Why Your Company Should Consider a Headless CMS When Upgrading Your Website

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The Pros and Cons of Adopting a Headless CMS vs. a Traditional Content Management System

Whether your company specializes in publishing content across various media channels or it is serving customers terrific bargains a la ecommerce, your website is the engine that drives your business model.  If you’re considering a website upgrade, there are a headache’s worth of new buzzwords in the content management technology space like “Headless,” “API-driven,” and even “hyperscale”. And if we’re being honest, many of the savviest digital marketers don’t even know what these terms mean. 

Throughout this article we’ll attempt to demystify some of those buzzwords by explaining what “Headless” means in the context of a content management system (CMS), put a spotlight on the potential benefits of adopting a Headless CMS, as well as identify the best use cases and scenarios for maximizing those benefits.

What is a 'Traditional' Content Management System?

First introduced in the early 2000’s when web development was still in its infancy, traditional content management systems were designed to empower content authors and publishers by offering a relatively simple solution for building a website and delivering content to the web. To achieve this goal, the traditional CMS was architected with a fixed, front-end content delivery portal for authoring and publishing content that was married to a back-end storage solution for content items like images and documents.  Because everything comes in one easily deployable package, traditional content management systems have since been referred to as “monolithic.”

Now, ‘monolithic’ doesn’t mean ‘bad’. It means that the traditional CMS was designed with only a couple of specific use cases in mind. At the time, content was almost exclusively delivered via a website and served up on static pages with limited support for different data types. For that use case, a traditional CMS was the perfect tool for the job. And for a lot of companies today, that still remains the case. The traditional CMS has by no means gone away, as it still powers the majority of the world’s websites. But for many businesses, this singular use case is no longer sufficient.

What is a 'Headless' CMS?

In today’s rapidly evolving technology landscape, consumers demand personalized, seamless experiences across all of their connected devices. And they are rewarding those businesses that deliver these types of experiences with their dollars and their loyalty. If this is the space that your company competes in, then you may want to consider adopting a Headless CMS when upgrading your website.

Why Use a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS separates the content publishing and delivery layer from the storage layer, allowing website developers to treat the website more like a software application. This provides a tremendous amount of flexibility and unlimited possibilities for customization in the delivery of your content, while still providing a set of authoring and publishing tools to empower your content creators.

However, this added flexibility comes at a cost, as adopting a headless CMS requires a team of different skill sets in order to publish your content, thus raising the total cost of ownership for your website(s). In that sense, a headless CMS is most appropriate for content publishers who consistently produce a ton of new content and need to operate at scale across a variety of digital channels.

Benefits of Adopting a Headless Content Management System

Works With Your Existing Development Infrastructure

Because the front end has been decoupled from the back-end, web developers are able to work using the native systems and tools they prefer, as they are no longer restricted by the technologies a traditional CMS is built upon.

Maximum Customizability

Decoupling the presentation layer from the storage layer in a content management system allows for customization of both layers, and more importantly, it means that ‘headless’ CMS systems are API-driven. API stands for “Application Programming Interface,” and is a set of instructions for how one software application interacts with another. To frame it another way, APIs are how software applications “talk” to each other.

Because a headless CMS was designed to be API-driven, developers can link any other software application (or micro-service, data stream, etc.) they want to the website.

Faster Website Performance

This API-driven architecture can get as sexy as you want, including supporting cloud-native development like micro-services architectures, while also operating at a scale which can flex to meet the current demands on the website. On top of a faster underlying infrastructure, the headless nature means that content items are served up from some central repository, and aren’t stuck on some static webpage, making it easier for the CMS to find and serve a specific piece of content, thus improving load times – which today is a critical metric for digital marketers.

Easier to Secure

Separating the storage layer from the presentation layer makes it easier to secure your customers’ data, and reduces the ‘surface area’ hackers can attack by reducing the number of entry points into that data.

Flexibility to Publish Content to Any Channel

Smart devices are everywhere now. Twenty years ago, marketing managers only worried about delivering static web content via websites.

Eight years ago, digital marketers were urgently preparing for the advent of the mobile web. 

Today, marketers must deliver a seamless content experience across multiple platforms, ranging from mobile phones and smartwatches to vehicles and even our refrigerators, all of which are built upon disparate code infrastructures and communication protocols. The API-driven nature of a headless CMS allows you to publish content to any one of those platforms, or even to all of them, at the same time.

Capability to Deliver Personalized Experiences to Users/Customers

This is the current ‘Holy Grail’ for digital marketers – the capability to deliver highly individualized experiences for each consumer, regardless of the device used to interact with your brand. And because of that API-driven architecture, headless CMS’ support this beautifully. The content is stored in one place and through those APIs you’re able to deliver any configuration of that content to any channel at any time to ensure a seamless continuity of experience for the end user of that content.

Risks of Adopting a Headless CMS

More Complex to Build and Deploy

Decoupling everything means that content creators can no longer easily manage a website on their own. A headless CMS requires knowledge and expertise around building and deploying software applications, which is a specialized skill. A headless CMS will most likely require a team to build, deploy, and operate/maintain your web content, in addition to your content creators. To reduce this commitment, some headless CMS providers, like Crafter CMS for example, offer a mix of hosted and managed solutions, allowing you to tailor your IT commitment to the specific needs of your website.

Increased Total Cost of Ownership

Because a headless CMS naturally requires a team to build, deploy, and operate, it represents a significant investment. On top of increased headcount there are infrastructure and technology decisions that may increase the total cost of ownership as well. Due to this significant barrier to entry, a headless CMS is not always the best decision, and why it sometimes makes more sense to remain on a traditional CMS.

The 'Headless' vs 'Traditional' CMS Takeaway

While a headless CMS offers an almost infinite number of customization and publishing possibilities, it requires a significant investment of time and money to setup, deploy, and maintain. But for an increasing number of businesses, a headless CMS is the most efficient solution to deliver the content their customers desire. For companies who operate dozens of websites, or those that publish content across a variety of different digital devices and must be able to meet intense demand at scale, then a headless CMS is certainly worth the investment.

To see if a headless CMS is the right investment for your business, we invite you to have a deeper conversation with our team. Our business analysts are requirements experts that can thoroughly assess your business needs and goals to determine the best technology solution to achieve your objectives.

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