The Problems A Headless CMS Fixes
What are the problems Contento solves? Who do we solve these problems for? And how good a job do we do at solving them? This short blog looks to find out.
Co-Founder / CEO
October 10, 2023
When it comes to building a new innovative solution, be it SaaS or otherwise it is common to start with a problem. What is the issue you see, who has the problem and how painful is it?
In a crowded market like the Content Management System (CMS) space, it is tempting to jump to a conclusion. There are so many vendors in the market - surely all the problems are solved?
However, having collectively worked with over a hundred websites this past 20 years we felt that there were still some significant problems left to fix about managing websites. This assessment led to the foundation of Contento.
But first some context.
Website builders have been the most popular way of building a website. WordPress, the dominant web content management system, is a traditional (or monolithic CMS) and is now over 20 years old. Yet, a lot has changed in its 20-year history. It was built for another purpose and another era. At its core is a simple blogging platform, whose feature set has been expanded by a vast ecosystem of theme builders, and plugins. WordPress is also very popular as it is the only well-known “brand” from the broad CMS space (especially amongst non-technical stakeholders). When faced with an array of competing options it is often easiest to go with a known name. The power of brand.
But those in the know will be familiar with some of the issues with WordPress, especially for mature scaling companies (and their websites). A growing number of developers are now seeking an alternative to the likes of WordPress.
The Role of Web Development Agencies
When it comes to WordPress, the majority of web development agencies backed this winner, safe in the knowledge that it could cater to pretty much any site request that came in. Annual releases served to ensure it stayed current. Once you had a few WordPress sites under your belt, it became easier to quote accurately and reuse and repurpose core elements. All of which help protect your agency margins. What is there not to like?
Well, roll forward 20 years and it is becoming clearer that WordPress has some significant drawbacks, especially when it is being used in more ‘stressed situations’. By this I mean, a scenario with multiple users, creating lots of content and under pressure to deliver growth.
While WordPress is perfect for a starter ‘cheap and cheerful’ website it is simply not fit for purpose for a growing scaling website, and this is the key point. While WordPress was a good choice to get you going, it is not a good choice if you are looking to scale. In short, a CMS choice is very much a ‘horses for courses’ selection, and as websites mature more powerful options now exist.
The Emergence of Headless
In recent years, the curiously named subcategory of CMS, the Headless CMS has begun to emerge. Unlike the traditional (or monolithic) approach of WordPress a Headless site is built differently. The front-end and back-end are decoupled. This seemingly simple distinction leads to a world of difference. By separating the two core elements you create the conditions for an architecture that helps solve some of the main issues with WordPress and its traditional CMS equivalents. By adopting a Headless solution you also enjoy benefits including:
A high-performance website architecture that can trump legacy page speeds
A secure setup that uses API’s to pair leading enterprise-grade solutions together
A scalable and flexible solution that works well with mature websites
An ability to create a beautiful bespoke design that leaves a great first impression
The Problems a Headless CMS Fixes
So what are some of the issues we solve?
1- Performance Issues
One of the main drawbacks of using WordPress for mature sites is that website bloat is a common occurrence. The underlying architecture is not optimal (compared to Headless) if a primary goal is a blazingly quick website. For those running high-traffic websites, speed is vital as page load times impact everything from conversion rates to SEO. A primary benefit of Headless is that it can deliver page load times that a traditional CMS like WordPress will struggle to match without spending a lot more money on it.
2- Maintenance Headaches
With WordPress the ongoing maintenance burden is a heavy one - you’ll be updating both the core and plugins/themes you use regularly. In many instances, WordPress maintenance is managed via retainer - outsourced to a freelancer or agency that is responsible for managing the maintenance overhead. With a Headless CMS, these maintenance issues go away as they are not your responsibility anymore.
3- Security Vulnerabilities
While security vulnerabilities are primarily related to user behavior, WordPress attracts a lot of ‘bad press’ when it comes to security. This is in part, due to the reliance on plugins to extend the core functionality. When it comes to Headless, the architecture is a more secure one, with a much-reduced attack surface and an API-based setup.
