Who needs headless? When to upgrade to a headless CMS

January 27, 2022 | 6 minute read
Karma Bennett
Content Marketing, Oracle Advertising and CX
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Last week I went over some of the reasons why companies are migrating to a headless content management system (CMS). If you’ve been researching this topic, you will find much ado about the why but very little about the when. As hyped as we are about the benefits of headless, it’s not for everyone. An interior designer with a staff of three whose only content consists of their blog and social media will do just fine on their legacy content management system. A multimillion-dollar video game company that’s creating content for Android, iPhone, Xbox, and Steam needs to get on headless or get left behind. 

Naturally, companies that sell a headless CMS will suggest their product as the solution to every problem (our CMS is headless, but we also offer a monolithic option to suit the widest variety of needs ). They’ll offer features that your legacy CMS can do, without clarifying why the headless version does it better. 

I have been using monolithic content management systems for over a decade, so today I’m going to give it to you straight: Here are the things you need to consider to determine if it really is time for you to switch your company over to a headless CMS. 

From monolithic CMS to headless

If you’ve ever created a web page without having to write HTML, most likely a content management system (CMS) made that possible. A CMS is simply an interface that allows non-coders to upload, write and edit the content of their websites. Content management systems are vital to expanding who has access to creation of the world wide web, so much so that your company likely already uses one. 

Even the creator of the most popular conventional CMS (which we will refer to herein as monolithic to distinguish it from headless) acknowledges that headless content management systems are the future. So what is the hype about? Is your brand ready to leap into that future? Will migrating be worth the time and money it takes to switch? What does that entail? This post is not about what a headless CMS is, rather it is a guide to clarify what kind of business is ready to take the leap.

Should your company switch to a headless CMS? 

Do you routinely work with a developer to style your content or expand your site? 

For very small brands that can’t afford to hire developers, they can use a front-end product like Oracle Experience platform to push content from a headless CMS out to their website(s) but may not see the need to do so. But if you are routinely asking your developers to put together templates or additional features for your website, a headless CMS may streamline your process. Rather than researching which plugin can best be reverse-engineered to meet your needs, just have your team whip up a template for the front end design. Instead of trying to get someone else’s code to work with your CMS, you can focus instead on the features and design what you want. 

Every developer I’ve spoken to prefers a headless CMS, even in the cases where it takes more work to set up. The legacy CMS requires them to kludge together unfamiliar bits of code, instead of being able to implement the most elegant solution they can come up with. They can write the code in the language of their choice, rather than being forced into less popular languages attached to legacy systems (e.g. PHP) that were written before useful frameworks that make coding easier (e.g. Restful APIs, React, Angular, SPA frameworks). They can make changes to the design without it affecting the content and vice-versa. Moreover, coders are intimately aware of the security, scalability, and speed benefits of decoupling content from presentation (the head). 

Do you maintain different versions of your site for various languages, locations, or franchises?

If you’re frustrated by having to keep track of the content changes for a wide variety of localizations, a headless CMS will help you keep language, franchise, or market content organized into folders that are automatically linked to the destinations where the content will appear. It’s easier to keep track of which languages have been revised, and easier to push those revisions out to various channels.  

Is your app just as important as your website? 

Instead of expecting users to visit their websites, many businesses are posting updates and promotions directly in their app. Consider a gaming app that provides weekly contests or new maps and characters, or a music app that promotes local concerts. You don’t want to neglect your website; content should go to both the app and the site. But when bug fixes, content edits, language variations, and A/B tests are compounded on top of weekly content updates, it gets complex quickly. A headless CMS will serve as the single source of truth and push these updates to both your site and your app more efficiently. 

Do you create content for an IoT product? 

The same issues you encounter developing content for an app are also relevant to teams working on content for smart watches, refrigerators, gaming consoles, chat bots, kiosks, and voice-activated services like Alexa. 

Are you putting a lot of time into developing separate versions of your websites for different screens?

Most users of a monolithic CMS have some mechanism to edit the mobile version of their site, with either a plugin, theme, or custom code. This is fine for minor changes. But if you’re keeping three versions of your site for different mobile screen widths and two versions for desktop, your content management will become unwieldy. Consider a headless CMS if every update is requiring developer attention to accommodate different screens. 

Does your content undergo legal or scientific scrutiny?

If every bit of content is reviewed by a policy analyst, lawyer, doctor, or scientist; that will create bottlenecks in your workflow. You’ll likely want to re-use pieces of content that have been reviewed, and you’ll want to have total clarity on which revision has received the greenlight. For example, consider the launch of a new drug, which will likely need to be reviewed by both doctors and lawyers. Even if the company is only pushing content out to social media and their website, they are reusing the same fine print on that product over and over. If a change in the laws requires an edit to that fine print, the headless CMS simplifies this process. Instead of having to find all the instances where that fine print was used, they’d simply update it once in the CMS and the change would be pushed out automatically. 

Omnichannel publishing is the future

What all of these questions have in common is finding the point at which a single website is no longer the center of your digital reach. Customers expect a consistent experience, whether they are interacting with your website, app, or a kiosk in your store. As more of our lives become connected to the internet, companies will need an efficient way to update all these channels consistently and efficiently. 

Headless content management systems to the rescue! 


Our guide to content management systems can assist you in understanding different types of CMS and what to consider when choosing the right one for your business.

Next, check out our guide to streamline content creation and delivery

Check out the rest of this three-part series:

1. How a headless CMS is different from a conventional CMS

2. 4 Reasons businesses are switching to a headless CMS

Karma Bennett

Content Marketing, Oracle Advertising and CX

Karma has over a decade of experience with content marketing and SEO. In addition to marketing, she writes about tech, music, and politics. You may find her shamelessly singing along with the muzak at the grocery store or giving marketing advice at KarmaBennett.com

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