A content management system (CMS) certainly makes managing website content a breeze. And in an ever-evolving digital landscape, CMSs have come a long way since their inception. One of the most sought-after in this bunch is the headless CMS. It has started getting a lot of traction lately.

The headless CMS Software Market was worth $328.5 million in 2019. With the pandemic offering an unprecedented boost, it is now expected to reach $1,628.6 million by 2027, growing at a whopping CAGR of 22.6%.

That said, you are probably wondering:
Why is headless CMS so
popular?
Exactly what benefits does
it offer?
Do you really need to
switch to a headless CMS?

What is Headless CMS

A headless CMS is a content management system where the frontend and backend are not connected. The backend is the body, while the frontend is the head, hence the name, headless CMS. As it is frontend agnostic, you can use any application programming interface (API) to distribute the content anywhere you like.

How Headless CMS Works

A headless content management system works as a content repository (the backend or body). You can use a RESTful API or GraphQL API to display the content on any digital device, including websites, apps, smartwatches, smart-billboards, and chatbots.

In simple terms, the content source and the presentation layer are disconnected. This also allows your content marketers and the tech team to work independently. While your marketing team keeps pushing new content, developers can take care of the updates and such.

But most importantly, you can enjoy this flexibility without the fear of breaking your website. That’s how a headless CMS distinguishes itself from its traditional CMSs.

Traditional CMS VS
Headless CMS

Speaking of differences, how the content gets presented isn’t the only factor
that differentiates a headless CMS from a traditional one. There are a few
other differences you should know about if you want to make the most out
of a headless CMS.

Get Your Content Across
Multiple Channels

This is perhaps the most lauded difference between the two content management systems. Given its structure, a traditional CMS often lacks the diversity and flexibility for content distribution.

Your content display options are limited only to the channels supported by your CMS. For example, if the CMS doesn’t work on smartphones, you can’t display content on those devices.

Because a headless CMS is frontend agnostic, it offers you the freedom to display the content virtually wherever you want. You can choose to send it across websites, mobile phones, smartwatches, or even large TV displays.

Seamless Content
Management (Editing)

A headless CMS also offers seamless content editing, structuring, and management. Your content team can do their job without worrying about breaking the website. It allows your developers to focus on more critical tasks such as updates and security.

Unfortunately, managing content in a traditional CMS is way more complicated. Everything, including the content, frontend, and the codes, is in the same place. This makes editing a tough call for content writers and marketers who are rarely tech-savvy.

Unparalleled Flexibility
for Developers

Traditional CMSs are not as developer-friendly as headless CMSs. When it comes to a conventional CMS, developers have to work with old & vendor-specific frameworks. This significantly limits customizations and development flexibility. You may not always get the best results/features.

Plus, switching a traditional CMS from one vendor to another is costly, time-consuming, and error-prone. Your developers will have to learn technical skills compatible with the new CMS. This may put excessive pressure on your resources. Most companies can’t afford this technical debt.

With a headless CMS, you don’t have to face these challenges. You are free to choose the frontend tools, frameworks, and programming languages you want because a headless CMS is API-driven. You don’t have to be stuck with decades-old frameworks. Moreover, you can switch vendors quickly without worrying about technical debt or stressing your resources thin.

Built-In
Scalability

A traditional CMS usually lacks scalability because it uses in-house hosting and content delivery. Limited servers mean limited scalability. Worse still, as both the frontend and the backend are connected, even the shortest server downtime affects your entire website.

However, a Headless CMS protects you from these risks. For starters, as the frontend is separated from the backend, your entire website is not likely to go down.

Even if the backend needs maintenance or faces a glitch, the frontend will continue to work without a hiccup. To take the scalability a step further, you can use CDNs and high-performance cloud-based hosting.

Enhanced
Security

With the frontend decoupled from the backend, a headless CMS is also less susceptible to cyberattacks like DDoS. The attack surface is significantly smaller as APIs are the only access points for attackers.

However, a traditional CMS is database-driven and offers a larger surface area for DDoS attacks. Plus, it requires frequent security updates, without which your CMS is more vulnerable to cyberattacks. If anything, history shows that insecure plugins and lack of updates are the leading causes of data breaches.

