What Is a Headless CMS? The complete guide to headless CMS.

Stuart Runyan

April 2018

With the rapid acceleration of technology, new devices and end points are constantly emerging. For a marketer, each new touchpoint creates an exciting opportunity to reach new consumers, deliver brand messaging, and engage existing customers. But it is an unfathomable proposition to produce unique content for so many potential applications, from both a creative and development standpoint. How can content producers and developers be freed up, with a powerful and scalable solution to push content out wherever it is needed? Enter the Headless CMS.

What Are the Benefits of a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS empowers a marketing team to leverage a number of competitive advantages and enables organizations to:

  • Create and deploy web-based applications using the existing technology frameworks in place, and integrate with any codebase and preferred developer language
  • Make content changes without relying on IT, meaning marketing can easily create and modify campaign assets around the application's existing source code, without having to rebuild the application each time.
  • This frees up developers for higher-level development initiatives, rather than an ongoing task list of text and content changes
  • Simultaneously update content across websites and applications. As long as an API call can be made, the content can go anywhere it is required
  • Future-proof the content being produced so it can be used for applications and end-points that don’t even exist yet, allowing marketers to prepare for all emerging technologies

The headless solution is both revolutionary and simplistic. Simply separate the head and the body. In other words, allow the CMS to accomplish what it was designed for, to be the repository and management tool for the content you want to publish. Instead of relying on the CMS to serve up the content, you simply call its application-programming interface (API) to retrieve the content and application layout pre-determined display of a device. By transferring content through an API, a headless CMS delivers your content seamlessly to any device, in any context.

How Does a Headless CMS Work?

Here is a simple three-step explanation of the functionality of a headless CMS:

  1. Content producers (ex: marketing teams) input content into the headless CMS, typically in small content blocks.
  2. Using the headless CMS to facilitate API calls, these content blocks are pushed out to any channel, device, or end point.
  3. Front-end developers assemble the content as needed, using any front-end framework they prefer to work with.

Because of this separation between head and body, many developers favor a headless environment, and find the architecture easier to use for rapid production. Instead of manipulating the web page in its entirety, you simply work with the individual elements. All components of the modular content only need to be written once, so that they can then be used on any display, in any layout, for any device. Once and done. This allows developers to focus on the modularized content elements, and assemble them for the platform where the content will be displayed.

For example, let’s say you are building a mobile application for Android or iOS. Think about the images, headers, text, and other assets you will want to incorporate, and the content that will need to be updated most frequently. With a headless CMS, you can connect the CMS content API to your mobile application, and push out the required content on demand, in the specific configuration needed. When you go headless, the backend can send content to an Android or iOS app, a kiosk, a virtual reality (VR) experience, or any other medium your business may require.


ClickZ contributor Stephen Griffin points out one of the top assets of the headless approach, namely its suitability for the cloud. As a cloud-first CMS, headless architecture puts developers in the driver’s seat.

“In a fast-paced, multichannel world that requires immediate results and increased ROI and revenue, as well as the desire to deliver the ‘perfect’ customer journey, a cloud-first headless CMS is the guiding light for marketers,” he notes.

With a modularized content approach, creating content once for multiple devices, the speed and efficiency of your content publishing is increased exponentially. Typically with a headless CMS, robust projects can be reduced from months to weeks.

Cloudless CMS also takes the worry out of all traditional CMS’ familiar headaches. With this new architecture, you no longer need to concern yourself with maintenance, upgrades or hot-fixes. In the cloud-first headless CMS space, the vendor takes care of all of these hurdles, permitting your budget and resources to be directed elsewhere.

The Zesty.io Approach to Headless CMS

Zesty.io is a marketing-first CMS with headless functionality. For greater flexibility, our platform is still optionally coupled to a presentation layer. This empowers marketing teams and developers to push content out quickly to their preferred touchpoints, and to be adaptable to a wide variety of use cases. The result is less time spent on upfront development, and more opportunity to integrate your content into any non-browser application like iOS, Android, or IoT. Here are a few of the many benefits of our headless CMS:

  • Publish content seamlessly to websites, mobile apps, landing pages, kiosks, microsites and more using our Satellite™ and EcoSystem™ product configurations
  • With integrated tools for non-technical users, content can be created precisely according to brand standards and compliance requirements
  • With automatic responsive layouts, the user experience can be fine-tuned for any viewing environment
  • Automatically send content to social media directly from your content management interface
  • Our cloud-based architecture eliminates concerns over IT resource provisioning, uptime, and security, enabling your content to load quickly, on a platform that's always up-to-date

Even as your business requirements change, our CMS enables you to leverage your existing content, produce new content faster, and create richer experiences for your audience around your ideal production schedule, with a reduced dependency on IT.


The Future of Headless CMS

Technology keeps leaping forward, and the demand for content on multiple channels and devices keeps growing exponentially. In 2017, Deloitte’s Global Consumer Survey comprised approximately 53,000 respondents across 33 countries and six continents. It covered multiple devices including smartphone usage and IoT applications. Results noted that two-thirds of adults have access to a tablet, while smartphones are ubiquitous throughout 81% of the population. Add to this list of tech advancements: bots, digital assistants, virtual reality and augmented reality, and you begin to realize that website content has become a smaller piece of the multichannel pie.

Today, for brands and marketers to be effective in reaching their target audiences they need to interact with users across all the channels they frequent. Marketers who are only publishing to a handful of channels are missing an opportunity to reach and engage their intended audience. A headless CMS enables marketing and development teams to collaborate in a rapid production environment, and publish content to every point on the communication continuum. The old adage, “fish where the fish are” comes to mind, as long as you’re attracting them with the “right bait.” Headless CMS is the right bait.

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