Get your copyMust-have SEO ebook for marketers with 27 actionable tips

The Ultimate Guide to Headless CMS.

In today’s multichannel world, traditional web-oriented CMS systems are no longer enough. If you need to deliver high-quality content and create online experiences at scale, a headless CMS is the right choice for your business.

This guide will help you understand what a cloud-first headless CMS is, the benefits of going headless, and what you should consider when choosing the right web CMS.

What is a headless CMS?

Headless CMS explained

A headless CMS is a content management system that enables you to deliver content to multiple channels simultaneously. This content repository allows users to create, manage and publish content without having to rely on a separate application or service. In other words, you don’t need to have an interface that users would navigate through in order to access published content. 

With a headless CMS, developers don’t have to worry about updating or maintaining any front-end user experience elements, which means they can focus more on developing the actual application they are building. A cloud-native headless CMS lets them create exceptional digital experiences fast, using modern technologies, such as microservices and static site generators.

Meanwhile, content creators can focus on content editing and publishing. Real-time collaboration helps you stay on track and improve your workflow. You can manage content at scale from a central hub, with the possibility of reusing the content across other websites and channels.

Traditional vs Headless CMS

While traditional content management systems use templates and themes, headless CMSs let you manage the presentation of your website with your own code. A traditional CMS allows you to push content only to your website—simply put, you can’t use the same content across multiple channels and devices. Limited flexibility and reliance on templates are the main disadvantages of a traditional CMS. 

There’s a good chance you’ve come across another alternative to a headless CMS—a website builder that offers easy website creation by using drag-and-drop interfaces and powerful features like a page builder. However, it’s difficult to implement structured data on this kind of site. Some vendors also offer decoupled CMS, which has drawbacks (you have to manage several environments while front-end development work is required for design).

Play button icon
Play video

Benefits of a headless CMS

  • Agility and flexibility - Adapting to the new digital transformation requires a high level of agility and flexibility that will help you speed the process, ensuring your project is up and running. The headless architecture allows you to get started working on your project and deploy your applications immediately. Because the front-end and back-end are decoupled by default, you have complete freedom to choose how you want to build your application. This dramatically reduces your development time as well as the cost of creating new features for your website.
  • Speed - A headless CMS lets you add new content without having to wait for it to be published on your site. That means faster turnaround times for your writers and less time wasted waiting for pages to refresh. Since everything happens in a single request, less network overhead and fewer connections are being made. Fewer requests mean that you’ll get pages to your users faster. 
  • Easier scalability and high availability - Scalability is an important consideration when choosing the right content management system. Unlike traditional CMS solutions, headless CMS empowers developers to build a highly scalable architecture with high availability. Separation of the front-end and back-end ensures everything runs smoothly and at scale. Thanks to scalability, it is easy to optimize your website seamlessly. 
  •  Increased security - With no portal through which visitors can enter data, your site is more secure against hackers and other threats. The separation of the front-end and back-end is a great advantage. The back-end contains all the content, but it is not accessible to the front-end. The system is set up in such a way that if there is a breach in one section, like a page on the website, it will not affect the other pages and functions of the site. 
  •  A multichannel approach - The main benefit of a headless CMS is that your website becomes fully functional through any channel or device—whether mobile apps, IoT devices, smartwatches, or single-page applications, to name a few. This way, your users will have access to the same content regardless of the device they are using. With Content as a Service (CaaS) you don't have to worry about the back-end, just focus on building great content for your users. 
  • Easy to learn and use - With a headless CMS, you can manage your digital content and digital assets easily and on the fly. Unifying content in centralized content hubs allows teams to manage their assets and copy in one place, supporting multiple websites, apps, and other channels. When using the platform to create content or landing pages, each user can see only the relevant fields. Meanwhile, developers can efficiently work on your content infrastructure and interface.


Creating composable experiences

3 examples of use cases

University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is the most prestigious in the UK and one of the leading universities worldwide. Apart from course pages, intranet, resource libraries, and large databases, the institution also provides its Research website. It delivers information about current researches, multiple studies, and inventive insights.

