Understanding Headless CMS: A Comprehensive Overview Including Pros, Cons, and Suitability

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Headless content management systems (CMS) offer flexibility, scalability, and the potential for improved security. This article explores the benefits of using a headless CMS and how it compares to a traditional CMS, including pros, cons, and suitability. This comprehensive overview can help you decide on the best CMS to fit for your organization’s needs and capabilities.

Definition of Headless CMS

In short, a headless CMS is a backend-only content management system. It is called 'headless' because it is separated from the frontend component—the ‘head—that is responsible for presenting the content. Unlike traditional CMS, a headless CMS does not generate any front-end code. This 'front-end agnostic' feature means you can use any application programming interface (API) to distribute the content anywhere you want. 

A headless CMS is content-first and presentation-agnostic. In other words, a headless CMS is all about storing and delivering content, regardless of the delivery channel where that content is finally presented. At its core, a headless CMS is designed for flexible and dynamic content distribution across multiple channels. 

Three Pros of a Headless CMS

There are several noteworthy benefits that the right headless CMS can bring your organization. Following are three key advantages of using a headless CMS in your organization: omnichannel readiness, flexibility and development speed, and content scalability. 

1. Omnichannel readiness

In the age of ubiquitous digital presence, omnichannel publishing has become a fundamental requirement for marketers. A headless CMS emerges as a marketer's best friend by offering a seamless solution for omnichannel publishing. With a headless CMS, content can be created once and published across multiple platforms including websites, mobile applications, social media, and edge devices.

A headless CMS operates as a content hub with a centralized repository for all content, enabling effortless integration with various applications and microservices. This approach simplifies the content publishing process, enabling marketers to reach a wider audience and engage consumer audiences more effectively.

2. Flexibility and development speed

Headless CMS offers API-first architecture, which enables greater flexibility for developers in using their preferred development tools and frameworks, thus enhancing development speed. This flexibility extends to the design and functionality, offering complete control over how the content is presented.

However, it's worth noting the capacity for accelerated development may present increased complexity. The need for technical expertise and understanding of APIs is more pronounced in a headless CMS environment. That said, an experienced technician can easily make the most of the flexibility and increased development speed to support expedited content delivery. 

3. Content scalability

A headless CMS provides excellent scalability as the front-end and the back end are decoupled, meaning they can scale independently. When your website sees a sudden surge in traffic, you can scale up the front-end without touching the back end.

This separation also means that, as your business grows and your content distribution needs evolve, a headless CMS can easily expand to accommodate new channels and technologies without a complete overhaul. 

This flexibility ensures a headless CMS can handle increased workloads and complexity as your organization’s digital content strategy diversifies and scales over time.

For more information, please read this article:

5 Essential Factors to Consider when Selecting the Optimal Headless CMS

Three Cons of a Headless CMS

While the benefits of a headless CMS are powerful, there are a few disadvantages that you should know before choosing to use one in your organization, including, the need for increased technical expertise, lack of pre-built features, and less non-technical marketing user control.

1. Increased technical expertise 

Implementing a headless CMS requires a higher level of technical expertise when compared to working with a traditional CMS. While the latter often comes with a user-friendly interface that doesn't require much technical knowledge, a headless CMS leans more towards those with a solid understanding of web development principles and technologies.

  • Frontend integration: Setting up front-end integrations requires technical know-how, especially as developers are tasked with building custom front-end experiences using their chosen technologies and frameworks.
  • Understanding APIs: Given the critical role of APIs in a headless CMS in connecting systems and data, an understanding of how to work with them effectively is crucial. This includes understanding how to deliver content through APIs and manage data flow between systems.
  • Customization: Customizing a headless CMS to meet specific business needs can be complex, including building custom schemas and integrating with other applications and platforms.
  • Security management: Enhanced security is a benefit of a headless CMS; however, it necessitates a deeper knowledge of access control management and keeping up with regular API updates.

Altogether, the barrier of entry for a headless CMS is higher relative to a traditional CMS. As a result, organizations—especially those with fewer experienced developers—may find the transition challenging.

2. Lack of pre-built features

Traditional CMS platforms commonly offer pre-built features, which are typically missing from a headless CMS. While the flexibility of a headless CMS allows developers to build custom features, this also implies additional development time and effort.

For example, features like user authentication, content preview, and workflow management are often built into a traditional CMS. However, these features would need to be custom-developed in a headless CMS setup.

This can be particularly challenging for non-technical users who rely on these pre-built features for efficient content management and publishing. It can also inflate development resource time, leading to increased costs.

In a nutshell, the lack of pre-built features in a headless CMS can necessitate additional development work, impacting the overall project timeline and cost.

3. Less non-technical marketing user control

Traditional CMS are known for delivering user-friendly interfaces, offering a plethora of themes and drag-and-drop builders that empower even the most non-technical users to construct and launch attractive, functional sites with minimal fuss. These systems are designed with a focus on user experience, integrating content management and site design in a cohesive, intuitive package that simplifies the creation process.

In contrast, the headless CMS—with its separation of front-end and back-end operations—demands a more hands-on approach for site construction. 

The lack of a visual front-end within the CMS means that building out a landing page or a basic website often requires additional development resources. Users must grapple with APIs and manually link the content to the presentation layer, a task that requires a certain level of technical expertise. This can introduce complexities that slow down the deployment of straightforward sites and can turn the quick edits that marketing teams often need into more cumbersome endeavors.

There is another option you may want to consider for your organization… a hybrid CMS.

Enter the Hybrid CMS

While the headless CMS offers notable advantages, the cons may be discouraging. In this case, a hybrid CMS may be the optimal solution by offering the best from both the traditional and headless CMS.

A hybrid CMS merges the flexibility of a headless CMS with the ease of use of a traditional CMS. It provides a coupled front-end for ease of use and previewing, while also enabling headless capabilities via APIs for omnichannel content delivery.

By using a hybrid CMS, marketers maintain control over the front-end, making changes as needed without requiring development work. At the same time, developers can leverage APIs to deliver content to various platforms.


You can learn more about hybrid CMS here:

Hybrid CMS Benefits for Content Management: Merging the Best of Both Systems


The choice between a traditional, headless, or hybrid CMS will depend on your organization’s specific needs, business targets, and resources. As the digital landscapes continue to evolve, it's vital to select a system that aligns with your current requirements, technical capabilities, and future growth. 

Whether you want to explore a traditional, headless, or hybrid CMS, Jahia’s in-house technical advisors are standing by to help. Please reach out for a no-obligation consultation at your convenience.

Fabrice Aissah
Fabrice Aissah

Senior Solutions Architect