If you’ve ever created a website for yourself or you’ve been tasked with creating one, you’ve probably heard of a content management system, or the abbreviated term “CMS.” A CMS is an important part of modern websites that allows digital content of an application to be managed without having to write code for new pages.
All content, from written content to graphics, can be managed through this system. This allows for user-friendly editing of your website.
Many types of content management systems exist out there, two main types, however, are compared particularly often: Traditional content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal vs. headless CMS such as Contentful, Sanity or Strapi. (These days, many traditional CMS can run in headless mode too.)
Depending on the situation, architecture, and long-term content management goals, traditional and headless content management systems both have different advantages and disadvantages.
The architecture is kept simple: All aspects of the website, from the database for the content to the presentation layer are combined in one system. The content and the presentation of the content are managed centrally via the admin interface.
This monolithic architecture has the advantage that a ready-to-use solution can be set up relatively quickly, which can then also be easily operated and extended by less technically experienced users.
- Low technical barriers to entry.
- Design customization through layout templates.
- Large communities help with questions and problems.
- Content is intended for websites and cannot be easily deployed in other ways (e.g., mobile apps).
- Reliance on layout templates means there is less flexibility in fine-tuning the presentation and delivering a highly customized user experiences.
- Developers often cannot use their standard tools and languages, but instdead must deal with the idiosyncrasies of the CMS and the use drag-and-drop editors. This can limit their productivity and creativity.
While a classic CMS combines the presentation (frontend) and content management and delivery (backend) into one monolithic system, the headless approach decouples the frontend and backend. The backend is therefore “headless”, whereby the head is symbolically represented here by the displaying frontend.
Textual and graphical content is edited via the admin interface located in the backend, and then provided by the backend via an API. The content provided by the API is then processed and displayed by the one or more frontends.
In this architecture, a frontend can be developed in a completely different language and does not have to be deployed on the same server.
Decoupling the frontend and the backend results in a number of advantages over a classic monolithic CMS:
- Separation of work - Editors can enter structured content without having to think about the presentation. Developers can concentrate independently on the technical details of the presentation.
- Flexibility and clean interfaces - The technologies for the presentation can be selected, exchanged and customized to the desired detail depending on individual requirements. The implementation of the frontend or the presentation is taken over by technically experienced developers. Working with drag-and-drop editors becomes obsolete, and developers can focus on their strongest and most reliable tool - writing code. This way, they can work more productively and creatively.
- Multi-channel - By making data available through an API, it will be used for different forms of publication (web presence, mobile app, newsletter). Classic CMS are primarily intended for the presentation form web presence.
- Limited content preview - Often content can be edited in a visual editor, but the final rendering can only be checked after publication or processing by the front end. Third-party tools can be used for this purpose or may need to be developed in-house.
- Dependence on developers - Since the frontend is decoupled, there are no visual tools in the administration interface for creating and customizing the page layout. For this reason, close cooperation with developers is required to achieve the desired page design.
- Cost - Due to the fragmented technology stack, the overall implementation and maintenance are more complex and involve additional costs.
Who benefits from a headless CMS?
Traditional content management systems are a good choice for those who want a simple and effective web presence with content management without much effort. If the budget is limited, this route is also advisable. In these cases, a high degree of flexibility may not be needed.
A headless CMS – or the operation of a traditional CMS in headless mode – on the other hand, can be recommended if you want a high degree of flexibility in the presentation layer and/or a clean separation of development and content editing. Moreover, if you are planning other publication media for the web application (such as mobile apps, newsletters, etc.), you are also well advised to take the headless approach.
We support you
Do you have questions about headless content management systems or would you like to benefit from this approach yourself? Contact us. We will advise you and plan your next project with you.