Using a headless CMS helps the University of Oxford produce its research articles with ease. Running on Kontent by Kentico, the university's research website delivered key research results regarding a COVID-19 vaccine. With the help of Kontent, the university was able to publish the content they needed on the desired channel fast.

Leo Express

Leo Express provides both train and bus services, offering an exceptional concept of traveling. With its new website and mobile apps, the company needed to refresh its brand across various digital platforms to become modern and user-friendly.

Managing content for 1.5 million passengers required a complex solution that would speed up creating, editing, and publishing. This Kontent project, implemented by SYMBIO, delivered 1,000+ items in six languages to an omnichannel solution in just two weeks. 

Australian Wine

A visually striking website that educates wine consumers about Australian wine needed to release the site within ten weeks of the project kick-off. Moreover, the company was aiming to deliver an exceptional user experience to its global audience.

With Kontent, Australian Wine could set the site up to be multilingual, quickly deliver their content, and build Jamstack sites according to content creation. A headless CMS enabled the team to serve their content to multiple websites and bring desired stories to life.

Case study

Serving content to 1.5 million passengers.

Leo Express is dedicated to providing exceptional train and bus transport services. Their new website and mobile applications needed to reflect the brand and its strategy—to be fresh, modern, and user-friendly. With the help of Kontent by Kentico, Leo Express could deliver 1,000+ items in six languages to an omnichannel solution in just two weeks.

3 things to consider when choosing a headless CMS

The infrastructure

Your content management system should provide you the right infrastructure in order to support your current and future content delivery needs. Before taking the plunge, make sure the vendor of a headless CMS offers the following features: 

  • Fast and scalable content delivery – Does the headless CMS solution use CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to deliver content smoothly and quickly, or will you need to take care of the setup yourself?
  • Availability - What are the guarantees the headless CMS gives in terms of availability? 
  • Security – When it comes to security, does the vendor provide a reliable security record? 
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) solution – Does the product offer an on-premise solution (which might slow you down) or a Software as a Service model? Check out our blog post on what makes a true cloud CMS.

Developer ecosystem

Another vital thing to consider when picking a headless CMS is the developer ecosystem. If you’re looking to build an enterprise-level web application, then the developer ecosystem of the headless CMS will be just as important as the content management features. What features should the product offer?

  • Documentation - Does the vendor provide enough documentation for developers so they can learn more about the product?
  • API-based importing and management - Make sure the headless CMS empowers API-based importing, management, and delivery for programmatic content control.
  • Developer tools - JavaScript SDKs, a demo source code, and libraries—that’s what your developers need to get started with ease.

Easy content production

Did your developers decide on a particular headless CMS? Great! Just don’t forget that you need to think about the marketers as well. Go for a headless content management system that is easy to use and enables your content team to create and update structured content. 

  • Analytics - Can you get access to the insights providing info about customers’ engagement?
  • Empowerment - Does the solution support non-technical users to create various types of content or a content model? 
  • Personalization - Does the vendor provide a personalization engine to adjust customer experiences?

Conclusion

Offering a value proposition, a headless CMS is the future of web development and content management. Unlike on-premise CMS, the headless architecture combines agility and flexibility, allowing vendors to offer a content management solution in a true Software as a Service model. If you want to stay ahead of your competition, the right headless CMS platform will help you provide your audience with a better digital experience and serve your content to the audiences you need. Cloud-first headless CMS solutions offer an Application Programming Interface (API) that enables you to deliver your content to any platform.

When choosing the right content management system, one of the things you should consider is the infrastructure—whether the vendor provides a true Software as a Service solution, how reliable the security record of the headless CMS is, and what guarantees the vendor offers in terms of availability. Another thing you should bear in mind when cherry-picking a headless CMS is the developer ecosystem, including API-readiness, community, and documentation. Last but not least, think of how your marketers work with content and whether they will feel comfortable working with a headless CMS.