6 reasons why headless CMS is so popular
Headless CMS is gaining traction, but why is the technology suddenly becoming so popular?
Written by Vegard Ottervig on
Headless CMS is increasing in popularity, due to developers wanting more freedom and the rise of omnichannel delivery and rich front-end frameworks. While traditional content management systems keep 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, voice assistants, smart watches, TV screens, digital signage systems, or your coffee machine. If omnichannel is not your requirement, you still get full flexibility to use any modern front-end framework to build your website or client.
You might already have an inkling of why headless is taking over a sizable portion of the CMS market, but we will spell it out nonetheless:
How to choose the right headless CMS:
A traditional CMS is one where your content is closely linked to the way your digital experiences look, usually in a web browser. Now try to imagine what it is like to develop solutions across different channels with the same content in this setup. 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 are more of an afterthought than a clear-cut solution to delivering content to different channels.
Furthermore, the traditional CMS is page-oriented and closely tied to the presentation. It might also come with a proprietary framework for developers to use. This does not sit well with the developers who want freedom and flexibility.
There might be other frameworks that provide content to your apps, but exactly why should you not be able to deliver content for your digital experiences with one platform?
With a headless CMS the developers can work with structured content—content organized 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.
Today we have many new digital channels—websites, apps, wearables, IoT, flat screens, cars, and so on. 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.
With a headless CMS developers can use any front-end framework to create even richer digital experiences. Just think of Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, or your online bank. These work as an application and not primarily a website—with fast loading times and specialized functions. And everything is programmed using a modern front-end framework—preferably using a headless CMS for editorial content.
Find out more: How to optimize the website user experience in 3 steps »
The headless ability to make available 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.
A headless CMS 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.
Headless is therefore all about flexibility. You are no longer locked into a CMS specific programming language or templating engine, allowing your developers to build front-ends and solutions using various frameworks and technologies that can fetch and process content in the form of raw data.
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 a monolithic CMS.
As the front-end of your website or app is decoupled from the content repository, it is easier to make adjustments and redesign solutions without interrupting content editors who simultaneously create and manage content.
This paves the way for a dual benefit: On the one hand, developers get their mentioned freedom to develop solutions with their favorite tools and frameworks. A happy developer equals more motivation to create awesome products. On the other hand, content editors can see coveted improvements more frequently, as well as working in a clutter-free environment—making them equally happy.
Both of these benefits illustrate a flexible way to work, where methods and solutions can be replaced by something better if need be. And that is important when facing the future.
From developer freedom and omnichannel reality to more flexibility, and being more future-proof—every point on this list is intertwined. And last, but not least, we have the issue of upgrading.
Smoother upgrades play a part in the astronomical rise of the headless CMS. The decoupling of CMS and your own implementation often means upgrading your CMS will be easier. As long as the API is backward compatible, you can upgrade the CMS without changing your clients—and visa-versa.
Headless CMS has several positive properties that have contributed to its popularity in 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 purely first-gen headless solution if you don’t need to, as there exists something called next-gen headless CMS, or hybrid CMS. A next-gen headless CMS takes the best from both worlds—by bolstering the headless core with added functionality, like visual page editing, content tree structure, and in-context preview. Something to please both developers and editors!
First published 7 January 2019, updated 29 June 2022.
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