In this exploration, we navigate through the impact, advantages, and challenges of headless technology, peeling back the layers with the help of our recent survey to understand its place in the market.
In the evolving digital landscape, businesses recognize the need for flexible solutions that will help them deliver content seamlessly across channels. Our September 2023 survey exploring the trend of headless, found that 82% of marketers are already using or considering a headless approach and that 43% of them are interested in using it for sharing content across all digital channels.
What is a headless content management system (CMS)?
Headless technology refers to a software architecture where the frontend (the "head") is decoupled or separated from the backend. In a traditional CMS, the frontend and backend are tightly integrated, meaning that the presentation layer and the content management system are interconnected. However, in headless architecture, these components operate independently. This decoupling provides developers with enhanced flexibility in designing and delivering content across diverse platforms and devices.
Headless CMSs offer several advantages:
- Flexibility: Developers can choose any technology or framework for the front end.
- Scalability: Content can effortlessly scale across diverse platforms (web, mobile, IoT devices), adapting to evolving technological landscapes.
- Enhanced overall performance: Independent optimization of front and back ends.
- Multichannel content delivery: Content is easily repurposed across channels and devices without being confined by a monolithic front end.
- Futureproofing: Swift adaptation to new platforms and devices, eliminating the need for extensive infrastructure overhauls.
Headless technology is particularly popular in marketing strategies where a consistent user experience across diverse platforms, rapid development, and flexibility are essential.
Our survey found the two key advantages of headless technology for marketers were the acceleration of content creation (60%) and the ability to reuse content across channels (58%).
Sounds good, right?
Well, sort of.
According to our findings (as detailed in our article The current state of the multichannel tech stack), a staggering 51% of respondents say the hype around headless architecture was a key reason for considering it.
Relying on the hype surrounding a technology or tool comes with inherent dangers:
- Hype can create unrealistic expectations about the capabilities and benefits of a technology.
- Hype-driven decisions might overlook whether the technology effectively addresses your unique challenges or goals.
- Hype-driven decisions may lead to adopting a one-size-fits-all solution that lacks the necessary customization to address specific business requirements.
- The buzz surrounding a particular technology may overshadow alternatives that could be more suitable for your requirements.
- Hype-supported technologies may not always possess long-term viability.
To mitigate these dangers, businesses should approach technology adoption with a balanced perspective. While staying informed about industry trends is essential, decisions should be grounded in a thorough analysis of how a particular technology aligns with the organization's level of digital maturity, goals, scalability, and long-term strategy.
Thankfully, 39% of our survey respondents chose headless technology based on thorough research, identifying it as the most suitable solution for their specific needs. This indicates a thoughtful and research-driven approach to technology adoption.
So, where are the pitfalls with headless technology?
While headless technology offers numerous advantages, it also comes with certain drawbacks and challenges.
- Technical expertise required. While headless technology makes certain things easier, it significantly hinders marketers in getting their content out. Unanticipated reliance on developers was a hurdle expressed by 38% of our respondents.
- User-unfriendliness. With so many integrated tools required to do even simple things, UI inconsistency was cited by 28% of respondents as annoying and inefficient. 22% found the system to be more complex or governed than expected and 21% were put off by the authoring experience.
- Learning curve. For teams accustomed to traditional platforms, headless architecture may involve a steep learning curve. In fact, over half (52%) of survey respondents pinpointed the requirement for extensive training as their most significant hurdle.
- Higher costs. Headless architecture will enable quick, inexpensive proofs of concept, but may then be slow to deliver real value and have large long-term development and maintenance costs. 62% of those surveyed saw an increase in ongoing costs. Of these 25% saw a significant increase and 37% saw a moderate increase. Furthermore, 14% said that headless technology was more expensive to implement and maintain than anticipated.
Of the 500 respondents to the question—Have you faced any hurdles, struggles, or disappointments using headless? Please select all that apply— a mere 2% opted not to respond. This indicates that a significant 98% of respondents are grappling with at least one challenge related to their pure headless solution.
Frankly, it doesn’t surprise us.
At Kentico, we don't follow trends blindly or put the cart before the horse. Our approach is deliberate and customer centric. Before embracing a technology like headless, we meticulously assess its genuine value in addressing our customers' needs. And we found that it simply doesn’t work for everyone—we’d even argue that it doesn’t work for most organizations.
Sure, digital-first brands like Amazon can handle the complexities of headless. In fact, as they’re bursting at the seams with developers, this option is likely better for them as they can truly leverage the full potential of the architecture to seamlessly deliver content across diverse channels and devices.
But for the rest, they simply don’t have the money, technical resources, time to train, or time to market required. For most, the main channel is still their website. Being able to manage it the way they have been used to is important in ensuring marketing efficiency. They need their marketers to be able to craft, build, and publish content without the help of developers.
But they also don’t want to limit themselves to their current digital maturity for years to come. They want to give themselves space to grow and experiment in the future. What they need is the ability to get their feet wet with headless without drowning in it.
Enter hybrid headless.
Hybrid headless – the best of both worlds
A hybrid-headless approach aims to combine the flexibility of headless architecture with the convenience of certain integrated features (like content management, email marketing, AI-gen writing assistant), addressing some of the challenges associated with a purely headless setup.
Here's how a hybrid-headless approach can help mitigate common issues:
- Lower costs: A hybrid-headless system cuts initial development costs with integrated features and a pre-built CMS. More complicated projects may require a larger upfront investment but will gain a faster time to value/market, and lower maintenance costs for a better TCO than pure headless solutions can offer.
- A marketer’s dream: A hybrid-headless approach streamlines content management, offering a user-friendly CMS for non-tech users where multiple types of content can be managed across multiple channels by content creators from inside one unified user interface.
- Lower learning curve: With integrated features and a familiar CMS interface, a hybrid-headless environment reduces the learning curve for non-technical users, allowing teams to leverage existing skills and explore new technical capabilities.
- Balanced out-of-the-box approach: A hybrid-headless approach strikes a balance between out-of-the-box features and customization and extensibility options, enabling organizations to start quickly while tailoring the system to its specific needs.
- Unified customer experience: By enabling the application of headless principles strategically (i.e. using it as a feature within a traditional CMS), a hybrid headless platform ensures a unified and consistent user experience across various channels and devices.
Ultimately, the hybrid-headless model seeks to offer the best of both worlds, allowing organizations to leverage the advantages of headless architecture while addressing the practical needs of content creators by reducing their reliance on developers. It provides a balanced approach that caters to the complexities and requirements of modern digital experiences.
Kentico's hybrid headless digital experience platform (DXP), Xperience by Kentico, allows users to choose where to apply the headless approach based on their unique needs. This intentional hybrid model empowers clients to enjoy the benefits of headless architecture where it aligns with their business objectives while enabling the delivery of timely multichannel customer experiences across devices.