A spectre is haunting online content — the spectre of headless CMS. While the title of this revolutionary concept in content management may invoke images of bemused ghosts shambling about with their suddenly disengaged brains under an arm, the truth is somewhat less chilling.
In terms of content management, a headless CMS is a digital structure in which the content control layer is separated from the display layer or from the end user's interface. This is in contrast to the more traditional forms of CMS familiar to us all, in which content is uploaded, managed, and published, in one unbroken chain.
Let's take a look at this in a little more detail.
What is the difference between headless CMS and a more traditional system?
When you upload and manage content via a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal, you are working with a closed system. There is a backend, in which content is inserted and managed, and there is a front end, at which the user can access the content. Each part of the process is neatly joined together and the process is repeated for each new piece of content.
A headless CMS does things a little differently, and provides additional flexibility and agility to your content strategies. Within the headless structure, the content editing app and the front end of your website are not connected directly. Instead, connection is delivered via an API — the front end sends a content request through the API, and content is delivered. The front end then defines the way in which the content is displayed to the user via the website or app.
This means the content producer is not limited by the restrictions of a general purpose CMS. For content projects which require a more detailed or tailored approach, the producer needs only to deploy a different app in the editing process — one which is better suited to achieving the right results — and then deliver this content to the front end via the API.
What are the benefits of a headless system?
This all sounds well and good, but a content management system is like a trusty pair of jeans — we grow used to them, we get comfortable in them, and we are less than enthusiastic about trading them in for a new model. To put it simply, we love our chosen CMSs, and the benefits of a headless system are going to have to be pretty impressive to pry us away.
However, when used correctly, these benefits are pretty impressive. Let's take a look.
Better content through better tools
First off, a headless CMS may give you the opportunity to create better content. This is because you are not restricted to the general purpose tools of a traditional CMS — you can use a more suitable means of content creation and get the results you need.
More direct, with less chance of failure
Many traditional CMS fall into the Jack of All Trades category, and try to do too much. A headless CMS does not, and is more direct in its approach. This simplified system significantly reduces the chance of failure.
Better flexibility for front-end developers
With a headless CMS, front-end developers can create websites and apps using any programming language they desire, and the content will still be compatible thanks to the API.
More freedom for content producers
Content producers are not bound by as many restrictions as with a traditional system, enabling them to work more independently and more efficiently.
Better compatibility with customised designs
If your website or application relies heavily on customised designs, the flexibility of a headless CMS will be ideal for your purposes.