Headless CMS explained
Learn more about headless CMS and whether or not headless CMS is the right approach for your digital business.
A headless CMS offers complete content freedom by removing the presentation layer entirely. Instead, a headless CMS delivers content as data outputs, usually via JSON. The system is back-end only, meaning it has an editorial interface, but no end-user view. (Note, this relates to where the content is consumed on the front end; content creators using a headless CMS like Brightspot do have the ability to preview the layout and user experience before publishing to a live site.)
The absence of a presentation layer opens up to complete front-end freedom—there’s no specific delivery environment or language needed to distribute content. Finally, starting with a headless CMS system makes migration to another platform much easier.
Headless is a subset of decoupled CMS, but with a major difference: there’s no fixed front end. Instead, a headless CMS acts as a content-only data source and delivers content as data outputs, usually via the JSON open standard file format and data interchange format. Headless is thus back-end only, meaning it has an editorial interface but no end-user access to the content management side of the platform.
Headless is often positioned as the most flexible and developer-friendly CMS option because it allows developers to use a combination of their favorite tools and frameworks to determine precisely where and how content appears. The ability to mix and match front-end content offerings can mean businesses deliver the best user experience across every device, channel and touchpoint. There’s also no specific delivery environment or language needed to distribute content. Finally, using a headless CMS system may make migration to another platform much easier.
Other headless CMS benefits include:
You'll need to make choices on the tools you want to use at the front end, which may prove complex if your team lacks deep CMS experience. If your business requires you to deliver your presentation layer from multiple systems, a hybrid (headless and decoupled) architecture might be a better match. It’s also not advised to use headless for every content delivery problem—for example, you may want to use headless to power your native iOS and Android apps but employ decoupled for your website experience.
A headless-only approach may be the best option for organizations with robust development teams who know their way around the additional technologies required to establish the front end. In addition, work should be done to examine if decoupled, headless or hybrid is your best option. This is because there’s an overlap between decoupled and headless CMS solutions, causing some confusion between the two and over how they differ from a traditional CMS. Marketing technology is constantly evolving as solutions build on each other, and the terminology and distinctions are not always clear. Don’t proceed with headless unless you’re sure it’s the right choice for you and your content needs both now and going forward.
With a legacy CMS, your content is tied to your design, and that means the latest devices are often unable to read your data. Headless is in demand because, with your content. separated from your design, you can quickly and seamlessly deliver content anywhere, in any way it’s required.
The move toward digital microservices may have begun with the Unix philosophy, but it’s a trend that has only progressed in agility and increased in popularity since then. The natural divide of content and technology responsibilities in a headless CMS lets the microservices shine, while allowing developers to use the latest and greatest tools and techniques available (which include serverless technologies, such as AWS Lambda).
Omnichannel delivery drives today’s consumer experience, and it’s a nonlinear journey. A customer might switch from one device to another, then backtrack or even open two of the same applications at once. Not only does a headless CMS make this kind of journey faster and easier, but it also allows you to capture that experience from end-to-end and find new ways to support it.
Having the ability to push content across platforms has never been more important. It has also never been easier, thanks to the headless concept of unhooking content from design—a true Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. With Brightspot, for example, we’ll take care of the CMS while you focus on how your content is displayed.
By serving up content suited for specific experiences, a headless CMS also allows you to provide a collective content experience, also known as a “content mesh.” In this scenario, each platform’s strengths can be harnessed, while maintaining a cross-referenced consumer experience. With a traditional CMS, this can be challenging, since there may be several different types of content management at play, each separate from the others. Your developers may become frustrated by the amount of duplicate work they have to perform in order to get the same or similar content flowing to different channels (e.g., a tablet and a smartphone, or a laptop and a smartwatch).
Because headless is designed as content-first and front-end agnostic from the start, it avoids channel-specific concepts like “pages” and tools that work for those (e.g., drag-and-drop functionality). Thinking of content independently of presentation allows you to focus on what you want to say before thinking of how you want to say it.
Brightspot has many years of experience launching dozens of headless CMS implementations for customers around the world. Here are some of the most notable.
Headless CMS in action with Brightspot
What is headless CMS?
What does headless CMS mean?
How does a headless CMS work?
An important part of understanding how headless CMS integrations work to provide ultimate flexibility for businesses is GraphQL. Known as the querying language that enables flexible connection with APIs to support headless CMS integrations, GraphQL enables content management and delivery to external systems, including third-party syndication.
When should I use a headless CMS?
- A database where content and digital assets are stored (back end);
- A content management back end where content is created (back end);
- An API that connects the content management back end to any device or channel;
- The ability to connect to any publishing front end, allowing organizations to have the front-end technology of their choosing.
If headless CMS architecture is a fit, it needs to be implemented correctly (of course) to bring to life its intended benefits. This requires an experienced team to ensure the back end and front end are well planned from the beginning, so they can sync up seamlessly later. Keep in mind, the freedom that teams enjoy when using these systems means that they are responsible for writing, debugging and maintaining everything that their rendering systems require.
Is a headless CMS faster than other CMS options?
Your content teams can work faster, freed from time spent formatting content for different platforms and devices. Your developers can make rapid enhancements and updates, improving productivity and allowing for more effective use of stored data without risk of instability or performance issues. Your users will have a smoother and more interactive experience due to boosted load speeds and streamlined connectivity.
Is a headless CMS cheaper?
Is a headless CMS more secure than other CMS options?
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.
What are the benefits of headless CMS for technical teams?
Is Brightspot a headless CMS platform?
Meaning? Brightspot CMS is naturally headless, but users determine how they want to use the platform to create digital content experiences. Brightspot provides the only evolved CMS platform that is front-end agnostic with an extensible architecture that is API-first so that users can publish how they want—headless or decoupled—all within the same environment.
Are other headless providers an API-first CMS platform?
In today’s digital economy, Brightspot recognizes that all businesses are content businesses—all organizations must communicate and reach audiences by creating and publishing unique content. In that sense, while not all businesses may see themselves yet as a content business, all businesses leverage content as a vehicle for communicating and engaging with their stakeholders—customers, partners, employees, and shareholders.