Headless CMS is gaining traction, but why is the technology suddenly becoming so popular?
Headless CMS is increasing in popularity, due to the prevalence of connected devices, or IoT. While traditional content management systems keeps a close link between the content and the presentation—namely the way the website looks and feels—a headless CMS severs this tie.
When the presentation layer, or head, is cut from the content layer, or body, you get a headless body ready to be distributed to several different “heads”—i.e. channels like websites, mobile apps, smart watches, TV screens, digital signage systems, or your coffee machine.
You might already have an inkling of why headless is breaking into the CMS market, but we will spell it out nonetheless: Here are four reasons why headless CMS is so popular.
4 reasons why headless CMS is popular
- Traditional CMS is a nuisance for developers
- Different devices, different needs
- Richer web experience
- An easier choice
1. Traditional CMS is a nuisance for developers
A traditional CMS is one where your content is closely linked to the way your digital experiences look, usually in a web browser. Here the content, your ABC, literally is the same as the layout, colours, and other visual design elements you see. They’re inseparable.
Now try to think what developers feel about that. And try to imagine what it is like to have a traditional CMS or the equivalent when you’re trying to develop solutions across different channels with the same content. You would have to build a separate solution for each channel, or silo, and update each channel separately with the same content—basically double, triple, and quadruple the amount of work (or worse!).
Traditional CMSs also have bad APIs to cope with the omnichannel demand. An API is a toolbox for making different platforms speak to each other, and in the traditional formula they were more of an afterthought than a clear-cut solution to delivering content to different channels. It’s almost self-explanatory that this is not something the developer loved from the bottom of his heart.
Furthermore, the traditional CMS is page-oriented, just think about Microsoft FrontPage as the horror case. Programming in a platform meant for the good old web page is just not what you need when you’re e.g. trying to build an app. You might say there are other frameworks that provides content to your apps, but exactly why should you not be able to deliver content for your digital experiences with one and the same platform?
With a headless CMS there is a completely different story for developers. Now they can work with structured content—content organised in a predictable way and usually classified with metadata, with XML and JSON being common formats.
An example is a product with several fields, like images, descriptions, features, and price. In a headless CMS your developers can work with data, instead of HTML and layout—and reuse this data for a website, an app, or whatever else is needed.
2. Different devices, different needs
Although different “channels” have existed for marketers for decades, if not centuries, like billboards, magazines, phone books, pamphlets, shouting, etc., the digital revolution of the 80s and 90s heralded the age of the web page. For many years a digital presence meant a website and little else. This in turn spawned the page-oriented CMS, and everything was blissful until the age of mobile and IoT.
Today we have many new channels—websites, apps, wearables, IoT, flat screens, cars, and so on. Whereas the past presented the “problem” of one piece of content, one piece of distribution channel, the present day presents the very real problem of one piece of content, many pieces of distribution channels. We need to reuse content in an entirely different way than before, and modern and forward-looking CMSs should take this into account.
With a headless CMS you can distribute your content in several places, and not just on the classic website. Native and mobile apps have been a driver behind this development, which now lets you send your content to channels that were unimaginable until a few years ago—like your watch or your refrigerator.
3. Richer web experience
With a headless CMS developers can use any front-end framework to create even richer digital experiences. Front-end frameworks are standardised tools for creating websites and apps. Such frameworks use a common structure so developers don’t have to start from scratch, allowing them to reuse the code provided.
You might wonder what a rich web experience is. Just think of Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, or your online bank. These works as an application and not primarily a website—with fast loading times and specialised functions. And everything is programmed in the web browser using an optional front-end framework—preferably using a headless CMS for content.
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The headless ability to send content like help texts, infoboxes, labels, and other editorial content from a central database to different channels render the strict separation of channels a bit more obsolete than before. Seeing the different channels as just different aspects of your content may help you come up with new and smart ideas of how to leverage your content, or how to use technology from one place in another. All thanks to your headless CMS.
So-called one-pager websites have been a driver for headless CMS in this respect, together with apps. Only the future will tell what exciting digital experiences we have in store when developers start to experiment and innovate with cross-channel offerings and technology.
4. An easier choice
While a traditional CMS is a big investment that might affect almost every aspect of your organisation in years to come, a headless CMS has a serious advantage in comparison.
A headless CMS, you see, doesn’t affect your entire architecture the way a traditional CMS does. In a traditional CMS your developers build templates with a close tie to the CMS, while this simply doesn’t happen with headless—because content and presentation is separated, as you remember.
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A headless CMS thus enables faster deployment of a test solution, as well as less lock-in. If you don’t like it, it can be switched out without causing too much trouble. Try to imagine the same for your current CMS.
However, with a headless CMS you need to have developers. They must develop more of your digital experiences, as not much comes finished out of the box like in several “digital experience platforms.” But you will be using content in new and different ways, ways that may potentially boost your business to new levels.
Headless CMS has several positive properties that have contributed to its popularity in the recent years. But remember this: You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s really no reason to go all-in for a headless solution if you don’t need to, as there exists something called decoupled CMS, or hybrid CMS. A hybrid CMS takes the best from both worlds—both headless and traditional CMS in one package.