Not so headless: Why your content can do more than you think

Headless content management turns a technical process that is essential for the Internet inside out: where the CMS used to determine how the content should look, with the headless variant the respective end device determines the displayed format of the content.

Dominik Angerer, CEO and co-founder of storyblok, explains how this works and why it is particularly advantageous today to be able to address every user device together with the appropriate output format.

Why without a head?

The classic CMS (Content Management System) combines both the backend, i.e. the handling of the content within a user interface, and the frontend. The frontend is the part that the website visitor sees at the end – including all colors, shapes and predefined formatting for each individual device. The headless CMS, on the other hand, earns its name by separating the “head”, which normally contains all the specifications for displaying in the frontend, from the rest of the content – so a headless solution is always “backend-only”.

Only the programmers who constantly add new content to websites with classic CMS solutions understand the advantage of headless content management systems right away.

The process of conventional content maintenance

Conventional content maintenance is not done by just loading the content into the backend. With every content that is integrated on a website, the function is always tested on all end devices – including front-end programming and adjustments. Each end device is informed in the head of the page how the entire content should look. The website asks which device it is and then transfers the appropriate front end or adapts the display to the format directly. If content is then later added to existing websites, additional problems often arise in the code. The result: In these cases, the programmer(s) spends most of his/her time troubleshooting and reassigning display parameters. Now let’s look at the whole thing “headless”, i.e. using a headless CMS.

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No more redundancy

With the headless variant, the content manager also loads all content into the backend. If you are building a new website, you must of course also specify how the content is to be displayed. So the process sounds and works very similar – up to this point. The definition of how the content should look is also done in the frontend, but this is not directly connected to the content. Instead, the frontend gets the content from an API or interface.

Since the transfer to the frontend means that each individual device now knows exactly what the types of content look like, but not what content is actually coming, the programmer no longer has to repeat this assignment. Even better: Some front ends, e.g. of smart speakers, are provided by the manufacturers together with the output parameters – and the associated APIs are just waiting to be addressed. So it doesn’t matter which video, image or text the backend sends to the frontend via the API. The output is always the same – and therefore always correct. This means that the front end does not have to be reprogrammed for additional content, which saves time and nerves.

What does a headless CMS bring and who is it suitable for?

The switch to headless also makes sense in almost all cases, except for the one that the existing website consists of a high percentage of WordPress plugins. But what are other advantages of headless?

In addition to the time advantage that the content management team gains, headless solutions are also future-proof. Any new type of user device can connect to the existing backend through a one-time API definition. Native apps, which often bring their own API, can also be fed with content from the backend. This is expedient, especially in relation to the trend towards virtual reality. In the face of the Metaverse and other technological innovations that big companies present to us every day, it never hurts to be prepared. Every imaginable technology connected to the Internet can benefit from content and query it without any problems.

So whether it’s an iOS app, VR glasses or a web shop: your content appeals to them all – but this also achieves a completely different goal. The more end devices you can address, the more contact options your content will have with your target group. And that’s what ultimately matters.