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Headless CMS Software | How it work & Why it’s important

Before we even define the Headless CMS Software, one major advantage of any Content Management System is its collaborative nature. Whereby. multiple users can log on and contribute, schedule, or edit content to be published. And because the interface is usually browser-based, it can be accessed from anywhere by any number of users.

Secondly, the other major advantage is that it allows non-technical people who don’t know programming languages to easily create and manage their own web content. As such, their WYSIWYG editors allow users to enter text and upload images without needing to know any HTML or CSS.

What Is Headless CMS Software?For new webmasters, a web platform is a system that you use to create and manage your website. In the past, websites were made by creating each web page separately using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. And that’s where the likes of a tool like headless CMS Software come in handy.

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The headless CMS software space has gained traction in recent years. Leading to the renewed excitement around a content management model. Moreso, that can greatly help brands handle the relentless number of emerging devices and channels.

Old debates about the relevance of headless content management have reignited too. Leading to the invention of new acronyms and spin-off buzzwords. And as such, in an attempt to explain the storm in the CMS-teacup. But with new jargon, comes new levels of confusion.

So, let me break it all down for you. So, first things first, what is CMS software & how does it work? Below is a simple explanation.

What is CMS Software & How does it work?

Just in case you can’t recall it, from my previous article on how CMS software works, a CMS (Content Management System) software is an application that is used to manage and publish web content. While allowing multiple users to contribute, create, edit, publish without having to beg a developer.

It also provides version management and authoring workflow to keep large, global sites consistent. In reality, the Content Management System isn’t just about just a backend management interface, though. Since it also makes all of the content that you create show up for your visitors exactly as you want it to.

And on a more technical level, a majority of CMS software systems are made up of two core parts. And as such, we can further break it down into two main parts that help create your website.

The key components of CMS software include:
  • Content Management Application (CMA)
  • Content Delivery Application (CDA)

The Content Management Application (CMA) is the part that allows you to actually add and manage content on your site (like you saw above).

While the Content Delivery Application (CDA) is the backend, behind-the-scenes process. That, eventually, takes the content you input in the CMA, stores it properly, and makes it visible to your visitors. Together, the two systems make it easy to maintain your website.

As well as manage and publish web content. And as a result, it allows multiple users to contribute, create, edit, publish without having to beg a developer.

Why is CMS Software important?

In reality, there are so many benefits of using CMS software. Bearing in mind, in the early days of creating websites, HTML formatting tags were embedded along with the text. But, with the introduction of cascading style sheets (CSS), there began a movement to separate content.

All that made up a web page from the formatting, referred to as the presentation layer, as well as separating the programming, known as the behavior layer. And it soon became a best practice to store CSS formatting and JavaScript functions into separate files from the HTML content.

Separating the content from formatting and programming proved to be a powerful way to control the look of a website. For example, by changing a setting in a CSS file, you could change the entire look and feel of any site component. Without changing the content itself for sure.

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As of today, a solid content management system extrapolates on that same concept. A decoupled system consists of two or more systems that are able to transact without being connected.

Similarly, they easily allow for the separation of an HTML (content) file from a CSS (formatting) and a JavaScript (programming) file. Another great user benefit is where a decoupled CMS allows changes to be made to the presentation (formatting) and behavior (programming) layer.

Even without having an effect on the content of the site. Traditional or legacy CMS systems are not separated but are coupled systems, so the front and back end and content are built into a single system. So, which are the main types of content management system software?

The three types of CMS software are:
  1. Traditional CMS Software
  2. Decoupled CMS Software
  3. Headless CMS Software

I’ll have a more elaborate guide on each of them in the next articles (so stay put). But, in meantime, below is a simple definition of headless CMS software.

What Is Headless CMS Software?

The architecture of Headless CMS Software and that of Decoupled CMS Software is quite similar — both feature separation between the content repository at the backend and the publishing tools at the frontend.

And unlike other CMS software designs, this architecture is considered “headless” as it doesn’t have one designated frontend to serve for the presentation of content. Meaning that the information is delivered via an API down various channels, rather than linked to a singular frontend.

