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)

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Key points

  1. Headless has matured and offers real benefits
  2. Not better than Integrated CMS, but a good alternative
  3. Headless fits best for Data-driven strategies
  4. Content-driven strategies best with Integrated CMS
  5. Umbraco, Contentful and Storyblok lead the pack
  6. 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:

Area Headless offers
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:

Myth Reality
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.

For Content-driven strategies, Integrated DXP might work best

Content-driven 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.

For Data-driven strategies, Headless CMS might be best

Data-driven strategies

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.

Umbraco Partner Logo

Umbraco Heartcore

Familiar and solid

As an Umbraco Gold Partner, GrowCreate supports HeartCore out of the box. If you are familiar with Umbraco, you will know exactly how to use HeartCore as it is the same CMS with an API output. Go for HeartCore if you:

  • have an existing Umbraco site (and you like Umbraco)
  • like to customise the CMS back-office heavily
  • are unsure on Headless, as it can be migrated to Integrated / hosted
Contentful Icon



One of the original Headless vendors, Contentful has an incredible market presence and an array of high-profile implementations. A solid and reliable application, with a full App marketplace and proven Enterprise credentials. Contentful is for you if you:

  • must support diverse groups of editors and teams
  • have Enterprise hosting or access requirements
  • need a full arrange of certifications
Storyblok Icon (1)


Marketing friendly

Atomic content, created and delivered as standalone bits of text, does not always follow a cohesive narrative. Storyblok offers a “Designer” mode, allowing for instant previews and the creation of storylines using layouts and blocks. Storyblok is great if you:

  • marketing users are primary CMS users
  • content will be used in layouts and narrative contexts
  • you prefer using the Designer mode to Forms

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.