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What is Headless CMS? Top 5 Headless CMS in 2022 Explained

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Every business with an online presence wants to give its users a superior digital experience. And content management systems (CMSs) play a big role in that. The customer’s expectations are evolving with the advancements in technology but the conventional CMSs haven’t been able to keep up.

That’s why headless CMS is gaining popularity. It offers website owners a range of new features by disconnecting the content management system from the main website display. But that’s just the surface level description of what headless CMS is.

In this article, we’ll explain what headless CMS is by exploring its basic structure, advantages and types. We’ll also compare it to the traditional CMS to help you understand the features that set it apart.

Here are the topics covered in this article:

  1. What is a CMS? And types of CMS.
  2. What is a headless CMS?
  3. Headless CMS vs. Traditional CMS
  4. Advantages of headless CMS
  5. 5 best types of headless CMS

Let’s begin!

What Is a CMS?

CMS stands for Content Management System. It’s in the backend of a website or app where you can write, create, edit, manage and publish content. The best feature of using a CMS is that you don’t need any technical knowledge for it.

Types of CMS

CMS is a software that takes care of the infrastructure stuff hence making it easy for you to manage your website pages and store content. But it’s not just for websites. Apps and other digital platforms also have a CMS running in the background. There are three main categories of content management systems:

1. Open Source or Traditional CMS

This CMS is linked to a single website or app. It’s open-source so it’s free to download, although you might have to pay for customizations or themes. WordPress is the most common example.

Here, you can add written content in an interface that is much like MS Word. And if you need to add multimedia then you can browse through the gallery much like you do when uploading an image on Instagram.

The downside of traditional CMS is that you can’t reuse the content anywhere outside the CMS. And if you need to use it somewhere else, then copy-pasting is usually your best bet. That creates an issue if you have to change the content because changing it in one place doesn’t change it in the rest of the platforms that you copy your content to.

2. Content as a Service (CaaS) or Headless CMS

The headless CMS is a separate entity that connects your various digital platforms. Here the content is not limited to specific templates or delivery layers. The CMS is disconnected from the front end layer. That makes it possible for you to share that content on your website, apps, digital signage or anything connected to the internet of things (IoT).

We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section.

3. Proprietary CMS

This is a type of CMS that is owned by a company. You can buy the software from them or pay yearly fees but the code is not available to the public. IBM’s enterprise solution and Shopify are two common examples.

It comes with many built-in features with room for customization. You can also pay for additional features. The downside is that integrating it with your website can be an expensive process.

What is a headless CMS? In-Depth Explanation of Headless CMS

A headless content management system is a cloud-based and API driven CMS. Let me elaborate

In a headless CMS all your content – which includes blog, images, videos, sounds, animations and so much more – is independent of your front-end or the component of your website that’s visible to the users.

So here, you don’t install a CMS in your website and link it with your front-end. Instead, the CMS is in a cloud separate from the website. Think of it this way: all your content is in one box and your website code and themes and whatnot are in a separate box. You can send data from your headless CMS over to the website. But you can also send the same content to your other platforms that could be an app or some other digital platform.

But You Might Ask: What Does Headless Mean?

The answer is obvious to developers but to a non-tech person, the word headless raises questions. In websites, the front end or the presentation layer that is visible to the users is called the ‘head’. And the back-end content repository is called the ‘body’. Now since the CMS in the headless system is completely independent (or decoupled in official terms) of the ‘body’, it’s called headless.

Since the CMS is decoupled from the front-end it doesn’t have a way to publish the content on it. That’s where APIs come in. REST APIs or GraphQL APIs are the ones most commonly used. You can publish the content on the front end of any medium by using these APIs. That’s why headless CMS is called API driven.

Some examples of headless CMS include:

  1. Agility CMS
  2. Contentful
  3. Hygraph
  4. Prismic
  5. DatoCMS

We’ll cover each of these in more detail in a separate section below.

Is There A Downside Of Headless CMS?

Despite all the amazing features of headless CMS, it still hasn’t become as popular as the traditional CMS. A big reason for that is the high learning curve and technical knowledge needed to operate the headless CMS. Also, for now, it’s more expensive than using the traditional CMS.

These are the only downsides of a headless content management system in our opinion. But luckily that issue has an easy fix – hire a development agency to help you out.

Headless CMS vs. Traditional CMS

After understanding what both of the CMS types are, I’m sure you get the idea of how these two are different. Here’s a table to highlight the key differences between them.

Traditional CMSHeadless CMS
Technical expertise
APIs required for publishing
PurposeManaging both content and front-endPurely for creating and managing content
CostUsually free to start with added costs laterLarge upfront cost due to a need for developers
Key Advantage Simple to use and manage with a small learning curve Flexibility and security of content
Hosting and StorageOn website In the cloud
Workflow model Waterfall Agile
Works onOnly on one website With various digital platforms
Examples WordPress, Magento, WixAgility CMS, Contentful

Advantages of Headless CMS

There’s a reason why enterprises are shifting to headless CMS these days. In fact, there’s more than just one reason for using this content management system. Here are a few key advantages of headless CMS:

1. Easy to Update and Revamp Your Website

With the headless CMS, you can restructure or redesign your website without having to redo all the content again.

