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CMS – traditional or headless?

Karin Christen Avatar

What is the difference between the architecture of a traditional and a headless content management system? How do we deal with this topic in the conception and development of our projects?

The traditional way

The classic content management approach not only uses the content management system (CMS) to manipulate and store content, but also includes functionality through built-in modules or even third-party plugins to provide certain features to the application. This means that traditional CMS focus on websites or blogs, which is why editors primarily create their content within its layout.

What is «headless»?

The headless approach separates creation, management, and storage of content from the presentation. This is done in order to be able to present the content in a more flexible and sustainable way. A so-called headless CMS is used to centrally write and manage the contents, similar to a database. The content can then be used for multiple channels, such as web, print or mobile apps, through an API.

Does WordPress do «headless»?

WordPress is a classic CMS, as the presentation of the content is an important part of the Content Management System. Nevertheless, WordPress can also be used as a headless CMS. This is made possible by the REST API. This API has been a part of WordPress since version 4.7 and is always active by default. Also on our website, see here.

With «headless» – what needs to be considered?

Headless is Content First. So we start by thinking about what is being said and not what it’s supposed to look like. The content is therefore not created within the “web design”, but the focus is holistically on what the actual service is and how it should be communicated across multiple platforms. A clear content strategy helps and should answer the following questions:

  • Who is the target group?
  • What is the customer journey and what content do we display on each step?
  • On what platforms do we communicate?
  • How do we structure the content to communicate proper across multiple platforms?

Hosting – strong server needed

A headless CMS and the integrated REST API, requires a very powerful server that can manage the data appropriately and guarantee the availability of the API as the data is queried across multiple applications and media. The server has to be able to process all inquiries within a very short time. If the server fails, all dependent applications would be at risk. Therefore, in most cases, two to three servers are in place to ensure smooth operation. This not only costs time in maintenance, but also money. Those who basically want to manage just one website with a CMS are definitely better served by the cheaper and less demanding traditional content management system.

Flexible and sustainable

The headless architecture is, as mentioned earlier, more sustainable and flexible. If the CMS needs to be changed in a later process, only the content has to be migrated and made available again via an interface. The presentation remains the same.

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