What is a headless CMS
A CMS like a phone charger
In the old days (think Nokia 3310 and older), every mobile phone had its own charger. It consisted of a socket plug, a cable and a phone connector. If your battery was dying, you’d better find that exact charger or all hope was lost. Fortunately, mobile phones have evolved a lot since then. So did chargers. They still consist of a socket plug, cable and connector (wireless charging aside), but their design is much more flexible.
Say, you’re at a friend’s house and your phone is running out of battery. No worries: just use your friend’s charger, which has the exact same connector. Your friend has an iPhone and you have an Android? Still no problem, just use your own cable and plug the USB end into his charger. Say you and your friend forgot your chargers and are on holiday in … New Zealand? Even now, this isn't a problem. Find any Kiwi charger and plug your cable into its USB end. Or even better: sometimes you can plug it straight into an electricity socket that has an USB port. It’s really that easy. In short: it doesn’t matter anymore which phone you use. You can charge it anyplace, anytime, thanks to the flexible design of modern chargers.
How does this apply to websites?
You're probably wondering what this has to do with websites. Let's look at how they are built and everything will become clear.
Since the good old days, websites have evolved a lot. We now have a bunch of different front-end technologies (like Vue, Angular and React), all with their own benefits, specific accents and requirements. In order to use them, your CMS needs to provide compatible HTML. Considering that front-end technologies pop up like mushrooms, this can be a challenge, to say the least.
If we can find a way to send content from the CMS to the front-end, without the front-end being dependent on the CMS-specific HTML, we have the robustness of any CMS we prefer plus the freedom of using any front-end technology we like.
Yup, you guessed it: that's exactly what happens with a headless CMS. In this concept, content is exposed by the CMS through an API. Sounds too technical? Let's try this again:
Remember the phone chargers we were talking about earlier? Think of a headless CMS as the charger, the API as the universal USB plug-in and your front-end technology as the cable. They all lead up to your phone, which in this case is the final website. Just like you provide your phone with electricity through a flexibly designed charger, you can feed content to your website(s) and even any other digital channel you want, through a flexible headless CMS.
Fun fact: did you know for example that the real-time digital signage boards in the NYC subway are powered by Drupal?
The advantages of a headless CMS
Content as a service
Think outside of the page-based mentality. Separate content management from content display. Front-end is no longer dependent of your back-end.
Unleash your front-end developers
They are free from CMS constraints which ensures their creative vision can be realized.
Change the look, change the experience
Redesign or re-skin an experience without worrying about the content in the CMS.
One CMS, multiple channels
Content can flow from the CMS to multiple channels such as websites, apps or digital signage.
Your back-end is ready for when the next front-end technology pops up (which is now… and now…. aaaaaand now).
If there is one thing you should remember about headless CMS'es, it's that it's a back-end technology capable of exposing its content flexibly to just about any front-end technology through an API. This allows you to work with the technologies, both on back and front-end side, that suit you best.
At The Reference, we work with a variety of headless CMS solutions, ranging from Kentico Kontent, to Contentful and Headless Drupal. Feel free to reach out to see if this approach suits your business.
Coupling commerce and headless
A headless CMS allows you to integrate flexible digital commerce solutions into your technology architecture. Join us at Reimagining Commerce on September 16 to discover the possibilities of this composable approach to digital commerce.