Why Choose a Headless CMS Platform?

Sean C. Breen
by Sean C. Breen
Founder & CEO

Last Updated: June 25, 2019

The pace at which the MarTech industry is changing is unprecedented, giving you many options to think about and more tools in the tool box to address your needs.  Headless is one of those new(ish) tools. 

What is a Headless CMS?  In essence, a Headless CMS is one where the "web head" (i.e. the rendering of the web pages) is not part of the system, hence the term "headless".  Headless CMS does not deliver web pages, but content via APIs and the website front-end (using something like React other front-end framework) is responsible for fetching content using those web APIs.   

What are some the benefits to a Headless CMS approach?

  • It will support a desire to move away from the traditional “design and build” mantras of the past, embracing more idea- and strategy-driven engagements. 
  • Incorporate AI in your process. AI is forever changing the landscape of what we do, as data accessibility and processing power make AI a true friend of the digital marketing team. 
  • The rise of cloud computing is fragmenting the traditional enterprise software space in favor of integrating more specialized slices, or microservices, of focused best-of-breed solutions.
  • Omni-channel has become a true reality, with the website becoming a destination not a focal point. Your representation in social, voice, apps, external commerce platforms, etc. may matter more than your literal web presence today and head-less CMSs can be a great option for delivering content to channels that are not traditional web pages.  
  • Speed to market is more important than ever. Most headless platforms are SaaS based, and time to deploy solutions is typically measured in days . If you need to be ready to launch fast and iterate faster a headless CMS might be a good fit for you.  Coupled with robust front-end frame-work like React, headless CMSs allow you to iterate the front-end of your website or web app quickly, while maintaining a robust back-end content repository. 

In considering the benefits listed above, there are some decisions to make when considering a headless CMS versus a more traditional CMS. Start with evaluating traditional Enterprise CMS options. At agencyQ, we love the power and promise of Sitecore and its Cortex engine, for its power and ability to analyze and personalize the customer journey. Kentico’s traditional EMS is another real contender with its compact power and ability to drive complex digital marketing scenarios. 

It's also important to remember that you can get the best of the both worlds, a traditional CMS and headless CMS.  Sitecore, for example, allows you access your content traditionally via web pages, was as well as via APIs in the headless model.  

Things to Consider when Considering Headless

Pick the best tool for the job, understand the pros and cons of looking at a headless solution, and make sure to consider the following:

  • Personalization – Traditional CMS, specifically ones focusing on Customer Experience, are going to have greater "out of the box" personalization capabilities.  In fact, if you are looking for extensive personalization while using headless, you are going to need to take care of the heavy programming lifting yourself. 
  • Email Marketing and marketing automation – Many traditional CMS have at some marketing automation tools built-in, such social publishing, email marketing.  Typically, Headless CMS will not and another, additional tool is needed.  Additionally, it is necessary to ensure any customer journey tracking is integrated between your Headless CMS and marketing automation to get a full 360 degree view of how customers are finding, accessing and using your digital properties.  More traditional CMS will manage this tracking for you. 
  • Authoring Tools/Workflows – The traditional CMS has compelling tools designed to distribute the content creation and editing burden throughout the organization, which for many is an absolute must-have. For us, our team of day-to-day content contributors is comprised of only 2-3 people, which doesn't qualify as a current need for the powerful workflow options that the Enterprise toolsets bring to market.
  • Built-in Analytics – While these capabilities are an absolute game changer for our customers with many of the needs listed above, but not if you aren’t using the power to drive complex marketing campaigns, manage powerful personalization, or run multivariate testing. When you are doing these things, inline analytics become the key to success. When you aren’t, like in our scenario, Google Analytics gives you all the info you need.
  • Commerce – With e-commerce you will need to integrate your Headless CMS into another e-commerce platform.  Typically Headless CMS platforms do not come with e-commerce and you will need to use a separate service. 
  • The front-end is on you - Remember, Headless CMS do not generate web pages.  You need to build the front-end code to deliver the actual web-pages, typically using a front-end frame work.  If you are not comfortable building and deploying front-end code, headless might not be a good fit for you.

Many other factors come into play when selecting the right platform, but need and fit must drive the selection. As creative technologists, properly balancing these needs and coming away with the right tools for the job is a key building block of project success.   

If you prize speed and front-end flexibility, and are willing to forgo some of the other befits of a traditional CMS, then a headless approach just might make sense for you. 

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