A Headless CMS is a content management system where the "web head" (i.e. the rendering of the web pages) is not part of the system, hence the term "headless". Headless CMSs do not deliver web pages, but collect and distribute content via APIs, leaving the website front-end to fetch and display the content.
If you prize speed and front-end flexibility or have a wide variety of different sources and outputs of content and are willing to forgo some of the benefits of a traditional CMS, then a headless approach might make sense for you.
- Omni-channel is attainable with the content-first approach of headless CMS. Your presence in social media, voice, apps, 3rd party commerce and other platforms may matter more than your website today and headless CMS can be a great option for delivering content to channels that are not traditional web pages.
- Speed to market is greatly improved with the time-saving workflow of a headless CMS. 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, a headless CMS allows you to iterate the front-end of your website or web app quickly, while maintaining a robust back-end content repository.
- Idea- and strategy-driven projects are easier to accomplish with headless CMS. Headless CMS enables organizations to move away from the traditional “design and build” formulas by allowing content creation and management to begin during development, rather than afterwards.
It's also important to remember that you can get the best of the both worlds- using a traditional CMS with a headless CMS. Headless CMSs are designed to pull content from a variety of locations, so different teams working on different systems can contribute content easily using APIs. Sitecore, for example, allows you to access your content traditionally via web pages, as well as via APIs in the headless model.
- Personalization - Traditional CMS, specifically ones focusing on Customer Experience, are going to have greater "out of the box" personalization capabilities. In fact, creating extensive personalization while using headless will require programming work. Thought newer platforms such as Customer Data Platforms (CDP) can bring real-time personalization to your headless CMS.
- Marketing Automation - Many traditional CMS have some marketing automation tools built-in, such social publishing, email marketing. Typically, Headless CMS will not include these, which require additional tools. 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 and interacting with your digital properties. More traditional CMS will manage this tracking for you.
- Authoring Tools/Workflows - Many traditional CMSs have tools designed to distribute the content creation and editing burden throughout the organization, which is a must-have for many.
- Built-in Analytics - Incorporating analytics to your system can be game-changing but is most worthwhile only if you plan on driving complex marketing campaigns, managing powerful personalization, or running multivariate testing. If you aren’t, Google Analytics can give you all the information you need.
- Commerce - For e-commerce, you will need to integrate your headless CMS into a separate e-commerce platform, as most headless CMS platforms do not come with e-commerce functionality. Though there are a growing number of headless e-commerce platforms that would integrate into easily into a head strategy.
- The front-end is on you - Headless CMSs do not generate web pages, so you will need to build the front-end code to create the actual web pages, typically using a front-end framework such as React.
Many other factors come into play when selecting the right platform but need and fit must drive the selection. Properly balancing these needs and identifying the right tools for the job is key to project success.