Marketers probably know better than anyone how much time and energy goes into creating and publishing good content across multiple channels. From mobile apps to websites, Apple watches and more, efficient content management has become more important than ever in today’s digital era. That’s why many marketers and developers are opting to use headless CMS for their content management and migration needs.

Despite its rise in popularity, the headless CMS concept is often accompanied by misleading information, not enough information, or information that is only understood by true techies. But when properly explained and dissected, the technical lingo behind this concept makes sense and better illustrates why there is so much hype around headless CMS.

You may be wondering why you should even want to learn about headless CMS. What is it that makes headless CMS so popular among developers and marketers alike? This technological concept is rising in popularity because it provides the flexibility to innovate and allows website owners to refresh and alter their design without changing the entire CMS. Essentially, a headless CMS future-proofs the way site owners build and update their websites.

Today, there are countless outlets and channels for content delivery. The rise in accessibility and diversity of digital channels led to the need for and introduction of a headless CMS. This architecture makes it possible for content to be managed across all channels by centralizing content management and distributing it in a universal format.

Now that you have a basic understanding of why this breakthrough technological concept is so desirable, let’s take a deeper look at a headless CMS. 

Breaking It Down: What Is a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a backend-only content management system (CMS) that serves as a universal storage space, making content accessible for display on any device. Why the term “headless,” you may ask? The “head” component of this technical concept refers to the frontend of development. Developers can provide content as a service (CaaS) where content storage and delivery are handled apart from each other. In other words, headless CMS operates completely separately from frontend, therefore lacking a “head.”

According to Petr Palas, CEO of Kentico Cloud, a headless CMS “decouples the content and the presentation.” Since the content is stored in a centralized cloud-based system, it can be provided as a service to any application on any platform through an API. The content has no presentation layer attached to it, which is why it is considered “pure” and can be used on any device, including websites, tablets, cell phones, and more. Furthermore, a headless CMS allows developers to integrate with any codebase and use their preferred language.

To put it simply, a headless CMS works in three easy steps:

  • Marketers create content into the headless CMS, a centralized place where the content will be stored.
  • The individual blocks of content can be selectively delivered to any channel or platform through facilitating API calls. (As long as there is an API call, your content can be delivered anywhere!)
  • The content is then designed and presented for any channel of your choice.

Although this is explanation of how a headless CMS operates is very basic, it provides a brief overview of what exactly you’re dealing with when using this type of CMS. 

Traditional CMS, Headless CMS, Decoupled CMS: What’s the Difference?

There are a few different types of CMS architectures, which can lead to some confusion in terms of what the differences are between them and why one might be preferred over the other. In addition to a headless CMS, there are two other types of CMS, known as traditional CMS and decoupled CMS.

Traditional CMS, also commonly referred to as coupled CMS, is when the backend and the frontend are integrated or bound together. It is essentially the exact opposite of a headless CMS. A traditional CMS contains a database for content storage and a backend where the content is created, just like headless. The difference is that it also has an application for creating design schemas, as well as the frontend for displaying the published content. The most popular traditional CMS tools that you most likely already have experience with are WordPress and Squarespace.

Decoupled CMS is often used interchangeably with a headless CMS – a common mistake! The two are actually quite different, in that a headless CMS doesn’t feature any frontend system whatsoever. In a decoupled CMS architecture, the backend and frontend of the website are managed by separate systems. But once the content is edited in the CMS, it is then pushed through an API and published to a delivery management system. In other words, decoupled CMS contains a predetermined frontend that is connected via an API to the backend, while a headless CMS does not.

Headless CMS Benefits

Why do developers opt to use a headless CMS over traditional or decoupled? A headless CMS offers the most control out of all three architectures in terms of how and where content appears. Here are a few of the many benefits that a headless CMS boasts:

  • Fast content delivery: Developers don’t have to worry about how different channels display their content, since all changes and updates are pushed through automatically. This significantly speeds content publication.
  • Flexibility: Every headless CMS comes with an API, meaning that developers can focus on content creation instead of content management.
  • Security: A headless CMS reduces the risk of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. 
  • Scalability: Since the backend and frontend are completely separate, there is no need to shut down a website for maintenance. It can be updated and customized while still operating.
  • Future-proof: A headless CMS allows for easy integration with new technology and advancements. 

What’s in It for You?

At this point, you probably have a pretty firm understanding of what a headless CMS is and why it is such a desirable concept for developers. But why should this concept be appealing to you? What does a headless CMS mean in the marketing world?

Marketers use a headless CMS for the same purpose that developers do: content management and content migration that is separate from the frontend. Depending on your situation or business, a headless CMS might be just what you need to successfully manage content and facilitate content migration across various platforms.

If your business does not have a website, you could still use a headless CMS to manage your content on mobile apps efficiently. However, your marketing firm most likely works with multiple distribution channels, which is why a headless CMS can be of great use to you.

