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What is a Headless CMS?

November 2017 2 min read

It's the new kid on the block - the headless CMS. It's here to save us from the drudgery of content management across a huge number of channels and devices, it'll liberate us from having to duplicate publishing efforts, and maybe even solve world hunger!

Or is that all just marketing buzz?

Defining 'Headless'

The term headless refers to the idea that the content you produce isn't directly tied to a website, app or other presentation layer. Usually when using a content management system such as DNN Evoq, Umbraco or Wordpress we write content to directly display on a web page.

In the headless model we write content in isolation from how it is presented. This content can then be re-used in multiple places.

As an example, on our very own website, our clients, case-studies, and calls-to-action (CTAs) are centrally managed, and used across the website. This means that if we need to change a client's logo for instance, we need only update it in once place.

The Benefits of a Headless CMS

  • Reusability: When content isn't tied to just one website, we can easily re-use it across multiple platforms. If configured correctly this reduces the overhead with producing content for multiple locations.
  • Efficiency Gains: If your content managers have a good understanding of how the models are used, the overhead for managing content which is re-used across a number of areas is significantly reduced.
  • Future Flexibility: When data isn't tied to one platform (for instance, a website), future platforms may be easier to support - DNN's Liquid Content is a great example of this idea of future-proofing.

The Drawbacks of a Headless CMS

We've utilised the idea of a headless CMS in a number of projects, and along the way we've come to understand some of the drawbacks of using them.

  • Data-model Design: Without careful management, data models can become bloated and fragmented quickly. When trying to make these models reusable, it can be hard to ensure that a model's fields remain clear.
  • Confusing Management: Data models often become very abstract, very quickly. Because of this, models which make sense to developers, may not make sense to content managers. To compensate, fields require extensive help text to indicate how they're used.

Overall we found that content managers spent a significant amount of time asking how certain data-models were used, and worrying about the impact of altering certain models. This is something to bear in mind if you have limited scope for training your content management team.

Don't Lose Your Head

We've yet to find the perfect implementation for a headless CMS, but we're excited about the direction in which the technology is heading. We've been building software in a reusable, API-driven structure for a number of years which affords us high-performance and great flexibility, and right now we believe that's the best of both worlds.

Written by Tom Walters Consultant

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author unless explicitly stated. Unless of course, the article made you laugh, in which case, all credit should be directed towards our marketing department.