Headless CMS refers to a CMS solution that comprises the backend, APIs, and interface —allowing the user to present content across different channels. To dive deeper into headless CMS and its benefits, Kibo’s Sr. Director of Product Marketing & Enablement, Alexis Hail, interviewed Nicole France, Evangelist, Product Marketing at Contentful, for our Talking Shop series.
This article summarizes the interview, along with videos of each part. We answer what’s the difference between headless and traditional CMS, are all headless CMS solutions the same, and how to find a CMS solution that empowers both technical and non-technical users.
Headless CMS vs. Traditional CMS
The non-headless, traditional CMS solution includes a presentation layer that hardcodes the content onto a specific page. A headless CMS is based on a different kind of architecture. “It’s separating the content, and where you create and manage it, from where it gets displayed,” said Nicole France, Product Evangelist at Contentful.
This type of architecture makes it easier for you to present the same piece of content across different web pages or channels – including websites, email, apps, and digital billboards. Without a headless CMS solution, you would need a different CMS for each channel you manage. For marketers, this often means spending a good chunk of their day copying and pasting content from one system to another.
Not all headless CMS solutions are created equal
Using a headless CMS platform does require a mindset shift for content creators: It’s easier to visualize content on a webpage versus a header image that may live on various webpages or channels.
“There’s a conceptual challenge when you’re talking about enabling headless versus actually being headless,” said Nicole. “It’s incredibly difficult to think about creating or modifying content in the absence of where it’s going to go or be displayed.” With this in mind, it’s important to understand the different types of headless CMS solutions.
One is a non-native API CMS solution that is typically an add-on to a headless system. This type of platform often comes with restrictions on where you can present content. “Headless doesn’t always mean flexible or adaptable,” noted Nicole.
The other type is native headless CMS, which is designed with an API-first architecture. APIs allow you to flexibly use content across all channels and create a flexible work environment for users to build and manage the content.
What comes first: the commerce platform or the CMS platform?
One of the benefits of using a native headless CMS platform is that it enables you to build a composable ecosystem. But when building out a composable ecosystem, people often ask which they should prioritize: Their backend commerce functionalities or the CMS functionality?
“It’s very much dependent on your circumstances as a business,” answered Nicole. For example, you may find it challenging to effectively manage inventory, affecting your ability to sell online. In that scenario, you would want to prioritize the commerce platform over the CMS solution. But if you lack consistency in marketing and merchandising across channels, you may see more return if you start with a CMS platform.
However, the most effective approach is to build out commerce and CMS functionalities in tandem. “It makes sense to consider both of these things as close to in parallel as you can,” said Nicole. As you’re building out the frontend and backend systems, you’ll need to consider workflows and process across the systems.
A composable approach to CMS
A composable approach to CMS allows you to build out the functions you need now to fulfill business goals and meet customer expectations. You can build on this over time as objectives and shopping behaviors evolve without overhauling the whole system.
Additionally, composability streamlines how your teams work. Your marketing and merchandising teams no longer need to duplicate content efforts across CMS solutions and channels to ensure consistent customer journeys.
Factoring in channel expansion plans
Many businesses faced the pressure of needing to enter new online channels during the pandemic and found that their current systems couldn’t easily expand into those channels. Consumer behaviors are changing at such a rapid speed that you now need to ensure that any new technology you choose needs to be able to quickly adapt to those changes.
As you’re evaluating CMS solutions, factor in your channel expansion roadmap and how quickly you want to expand into those channels. Some things to consider are how you’ll organize your resources and teams to manage content for those channels, and when you think you’ll need to prioritize new channels.
What to look for in a commerce platform from a CMS perspective
The CMS platform plays a significant role in your digital commerce channel and the online customer experience. As you’re evaluating commerce platforms, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure it enables seamless content management across systems.
- Look at the underlying architecture: If you’re choosing a composable strategy, you need a commerce platform that can support that type of architecture. Not only does it need to be able to evolve as business goals change, but it also needs to adapt to changes in how you and your teams work to accomplish those goals. “The key issue here, whether you’re talking about a commerce platform or CMS platform, is you want that inherent architectural flexibility to adapt and change over time,” said Nicole.
- Integrates well with other systems: The eCommerce platform needs to enable collaborative workflows and functions.
- Scalability: As your business grows, the commerce platform should seamlessly scale to avoid any disruptions in business operations or the customer experience.
- Administrative capabilities: Look for systems that will allow you to consolidate administrative views – this will make it easier for your technical and development teams.
Choosing a CMS platform that empowers your team
When choosing a new CMS platform, it’s critical to consider how it will benefit the everyday user. What might work for a developer may not work for a marketer or merchandiser, which could ultimately defeat the purpose of using a composable system.
Creating optimal customer experiences requires work environments that empower your technical and non-technical teams to build, stage, and manage content across channels. Each team will have their own unique needs and will need those reflected in the interface– fortunately, composability makes this easier to build. Composability allows each team to work autonomously and collaboratively when needed.
Maintenance of a CMS Platform
One of the main reasons people want to adopt a composable architecture is to minimize content issues as your scale the business across channels. As you’re integrating your systems, you need to consider how they work together for both short- and long-term business needs. “Headless alone is not enough,” said Nicole. “You need a framework, you need a platform, and you need the capabilities to build adaptable environments.”
Composable Commerce: What, Why, and How