Quick Content
Turnaround Time

To maximize your reach, you need to deliver your content on new channels. With a traditional CMS, this is a monumental task. You have to build a frontend for every new digital channel from scratch, not to mention rewrite your content.

This time-consuming and arduous process results in:

  • Unnecessary content duplication
  • Waste of resources
  • Delay in content distribution
  • Content inconsistency across channels

But, a headless CMS lets you seamlessly add a new content channel as you need it. You can easily integrate and distribute the content across channels. The content remains in sync and your time-to-market reduces considerably.

Automated and
Synchronized Updates

In addition to its core software, a traditional CMS comes with several themes and plugins. You have to keep these updated.

You have to:

  • Make sure the updates are compatible with other plugins or themes
  • Create a backup before updating a plugin (to roll back to previous versions should the update cause issues)
  • Manually check for the system, plugin, and theme updates

Needless to say, this is time-consuming, expensive, and inefficient. That’s where a headless CMS can do better. It comes with automatic updates, freeing your resources and time.

Faster Page
Loading Speed

Nothing kills your business faster than a slow-loading website. It leads to poor search engine rankings and loss of conversions. The probability of bounce increases 32% as page load time goes from 1 second to 3 seconds.

A traditional CMS comes with plugins that can affect loading speed. Usually, more plugins mean a slower website.

But, a headless CMS is considerably faster because you can leverage:

  • Rendering methods like Server-Side Rendering (SSR) and Static Site Generation (SSG)
  • The latest technologies like JavaScript frameworks and the JAMstack

With your website loading faster, you can improve your organic reach and get more conversions.

Easy-To-use
Admin Interface

As a website owner, you want an intuitive and user-friendly admin dashboard. With drag and drop UIs and live editing, that’s exactly what a headless CMS offers. A traditional CMS lacks this ease of use, making content editing and coding a headache.

Better Overall
Performance

A traditional CMS requires significant customizations if you want better content reach and functionality. Although necessary, these extra features can result in a bloated system, undermining your website development.

On the other hand, a headless CMS offers superior performance in this regard. You can choose the least disruptive and best-in-class tools to ensure high performance and efficiency.

How to Choose
Headless CMS

By now, you are probably thinking of investing in a headless CMS. However,
choosing the right one is no easy feat. Not all headless CMS platforms are
made equal. You will need to consider a few things such as:

Understand the Purpose Of
Your Website

Why do you need a website?
Is it for long-term or short-term use?

If it’s the former, you’ll need a flexible and scalable headless CMS that aligns with your future business growth. Otherwise, you should stick to a traditional CMS.

Consider Your Plans
For Scaling

Speaking of scalability, make sure the CMS can handle a sudden spike in web traffic, especially if you want to build an online store. It should also support a large number of users at the same time. Furthermore, check if it can handle thousands of content items from one database (content repository) without crashing the site.

Figure Out Your
Performance Expectations

Does the CMS meet your hosting and integration needs?

If you plan to build an integration-heavy digital experience like an online store, you need a headless CMS with suitable hosting, speed, responsiveness, and other performance capabilities. Make sure to double-check if it meets your requirements.

Consider Ease Of
Use for Everyone

Check if it is easy to edit, integrate, and manage content for non-technical members of your team. You don’t want your developers spending hours making small changes and updating content.

Check Your Expected Level of
Developer Freedom

Check how well the headless CMS meets the needs of your developers. Ask yourself these questions.

Is the available API flexible enough?
Can developers set up proper structures and workflows with ease?

Remember, the CMS should empower your developers, not irritate them.

Know Your In-House
Technical Strengths

Check if your in-house team has the technical skills and experience to
build and maintain your website. It’s best to consult your in-house
developers before making any decisions. They can help you choose a
user-friendly headless CMS for technical and non-technical team
members alike. However, for better results and faster turnaround time,
you should consult a reputed web development agency.

