With the growing demand for omnichannel customer experiences, companies have been looking for ways to better support a variety of seamlessly connected touchpoints.
If marketers fail to deliver the right content at the right time, customers will be left dissatisfied. In fact, high performing marketing teams are 34.4 times more likely to be creating personalized omnichannel experiences. Unfortunately, traditional content management systems (CMS) weren’t built with these contemporary demands in mind.
For some brands, the solution to this problem may lie in migrating to a headless content management system. However, a headless CMS is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
What Is a Headless CMS?
Senior developer of Endertech, Marc Nimoy, said a headless CMS "completely separates the design of the site from the content of the site." This means that, unlike traditional CMSs, a headless CMS has no presentation layer. Instead, marketing teams create content within the CMS, and front-end developers retrieve the content through APIs using whichever front-end technologies work best.
Marketers, therefore, can author content in one place, while developers can build a variety of presentation layers to suit the company's — as well as the customer’s — needs and wants. Thus, content can be presented on a website, an app, a digital kiosk screen and a smart speaker. A headless CMS lets companies offer omnichannel experiences from a centralized content repository and easily reuse content. But implementation and ongoing management of a headless CMS requires technical proficiency, and can leave marketers in the dark, as it totally removes the content authoring experience.
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4 Reasons You Might Need a Headless CMS
There are many reasons why you might consider a headless CMS. Here are the top four reasons those in the industry suggested.
1. Front-End Flexibility
Traditional CMS systems organize content in opinionated web frameworks, but this has drawbacks as companies look to support a variety of devices and touchpoints. According to Paul Erlicht, head of customer accounts at Raw Engineering, with a headless CMS, "developers are not tied down to complex CMS frameworks." Since the front-end app or website is decoupled from the content layer, a company's developers can work with the technologies that they're trained in or that the company has existing software built with.
Nimoy believes there are limited “front-end capabilities of existing CMS platforms” and suggested that when managing content with traditional platforms, traditional CMSs “govern the way in which this content displays on the website. The platforms typically have rigid structures or templates that limit marketers and may even offer an unoptimized experience on some devices."
In the digital age, a monolithic website won’t cut it as a modern digital experience for customers, and most traditional CMSs have been built for that exact purpose. Content presentation, therefore, isn't just a static webpage anymore, and the flexibility of front-end frameworks allows developers to use the best tools to offer seamless digital experiences for websites, mobile apps, digital signs and more. Marketing teams, therefore, will have more options to engage with customers and create real demand.
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2. A Future-Proof Tech Stack
A flexible, API-driven CMS allows developers to change technologies and stay future-proof more easily. Because most headless CMSs do not force developers into specific frameworks, you can use whichever will offer the best experience for your customers.
As Justin Emond, CEO and co-founder of Third & Grove wrote, “to future-proof decisions, many organizations simply want to bet on bleeding-edge tech and are willing to make the investment to enjoy longer-term efficiencies. If this is a priority for your organization, then go headless. You will be skating to where the puck will be.”
APIs also enable a microservices architecture, which can make components or services more easy to replace or upgrade as necessary. This modularity also decreases the dependence front-end engineers have on back-end engineers when it comes to changing themes or other presentation requirements that can create bottlenecks in traditional CMS platforms.
Even more critical, headless CMSs are ready to support technologies that will become popular in the future. Some companies are already pushing the limits of content delivery by incorporating more IoT devices, augmented reality, virtual reality and more. A headless CMS built upon powerful APIs will be more easily integrated with the newest technologies that come out, and companies will be poised for quickly taking advantage of new audience segments.
3. Marketing Velocity
Content is being produced more frequently and for a more extensive variety of mediums. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 50% of respondents increased their production of audio/visual, digital text and image-based content in 2018.
Erlicht sees enormous benefits in content creation and delivery for marketing teams because "a headless CMS allows you to update content once and publish everywhere." He explained that by reducing duplicate work to support multiple touchpoints, you're "essentially eliminating the risk of content falling out of sync on various channels." When you’re only publishing content once across all of your channels there’s less concern for brand inconsistencies.
When marketers can support an omnichannel approach more efficiently, they can deliver content at scale with a universal message. Brands can reach a growing audience on a variety of devices and viewing platforms all from one place. David Friar, senior solutions architect at Cognifide, added, “We all want to deliver 'omnichannel' experiences and we aspire to doing 'personalization at scale.' Only the fittest will survive, and by 'fittest' we mean those who have a platform that delivers content velocity and agility.”
