A Guide to Headless CMS
6 Min Read

A Guide to Headless CMS

Learn the difference between a traditional and headless CMS

In the past, traditional content management systems (CMS) have been an effective system for marketers to manage their content. But as technology transforms and the need for omnichannel marketing continues to increase, a traditional CMS has become less efficient and more difficult to scale when compared to other options now available. 

The digital era has shown a growing demand for personalized content available through multiple channels at all stages in a customer’s buying journey. This change in the digital experience has led to the creation of the now well-regarded headless CMS.

So, what is a headless CMS? In short, a headless content management system has no front-end components that control how digital content is presented to users.

Let’s consider different aspects of headless CMS technology and explore why companies are embracing this new approach to content management.

History of CMS Solutions

To appreciate the introduction of headless CMS platforms, it helps to first understand the traditional CMS, also known as coupled CMS.

A traditional content management system, or a coupled CMS, is software that enables non-technical users to store, organize, and publish web content easily. It allows users to create and edit different content types on a back-end. The system then displays that content on a pre-built front-end presentation layer. Marketers were able to easily upload, edit, and manage content for websites without the assistance of a technical coder or software developer.

But as technology started to shift away from the desktop, loading and managing digital content became more burdensome for both developers and marketers even on these traditional CMSs. They were created to manage content on websites; however, the modern customer increasingly engaged with content on multiple devices. 

With the change in the customer buying journey, it became impossible for traditional CMSs to keep up. To circumvent these shortcomings, developers began to create headless architecture solutions.

Today, a headless CMS platform has a critical role in an organization’s tool kit. It has become a software platform used to manage all aspects of digital content in a firm including its creation, distribution, storage, and modification. 

What Is a Headless Content Management System?

A headless CMS, also known as a decoupled CMS, is a content management system that separates (or decouples) the back- and front-end management of digital content. One end becomes responsible for creation and storage, another becomes responsible for delivery through an interface.

With a headless CMS, content can be published from anywhere, across many channels through an application programming interface (API). With the use of an API, front-end developers are free to build as many heads as they want.

Along with an improved and more seamless user experience, separating the front-end presentation layer helps speed up the time to market. It also allows for integration with other third-party technologies and enables current content to be scalable when new devices hit the market. 

Essentially, a headless CMS helps keep content future-proof so users can interact with information no matter what new technology is ahead.

Whether it’s through websites, apps, kiosks, or smartwatches, headless CMS platforms help deliver rich and streamlined user experiences.


What is Decoupled Architecture?

In a traditional CMS, digital architecture is coupled with all layers being directly connected, while a headless CMS platform's architecture is decoupled. Decoupled architecture refers to a state of an IT environment in which two or more systems work together and can interact with one another without being directly connected. 

It’s a type of IT operation environment where systems, elements, or components have very little knowledge about other components. The decoupled architecture allows a variety of approaches in terms of content delivery, which fall into three categories: traditional CMS, a hybrid approach, and full headless. When it comes to where and how content is delivered to a user, headless CMS enables the most control.


The Benefits of a Headless CMS for Marketers

It’s all about ease, speed, and convenience when it comes to headless CMS platforms. And because time equals money in business, the flexibility and scalability of these types of platforms is extremely attractive to enterprises. 

Here are a few of the many benefits of headless content management systems for creative teams and marketers:

1. Focus on Content Creation

With a headless CMS, creative teams can work solely on crafting content, like blogs, images, and articles, without having to work on the presentation layers. The presentation layer deals with how the content appears on different devices such as mobile, smart kiosks, and smartwatches. Rather than content teams taking on that responsibility, the presentation layer is handled by APIs.

2. Deliver Consistent Experiences

With multiple interfaces to consider, marketers can be burdened with the task of creating several versions of the same content to meet the requirements of each platform. A headless CMS allows marketers to work with a more seamless and consistent experience with omnichannel.