Understand the Content Channels
You Want to Tap

Consider if omnichannel is a part of your digital experience. For example, an online store requires omnichannel support because it needs a seamless shopping experience across devices. And only the right headless CMS can make that happen.

Think of Your Expected
Turnaround Time

How soon do you need your website up and running?

For short-term projects, a pre-templated solution is usually the right choice. For long-term projects such as an eCommerce store, you should consider your unique business needs, such as content diversity, growth, and security. The turnaround time will vary depending on your business needs, with complex websites taking longer to go live.

Take Your Security Needs
Into Account

Determine the level of security your digital solution needs. See if the headless CMS platform offers the desired security layers and has the necessary certifications (such as ISO 27001 and SOC 2). However, the platform shouldn’t sacrifice user experience for security and vice versa.

Consider Your
Budget

Finally, you will need to consider your budget. Once you have a list of features you want, check the potential cost of such a CMS. Don’t forget to think about maintenance, repair, and upgrade costs in the future. It’s one of the best ways to get a measure of what your budget should be and plan accordingly.

Benefits of a
Headless CMS

Before you go shopping, let’s revise a few benefits of investing in a headless CMS.

Tap Into Multiple Channels

A headless CMS eliminates the need to manage each content channel separately. This is critical for ensuring consistent user experiences across all channels.

A headless CMS lets you:

  • Manage all your content from one centralized repository
  • Effortlessly add new digital touchpoints in the future

Enjoy Greater Flexibility
for Developers

A headless CMS is inherently developer-friendly. It is API-driven. So, you have the freedom to choose a programming language and build the presentation layer effortlessly. There is no need to restrict yourself to vendor-specific programming languages, tools, or technologies.

Get Your Website Up and
Running Quickly

With a headless CMS, there are little or no proprietary platform
limitations. As a result, your developers can build the website faster.
Furthermore, a headless CMS offers easy and secure integrations with
any of your existing systems. If anything, this cuts your turnaround time by a mile.

Scale Your Website as Your
Business Grows

With the backend and frontend separated, a headless CMS offers
virtually unlimited scalability options, including hosting and content
deployment environment. This is good news for organizations
experiencing constant growth.

Make Your Website
Future-Proof

Adding new functionality, microsite, or digital touchpoint is effortless with a headless CMS. You can rebrand one or more digital channels by simply restructuring the content whenever you want. Plus, you can use APIs to bring the latest elements of your digital ecosystem together.

Stay Ahead with
Automated Updates

A headless CMS also removes the need to update system software and other elements of your digital presence. It saves your time, resources, and money. But most importantly, this frees your developers and marketers to focus on carving valuable and engaging user experiences.

Experience Enhanced Security

A headless CMS lets you build a better software structure from scratch. For example, you can limit internal access to the CMS. Moreover, you can approve the published content for public consumption or secure/encrypt it as needed. Plus, the presentation layer continues to function even if the backend experiences any failures, downtime, or performance issues.

Get Excellent Developer Support

Most headless CMS vendors offer excellent developer support. If you want to develop out-of-the-box solutions using native tools and frameworks and open-source APIs, there is no better alternative than a headless CMS.

Drawbacks of
Headless CMS

Although the headless CMS comes with unique benefits, it’s not all roses.
There are a few shortcomings. And before switching to this CMS, you would
want to know these drawbacks.

Dealing With Increasingly Complex Structure

While a headless CMS allows you to build a superior architecture, it also results in complexity. As you add more components to improve the user experience, the structural complexity also increases. Do you have the resources to deal with this? If not, you may want to reconsider switching to a headless CMS.

However, if you still need to go headless, hiring an expert website design and development team would be the first step in this direction. These on-call experts can help you from the get-go. Just be sure to partner with a reliable, well-established, and resourceful team.

Face Restricted
Content Placement

Another major drawback is the restricted content placement. With the backend and frontend separated, your content medium is fixed. In other words, you can edit the content as you like, but you can’t resize and rearrange the dynamic content.

