Webtown Blog

Our thoughts. Our articles. Our collections.


The basics of headless content management

Bajor Lívia

The basics of headless content management

If you’re not familiar with the concept of content management systems (or CMS, in short), the title of this article might make you look twice, however, this is not a typo, we did mean headless. Besides explaining what that is, we’ll also discuss the difference between traditional and decoupled content management systems.

Let’s start with the mother of all content management systems: the traditional CMS. A good example for that would be WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, where users can create and edit their content through a WYSIWYG editor or an HTML editor and save it to the back-end database. WYSIWYG is an acronym for "what you see is what you get”, meaning that it “allows a developer to see what the end result will look like while the interface or document is being created”. (TechTarget) The content management system then displays the content according to the front-end delivery layer which can be a website, an app, a blog and so on.

To use a metaphor, a traditional CMS is the “body” and the front-end components (templates, frameworks, etc.) are the “head”. In contrast to a traditional CMS, a headless content management system’s head is cut off – basically making it a content-only data source. It doesn’t have a default front-end system or delivery layer, it’s rather front-end agnostic, producing and storing raw content that can be published through any framework. A headless content management system is a back-end only CMS that works via APIs (Application Programming Interface), most likely requiring front-end developers to be on the team.

If you haven’t been confused yet, let us introduce you to the idea of a decoupled CMS which is essentially a hybrid between a traditional CMS and a headless CMS. To keep going with the metaphor: a traditional CMS’s head was chopped off to make it headless, however, in this case, the head sticks around. In layman terms: a decoupled content management system does everything that a headless CMS does, but it also offers templating tools and WYSIWYG editing, making a significant difference for non-coder team members. While a headless CMS might be more fun for enthusiastic front-end developers, a decoupled CMS allows for more options and flexibility for not-so-tech-savvy marketers.

Now that you have a fairly clear picture of what a CMS is, you might be asking yourself “What would I even need one?”. Our answer is: certainly not every business needs a CMS, however, if you, for example, communicate in multiple languages, you have a big editorial team and need an approval workflow, or you regularly post blog posts or press releases, you might want to think about investing in one. Another is reason to use a content management system is omnichannel marketing. In case you need a refresher on what that is: “Multichannel marketing focuses on several different channels individually, on their own, whereas omnichannel marketing refers to the multichannel concept that provides customers with an integrated experience. Customers can be browsing online or in a brick-and-mortar store, and the experience will be comprehensive and consistent.” Customers are used to getting information quickly and efficiently, and with a headless or decoupled CMS, you can deliver personalized experiences, at the right time, through the right channel to the right people.