Headless CMS vs a traditional CMS
Headless website architecture continues to rise in popularity. This approach to a content management system (CMS)-based website is exciting the TBB crew for many reasons, not least because it offers such innovative features and unprecedented user experience.
A successful online presence starts with a well-built website on a platform that’s been specifically chosen for its suitability for the business. Before now, WordPress and other traditional CMSs have gained popularity for their simplicity and ease of use. However, they do have their drawbacks. Technology is always evolving and a headless framework provides none of the fragility and limited flexibility that can often be expected with traditionally built websites. In short, a headless CMS is simple, intuitive and feature-rich and provides a practically flawless way of managing content.
Here, we explain what a headless CMS is, why it’s the future of websites and, importantly, how it empowers businesses.
What is a headless CMS?
Taking it back to basics, a content management system is a software or program that enables users to build a website – and manage it in the long term – without the need to code. Traditional CMSs (also known as coupled) have been around since the early days of web development and connect the back end of a website to the front end. To explain how headless works, it’s important to have an understanding of how traditional CMS architecture works. With WordPress et al, content (and assets that accompany it) is created and managed in a website’s back end – it acts as a database of sorts – and it’s all very closely linked to the front-end website (which is what users see). Essentially, the database, content and front-end website are all in one box.
A headless CMS, such as Storyblok and Prismic, separates the front-end website (the head) and back-end website (the body) into two distinct ‘boxes’. Content creation, management and storage (ie the CMS) sit in one box completely detached from the other box, which is for the front end (the ‘presentation’ layer of the site and the bit users see). APIs then support the delivery of raw content to the front-end design on whichever device the user is viewing from.
Headless CMS architecture is the future for websites
Traditional CMSs have their benefits. They’re flexible and provide the website owner with control to add, manage and change content. However, digital platforms are ever-evolving – they need to keep up with demand for highly personalised and efficient customer experiences – and the traditional CMS has struggled to keep up.
A headless CMS set up meets such demands and what’s more, future proofs a website for further advancements. And we’re particularly excited about the major benefits a headless CMS provides for businesses:
The front-end website is lean and only loads what is absolutely necessary, meaning user load times are as fast as they can be. We have seen clients’ conversion rates double by improving speed before now – and with Google having communicated the necessity for speed for a long time, more recently announcing in its core web vitals that speed is a definitive benefit, brands cannot take risks with a slow website.
It’s scalable and flexible
A big plus point is that you’re not bound to any particular systems – a specific SAP system or CMS, for example. If, six months after a build perhaps, you decide to use a different stock system because it’s cheaper or more efficient, the migration process is so much easier than it would be with a traditional (coupled) website. Also, with the back- and front-end website not bound together as in a traditional CMS, if the back end needs maintenance or experiences issues, this doesn’t mean downtime for the website (as it traditionally would). Site performance isn’t compromised in any way while works are conducted behind the scenes. Headless’ flexibility also means web developers aren’t restricted in any way – allowing for more creativity – while content items can be reused, meaning efficiency and faster completion of projects.
A traditional CMS requires version and plugin updates, which can often lead to problems and bugs to fix. Conversely, with a headless CMS, there are no version updates, plugins or core updates at all. There’s isn’t anything that takes effort to keep up to date with ie there’s no work required on the website owner’s behalf. Plus, there isn’t a need to ever migrate data. If a brand wants to change the front-end website in any way, content stays exactly where it is while the changes are made.
The number one trick in a hacker’s toolbox is to look for the WordPress log-in page. With headless, the CMS is detached – a log in doesn’t exist. Content and data sits within the detached CMS, which only website owners have access to. This means best-in-class protection for data and one less GDPR consideration for the business.
Support multiple websites
With headless, brands that sell products across multiple websites under different brand names, or those that serve several territories and require websites in various languages, are catered for. All products and content sit in one central CMS and can feed several front-end websites.
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Written by Lee Boothroyd
Digital director and The Bigger Boat co-founder, Lee has more than 20 years’ digital experience under his belt and heads up the five-man web development team.