What CMOs Need to Know About Headless CMS (Modern CMS)
The CMO role is a demanding one. You tend to be spread thinly and thus it is difficult to stay abreast of the latest technological trends. Yet, when it comes to advances in Content Management Systems (CMS) you must stay on top of the shift away from traditional CMS to Headless.
Co-Founder / CEO
September 5, 2023
4 minutes read
What CMOs Need to Know About Headless CMS [To Not Get Left Behind]
The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role is a difficult one. I should know. I was one for over 10 years, in several venture capital-backed B2B SaaS companies. Of course, it seems easy from the outside. The reality is very different.
1- European marketers are often functioning in more resource-constrained environments compared to their US counterparts (headcount and marketing budget) making their role even more challenging.
2- The role is also very broad, and depending on the seniority of the position, it can involve everything from lead generation to attribution, to the creation of sales collateral to running a content engine. These represent a small subset of tasks that fall under the remit of the marketing function.
3- In an increasingly digital environment, things are changing quickly, with the rapid growth of AI representing a recent example. It is thus hard to keep on top of everything when the context is so fluid.
While this context is a challenging one, it is the reality for most- so it is very much a case of “getting on with things”.
As a CMO, I’ve tended to embrace variety and challenge - but it is not for everyone, and you need ‘thick skin’. Is it any wonder the tenure for most CMOs is less than 2 years?
Keeping Up With an Ever-Evolving MarTech Stack
Alongside the wider challenges of running a marketing function, it is also the primary function that has been affected the most by the explosion of software technology. The “MarTech Stack” refers to the range of marketing technologies that have emerged in recent years.
You might be familiar with Scott Brinker’s famous marketing technology (martech) landscape slide. Known as the Martech 5000 – nicknamed after the 5,000 companies that were competing in the global marketing technology space in 2017 – it’s said to be the most frequently shared slide of all time.
— Source: Anna Murphy, Intercom
So we have an already stretched function leader, having to cope with a role that has had an explosion of tech solutions selling and marketing to you alongside everything else. Not easy.
How Can Marketing Leaders Stay Abreast of These Technologies?
In short, it is difficult for marketing leaders to “keep up”. To make matters worse, they often inherit someone else's team and a legacy stack when they move to a new role. SaaS software vendors know all about lock-in and switching costs, so trying to unravel a poorly crafted existing tech stack is not easily achieved. Mission impossible.
There is one area though where marketers would be well served to focus on - and it is the Content Management System (CMS). For B2B SaaS companies the website is the main window to the world and thus staying abreast of the latest cutting-edge technologies in the CMS space makes perfect sense.
Issues with Traditional Websites (Like WordPress)
WordPress is now 20+ years old - and was built for a different use case to the demands of a modern website that needs to be optimized for conversions. However, a growing range of WordPress issues means it is simply not a good option despite the entrenched fan base. That said, given its dominance, it has a lot of supporters happy to do what it takes to preserve its leadership.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
— Source: Upton Sinclair
1- WordPress Performance Issues
As websites mature, WordPress can succumb to website bloat (more so than other CMS) and performance can degrade. Site speed tests serve to indicate the scale of the problem.
2- WordPress Security Vulnerabilities
Security is a nuanced area - after all, many breaches are due to human error rather than the underlying technology. That said, WordPress has several known vulnerabilities (often introduced via its third-party plugin ecosystem) which mean site hacks are all too common.
3- WordPress Maintenance Issues
WordPress installations on maturer sites (websites several years old) tend to have regular maintenance issues ranging from updates to plug-in conflicts to user fears they may bring the site down by accepting an update request. A monthly maintenance retainer is generally required to give site owners some ‘peace of mind’.
4- WordPress Usability Issues
WordPress is not intuitive or easy to use. As I outline above, marketing teams have a lot to do, and trying to navigate WordPress is not easy. There are plenty of resources available to help figure things out, but it scares many non-technical users responsible for content management and maintenance.
5- WordPress Feature Constraints
WordPress relies on a rich plugin ecosystem to extend its functionality which is a double-edged sword. The provenance of some of these plugins is suspect, to say the least, and as mentioned above security vulnerabilities are often introduced by poorly maintained plugins.
I could go on.
