A Beginner’s Guide to the Headless CMS

With traditional content management systems (CMS) limiting a company’s ability to create and manage engaging content, more marketers are pivoting to headless CMS platforms.

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It wasn’t always this easy to publish content digitally.

For years, online publishers had to build websites with different software codes and applications. Once the site was up and running, only then could content be published, with the hope that people would read the content and be persuaded to buy goods and services from the content provider.

Fast forward to the golden age of digital content, now primarily created and published on content management systems, or CMS software. According to data from Zion Market Research, the CMS sector will grow from $35.9 billion in value in 2018 to an estimated $123.5 billion by 2026.

One burgeoning CMS model that’s gaining ground in 2020 is the “headless” CMS. This CMS market was valued at $328 million in December 2019. By 2027, however, the headless CMS market is expected to rise to $1.6 billion — a growth rate of 22.6%, according to Insight Partners.

Overview: What is a headless CMS?

In a word, it’s a back-end system for content management that’s “cut off” from the traditional front end (i.e., the “head”) of the system. By removing the CMS head, system administrators can integrate with all types of computer code and allow content providers to publish and store content using any computer language.

The back-end CMS acts as a technology tool to manage the entire content management process — outlining, creating, publishing, managing, tracking, and storing content for the publisher. Meanwhile, the front end determines how the content will be presented to end users.

Structurally, headless CMS features include an application programming interface (API) linked to a back-end CMS that manages the content process. This enables publishers and their information technology teams to produce quality content via a “content as a service” (CaaS) model, with the delivery and storage of content “split” into separate and easier to manage software applications.

The ability for system administrators to avoid complicated coding issues makes the content creation, management, and storage responsibilities more efficient and user-friendly. In addition, content publishers don’t face the hassles of countless security updates that are common with regular content management platforms.

Headless CMS vs. decoupled CMS: What’s the difference?

Headless CMS technology differs from a traditional CMS, most notably “coupled” and “decoupled” CMS platforms. Here’s how the three primary CMS platforms compare and contrast.

  • Coupled CMS: With a coupled CMS, the front and back ends are locked together. In this pairing, the system administrators store software applications and created content, designed and stored in a database in the back end, while the public sees the content produced on the front end of the system via HTML web pages. The main coupled CMS architectures include WordPress, the most widely used CMS.
  • Decoupled CMS: With a decoupled CMS, the front and back end are separated, but not in the way that a headless CMS is separated. While the content is created on the system’s back end, it’s funneled through the API and winds up on the system’s front end, ready to be viewed by the public. On the back end, a decoupled CMS stores the content and enables a system interface for the creation and storage of new content.
  • Headless CMS: The primary variable with a headless CMS is that the architecture doesn’t include a front end. Content is created, published, and stored via an API that steers content right to the device the end user holds, ready to be viewed immediately.

Content published via a headless CMS is the same, even though it’s published on multiple devices and in multiple delivery formats. With a headless CMS, content publishers only need a content creation, storage, and management back end and an API, making it easier to publish content on a wide variety of website platforms.

3 benefits of using a headless CMS

Headless CMS software offers content marketers a unique, efficient, fast, and affordable way to give customers an optimal content experience across multiple communication devices and platforms.

What content customers don’t want is an unstable engagement experience that disengages from device to device. Headless CMS platforms can provide a more seamless content engagement experience, allowing consumers to have a seamless and continuous engagement with the content they like and on the touchpoints and digital devices they prefer.

Headless technology does this by delivering marketers the following business advantages:

1. Quicker engagements with content consumers

With new technology breakthroughs like the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G telecommunication systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, content consumers expect to access and view content in real time.

That wasn’t the case with traditional CMS consumer engagements, which required information technology teams to erect custom content integrations and content platforms one at a time for different content channels. A headless CMS speeds up that process by creating and delivering content via API, which sends the content to the digital devices and content channels consumers want at a greatly reduced time to market.

2. No more vendor-specific content

Historically, marketers were at the mercy of the content management vendor, who dictated the technology tools and applications required to create, manage, and store content. With no room to expand or shift technology resources for better customer content experiences, content creators were stuck with rigid technology options and limitations, which crimped overall content production and marketing performance.

Headless CMS software changes that equation, with its API-centric technology model that allows users to seamlessly merge with any third-party content creation technology. That gives marketers the ability to create quality content on any platform using any technology tool they need to get the job done.

That means no more mandatory allegiance to a single CMS vendor and more freedom to build the CMS the way a marketing department wants to build it.

3. Better outcomes for your content customers

When a company invests in a headless CMS, it’s basically investing in the commercial potential the CMS provides.

By offering access to their content via multiple channels and digital devices, company marketers can essentially personalize the customer experience, a concept that consumers have increasingly embraced.

Simultaneously, a headless CMS platform’s ability to sweep up customer data also gives marketers new avenues for profit potential by providing the exact content a consumer wants and tracking those engagements through the entire content experience. That significantly increases the chances of the consumer purchasing more of the company’s goods or services and becoming lifelong customers.

The takeaway on the headless CMS

Headless CMS platforms offer a way to funnel content to consumers in new, fast, and efficient ways, thus laying the foundation for “futurizing” customer relationships for forward-thinking companies.

As customer expectations grow and new lifestyle-improving technologies like IoT and AI emerge, companies can leverage a headless CMS to give consumers the content they want in the way they want it.

By giving dev-ops teams the programming tools they need and a path to easier and more efficient coding and streamlined system administration tools, the technology side of 21st century content publishing is covered, too.

That gives marketers the best of both worlds — a content management experience that’s easier and more flexible to manage and new and improved content experiences for consumers. This should result in stronger content, more sales conversions, and more robust revenues for the short- and long-term.

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