3. Stay Future-Proof

Because headless platforms easily integrate with new technologies and innovative designs, content created today can continue to be used and accessed as new devices emerge. This allows content creators and marketers to get the most out of their work without having to revisit or recreate pieces every time technology is updated.

The Benefits of a Headless CMS for Developers

Just like content creators and marketers, developers can work more seamlessly and efficiently with a headless CMS.

Here are a few key benefits specific to the developers’ workspace in content management systems:

1. Experience More Flexibility

With more freedom to build on their framework of choice, developers can work without the frustrations of being limited by a traditional environment. A headless CMS provides an organization with greater scalability, because a decoupled front-end and back-end allows companies to scale, upgrade, or customize their websites without taking the whole system offline.

2. Update and Manage with Minimal Disruption

Things are changing in the digital space and it is inevitable that content or back-end development will need to be updated at some point. If a new device comes out or past content needs to be optimized, a headless CMS makes it much easier to make changes with minimal disruption since front and back-ends are not connected.

Major Business Benefits of a Headless CMS

A headless CMS allows companies to more easily deliver higher-quality customer experiences on a wide range of devices and ecosystems, supporting the benefits of omnichannel marketing. The business advantages of omnichannel marketing include better customer segmentation, greater data collection, and analytics capabilities. 

Because omnichannel marketing is so crucial to organizations today, there are several major benefits a headless CMS can offer businesses, such as:

1. Improved Security

A headless CMS offers improved security via a read-only API and allows integration with geographically dispersed content delivery networks which reduces the risk of distributed denial-of-service DDoS attacks.

2. Cost-Effective Branding and Marketing

There are multiple ways that a headless CMS can naturally save organizations money. Companies see quicker results as a result of increased productivity as well as faster updates and rollouts. This can reduce workaround and workload for developers, while also making marketing content easy to access and reuse without added costs.

3. Increased Customer Retention

A large majority of online shoppers start a purchase on one device but finish the transaction on another, so the need for omnichannel marketing is evident. However, it’s not enough to simply be present on multiple channels. Enterprises need to ensure that the brand, messaging, and experiences are seamless and uniform across platforms in order to create a fluid customer journey throughout every touchpoint.

If executed successfully, omnichannel marketing can:

Challenges with a Full Headless CMS

While this type of digital architecture can be extremely useful, a full headless CMS isn’t without its own limitations. Most notably, marketers may struggle with a lack of traditional content editing features like site building and page layout. A headless content system doesn't offer built-in presentation layers that make it simple for content creators to create or even preview what the delivered content will look like on their own. 

Alternatively, a hybrid CMS offers pre-built front-end delivery tools which are connected to the back-end through APIs. This option offers all the benefits of a headless CMS but still retains its head or delivery layer, just detached. This means that marketers can still access templates, publishing tools, and content previews before an API pushes out the content to the different front-ends.

Liferay’s Headless CMS Solution

Despite the very apparent need and importance of omnichannel marketing, over 90% of marketers struggle to seamlessly connect more than three channels on the buyer journey, according to Gartner. Organizations can overcome these types of challenges with a foundation established by headless technology like Liferay’s digital experience platform, Liferay DXP

In the digital era, businesses are hyperfocused on engaging customers with personalized content through multiple channels at all stages of the customer journey. With those needs in mind, the latest version of Liferay DXP implements headless technology.

Because the content management system within Liferay DXP is decoupled, with presentation and content layers separated, businesses are able to manage, upload, and edit content pages with ease. Liferay DXP makes it simple for even non-technical users to create seamless and consistent branding across all devices.

Liferay DXP also allows front-end developers to keep working with their favorite tools and frameworks. They’re able to easily integrate Liferay across all their systems whether that means pulling data from Liferay or integrating it into their existing ecosystem.

Scale Customer Experiences with Headless CMS

While new and powerful technology makes it easier to reach customers, it’s important to also consider how new channels can affect the quality of the customer experience. Learn more about how a headless CMS can improve the customer experience here.

Originally published
June 5, 2019
 last updated
August 1, 2023
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