There’s plenty of discussion around headless CMS right now, with the concept gaining currency. As a marketer, you might feel tempted to leave this to the geeks to duke out. Here’s why you should care, and also be relaxed.

Heads of terms

Simply put a headless CMS, is a type of de-coupled architecture. You have a back end system that does one thing and one thing only: store and manage content. And you have a front end system (or systems), like React, Gatsby, or your smart toaster’s heads-up display,  that do another focused task: display content to the user. Traditional ‘headed’ CMS systems do the whole job in one platform.

When to lose your head

Headless approaches solve a number of problems. 

  • You want to have a branded design system with total brand consistency to power you web estate, but your estate is powered by different back-end technologies / content sources. Decoupled can help you unify a fragmented back-end.
  • You have many different front-end display environments to target and you want a highly tailored experience in each.
  • You want to get maximum reach and re-use of content as part of your multi-channel marketing approach.
  • You want to get an edge on performance, for better search visibility and user experience.

Headless helps you achieve this. You can choose to unify your front end in a single technology (like React) or choose your weapons for each presentation layer (native for apps and connected devices, React for web etc). Headless helps you manage your multi-channel output by giving you flexibility and/or consistency at the front end. Headless gives you a single source of truth for your content. Freedom! Right?

When not to lose your head

Before you head off, though, it’s wise to keep a clear head.

  • You might find yourself managing multiple front end applications and finding technical debt is slowing you down (how many places do I need to make this change?) and introducing higher technical debt (we need to make a quick change - let’s do it one place only for now…).
  • You’ll lose features that help you position content in context (like inline editing, for example) and understand how content builds narrative.

This can reduce your marketing agility - your ability to publish to a sales schedule rather than a technology schedule. You may also need to work harder to make your messaging work in context - undermining the multi-channel approach you are seeking to create.

At this point you may be yearning for the simplicity of a more coupled world - where you have a single application driving multiple responsive views, and centralising content and output in one place. Headache.

Head in a new direction

The conclusion, of course, is that both approaches have their place, and we are have a place for both in our armoury. 

We use headless where we need device specific outcomes, or where we need to unify content sources. And as a Drupal house, we find Drupal operates very well in both coupled and decoupled roles. Drupal provides very strong API and integration support and has been used in decoupled architectures for decades. Dries can give you a better explanation of Drupal’s headless capabilities.

Oops upside your head

And we use coupled approaches to deliver branded design systems that deliver a range of multichannel experiences though strong responsive support. Enabling technologies like Acquia Site Studio (formerly Cohesion) or Wordpress's Gutenberg provide ways of delivering powerful editing experiences with great responsive support - reducing the need to unify the front end through a headless approach. They also deliver brand consistency across multi-site web estates.

Drupal’s API support makes it a strong candidate for the ‘single point of truth’. Why use headless to unify a fragmented set of content sources when Drupal does such a great job of consuming and organising content from third party sources?

Headless horsemen 

So, we are content to pick the best technology for each use case, and Drupal helps us back each horse in the headless/headed race. In the meantime, we hope the article has helped you log-in to your noggin - at least where headless is concerned.