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Podcast: Taking a Critical Stance on Headless CMS

Over the course of my career, I have seen the evolution of the CMS industry and worked with a variety of clients and vendors on implementing different solutions.  I have seen clients overbuy by getting caught up in the glossy brochure of a CMS demo and purchase a product that is overkill for what they really need or are able to support.  Deciding on a CMS, or any tool, is best done when you have a clear vision of your goals and a realistic vision of how it fits with your digital ecosystem. 

The headless CMS movement requires a shift in an organization’s approach to managing content. Some organizations will be more ready for this than others. I was excited for the opportunity to speak with Laura and Gabriella about the advantages and disadvantages of ‘going headless’.

Scroll down for audio only podcast.

The Benefits of Headless

  • Single Content Repository—One content repository for all channels means that you know where your content source is and you know that if you change it once, it will be reflected on all channels using that content.
  • Separate Content from Presentation—Separating content from presentation so your content editors can focus on the content messaging, and not get bogged down with the front-end presentation or interactivity.
  • Technology Agnostic—The technology to build the website(s) or app(s) are not determined by the headless CMS. Developers can use the technologies and tools they are most comfortable with for development.
  • Future Proof—A headless CMS is just a piece of the puzzle. When you adopt this approach, you are building your digital ecosystem with a suite of tools that can be replaced without the need to rebuild from the ground up.

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Considerations Before Moving to a Headless CMS

Traditional CMS and headless CMS are not interchangeable. To make a successful move to a headless CMS or even decide if a headless CMS is the right choice, organizations must consider how they will handle some key features that we have come to expect with our traditional CMS solutions, but are not available with a headless CMS. 

Listed below are some of the factors, that I believe, are the most important to consider. This is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it illustrates the need to thoroughly plan and consider all aspects that might be impacted with a headless CMS approach.

  • Content Structure—Headless CMSs are focused on content structure. Defining that structure means thinking about more than just the on-page elements like headings, text, and images, but also those content properties you don’t see such as metatags, content relationships, and access control. Traditional CMS solutions include the ability to manage content properties that provide a base solution. These can be extended as needed, but OOB (out of box), they provide the core properties that are ready to use. With a headless CMS, these content properties must be identified as part of your content definition.

  • Content Preview—How are your content authors going to preview content before it goes live?  The ‘Preview’ button we are used to with a traditional CMS doesn’t exist with a headless CMS. Remember, there is no presentation layer with a headless CMS, so if your business users want to see what the content changes will look like before they go live, you will have to create a specific preview site where this can be accomplished. 

  • Search—If you need to include a search feature in your website or app and you are using a headless CMS approach, you have to find an external search solution, even if all you want to do is to include a simple keyword search feature.

  • Translation and Multi-Language Support—Do you need to support multiple languages? If the answer is yes, you need to look at your translation process, workflow, and implementation. Are you using features provided OOB with your traditional CMS? Many traditional CMS solutions provide tools to easily view and manage multilingual content. Not all headless CMS will offer similar capabilities and they definitely won’t provide any front-end features such as language-switching features.

  • Online Forms—Forms, I think, is something that often gets overlooked or underestimated. If your business users need the flexibility to create forms and manage form data without any developer support, you will  to find an alternate solution for this. Where will the form submissions be stored and how will that data be made accessible to business users who need it?

  • Security and Authorization-—Do you have secure content that is only available to certain users? If your requirements are fairly simple, you might be able to achieve your goals by using your content structure and taxonomy within the headless CMS, but more complex requirements may introduce the need for an external LDAP.  Regardless, the need to support secure content will require custom development and ongoing support.

  • Marketing and Personalization—Headless CMS is all about managing your content. What you do with that content and how you present it on your channels is up to you.  Are you using content personalization and marketing tools provided by your traditional CMS? If yes, then you need to consider how, or what, to replace these with. 

  • Development and Deployment—The headless CMS approach is very developer centric. While content authors have full control over the content and messaging, functional changes such as adding or enhancing interactivity to your front-end will require developer resources. Do you have internal developers focused on supporting your websites and apps that can provide timely support? If not, you may need to engage with external resources which may have budget constraints that need to be considered.

  • Budget—A Headless CMS may be lighter on the licensing side, but it will have a heavier cost on the development and support, particularly with the initial implementation.

For organizations that are entrenched with their traditional CMS, there is a significant mind-shift that needs to happen before they can successfully adopt a headless CMS approach. 

Situations Best Suited for a Headless Approach

This really depends on the organization, their digital maturity, and their future vision. What some organizations may consider an advantage, others may consider a disadvantage.

The primary indicators that headless CMS might be a good approach for your organization are:

  • The need to reuse content across multiple channels.

  • You have multiple content authors that you want to keep focused on content development and not distract them with the presentation.

  • You have an internal development team, or the budget to engage an external team that can support and maintain your website(s) and app(s).

  • You have adopted a Best-in-Breed approach with your traditional CMS.

Organizations that are curretnly using an ‘all-in-one-suite’ approach are going to find the transition to headless much more of a paradigm shift. They will have to take a deep look at what tools they will need alongside their headless CMS in order to realize a complete solution for their digital needs.

I am looking forward to seeing how the headless CMS solutions respond and evolve to the demands of the business users. Will we see them remain focused on 'content-as-a-service', or will we see these solutions begin to include features that give some control back to the non-technical users?

Heather MacFayden

Heather MacFayden

Heather has been with Falcon-Software since its inception in 1993 (26 years). She currently serves as the Vice-President, the Director of Production, and as the company’s Senior CMS Analyst. Heather oversees all of Falcon-Software's production teams. From design, to development, and go live, Heather monitors the implementation pulse of the company.

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