Woman Neon Colors Future Next Generation Headless CMS

Headless CMS seems to be on every digital manager’s or web editor’s mind these days. With the advent of IoT and connected devices of literally any size or format, it makes perfect sense to be able to send your quality content to whatever channel your audience is on.

But if you look past the headless hype, you’ll find a pressing issue: Most digital experiences still consist of websites meant for the most common channels, like desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Most digital experiences will have the website as their centerpiece in the foreseeable future, but a purely, first-gen headless CMS is not ideal for maintaining fully-fledged websites.

This is where a next generation headless CMS enters the frame. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages you can get from such a headless CMS.

1. Headless plus added functionality

A “pure” headless CMS is basically just a database with an API. With the API you can deliver your content or snippets of your content to different channels—like digital signage, wristbands, smart watches, AR glasses, or as a part of third-party websites. A purely headless CMS thus offers you minimal help to build complete websites, as the tie between content and presentation is cut.

Most organizations need websites first and foremost, but first-gen headless is not focused on traditional web. This means that your organization must likely have several systems running simultaneously to handle things like structured content, page composition, URL handling, and everything else that is required.

But why should you have several systems? Enter the next-gen headless CMS: With this you can structure content and compose websites—in one system. All the lightweight headless features are there, but with the added (and optional!) functionality of visual page editing, content tree structure, URL management, granular access control, SEO functions, and in-context preview.

What’s not to like?

(But mind you, verify that the next-gen headless CMS in fact does support all these functions).

How to choose the right headless CMS:

Checklist: How to choose the right headless CMS

2. Customize your APIs

Most headless content management systems are so-called “cloud-native” and come with a database and an API out of the box. The API is therefore fixed and standardized, often by courtesy of the pure headless vendors being software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and not offering a platform.

In next-gen headless content management systems you get more flexibility to tailor the APIs from the vendor to your custom requirements. This could for instance be to customize a “blog post API,” for delivering the contents of your blog posts to another application in a special format.

Customizable APIs let you more easily integrate your content with other systems, and is also applicable to public APIs, where you offer data to others.

3. URL handling

A URL (uniform resource locator) is the web address of your content, and can help you get a grip of your content hierarchy, help your visitors to orient themselves, and help search engines find what users are looking for through carefully planned keywords.

A next generation headless CMS gives you full control over your URLs. In a first generation headless CMS, however, your developers must often decide the URLs, and there are no structured URLs as there usually is no tree structure logic present.

As mentioned, a next-gen headless CMS gives you full control over the URL management—making your daily operations more flexible. You can for instance mix between letting your developers decide URLs for certain types of content that are meant for APIs and apps, and let the CMS decide the URLs for other types of content meant for classic website usage.

URLs are important for the reasons mentioned, and especially for SEO purposes. Don’t let this vital issue be left to purely headless chance!

Don’t miss: Changing headless CMS forever: Enonic + Next.js »

4. Landing page composing 

Editing your website’s landing pages is something most web editors take for granted. While it is possible to edit landing pages with first-gen headless, it’s through forms—i.e. a hard coded schema system.

With a next-gen headless CMS, you get all the advantages from a traditional CMS, including visual landing pagecomposing. However, the strongest point in favor of next-gens is the flexibility this kind of platform offers: You can make landing pages available through APIs, thus letting the landing page structure be used in a headless approach. Also, you can mix between fetching data and ready-made HTML fragments in your platform, allowing for unlimited possibilities and combinations of headless data fetching and CMS generated content.

See also: What is atomic content design?

5. Content preview and tree structure

Where a first-gen headless CMS cuts the tie between content and presentation, a next-gen headless CMS allows you to preserve it when needed. You should be able to integrate a real-time in context preview using your external front-end, or build a custom preview for your content, as the platform includes a templating engine.

As for your headless content, it can be shown in widely different formats and places. It is, however, possible to make a standard preview to get a general, but useful impression of your content.

Another advantage of the next-gen headless CMS is the inclusion of a content tree structure, which is completely absent from most first-gen headless solutions. This makes it easy to get an overview of your content, and you can even organize it to reflect the de-facto structure of your website.

See also: 6 reasons to choose Enonic as your headless CMS »

6. Search

As mentioned, if you want a pure headless CMS and a traditional website, you must maintain several systems. Imagine what such an arrangement does to your search. Will it be fast and user-friendly? Or will it potentially be tedious, prompting you to switch between two systems to find what you’re looking for?

A next generation headless CMS searches across all your content, due to everything being in one system. Also, everything you search can have a presentation. A presentation is usually not available in first-gen headless, where the content is floating around in a database without URLs.


To conclude: If you are building a website with landing pages and a tightly integrated preview, it is smart to look for a next-gen headless CMS. Ask yourself what your use case is. If it involves building a larger website, a “pure”, first-gen headless CMS simply won’t make the cut. Choose the best of both worlds, choose a next generation headless CMS.

Checklist: How to choose the right headless CMS

First published 11 February 2019. Updated 17 August 2022.

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