In the early 1990’s, when the first CMS's were being developed, most websites were novelties and little more than simple brochures or information sharing platforms. Today, every company is a digital company. Organizations understand their digital presence is often the primary touch-point with customers. That “digital presence” needs to be viewed more holistically as an ecosystem, rather than just a website.
A digital presence now includes many potential channels:
In today’s highly digital marketplace, your audience expects a cohesive and engaging brand experience wherever (digital, print, or physical) and whenever they choose to interact with you. This omni-channel approach enables organizations to engage their audience in new ways, but it also means that if you aren’t providing a user what they want, someone else will. This is an area where the traditional Web Content Management System (WCMS) creates roadblocks.
The real crux of the emerging Headless CMS trend is the delivery of exceptional value with multi-faceted distribution. Today’s digital world requires that content is viewed holistically, as a specific standalone asset that can be deployed through multiple channels. This distribution is where the promise of Headless CMS comes into reality and becomes exceptionally valuable. Content, well distributed, has more impact than the sum of its parts.
There are many reasons you should seriously consider a headless (also referred to as API-First) CMS solution. However, let's focus on the five most significant benefits of employing a headless solution:
One Voice - Web infrastructures are becoming more distributed, which causes content to be created and stored in many locations. But by putting your content first in a separated system, you can ensure re-usability, consistent brand messaging, and improved overall efficiency.
Content First - Your content is an asset that your organization needs to leverage to its full potential. Building on a platform dedicated to making content a primary focus instead of a slave to the presentation model (i.e., website) will reap huge rewards in the long term.
Increased Flexibility - Stop accepting “we can’t do that”! Often, the restrictions that lead to this answer originate from the CMS platform. By separating content storage and creation from its usage, you gain the tremendous flexibility to do what you need, fast.
Shorten Time to Market - The typical web project puts content creation at the end. Utilizing a headless CMS means that your content team and technical team can work in parallel and reduce your overall project timeline.
Content Repository Model - Part of acting as the central repository for your content means that a Headless system can easily handle receiving data as well as distributing it. This makes it ideal for taking data from many enterprise systems and centralizing it as content in one place.
While we firmly believe that all of these points should be seriously considered, the most important single concept that defines Headless CMS is the fifth point, the Content Repository Model. It encompasses the value proposition of the Headless CMS system.
The reality is that traditional content management systems aren't focused on managing content- they're focused on managing websites. On the modern web, the conventional website is just one aspect of your digital presence. In many scenarios, other delivery channels are gaining greater importance. To create better connections and positive user experiences, content delivery is increasingly shifting to the latest mediums. It’s crucial that customers receive the same message and brand identity whether they interact with your website, your social media network, a chat-bot answers question, or by talking to Amazon Alexa.
As we have progressed into a space where all companies must have a strong digital presence to compete, it’s no longer sufficient to have content be in the sole domain of a marketing team or copywriter. Those teams need to maintain responsibility for coordinating and guiding content creation, but it is becoming increasingly necessary for content to be aggregated from multiple sources and distributed through various workflows.
All of this means that our platforms for collecting and distributing content must change. Tools need to be more straightforward and usable without web expertise, and at the same time, they need to be more flexible to fulfill your digital vision. Once content is placed on your platform, the platform needs to be capable of distributing it seamlessly throughout a large number of potential channels, consistently and on demand.
The need for the industry to change is what has driven the “headless” progression of the latest content management systems. By leveraging such a system, you ultimately achieve a much higher degree of flexibility in both how you collect content, as well as how you distribute it.
Over the last several years, we have been re-evaluating the flow of traditional website implementations. The typical project flow starts with user experience engineering (wire-frames, click-able prototypes, etc.), proceeds to visual design, continues with a platform implementation, and concludes with content population and launch. While this has been the status quo, the technology has evolved and so should our workflows.
