Ascent of Headless CMS and Future Websites.
Have you come across a website that provides a creative modern user experience that makes you smile?
It’s very likely that it leverages a system architecture known as a Headless Content Management System. Although the term is new, at York and Chapel we’ve been architecting these systems for years.
We’ve utilized various CMS-es on countless projects. As a matter of fact, we love WordPress! Over the past few years WP has grown and matured into a scalable enterprise solution. We wish we could use it more often but sometimes it’s not the best solution. A while back we worked on a project where we experienced a similar scenario. We were asked to create a PIM (Product Information Management) system. Time-to-market was important so we decided to leverage an existing service. While we did save development time, we soon realized that the service put a damper on our creativity and forced our team to learn a new templating engine. After many meetings and lots of coffee, we decided to develop a custom PIM using a headless CMS architecture and phased approach. Without putting you to sleep due to the monotony of the software development process, the end result was a success.
- We prioritized features and quickly delivered the first build
- We empowered our designers to use their imagination
- We could use ReactJS to create a modern UI
- We integrated with existing internal systems
- We separated the backend making it scalable
What is a Headless CMS?
A Headless CMS (also referred to as Content as a Service, Front-end agnostic, API-driven, Microservices) is editable content stored in a database which is exposed via API that isn’t tightly bound to the client. The word “headless” is used based on the theory of separating the “head” from the “body”. In other words, decouple the front-end or presentation layer from the back-end or data repository. What you have left is an admin dashboard interface which allows you to manage content that is exposed API. The common practice is to use a RESTful API (JSON) and supply content anywhere it’s needed without the hassle of template engines.
Due to this approach, a headless CMS does not care about how and where your content is displayed. A headless CMS isn’t concerned about content presentation and it’s main responsibility is to store and supply content through APIs. A front-end client would consume the API and be free to leverage any technology to present it to the user.
Headless CMS advantages:
- Provides ability for a headless ecommerce experience. This is amazing as it gives you the power to create a modern one of a kind online shopping experience and a way to sync product content to various devices and platforms.
- It gives developers more room for experimenting and innovation. The ability to modify the front-end without touching the back end of the websites makes it ideal for these purposes.
- The ability to choose the tech or front end of your choice making it Tech Agnostic.
- Content is pushed through the API, meaning that seamless delivery to all devices is ensured. It’s great for businesses that push content to web, mobile, smart TV or virtual reality applications.
- Highly scalable providing ability to easily tweak each server resources independently.
- Future-proof by providing your business the ability to adapt to the latest trends.
- Better performance as your server will use fewer resources to render layouts and templates.
- More secure than traditional CMS-es which provide wealth of 3rd party plugins which may introduce vulnerabilities.
- Can integrate with any system which can consume API.
Headless CMS disadvantages:
- If you’ve been heavily relying on themes or plugins, a headless architecture might not be your ideal option. Typically headless platforms do not offer themes or plugins, meaning you will have to create the front-end by yourself.
- This can be a more expensive direction when comparing it to traditional CMS architectures. You will have to pay a developer to configure, deploy the headless CMS and front-end. Additionally you will be responsible for the infrastructure to host your back-end and front-end as well.
- If your headless CMS isn’t custom or uses open-source technologies, a license fee might be required.
- Since the headless CMS concept is new, most of them will not have the convenience features you may be used to like content previews or a intuitive WYSIWYG
There are many Headless CMS options and we won’t discuss them in detail, but you can find the popular ones below:
Is WordPress headless?
Out of the box WordPress is not a Headless CMS. Although WordPress can be configured to function as Headless, it and other traditional CMS such as Drupal and Joomla are labelled as monolithic. Monolithic content management systems are an all-in-one solution that lets you store, manage, and present content. They have a single codebase that handles all content management aspects of your website.
What this means is that the content managers and developers who work on the back end of the CMS view and use the same system as the end user who interacts with the front end of the site with the delivery and authoring part of the system being the same. They are also called legacy content management systems because most of them have been on the market for almost ten years.
The coupled architecture is ideal for businesses that aren’t looking for fancy features and highly customizable websites.
Traditional CMS advantages:
- Get lots of bang for your buck without big infrastructure bills, typically only hosting required.
- Trivial setup and deployment.
- Great solution for single sites due to ease of use.
- Enable a page oriented approach.
Traditional CMS disadvantages:
- More vulnerable than decoupled architectures, meaning that if a hacker enters your back-end admin portal they are potentially able to wreak havoc to the front-end of the website.
- Because of the nature of the architecture, customizing the front-end can be difficult. Coupled CMS platforms generally provide limited customization features when it comes to the user interface.
- Infrastructure scalability is difficult due to database inflexibility.
CMS Trends for 2021 and beyond:
- More than 50% of enterprises are already using a headless approach according to a study done by WPEngine.
- 90% of enterprises will be using headless cms architecture by the end of 2021.
- WordPress use in enterprises has risen by 16% since 2017.
- The major deciding factor for headless CMS adaption is increased security.
At York and Chapel, we believe that Headless CMS architecture is the future. The principle of separation of the content itself and the client interface allows you to accelerate development and scale with resource savings. They provide agility, make cross-channel engagement easier, and enable businesses to adjust to new user experience trends.