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4. Author Without Developers
Steve Eros, digital transformation principal at Lenati, said a “headless CMS has technical advantages that steal the spotlight, but for many clients the greatest advantages are operational."
Eros believes headless CMS platforms offer business value by allowing marketers to manage, maintain and evolve content without the need for development support. He continued, "that is a substantial benefit as a company’s best developers are typically focused on its product and service offerings," and pulling them away reduces resources for core product development.
Erlicht agreed, stating that with “complex traditional CMS, content marketers are forced to file tickets for content updates. Once the ticket is received by IT/engineering, it must be triaged, updated and then added to a sprint for the next upcoming release.” Headless CMSs, by empowering marketers to publish content themselves, directly increase content velocity. Erlicht said, for example, with a traditional CMS, “making a simple content change such as a spelling mistake or updating a product description will take weeks vs. seconds with a headless CMS.”
A headless CMS also frees content creators from rigid templates that most traditional CMSs utilize. This means marketers have more control over the quality of their content, and this streamlines the process of creating unique digital experiences for customers. Marketers can easily personalize content to better engage with consumers without the limitations of frequently outdated tooling.
With a headless CMS, developers can focus on high-value product development while marketing teams can author content at scale. “IT resources are freed up to build cool, innovative things such as personalization, rather than taking on content change requests from marketing,” Erlicht said.
3 Reasons You Might Not Need a Headless CMS
Despite the benefits of a headless CMS, some companies may not be ready to make the change. In some situations it's best to stick with a traditional CMS solution.
1. Requires Technical Proficiency
While traditional CMSs had web frameworks with built-in support for creating websites, most headless CMS platforms will need front-end developers to build the presentation layers for websites, mobile apps or any other medium content will be delivered.
In some cases, small businesses won't have a team of developers, or even the budget to outsource, to build a front end for content delivery. Enterprise companies may also have challenges when moving to a headless CMS if their development team is entrenched in legacy, monolithic style CMS technologies. That’s why Erlicht recommended businesses find a “CMS which has a powerful integration story with features that allow you to extend the UI to work within your existing marketing and tech stack.”
The technical proficiency requirements could present a drawback for some companies, in which case it might be better to use a coupled CMS. In line with this, Eros said, "If clients are looking for a complete [marketing technology] solution, with personalization and audience segmentation, extensible commerce and the latest insights a CDP can offer, then the traditional platform players will make more sense today.”
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2. Lack of Visualization for Marketers
One of the challenges marketers face when creating content in a headless CMS is the lack of previews or WYSIWYG editor. A pure headless CMS has no presentation layer, so it becomes difficult to know what the content will look like for end users.
According to Friar, “A purely headless approach can have your content authors in front of a form-based authoring UI with little or no support for understanding how the content is going to look when people actually see it.” He believes this becomes a problem when it’s the developers who become responsible for how content is actually rendered. Marketers will lose autonomy and content velocity will suffer.
Friar said the best solution "may well be a platform that allows content producers to create channel-agnostic content in a 'headless' way, but you probably also need the ability to 'author' the way that content is presented for a particular channel. Hybrid CMS systems attempt to solve this issue by adding in an optional presentation layer to further enable marketers to create content without the need for developers."
3. You’re Just Not There (Yet)
Eros believes the deployment of a "headless CMS is about the size and scale of the business or marketing team." If your company doesn't have the budget or personnel to support an omnichannel strategy, you could be better off focusing on fewer channels such as a website and app only. Perhaps your company will favor the large communities and wide array of features that more traditional CMSs provide.
Even so, it's possible to move towards a headless CMS on your main channels to allow your developers to better support particular web or mobile technologies, and later expand to additional channels as your company grows. After all, Erlicht said that “very often with legacy CMS,” the lack of integrations or extensions prevents teams from using “the tools they want and [they’re] forced to use tools someone else purchased.”
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Go Headless at Your Own Pace
There’s a variety of headless CMS options out there, so (as always) it's essential to find one that closely matches your company's needs. Equally, it’s vital to make the move when your brand is ready, not because of the hype.
A headless CMS could solve many of the challenges of omnichannel content marketing such as front-end flexibility, a future-proof tech stack, easier content authoring, and in turn, greater content velocity. The drawbacks, however, include initial technical requirements that may be too much for some organizations, the lack of a visual editor or no demand for omnichannel support yet.
No one type of CMS fits every business. Therefore, Eros said, “headless CMS options are moving up the value chain quickly, offering new features and integration options that make them even more appealing, but the large CMS options [also] have their place."