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CMSs have been around for more than 20 years. However, the term " headless CMS " has only become prevalent in the CMS ecosystem in recent years.
While the traditional CMS architecture used to be the standard approach, the amount of content being published has increased dramatically. As content becomes richer, more innovative and embraces new formats, organisations are now looking for modern solutions. They should offer greater agility and flexibility.
These expectations have placed new demands on digital content management, and leading web developers are opting for a headless CMS. But many professionals are asking: headless CMS vs. traditional CMS – what's the difference?
What is a traditional CMS?
A traditional CMS is a monolith content delivery system. It consists of a connected back-end and front-end working together to power a website. The back-end is built of a database with code and plugins. The front-end uses themes, templates, and CSS to display content to end-users.
Each model of an online store consists of three basic elements:
- A database, which stores data about products, such as their prices, names, descriptions, or photos.
- Back-end, i.e. the inside of the system, which supports the operation of all store functions and allows you to manage them.
- The front-end, i.e. the presentation layer of the system, which presents the processed information from the database to the end user, e.g. a store customer.
The traditional CMS model, such as Wordpress, assumes a close connection between the front-end and the back-end. This allows for management of the entire website in one place, simultaneously interfering with both the front and back-end layers, as well as the database.
But that's also one of the biggest drawbacks. A traditional CMS is often full of legacy code that is tightly linked and connected. This in turn slows down the web performance.
Why users stick to traditional CMS?
Traditional CMSs are part of so called monolithic systems or coupled solutions. They provide a complete set of functions both for content creation and presentation. Therefore, they have a strictly defined set of technologies that can be used to prepare the presentation layer. WordPress is a classic example – pages are created using graphic templates and a database.
This is why a traditional CMS solution is a good option for businesses that operate only on one channel. For example just within a website.
For simple websites, such as personal sites and blogs, the templates provided by a regular CMS are likely sufficient, so there is no real benefit to using a headless CMS.
Why a traditional CMS doesn't give you a competitive advantage anymore?
WordPress is used by over 40% of all websites and has proven to be a reliable solution for many publishing tasks. But the outdated code base and old architecture do not make WordPress an ideal platform.
Changes are often made that make the system more complex with each new version. Especially with the user interface, it's not always easy to get WordPress to have any look and feel and branding, due to pre-defined templates.
This is why it's high time to jump on a headless train.
What is a headless CMS?
A headless CMS is a content management system where frontend and backend are disconnected. A CMS is headless in the sense that the content created in such a solution can be published in any channel, in any front-end layer. The headless CMS can be thought of as a kind of content repository created for any interface (used by users) connected via an API.
Headless CMS is a solution that is an adequate answer to the increasingly complex content management processes. With the growing number of touchpoints for customer contact with the brand, it became justified to enable the reusability of the content.
As marketers want to publish the same content in various channels of the communication funnel, they need a handy tool for that. Traditional CMS are not able to meet such requirements. For a very simple reason – they were developed and adapted for completely different circumstances and conditions.
Fast omnichannel service. Get rid of the "head" and change the way you communicate
The Headless Content Management System allows you to manage content across a wide spectrum from a single panel, which is extremely important in the increasingly user-centric omnichannel sales.
Separating the presentation layer from the content allows you to publish content on any device or in different channels. This can be a website, smartphone, smartwatch, or other connected device (Internet of Things - IoT).
Content displayed on each device can be customized independently, and updates to UI do not require changes to the back-end of the application. This allows for incredible flexibility and expands the possibilities when implementing new, innovative solutions.
In addition, programmers, marketers and e-commerce managers have the ability to create unique experiences for customers in less time than the traditional model. Moreover, a headless CMS is perfectly compatible with PWA / TWA applications that are currently conquering the e-commerce market.
Major benefits of headless CMS
Headless CMS is an ideal solution for businesses for which content is an important factor. They offer an extremely user-friendly editor and provide a seamless experience. As mentioned earlier, they also allow for an instant distribution of content to various channels. This avoids duplication of content and makes content easier to manage.
What are other benefits of headless CMS?
- Compatible. It allows you to publish content to any device and to multiple channels at once, and the user experience is fast, consistent and responsive.
- Scalable. Since the front-end and back-end are separate, you can customize and upgrade your site without compromising on performance.
- Extremely secure. Since the headless CMS cannot be accessed from the CMS database, the risk of DDoS attacks are significantly decreased.
- Great for teamwork. Front-end developers are free from back-end restrictions and can use their favorite libraries and frameworks, whereas marketers can set up content without the help of developers.
Traditional CMS vs headless CMS – what are the key differences?
