How To Select A Headless CMS

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Net pages, such because the one you’re studying now, have textual content, pictures, movies and different property to carry data to you. This information can be collated and authored in a Net Content material Administration System (WCMS) by a content material editor. WCMSes have gone via an evolution transferring from a Conventional CMS to a Decoupled CMS to a headless CMS.

Shifting to a headless CMS is just not a straightforward choice and the choice course of shouldn’t be taken frivolously. On this article, I’ll spotlight just a few core options that each headless CMS ought to present. We are going to discover these options, the related challenges and enable you select a headless CMS to fulfill your group’s distinctive necessities.

Because the Technical Director at Luminary, I’ve been serving to our shoppers select the perfect CMS, DXP (Digital Expertise Platform) or headless CMS to swimsuit their wants. With Luminary’s 21 years of expertise within the digital area, my expertise of 17 years within the CMS area in addition to our give attention to Headless since 2016, listed here are my two cents on what you need to look out for.

Issues To Take into account When Selecting A Headless CMS


Microservices structure

For content material authors

Modifying expertise
Managing pictures

Authoring Roles

Previewing content material
Localizing content material

For builders

RESTful and GraphQL APIs
Native SDKs
Utilization Limits

Different Components

Information centre areas
Technical and gross sales assist
Enterprise options
Infrastructure Integration

Monolithic vs Microservices

We’ve explored the ideas behind headless CMSes intimately right here on Smashing Journal, however let’s do a fast recap. In relation to a Conventional CMS, the CMS and the ensuing front-end web site are constructed on a monolithic structure. The Conventional CMS tries and succeeds in some ways to serve the wants of the developer, content material creator, and marketer. For instance, if the CMS is constructed on Microsoft’s .NET Framework, the front-end web site would even be constructed on the identical expertise. All performance and integrations would even have a decent dependency which in flip ends in a big, cumbersome monolithic code base.

Decoupled CMSes have eliminated this interdependence to a sure extent. This has been achieved by separating the front-end web site from the CMS back-office and content material repository.

Monolithic structure takes a again seat with headless CMSes. The CMS and each different integration is a microservice. The CMS itself is supplied on a Software program-as-a-Service (SaaS) mannequin which I prefer to time period Content material-as-as-Service (CaaS). With this microservices structure, all the pieces you bought out of your Conventional CMS doesn’t come out of the tin. You might have totally different companies and distributors to offer you the perfect of breed for every of your necessities.

The transfer to a microservices mindset wants a little bit of persistence. We had entrepreneurs from a Conventional CMS background who resisted the thought of delving into a number of methods and companies when utilizing a headless CMS. We managed to take them alongside on the journey throughout choice and implementation of their headless CMS platform. Now, they’re advocates for that headless CMS platform because it permits them to combine new methods and companies moderately than being sure to at least one supplied by a Conventional CMS.

Look out for:

Reputed SaaS distributors
Integrating headless CMS as a microservice
Better of breed companies

Omnichannel At Its Core

As a lot as a microservices mindset would enable you when integrating a headless CMS, the true energy of headless is realized in its omnichannel nature. An omnichannel expertise revolves round your buyer and creates a single buyer expertise throughout your model by unifying gross sales and advertising. With a headless CMS, content material is supplied to totally different channels comparable to internet, cell, social, no-UI sensible gadgets, IoT gadgets and even non-digital touchpoints comparable to a bricks-and-mortar shopfront.

With a headless CMS, you might want to outline the schema for every content material mannequin from scratch. The method of defining this sound, logical taxonomy construction for the content material gadgets you create and publish is named content material modeling. In case your first channel goes to be your web site, ensure that your content material modeling takes omnichannel under consideration to alleviate any future ache. If you’re solely searching for a alternative CMS to simply energy your web site, take one other arduous have a look at the Conventional or Decoupled CMS area to see if there’s one thing that may fit your necessities higher.

When modeling content material schemas, consider the longer term. Working for a significant airline not even a decade in the past, I can bear in mind making an attempt to mannequin content material for cell gadgets (sure! there was a separate subdomain for a cell web site). This was excruciatingly troublesome because the content material schemas have been geared in direction of solely a desktop web site. However the story holds true even in the present day that we must be vigilant about content material modeling.

Look out for:

Channels you need to goal
Good content material modeling practices

Creating Nice Content material

Whether or not it’s a conventional CMS or a headless CMS, the principle requirement is managing content material. Content material authors ought to love working within the back-office. For those who see authors turning to different authoring instruments comparable to Google Docs for its commenting or ideas capabilities, it might be a pink flag as to what options you might be lacking.

Microsoft phrase paperwork, spreadsheets, Google docs all the time rear their heads up when working with content material authors. Quite than making an attempt to banish them upfront, the best method to get content material authors to work on the CMS is to give them the options they want and they’re going to mechanically part these out. After we pushed Luminary’s personal web site stay on a headless CMS, each workforce member (50 of them) was given sufficient entry so as to add and edit their very own profile for the web site. It labored a deal with with out having 50 Google Docs flying all over.

