Should I be using a headless CMS for my project? | Pixel Kicks | Digital Agency Manchester
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21st September 2021

Should I be using a headless CMS for my project?

Introduction

Technology and resources are forever expanding, and each day more and more clients are wanting to try out the latest and best features out there to better serve their business. Fortunately, this is where the headless content management system (CMS) comes into play – in short, a headless CMS detaches all of the management functionalities of a traditional CMS (like the creation of pages and posts, and storage of images and other media sources) from the main presentation layer of a website. This allows you to repurpose and deliver content beyond standard websites, and branch into web apps and other sources.. 

Should I use a headless CMS?

Whilst a headless CMS is the ‘latest thing’ and are widely considered to be future-proof due to their distinction between both the management and front-end presentation, the use of one should be determined on a client-by-client basis; and only once you have an understanding of both their short-term and long-term business goals.

Businesses taking advantage of the headless approach are steadily growing however, and according to a study, there has been a 25% increase in the amount of organisations using a headless CMS from 2019, with that number expected to grow another 22% by 2027. Although this may seem like the obvious choice now, don’t completely disregard the standard theme development approach when starting a new project, as this is still very popular with both developers and clients alike. Always remember to get and understand your clients needs before making the division. 

Overview of how a headless CMS works

Are there any benefits of the headless approach?

When deciding to go down the headless route when starting a new project; you first must weigh up both the pros and cons of the system, and base them on the overall client’s needs. Alongside this, timescales are also an important factor to take into account, as developing with a headless approach generally does take longer than a traditional theme system. Nevertheless, below are a list of pros and cons for you to read through and make up your own mind.

Pros Cons
Speed – Fast delivery of front-end content Unable to see a preview of your pages changes before being published
Futureproof – can be integrated easily with many different CMS’ and coding languages Slightly longer site build times
Security – much more secure as content and back-end technologies are completely separate  Not compatible with dynamic CMS plugins (Gravity Forms, Elementor etc.)  
Control – complete control over how and where your content is published

Which headless CMS should I be using?

Selecting which content management system you want to start integrating your headless approach into can be difficult, as there are loads to choose from. Don’t just settle for WordPress because it’s the most well-known option, have a look around and you’ll find some very good contenders which offer completely different things! Although selecting something new will require a bit of a learning curve to begin with, the amazing thing about using a headless approach is that it can be easily integrated with other systems later on should you change your mind.

WordPress

WordPress isn’t natively headless like some of the other options we’ll be talking about, so to achieve this result it does require a little bit of extra work – which is something to consider when choosing what CMS you’re going to use. Traditionally, WordPress uses a PHP theme and templates to gather data, this isn’t the case with a headless version as content is fetched from another location via API. 

Whilst WordPress might be known for its vast array of plugins, things will work a little differently with the headless approach; as not all plugins will be supported in this new environment. If you’re used to using a page builder (like WP Bakery) or a contact form plugin (Gravity Forms), then you’re going to unfortunately need to find another way around these. Plugins which change content dynamically like these two are not supported inside a headless CMS. There is however support for popular plugins Yoast and Advanced Custom Fields, who each have ways of extending their usability to work in the system. 

WordPress is a great content management system, and there is a reason why over 35% of all websites are created with it. However, as with a traditional WordPress integration; you will still be required to perform regular updates and maintenance on the website to ensure everything remains up-to-date. Overall though, WordPress is a fantastic CMS that can be even better when integrated with ReactJS/NextJS to create a headless site.

Craft

CraftCMS is a relatively unknown content management not used by many websites, however the community behind the project is large – which makes it great when it comes to learning how to use and develop for it – they also have their own training partner (CraftQuest) which takes you through lots of topics and resources that’ll be needed. The ability to apply a headless dynamic to this system has been around for about two years and with support for GraphQL already integrated, it makes it a great option to choose from. 

Like with WordPress, CraftCMS also hosts a large variety of plugins that you can use to further extend the usability of your website, with the ability to upload custom ones not hosted in the plugin directory too. 

Whilst Craft may be a small fish in the CMS world, it is definitely a good contender for one you should be using. The vast amount of support it gets and the number of plugins available to you makes this system a strong contender for future projects.

Overview of the Craft CMS website

Storyblok

Storyblok is not like other traditional content management systems out there; they are completely headless out of the box and don’t use themes or templates. Instead, Storyblok is a complete visual editor that lets you easily add and rearrange content to your pages.

The visual editor in Storyblok can be an amazing tool for certain projects, however it can also be its downfall when you combine it with the wrong client. If your client is going to be frequently adding and changing content, or creating new landing pages, then Storyblok would be an amazing fit for you. However, if you’re looking for something more bespoke and database driven, then I would definitely recommend using another option, as this isn’t possible in Storyblok without a lot of work. 

It’s great being able to start work on a project that doesn’t require any additional work doing to make it headless, and if you’re looking for an easy to setup and use CMS then Storyblok is definitely worth looking over; especially because it’s going to be very easy for the client to work afterwards, being able to do everything in a visual editor is definitely a plus. However, the database-driven content that you may be used to adding is where Storyblok falls short. So be sure to completely understand your clients’ needs before deciding to go with this option!

Conclusion

To sum up, a headless approach when starting a new project is definitely the way forward – and we are going to be seeing a lot more websites using this method in the near future. The pros definitely do outweigh the cons; and just the ability to be able to serve websites to the end user much faster is one of the biggest selling points. Although it will be a learning curve for most people, and learning a JavaScript library, like React or Next, won’t be easy; the end term result will be worth it. 

We have also seen clients specifically ask for us to use a headless approach when starting a project, as they’re aware of the benefits it can bring them – this will also become more of a norm as time goes on and clients are doing their own research before awarding projects to a specific team – so you don’t want to be left behind in and stuck in the ‘only standard WordPress’ mindset.

Overall, over the three we have gone over in this post; I would definitely say that WordPress would be the best option. The level of support it receives, and the community all over the world willing to help on StackOverflow and other messaging boards is next to none. If you’re already a WordPress developer looking to extend your knowledge and start building headless, then I would definitely recommend you stick to what you know. 

Find out more about the Headless CMS services we offer at Pixel Kicks.

By Matt Hamer

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