What is a headless CMS?

Headless CMS
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With more and more digital channels and devices available to consumers, publishers have had to adapt their publishing processes to reach audiences where they spend their time. This has led to a rise in demand for headless content management systems (CMS) that store content centrally, but distribute it across multiple display options.

  • A traditional CMS places webpages front and center in the publishing process. Most will deliver responsive web pages to facilitate effective mobile phone display, but that is often the extent of multi-display support. With content increasingly consumed in-app and across an array of devices, legacy CMS solution may not be enough.
  • The answer to this content conundrum appears to lie with the headless CMS and the separation of content storage from content display. The headless approach to content management sees content destined for multiple platforms held in a single repository, but supports the integration of APIs that can send the same content to a variety of display front ends.
  • According to market research firm Future Market Insights, the benefits of headless CMS adoption are fueling growth in the global headless content management market. They forecast the market will expand with a CAGR of 22.1% between 2022 and 2032; with an estimated market size of more than $750 this year passing $5,500 million in 10 years time.
The benefits of headless systems

As content consumption fragments, publishers are turning to headless CMS solutions to give them more flexibility and better scalability.

  • Efficiency is central to effective ‘omnichannel’ publishing strategies, removing the need to create multiple iterations of the same content. Using a headless CMS, publishers can effectively repurpose content automatically into any display by calling the relevant APIs from the system.
  • By keeping content administration distinct from content display, frontend developers are free to concentrate on creating effective user experiences across the full range of relevant platforms. The API-first approach lends itself to a product-development mindset, focusing development efforts on the data exchange between back end and the front end.
  • As cloud-based SaaS solutions, headless CMSes are generally fully-managed publishing solutions, reducing the need for in-house systems support. Regular updates also mean that security concerns should be addressed and, and the modular nature of headless CMSes means that attacks through the presentation layer are unlikely to lead to data being accessed.
Moving to a headless system

There are many benefits in adopting a headless CMS. From future-proofing against changing content consumption trends to one-to many repurposing efficiencies. But writing on TechTarget last year, Laurence Hart of tech consultancy CGI Federal, says shifting to a headless solution is not ‘like the flip of a light switch’.

He says organizations that move to a headless CMS can be more agile and save themselves work in the future, but first they need to create structured content models that ‘reflect connections between content’.

This is critical for any CMS deployment, but more so when an organization moves to a headless architecture, as a headless CMS’s structured content model reflects an organization’s content — not its website or mobile design.

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