Most organizations invest much more time, money, and resources into their content creation than any other aspect of their digital presence. We often look at this content creation effort as part of the expense of the project at hand. However, what if we turned that around and viewed content as an asset? An asset is defined as:
A resource controlled by the enterprise as a result of past events and from which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the enterprise
Based on this definition, we can conclude that:
Content is certainly a resource controlled by the enterprise
It is entirely the result of past events
If utilized correctly, it will result in future economic benefits
While content requires effort to be created and managed, it can be one of the most valuable things an organization has. In many cases, content is the main connection between an organization and its audience.
How would our behaviors change if we viewed content as a concrete asset? Most importantly, organizations would think harder about how to maximize the value of our content. With that objective in mind, the most effective way to maximize the value of our content is to ensure that we can use our assets in as many ways and across as many channels as possible.
Enter the concept of DRY content. No, we don’t mean dull content- we are referring to the concept of “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” To accomplish this, you create the content one time for use across all your channels. Even more specifically, you enable the subject matter experts within your organization to only have to create content once. Over time, this will save hours of labor and importantly, it ensures that you deliver a consistent message no matter how you engage your audience.
If properly engineered, that piece of content can then be displayed as any possible embodiment of the message- as a web page, a blog post, targeted landing pages, email campaigns, social media posts, etc.
Of course, accomplishing this requires a well-planned content structure, which is precisely what many headless CMS options support exceptionally well. These content-first systems allow us to firmly define the desired content structure and then provide that well-defined piece of content to any number of distribution channels.
By thinking about our content first and our distribution methods second (including the primary website property itself), we can extract the maximum value out of our content assets. The key is to ensure that our content is always in motion- flowing between our organization and the target audience. This maximizes our “impressions per content item” and ensures that we reduce redundancy and friction in the system while increasing consistency and connections. All of this ends up translating to higher ROI on our content assets.
We’ve all been there. Your creative team has come up with an impressive new idea to get your organization’s message out. Everyone is excited for the potential of this new concept, but then the bad news strikes - “We can’t do that because....” Almost inevitably, that reason has to do with the platform and tools being used.
What if your answer could be just to pick a different set of tools that can enable your great new idea? In the traditional model, this can be so cumbersome that it becomes infeasible, or even impossible. But that is where the headless CMS concept can shine.
A true Headless CMS must be based on an API-first model. This means that all content is made available to all authorized systems by a platform- agnostic set of API methods. This means that it doesn’t matter if the consuming application is an iPhone app built with Swift, a .NET application hosted in Azure, a Node.JS module running in AWS, or any other combination of technology. It only matters that the tools can leverage a set of standardized web-based communication protocols to retrieve the data.
This flexibility indeed frees your organization to maximize your content deployment and ensure that you can achieve all your objectives, without your technology getting in the way. Technology should always be an enabling tool, not a stumbling block, which is a big part of the reason why agencyQ has become a proponent of the headless CMS concept.
As an additional benefit, using a cloud-based headless CMS system can allow you to ditch the traditional server infrastructure. By leveraging a 100% cloud-based model, you can free up hundreds of hours per year from CMS maintenance and instead use that time to deliver value to your audience. We can abandon the inefficiencies of installations, configuration, security patches, and hot fixes. Nearly all of your effort is spent doing the things that matter.
The bottom line is that producing and distributing content quickly is a significant factor in the impact your digital marketing project has. The sooner you can get your investment generating ROI, the better. Frequently we find digital projects lagging in time because of limitations and overhead in the platform and execution process. Part of the value of a headless CMS system is its ability to deliver projects more quickly.
The most notable impact on the project execution timeline is the ability to run the design/build and content population phases of the project in parallel. Content population can take as much or more time than the actual build time requirements, which represents the most substantial overall commitment of time and resources. This can dramatically reduces project timelines by as much as 50%. This usually isn’t possible in the traditional WCMS (web content management system) scenario because the system must be built before it can be used by the content creators. However, in the Headless CMS Model, all that is required to get started on content population is an agreement between the content creators and the implementation team on what the structure of the content is.
