What is headless CMS and how can it benefit marketers?
It’s a question that you may have either been asked or have asked yourself in the last few months—"what exactly is headless CMS and why should marketers care?" It's unproven. It's not ready to use. It's too technical. It's only for developers. All common concerns that I have heard to date. But that's not the whole story. The CMS marketplace is moving on and it’s important to understand how.
The Stuff of Nightmares
For many marketers technical advancements are a nightmare. Having to learn new technologies, keep up with the times, and figure out how to utilise them to their full potential—it's all very scary. But headless CMS doesn't need to invoke sleepless nights thinking of the four horsemen of the apocalypse approaching. The headless CMS architecture is still developing and as it evolves, it will become a useful tool for both developers and marketers alike – whether client-side or agency-side.
Headless Architecture Uncovered
In the past, a traditional CMS was used alongside a templating engine to render web pages to be displayed on desktops, laptops, and, more recently, on mobile devices and tablets. This template rendering is known as the "head" of the CMS and determines the presentation layout of the content. But with this template approach, you are always taking full web pages and trying to manipulate them to the device on which you want them to appear. With all the new channels and devices that are emerging, this is no longer enough.
The solution: separate the head from the body. Take the elements of your web page—title, subtitle, description, header image, list items, CTA buttons, and so on—and consider them as modules that can be used to build a new page, regardless of the device. Figure out how you want to display them on any given device, and call the API to actually get the content from the CMS. Use the CMS as the content repository and management tool it is designed to be and build perfect presentation for the channels you need.
The Good Stuff
Every good marketer wants to do as much as possible to have a big impact on customers. But at the same time, there are only so many hours in the day. So, the ultimate goal for a marketer is going to be to deliver exceptional value in the most efficient manner possible—the headless architecture is going to help achieve this goal. With a headless CMS, marketers can manage structured content in one place and display it anywhere. By using a modularised content approach in a headless CMS, it is possible to write content once and display it on any channel or device. It will save countless hours of rewriting and copy pasting content to be used in various locations. Moreover, it will help to break down organisational silos and make sure that the content and experience you're creating in various teams is consistent.
A “cloud-first CMS” is built from scratch with the cloud in mind. It gives users the opportunity to run their CMS as Software as a Service (SaaS). It means that all updates, hotfixes, maintenance, and so on, are controlled by the vendor and rolled out to all customers at the same time. Marketers won't need to worry that upgrading or maintenance is going to mess up all their hard work, and they are not relying on a developer to do all of it. Instead, developers will be free to work on business priorities.
All in all, it means that you can deliver the same content in the best layout possible much more efficiently, no matter which device you display it on, including wearables and even IoT devices. It helps make the customer journey easier, more consistent, and more appealing for the people seeing the content. And we are all aware of the impact an exceptional customer experience can have on your conversion rates, customer loyalty, and overall revenue. The fact that reusing content with a headless CMS will save many hours of creating and rewriting content over and over again is a huge added bonus to your business and will free you up to do more meaningful work.
The Headless Marketer Is Just around the Corner
The headless CMS architecture is technical—there is no point denying that fact—and it means a change of attitude for marketers to come to terms with it. But it is not all doom and gloom. The multichannel era is here and marketers need to start considering this in their strategies. Instead of planning an entire website template at once, marketers should start focusing on placing content in many forms across many channels and on many different devices. The headless architecture is not something to fear for marketers but rather a first step in this new emerging era. To succeed, marketers need to think of content in modules, where an individual module can be used independently from a web page as well as part of a web page—content should be created with all channels in mind.
In a pure headless CMS, marketers might also find that some specific website elements are not properly supported. For example, sitemaps are not supported in a headless CMS as it is merely a content repository and the website back end is controlled elsewhere by the developer. It doesn’t mean that sitemaps won’t exist—of course they will, however, the marketer just won’t have to deal with them. But the headless architecture is still developing and, very soon, you will see other ways in which marketers will be supported in this platform. One such way is a head-optional approach. This is where you will be able to utilise a "head" for specific channels, meaning you have the option of using rendering and being able to determine the presentation layout of the content. It is an option that is for more technical-minded marketers that might not need a developer at every stage.
Finally, analytics, optimisation and personalisation features are often non-existent or very limited in a headless CMS. However, it is quite easy to combine other tools with your headless CMS, such as Google Analytics or Google Optimize, for these purposes. Of course, you also have the option of waiting until vendors begin providing them out of the box.
Patience Is a Virtue
As the Persian poet, Saadi, once said; "Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy." There are actually already many benefits for marketers using the headless CMS approach, such as shorter time to market, higher agility or the ability to manage omni-channel content in one place. It is true, the main benefits of headless CMS are currently felt by developers. Marketers might find themselves using the products and working with a headless CMS, but it might not currently be providing the wealth of functionality they desire. But given time to mature and develop, you will start to see the headless CMS architecture cater more for marketers. Reusable modularised content is already going to benefit a lot of them, but there is yet more to come from this emerging technology.
Thanks to Stephen Griffin for sharing their advice and opinions in this post. Stephen’s path to the CMS industry is a tricky one to explain. A former personal trainer, he moved into football (soccer) coaching, management, and promotion. After a brief career break, a year as a Marketing Copywriter, and a spell as the Product Marketing Manager, he is now the Marketing Communications Team Leader at Kentico software.