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When to Consider Using a Headless Content Management System

Daniel Maley Daniel Maley  |  
May 29, 2018
As a member of Skyline’s Website Design & Development team, I have built several websites over the years using traditional CMS platforms. Building your website with a great CMS like Kentico has a ton of benefits such as improved site maintenance, workflow management, security, and the ability to empower non-technical users to manage website content. However, a full featured CMS platform may not always be the right choice for every project that involves content management.
Many major CMS vendors have acknowledged the need for a “headless” CMS option like the Kentico Cloud. I am going to outline several specific scenarios where it might make sense to consider implementing a headless CMS for managing your content. My goal is not to deter you from selecting a traditional CMS for building your website, but instead to arm you with the knowledge needed to make an informed decision!

When Website Performance is Your Highest Priority

website speed performance
Website performance on a traditional CMS platform is going to suffer because each page needs to be dynamically rendered. This means that when a user requests a page on your site the request reaches the server, which typically then uses the CMS APIs to call the database. Then the page data is returned from the database to the server where it constructs the page from the page template and page data, and finally the page is displayed to the user.
By providing content editors the freedom to create page templates and page data in the CMS, the performance of the pages that get created will be slower than if the pages were static HTML. To be fair, most good traditional CMS platforms will utilize some sort of output caching to prevent unnecessary calls to the database.
kentico cloud cms

In the case of a headless CMS, the presentation layer is separate from the content management layer. This means that the HTML for the page layout is static, and only the content for the page is fetched from the Headless CMS. For optimal performance, you can take this one step further with Kentico Cloud and utilize Web Hooks and Build Events to produce a completely static site with no database interaction.

When You Want to Avoid Vendor-Lock In

Another area where a headless CMS shines is helping you to avoid vendor lock-in. With a traditional CMS, pages are typically a combination of standard HTML- and CMS-specific markup that render together to produce the web page. The issue with this approach is that it becomes very difficult to move away from a traditional CMS once your website has been created. If today you have a website built and running using the Kentico CMS, and tomorrow you want to move to WordPress or away from a CMS platform all together, you are going to have to find a way to get your content out of your current CMS and completely re-create your website.
With a headless CMS, the presentation is separate from the content management. This independence allows you to build your website using any technology you want. If you wake up tomorrow and decide you want to switch from using React to Angular to render your website, your content can remain as it is in Kentico Cloud without any content rework required. You can completely re-construct the front end of your website and your headless CMS will not be impacted. Your content is not bound to a technology, giving you complete freedom to do with it whatever you want.

When You Need to Reduce Cost

If the cost of your website is your highest priority, a headless CMS could be a great solution. This will obviously depend on the features and traffic of your current website. Kentico Cloud does have a free option which could be a great fit depending on your needs. With the free version, there are some user number limitations as well as a limited number of API calls. You can explore pricing options here. Kentico does have a great boilerplate MVC solution to quickly get you up and running. The boilerplate solution also enables you to use memory caching and reduce the number of API calls required to fetch content for your site.
It is important to remember that a headless CMS like Kentico Cloud is not as feature-rich as the traditional Kentico CMS. If you are utilizing all the features in your traditional CMS, you are already saving time and money when compared to a custom solution because you are taking advantage of features out-of-the-box. It is important to factor in the time and effort it will take to re-create these out-of-the-box features you get with a traditional CMS and compare that to the cost of purchasing a full traditional CMS. Basing your decision on the sticker price alone is a bad decision since the amount of work to get up and running with a headless CMS might outweigh the cost savings.

When Content Needs to be Accessible Across Multiple Devices

Content accessibility is an area where a headless CMS solution shines. Since the presentation layer is separate from the content management, your headless CMS does not care how the content is being consumed and presented. This allows your content editors to focus on creating and managing great content, and it frees up developers to focus on writing code to use that content for your website, mobile app, or even virtual assistant.
In a traditional CMS, content is managed in a way that allows your website to easily understand its own content and display that content in a friendly way to your visitors. The challenge is when you want to re-use the content in your traditional CMS outside of your website, such as in a mobile app or with a virtual assistant. This often involves standing up a separate API project that must use the CMS libraries to pull content out of the CMS and expose it to other devices.
With a headless CMS, the content is already available via an SDK, with Kentico Cloud developers having several options to choose from. The SDKs are optimized to consume data out of Kentico Cloud in an efficient manner. This is all work that must be completed by developers when using a traditional CMS.


When selecting a CMS platform, be sure to ask yourself if a headless CMS is something you should be considering. If you are uncertain if a headless CMS is a good option for your organization, we can help you make that decision.
KenticoWeb Development


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