Just a few years ago, developing and managing content for a website was a lot simpler. The vast majority of online users were on desktop computers – as a marketer, you could reach everyone using a traditional Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress or Squarespace. 

While they are just about perfect for handling website content fit for a single channel, the rise of omnichannel marketing has exposed their limitations. These days, consumers may start viewing content on one channel, only to end up making the actual purchase on another. 

Google estimates that this behavior is widespread, among nearly 85% of all online consumers. For the modern marketer, this presents a dilemma of quickly delivering content across multiple channels, ranging from traditional desktop computers to mobile devices, smart speakers, and smart home appliances. 

Any kind of delay in content availability can be fatal here, resulting in customer dissatisfaction. To deliver a seamless omnichannel user experience, you need a CMS that is flexible enough to work with the myriad devices and touchpoints used by the modern consumer. 

With traditional CMS, you cannot expect such versatility – they are far too rigid and tied to a single presentation layer. A headless API/CMS is the way to go if you need fast and effortless delivery of content across multiple channels. 

What is a Headless CMS and How it Differs From Traditional CMS

To better understand the concept behind a headless CMS, it is essential to first lay out the broad anatomy of a traditional CMS. Two main components are closely linked, or "coupled".

  1. There is a front-end that allows you to edit and manage content using a presentation layer (usually a browser-based graphical user interface, or GUI).
  2. Then there is a back-end system made up of databases, interfaces, and a publishing system that stores and manages the changes made by the user on the front-end layer.

Traditional CMS is popular because the GUI front-end can be used without technical know-how, and with minimal training.

If you consider the front-end layer of a traditional CMS as the “head” coupled to its back-end “body,” a headless CMS is one where that front-end has been removed, or “decoupled.” What you are left with is a CMS that manages content, but does not have a single attached GUI to present it. 

In a traditional CMS, you can use the GUI to edit content, pick different templates, and so on for a browser-based system. But every time you want your content to launch on any other device or display channel, like a smart fridge/speaker, or inside a specific mobile app, you are forced to develop new code from scratch. 

With a headless CMS, your creative teams will be working solely on crafting the content – blogs, images, and more. They will not have to work on the presentation layer, which deals with how the content appears on different devices - like mobile, smart kiosks, smartwatches, and so on. That part is handled by Application Programming Interfaces or APIs – software that you can configure to link the headless CMS with as many devices you want and display the content in myriad ways.

Benefits of a Headless CMS for Marketers

If you are even remotely interested in modern omnichannel marketing, a headless CMS can deliver a huge quality of life improvement to your content creation and delivery efforts. Here are some compelling reasons for marketers to make the shift to headless CMS/API:

1. Flexibility 

The online ecosystem is filled with a dizzying array of devices and publishing platforms for marketers. A traditional CMS is just not flexible enough to effectively handle the complexity of this landscape. 

It is often rigidly tied to certain technologies and frameworks, like legacy browser-based systems for instance. While those are perfectly fine to deal with desktop and, to an extent, mobile browser users, they falter badly when dealing with other platforms like a mobile app or a smart speaker. 

With a decoupled or headless CMS, you are no longer limited by such frameworks. You can configure APIs to address precisely the channels you want to target with your content. The headless CMS will integrate with these APIs to deliver your marketing message effectively on all those channels. 

2. Improved CX

The digital arena is incredibly challenging and unforgiving these days, as customers have extremely high expectations regarding their interactions and experiences with any brand. To deliver a truly memorable and personalised customer experience (CX), you need to be able to focus on the core content. 

With a traditional CMS, your resources are often stretched, as you have to spend more time rewriting code to bring your content to other platforms besides desktop/mobile.  With custom APIs, you can put that time to better use elsewhere. 

Headless APIs also greatly boost your teams' ability to deliver compelling, personalised user experiences. It allows you to publish and update content across channels and platforms simultaneously. This enables you to engage with your target audience on many devices in real-time.

3. Accessibility (for content creators)

One reason for the enduring popularity of traditional CMS is its extremely user-friendly nature. The simple controls available with the presentation-layer GUI enables your content creators to tweak things without advanced technical know-how. 

The ability to pick from a wide range of custom templates and plugins is another big draw of traditional CMS like WordPress. If you opt for a truly headless CMS, content creators may struggle due to the lack of familiar editing and site-building features. 

But the headless architecture also offers a middle ground between traditional CMS and purely headless CMS – a hybrid option. A hybrid headless CMS is one that retains some traditional features like a basic frontend presentation layer for websites while giving you the option to write and customise APIs to handle other channels.

4. Future Proof

The main reason for the disadvantages plaguing the traditional CMS model is its inability to adapt to changing technologies and use cases. It took us just ten years to transition from a PC-centric online ecosystem to one that is increasingly driven by mobile devices. 

And there is no guarantee that this state of affairs will hold for the foreseeable future. We may see an increasing prevalence of IoT and other smart devices on the future marketer's agenda. Apart from technological innovations, marketers also have to factor in the changing tastes and preferences of customers.  

In both scenarios, headless CMS comes out on top due to its inherent adaptability and flexibility. The decoupled architecture allows you to keep the content management part intact while tweaking your APIs or creating new ones to connect to novel marketing platforms of the future. 

5. Marketing Velocity

Having a central repository of content also helps improve content delivery through better management. It makes it a lot easier to maintain consistency in your marketing content, regardless of the number and variety of platforms you have to publish on. 

For instance, your content team can create and store an entire blog post with full text, subheadings, and images on the backend. When sending it out to different platforms, the team can tweak the mix to optimize the user impact – only image and heading on a smart fridge, full content on a mobile website, only text on a smartwatch screen update, and so on.

This creates a streamlined workflow that improves time management, productivity, and ultimately helps improve the quality of your content as well. Your users also benefit from a consistent UX.  

6. Scalability

The absence of hard boundaries on the presentation layer gives you far greater control with a headless CMS concerning future scaling. Are you seeing more users on a new platform? Use an API to push more content there.

The system encourages specialisation – your content creators can focus on authoring innovative and inventive marketing messages, while your developers can focus more on scaling the APIs and IT resources to meet future surges in demand. 

Adopting a Headless CMS Approach

Are your online marketing efforts being hindered by the limitations of a traditional CMS? Do you find it harder to develop and push content across multiple devices and/or platforms? It might be time to adopt a headless CMS approach if the answer is in the affirmative to these questions.

We have already detailed the arguments in favour of a headless CMS approach in marketing. But it is in no way a one-size-fits-all solution – if your business is really small, or it does not involve omnichannel marketing in a big way, a headless CMS might not deliver great ROI. 

But if your business is growing at scale and has increased visibility across multiple platforms online besides websites, headless is an option to consider. One thing to consider is the increased IT and developer requirements of going full headless – it may suit larger businesses more. 

Smaller organisations may benefit from a hybrid approach that combines headless CMS with APIs and a built-in presentation layer. Or if you don’t have developer teams on-hand to deal with the front-end, there are third-party service providers who can do that.  

See how Liferay’s DXP solution can provide multichannel delivery for marketers and support for the ability to offer great experiences across various channels, devices and touchpoints.

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