Cloud-First Headless CMS: What It Is and Why You Should Use It

By Stephen Griffin February 7, 2017 Articles and Editorials

Through the years, CMS products have generally been built as a coupled CMS. This architecture includes everything in a single application: the content repository, the back-end UI for editors, the templating system, and all your custom code. It’s a popular approach because it requires only a single environment, and is easy to set up and manage.

Coupled Architecture Has Its Issues

In the coupled architecture, the CMS code is tightly connected with your templates and custom code. Because of this, both your code and the CMS code need to be maintained at all times (during installation, with upgrades and hotfixes, during code versioning, with continuous deployment, and so on). And, you need to be aware that the CMS code is exposed on the public server. This increases security risks, while the load on your website impacts the performance of your content management back end, and vice versa.

Better Separation of Concerns with Decoupled CMS

A decoupled architecture has been introduced by some vendors to iron out the limitations experienced with a coupled CMS. This architecture is based around two environments—the content management environment, usually protected by a firewall, where you make your changes, and a content delivery environment, with which you synchronize the content. With the decoupled architecture, you get better security, much better separation of your custom code, and easier scalability.

But It’s Not the Ultimate Solution

Despite the advantages of the decoupled architecture, it still does not solve all the issues. It still consists of multiple environments that need to be managed, which increases the costs of infrastructure, maintenance, and software licenses. And, there are always potential issues with having to synchronize content, especially if your website allows members to contribute their own content.

Headless CMS—the Solution for the Multi-channel World

CMSs were originally built for websites and, therefore, provide content in the form of a page. But websites and pages are no longer the only digital medium that content is created for. In the last 10 years, we have started consuming ever-increasing amounts of content through mobile applications. And the new advancements in VR, bots, digital assistants, and Internet of Things have made it even more complex with the possibility of displaying content on multiple devices and via many different formats. How we manage and publish content requires an entirely new approach. An approach that requires us to think of content as a set of components that can be pulled together from a single content repository and displayed in the ways native to the channel and device they are consumed on. The traditional page content model will not suffice anymore.

The answer is headless CMS and component content modelling. By eliminating the front-end, the presentation layer is much more flexible, only needing its API to deliver the content. Also, a good headless CMS empowers users with the tools to model structured content effectively using modules or components that can be displayed as a web page on a traditional website or content elements on a mobile application, or presented in a completely different way when displayed on an in-store kiosk. A combination of delivery and content modelling is what makes headless CMS the ultimate solution for the multichannel world we live in.

Why Is Headless CMS Architecture Better?

It’s a new architecture and approach for some people. But here are some of the benefits that the headless CMS architecture brings:

  • Multi-channel and multi-device content use is easy with the API.
  • You are not restricted by programming language, tools, or development processes when creating your websites or mobile apps.
  • You are in control without any worries about the CMS code.
  • Security and scalability are vastly superior.

When learning about headless CMS, it is also important to know that some people use the term API-first CMS. It is intended to indicate that the CMS was built with an API approach in mind, rather than a traditional CMS that just added an API layer and then claimed to support the headless approach.

Cloud-first Headless CMS: It Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This

The headless CMS approach does, of course, work with on-premise CMSs, but you will find the biggest advantages when you use it in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. In fact, it was the headless approach that enabled CMS vendors to provide content management as a true multi-tenant SaaS service.

The cloud-first approach means building the CMS from scratch with the cloud in mind from the very beginning and not just an afterthought like with many traditional CMSs. The cloud-first headless CMS merges the best of headless with the benefits of the cloud. The cloud-first headless CMS approach lets you focus on your website or mobile app while the CMS vendor takes care of everything else, such as the underlying infrastructure, databases, and content delivery network, the installation, upgrades, hotfixes, backup, availability, performance, and security. You still have some work to do, but you don’t need to worry about the CMS code in your environment. It is much easier to secure your code, and the main workload is taken by the cloud CMS, meaning you can handle high traffic levels, even with a modest web server configuration.

Headless CMS Fits Most Scenarios

Headless CMS offers many benefits, and there are very few reasons or situations in which not to use it:

  • A simple website based on a stock template with little custom design—website builders such as Wix or Squarespace may be a better option.
  • You need to get your website operational quickly with off-the-shelf functionality.
  • Content editors want to use the page-oriented approach, or want to customize page layouts by themselves.
  • Your website and content repositories are highly regulated and strict rules and laws dictate that cloud storage is not permitted.
  • You prefer a robust, all-in-one solution that provides content management, marketing automation, e-commerce, online marketing, and many other features rather than building your solution using multiple services.

For almost everything else, headless CMS is the clear option. That's why we created Kentico Cloud, the cloud-first headless CMS for digital agencies and their clients. Try it for yourself and see why you should be thinking about a cloud and headless approach for your next project!

Stephen Griffin

Stephen Griffin Author

Stephen’s path to the CMS industry is a tricky one to explain. A former personal trainer, he moved into football (soccer) coaching, management, and promotion. After a brief career break and a year as a Marketing Copywriter, he is now the Product Marketing Manager at Kentico Software.

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