Modifying Expertise

The choice to make use of a headless CMS could also be an IT choice. However buy-in from the entrepreneurs and content material authors inside the group is vital for its adoption and success. A headless CMS which permits content material authors to enter content material simply, discover present content material and reuse content material is one thing that ought to come out of the field.

For ease of authoring content material, having easy-to-use editors comparable to WYSIWYG editors, textual content editors, dropdowns and customized editors is a should. A clear and minimalist interface that permits a content material creator to give attention to the duty at hand shall be appreciated. An modifying interface that permits for concurrent modifying, commenting, and creation of kid content material gadgets in the identical interface will improve the productiveness of content material authors.

A phrase of warning when utilizing WYSIWYG editors or heavy reliance on any modifying interface which produces HTML. As a headless CMS is geared to cater to a number of channels, counting on WYSIWYG editors would take away the atomic nature of content material which could be reused. Be sure that customized editors permit accessing information fields at a granular degree. We now have seen this hamper the reuse of content material throughout totally different channels comparable to cell and desktop for instance.

With a headless CMS, organizing content material gadgets in a tree construction is just not the norm. However it’s a bridge permitting content material authors to transition simply from a Conventional CMS to a Headless one. If content material gadgets are usually not visualized in a tree construction, a powerful search engine with aspects and tagging capabilities is paramount to your content material editors. This enables authors to search out and reuse present content material simply.

When reusing content material, one other facet to think about is whether or not content material gadgets could be nested simply inside different content material gadgets. This enables for optimum reuse of present content material. However watch out for round references to content material which might trigger complications and efficiency points. An instance is a content material merchandise for a lawyer which is linked to a content material merchandise for an experience. Then if the experience content material merchandise is once more linked to a number of Lawyer content material gadgets this might kind a round reference. Search for a headless CMS with smarts baked in to restrict depth within the API and visualizations to indicate linked content material gadgets to keep away from this pitfall.

Look out for:

Authoring expertise
Construction of content material gadgets
Ease of looking out content material
Overuse of WYSIWYG editors
Reusing content material

A Image’s Price: How To Deal with Media

An image is value a thousand phrases. However picture property are heavy to move, troublesome to prepare, and arduous to go looking. In a typical CMS, you will notice duplicates and poorly named picture property over time. It is necessary that content material editors are given instruments to prepare, categorize, tag, reuse and seek for pictures inside a headless CMS. For me, this implies organizing property in folders or containers. However it could be good to perceive what your workforce requires by way of managing static property.

The power to add a single picture, set a focus to it after which manipulate its dimensions and high quality for various gadgets and display screen sizes, brings large time-savings to a content material editor and even these designers/graphics artists who work behind the scenes. The supply of static property in codecs comparable to WebP through a Content material Supply Community (CDN) can also be essential to serving your customers a quick web site.

Most headless CMSes include these options out of the field. If not, you might want to resolve which options you may stay with out. There’s a caveat to that rule. For in depth modifying of the unique pictures, you need to follow the perfect instruments for the job comparable to Photoshop.

Together with pictures, the following heaviest property are movies. As soon as once more, with the microservices mindset, streaming of movies must be left to service suppliers comparable to YouTube, Vimeo and different on-line streaming companies. In case your headless CMS can offer you a pleasant modifying interface to go looking or choose a video from certainly one of these suppliers, it’s a bonus.

Look out for:

Organising pictures
Cropping and delivering pictures through a CDN
Exterior better of breed video companies

Authoring Roles

Who can enter content material and who can approve or publish content material to a stay web site and different granular permissions must be managed through the headless CMS as effectively. A two-person workforce might survive with out having distinct authoring roles, however as organizations and content material groups develop, authoring roles are a should.

I’ve labored with content material groups of over 40 editors and this requirement must be fastidiously evaluated in opposition to the headless CMS you selected. If not, pandemonium will reign. With the workforce of 40 I labored with, we had copywriters, translators, QA personnel and authorized approvers who had totally different permissions to entry sure content material, language variants, workflow approvals and publishing rights.

The variety of distinct roles and back-office customers is often how headless CMSes construction their pricing. When evaluating worth factors between distributors consider present numbers and the longer term development of your content material workforce.

Look out for:

Distinct roles
Variety of back-office customers


Not each content material merchandise must be managed through a workflow. However when workflows, audit trails and approvals are essential, the method must be managed inside your headless CMS. Having a sturdy workflow constructed from the ground-up in your headless CMS offers you peace of thoughts and the chance to deal with each content material merchandise based on what you are promoting course of. The power to combine third-party methods through webhooks or APIs is a bonus you need to be careful for.

