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A headless content management system (CMS) delivers your content directly to a variety of platforms. This enables a single content repository to service multiple frontends – not just a single website.


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Understanding headless CMS

When you want to serve your content to a variety of web pages, services and devices, you need a headless CMS. A headless CMS is like other content management systems but without the traditional “head” or frontend – that is, your own website. The content is pulled via a RESTful API to wherever you want it served.

Unlike a traditional CMS, a headless CMS is focused solely on storing and delivering your content. It is not concerned with the display of that content. The “body” (content) is fully decoupled from the “head” (presentation layer). Content is linked from the backend to the decoupled frontend via the API.

Headless CMS is typically deployed when you want to serve content to other parties. You can use a headless CMS to place product descriptions and links on third-party websites (such as with affiliate marketing programs), in mobile app stores, as in-app purchases in mobile apps, as voice purchases on smart speakers, and more. You can even use a headless CMS to serve the same content to multiple websites – for example, if you sell the same products under different storefronts. Headless CMS combines the ease of maintaining a single structured database with the flexibility of using multiple frontends.

Comparing headless CMS to traditional CMS

A traditional CMS differs from a headless CMS in the coupling of the backend and frontend. With a traditional CMS, the content and presentation are tightly coupled – but with a headless CMS, they are completely decoupled.

Because the backend and frontend are coupled in a traditional CMS, no API is necessary to handle the communication between the two. In a headless CMS, however, an API is necessary to link the content with the presentation.

The decoupling of content from presentation means that a headless CMS can support an unlimited number of platforms and devices. A traditional CMS, in contrast, can support only a single touchpoint. This makes a headless CMS more product-focused, instead of the project-focus of a traditional system.

The simplicity of a traditional CMS makes it a good choice for a basic marketing or retail site, especially one that is relatively static. For sites that serve product information in a more dynamic fashion, as well as situations where multiple sites or applications need to access the same content, a headless CMS is a better choice.

Benefits of using a headless CMS

There are multiple benefits to developing a headless CMS for your content.

Using a Headless CMS

Provides omnichannel support

Retailers see a growing need to market their products across multiple devices and platforms. According to Omnisend, marketers employing an omnichannel strategy realized a 287% higher purchase rate than those utilizing only a single channel. A headless CMS is the only way to seamlessly provide content to a variety of channels – websites, blogs, social media, mobile devices, smart speakers, even IoT smart devices.

Creates flexible and personalized user experiences

In today’s omnichannel environment, the same static presentation doesn’t work for all possible frontends. With a headless CMS driving the backend, this frees developers to create personalized user experiences unique to each individual frontend service or device. Because the backend is decoupled from the frontend, developers are no longer restricted to a single CMS framework. A headless CMS is frontend agnostic – content can be displayed in a way that takes best advantage of each device or application served.

Delivers the right content at the right time

Customers want what they want, in the way they want it – and they want it now. Traditional CMS isn’t designed with this kind of user-focused flexibility in mind. A headless CMS is the only way to meet customer demands by delivering high-performance content that’s custom-designed for the customer’s current device or platform.

Responds to evolving customer expectations

People expect continuity in user experience across all apps and pages on a given device or platform. A headless CMS ensures that content is optimized for each platform, ensuring that it is delivered in accordance with users’ evolving expectations.

Enables immediate product and content updates

With a traditional CMS, updating content is a considerable chore that involves both the backend and the frontend design. With a headless CMS, however, backend changes can take place at any time and are immediately reflected in the multiple touchpoints. This enables immediate content updates – on your schedule, not on anyone else’s.

Easily integrates with other technologies

A headless CMS can seamlessly integrate with existing technologies. Instead of designing complete services for each individual platform, the same content can now be served to the technology driving other websites, apps and devices. Because content is served via an API, new platforms can be easily added to take advantage of existing content.

How to implement a headless CMS

Implementing a headless cms

Implementing a headless CMS is much like using a traditional CMS, but without having to worry about the frontend. A headless CMS platform consists of three main components:

  • Content database
  • Content management backend
  • API to deliver the backend content to multiple frontends

Since a headless CMS is design agnostic, your primary concern is structuring your content in a way that makes it easy to serve it to multiple platforms and devices. A flexible headless CMS, such as the one offered by Optimizely, doesn’t impose restrictions on frontend development. You can use any framework you like, including Angular, React or Vue. The content isn’t pushed from your backend, but rather pulled (via the API) by the various channels.

Note that your system can be purely headless, serving raw content to other channels, or a hybrid of headless and traditional architecture. Optimizely, for example, provides templates and tools that let you design frontends for your own website or apps while still serving other platforms via headless API.

Let Optimizely provide your headless CMS solution

Optimizely Digital Experience Platform offers a full set of APIs that can be used for both traditional and for Optimizely's headless CMS. It enables you to connect your backend content to a variety of touchpoints across multiple devices and platforms. Optimizely offers best-in-class content management for businesses of all types. Contact us today for more information.