4- Usability Frustrations
The WordPress interface is extremely complicated. More technical readers familiar with WordPress will likely push back, arguing it is relatively straightforward. However, for a junior marketer who inherits a website, and is tasked with managing and maintaining it, it is a scary beast. This is an issue we at Contento have worked hard on solving. While many other Headless solutions can be challenging for non-tech users to navigate, we’ve designed Contento with the needs of marketing users front and center.
5- Siloed Content
In a WordPress setup, content and design are intertwined. A Headless solution takes a structured content-based approach to content. Marrying this to an API-led design ensures that the CMS acts as a content repository. This content is free to “feed multiple heads” be they websites, mobile apps, or in-store menu boards.
6- Bespoke Design
Some websites built on basic templates do not leave a great first impression. Budget constraints are often a primary reason and the website looks neglected. For those running websites where “first impressions” count and you are looking to drive conversions, a bespoke Headless CMS build can make a big difference in terms of perceptions, which flows through to better conversion rates.
While these advantages are common to all Headless CMS solutions, there are some additional problems we are focused on at Contento.
Contento - a Headless CMS
So what are some of the features that make Contento different?
1- Ease of Use
Many of the early Headless CMSs are developer-centric and are optimized for developers as the primary buyers and users. Of course, in most instances, a completed website is ‘handed off’ to marketing who can struggle to manage and maintain the site. This is an area we’ve worked hard on solving.
2- Fixing Broken Marketing Websites
Unlike most Headless CMSs which make no assumptions about the CMS use (after all they eschew the benefits of omnichannel), we take a different approach. We assume that you are using Contento, to manage a marketing website. With this decision, we can thus ensure we are baking in features that help marketing leaders ensure their website is being optimized. A good example of this is SEO. Unlike other Headless solutions where SEO can appear as an afterthought, we bake SEO in as a core feature.
Who Do We Solve These Problems For?
When it comes to the problems that a Headless CMS solves there are several parties that benefit - but the value a Headless deployment generates will vary depending on their function and area of responsibility.
1- CTO or Technology Leader
The early adopters of the Headless category have primarily been technology leaders. Drivers for adoption include:
a desire to reduce the dependency on developers
reducing security concerns
adapting the latest technologies to solve some of the challenges listed above.
2- CMO or Marketing Leader
When it comes to CMS selection, the marketing leader will usually be involved in the process. However, when it comes to assessing and evaluating Headless options they’ll likely struggle given the dev-centric nature of the solution. Hence, the decision will often fall back to the CTO to make the call. Once the pain of a site migration is complete, most marketing leaders will enjoy the benefits a Headless brings, save in a few circumstances. These tend to be where the Headless CMS chosen is simply too developer-centric, or the site setup means the developer dependency remains.
In some ways, the ultimate beneficiary is the CEO. This is especially the case for websites where conversion rates are important. A website migration project from a monolithic CMS to a modern Headless CMS, where a visual identity upgrade and messaging improvements are baked in shall help improve conversion rates significantly.
4- Web Design Agency
The old model has served agencies well for many years. Build a WordPress site using a ‘rinse and repeat model’, and enjoy service revenue via a maintenance retainer. This model will become increasingly unsustainable for bigger website projects, where growing numbers are likely to push for a Headless first build. The old model will be replaced with one which puts more of an emphasis on in-house design capability, and being familiar with more than one CMS.
The Agency Guide to Headless CMS
There are different lenses through which to view a website. For many, it is simply a case of having a basic site live such that it houses some rudimentary information. For others, their website is everything. This latter group needs a beautifully designed, highly performant, and secure website. WordPress does not easily deliver on these requirements whereas a Headless CMS can. Like all CMS, the final product will still be reliant on professionals to craft the design, the messaging, and the value proposition. But with a Headless CMS, the foundations are solid, and you are future-proofing your website with the latest cutting-edge technology.