Headless CMS: What Is It & What Are the Benefits

Considering choosing a headless CMS for your website? We can help! Here are some of the reasons why you should pick one over a traditional CMS.

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Laptop with HTML tag on the screen.

You probably know that web developers and content creators typically use a CMS, or Content Management System, for creating and publishing their content. But what you might not know about choosing a CMS is that you have a choice between a standard CMS and a headless CMS – and there are pros and cons to both.

Selecting a CMS is a big decision to make: how content is published, how integrations work, and the amount of flexibility included in the process all matter.

So, what's the difference? Is a headless CMS better than a standard one? What are the benefits of this type of CMS?

Read on to find out if a headless CMS will work for your company's needs.

What Does a Traditional CMS Consist Of?

A standard or traditional CMS consists of a number of parts that are all, for lack of a better term, sandwiched together. You're more than likely familiar with one of the most popular CMS programs, WordPress, where you can create your content, publish it, and store your photos and words all in one spot.

The typical parts of a standard CMS include:

An Admin Panel

Using WordPress as an example, the admin panel is where all of the action is. This is where you can track your statistics, change your theme, upload pictures, create and publish pages and posts, and even customize your theme.

This particular CMS makes it easy to do this, and it's very user-friendly, even if it may not be as flexible as you want it to be.

A Database

The database is where everything is stored. On WordPress, the database portion holds all of your content, from your written and published posts, every photograph or logo you've uploaded, and everything you've put on your pages.

It's a repository of your website's information, and everything in it is easy to access. You can find a certain post or photo fairly quickly.

The Frontend

The front end is what the visitors to the site see. It's the part of the website that the public views. They type in your domain name, and the frontend pops up (unless, for some reason, you have the site set as private or not viewable, of course.)

You can adjust what people see on the front end by changing things on the admin panel.

An API

Finally, there's the API. Short for Application Programming Interface, it's the part of the CMS that holds everything together.

Without a properly programmed and setup API, the admin panel, database, and frontend wouldn't communicate correctly. Visitors to the site may see anything from broken images that won't load to a myriad of other problems.

Without all four of these pieces, a standard CMS would be a bit more difficult to use. However, a headless CMS works quite well for site developers.

Learn more about using Yext with APIs, SDKs, and more here.

What's a Headless CMS?

Unlike a standard CMS, a headless CMS only consists of the backend of the website. This means that it's separated from the front end, and although the content appears on a website once it's published, the two are essentially different things.

Let's look at it this way – the front end, or head, of the website, is the part visitors see online. The backend, which consists of the database, the admin panel, and the API, is the site's body.

To put it simply, a headless CMS only consists of the backend. There is a front end, but it's not a part of the CMS. It exists on its own. The headless CMS is essentially data that exists in code form.

Why Choose a Headless CMS?

Since the headless CMS isn't directly tied to a frontend, it can be placed anywhere and in any format until you set up the API to display the data on the internet.

So, in short – with a WordPress website, you're limited. You can only publish your site on WordPress.

While you can set up a custom domain that directs users to a certain address connected to WordPress, you can't take the information from the admin panel of a WordPress site and set it up to publish on SquareSpace.

It simply doesn't work that way. However, with a headless CMS, you can take your code and put it on any website that you own.

So, to get the answer to the question, people choose a headless CMS because it allows them to customize where their site's data is published. There are numerous options, and they aren't locked into a certain front end, as they would be in a traditional CMS. This type of flexibility works for many different types of businesses and websites.

The Benefits of a Headless CMS

Not only does is a headless CMS a good choice for anyone who wants the flexibility of not tying their website to a specific type of frontend, but there are also other benefits:

The Frontend is Separated from the Backend

While it's clear that the frontend and backend are not on the same platform with a headless CMS, this setup has one very clear advantage.

To explain it with an example, if you're editing your WordPress site, you're essentially messing around with a live, published site. If you make a change that you don't like and press "save," then viewers will see it right away.

There are a number of risks associated with this. Plus, there are some sites that you don't want to make these major changes on right away.

For example, if you own a large online store and have used custom code and APIs for your site if someone makes a change to the backend, which is tied to the frontend (in a standard CMS), you risk having the site act strangely or may be faced with products that disappear just as someone goes to purchase them.

With a headless CMS, these back-end changes can be implemented later, at a specific low traffic time, keeping the site in good operating condition without anything going wonky. It's much safer, when viewed from this perspective.

A Content-First Perspective

With a traditional CMS, your content is the second thing on the list. The first is your overall website design. For example, you can't publish a post on a WordPress site until you choose a theme. You may have to rearrange or redo some of your content if you switch themes because it won't look the same.

On the other hand, a headless CMS places content at the forefront. Since you can move your content anywhere, on any site that allows you to host and publish it, you don't have to worry about your content looking strange when it's moved from, for example, one URL to another. The code and content are the most important.

An Evergreen CMS

If you want a persistently evergreen site (that is, always accessible without the need to perform time-consuming platform updates and upgrades), then a headless CMS is the best option.

Since the site is code-based, instead of tied to a specific platform, you never have to worry about it being out of date or having to fight with plugins that are no longer supported.

On top of that, you can easily turn a small website into a large one with aheadless CMS without having to worry about your early content getting overlooked or having to be re-coded. That content is evergreen and always there, no matter how much your site has grown in the meantime.

Tightened Security

Security is paramount when it comes to all websites, but particularly those run as online shops. With a headless CMS, you have a better chance of protecting your website, including your information and that of your customers.

Since you created all of the code, you don't have to worry about any plugins or anything that you have installed getting hacked and filled with malicious code. As a result, your website is very secure.

Final Thoughts

While it seems as though a headless CMS might be a little less user-friendly than a traditional one, and there might be a bit of a learning curve, once you're familiar with the APIs chosen for the headless CMS, you'll find that editing and adding new content is actually quite simple. A headless CMS is surprisingly easy to use.

If you're interested in streamlining your customer journey further, read about Yext eCommerce Answers here.

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