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What is a Headless CMS?

By 2020, two-thirds of agencies had created a website using a headless CMS with 48% seeing an increase in client projects that benefited from using this CMS model in 2020. 

Additionally, a survey of European and US agencies by Umbraco, a leading Open Source CMS we partner with, found that 47% of agencies help implement a Headless CMS for eCommerce businesses, enabling brands to enrich the customer experience.

However, while there have been many positive use cases and increased use of this CMS model, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right fit for your business. In this blog post, we are going to be breaking down everything you need to know about the Headless CMS solution, their best features, drawbacks and who can use this model.

So… What exactly is a Headless CMS?

Simply put this is a Content Management System (CMS) that manages and organises your content in the back-end without being connected to a front-end ‘display’ layer. The architecture separates back-end content functions like asset management and content storage, from front-end tasks such as content presentation and delivery. The most notable headless CMS platforms are; Umbraco CMS, Kentico, Agility, DotCMS, Hippo.

A headless system cuts the connection between the front-end and back-end of your website. This means that the CMS platform is back-end only, with no default front end system. So you store your content through the model but need to connect a content API to distribute your content through any frame. Read our guide to understanding APIs

This means that if you’re planning on using a Headless CMS for your next project, then it’s vital to bring in an expert web development agency to lead that. We outline the need for this in our post 5 key reasons why you need an Umbraco specialist working on your next CMS project.

Why use a Headless CMS?

Content Control. Due to the disconnect between the back-end interface and front-end design, they can now craft beautiful, responsive content that can be delivered to multiple channels, without having to use rigid CMS templates that users don’t respond to. This also streamlines the process of creating unique digital experiences for customers, which often results in high conversion rates.

Enhanced user experience. The ‘served’ connection between the back-end and front-end of your website, don’t need to interact with each other. This means that it provides a fast, consistent, and responsive user experience every time. Creating a reliable first impression for users, meaning they are more likely to interact with your content and your business. 

Programming Freedom. Similar to being able to curate a unique front-end design, developers have the freedom to use coding languages that they are familiar with. As the front-end and back-end are longer associated together, they are released from the pre-existing programming restrictions from the CMS platform. This allows them to finish their work faster, implement smarter solutions and push content using the latest APIs. So your company content is available wherever you need it. 

What are the drawbacks of using a Headless CMS?

Accessibility. Whilst you gain access to your website flexibility this does come at a cost. That cost being, a reduction in your website’s accessibility. This is due to two reasons. The content design is not the same as when you edit and author the content. Known also as ‘WYSIWYG’: What you see is what you get. Meaning you may need to spend more time understanding the formatting, functionally and front-end design when curating your content.

Additional Website Integrations. As the front-end has been removed, you need to find further technologies to replace this. For example, a chosen Content API can showcase your content on any device. Before this, however, you’ll need to determine your business preferences, needs and capabilities before starting this website development. This front-end pre-planning can be very time consuming and needs to unite between your developers and business. For a list of front-end alternatives, follow this link

What about a Decoupled CMS?

An API – First CMS or decoupled CMS is very similar to a Headless CMS. They both have no default front-end and developers can create their backend interface. However, decoupled CMS systems still often include front end delivery tools such as pages templates. Choosing between these CMS models depends highly on your business and how you want to optimise your website. 

For example, a Headless CMS platform is ideal for medium to large businesses that already have website developers on hand and simply need the CMS to manage the content, using a Content API to push out the front-end content once the developers have finished defining the back-end. While a decoupled CMS is ideal for smaller businesses that still want to have this end-to-end separation within their website interface, but may still need some publishing support and access to front-end design tools to organise their unique branded content. 

What are some alternatives to the Headless CMS?

Headless CMS platforms started to increase in popularity last year, with 51% of agencies stating there had been an increased demand for projects using these models. Increasingly becoming the go-to CMS platform for every online business wanting to optimise their back-end interface and streamline their front-end design, to entice users to interact with their website. However, there are some alternatives that are emerging including:

The Hybrid Headless CMS. Our friends at Sitecore have designed a model that combines the flexibility and third-party extensions seen in a Headless CMS, with the content analytics and website personalisation offered by traditional CMS platforms. They offer multiple delivery options for back-end developers and already come with an API that connects with the Sitecore database. Offering you a fast, reliable and tailored user experience that they can’t find anywhere else.

Third-Party Technologies. In this blog post, we mentioned a drawback of a Headless CMS is the lack of personalisation. However, due to the increased popularity of this model, content personalisation software and analytic add-ons have now started to curate third-party integrations that support the Headless CMS model. When choosing your model, be sure to consider whether you need a highly technical CMS system or a third party application to conduct a specific task. 


With increased online competition and constant growth in digital platforms, you need to ensure your business can take control over your website content, optimising this for your industry and audience.

Our expert team can help you find the best CMS platform for your business to optimise your website interface and grow your customer database. 

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  • Written by Jess Cory, August 16 2021
  • CMS,