Get Ready for
High Maintenance

A headless CMS also requires more resources for maintenance. Each
new presentation component of your site, app, or digital touchpoint
requires regular maintenance. As the number of your presentation
channels increases, you will need more support. Make sure you are
ready for ever-increasing maintenance and support before investing
in a headless CMS.

Be Prepared to Spend More Money

Because you have to pay separately for a frontend (presentation layer), headless CMSs can be expensive to design, develop, and maintain. Your maintenance, repair, and development costs will also increase as you add more digital touchpoints to your headless ecosystem.

Top JavaScript Frameworks
for Headless CMS

Despite the drawbacks, a headless CMS is still a winner. An increasing
number of people are going headless because it is future-proof, scalable,
faster, and secure. That said, you will need to choose a suitable JavaScript
framework if you want to make the most out of your headless CMS. While
this list is not exhaustive, it is a good start.

React.js

Developed by Facebook, React.js is a free, flexible, and open-source JavaScript library. It boasts a thriving community of developers, including Facebook. You can also implement it on the backend (server-side).

  • Easy to use and lightweight
  • Reusable components
  • One-way data flow
  • Virtual DOM
  • Extensive tools and frameworks
  • East to create dynamic web applications
  • Easy to test codes and APIs
  • Modular, structured, and stable code
  • UI and Server-side rendering
  • Somewhat slow documentation
  • Fast speed of development
  • Steep learning curve (JSX code)
  • Covers only the UI layers of the app
  • Parent-to-child hierarchy
  • Frequent changes result in outdated code
  • Requires domain-specific JSX code compiling

Vue.js

Another lightweight, open-source, and popular JavaScript framework, Vue.js is adopted by tech giants like Adobe, Behance, Alibaba, Gitlab, and Apple. It essentially brings the best elements from ReactJS and AngularJS together.

  • Easy to learn
  • Very lightweight and SEO friendly
  • Virtual DOM rendering
  • Built-in model-view-controller (MVC)
  • Two-way data binding
  • Seamless integrations and flexibility
  • Component reusability
  • Code readability
  • Good for unit-testing
  • Well-structured and concise documentation
  • Excellent community support
  • Perfect for small websites
  • Boasts a relatively smaller user base
  • Some of the documentation is available only in Chinese
  • Limited resources and lack of skilled developers
  • Lack of support for large projects
  • Over-flexibility can be a problem, especially for large projects

Angular JS

This is also an open-source frontend JavaScript framework. Supported by Google and a vast community of developers
worldwide, AngularJS is a framework of choice for developing rich internet applications.

  • Two-way data binding
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Plenty of resources available
  • Code readability and reusability
  • Model-view-controller (MVC)
  • Stable and public API
  • Highly testable websites and applications
  • Better server performance
  • Dedicated debugging tools
  • A vast array of third-party integrations
  • Responsive websites and apps
  • Requires JavaScript support
  • TypeScript and MVC requires a steep learning curve
  • Relatively bulky in size
  • Lacks data modeling, source control, or collaboration tools
  • Not so SEO-friendly

Gatsby JS

Based on ReactJS and GraphQL, Gatsby JS is a free and open-source framework. It is a relatively new framework that helps you build fast-loading, future-proof websites.

  • Ticks all the SEO boxes
  • An engaged and resourceful community
  • Enhanced security with Serverless rendering
  • Integrates with headless CMSs like Contentful,
    Strapi, and decoupled Drupal
  • Reduced maintenance
  • High speed builds and deployments
  • Real-time content update views
  • More than 2000 plugins
  • Based on React JS
  • Progressive Web Application (PWA) capabilities
  • Uses GraphQL to build a data layer
  • Data pre-fetching
  • Automated code and data splitting
  • Accessibility tools
  • Multiple data sources
  • Very easy for CI/CD
  • Built-in scalability
  • Documentation is not up-to-date
  • Involves steep learning curves such as GraphQL
  • Lacks plug-and-play functionality

Next JS

Built on top of React, Next JS is a frontend framework that requires minimal or no configuration. It is praised for its high
performance and excellent developer experience.

