What is a Headless CMS?

Admir Mehanovic, CEO @ penzle.com

Admir Mehanovic

CEO @ Penzle
a digital clock on a wall

In today's world of content management, the Headless Content Management System known as Headless CMS stands out as a modern approach, diverging from traditional CMS. But what exactly is it? Read on to learn more!

What is a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS separates back-end content management from front-end templating and design. The presentation layer is more flexible as it eliminates the front-end part. An application programming interface (API) is used by a headless CMS to deliver the content, allowing it to be accessed and displayed by any device or platform.

Diagram illustrating the architecture of a headless CMS, showing the separation of content management from content presentation.

Figure 1. Diagram illustrating the architecture of a headless CMS.

As a result, the content can be easily repurposed and displayed in various formats without being tied to any particular presentation layer, allowing it to be easily repurposed and displayed in multiple ways. By using a headless CMS, businesses are able to revolutionize their digital presence by launching fresh content more quickly and effectively.

The Rise of the Headless CMS

As the world continued to embrace technology, businesses had to adjust their strategies to stay competitive. Having a responsive website or optimizing a landing page is no longer enough to provide a good user experience for customers. In the early days of the web, traditional CMSs like WordPress, Joomla, and Umbraco were primarily used for creating and managing static pages of content.

The traditional CMSs combine images, content, HTML, and CSS into a single application. Your code and CMS code are bundled together, which makes it impossible to reuse content.

In today's technology-driven world, consumers find augmented reality, virtual reality, and mobile apps increasingly helpful. They can now speak with digital assistants or control things using voice commands! If you're not taking advantage of how customers communicate, you may risk missing out on opportunities for growth! 

The need to deliver digital experiences in multiple formats continues to increase daily. As we gear towards being able to provide these new types of content across various channels, it is imperative that a CMS be prepared with how they will deliver each one.

The traditional CMS failed to deliver experiences in multiple formats. Why? Organizing content in webpage-based frameworks makes it impossible for the same content to fit into other digital channels. With these limitations in mind, Headless CMS began its journey as a more adaptable CMS solution.

Understanding Traditional CMS

A traditional CMS uses what's known as a coupled architecture, often referred to as a coupled CMS. This architecture combines the backend and frontend into a single application. You will find the CMS code, the content repository, the backend editor interface, and your custom code all bundled together.

Use Cases that cannot be covered by a traditional CMS

Many modern applications and channels cannot get the data they need from a traditional content management system.

The following use cases require either bespoke solutions or a headless CMS: 

  • Native Mobile Apps (iOS, Android)
  • Delivering the same content to a website and an application from the same source (omnichannel/- multichannel)
  • Voice apps, AR applications, VR applications
  • Choosing the frontend first and the CMS second. In the case of using a new Javascript frameworks.
  • Static website generators (e.g. Gatsby, Hugo, Jekyll, Middleman)

Defining the difference between a headless CMS and a decoupled CMS

A decoupled and headless CMS separates the backend from the front-end systems. As a result of this approach to architectural design, there needs to be more clarity in the market, and people often mistakenly think that headless CMS is simply another name for decoupled CMS.

It is essential to understand that decoupled CMSs use the templating model to control how the content is displayed. A headless content management system consists of a backend and a frontend. In contrast, a frontend does not use any front-end environment or templating model at all. You are responsible for all aspects of the presentation layer

Defining the differences between a true headless-first versus “me too” headless CMS

As a result of the popularity of the headless CMS approach, it has become a favored option for new projects. Traditional vendors are making a big push to stay competitive in the digital age by implementing REST APIs, allowing them to be accessed 'headless' and reach modern customers.

It is important to realize that there is a big difference between a CMS designed with a "headless" or "API first" approach in mind from the very beginning and a CMS with the API added as an afterthought. An API-first approach was used to develop a headless CMS that unlocks the full potential of its capabilities. Generally speaking, CMS products that offer only a REST API don't provide specific components such as scalability or security.

A true headless CMS, which follows an API-first approach to web development, will also support GraphQL. In contrast, a CMS that follows a pure REST approach won't have any support for it at all.

Why should you choose a headless CMS?

In the past, CMSs were built primarily for the development of websites and to provide one-channel support. Companies were forced to use different CMS for each channel because they have different requirements, resulting in a disjointed online experience.

The traditional way of delivering experiences through single-channel technology is being replaced by more flexible options that span across teams, products, and channels to provide seamless omnichannel customer journeys.

The advantages of headless CMS and why you should use it

In this article, we defined what a headless CMS is, how it works, and why it is a better solution than traditional and decoupled CMSs. We will further explore the benefits of implementing a headless CMS in your organization.

There is a need to deliver content across multiple platforms or devices

With a headless CMS, you can easily manage and publish your content across multiple platforms and devices, including websites, mobile apps, and even smartwatches. Your audience can view your content from anywhere. 

You are having difficulty finding and keeping developers working on your CMS

A headless CMS gives developers much-needed freedom, enabling them to craft digital experiences without being restricted by a specific language requirement. It's an ideal choice for those looking to achieve maximum creativity and efficiency in the development process.

Performance is an important factor for your app

By enabling fast and secure content delivery through APIs, a headless CMS could help you supercharge your app's performance and improve its user experience.

Multiple CMSs are already in use

Changing from one content management system to another can be difficult and lead to inaccurate results. Headless CMS is an effective way to add efficiency to the process while ensuring high-quality results are achieved. 

Microservices and independent teams will be used to develop many features

By leveraging microservices and independent teams, you can efficiently handle large-scale features. Breaking big features into smaller components makes it possible to achieve remarkable results. 

Your content strategy is complex

The flexibility and scalability of a headless CMS enable you to manage your content effectively, even if your content strategy involves a complex content strategy that requires a high level of customization.

Penzle is a content platform for everyone

Penzle revolutionizes the way teams deliver digital experiences with its cloud-first and API-First Headless Content Management System (CMS). Our API-first approach helps aggregate data, simplify workflows, save time, and connect multiple SaaS platforms. App developers can use Penzle’s CMS to create innovative, high-performing apps and share them across digital channels. This innovative platform unlocks unprecedented speed, efficiency, and scalability for creating cutting-edge multi-channel experiences.

With Penzle, developers and teams get the best of both worlds. The developers will enjoy the speed at which they can create and deliver new digital products and features. In addition to Penzle's powerful, well-documented APIs , developers have access to a wide range of development resources and support at every stage of the process. Content creators and marketers will love AI's power to skyrocket their content. Smart content analysis, automated categorization, keyword extraction, and other AI features allow teams to create more personalized and targeted content.

Learn how Penzle's headless platform works.

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