-Featured CMS Platform 

sitecore digital experience platform

Sitecore is an industry-leading digital experience platform (DXP) with enterprise-class search functionality. The software features four core products: the Sitecore Experience Platform, Experience Commerce, Experience Manager, and Content Hub.

You can utilize the platform to manage different websites and landing pages, allowing you to use a common codebase for all. On top of that, the intuitive content authoring tools are perfect for designing and editing. What’s more, you can build solid customer/business relationships using personalized customer data, localization, and Sitecore’s Experience Database (xDB) to nurture your audience with real-time recommendations.

Finally, when it comes to integrations, Sitecore makes it easy to connect your APIs and third-party apps like your CRM, marketing automation tool, and more.

Pricing

Sitecore’s pricing depends on your monthly visitors, concurrent users, and add-on modules. You can choose from a Standard for up to 2M visits/year, a Corporate for 12M visits/year, and an Enterprise for up to 240M/year. For more information, you can contact the sales team for a demo.

2. Prismic – SaaS Headless CMS Solution

prismic headless cms solution

Prismic is another headless CMS platform that offers a visual content editor for your business. The system will give you the freedom to use your favorite tools, framework (Node, React, Next, etc.), and programming languages.

On top of that, you can design custom content types and create reusable fields (Slices) to match your design and personalize your experience. Prismic will provide you with REST, GraphQL, and SDKs (Software Development Kits) to make the most out of the software. The global content delivery network (CDN) will smooth out your experience and let you focus on what matters most.

To optimize your images, the tool has collaborated with Imgix to improve your loading speed. All in all, Prismic is a great choice offering numerous localization options and integrations with popular apps like Magento and Shopify.

Pricing

Prismic has different plans for small teams including the Free, Starter, and Small Plan. For organizations, paid plans start with the Medium at $125 per repository billed monthly.

3. Contentful – API-First CMS Service

contentful cms solution

Contentful is an API-driven CMS platform that offers you a rich-text editor and RESTful API to manage your content and digital assets more efficiently.

More on the APIs, the service gives you control over your content through the decoupled architecture. Its robust caching methods also integrate with external CDNs for better loading speed.

To increase your productivity, the CMS lets you customize your UX to simplify content authoring. Another useful feature is its content modeling options, allowing you to design content for multiple channels and keep everything organized. Overall, Contentful offers some great features, enabling you to integrate your tools for better content creation and management.

Pricing

Contentful is free for developers who want to start personal projects. For more, the tool has a Team paid plan starting at $489/month. A custom Enterprise plan is also available.

4. Magnolia – Headless CMS Platform

magnolia headless cms

Magnolia is an open-source CMS solution with a friendly interface and an array of features to manage your content. The software will give content editors all the freedom they need to work independently from programmers.

On top of that, content creators can benefit from the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) builder to modify SPAs (Single Page Applications) built with Vue, Angular, or React. This way, you can change your content to improve the digital customer experience.

The CMS also lets users integrate the platform with their favorite tools through REST API. And to streamline your efforts, you can connect the system with external software like marketing automation, eCommerce platforms, and analytics.

Pricing

Magnolia offers a demo and a trial that you can use to try out the software. For more information about their features and pricing, you need to contact their sales team.

5. Agility – API-Driven CMS Software

Agility content management system

Last but not least, we have Agility CMS. The platform markets itself as a solution that offers the best of both worlds; headless CMS features and content authoring tools. The software will equip you with page, sitemap, and module management tools to keep everything organized.

Furthermore, the CMS offers a variety of developing and publishing tools like content sharing, scheduling, and workflow management to keep everything on track.

Lastly, the CMS solution integrates with a plethora of third-party applications, including CRMs, external databases, video tools, eCommerce platforms, and more.

Pricing

Agility offers a free Developer plan, pro trials, and a demo for you to check out. Then, pricing starts with the Business Plan at $610/month, the Pro at $1,220, and the Enterprise at $2,500+.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Having trouble with headless CMS terminology? Here are the things you need to know:

Q1. What Is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A CMS is a tool that lets you create, organize, and distribute digital content. The three types of CMS software available to developers and businesses are open-source, proprietary, and SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) CMSs. Famous CMS examples include WordPress, Sitecore, and Drupal.

Q2. What Is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes a system of interconnected physical “things” (machines, objects, people) that have the ability to exchange data with other systems without any external assistance.

Q3. What Is Frontend Web Development?

To put it simply, frontend refers to everything that a user can interact with and change. A common frontend example is the visual parts of a website that visitors can see, i.e., the user interface.

Q4. What Is Backend Web Development?

Compared to frontend development, the backend is everything happening behind the scenes, i.e., what the user doesn’t see. The backend of a website usually includes a database and a server.

Q5. What Is a CMS Architecture?

CMS architecture is the combination of all frontend and backend processes within a content management system. The person responsible for its implementation is called a CMS architect.

Q6. What Is a Headless Architecture?

With the term “headless” we describe a CMS architecture where the content authoring part exists within the backend. In this system, there’s no frontend to display the content.

Q7. Who Uses Headless CMSs?

A headless system is perfect for those who have websites using JavaScript frameworks like Vue.js, React, or Angular, mobile apps, or use static site generators like Gatsby. Some of the most popular industries using them include healthcare, eCommerce, online retail, agencies, SaaS, and online media.

Q8. Are Headless Systems Secure?

Compared to traditional CMSs, headless systems offer improved security as the backend and frontend are separate. Additionally, API-first systems already utilize advanced security practices to avoid cyber attacks (usually DDOS).

Q9. Can I Use a Traditional with a Headless CMS?

Yes, but for you and your developers to do so, specific APIs are needed. While this “collab” might initially keep you away from migration costs, if you want to ace your content management, you’ll eventually need to migrate.

Embrace The Future Of Content Management

Content is not only the king but the whole royal family combined! Unifying your data into a single content hub will help you distribute it more efficiently on multiple platforms simultaneously.

And since customers need more seamless experiences, leveraging headless CMS is the perfect way to future-proof your business and get ready for the new omnichannel era, where accessibility and reusability are a must.

Also, to be one step ahead, make sure to empower your marketing stack with all those amazing tools that will bring you one step closer to success!

If you haven’t tried Moosend, now it’s the perfect time to do it! Sign up for a free account and get one step closer to future-proofing your business like a true hero!

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