  • SEO friendly
  • UX and UI building flexibility
  • Excellent community support
  • Rapid feature development
  • Enhanced user experience
  • Fully omnichannel
  • Automatic TypeScript configuration and compilation
  • Fast loading websites
  • Built-in image component
  • Automatic image optimization
  • Hybrid of SSR and SSG
  • Incremental static generation
  • Reusable components
  • Fast refresh
  • Not many easy-to-adapt plugins
  • No built-in state manager
  • It is opinionated (constrained to using only a file router)
  • Requires building the whole frontend layer from scratch

What Are The
Hosting Options
for Headless CMS

Another critical factor you must consider is the hosting solution. As good as
a headless CMS is, it can’t live up to your expectations without a suitable
hosting solution. Technically, any hosting service provider can host your
headless CMS. However, you have to take a few things into account.

  • While you can host a headless CMS on any server, a specially configured hosting solution is always better. WP Engine, Shifter, and Strattic are a few specialized hosting solution providers, among others.
  • A headless CMS consists of frontend and backend. If possible, host them on different servers. This is a more secure and performance-driven way to host your headless CMS. For example, if your backend is WordPress, you can use existing Managed WordPress hosting for hosting it. And for the frontend, you can use a server that best supports the technology you are using.
  • Also, depending on your needs, you may want to work with two different hosting solution providers. Although this may be an expensive option, it could benefit your business in the long run.
  • Also, check if the hosting solution provider is flexible enough to support different technologies and frameworks and the REST API.
  • Most headless CMSs are Software as a Service (SaaS), meaning the APIs are hosted in the cloud. However, some headless CMS providers may let you host them on your server and database. This also means you are responsible for scaling, operations, and maintenance.

In addition to these, you will also need to consider the usual features such as minimal downtime, fast loading speed, automated and regular updates, and lower maintenance costs.

That said, AWS, GCP, and Azure are some of the top choices for hosting headless CMSs. Each hosting provider comes with its pros and cons. So, you will have to choose one depending on your business needs and budget.

SEO for Headless
CMS – Is It Different?

Headless CMSs work differently, particularly its content layout and
presentation. A Headless CMS has no control over the way your content gets
rendered. As a result, you may have to handle SEO slightly differently.

Here are a few best SEO practices for headless CMS websites.

Use CDN

With a CDN, you can deliver content faster, reduce the load on your servers, and make it available worldwide easily. That’s SEO 101.

HTTPS

Not just Google, users also love secure, fast-loading sites. So, use HTTPS everywhere.

Schema.Org

Use Schema.org structured data markup schema for better indexing and making your content more crawlable to search engines.

Loading Speed

Be sure to focus on improving page loading speed. You can use Lazy Loading images and video and SVG or WebP image formats for faster loading pages.

URL Structure

Make sure all URLs are concise, SERP-friendly, and keyword optimized. They tend to perform better.

Keyword Research

Keyword-optimized content is the backbone of your SEO. Use both short- and long-tail keywords wherever possible, and keep your keyword research up-to-date.

Metadata

Optimize the metadata for search engines. Keep the meta titles under 70 characters, while the descriptions shouldn’t exceed 160 characters.

Media And Images

Optimize the size of the images and add Alt text. Moreover, you can use Lazy Loading images and video and SVG or WebP image formats to improve page loading speed.

Canonical URLs

Use canonical URLs. Especially for eCommerce websites because they have duplicate content. This tells search engines that duplicated content should get the preference.

Internal Linking

Make sure to add internal links wherever relevant as it adds credibility. It can boost your search engine ranking in the long run.

Mobile Experience

With mobile accounting for nearly 54.43% of web traffic in 2021, your headless CMS needs optimization for mobile experiences. This includes best practices like using HTML5 instead of Flash and not blocking CSS, JavaScript, or images.

XML Sitemaps

Create, maintain, and update an XML sitemap and submit it to leading search engines. XML sitemaps help search engines to index all of your content.

Voice SEO

Nearly 40% of all internet users in the US use a voice assistant at least monthly. In other words, your headless CMS needs to be voice SEO ready. You should add content that answers common questions, make your site mobile-friendly, and use structured data.

