A content management system (CMS) is one of the most sophisticated tools available to marketers today. A CMS works to create and manage digital content. It often has core functions such as indexing, search and retrieval, format management, revision control, and publishing capabilities.1 This blend of functionality makes a CMS an incredibly powerful tool for content management and creates more effective and responsive advertising. Given the functionality and the value that a CMS brings to organizations, their growth has been explosive. The global web content management market was valued at $4.9 billion (USD) in 2017 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of around 16% meaning that by 2024 it will be valued at $14.2 billion (USD).2 This is no surprise as top companies in all industries have been implementing CMSs rapidly over the last couple of years to leverage the value they bring to organizations.
Headless CMS explained
While CMSs have been around for several years, the concept of a headless content management system is emerging as an increasingly popular option.3 With traditional content management systems, also referred to as a coupled or monolithic CMS, the architecture between the back end and the front end is tightly linked. Content is presented and delivered to the users from the front end on their devices, while it is created, managed, and stored on the back end, which is also where site design and customization occurs.4
A headless CMS is a type of uncoupled content management system, a term which refers to an architecture in which the back end and front end management is controlled by two different systems. One system creates, edits, and stores content while the other ingests the data and presents it to the end user. Like other decoupled CMSs, the front end and back end operations occur on different systems; but rather than defining a front-end system, a headless CMS is front-end agnostic. These systems provide raw content that can be published anywhere once it is accessed by an API and delivered to applications and systems.
The need for a headless CMS
A headless CMS became a more desirable option as mobility increased. Traditional CMSs were generally built upon the premise that content would be accessed through a browser. But with the increase of new, connected devices like smartphones, wearables, AI voice assistants and virtual reality headsets, content is accessed in a myriad of different ways. A headless CMS offers a way to collect, edit, and store data on the back end like a traditional CMS, while also providing the flexibility to work with many different front-end formats.6 They can be a very appealing solution for publishing dynamic content on multiple platforms.
Benefits of a headless CMS
Headless CMSs do have a couple of drawbacks, such as the lack of presentation flexibility and the inability to view a live and accurate preview; but, there are many benefits to this type of architecture.
- Implementation is quicker and cleaner.
- New functionality can be added quickly by developers.
- It is generally easier to use.
- Reduced time-to-market due to the agility of this type of system.
- Increased security, as access to the CMS can be restricted internally and content is published externally.
- Ability to require approvals or encryption on published data.
- Increased scalability capabilities, leaving them somewhat future-proof.
- Decreased operating costs.
- Ready to publish at any time across many channels.
- Availability of content even when CMS back end is offline.5
- Greater control over how and where content appears.6
Many organizations are opting to implement a headless CMS rather than a traditional system because of the many benefits it can offer. Evolving data and technology trends show consumers want systems that are more customizable, scalable and flexible to truly deliver the content that their clients want and need. While the numbers from 2018 indicate that pure headless CMSs only make up approximately 10% of the overall CMS market, this figure is expected to grow rapidly over the next several years.7
This is primarily due to the fact that the benefits that are offered through a headless CMS are in-line with the trends that are likely to increase in the future, such as the continued proliferation of more and more digital devices, an increase in mobility, and the continued demand for flexible and scalable solutions that can integrate and operate with agility in an ever-evolving digital ecosystem. A recent survey showed that there are two primary motivations by organizations who are considering the implementation of a headless CMS: flexibility (47%) and the ability to build a lightweight website (44%).8
Headless CMSs have a generally positive perception across all those who interact with them, from clients to developers and editors. While there are some drawbacks to a headless CMS, they can offer a superb solution in many situations. However, the CMS market will likely always be impacted by evolving, disruptive technologies and to truly identify the best CMS for your organization, you need to consider your content needs and future goals and determine the best system architecture to help you meet those goals.
- Rouse, M. (2016). Content management system (CMS). TechTarget. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://searchcontentmanagement.techtarget.com/definition/content-management-system-CMS
- Sawyer, L., (2018, November 7). CMS Top players, trends, and market share growth. CMSCMedia. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://www.cms-connected.com/News-Archive/November-2018/CMS-Top-Players,-Trends,-and-Market-Share-Growth
- Hussain, M.D. (2018, April 12). Why "headless CMS" is becoming so popular? Medium. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from https://medium.com/tech-tajawal/why-headless-cms-is-becoming-so-popular-57d262b1e096
- Brightspot. (2018, October 18). The pros and cons of coupled, decoupled, and headless CMS platforms. Medium. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from https://www.brightspot.com/blog/decoupled-cms-and-headless-cms-platforms
- Winter, J. (2017, November 22). The benefits of a headless CMS. Forbes. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/11/22/the-benefits-of-a-headless-cms/#2d2698de2d85
- Brightspot. (2018, October 18). The pros and cons of coupled, decoupled, and headless CMS platforms. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from https://www.brightspot.com/blog/decoupled-cms-and-headless-cms-platforms
- Palas, P. (2018, July 27) Is a headless CMS right for you? . CMS Wire. Retrieved March 22, 2019 from https://www.cmswire.com/web-cms/is-a-headless-cms-right-for-you/
- Kentico Cloud. (2019). State of the Headless CMS 2018 Report. Retrieved March 22, 2019 from https://kenticocloud.com/state-of-headless-cms-2018