What are the Key Benefits of a Headless CMS?
Headless CMS’ have been taking off in recent years and represent core building blocks for B2B SaaS scale ups like Intercom, Teamwork and Stripe.
Co-Founder / CTO
September 22, 2022
They represent the next generation of content management systems and enable developers to avail themselves of the latest technologies to power them.
So what are some of the key benefits that are driving this trend?
Headless CMS - a Definition
Firstly, it is important to define what a Headless CMS is and how it works. A Headless CMS is an approach to content management that takes a different approach to traditional website building. A key element is that it decouples the front-end and the back-end and the focus is on the creation of a content repository powered by an API, so it can be displayed on any device.
Front-end / presentation layer = Head
Back-end / content repository = Body
This separation is referred to as Headless CMS.
The Headless CMS focus is on “the body” which acts as a content platform where data is stored, managed, and shared.
What does this mean in practice?
It means you are breaking apart the “all in one approach” you may be familiar with from the likes of older CMS’ known as monolithic systems like Squarespace, Wix, Webflow, or WordPress (to name a few).
While these applications and the “all in one” approach works for smaller organizations, it starts becoming problematic as companies grow and want more flexibility with how they operate. For those focusing on inbound marketing and content creation, the importance of a robust independent content management system is crucial. Similarly, another driver behind the increased adoption of Headless is the ease with which it can operate in a mobile environment.
So the back-end and front-end are connected via an API. The front-end is thus built independently which has its pros and cons. The major drawback is that you need a developer to design and build the front-end, the major advantage is that it won’t have a template feel and a good developer can thus create a beautifully designed site aligned with the content in the CMS.
Headless CMS Benefits
There are numerous advantages to utilizing a Headless CMS, with many of them appealing separately to different functions (marketing and technology representing the two main ones).
For those working in marketing, they tend to include usability i.e managing and maintaining content, while developers can focus on offering a great user experience.
Websites powered by a Headless CMS tend to be very quick to load. This is because they lend themselves to having a fully compiled or “flat-file” front-end - so if you want a blazingly quick user experience then this may be a sensible option for you.
In this model, since the CMS doesn’t have to render pages on its own and instead uses client-side or build-time rendering, this means that content can load faster for end users.
Pairing a Headless CMS with a statically generated front-end can give you infinite scalability. You don’t have to worry about scaling the back-end, as that’s handled by your Headless CMS provider, and the front-end can be deployed on a global CDN like Netlify, CloudFlare, AWS CloudFront, etc. This means you never have to worry about traffic spikes on your marketing site again.
It is a much more flexible approach for developers who have the freedom to choose their favorite modern frameworks and technologies for the website. A headless CMS’ flexibility and agility thus appeal to developers.
4- No Vendor Lock-In
When it comes to traditional monolithic systems the CMS code is tightly linked to other code (be it custom code or templates) which makes it more difficult to then port to a new CMS. With Headless CMS portability is a key benefit, so you can move to a new CMS more easily if you so desire.
A key attraction of Headless CMS’ is that the API-based approach means the content repository can feed into a range of different applications beyond just the website.
A Headless CMS-based architecture makes content accessible, opening up the content to new possibilities in particular for omnichannel delivery i.e. distributing content designed for display on various websites, mobile phones, tablets, and other Internet of Things (IoT) e.g. smartwatches.
A decoupled architecture typically means you are better shielded from attacks of all types. Many headless CMS platforms feature access controls and single-sign-on features that reduce the number of login credentials required and make it easier to monitor who has access to the CMS.
Headless CMSs reduce the impact of DDoS, as all the rendering of content is done on the client side. In a traditional CMS setup, you will likely have login forms and other entry points that directly point to your server. This means you have to keep on top of your security layer and make sure a malicious actor can’t get in. With a Headless CMS all of that responsibility is put onto the Headless CMS provider, and your statically generated front-end is safe from attack.
Given the inherent flexibility, there are no constraints that you encounter when powering your site using a template-based CMS like Squarespace, Wix, or Webflow.
8- Better Software Architecture
Developers have a free hand to use the latest, most up-to-date tech stack they want and are not constrained by systems designed to operate in a distinctively limited way. Anyone familiar with the monolithic CMS approaches will be familiar with how constrained they are and how rigid the templates often are (of course this can be a good thing for the right user).
9- Easier for Marketing to Update Content
Separating the content layer from the presentation layer makes it easier for content producers to just focus on content production. Most Headless CMS platforms have intuitive platforms so those working in a marketing function can easily edit existing content or add content without needing to route through a developer.
10- Content is Reusable
Content is reusable and can be rendered in different applications making it well-suited to the world of omnichannel or mobile.
Disadvantages of a Headless CMS
There are several disadvantages to be aware of also before choosing to power your website with a Headless CMS solution.
1- Need a Front-end Developer
As a Headless CMS focuses on the back-end content platform (or repository) you will need a front-end developer to build and manage the site (the presentation layer is separate). Ideally, this person is in-house so you don’t have to have someone on retainer.
2- Front-end Design
Given the decoupling of the front and back ends you will need someone (perhaps the front-end developer) to design and build the front-end of the site.
3- Use of Third Party Plugins
While some will view the API-based approach as being an advantage others may not. With this approach, you will need third parties to handle things often done with plugins - like contact forms etc. Although they are increasingly becoming parts of the ecosystem you’re already using as illustrated by the likes of Netlify offering Netlify Forms.
Recommended Resource: Drawbacks of Headless CMS
Contento - a different type of Headless CMS
Contento is a brand new Headless CMS with some fundamental differences compared to the market leaders.
We are focused on a single vertical - B2B SaaS websites - enabling us to focus on the features unique to B2B startups including a strong focus on SEO.
We optimize for websites - unlike other Headless CMS’ we believe the dominant use case for B2B SaaS startups is powering a marketing website.
We offer a competitively priced solution unlike some of our competitors who ratchet pricing aggressively on the back of a reasonable market entry price point.
Finally, our founders span both worlds and we thus ensure that our application meets the needs of both marketers and developers.
In summary, there are numerous benefits to embracing the Headless CMS approach to managing your website. More traditional monolithic content management systems lack the scalability and flexibility required by fast-growing startups. A best-fit use case is where your B2B SaaS startup is scaling up (or has ambitions to scale) and has access to a front-end developer to support the site build and maintenance.