Essentially, the API for a headless CMS is much more flexible for delivering information. Since it exists as a tool for any of the frontend portions to pull data from the backend. If a traditional CMS was a body, then its “head” would be the front-end components.

Such components are like the front-end framework and templating system. And if you’re to chop that head off, then you’ll be left with a headless CMS.

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In other words, a headless platform has no default front-end system to determine how the content is presented to the end-user. Instead, it’s front-end agnostic.

Meaning that your content is raw and can be published anywhere, through any framework. On the other hand, by getting rid of the front-end delivery layer, your CMS is suddenly a content-only data source. Since it produces content and then sits just there, waiting.

But, what’s it waiting for? Well, because there is no default “head”, front-end developers are free to build as many heads as they like. And for however many channels they want to serve content to.

Think of websites, apps, kiosks, billboards, smartwatches, etc. All in all, in order to retrieve the content for each channel, the headless CMS software responds to API calls.

What is the difference of Headless CMS vs Decoupled CMS?

First of all, before we look into the details of the advantages of using headless CMS software, it’s good to note some other differences it has with decoupled CMS software. So, let’s dig a little deeper into what makes these two models so different.

With a headless CMS, you have modeling and editorial tools to create and edit content. But the concept of “publishing” content just means making it available via an API. It assumes that you and your nerdy front-end development team can handle the rest with whichever frameworks and tools you prefer.

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A decoupled CMS, on the other hand, doesn’t assume anything. It does everything a headless CMS does, but it doesn’t stop there. It also says, “Hey, we’ve got some templating tools here so you aren’t working from scratch.”

That’s just good manners, right? Even Blend Interactive CSO, Deane Barker, summed up the difference between decoupled and headless content management quite succinctly:

A decoupled CMS is proactive — it prepares content for presentation and pushes it into a delivery environment. A headless CMS is reactive — it manages content, then just sits and waits for some process to ask for it.

For marketers, this subtle difference can be a significant one.

Before using a decoupled or headless CMS software,

One of the key advantages of using traditional CMS software is that it uses templates, WYSIWYG editing, and other special tools. Some of which are also customarily seen within decoupled CMS systems too. Unfortunately, many of those tools are not available in a headless CMS architecture.

However, purely headless systems allow more control over how the content appears on each type of device. So, it’s more fun for eager front-end developers, but less fun for non-tech savvy marketers. Perse, the headless content management model is equally growing in popularity.

And for this reason, many webmasters are opting in to use it — we’ll explore more on why it’s growing in popularity later on. But before that, another great benefit to put into consideration too is that they’re front-end agnostic

So that you can go ahead and evaluate the models for yourself. Both headless CMS and decoupled CMS are some of the best front-end framework agnostic tools. Meaning that you can publish content on any device or channel via API calls.

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Plus, front-end developers are free to use their favorite frameworks and tools. And then, they’ve great API tools too. Whereby, the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable two technologies to speak to each other.

Both headless or decoupled environments use APIs to connect and communicate with other software and channels, allowing for content delivery. But that’s not all. APIs can also be used to send data (like end-user activity and preferences) from those channels, devices, and touchpoints back to the CMS.

For further processing, analysis, and re-distribution. Not only that but they’re also future-proof. APIs aren’t just ready to talk to any existing software or device, they’re prepared to speak to any new device. Or even new channels that emerge year after year.

Thus, your content will remain future-proof, no matter what innovative device next hits the market. There are some disadvantages of using these two CMS software though:

They’re no fun for marketers (a fragmented tech stack)

Robbed of WYSIWYG editing, blogging functionalities and other user-friendly features, marketers, in particular, are left out in the cold. Not until their development team sees to their needs. This isn’t typically a problem for decoupled CMSs.

With a headless CMS, removing the ‘head’ simply means having to hunt for further technologies to replace it. This can entail building front-end solutions in-house, or deploying existing third-party tools to plug the gap. Either way, it could get costly both monetarily and through time spent.

Not to mention, they’re difficult to manage too. However, this problem can be, partially, alleviated with a decoupled CMS. But, only by bringing those marketer-friendly features right back. There’re also no content previews too.

If you do manage to get your marketers back on track by drafting in third-party tools, they still won’t be able to efficiently use a headless CMS. Why? Since they won’t be able to easily preview content before it goes live.