Building, creating, and publishing content on various platforms is a time-consuming task. A headless CMS will save you significant time by allowing you to create one centralized content set and have it easily distributed to all of your organization’s channels. It will also future-proof your content so that your brand’s message is consistently delivered across all platforms, regardless of any upcoming technological advancements.

Sounds too good to be true? It may be time for your organization to give it a try!

Headless CMS Top 10 Systems

If a headless CMS sounds like something your organization can benefit from – rest assured, it certainly can – then you may want to have a look at the top systems that you can integrate into your business. These host options are presented in no particular order, so feel free to browse through them and choose the one that suits your organization’s unique needs:

Directus ⤴

Directus is built using Vue.js. and manages custom-schema SQL databases directly. This system is great for creating custom databases based on your specific project needs or for those projects that require highly customized databases. This open source system offers many valuable features, including asset management, messaging, commenting, versioning, and internal extension points.

If your business wants to eliminate the frustration often caused by scalability and maintenance, this option may be the right one for you.

This host option offers free plans, as well as premium and enterprise plans.

Cockpit CMS ⤴

This self-hosted headless system is a fantastic option if you are in need of a flexible content structure and don’t want to limit the way you use your content. Cockpit CMS supports multiple devices and is a content management UI for static site builders. It boasts a simple installation and can be used for SQLite or MongoDB. It is built around an API-first and JSON content approach, and – best of all – it is open source.

Cockpit CMS is ideal if you are working on a small project and want a little added flexibility.

This system is free to download.

Contentful ⤴

Contentful offers the best of both worlds in that it is perfect for new users, while also offering many advanced features for those looking to delve further. This API-driven headless CMS provides developers with full control of content, digital assets, and translations. This host option can display JSON snippets, a rich-text editor, and content modeling features.

This is a great option for marketers who want to arrange and work with individual fields and content modules.

This system offers free plans as well as premium and enterprise plans.

ButterCMS ⤴

This API-first CMS is a great option for content migration, allowing users to easily transfer content from any traditional CMS they may have previously used. The greatest benefit of this system is its SEO support, which will significantly help boost your website’s organic views. Other features include custom page types, relational content modeling, webhooks, CDN support, multi-site support, testing environment, and an easily customizable admin interface.

As a marketer, you will love the WYSIWYG interface that ButterCMS provides to support the production of SEO landing pages, customer case studies, company news pages, and much more.

This host option offers a free trial as well as premium and enterprise plans.

Kentico Cloud ⤴

Kentico Cloud is wonderful headless CMS option for beginners, experts, and anyone in between. This cloud-based system is best known for its intuitive UI. It allows developers to create websites using languages, tools, and frameworks of their choice. This system also features a WYSIWYG editor and allows for collaboration, workflow management, structured content, personalization, and localization.

Kentico cloud offers a free trial as well as premium and enterprise plans.

Contentstack ⤴

This headless CMS provides RESTful APIs and features content previews, collaboration, asset management, workflow management, and versioning. Its powerful features are ideal for managing content across your entire organization, with its automated publishing, multi-language, modular blocks, and unlimited environment features. Contentstack’s intuitive interface makes for easy content management that happens in a cloud system.

Contentstack has free trials available and offers premium and enterprise plans.

dotCMS ⤴

This open source headless CMS boasts a JAVA CMS that features multi-lingual and multi-tenant capabilities. dotCMS has a WYSIWYG editor and drag-and-drop features, allowing marketers to better engage in content modeling, workflow building, and page layout modification. This system provides integrations, such as AWS, Docker, Salesforce, and other third-party developer tools.

This system offers a free edition available for download, as well as enterprise plans.

Core dna ⤴

This headless CMS system is composed of over 80 individual applications that support digital experience management, eCommerce, portals, and intranets. This option enables personalization, multi-site management, integrations, and detailed inventory management. Marketers will have access to a WYSIWYG editor through this system for rich text and media management.

This system offers premium and enterprise plans.

Cloud CMS ⤴

This API-first JSON-based CMS boasts an abundance of features ideal for your organization, including flexible content models, Git-like versioning, webhooks, an antivirus scanner, and a search function that allows users to perform JSON SQL-like queries. This system is available as a SaaS product, in the form of a Docker-based microservice hosted on-premise, or through a private cloud.

Cloud CMS offers a free trial, along with premium and enterprise plans.

Craft CMS ⤴

This headless CMS allows users and developers to create experiences around the content. Craft CMS boasts many impressive features, including custom fields, drag-and-drop layout management, multi-site management, localization, asset management, live content previews, and a built-in image editor. Craft CMS also allows each user to have their own customizable dashboard.

Craft CMS is available for free, with premium and enterprise plans available.

The Bottom Line on Headless CMS’s

There is a reason why so many organizations and developers are leaning toward a headless CMS. This new innovative concept boasts many benefits that your business can take advantage of. It is truly a time-efficient system that will simplify the way you manage and migrate your content. Best of all, it will future-proof your content so that your brand’s message and delivery never have to experience a setback at the hands of technological innovations. 

Hop on board the headless CMS bandwagon and see for yourself why so many marketers and developers are now using this powerful content management tool!

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