How to choose a headless CMS

by: | Mar 8, 2023

(Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Michel Henrique, manager of the ArcTouch web development team, and David Branco, our director of engineering.)

Content management systems (CMS) help people create, manage, and publish digital content. While a traditional CMS like WordPress combines the front end and back end of a website into a single solution, a headless CMS is a more flexible alternative for companies.

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS separates the front end (the user-facing experience of a website) from the back end (the content repository). Instead of delivering content as web pages, a headless CMS delivers content through APIs that can be connected to any front-end technology. This gives developers more freedom to create custom websites and apps using whatever front-end technology they prefer, while still enabling business people to manage content on their own.

How to choose a headless CMS

Consider these three main factors when choosing a headless CMS: technical requirements, user experience, and content creation/authoring.

Technical requirements

Your project’s technical considerations are essential in your choice of headless CMS. The first step is to align your requirements with the CMS features — starting with reviewing the documentation. For example, this Quickstart in 5 mins doc from Contentstack includes useful examples. Documentation is a great way to quickly get familiar with a system’s capabilities.

For most app and web projects, an API-friendly headless CMS is critical. To reduce the learning curve, the API should have clear method and parameter names with predictable responses — helping developers integrate and maintain the CMS more efficiently.

If you plan to scale your business using a headless CMS as a foundation, you should also look to see how active the developers are on community sites, including GitHub. An active GitHub page shows that the development team is committed to continually improving and updating the product.

Finally, choose a headless CMS that offers multiple API delivery options. Your product will most likely provide information for various environments, such as websites, apps, reports, and more. For example, in a recent project, we found that using GraphQL instead of the traditional REST API helped us modularize content at the point of consumption. So, we didn’t need to create multiple APIs to perform specific tasks.

User experience

User experience (UX) is a critical factor to consider when choosing a headless CMS. This determines how easily content creators and editors can add, update, and publish content. If the CMS is difficult to use, content managers may create and update less content — which will negatively impact an app or website’s overall quality. Stale content is a poor customer experience.

In a headless CMS, content lives in a back-end database and is delivered via APIs to a digital product’s front end. However, content editors and managers must still interact with the CMS to create and manage that content. An intuitive UI can simplify tasks for people who are not familiar with technical aspects, and they can complete their tasks without requiring much technical expertise or assistance from developers.

Overall, a headless CMS with a good user experience will lead to more efficient and effective content management, resulting in better app and website performance, and higher visitor engagement.

Content and authoring

Your CMS should allow you to create and customize content that meets your specific business needs without the limitations of pre-defined templates. You should be able to create your own fields, data types, and relationships between data types (entities). Contentful excels at this, enabling users to group all resources related to a project — including content entries, media assets, and settings for localizing content into different languages — by organizing them into spaces. This customization offers full control of the content and how it’s structured.

Another factor to consider is customizable workflows. Custom workflows for each scenario can avoid a lot of headaches during projects. Team members can simultaneously work on their respective tasks without interfering with one another, which helps things run more smoothly and efficiently — always a plus!

User permission management is also an important factor to consider. If team members have different responsibilities, the CMS should offer configuration for groups, permissions, and varying levels of user access. This allows you to separate responsibilities among editors, content creators, and administrators, providing the necessary access to each team member to carry out their tasks efficiently.

Need help choosing a headless CMS?

ArcTouch can help you choose the best CMS for your business needs. ArcTouch has over 15 years of experience working with traditional and headless CMS platforms. As an AKQA Studio, ArcTouch is a certified implementation partner for Contentful and Contentstack.

Contact us for a free consultation.