Look out for:

Sturdy workflows

Content material Previews

The content material editor has authored the content material, added pictures and despatched it through a workflow for approval. However the place do they preview the content material earlier than it’s made out there to most of the people? That is the place preview APIs to retrieve unpublished content material and the power to set preview environments come into play.

With a headless CMS, having moved away from a single channel mindset, your content material editors mustn’t anticipate to see full web page previews inside the CMS back-office. Every channel ought to have its personal staging or preview setting to view yet-to-be-published draft content material. This could possibly be a staging web site to your web site or a regionally put in model of your cell app. A preview function should be out there within the pricing plan you have got chosen for the headless CMS of your selection.

Look out for:

Preview APIs from the seller
Separate staging and manufacturing environments in your finish


In case your content material must be served to totally different locales, that requirement must be recognized early on in your venture. Retrofitting is feasible, however is just not a enjoyable exercise. The way you handle content material and property throughout cultures and languages must be thought out and documented. I might suggest making a blueprint to determine which languages and property inherit or default from one other. Then ensure that your selection of headless CMS helps that blueprint or discover avenues to attain the identical end result in another way.

Look out for:

Internationalisation and Localisation assist
Creating your personal blueprint for dealing with locales

Creating nice content material is all the time essential. Thus, content material authors must be given the very best expertise of their day-to-day actions to make your transition to headless CMS successful.

Dev Time Is Treasured

With a headless CMS, developer involvement is a should. This could possibly be a back-end developer or a front-end developer consuming the headless API to show content material on the web site. However as soon as preliminary improvement is completed, a content material creator ought to be capable to work with minimal intervention. That’s the entire level of utilizing a CMS. It stands true for headless CMSes too.

As a lot as content material authors are thought of when evaluating options, developer options must be explored as effectively. On this part, we are going to have a look at options that may save time for builders.

APIs/GraphQL Assist

A mature API, that permits for choice, pagination and projection of content material gadgets, is vital for a developer to work with a headless CMS. Out-of-the-box GraphQL assist is one other defining issue as it’ll permit the developer to outline the end result they want at a really granular degree. Complete documentation and code samples are additionally a should.

Ensure your builders are pleased with the content material retrieval APIs earlier than committing to a headless CMS. Don’t neglect preview APIs, safe APIs and the benefit of utilizing them through code. Do you need to automate content material creation? Then content material administration APIs must be thought of.

Content material Administration APIs have been a blessing the place we automated the import of over 2,000 weblog posts from a WordPress web site to a headless CMS. All of the weblog posts and associated pictures have been imported with minimal work for the content material authors. Some headless CMSes provide Google Sheets Add-ons and different nifty instruments to do that at a click on of a button.

With many headless CMSes providing free trials, it’s a good suggestion to take them on a check drive to see their suitability and conformance to your selection of content material creation and retrieval.

Look out for:

Mature REST APIs
GraphQL assist
Preview and safe APIs
Content material Administration APIs for CRUD operations
Free trials to attempt it out

Native SDKs

Software program Growth Kits (SDKs) for varied applied sciences, languages and platforms can be found immediately from the Headless vendor, an open-source initiative or a third-party. Ensure these SDKs assist the expertise, language and platform you’ll be constructing your web site or client app on. As a lot as RESTful and GraphQL APIs permit you to question content material, having a local SDK might scale back dev hours fairly considerably.

At Luminary, working with native SDKs for headless CMSes has allowed us to embrace the most recent applied sciences comparable to Microsoft .NET Core and .NET 5. Additionally, constructing on an present SDK has allowed us to observe the perfect practices really useful by the seller whereas saving time.

Look out for:

A supported SDK to your selection of expertise, language, and platform.


A web site or an app for a mom-and-pop store may be capable to curate and preview content material with a single manufacturing setting. However as organizations, groups and options develop, a number of environments to curate and preview content material turn into essential. Not solely does your headless CMS want to offer environments, however your consuming software ought to have environments arrange as effectively. Strategies to refresh content material throughout environments must be thought of.

Look out for:

Environments inside your headless CMS
Potential to port content material between environments

Photographs, Information and CDNs

We touched on managing pictures when speaking about options for the content material creator. From a developer perspective, not solely static property must be cached on a CDN. Many headless CMSes cache content material retrieved through RESTful or GraphQL APIs. This quickens the retrieval course of and brings in efficiency enhancements to your software.

Whereas CDN caching is tremendous helpful, there are occasions when cache corruption or older cached gadgets might create points. The power to purge the CDN cache or the power to tug within the newest content material with particular HTTP headers must be part of your headless CMS’ API performance.

The power to make use of customized domains in opposition to a CDN to ship your content material or static property may be a requirement you might want to take into account.