In a traditional CMS, you have to copy and paste the content such as your blogs, images and product descriptions off-site before the website restructures, then go through the tiresome process of re-uploading all of that. A headless CMS can save you from all this and make website restructures much easier.

2. Headless CMS Is Time Efficient

For enterprises and big eCommerce brands, updating content on their multiple channels quickly is essential. Since all your content is in one place with the headless CMS, you can make the changes there and the information will update on the various platforms where you’ve added the content.

It saves time because you don’t have to manually make the changes in each digital platform. It also speeds up the launch of your new websites or apps since your content is already prepared and ready to be published.

3. Unique Content Displays

Since the content in the headless CMS is not limited to a single template, you have the flexibility in the display options.  You can make the images smaller, bigger or change the layout as you want. It allows you to give your users a much better experience as well than what’s possible with the traditional CMS.

4. Headless CMS Makes Your Content Reusable

We all know how much resources go into creating great content that does well with our audiences. So if we leave it on just a single platform then that seems like a waste of the content’s potential.

The headless CMS makes your content reusable. This makes it convenient for you to reuse the same content on your website, your web and mobile apps, email marketing and social media.

This feature is called omnichannel, meaning access to multiple channels at one time or from a common source.

5. Sets You Up For Future Growth

You might have a website and one app for now. But as your business grows you’ll likely have more digital channels and you’ll need content for them. By using the headless CMS you can future-proof your business in the sense that you’ll have content ready to go whenever you need it down the line.

6. Saves You from Losing Your Content

In a traditional CMS, you create and publish the content on the backend of the website, the same backend that has the rest of your website code including the themes, pages and schema. In case your website gets hacked or crashes for some reason then you stand to lose all your content. That’s a scary thought for any website owner.

Thankfully the headless CMS solves this issue. Since your content is in separate storage in the cloud it doesn’t get affected by any malware that attacks your website or other digital platforms. Therefore, saving you from losing your valuable content.

5 Best Headless CMS

The different types of headless CMS offer unique value. You can look at their features and compare them to your business needs to know which one you should choose. Here’s the list of the top headless CMS in this year:

Agility CMS for eCommerce businesses

With Agility CMS your content always comes first. You can create the content architecture and reusable blocks before developing your website. And then publish the content on digital platforms using Agility CMS’s APIs. Since it builds your website with JAMStack, it’ll always be responsive and won’t slow down over time, which is a significant advantage.

This headless CMS caters to eCommerce businesses and offers page management and e-ticketing solutions as well. 

Best feature: the focus is on decreasing the steep learning curve associated with headless CMS by making it convenient to use by marketers and business owners.

Contentful CMS

It’s a headless CMS although they prefer to call Contentful a content infrastructure. The purpose of it, however, is to manage content on your website, apps or digital signage. You use it to create your content model or architecture to use across all devices and platforms. 

Other than that, it offers all the advantages we’ve mentioned above. Its most basic plan is free but if you want to advance to a paid version, then Contentful can get quite expensive.

Best feature: improved flexibility with content models so you can create the one best suited for you.

This headless CMS is JAMStack compatible just like Agility CMS. It offers one of the largest collections of field types to choose from, thus allowing you to create many more building blocks to be used over multiple channels.  They use GraphAPI to publish your content to the front-end of a platform.

Best feature: It has a preview option where you can see how your content looks like after the final touches. You can even save a draft there and then publish it later.

Prismic CMS

This headless CMS offers you many more options in everything as compared to its competitor. These include programming languages, frameworks, APIs, hosting, schema model and more.  

Having options in all these areas is great because then you can choose the technology that offers you the best results based on your business requirements.  Google and Ford are two of many companies that use Prismic headless CMS.

Best feature: excellent editorial features including collaborative editing and shareable previews.

Dato CMS

DatoCMS uses GraphQL as its API which is its unique feature. It has fewer levels of nesting which offers a better user experience than some of the other headless CMSs. You can also modify the dashboard bars to only include the models you’re using. The collections you create here can be organized in a tree structure which makes it easier for your editors to access and manage. 

Best feature: a great tool for image manipulation and multilingual content

Concluding Remarks on Headless CMS

Headless CMS offers endless benefits to businesses. From saving your time to creating a uniform brand presence across all your digital channels, headless CMSs are highly beneficial because the content on them is not limited to a predetermined content structure.

These are especially useful if you’re expanding and want to create multiple sites or explore other platforms and sync them. The only catch is that you need developers to create a headless CMS for you. You should decide which CMS type you want to use based on your requirements and budget.

The experts at ClickySoft can help you with your headless CMS needs. We can also develop your apps, websites or eCommerce stores and link them all with the cloud-based headless content management system. Check out our services and see what more we can do to scale your business!

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