What is a Headless Content Management System?

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Article by Quinn Frankel

Content Management Systems (CMS) are types of software that help users create and manage content on a website without the need to know how to write code from scratch. Instead of building your own system for creating web pages, storing images, and other typical website functions, the CMS handles all the basic infrastructure for you so that you can focus more on other parts of your website like the copy, visuals, or messaging. WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are examples of open source Content Management Systems that are available for you to easily manage a website.

Content Management Systems have been around for a long time, but they have been evolving over time. Below we’ll explore the differences between a headless CMS and a traditional CMS, and the advantages of using a headless CMS for particular projects. 

What is a Headless Content Management System?

A headless CMS is a back-end only system that acts as a content repository.  The headless CMS makes content accessible via an application programming interface (API) for display on any platform. The API delivers a user response to a system and sends the system’s response back to the user. The term “headless” comes from the concept of chopping the “head” (the front end, i.e. the website) off the “body” (the back end, i.e. the content repository). A headless CMS has one primary focus: storing and delivering structured content. 

Headless Content Management Systems vs. Traditional Content Management Systems

A traditional CMS is linked tightly between the front end and the back end of the site. Content is created, managed, and stored on the site’s back end. The content management back end and databases are bound within the same system that delivers and presents content to devices and users. The content you are writing and publishing on is the same system that your users are viewing. Traditional content management systems also need to be managed on your own, and they only have one context for presenting content. 

What are the benefits of using a Headless Content Management System?

Headless CMS are more flexible to develop on

Not only are you able to pick your programming language, but a headless CMS is also API driven so you can build the front-facing side end to end. Headless CMS also allows you to pick your CMS language separate from the programming language you are using from your front-end. 

Headless CMS allows for a smaller, less specialized team

Companies no longer need large teams of specialist consultants who are knowledgeable in a particular CMS. Expertise is required, of course, but at a lot smaller scale than a traditional content management system.

Headless CMS is always up to date

A huge benefit of a headless content management system is that it’s fully managed and upgraded for you. This is a huge benefit because upgrading can often be costly, particularly when you do not control when it needs to be updated.

Headless CMS can manage multiple platforms

Since Headless CMS are front-end agnostic, you can use them to manage content for native apps, progressive web apps, and other non-web software.


The question is, which is best for your project, a headless CMS or a traditional CMS? To learn more, contact us today to speak with one of our CMS specialists.

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