What is a headless CMS?

Almost every organization has a Content Management System (CMS) to create content for their website.

With a traditional CMS, you use a WYSIWYG editor or an HTML editor and save it to the back-end database and this will be displayed on the front-end. But now there is a new way of working. Say farewell to the CMS you know and love because a headless CMS is the newest digital trend and we completely understand why. The new way is headless. 

What is a headless CMS?

But what is a headless CMS? You could call the front-end of a traditional CMS the head of the system. So, it is as easy as that with a headless CMS the platform has no default front-end system to determine how the content is presented to the end-user. Now you must think: “but how does this work then?” Instead of the classic front-end, the front-end is agnostic, meaning that the content you publish is raw and can be published anywhere, through any framework. This means that by getting rid of the front-end delivery layer, your CMS is now a content-only data source. By this front-end, developers are free to build as many heads as they like, for however many channels they want to serve content to (such as websites, apps, kiosks, smartwatches, etc). To retrieve the content for each channel, the headless CMS responds to API calls.

Youwe goes headless

As a guide in the digital jungle, we needed to test this theory. Because of this, the new Youweagency.com website is built with a headless CMS. We have chosen to stretch our capabilities in thinking ahead by choosing a headless approach using React as a front-end framework and Drupal as a content repository and we connected other data sources like Hubspot and Workable to our platform. Not only has our own website a headless CMS, but the Youwe website also is a PWA. Do you want to know more about Drupal as a headless CMS and PWA? During the webinar from Drupal 7 to Drupal, anything both the topics will be discussed and all your questions will be answered. Want to know more about the webinar? Watch it here

Why you should go headless

We already made the choice and choose headless. This is something we advise you as well. Why? The digital world is changing. The traditional CMS with database-driven systems is being replaced by an API-driven headless system. This is because consumers are making use of more devices and channels than ever before. This is why brands simply have to meet them there in order to provide quality omnichannel customer experiences. If you go headless it is the easiest way of providing that omnichannel customer experience to your customers on every device and channel.

So, the benefits of a headless CMS are:

1. Front-end agnostic  
A headless CMS is a front-end framework agnostic. That means you can publish content on any device or channel via API calls. Plus, front-end developers are free to use their favorite frameworks and tools. You get the ultimate front-end freedom to create a customer experience detached from the underlying architecture. Most CMS or e-commerce frameworks have stricter user interfaces that are not always optimized for the optimal customer journey.

2. The use of APIs
By splitting the data and business logic from your front-end experience you need a unified way of interacting. Especially if you are going to adopt multiple data sources to one experience. For example including a customer portal, job/hrm system, CMS and commerce platform in one experience. All the underlying systems need to collaborate smoothly. 

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable two technologies to speak to each other. With a headless CMS, you use APIs to connect and communicate with other software and channels, allowing for content delivery. But that’s not all. APIs can also be used to send data (like end-user activity and preferences) from those channels, devices, and touchpoints back to the CMS for processing, analysis, and re-distribution.

Modern architectures not only support APIs but also offer a middleware layer to make accessing the APIs over different platforms easier. Query languages being used are for example ‘GraphQL’.

3. Easier to manage 
Headless CMS is usually much easier to manage. Since you can change parts of your application landscape without disrupting your front-end customer experience. Changing platforms in your landscape becomes easier and there are fewer dependencies in your landscape. This requires you to focus on strong API driven architectures. A headless CMS is easier to manage and this will make it less time-consuming. 

4. Better scalability and security
 A headless CMS has better scalability and security. This is because of the division of responsibilities of authoring and delivery. The delivery can be separately scaled, and the authoring part can be completely hidden and not accessible to the outside world behind company firewalls.

5. Ready for all devices
With a CMS you are ready for the future. This is because the APIs aren’t just ready to talk to any existing software or device, they’re prepared to speak to any new device or channel that will be created. Because of this, your headless CMS will be future-proof and it doesn’t matter which device your customer is using. 

Combined with the movement for Progressive Web Apps you could build powerful landscapes adopting all major devices. For example, building an e-commerce solution where you use the same architecture for your online journey as for your instore activities. PWAs can even operate without a high-quality internet connection. This opens new opportunities to connect user journey's over all customer touchpoints in your organizations.

When should you consider a headless approach?

1.   You have multiple platforms with content you want to integrate for a frictionless customer journey;
2.   Your target audience is using many different devices and a more app-like experience is required to increase your customer retention;
3.   You want to simplify the management of your application landscape and get a cleaner architecture;
4.   If you want to have more freedom in your design approach; 
5.   Faster time to market since your front-end developer does not need to worry about complex business logics anymore.

Solutions often used for headless architectures

Do you first need to find a CMS?

Download the Drupal vs. WordPress vs. TYPO3 comparison whitepaper here. In the whitepaper, you will find a clear overview of the three Content Management Systems. 

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