Why the Need for Headless Came About
There are only a few things in life that we know for certain: that technology will continue to evolve, hopefully to the benefit of society; and that the expectations of consumers will grow at a similarly rapid pace.
In many areas, including digital, technology often drives demand. If we rewind to the ’90s, editing websites was a very different experience compared to today. Content was hardcoded, meaning even the smallest of changes required a developer to action them, and options for creativity were limited. But, as time went on, the exponential growth of websites and increasing in PC processing power saw the arrival of a content management system (CMS) vendor marketplace. And with it, new and existing players were able to compete against each other, resulting in the editor’s experience quickly improving as platforms vied for customers. By 2010, the CMS had evolved into an even more flexible tool, providing every user/editor with the ability to easily manage and publish content themselves.
Which brings us to 2015 and the emergence of DXPs (digital experience platforms). DXPs supported the opportunity to have a unique front and back end to your website or application. Effectively, it provided the opportunity to have all your content in one place and use it across multiple devices and channels. On the back of DXP technology, ‘headless’ emerged to meet the needs that weren’t being met. Enabled by the latest technologies, headless is a back-end only, cloud-based approach to content management.
What Exactly is ‘Headless’?
Offering a powerful framework, headless separates the code between front and back-end functions, making changes faster, and giving designers much more freedom to create an innovative user experience. This separation enables marketers the ability to grow and transform the website and other digital channels in a number of ways.
A headless CMS is not directly connected to the front end like a normal website (the front end is the bit your customers see when they navigate to your website). Instead, the back-end content management system can be connected to one or more front-end channels via APIs (for more information on the value and opportunities APIs provide, check out our article on the topic). This approach enables you to display the same content in multiple places and means you can design the user experience for the specific channel or audience. It puts the customer experience first and provides creative freedom to explore new user experience and design frameworks.
Headless’ major innovation is being back end only. The back end, the platform working behind the scenes, is the body. So, when you build a CMS that doesn’t have a front end, it is, ‘headless’. The two aren’t dependent on each other in the same way a traditional CMS manages the relationship between the two sides of the coin.
The Benefits of Using Headless
As with any new technology or approach, headless has a number of important benefits but it also has some things to consider to know if it is right for you:
Speed and Reliability
Headless systems hosted in the cloud can improve the reliability of your digital projects by increasing content availability and scalability. It is faster for users because there is no heavy server-side lifting when getting content and the front-end application can use an API for this requirement. Some front-end applications, like Gatsby, pre-build all of the content, thus offering a static site, which is rebuilt on the fly every time content changes.
Headless removes the limitations of standard web architecture, meaning that you can adapt to any new channel or device quickly, following technological advancements. This way, your digital solution remains agile and at the forefront of technology.
One system to serve them all
Instead of having to implement multiple content management system instances to support web and mobile channels, intranets, etc, a single headless CMS instance can serve unlimited digital channels. A single source of content, such as a product description for an online catalogue, can automatically adapt to its publishing environment and present itself optimally for its destination. Think of a manufacturer and its network of distributor websites. The manufacturer can maintain all the up to date content information and then provide each distributor an API feed (of content) they can use to serve that content on their own website.
Customer and editor focused
Headless enables consistent content delivery via numerous different channels. So as new devices become available or evolve, headless enables you to keep up to date, and keeps content centralised and consistent.
The separation of code and content in a headless CMS also makes life easier for content editors, who can focus exclusively on the content for which they are responsible.
Better for developers
Not always the most considered group, developers also benefit from a headless approach, using the latest tools and frameworks to bring content experiences to life on any modern platform, without being locked into a proprietary language or other limitations of a particular CMS. Equally, content delivered via APIs is significantly easier to integrate, manipulate, and distribute, reducing the time it takes to create content-driven experiences, including entire sites and apps.
Is it For You?
New technology always sounds great but the key question is: how will it provide you with value? Headless isn’t for everyone but it will grow in relevance as the importance of customer experience increases across the board. For those industries driven by customer experience already, the headless CMS is now seen as a central platform that can power their entire digital experience across all devices and platforms. Headless CMS allows companies to connect with customers at scale, respond quickly to emerging opportunities, and streamline content operations to enforce consistency while remaining agile.
Retailers, eCommerce providers, professional sports teams and more are already deploying headless strategies for their digital ecosystems. Powered by a headless CMS, these organisations can build omnichannel engagement platforms, marrying content with personalised data, and helping customers feel more connected than ever. Headless CMS also allows online retailers to create closer, individual connections with their customers, tying content delivery and targeting into customer purchase history and other data to deliver a personalised shopping experience.
Airlines and financial service companies are two further groups that are also leveraging the opportunities of headless, with their teams managing critical, real-time communications, content translation and localisation, plus an omnichannel presence that spans hundreds of individual customer touchpoints. Across owned web properties, mobile apps, email, third-party sites, and physical displays, a headless CMS enables clear, consistent, and simplified communications that are always accurate and up to date.
The above represent only a proportion of those already exploring or using headless. Countless other businesses are using this CMS technology to build a modern tech stack that marries flexibility and innovation with security and reliability. But, fundamentally, the decision on whether headless is right for you sits with you alone.
Our advice is to first identify what you want to achieve before deciding which technology is best to meet your goals, only then can you ensure you maximise the success of your investment and take full advantage of the opportunities on offer.