The future is headless:
A comprehensive guide to CMS implementation
A headless CMS is a content management system that separates content creation and management from the presentation layer. Unlike traditional CMS, which provides a monolithic system that includes content management and presentation layers, a headless CMS provides content as raw data to be consumed by different channels, such as websites, mobile applications, and IoT devices.
Implementing a headless –a decoupled CMS– is becoming increasingly important as businesses expand their digital presence and adopt new technologies.
In fact, according to Storyblok’s The State of CMS 2023 35% of the respondents are using headless CMSs, and 89% reported that switching to a headless CMS improved time, budget, productivity, meeting their KPIs, and revenue/growth. Headless architecture provides flexibility, scalability, and agility that traditional CMS like WordPress or Drupal can't offer.
However, implementing a headless CMS is a beast of its own, and while some platforms are easier to get a hang of, making them work to your liking can be convoluted. We wrote this post to help you do the right thing and get the most out of your headless platform.
This post covers
Table of contents
Headless under the hood
Traditional CMS like WordPress provides a complete package that includes both the content management and presentation layer. This approach provides a straightforward way to create and manage content and the associated templates, styles, and scripts. However, it lacks flexibility and scalability as it ties the content to a specific presentation layer.
Headless CMS, on the other hand, separates the content from the presentation layer –or the back-end from the front-end. This approach provides several advantages, such as increased flexibility, scalability, and ease of integration with other systems.
With a headless CMS, content can be created once and delivered to multiple channels without needing to recreate the content. However, headless CMS requires more technical expertise and can be more complex to implement compared to traditional CMS.
👀 Hey there! One of the coolest things about using a headless CMS is that you can easily manage all of your company's data and assets in one convenient place. This means you can use them across all sorts of applications and use cases your company might have, like websites, mobile apps, or even digital signage. The possibilities are endless.
How to implement a headless CMS
Choose an agency to guide your steps
Look for agencies who know the ins and outs of headless development. A veteran agency has the knowledge and the connections to help you build a headless digital experience following the best practices. For example, at Ikius, we've worked with most of the top headless CMSs and associated tools. Our experience wielding decoupled tooling gives us an edge as we're capable of building truly modular digital experiences.
Pick the right headless CMS platform
Choosing the right headless CMS platform is critical, as it will affect the ease of use, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of the system. The first consideration is your business's content requirements. Make sure the headless platform you choose can handle the content types and formats you need to create, manage, and deliver across different channels.
Plan the architecture
Planning the architecture of the headless CMS is also essential, as it will determine how content is organized, managed, and delivered. Define the content types and structures that the headless CMS will manage, including text, images, videos, and other media types. Create a content model that defines how the content will be organized, structured, and linked.
Integrate the headless CMS
Integrating the headless CMS with other systems, such as marketing automation, eCommerce, and CRM, is also crucial to ensure a seamless customer experience. For example, integrating a headless CMS with an eCommerce platform enables businesses to create and manage product information, pricing, and inventory in one central location, and then seamlessly distribute the information to the e-commerce platform.
Content modeling is the process of defining the content types and structures in a headless CMS. Modeling content in a headless CMS involves defining the content types, attributes, and relationships between different content types. Determine the different types of content that the platform will manage. These types can include articles, blogs, products, services, events, and more.
Benefits of going headless
Improved flexibility and scalability
With a headless CMS, businesses can easily add new channels and content types without needing to redesign the entire system. Using a headless platform and following Jamstack architecture differs from a monolithic CMS like WordPress as it grants the flexibility to choose how you want to display your content, making creating omnichannel experiences easily.
Enhanced content security
Headless CMS also provides enhanced content security, as it separates content from the presentation layer, reducing the risk of security breaches. By reducing the surface area that cybercriminals can target, decoupled CMS adds an extra layer of security to protect the site from security risks like cross-site scripting and brute force attacks, two vulnerabilities that plague WordPress.
Better user experience
A headless CMS solution provides a better user experience and smooth navigation for visitors as it allows developers to customize each part of the website. Similarly, it makes it easy for content editors to go in and fiddle with content to create digital experiences on their own. Also, when you go headless, you throw away the shackles of WordPress and become able to leverage your favorite tools and frameworks.
Implementing a headless CMS provides several benefits, including improved flexibility and scalability. Headless CMS also provides enhanced content security, as it separates content from the presentation layer, reducing the risk of security breaches. Additionally, headless CMS provides a better user experience, as content can be easily delivered to different channels, ensuring a consistent and personalized experience. Finally, headless CMS can be cost-effective, as it reduces the need for multiple systems, reducing overall costs.
