Why it's OK to lose your head sometimes

Headless CMS

A lot is being said about headless versus traditional CMS and we wanted to share with you our view on when it makes total sense to loose your head and when it's better to have it tightly screwed on.

Traditional versus headless CMS

With a traditional CMS, also known as coupled or monolith CMS, a user enters his content in a back end interface. Thanks to the front end layer (i.e. technical code and style templates) this content can be shown on a web page.

headless CMS on the other hand does not have this front end layer. In other words, it lacks a ‘head’. Such a CMS simply serves to manage the content and not how this content is used by the output channel. Users still enter their content in a back end interface.The front end layer (independent of the CMS) will call upon this content via APIs. These APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) allow any application in the front to retrieve content stored in the back. As such, content created in a headless CMS can easily be reused by multiple channels such as websites, apps, chatbots, smart watches, …  This is not the case for a traditional CMS where back end and front end communicate in a very specific way that does not allow easy reuse in multiple channels.


Apart from a traditional and headless CMS, there is also a hybrid model between these two, a.k.a. a decoupled CMS. 

This kind of CMS works with APIs to call the content, just like the headless CMS but unlike the latter, it also includes the front end layer to present the content on the web. While this type of CMS offers a more robust architecture then a traditional CMS due to the use of APIs, it does not allow to reap all benefits from a true headless CMS. 

The pro’s and con’s of a headless CMS

Seperating the front and back end offers companies a lot of flexibility:  

  • Since the API allows any program to retrieve the content, there is great liberty in choosing the technology to build the front end. This allows companies to choose their favorite or best-fitting technologies. In addition, adjusting or upgrading an application can be done without impacting the CMS, reducing effort and cost. As such it offers companies the agility they need to keep up with their rapidly changing environment.
  • As content can easily be used by multiple channels, a headless CMS can serve as a unique content source. This benefits consistency and helps companies build a true omnichannel experience for their (potential) customers. It also allows companies to quickly adopt any new device or channel that emerges and keep up with new trends.
  • As a headless CMS only serves to manage the content, it fits the micro service architecture bill. This type of architecture allows companies to compile the set of services that best fit their needs. Adding a new service or replacing an existing one can be done without impacting the other services and the related investment cost. For example, a traditional CMS often holds built-in tools for marketing automation and web analytics. Companies that go headless are able to choose marketing and analytics tools that they already know and use today (reducing the need for training) and/or that best fit their needs (making them more effective).

It's clear to see that working with micro services and a headless CMS has many benefits. However, the complexity of integration makes it less suitable for simple projects such as the setup of a simple website. Same goes for projects starting from zero as the choice of services to integrate would already be too much of a challenge. In those cases, a traditional all-in-one CMS would be more suitable to get started.

Use cases

Today, Oak Street identified 5 different use cases in which going headless makes sense :

  • Technology driven:  companies choosing microservice architectures to build their digital solutions can use a headless CMS to manage content. We see more and more companies in this particular situation.
  • Multi channel: companies with multiple output channels can use a headless CMS as the single source of truth. As such it contributes to consistent messages in all channels and offering a true omnichannel experience to their customers.
  • Multi content: companies that have many sources of content can benefit from aggregating that content in a headless CMS. This allows for content normalization and easier reuse of content by different channels.
  • When a traditional CMS is overkill: companies that are looking for a CMS to support a mobile app for example are better off with a headless CMS. With a coupled CMS - which is traditionally more focused on building websites - they would be paying for functionalities they don't actually need.
  • Content preparation: companies that are under great time pressure for the delivery of a new web application can benefit from a headless CMS to speed up the content preparation phase. With a headless CMS, developers set up the back end in an early stage of the project, allowing content editors to start inputting content almost immediately. As they do not have to wait until front end is ready, this allows to save valuable time and speed up delivery.

In summary, loosing your head can totally make sense in some cases but having it tightly screwed onto your body can also makes sense in others.  Want to know more about the added value of a headless CMS? We are happy to help!