Headless CMS could be the right choice for certain strategies. Is it right for you, and how do you select one?
A while back I penned a blog post about whether Headless was a useful addition to the CMS product category. The conclusion was that it was something to watch, but not necessary to dive into, head-first (apologies).
Since then, a lot has changed: digital transformation has accelerated across all sectors, systems have matured, and challenges have shifted. All in all, in certain conditions, Headless may be the right choice. So how does it compare with Integrated CMS in 2022?
In this post, we use the term Integrated CMS (aka Traditional, Head-on CMS like Umbraco, Kentico or WordPress), to differentiate from Headless (aka Decoupled or API-first CMS, like Contentful, Storyblok)
- Headless has matured and offers real benefits
- Not better than Integrated CMS, but a good alternative
- Headless fits best for Data-driven strategies
- Content-driven strategies best with Integrated CMS
- Umbraco, Contentful and Storyblok lead the pack
- GrowCreate can help you shift through the jargon
Some Headless systems sure are impressive
We’ve evaluated a number of systems, and are really impressed with the overall quality of Headless systems, as well their trajectory.
And no wonder: Headless CMSs are newer, Cloud-native and streamlined. This compares well against many Integrated CMSs that have gotten bloated with unnecessary features, poor-quality plugins and legacy foundations.
On average, Headless offers great benefits for any digital strategy:
|Editor experience||Intuitive and polished content management UX|
|Omni-channel delivery||Future-proof for any device with an API output|
|Product extensibility||Comprehensive APIs for product customisation|
|Speed and performance||Fast Delivery APIs and CDNs|
|Security and scalability||Cloud-native identity and access management|
|Pricing options||Free starters and a broad range of Pricing options|
So it's all going Headless? Nope!
Yes, the Headless segment has made incredible strides and offers an array of exciting new options for digital strategy delivery. However, it is a mistake to think of it as inherently superior to its Integrated counterpart.
For clarity, let's debunk some popular myths:
|Headless is more intuitive||Nope. It all depends on the setup.|
|Headless is the only omnichannel option||Nope. Integrated also offers this.|
|Headless is more extensible||Nope. SaaS is always less extensible.|
|Headless is faster||Nope. It all depends on the implementation.|
|Headless is more secure||Nope. It all depends on the setup.|
|Headless is cheaper||Nope. Pricing is pretty much the same|
The state of play in Integrated v Headless CMS
In fact, Headless has only recently managed to match a well-implemented Integrated CMS in all these areas. As a SaaS product, Headless will shift some of the development and infrastructure risk from your agency to the CMS vendor, with all the advantages and disadvantages this entails.
|Factor||Integrated CMS||Headless match?|
|Editor experience||User-friendly content capture and workflow toolkit.||Yes. Most vendors offer a clean and intuitive editor UX.|
|Omni-channel||Can also output as API, so supports all future channels.||Yes. Thought of as USP, but has no real edge over Integrated.|
|Extensibility||Fully extensible, as a unified, Integrated system.||Partially. Multi-tenant platforms have some limitations.|
|Performance||Done properly, they can deliver the fastest possible experience.||No difference. Performance is down to implementation.|
|Security||Properly hardened, the CSM is secure end-to-end.||Partially. Systems are secure, but no control over the SaaS vendors.|
|Cost-efficiency||A wide array of options, from open-source to Enterprise.||Yes. Most vendors offer a free version and Price plans.|
Which CMS fits best with your strategy?
Both Integrated and Headless CMS can deliver incredible experiences - so long as they are implemented properly. The choice, then, is which product category best fits your needs, and will support your long-term strategy.
In these strategies content (i.e. text, images, layout, video) is the main offering and engagement with the content is the main indicator of success. When needed other systems (Analytics, CRM, Commerce) are integrated as a way to optimise content and capture conversions.
For Content-driven strategies an Integrated CMS is usually the most efficient option. With built-in Delivery (the “Head”), implementations will be faster, cheaper and safer.
In Data-driven strategies, integrations take centre stage. Marketing is not the only stakeholder, and Content is a mere enabler, one of many components that need to be connected and “orchestrated” to create the overall experience.
Headless is well-placed to support these strategies, as it is API-driven by nature. Removal of the “head” is welcome, as it can’t interfere with the overall architecture.
Headless fits? Great. But which one?
So you’ve established yours is a Data-driven strategy, a ”Composable DXP” made of diverse systems where content is an enabler, not the core driver. As mentioned there are a number of great options out there - which one is best for you?
We have identified 3 typical directions of Headless CMS, each one with a set of subtle but distinct characteristics.
Headless helps CMS evolve faster. Good.
As we write this in Q3 2022, the CMS landscape has been enriched but the Headless subcategory. In a nutshell, Headless is accelerating an existing evolution process - a welcome development for brands and digital stakeholders. We find that:
- Headless CMS offers some exciting new options
- Although not an inherently superior tech, it can match Integrated versions
- The key question is whether yours is a content- or data-driven strategy
- If Headless is right for you, there is a good array of products to pick from
Do you need help navigating Headless CMS? Let’s talk.
Unpicking the layers of hype and jargon is probably not your job - picking the right partner is though. GrowCreate takes an open-minded but independent view of available systems and architectures. If you need help defining your strategy and designing the right architecture to match, get in touch.