Of course, every CMS has its issues. The question is whether there is a better option for managing a growing marketing site. I argue that there is. That solution is a Headless CMS.
WordPress is a traditional (or monolithic / legacy CMS). The curiously named Headless CMS has emerged as a more modern CMS that takes a very different approach to managing and maintaining a website.
So what do you need to know?
1- It is a tech / developer lead CMS that uses APIs to manage the interaction between the CMS and the front end. Early adopters are primarily Chief Technology Officers (CTO), more so than CMOs as they can easily understand the underlying architecture and thus see the value inherent in the approach.
2- The benefits are wide-ranging, with many of the WordPress issues listed above irrelevant with Headless. It can lead to blazingly quick websites (under 1 second page load times are typical), is designed for scalability, and offers a more secure architecture than traditional CMS. Given speed is a ranking factor there are inherent SEO benefits from a Headless setup also.
3- The main difference is that the front and the back ends are decoupled. So when you log into the Headless CMS (the back end or content repository) the interface is devoid of design elements. Instead, you are focused on managing the content (including visual assets). You are no longer touching the design. That is for the front-end designers / developers to worry about. They enjoy this flexible approach as they are not constrained by templates and work with their preferred frameworks.
4- This approach works well for B2C as it is perfect for omnichannel, so the content housed in the (Headless) CMS is ‘structured content’ which feeds ‘multiple heads’ be they websites, mobile apps, or in-store billboards.
5- Headless is not for everyone. The initial setup is more technical. You are not getting an all-in-one solution, but for those powering marketing websites seeking to optimize conversions and needing to power a content engine, it is the perfect fit.
The following criteria tend to be some of the criteria that nudge companies in the direction of Headless:
Want a more secure architecture than WordPress
Looking to optimize site speed (for conversions and SEO)
Want the flexibility to have one repository feeding different heads (websites, apps etc)
Want to give developers the flexibility to design a front-end as they see fit
You are not resource or budget constrained (it is not the best route if you want to build a ‘cheap and cheerful’ site)
You have access to a designer / front end developer (either in-house or via an agency)
You are a cutting-edge tech company and thus want a high-tech website
How is Contento Different from Other Headless CMS?
Several CMS solutions are available to those looking to consider Headless. It is worth looking at some of the market leaders as they offer enterprise-grade Headless solutions. However, some are gaining a reputation for price gouging and others for offering an overly complex solution (especially when viewed through the lens of non-technical users). Contento is a new modern Headless CMS that has some key differentiating features:
1- Built for Marketing Websites
The majority of Headless CMS are ‘open books’ - not designed with any specific use case in mind. At Contento, we’ve assumed the primary use case is for managing a marketing website, and this simple assumption means our feature set can align with this goal.
2- No Price Gouging
Some of the market leaders ratchet price points aggressively, with 10X jumps common between tiers. Triggers between tiers can also be relatively obscure e.g. by hitting object limits. Before you know it your CMS is costing you (or your client) considerably more than initially budgeted. At Contento, we look to bring features common in higher tier packages (of our competitors) into the reach of those on more affordable tiers.
3- Demystifying Headless
The early adopters powering the Headless revolution have primarily been developers. As a result, the value Headless brings has not always been obvious to non-technical stakeholders. We seek to appeal equally to both the developer and marketing side of the equation by writing from the perspective of the non-technical stakeholder.
4- Features Marketers Value
By assuming that you are seeking to manage a website, married to building value for marketers we have added features other Headless don’t have. For example, we have baked SEO in as a core feature, ensured our UI/ UX is intuitive for non-technical users, and offer reusable content structures so new pages can be fired up quickly using blocks that have been pre-configured/ pre-built.
The marketing function is a busy one, and keeping abreast of the latest marketing technology SaaS applications is nigh on impossible. However, your Content Management System (CMS) is the cornerstone of all marketing activities, and developments in that space are worth keeping abreast of. Traditional legacy CMS like WordPress is being overtaken by a more modern approach called Headless. Knowing the basic advantages of Headless will help ensure a Headless vendor is on the shortlist the next time you undertake a website upgrade. Better still, shortlist Headless CMS only, and for any agencies pushing a traditional CMS perhaps it is time to introduce them to the benefits of Headless for marketing websites of scaling businesses.