A brief overview of headless CMS

A brief overview of headless CMS

In this post, you’ll learn what a headless CMS is, how it works, and why your organization could benefit from going “headless.”

For most people, shopping online extends a lot further than visiting a company’s website. Now, consumers interact with brands through multiple digital channels, such as mobile apps, social media, voice automation, and more. And they expect these experiences to move seamlessly with them and be highly personalized.

Because of this, brands are under unprecedented pressure. To stand out, they must deliver exceptional experiences everywhere and fast. But this is a big — and often impossible — ask for some developers, especially those with legacy or disparate content management systems (CMS).

In response, businesses of all sizes are increasingly moving to a headless CMS to improve the speed and agility of digital experiences.

What is a headless CMS?

A “headless” CMS is a content management system that lets you take content from a CMS and deliver it to any front end using any framework of choice. It separates content from the presentation layer (the head), creating blocks of content that can be delivered in a channel-neutral format to power any channel or experience. This means you can create content once and reuse it everywhere.

Headless content management systems expose content as JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) through well-defined APIs, such as GraphQL or RESTful APIs. Brands then decide how to build their front end, which means using technologies such as Node.js to create dynamic websites. Either way, the CMS does not define the presentation layer.

A headless CMS vs. a traditional CMS

While a headless CMS separates content from the presentation so the same content can appear on any channel or device, a traditional CMS locks the content and presentation together. This means that a traditional CMS typically delivers content through a single channel — usually a web browser. Meanwhile, a headless CMS uses APIs to present a single set of content in multiple channels. This is why a headless CMS is sometimes known as an “API-first” CMS.

traditional vs headless content delivery

The table below explains in greater detail why a headless CMS offers greater flexibility and supports a wider variety of use cases than a traditional CMS.

Benefits of a headless CMS

As brands grow, they add new channels, such as new social accounts, mobile apps, and so on. Without a headless CMS, brands can find themselves duplicating content across multiple platforms, slowing down workflows and reducing content velocity. For example, they might have to customize, code, and upload the same piece of content into a website CMS, a mobile app CMS, and an IoT framework.

A headless CMS eliminates all these redundancies by unifying content in a single hub, delivering a better customer experience while making it easier for developers to quickly build and ship. Below are just a few benefits of a headless CMS.

A better developer experience

A headless CMS allows developers to work faster and more effectively. For example, back-end and front-end developers can work in parallel as long as their efforts are well-coordinated. Likewise, developers are no longer locked into using a specific application stack to create an experience. With a headless CMS, they can choose the tools and frameworks they are most comfortable with to create purpose-built applications for delivering content that relies on APIs to talk with back-end content repositories.

Tip: The Adobe Developer Portal for AEM Headless is a great resource for developers who want to learn more about working with a headless CMS.

Easier updates

Content changes all the time as product specs and marketing messages evolve. When you use multiple traditional CMS platforms, every piece of content on every channel must be updated individually. With a headless CMS, you can change content once and update it everywhere with a single push.

Smoother and faster scaling

When you rely on multiple traditional content management systems, adding new channels and touchpoints can mean installing and learning a new CMS, as well as duplicating and customizing all your content. With a headless CMS, none of this is necessary. Instead, you simply connect the headless CMS to your new channel.

A more consistent brand experience

If you use multiple traditional content management systems, the same content may be coded four or five times to work in four or five different front ends. And each of these content versions may look and feel a little different. Because a headless CMS lets you reuse content without writing new code, your customers get a more consistent experience across all your channels.

Greater security and availability

Running a headless CMS is more secure than a traditional CMS because your content publishing tools cannot be accessed from your content database, and your database and other back-end resources cannot be accessed from front-end display solutions. As a result, you are less susceptible to DDoS attacks. From an availability standpoint, if the CMS is offline at any time, your website is still up and running because it’s serverless or on a content delivery network (CDN) that’s separate from the CMS.

Use cases — who loves a headless CMS?

Not only is a headless CMS great for delivering a better and more responsive content-driven experience, but it also supports a wide range of business and technical objectives. Once they understand its potential, teams throughout your organization will be eager to adopt it.

Developers

A headless CMS gives developers the freedom to do what they do best — build faster and deliver exceptional experiences. It allows them to use their preferred systems and reduce repetitive tasks. For example, with a headless CMS, there is no need to maintain multiple content repositories and hand-code content updates requested by marketing.

Marketing

With a headless CMS, marketers can spend more time on strategies and content creation and less time customizing content for different channels and managing updates. Instead, they can collaborate on new content and make changes to existing content in one place.

Ecommerce teams

A headless CMS makes it easy to quickly add content and experiences to virtually any storefront via APIs. It also lets your developers build a highly customized user experience for commerce customers that can differentiate your brand. Read more about getting started with headless ecommerce.

Do you need a headless CMS?

A headless CMS is ideal for companies that operate in many channels and must deliver exceptional omnichannel experiences. It’s also a great option for companies that are growing quickly and want to provide a future-proof framework for their IT and marketing teams.

But is a headless CMS right for you? Ask yourself the following questions:

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might be ready to consider a headless CMS. Adobe Experience Manager is a CMS that offers full headless capabilities. Our customers are using it to scale content-powered experiences across all their touchpoints and channels.

Learn more about how Adobe Experience Manager's headless CMS can help you power exceptional experiences everywhere.

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Adobe Experience Manager has complete headless capabilities