What is a headless CMS? And what are the benefits?

8/23/2019

A headless CMS, sometimes referred to as a multi-tenanted website, is a back-end content management system [CMS] built from the ground up as a repository for content that can deliver that content into different front-end websites. The term “headless” derives from the concept of chopping the “head” [the front end - the website] off the “body” [the back end - the content repository/CMS].

A headless CMS comes into its own when an organisation needs multiple websites, typically these feature a combination of some of the same content shared across those sites and some site specific content, however the sites can be completely different. Similarly, each website's User Interface [Ui] can share common elements or can have a completely different look and feel. The benefits are complete flexibility, efficiency and the total control to manage any number of websites with any number of different Ui designs and all content [common or unique] all in a single platform.

We first developed a bespoke headless CMS for longstanding client Senator Group, the UK's largest furniture manufacturer, using our partner CMS Umbraco - incidentally, we take some pride in the fact that Umbraco have subsequently developed a headless CMS product themselves. Senator have a complex online requirement arising from the different brands they trade under and the international markets they operate within, which requires several websites with some shared and some unique content and completely different Uis. The Senator Group main site includes all products within all branded ranges - Senator, Allermuir and Torasen - as well as corporate information. Being an international company the site is naturally multi-lingual and handles geo-specific content such as imperial and metric dimensions.

 

 

The Allermuir brand is marketed independently, most notably in the US where Senator trades as Allermuir because there's another furniture manufacturer named Senator already trading in the States. This means that Allermuir US includes Senator branded products, but Allermuir UK only includes the Allermuir brand. To add to the complexity, Allermuir is to launch an e-commerce site but only in the US. The Allermuir sites have a completely different Ui to Senator Group. Then there's the Torasen brand which is currently within the main Senator Group site but will also have its own site and potentially an e-commerce site too.

 

 

The solution we've built handles all these scenarios by incorporating a Product Information Management [PIM] server, which houses individual product records with all the variants associated with a product, such as Imperial and Metric dimensions. Products, with their specific variations, can then be published within the different sites. The key advantage being that there's a single product record so any changes to it, such as to colours or finishes, can be made once and displayed across all sites in which it appears. Likewise adding new products or removing discontinued ones is a simple process.

A headless CMS isn't only applicable to manufacturers and products though, for example we've just built an online solution for Blue Energy who are developers of windfarms. Their main site is a corporate statement piece which showcases their various projects and provides an overview of the business and its capabilities. So far so normal, however Blue Energy now have to provide information online about their new projects as part of a planning application, which is a regulatory and therefore legal requirement, with a specific website for each development. Additionally, with some of their larger projects, they have agreed to provide support for the communities affected by the build by setting up charities for local initiatives or causes and committing funds out of the project's profits. For example, the community fund for the Bienneun development is nearly £1M per annum. Again, each of these community initiatives need separate websites.

 

 

A headless CMS provides a very cost effective and very efficient solution for storing and delivering structured content across multiple sites. The ability to launch a new website, whether that's for a product launch, new service or maybe a microsite for a market niche - all potentially within minutes - has endless possibilities and applications for global, national, regional and local businesses alike.

Author

Will Bentley