SEO Audit

Regularly audit your website to check if your SEO is in the right place. There are several auditing tools such as Google Analytics, Ahref, etc.

Content Creation

This is perhaps the most critical SEO best practice. You need fresh, relevant, informative, and actionable content to improve web traffic, reduce bounce rates, and increase conversions.

As you can see, there is a lot of legwork involved in doing SEO for a headless CMS. unless you know what you are doing,
you are better off hiring an SEO Agency that is well versed with these fundamentals. They can get your SEO in order from
day one, preventing you from losing your search engine visibility.

When to Consider
Headless CMS

It is necessary to build a credible digital footprint of your business. But you
do not necessarily have to use a headless CMS to accomplish this goal.
Though headless CMS technology is becoming popular, not everyone needs
it. Instead of getting carried away with the hype, you should think twice if
you need a headless CMS.

Here’s when you should consider a headless CMS.

You Need To Scale Quickly

With frontend and backend separated, it’s easier for you to publish and scale content quickly. If you need to publish fresh content regularly, increase your content reach, and keep the content in sync, go for a headless CMS.

For example, an eCommerce brand can benefit from a headless CMS. They can seamlessly add new product pages, create campaign-specific landing pages, and update content easily.

You Want to Reduce the
Time To Market

Getting your content across multiple channels is also a necessity for many businesses. That’s where a headless CMS can come in. It allows you to create/update content in one place and share it on multiple channels. This reduces the time to market. So, running a time-sensitive marketing campaign would be much easier if you use a headless CMS.

You Want Highly Interactive
Digital Experiences

A headless CMS helps you readily build personalized and engaging digital experiences, which are at the heart of eCommerce. Unlike a traditional CMS, headless CMS has frontend framework flexibility that allows developers to design highly personalized and intuitive digital experiences.

You Need a Future-Proof
Tech Stack

Because you have to pay separately for a frontend (presentation layer), headless CMSs can be expensive to design, develop, and maintain. Your maintenance, repair, and development costs will also increase as you add more digital touchpoints to your headless ecosystem.

You Need To Streamline
Business Aspects

Finally, a headless CMS makes it easier to streamline different aspects of your business. For example, it can help your sales and marketing teams work together. Your sales team can easily collect the data required to build personalized experiences.

The marketing team can use this data to push the most relevant content. As the two flows remain in sync, your conversions will accelerate. It’s a win-win for everyone. If you have a complex business environment, having a headless CMS can be very helpful.

When Not to Consider
Headless CMS

As said before, a headless CMS may not necessarily be the best alternative
for you. If you face one of the following situations, a traditional CMS would
be the right choice.

You Have Limited
Support Staff

As good as it is, a headless CMS needs excellent technical proficiency. As you have to build the frontend from scratch, you will need experienced and skilled developers on board. It can be a huge setback for many businesses as they lack the resources and infrastructure to support and maintain a full-scale team of developers.

Your Content Publishing
Needs Are Simple

Many traditional CMSs make it easier for non-technical people to edit and publish content, think WYSIWYG editor. You can also update rich media, including images and video clips, without getting the developers involved.

With a purely headless approach, you have no idea how the content will look. That’s why you need help from developers. However, this can result in delays. If you are more focused on the ease of editing and publishing content, not omnichannel, there is no need to invest in a headless CMS.

Your Company Size And Future
Growth Are Not There Yet

By now, you must have understood that headless CMS is all about the size and scale of your business. If your business or team is still in its infancy, you may not need to invest in a headless CMS. Sometimes, it’s better to focus on limited digital channels until your business expands beyond a certain point. You can always switch to a headless CMS as your business grows.

In Conclusion

The headless CMS has taken the digital landscape by storm, and for good reasons. It comes with a future-proof tech stack, makes content
authoring a breeze, and brings frontend flexibility. However, switching to a headless CMS is a big step.

You will need to consider various factors, including its benefits, drawbacks, hosting, and frameworks, among other things, before switching to a
headless CMS. This guide should help you go through everything related to headless CMS step by step.

If you still have questions or need more information on headless CMS, feel free to call us.