What Is a Headless CMS? Pros and Cons of Decoupling Your CMS

      Chris Lamoureux / July 4, 2019
Veriday / November 15th, 2022
6 min read

Headless content management systems are becoming increasingly popular with many experts advocating for this approach. They believe that the architecture is far less bulky and more adaptable, allowing for cleaner code but also far greater functionality and speed.

However, while headless does offer many benefits, there are drawbacks that shouldn’t be ignored. Like any strategy, organizations need to determine the right approach for every situation.

Understanding Headless CMS

Traditionally, a content management system is made up of a database that houses content and digital assets, a backend where the content is created, an app where designs are created and applied, and a frontend that exhibits the content on an HTML page. All these are tightly bound together.

The problem with a traditional CMS is that it’s expected to handle everything, including CSS, load time optimization, new data markup and more. It’s supposed to do all this along with content management.

Then, when additional services are needed, such as a shopping cart and a product information system, they are connected to the CMS, to each other, and to the frontend. As more services are added, the connections become increasingly complex and labor-intensive. 

With a headless CMS, the frontend is disconnected from the backend. Instead of a direct connection, everything goes through an API. 

All frontend technologies such as the HTML, JavaScript, CSS, responsive design, load optimization techniques and so on are moved to where they should be, namely the frontend. The CMS handles only content, as it should, and connects to the frontend via the API.

Additional services also connect through the API to the frontend but also to the other services. This way, if changes have to be made, they can be done in the API without having to troll through all the other services to ensure that everything is properly aligned. 

So, everything on the backend feeds into an API, which then feeds into the frontend.

The Pros of Decoupling Your CMS

Decoupling your CMS from the frontend offers a wide range of benefits. Firstly, you can deliver content much faster, which is essential in today’s business environment where real-time marketing can be a highly powerful tool.

Instead of it taking days to create the content, the landing page, the search ads, the sign-up form and so on, it can all be done in a matter of hours. Real-time marketing that takes advantage of in-the-moment trends can deliver incredible benefits, and headless CMS makes it possible for any organization to capitalize on it. 

Secondly, you have much greater control over where and how your content is delivered. The API can feed into multiple frontends that have been effectively optimized for delivery into the environment they are serving. 

So, you can deliver the same content to an iOS app, an Android app, and a traditional website without having to go through a million unwieldy hoops to get everything working right.

Another benefit is that it’s far easier to integrate other systems, like the shopping cart and product information systems mentioned previously. It also means that it’s far easier to integrate new technologies when they emerge without breaking the rest of your system. 

The Cons of Adopting a Headless Approach

One problem with a truly headless CMS is that it doesn’t have any presentation functionality. This means you will have to use other technologies to present your content. 

However, some consider this a benefit because it means they have far greater control of the frontend, even if it’s much more difficult to see a live preview.

Another issue is that headless CMS is designed to simplify a complex system. However, you can only simplify to a limited degree if you don’t want to lose all the functionality. 

So, what headless CMS tends to do is shift the complexity from the server side to the frontend. 

While focusing all the complexity in a client-side single page application isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s not always the right approach either. 

Going completely headless can also mean the loss of functionality. For example, a good digital experience platform can provide a wide range of benefits, such as pre-built navigation, a configurable UI, JavaScript objects and functions for developers, and personalization and audience targeting. 

If you go completely headless and ditch your DXP, you’ll lose access to all this functionality. Of course, you can always build your own, but at what cost?

That’s also another drawback to headless CMS. When adopting this approach, many organizations take an all-or-nothing attitude. 

Unfortunately, rapid change that involves throwing everything out and starting from zero comes at a high cost. In many cases, that cost is simply not worth it. 

Headless CMS is here to stay and will likely be the shape of things to come in the future. Headless CMS offers many benefits, including unmatched flexibility, fast content delivery, and unparalleled ease of integration for new technologies. 

However, it also has drawbacks, such as high costs if not done right and loss of functionality. Ultimately, each organization have different requirements and would need to evaluate the strategy of using a headless CMS because decoupling your CMS is something you should seriously consider.

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