How to Choose the Best CMS Software Solution

Of course, all of the above-listed perks come at a cost. Each business must weigh the option of whether or not investing in CMS is a smart decision or wasted expenditure. Answering some of the following questions can help you select the right content management system for your business or organization.

Personally, I recommend partnering with a CMS software expert to review your options and decide which platform best fits your organization’s needs. And whether or not you’ll choose to buy or subscribe to one of the CMS platforms on the market, it’s important to vet vendors and providers first.

By so doing, you’ll be able to partner with one that is trustworthy — to provide you with the right features for your content management needs. And now that CMS applications have abounded on the market, each has its unique features and levels of service. That said, below are some questions and answers to consider in the evaluation process:

1. What is your budget & business operations?

First of all, if you have infinite resources to spend, there are some very complex CMS software at your disposal. With features designed to make content creators’ and editors’ lives easier. But, with a limited budget, your choices will be more limited.

Secondly, as for business operations, which ones does the CMS need to support? After price, the next major consideration is which business operations the CMS software will need to support. Some questions to ask yourself first include:

  • Does your company need to publish hundreds of new videos a day?
  • Change prices on thousands of SKUs per day?
  • Host images for blog posts?

I would also second a Web Content Management System that easily supports multi-language channels. A multi-channel delivery not only makes this job much easier but, it also empowers local brand and content managers to run localized campaigns. Especially, on the channels best suited for their markets while maintaining the global brand identity.

2. What technologies does the CMS need to support or integrate with?

If your company already uses a CRM, ERP, or web analytics program, you’ll need to consider a CMS software that integrates easily with your other existing online marketing software. Also, you should consider how easy it’ll be to create and edit your content.

For one thing, the larger the company, the more removed the end-user of the CMS software will be from the person who implements it. Ideally, the system will be easy to use and intuitive, with features like a WYSIWYG editor.

Making sure your business is secure from cyber attacks is incredibly important also. Not only do attacks interrupt the continuity of your business, but they also cost you huge amounts. Luckily, most CMS software — like WordPress, comes with a fairly robust set of security features. Such as advanced authentication, strict permissions, firewalls, and protection against malware attacks.

3. Is the Web Content Management System User-friendly?

Empowering your employees to support your globalization efforts starts with simplifying the process they use to do so. It’s, therefore, good to use a content management system that is intuitive for the end-user. And that allows employees to quickly re-use branded components too.

Such as images, designs, and experiences. And for sure, this will greatly encourage teams to take ownership of the local experience — especially if it also allows all users to use the system in their preferred language. A system that supports straightforward approval workflows will make the lives of brand managers easier too.

It’ll also, in turn, support continued effort and excellence in the globalization process. More so, to further support your global teams in their localization of the brand into new markets, it’s crucial that they can quickly evaluate the results of their efforts. And then take autonomous actions based on this feedback.

The easiest way to do this is to ensure that the CMS/WCM you use has built-in experimentation capabilities. Allowing for easy testing of content and experience elements — whether on desktop, mobile, or other channels.

4. What about Personalization, Analytics, and Scalability

I would also strongly recommend a WCM system that allows you to automatically personalize digital experience elements too. Like promotional campaigns, graphics content, or product artwork grids to provide more agility to global teams. Why? For they can easily create variants of the site experience from one global system.

It will also allow businesses more control over the global brand, supporting globalization at scale. And that reminds me, you should also use a content management system that has a built-in analytics engine too. So that your marketing teams, content creators, and brand managers can easily spot visitor trends and opportunities.

Particularly, for improvement in the digital experience based on local visitor data. Also, businesses that run their WCM in the cloud will be able to scale their globalization efforts much faster. With development teams able to roll out updates to the digital experience worldwide with just a few clicks.

5. How many different groups of users will there be?

One consideration will be the various different levels of administration privileges that are required. In this case, you’ll need to consider the various user roles. Including the role of managers in reviewing scheduled content.

Likewise, is the platform SEO-friendly? If SEO is important to your company, you will want CMS software that automatically handles basic on-page optimization tasks. Such as title tags, URLs, alt tags on images, and a sound internal linking structure.

