What is Headless?

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Put down the guillotine — we’re still talking about a CMS, or Content Management System!

“Headless” has become one of the most buzzed-about terms in the industry as of late. Headless-enabled. Headless-first. Headless-optional. We even mention such enablement in our own products. But if you’re not familiar with what this means – or the incredible effect it can have on your CMS – it can just come off as gobbledygook. So, as always, let’s make it simple!

The “Head” in “Headless”

Headless, at its core, means just as it sounds – a body that is absent the controlling mechanism at the top.

In the CMS world, this “head” is defined as the site or structure that your content is built upon. Think about a single channel that you use to talk to your customers. Your website, perhaps. You write content, build out engagement strategies, and finalize how it will look and be “presented” through things like your website’s architecture, content templates, and its overall front-facing design.

That’s a lot to consider! And the end result? Content specifically designed for and built for that specific channel.

Okay, now imagine doing that same thing for that same content on a mobile site or separate application. All mimicking the same look-and-feel of the content you just published on your website.

Sweating yet?

Welcome to “Headless.”

The Brass Tax

If the “head” is the channel and its restricting design, the “body” must, therefore, be the content. But what does that look like freed on its own?

Well, for starters, “Headless” content is content that is not affixed to any one form of presentation or use. Imagine a digital silo containing all your company’s content. Everything from images to articles to videos of your boss taking a nap in their office. This content can be applied as you see fit, wherever you might need it – your website, an application, whatever. It’s then built into a single framework that is then brought into that channel, ensuring the content keeps the same consistent look and feel.

All of a sudden, you have content that can be taken virtually wherever you are, easily and without having to parse through a different system each time. That means everyone can see your boss’s nap the way it was meant to be seen.

However, Headless content still needs to be managed and maintained, as well as having a structured framework around it. That’s where Headless CMS’s come in.

Headless CMS

While this section is titled Headless CMS, it’s important to note that there are actually two types of CMS that can handle this type of functionality: Headless CMS and Hybrid CMS. The difference is about what you expect – a Headless CMS focuses solely on delivering headless content and is designed towards maximizing that. A Hybrid CMS is a best-of-both-worlds approach that marries functionality inherent to a Headless CMS with what you would think of as a more “Traditional” CMS – channel-specific approach so you can choose what you need where you need it.

While we won’t try to dictate which one makes the most sense for your institution – every company is different, after all – we can talk about what these CMS’s do for “Headless” content. Namely, that they allow a company to first decide how they want to present the content, then connect that content so it can be presented. This is in contrast with the more traditional approach, where you have to first create the content then develop your system so it can manage it.

To put it another way: remember the nap-time video? A Headless CMS is the difference between having to build a bunch of different sites so all of your variously tech-enabled coworkers can have some schadenfreudian fun vs. making one single framework that can then be applied as needed to all the channels they’re using.

The Benefits of Headless

What does that mean for your company? Lower costs, for one. As Headless becomes more prevalent, there are plenty of front-end frameworks readily available to, er, borrow for your own uses, meaning that you’re mostly focusing development dollars on configuring and customizing yours. That also means less development time and better efficiency since all the content is housed in one location and is accessible whenever you need it.

With that said, Headless doesn’t necessarily work with many older systems. Especially for complex sites and portal systems, the “Traditional” can sometimes be easier and more effective. Ultimately, you need to measure your needs versus functionality to determine what’s right for you.

In Conclusion

As we’ve highlighted in our previous Make It Simple posts, many of these topics are simple once you brush past the seemingly-complicated terminology. While we certainly hope this provided a good first taste of what Headless means, we encourage you to continue learning and researching more about this technology. Our resource library is a great first step!

We also encourage you to check out the other articles in our Make It Simple series. If there’s a topic that you think we should cover in our next installment, let us know!