Headless CMS FAQs: Everything You Need to Know About Going Headless

Jason Smith

The CMS industry is littered with complex terminology that makes it challenging for businesses to understand which solution is right for them. We’ve already covered some of the most common terminology and acronyms that CMS vendors use. Now, we’ll answer some of the most common questions organizations have when it comes to headless content management and choosing the right CMS for their business.

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS provides content management capabilities without any presentation layer. While this places limitations on the way marketers create and edit content and customer experiences, it also enables developers to build a wide range of content-driven front ends without being locked-in with a particular CMS vendor. Headless solutions have gained popularity as organizations move beyond traditional web experiences and need the ability to reuse content for IoT, voice, digital signage, and other emerging touchpoints.

Learn more about how dotCMS provides this architecture approach with our Headless Product Brief

How does a headless CMS work?

A headless CMS usually leveraged structured content and flexible content modeling to ensure marketing teams can reuse content across numerous touchpoints or channels. This content is accessible through REST APIs or GraphQL, so that developers can integrate the content with most devices or frontends. For marketers, however, editing and creating content is often form-based with no in-context preview of what the content will look like for end-users.

Further Reading: The Anatomy of an Open Source, Headless CMS

How is a headless CMS different from a legacy CMS?

While a legacy CMS was built to deliver content to a traditional website and even a mobile app, a headless CMS is channel-agnostic. Legacy CMS solutions make use of templates and other opinionated content types to optimize content for the web, but this puts limitations on the reuse of content for other touchpoints. A headless CMS doesn’t offer any presentation layer, so developers need to proactively build one, whether it’s a website, mobile app, or any other digital channel.

How is a headless CMS different from a decoupled CMS?

A headless CMS and decoupled CMS are similar in that they both store channel-agnostic content. A decoupled CMS, however, usually facilitates the publishing of content with templating or other tools. Developers need to build the frontend presentation layer, but a decoupled CMS may have optional frontends for companies to use as well.

Read More: A Pure Headless CMS is a Pure Nightmare for Marketers

What is a hybrid CMS?

A hybrid CMS delivers content headlessly, but also offers an optional authoring experience similar to that of a traditional CMS. That means marketers can create content in-context and reuse this content across many different digital touchpoints. Developers still need to create new presentation layers with a hybrid CMS, but this type of CMS generally balances the advantages of both a traditional and headless CMS.

dotCMS — as a leading hybrid-headless CMS solution — has an innovative Edit Mode Anywhere feature that enables marketing teams to work with SPAs, PWAs, and other frontends using in-context editing. You can see a demo of Edit Mode Anywhere here.

Further Reading: How to Choose a Hybrid CMS (To Please Your CMO and CTO)

What are common headless scenarios?

While a headless CMS can — and is often — used for traditional websites, many modern business use cases are for non-web content. Companies can publish to many different touch points from a mobile app to digital signage using a headless approach to omnichannel marketing. Some companies even use a headless CMS to publish content to analog or print mediums as well.

Read More: How the CMS Powers Smarter Headless Digital Experiences

In addition to publishing content, a headless is often used to aggregate data and information from multiple business systems. Companies may use the CMS for an internal employee-facing intranet or a self-service portal for vendors and other third-parties. The headless CMS gives organizations flexibility in where information is retrieved from and to where and who content is published.

What is headless commerce?

Headless commerce is a new trend for delivering shopping experiences across numerous devices and channels. In general, a headless commerce solution combines a headless CMS with a flexible eCommerce solution via APIs. That means the CMS can manage content, product information, and more while the eCommerce platform handles inventory management, payment processing, and other essential commerce functions. It often leads to more personalized shopping experiences as well. This is a significant advantage over most commerce platforms that were built to launch websites and mobile apps in a similar way to legacy CMSs.

Further Reading: Headless Commerce + Headless CMS: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

Are headless CMSs more expensive?

The total cost of ownership for a headless CMS is often cheaper than a traditional CMS. This is especially true for the numerous open source CMS options that offer enterprise-grade licensing. The headless approach, while it does require development work, is often less expensive because companies can choose which technologies they build frontends with rather than using specialized developers that have expertise in a particular legacy solution.

Are headless CMSs only for enterprise companies?

