The Pros (and Cons) of Using a Headless CMSBy Lori Maupas on May 1, 2023
Content Management Systems have been around since the early days of the internet. In the early 2000s, they became more popular, as businesses and organizations realized the need to manage and publish content online.
Traditional content management systems were designed as all-in-one solutions, providing both content management and front-end presentation layers. They made it easy for non-technical users to create, edit and publish content without having to write any code.
However, as web technologies evolved and businesses have adopted more complex digital strategies, the traditional CMS has begun to show its limitations: CMS solutions are often inflexible, difficult to customize, and can not keep up with the demands of modern digital experiences when it comes to creating content.
This led to the rise of the Headless CMS, which decouples the content management from the presentation layer, enabling developers to build custom front-end applications using the programming languages and tools of their choice, without being constrained by the limitations of a built-in presentation layer.
Still, with about 73 million of today’s websites using traditional, monolithic CMS systems such as Wordpress or Wix, many organizations are hesitant to make the switch to headless.
In this post, we’ll examine the benefits of Headless CMS (as well as the drawbacks), to shed some insight into whether it’s the right choice for you.
First, What Is a Headless CMS?
A headless CMS is a back-end content management system that provides content creators with an interface to create, manage and organize digital content such as text, images, videos and more, without having a built-in presentation layer or a predefined front-end interface.
Unlike a traditional content management system, a headless CMS separates the back-end content management from the front-end presentation layer, giving developers the freedom to use any programming language or front-end technology to display the content.
This separation allows developers to build a custom front-end presentation layer that is tailored to their specific needs and provides a more flexible, scalable and faster way to deliver content across multiple channels and devices.
In a headless CMS architecture, the content is typically stored in a central repository, which can be accessed through an Application Programming Interface (API). This API can be used to retrieve the content and deliver it to different devices or applications, such as websites, mobile apps, digital signage and more.
Lets dive into the benefits of Headless CMS (and the drawbacks.)
The Pros of Headless CMS
There are many reasons why using a Headless CMS to create a website and other digital experiences is worthwhile:
Headless CMSes enables content creators to manage and publish content without a designated front-end presentation layer. Because it separates the content management and presentation layer, you have greater flexibility and can use any front-end technology of your choice.
Since a headless CMS only focuses on content storage and management, it can handle large amounts of data and can easily integrate with other systems and platforms such as ecommerce platforms, social media and other third-party applications, making it much more scalable and adaptable than a traditional CMS.
A headless CMS can improve site performance by reducing the amount of code needed to load a page. This is because a headless CMS only sends the required data to the front-end, making the page load faster.
A headless CMS enables you to reuse content across multiple channels, such as websites, mobile applications and smart devices, making it easier to maintain consistent branding and messaging across all channels.
Because content is separated from the presentation layer, you can update front-end applications without having to migrate any content – it stays put in the database.
With a headless CMS content is not exposed to potential vulnerabilities in the front-end application. Plus, with the frontend and backend decoupled, updates and patches are easier to deploy.
The Cons of Headless CMS
Of course, as with anything, there are some drawbacks. They include:
Headless CMS requires a bit more technical knowledge to set up and integrate with other systems, which can be a challenge for non-technical content creators.
No built-in design
A headless CMS doesn't come with built-in design templates or tools, which means that designing and developing the front-end of your site or app will require time and effort – although the end result may better meet your requirements.
Potentially higher cost
Some Headless CMS solutions can be more expensive than traditional CMS systems, which could be a barrier for small businesses or startups. The tradeoff of this, however, is that scaling becomes much more expensive with a traditional vendor than a decoupled solution. (We talked more about this in our article about how orgs are taking a microservices approach to tech.)
Complex content modeling
A headless CMS requires a more complex content modeling process as it needs to accommodate different types of content across multiple channels.
Lack of out-of-the-box features
A headless CMS may lack out-of-the-box features, such as page templates, user management, and workflow automation. To build a content experience specific to your needs, you might need to tag in a development team (or learn a little code yourself!)
Potential for slower content delivery
A headless CMS relies on APIs to deliver content, which can slow down content delivery speed if the APIs are not optimized for performance.
Fortunately, many of these drawbacks can be addressed by today’s innovative solutions, which provide advanced built-in features and are extensible and configurable, to meet users’ needs.
Looking For A Headless CMS That's "More" Than Just A Content Management System?
Directus is an open-source headless CMS that provides developers with a flexible and extensible platform for managing digital content.
The platform provides a RESTful/GraphQL API that allows developers to access and manage content stored in the CMS from any front-end application or device.
Developers can define custom content schemas for their projects, making it easy to manage complex data structures and relationships. Through the platform’s user-friendly interface, non-technical users can easily manage content and media assets, with minimal training.
Directus provides robust media management capabilities, so users can store and manage digital assets such as images, videos and documents. Built with a modular architecture, Directus can be extended and customized to meet the unique needs of any project, and granular role-based access control (RBAC) enables a high level of control over access to content and features based on user roles.
With a long list of additional features, such as versioning and localization, Directus is a powerful tool for managing content in a headless architecture (if you're looking for that sort of thing, of course 😉)