Here’s Why a Headless CMS Can Give You Greater Content Management Control – Part 1

Headless CMS illustration.

Understanding how a headless content management system (CMS) works and the value it provides content producing teams can be a bit of a research journey, but one that can have big payoffs for the right companies. There are many opinions, ideas and buzzwords around content management and headless CMS and unpacking them into valuable takeaways that can inform decisions can be difficult. We, alongside a few of our industry friends, have worked on a number of headless CMS projects and are pleased to bring you a series of posts to help unravel the mystery and shine a light on why and when a headless CMS makes sense.

What is a Headless CMS?

To wrap our heads around the idea of a headless CMS, let’s begin with a simple illustration.

In the 20th century, off the back of the industrial revolution, American factories introduced a method of production we all know as the assembly line. This method of production did a few things:

  • It introduced work specialization
  • It accelerated progression through a linear process
  • It isolated work types, allowing for focus and optimization

Effectively, assembly lines grouped work into stages and allocated specialized resources and processes for each stage.

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How Does a Headless CMS Work?

A headless CMS reflects the assembly line approach. It groups the work performed by both technology and people and allocates specialized resources and processes for each.

Specifically, running headless refers to the practice where content is produced independently of where it is consumed.

But what are the components of a typical headless CMS? Like a factory assembly line, it depends on the work that is being done and the desired outcome. Generally speaking however, a headless CMS is broken into 2 or 3 components.

Content production and data storage are handled by the same system and content presentation is separated out (figure a), or all three components are separated (figure b).

Figure a

Figure b

On the other hand, a traditional CMS has everything all-in-one (figure c).

Figure c

The term “headless” comes from the idea that the production and data storage or “the body,” is removed from how and where the content is presented, “the head.” Search around long enough and you’ll stumble upon a few different terms, like decoupled and content as a service (CaaS), that at a high-level, describe the same sort of thing.

Why is a Headless CMS so Great?

Running separate platforms rather than having everything in the single place may sound like it could actually double your efforts. After all, with a traditional CMS the technology (infrastructure, user interface, etc.) takes care of everything meaning users only need to familiarize themselves with the single environment. For example, the user interface responsible for managing plugins or extensions also needs to facilitate content editing.

However, by doing everything it means that the platform is restricted in its ability to specialize.

By implementing a Headless CMS solution, each part of the system can:

  • Run on only the technology that is needed
  • Be isolated from a maintenance and support perspective
  • Be isolated from an optimization perspective
  • Present a user interface (UI) relevant to its exact function
  • Require training only for its exact function

The greatest benefit that comes from running a headless CMS is that the people and platform can specialize and optimize.

How to Know if a Headless CMS is Right for You

While the upside of a headless CMS is clear, how do you decide whether or not to implement? Like with any big implementation, there are some key questions to ask yourself:

  1. How can a headless CMS improve your content management process, and what is the value to your business?
  2. What will it cost?
  3. Does the ROI stack up?

What value can a headless CMS provide to your business?

For example, implementing a user interface (UI) specifically geared for content production sounds great in theory, but will your team realize the benefit? Are they currently hindered by the present system? Will the new system help create greater efficiency?

If the answers is yes, it makes sense to also ask yourself the following questions.

What will it cost to implement a headless CMS?

Whether implemented by an internal team or outsourced, the discovery phase, support, and maintenance will require time and resources. If you choose to use internal resources to implement your headless CMS, it’s important to remember that time spent on the project is time not spent on other business priorities. There is an opportunity cost to any large implementation.

Does the ROI stack up?

While a headless CMS can dramatically improve the efficiency and quality of your content management capabilities, it’s important to understand your ROI expectations for a new tech implementation.

Generally speaking, in our experience it is the larger the team(s) who work day-to-day with the platform where operational efficiency and business profit is tightly correlated that have the greatest potential ROI for a headless CMS implementation.

If you’re interested in learning more about how a headless CMS could work for your business and how it may improve your current CMS, we’d be happy to help. Please contact us for a free consultation.

2 Responses

  1. Great article. I’ve seen/heard the term recently but didn’t understand it. I’ve built WordPress sites for really technical and competent people who are too busy running their business to want to deal with the backend. I think there would be a lot value in creating some tools that would make WP “virtually headless” beyond just emailing a post.

    1. So glad to hear this post has helped. 🙂 What do you mean by “virtually headless”?

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