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Are you ready to lose your head? What to know about a Headless CMS.

As an agency, it’s common for clients to ask what we think about different Content Management Systems (CMS). For the most part, the needs of companies are pretty straightforward and don’t require an overly complicated system. And sometimes, choosing a super robust but not familiar system causes more issues than it solves.
Headless statue representing headless CMS

At this point, a traditional WordPress site still reigns supreme. We’ve reviewed over 200 different B2B, SaaS, and public companies, with a broad revenue range. WordPress was powering over half of them. The rest comprised a mix of other traditional CMSs, and a tiny percentage used Headless CMSs (although this number is rising).

So it’s safe to say that not all businesses should have a Headless CMS, but let’s get into that a little bit.

What is a Headless CMS?

A Headless CMS separates content creation from content presentation, allowing your content to be managed in one place and delivered across multiple platforms via APIs. This flexibility makes it ideal for businesses that maintain a consistent content experience across websites, mobile apps, and IoT devices (Internet of Things).

Should you use a Headless CMS?

Despite the fancy definition that sounds so compelling, delivering all of your content over an API automatically increases complexity. Much more code is required to implement a marketing website this way. Additionally, you lose all the ability to use popular plugins and take advantage of a vast community to solve everyday problems. In our experience, most companies don’t need a Headless CMS unless they fit specific use cases.

When using Headless CMS is preferred:

  • You are working on a technology that is not a marketing website. This would mean mobile apps, TV applications, smart device apps, or web applications.
  • You are creating content that has to be shared across multiple channels. For example, you are a larger company managing multiple web properties or brands, and those sites need to share the same data or be housed in the same location.

When using a Headless CMS is NOT preferred:

  • Your developers want to. They might be correct, but do what is right for the business before doing what is cool. Make sure your use case is valid.
  • Your IT department demands it because it will be easier for them to manage. This is IT speak for it will be easy for me, but complicated for you.
  • Thinking that using a Headless CMS will automatically “future-proof” your content. Remember, you need to structure your content to be portable, and the data needs to be designed. If you are new to the technology, your data team isn’t disciplined, bad design decisions are made, or your requirements change, you will still need to redo everything. Remind me again, how many websites or applications are future-proofed actually?

Anecdotally, we notice that companies that deploy a traditional Headless CMS don’t update their sites as often as companies that are using a traditional CMS with a page builder. We believe that is because the sites are more rigid and complex to modify.

What is a Hybrid Headless CMS?

A Hybrid Headless CMS does all the things a Headless CMS does with one addition, a presentation layer. You can design your content and use a “no-code” or “low-code” solution to build your UI for that data. Hybrids are definitely better from my perspective, but again, unless you need this kind of functionality, you will still have some trade-offs with using a system like this.

I personally would be skeptical about using a Hybrid Headless CMS right now over a traditional CMS because they are so new. The idea is excellent, and the promise is compelling. But fragmentation is a genuine concern in this space. So many new CMS providers are popping up constantly, and no one knows who will be the juggernaut down the road.

Hiring professionals who know WordPress is easy, but hiring professionals who are experts in this brand-new specific technology is going to be harder.

Final Word

For very specific circumstances, an API-only Headless CMS would work great. But only specifically in cases that don’t have any web presentations.

If there is a website involved, and I met the other specific use cases for a Headless CMS, then I’d select a Hybrid Headless CMS solution knowing that my future might not be certain and future rework is guaranteed.

If I didn’t meet the specific scenarios that a Headless CMS solves, I would choose WordPress or another popular CMS platform to ensure I had the biggest available support network to run my website. Additionally, I would gain all the advantages of using the no-code page builders that work with a system like WordPress. Completely empowering my digital marketing team.

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