Challenges and considerations of headless CMS Implementation
Staff training and expertise
However, headless CMS requires more technical expertise and can be more complex to implement compared to traditional CMS. As the presentation layer is not pre-built, it requires more development resources to customize it according to the requirements. It can also result in a higher initial cost for businesses. Moreover, there may be compatibility issues when integrating headless CMS with other systems or platforms.
However, headless CMS requires more technical expertise and can be more complex to implement compared to traditional CMS. As the presentation layer is not pre-built, it requires more development resources to customize it according to the requirements.
Higher initial cost
With headless architecture, developers or agencies need to build the front-end from scratch, rather than relying on pre-built templates or themes. This custom development work requires more time and effort, and may involve hiring skilled developers who are experienced with specific frontend technologies and frameworks.
Use Cases for Headless CMS
Brands need to ensure a seamless shopping experience across multiple channels, devices, and platforms. A headless CMS allows for easier integration with various eCommerce platforms, payment gateways, and other related services. It also unlocks headless commerce and enables developers to create highly customized, responsive, and high-performance storefronts that can handle peak traffic and adapt to the evolving needs of your consumers.
💡Ikius example: Hotel Radio
As more people rely on their mobile devices to access content and services, businesses need to deliver a consistent experience across platforms. A headless CMS can streamline the process of creating, managing, and delivering content to mobile applications from a centralized location, ensuring that content remains consistent across both web and mobile platforms. This approach also simplifies the task of maintaining and updating the app since changes can be made in the backend without requiring updates to the front-end.
Multi-channel content publishing
With a growing number of digital channels and platforms, businesses need to publish content across different outlets, such as websites, social media, email newsletters, and more. A headless CMS allows content creators to manage and update content from a single location and then distribute it across multiple channels via APIs, ensuring a consistent message and brand experience.
💡 Ikius example: Bank Grader
Progressive web applications (PWAs)
PWAs are web applications that behave like native mobile apps, providing a fast, reliable, and engaging user experience. A headless CMS can be an excellent choice for building PWAs, as it allows developers to create a highly optimized frontend that leverages the latest web technologies, while still easily managing and updating content through the backend.
💡Ikius example: Varcroft and Bianco
Bonus: Implementation checklist
Define your goals and requirements
Tasks to do:
Identify your target audience and use cases
Hire a headless CMS implementation agency
Determine the content types you'll need (e.g., articles, events, products)
List the platforms and channels you want to support (e.g., websites, mobile apps, IoT devices)
Choose the right headless CMS
Tasks to do:
Evaluate different options based on features, scalability, and pricing
Make sure the chosen CMS supports your required content types and output channels
Consider the availability of APIs, SDKs, and documentation for seamless integration
Plan your content model
Tasks to do:
Design a well-structured content model that's easy to understand and maintain
Define content types, fields, and relationships between content items
Keep your content model flexible and modular to accommodate future changes
Set up the headless CMS
Tasks to do:
Configure the CMS according to your content model.
Set up user roles and permissions to ensure secure access.
Import any existing content or create new content within the CMS
Develop your frontend(s)
Tasks to do:
Choose the appropriate frontend technology (e.g., React, Angular, Vue.js) based on your requirements
Develop your frontend application(s) to consume and display content from the headless CMS
Make sure to implement responsive design to support multiple devices and screen sizes
Integrate with other systems
Tasks to do:
Connect your headless CMS to other tools and services (e.g., marketing automation, CRM, analytics) as needed
Leverage APIs and webhooks for seamless integration and data exchange
Optimize performance and SEO
Tasks to do:
Implement caching and lazy-loading techniques to improve page load times
Optimize images and other media for faster delivery
Ensure your frontend implementation follows best practices for SEO
Tasks to do:
Test your implementation on various devices, browsers, and screen sizes
Verify that the content is displayed correctly and all features function as expected
Identify and fix any performance or usability issues
Plan for content updates and maintenance
Tasks to do:
Establish a content management workflow that includes content creation, review, and publishing
Train content editors and other stakeholders on using the headless CMS
Schedule regular audits to ensure content quality and consistency
Monitor and analyze
Tasks to do:
Set up monitoring tools to track the performance and usage of your headless implementation
Analyze user behavior and engagement metrics to identify areas for improvement
Continuously iterate and improve your implementation based on data-driven insights
Want to implement a headless CMS?
If you're looking to partner with a top agency, now is the time to do it. We can help you build all kinds of digital experiences using the best headless CMSs in the market. Contact us and let's talk about your ideas.