Is a headless CMS better than other content management system solutions?

computer screen showing api code for mobile device

Is a headless CMS the superior content management system solution? The answer, of course, depends, but ignore the hype and get the information you need to make the most informed decision to suit your exact business needs.

A content management system (CMS) has become essential for publishing content dynamically without the need for coding expertise. However, for organizations seeking to maximize the value of their content across various channels, a headless CMS may offer a more cost-effective, faster, and secure experience.

A traditional CMS manages the entire web application and dictates the technologies used throughout, from content creation and storage to content presentation. Because the data and presentation layers are tightly coupled, you are limited in flexibility and forced to use the technologies provided by the CMS. To present content in a new way, you have to rebuild the entire content application using the required technology for the new presentation. A headless CMS eliminates the presentation system, focusing solely on storing and delivering content, which allows for complete flexibility and freedom.

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a content management system that provides only the back-end system for storing content, while allowing you to choose any front-end system for presentation. The content stored in a headless CMS is accessible through an application programming interface (API).

A headless CMS uses a decoupled architecture, separating the content from the presentation layer (or head). By decoupling content from presentation, you gain flexibility to use the same content on different platforms through the use of APIs. For example, you can use a snippet from a blog post for your chatbot to answer a customer question, and both your blog publishing and chatbot programs can easily retrieve the required content from your headless CMS in their respective formats.

With a headless CMS, collaboration with different systems becomes easier, content delivery can be scaled, and content can be managed separately to the development of the platforms where that content will be distributed and remixed.

Is a headless CMS cheaper?

The answer to this depends on a variety of factors, but in many cases, yes, a headless CMS can help cut costs. If you're starting from scratch, you may need to invest more up front to make sure you have both the back-end and front-end developers you need, depending on the size and number of sites, along with a technical manager. That said, the up-front cost for a new app is about the same, and a headless CMS can save on long-term maintenance costs because you don't have to worry about changing the back end every time you add a channel. So, if you expect that you'll continue to expand your support for different audiences, headless is more cost-effective in the long term.

Is a headless CMS faster?

Content delivery with a headless CMS is very fast. Once the content is stored in the headless CMS, APIs can quickly retrieve and publish content in real time. This also includes also only fetching the content you need, limiting the size of payloads and data that need to be processed. Marketers can respond swiftly to changing needs and demands of their audiences since they don't need to readjust content files for each publishing platform when using a headless CMS.

Is a headless CMS more secure?

Headless CMS platforms allow easy and secure third-party integrations and protect against security risks. Since the front end and back end aren’t linked, no one can access the content publishing platform from a CMS database. Your system is less likely to experience a DDoS attack and be rendered offline or unable to access systems and network resources. Your headless CMS can tightly secure any administrative or data-holding areas because it is completely separate from the displayed website. This even gives you the ability to restrict IP access to the CMS.

Consider this example: A popular method of hacking a website is through SQL injections—but headless CMS systems combat that by running on a server without SQL or even without being connected to SQL. When a developer creates a unique CMS from scratch, nothing about that CMS is a known entity.

A headless CMS can help content teams achieve their goals, such as speeding up digital transformation and providing the flexibility required to meet evolving content needs. Visit our CMS architecture guide to explore the different types of approaches and evaluated which one suits your business needs.

Explore our CMS architecture guide to understand the differences between coupled CMS, decoupled CMS and headless CMS, as well as the pros and cons for each.

About the Author
Nancy Mann Jackson
Nancy Jackson has been writing about business and technology since 2001. She has written for technology brands including Oracle, Planview, Codility, Brightspot, Zinnia and Brightly Software. Her work also has appeared in publications including Entrepreneur, Fortune, Forbes and She’s based in Huntsville, Alabama.

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