Traditional CMS (e.g. Wordpress) comprises:
- a database (where the content is stored),
- a management console for managing content,
- a visual layer that displays information from the database using front-end technologies, and a page rendering engine that brings these three elements together.
In Headless CMS, the frontend part is separated from backend, so it has only:
- a database for storing content and an API with access to HTTP queries
- an administration window.
This is the main point when comparing the traditional CMS vs. headless CMS.
This makes the visual layer independent of the data, so that introducing changes to the content will not change the appearance of the page. Using traditional CMSs is associated with limitations related to the technologies that you use to create components. Thanks to the headless CMS, the above obstacle disappears.
To send content, the API interface is used, through which the content goes to the devices without templates, unlike traditional CMS systems. This allows developers to create individual templates for each channel, and they’re not limited to pre-defined templates, which allows for individual branding.
The content is entered only once and displayed on the website, online store, smartphone, smartwatch or any other device. Content specialists can work independently of developers and without specialist programming knowledge. Thanks to special administration panels, they can introduce, edit and modify flow for various channels.
Why should you change to a headless CMS?
You already know the differences between headless vs traditional CMS. Let’s see when it's worth considering a headless solution.
Idependency of the content hub
Thanks to the separation of visual and data layers, you are not related to the e-commerce backend. This way you get a dedicated space for creating and editing content. It is a very future-proof solution because the backend may change every few years. By operating in the headless commerce approach, you make your content work independent of other ecommerce elements.
You can use the same content on more than one device
If you want to use the same content, i.e. product description, on multiple devices, a headless CMS is made for that. The Headless CMS backend focuses mainly on data storage. Thanks to this, content entered in the admin panel can be used on multiple devices and channels at the same time.
This means that a certain article or information about a particular product or service can be used in various channels. It includes a website, a page dedicated to this product in an online store, a blog or a mobile application. While managing the content from one place, namely the CMS, you can quickly update no matter where it was used and add another device where the content will appear.
In this way, the CMS becomes a content hub not only for content management, but also acts as its storage.
A specialized tool
Specialized tools are much better and more useful than CMSs built into all-in-one ecommerce solutions. Unlike them, headless CMSs usually allow for advanced workflows, i.e. someone creates a text, another person checks it, another accepts it and then it is published.
They also have, for example, schedules that allow you to plan automatic publications.
Expand your business without limits
A traditional CMS carries a certain risk of blocking the development of the business, as it is not designed to adapt the omnichannel sales. When it comes to expansion, you will quickly realize that the old-fashioned CMS is not able to integrate new platforms, channels or projects, which will stop you from scaling your business.
The Headless CMS system is designed for those who want to grow their business. Whether you want to enter new markets with multilingual support, launch additional websites or apps, or even expand your marketing materials, you can do it with this system. It's the central hub for all your content and serves as a platform for implementing your ideas.
Flexibility in the choice of technology
With headless content management systems, there are no restrictions on the choice of technology used to create the pre-defined components - page appearance elements.
These CMSs give you full freedom in designing the visual layer. This is important because some of the channels used in the company are based on different technologies, while some of the functionalities use modern frameworks. This is a guarantee of creating an attractive website that meets the latest trends.
Differentiation between content management and the appearance of a CMS
Another advantage of using headless CMS is that changes to the content do not change the appearance of the page. This way you don’t have to worry about breaking anything on the front layer.
Stress-free work related to content redesign is extremely important. Especially when it comes to implementing completely new projects where all content is created from scratch.
If the backend and administration panel are already prepared, adding content can start at the initial stage of website preparation. This is similar to the introduction of functional improvements.
Which headless CMS is the best for eCommerce?
For eCommerce websites you will likely need to combine and unify multiple tools and applications to create content for your long-term goals. That's why it's so important to choose the perfect headless CMS for your specific case after taking a look at all available options.
Below you will find 3 examples of headless CMS. All of them partner up with Vue Storefront to guarantee a smooth information flow between a chosen headless CMS and the front-end layer of your eCommerce website.
Visit our headless CMS integration page to get to know more about all of our headless CMS partners .
Storyblok is a headless CMS with a visual editor for developers, marketers, and content editors. It offers an easy-to-use page builder with a modern headless architecture behind it.
Storyblok helps your team tell your story and manage content for any use case: enterprise websites, e-commerce, help desks, mobile apps, and screen displays.
It accelerates and simplifies content management across various digital channels, including web, mobile and IoT.
Contentstack allows developers and content managers to create and manage content simultaneously and independently, which speeds up development processes.
In its CMS, Bloomreach provides an API-first experience solution that seamlessly works with the headless commerce platforms.
Working on multiple channels is very easy and seamless. You can enrich any touchpoint with a product showcase, a product grid, or a recommendations widget.
Frequently asked questions
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