In addition to the advantages to the project life-cycle, there are plenty of benefits to be gained in the infrastructure timing as well. We can significantly reduce the burden of tasks to initiate, configure and operate a platform-based approach. Because of the cloud-friendly nature of the Headless model, the project team can provision cloud services quickly and inexpensively to serve the project, spending valuable time and budget on providing high-value output.
Lastly, you are no longer strictly bound by the technical constraints of a platform. Because we are operating in a services-based manner, we can be technology agnostic and choose a toolset and development methodology that best suits our business model. We can engage our audience with a toolset that directly fits the purpose and direction of the business objectives. This freedom can net considerable gains in development effectiveness by allowing for the “right tool for the job” approach. All of this leads to a shortened project timeline for your organization. Even with an accelerated schedule, there is more time allotted for ensuring that the content creation is done right. This contributes significantly to the goal of putting your content, and ultimately your connection to your audience, in the appropriate place as the number one priority of the project.
Perhaps the most powerful reason to use a Headless CMS platform is its functionality as a content repository. There are multiple advantages to using a headless system to collect and distribute content that gets created within the system. However, the real power o f headless can be unlocked when we take this concept to the next logical conclusion and leverage the tool to receive content from different sources throughout your organization.
This is where the concept gets exciting. It opens up possibilities like aggregating changes to product descriptions from your ERP and having the changes consistently display across your entire web presence; whether on a website, media post or mobile app. We can use a knowledge-base article from your customer support system and have it properly presented on your site FAQ, an Alexa skill, or a chat-bot.
This potential for multiple sources of content and distribution endpoints also works in reverse. It allows you to meet your content creators where they are. Integrate multiple systems and pull from:
Zendesk (or a similar support management system) that a customer service team that does all their work in
An ERP, where the product development team maintains detailed product specs in
Higher Logic or other collaborative member communities that create content
SharePoint, where documents are being maintained by a different division/department
A separate CMS where content gets published
Content hidden away in the CRM
Every organization has a variety of subject matter experts. In fact, every member of your organization is a subject matter expert in something. That is a robust workforce that is going mostly untapped in the mission to create the most compelling and engaging content. By implementing a tool that allows you to meet them where they are and leverage the natural work products of their existing job functions, you unlock a substantial wealth of potential content.
The logical question is why? Why would you centralize this when you could create seemingly similar integrations to send the content directly from the source system to the destination channel?
We believe there are four compelling answers to this question:
Build one destination integration - No matter how many sources of content you have, you will only need to build a single connector to your destination. This limits your time investment as well as your potential for bugs and maintenance overhead.
Control work-flow - These systems can be configured to trigger workflows that allow for imported content to be reviewed by appropriate gatekeepers, before being released to content distribution channels. This is well advised for brand identity reasons, but can also be crucial for organizations with compliance, security, and liability concerns.
Firewall - The term is not being used in the traditional network security sense here, but the concept is similar. We want to distribute our content far and wide, but we don’t want to allow all these systems access to our internal business systems. A central repository model provides for access to only processed, publicly distributable content items. This is a huge security advantage for these scenarios.
Stability/Performance - If you’ve published a chat-bot to assist your customers 24/7, you don’t want to break that promise because the ERP system is undergoing maintenance. The FAQ on your website shouldn’t break because your customer service tool is experiencing service disruption. The scenarios are endless, and the punchline is always the same. We must insulate our distribution channels from service disruptions from all other systems that have different maintenance and uptime standards. The central repository accomplishes this by acting as persistent content storage between the various systems.
We’ve outlined what makes the using a Headless CMS system a compelling option for organizations of all types. So what’s next? The good news is that these systems don’t need to replace anything within your existing infrastructure. The Headless concept lends itself perfectly to being integrated into an existing digital ecosystem. With the very low barrier to entry and high ROI potential, why wouldn’t you consider adding one to your next digital engagement?