What’s the Head in a Headless CMS World?

Headless and Hybrid CMS CMS
by Drew Lau

In the last couple of years, headless CMS platforms have been steadily rising in popularity. Retailers, marketers, editors and e-commerce managers love the flexibility that comes with having better control over their content management, and development teams thrive due to their newfound agility with a headless CMS. If you’re thinking about going headless, here’s what you need to know.

Headless vs. Traditional CMS

A traditional CMS typically references a combined backend and frontend. The backend is where content management occurs, and the frontend is the presentation of that content (e.g., the website). In a traditional CMS these two functions are part of the same vendor platform, intrinsically linked through custom code. A headless CMS provides all of the capabilities of the backend of a traditional CMS (i.e., the “body”), while giving responsibility of content presentation/layout to the delivery channels (i.e., the head). [source]

A headless CMS is the best way to future-proof your digital experience architecture, enabling support of any channels available today or in the future. It leverages APIs to enable content to be pulled into websites, progressive web applications, in-store kiosks, conversational platforms or any other channels. With a headless CMS, developers, marketing managers, and ecommerce managers are able to create more interactive experiences for customers in a shorter time and with less investment, reducing time to market and giving companies a competitive advantage.

The only thing you need to worry about with a headless CMS is how you’re going to deliver your front-end. To learn more about hybrid and headless CMS, including related business and technical benefits, see “Headless CMS: Everything you Wanted to Know”.

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So, What’s the Head in a Headless CMS World?

As previously mentioned, the head in a headless CMS world is where the responsibility lies for content presentation/layout to the delivery channels. This content presentation in a headless approach provides the opportunity to power fast, immersive digital experiences such as with progressive web applications, accelerated mobile pages, and native applications. The result? . . . A more engaging customer experience with your brand, leading to increased revenue and customer satisfaction.

There are two options to create a defined front-end system or presentation environment within a headless CMS architecture: build it custom from scratch or use a Front-end as a Service.

Custom Front-end From Scratch

Many perceive a custom front-end solution as the most flexible option, but in reality, most teams will spend their time building the foundation with frameworks, a hosting environment, and integrations that don't have a direct impact on the customer experience. When building from scratch, you’ll have to: (refer to the below diagram)

  • Maintain and synchronize separate codebases;
  • Build and maintain custom hosting environments and DevOps practices;
  • Build and maintain duplicate integrations;
  • Explore future touchpoints and build from scratch; and
  • Learn and build with next generation web technologies.

Building a front end from scratch does introduce many complexities, such as

  • Introducing risk and lengthy project timelines;
  • Requiring retraining a lot of skilled resources that are in high demand and at a premium in retail; and
  • Adding an opportunity cost that takes away time from building out innovation and highly impactful unique experiences

Since building a custom front-end from scratch comes with a lot of risks (which may be compounded by the risks you are incurring on other, related initiatives) and opportunity costs, not many retailers have fully gone down this path yet.

Front-end as a Service

With a Front-end as a Service, you avoid the pitfalls of building something from scratch, while still getting all the benefits of a headless approach.

A Front-end as a Service includes:

  • A hosting environment to deploy, host, and manage all high-performing front-end apps;
  • Developer tools to build with next-generation web and app technologies;
  • A single front-end codebase to manage desktop, tablet, mobile, and native experiences;
  • An evolving platform that will give you access to future customer experience touchpoints; and
  • An API-friendly integration architecture that empowers teams to easily swap, or remove any backend system.

Unify with a Front-end as a Service

A headless CMS combined with a Front-end as a Service like Mobify’s solution gives you a unified front-end experience across all of your screens, brands, and regions, with the ability to easily roll out content changes across all of those touchpoints from a single place.

You get the freedom to build a “custom” solution without having to actually start from scratch, and your front-end is future-proofed for emerging digital experience technologies, backend changes, and organizational changes.

A Front-end as a Service is a total shift – it’s a new way to deliver front-end experiences so you can get the most out of your headless CMS and other headless architecture components such as e-commerce software.

To learn more about the business and technical advantages of a hybrid or headless CMS, see “Headless CMS: Everything You Wanted to Know”; or learn about the application of headless architecture in our on-demand webinar B2B and B2C E-Commerce: 3 Strategies to Boost Engagement and Revenue.

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About the author

An ecommerce veteran with over a decade in leadership roles at innovative ecommerce technology companies, Drew has led and advised successful ecommerce projects around the world with brands such as Symantec, Time Inc and Debenhams. Drew is passionate about the Web as a platform, API architectures and data-driven insights. Drew leads the team in charge of product strategy and roadmap, with a key focus on leadership, team development and technology partnerships. Outside of work, he’s always stumbling upon the next big surprise in music, fatherhood and travel.

Drew Lau
VP Product Management at Mobify