What's a headless CMS? Do you need one?

Published Apr 18, 2024, 3:13 PM
Written by Marcus Nyeholt

Larger organisations that communicate across a range of digital channels have the most to gain from a headless CMS.


The question, 'Do we need a headless CMS?' has come up a lot lately when I've been talking to customers.

Here's my plain language answer to that question – I hope it helps you to understand what a headless CMS does and why it might, or might not, be a good fit for your organisation.

A typical CMS (Content Management System) has a website (the head) that shows customers content that comes from an attached database (the body).

However, people now get their digital information in a range of ways that don’t always involve websites. If you’re using a standard CMS it takes a lot of effort to individually create and publish content to all the places people now expect to find it: on apps, on all of your organisation’s websites, via notifications or apps on mobile phones or smartwatches, social media, digital billboards, e-newsletters, online ads, emails or texts.

A headless CMS, on the other hand, stores content without it being linked just to a website. It can instantaneously configure and push out your content to all kinds of digital locations using APIs (Application Processing Interfaces).

What could this look like? A single sales campaign could be created in the headless CMS by sales, marketing and communications teams then, without creating separate pieces of content, it could appear on any type of digital channel, from digital signage or voice assistants, to online ads, screens in vehicles or apps on smartphones.

If an organisation using a headless CMS scales up, or a new digital channel emerges, their CMS setup can accommodate that without any trouble.

So, who needs a headless CMS? If you’re someone with a non-technical background who needs to launch a website without paying a developer, then I think you'll be fine with a traditional CMS. It’ll adequately manage a website with basic e-commerce for small businesses or local brick-and-mortar stores.

Larger organisations that communicate across a range of digital channels have the most to gain from a headless CMS. It will free them up to concentrate on their customers, rather than getting bogged down trying to constantly adapt to an increasingly complex digital landscape.