While headless CMSs are beneficial for large enterprise organizations that need to build a brand presence across many different channels, the approach is an advantage for smaller companies as well. With a headless CMS, startups and mid-sized businesses can leverage the frontend frameworks and tooling of their choosing to rapidly prototype and build digital experiences. Many headless CMSs have faster development cycles because they utilize more modern technologies than most legacy CMSs.

Further Reading:What Are Microservices, And How Do They Aid Agile Development?

What is a suite CMS?

Suite CMS software is meant to be an all-in-one solution that offers everything an organization may need to manage its digital presence out of the box. That means the suite, however, is catering to the broader market and doesn’t typically offer any specialized or innovative features. Suite CMSs, therefore, are often bloated with functionality that a business may or may not even use. There are also substantial costs involved with implementing suite software and migrating away from them later on.

Further Reading: Choosing a CMS: All-in-One vs API-First

What is a best-of-breed CMS?

A best of breed CMS provides the core content management functionality an organization would want as well as the ability to easily integrate with third-party systems and applications. That means marketing teams can choose niche MarTech apps that meet their specific requirements and developers have the tools they need to quickly and cheaply integrate these set of best of breed applications. In most cases, these systems are connected to the centralized CMS using APIs, but some best of breed solutions also offer pre-built connectors for popular MarTech applications.

Does a hybrid-headless CMS have performance benefits?

A headless CMS is often more scalable than traditional CMS solutions because of its API-first, decoupled architecture. An API-driven approach means requests from frontend apps can be spread across multiple instances of the platform to spread workloads amongst many different servers. Legacy CMS solutions that have a model-view-controller (MVC) approach to websites can’t scale this easily.

Read More: How dotCMS Hybrid CMS Improves Performance

In addition, by decoupling the backend content storage from frontend presentation headless CMSs can scale only the particular components that have heavy traffic demands. A microservices architecture is much better scalability and elasticity than monolithic legacy CMS solutions.

Why does interoperability matter?

An interoperable CMS has an architecture that can easily integrate with third-party systems. While many legacy CMSs — especially suite solution — have limited integration points, an API-first CMS can more easily connect with backend business systems. That means an interoperable CMS is similar to a best of breed CMS, and gives individual departments the ability to choose the software that meets their particular needs rather than choosing software at the organizational level. APIs, development tools, and technical documentation are all crucial for developers to consider a CMS highly interoperable.

Further Reading: What is Interoperability: Web Content Management Edition

What is a cloud-first CMS?

A cloud-first CMS has the architecture and is built with the underlying technologies necessary for companies to deploy the platform to the cloud out of the box. This usually means a microservices architecture that can quickly scale horizontally across cloud infrastructure. Some CMS solutions take cloud-readiness a step further by offering a containerized option for easier deployments to the cloud and DevOps integration.

Further Reading: Container Orchestration: Running dotCMS in Kubernetes

What is multi-tenant content management?

A multi-tenant CMS is a platform that shares a single database and instance to host multiple websites or applications at once. By centralizing all the content and data associated with a company’s frontends, enterprise organizations can streamline content reuse and create a more consistent overall branding.

Further Reading: The Benefits of Multi-tenant CMS Solutions

Similarly, a multisite CMS can manage multiple sites from a single instance, but each site has its own resources. For large organizations, however, that means its individual teams become siloed. Many CMSs have both multi-tenant and multisite capabilities out of the box, so companies can choose which approach makes the most sense for their particular needs.

What is a NoCode-first CMS?

NoCode capabilities allow non-technical users to complete specific tasks without the need for programming or scripting at all. And a NoCode-first CMS strives to make as many frequent digital experience management tasks as possible completely NoCode.

Read More: Why a NoCode-first CMS is the Only Way to Support Your Digital Marketing

That means companies can replatform faster, empower marketing and other non-technical staff to create digital experiences, and streamline the orchestration of content and customer experiences for end-users. NoCode capabilities — coupled with a wide range of low code tooling — enable marketers and developers alike to maximize the TCO of the CMS platform.

If you want to learn more about headless content management, see our report: The Ultimate Checklist for Choosing a Headless CMS and be sure to stay tuned with what’s coming in the near future with dotCMS.

Jason Smith
Chief User Experience Officer
February 10, 2020

Filed Under:

headless hybrid cms

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