September 19, 2022

What is a headless CMS and when should you use it?

Andreas Sauer
Co-Founder take it_

In This Article:

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a content management system in which the content management ("body" or backend) and the presentation layer ("head" or frontend) are separate. This decoupling means that content in a headless CMS is not displayed by it directly, but is accessed through a frontend via the CMS's API (application programming interface).

Headless CMSs allow editors to maintain content for a website, app, or other publishing platform consistently in one place. The same content can then flow into a website and other platforms, such as smartphone apps. The advantage for editors is that they don't have to maintain different content repositories. This eliminates extra work and error-prone copy-pasting.

How content gets on the website

If a website uses a headless CMS, it must access the content via an interface. Usually this is the so-called REST API (Representational State Transfer - Application Programming Interface). The data exchange happens here in JSON format. It is used for data exchange and, in addition to the content, also contains information about the structure.

The actual presentation logic of the website or other publication platform is thus independent of the content. Developers can use the tools and languages of their choice, such as Javascript, PHP or Ruby. They also have a free choice of development environment. Jamstack, which relies entirely on API front-ends, has established itself as an important architectural principle here.

Advantages of a Headless CMS

A headless CMS offers companies several advantages:

  • Editors can reuse content and maintain it efficiently in one place. They can highly modularize content and freely decide on which platform it is served out. For example, a content snippet with a product description could be used in websites, app content, and as voiceover text by a voice assistant like Alexa or Siri.

  • In addition, because most headless CMSs are offered by vendors as Software as a Service (SaaS), some of the administration work is no longer required, such as installing updates to the CMS or plugins, as is regularly necessary with WordPress. Some providers, such as Storyblok, even host the CMS themselves, which is also a relief.

  • By decoupling the frontend and backend, it is possible to use modern technologies to improve website loading times and thus the user experience. One example: A telecommunications provider was able to reduce the loading times of its website by 80 percent with the help of the headless CMS Storyblok.

Conclusion: The CMS for the omnichannel future

Headless CMSs are the answer to the growing demands on content management in companies, especially with regard to omnichannel and personalization. But a headless CMS is not suitable for every deployment scenario. If you are looking for an easy-to-install no-code solution or want to create a small landing page as a web business card, you are probably better off with other page builders.

But as soon as a company wants to use the same content on different platforms, a headless CMS is clearly superior to other content systems. Via integrated APIs, all content is displayed correctly in each case on different platforms such as smartphones, the Internet of Things or virtual reality. This reflects the needs of more and more people, for whom the web is just one channel among many.

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