And then as an addition, how large is your developer community? Some of the CMS platforms, particularly WordPress and Drupal, often come with very large developer communities. The advantage to a sizable community is the amount of online help and documentation you will find on most aspects of customization.

It’s even better if the system can provide this information per persona. Giving you much more precision in optimizing the content served to your visitors around the world. While taking advantage of the uptime and continuous improvements offered by cloud providers.

Examples of Popular Content Management Systems

In the first lace, WordPress, which I showed you above, is the best example of a popular content management system. Of course, there are certainly other content management systems in existence. But of them all, the WordPress market share maintains over 39.5% on websites with a known content management system.

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Note that when I mention “WordPress”, I’m not talking about WordPress.com. Instead, I am focusing my attention on WordPress.org as the main CMS software for webmasters. After all, which is the website where the actual open-source WordPress content management system is stored.

Beyond the self-hosted WordPress software, other popular content management systems that you should know about too. As well as other less well-known content management systems that target themselves to large enterprises (with an expensive price point to match).

Best Self-Hosted Blogging Platforms:
Best Hosted Blogging Platforms:
  1. WordPress.com
  2. Blogger
  3. Medium
  4. HubSpot CMS
  5. Weebly
  6. Typepad
  7. LiveJournal
  8. Tumblr

Among those, as I listed above, which is your Best Blogging Platform for your site? Well, in my opinion, it highly depends on your intention with the blog. The best option who want to create a personal blog is probably a free hosted solution. Let’s say, like WordPressBlogger, or Medium.

How Companies Use Content Management Systems

As Amazon drives industry trends, it’s essential that B2B brands like Bosch don’t fall behind. With Bosch Power Tools operating multiple global sites, the organization understood that its customers inherently expect the same tailored digital experience.

This was the business unit’s main challenge — creating multiple unique experiences at the country level. While promoting and aligning holistic experiences globally. Another challenge that became extremely difficult was scaling and managing features and updates with multiple CMS platforms and infrastructures at a regional level.

In the past, Bosch generally approached technology from a local level to meet the differing needs of users and customers. Its approach was to grab another CMS and stand up the system.

“However, in the end, this doesn’t scale – plus it’s inefficient to manage and it’s costly. It barely benefits the region, and the effort and time does not benefit Bosch Power Tools globally.” As Sunny Mallavarapu — Digital Transformation Manager at Bosch Power Tools states.

To alleviate the disconnect between experiences and to create efficiencies within the business, Bosch Power Tools leveraged Headless CMS Software that would transform their whole organization.

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On the other hand, it’s also good to consider Carrefour Group too —  one of the biggest retailers in the world. With more than 12,000 stores in 30 countries. Likewise, their technical team had a number of key selection criteria when looking for their new experience management solution.

Basically, they needed CMS software that will bring together multiple parts of their customer’s experience. In a competitive evaluation process — where multiple solutions were considered, they chose open and flexible CMS as their choice of CMS software — built to drive results faster.

When Covid-19 hit Europe in early 2020, Carrefour was experiencing order volumes and increasing demands like never before. How did its teams cope? With a little help from their Headless CMS Software, the international retailing giant is now set up for experience management success — and as a platform for the future.

Further Reading;

The truth is that, in order for your company or business to grow big online, you can’t really do without a robust, secure, and agile Content Management System anymore.

By reading this article you’ve already taken a huge step forward. You might decide to do a complete overhaul of your current system or change what you have now step by step, everything is possible! In the meantime, have a look at these resources to read up on CMS:

  1. How to select the right CMS for you and understanding what CMS features to be looking for.
  2. How to calculate ROI for a CMS project
  3. Understanding how CMS can help your content strategy
  4. How a hybrid, modular CMS can help you manage a complex content plan

Finally, I am so hopeful that the above guide will help you make the right and more informed decisions. From what a CMS software is (in this case, a headless CMS software), how it works, benefits, examples to choose from, etc. In other words, a good CMS software marries power with simplicity.

So, you still have time to concentrate on improving your business. But, if you’ll think I missed out on something important, feel free to share it in our comments section. You can also Contact Us if you’ll need more support while implementing your own CMS software on your new site.

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