Look out for:

Caching of pictures and content material through CDN
Customized area capabilities

Utilization Limits Throughout Plans

One other issue to think about is the utilization limits set for every plan you subscribe to in your selection of headless CMS. The variety of content material gadgets, bandwidth consumption, the variety of back-office customers, the variety of API calls, and charge limits must be thought out. When planning for utilization limits, take into account present utilization and future utilization. Do not forget that many headless CMSes function on a subscription foundation they usually do permit you to improve virtually instantaneously to plans with increased limits.

Nonetheless, it’s value being conscious of what number of customers shall be utilizing the platform, and whether or not the answer would wish to scale up massively. We witnessed a consumer get a really giant invoice as they unwittingly added a lot of customers over their allotted quota. It’s a good suggestion for directors to concentrate on what their Headless plan provides and maintain tabs on utilization.

Do take into account retaining below utilization limits in your present limits with client-side caching, static web page mills and sensible API or GraphQL calls to cut back your working expenditure.

Look out for:

Limits on sure options
Working expense

A developer’s time is pricey. Whereas a headless CMS is touted as a developer-friendly CMS, every vendor has totally different options they assist natively. Understanding and evaluating these in opposition to your builders’ wants is very really useful.

Different Components

There are just a few different elements that will not impression the content material creator or the developer. This might vary from advertising to finance to authorized and regulatory necessities to your business and what you are promoting.

Information Centre Places

One query we regularly get requested is, the place is the information saved? Yup, within the cloud. However which geographic information middle is a vital query as a result of authorized and regulatory necessities of sure companies. A headless CMS which lets you retailer information within the information middle of your selection may be a vital consider deciding which CMS you select.

Technical And Gross sales Assist

The power to obtain technical and gross sales assist in your timezone is one other deciding issue when selecting your headless CMS. Not having a neighborhood salesperson has tipped many tasks in favor of these distributors who’ve folks on the bottom within the related area.

We had a big NFP (Not for Revenue) group select a headless CMS vendor as a result of capability to retailer information in an Azure Information Centre inside Australia. Having on-the-ground gross sales assist and around-the-clock technical assist clinched the sale for that headless CMS vendor.

Look out for:

Authorized and regulatory necessities of storing information
Native gross sales and technical assist

Enterprise Options To Take into account

Some giant organizations may require a Single-sign-on (SSO) tied to the corporate’s authentication system or audit logs which could be simply queried. There may be integrations to present methods and sure ISO certifications which must be in place earlier than a SaaS product is taken into account a proper match. Making an inventory of those enterprise options and others distinctive to your enterprise-level group is an efficient place to begin when selecting a headless CMS.

The Group In Motion

One other often missed space is the neighborhood round a given headless CMS. Are there folks on the market who’re passionate in regards to the product? I’m not speaking in regards to the vendor’s advertising peeps. Are there sufficient open-source sources shared by the people who find themselves utilizing the device? This may not be a deciding issue however will assist if you find yourself in a decent spot throughout your implementation or assist part of a venture.

Infrastructure Integration

With headless CMSes, you aren’t sure to expertise, language or platform. The expertise or platform on which the headless CMS is constructed doesn’t affect the consumer software. You should use a expertise of your selection from .NET to Node.js, your OS could possibly be Home windows, Linux or macOS, and your language could possibly be something from Python to C#.

Equally, in relation to procuring infrastructure, you may select to host your web site on Netlify, Azure, GCP or AWS. The structure of your web site and its infrastructure choices at the moment are solely based mostly in your necessities. There are additionally native first-class integrations with companies like Gatsby Cloud which carry in additional combos that make your life simpler. For some, this could possibly be a significant choice and must be made by speaking to some knowledgeable practitioners within the Headless area.

Look out for:

Enterprise options you may’t stay with out
The neighborhood engagement with the seller and the product
Assist to your selection of Infrastructure

Our Expertise At Luminary

At Luminary, now we have been lucky to accomplice with headless CMSes comparable to Acoustic, Contentful, Kentico Kontent, and Umbraco Heartcore. We now have been working with a few of these CMSes because the beta variations of their platforms. Public roadmaps, superior technical assist, and addressing our function requests have been a few of our highlights with these platforms.

We’ve had expertise with tackling search engine optimization for Headless web sites with front-end solely implementations, caching giant itemizing pages, coping with giant server-side caches, and integrating different microservices with headless CMSs. Every of those had its distinctive challenges which you need to be careful for. Additionally, easy duties on a Conventional CMS like kind submissions and web site search must be effectively thought out together with extra superior options comparable to consumer authentication and authorization with third-party companies.

For those who select the right headless CMS with the pointers above and with the right implementation accomplice, you need to find yourself with a headless CMS which makes completely happy entrepreneurs, completely happy content material editors, and completely happy builders.

Additional Studying on SmashingMag:

Going Headless: Use Circumstances And What It’s Good For
Don’t Lose Your Head: Evaluating Headless

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