5 challenges when going to a headless CMS

Headless CMS is a trendy and modern marketing technology solution – but will it solve all your content problems? The straight answer is – it depends. Every company will have different needs and goals when implementing a content management system (CMS).  

What is a headless CMS?  

The headless content management system is essentially one where the presentation of your website is decoupled or removed from the content. This means that the ‘look and feel’ of your digital experience is not tied into the content. This allows organizations to reuse content across different digital channels easily. If you have an image and corresponding copy you want to publish on your website, you can easily publish the same content to an email blast, your mobile app, and all digital channels without worrying that the presentation of the assets will be misconstrued.  

Monolithic content management platforms are the parents of headless CMS options. Monolithic CMSes are historically designed for a specific channel, often websites, because the presentation (look and feel) is co-mingled with the assets.  Here, images and copy are considered one thing. This makes it difficult and time consuming to publish content and images in different places and across different digital platforms. 

Who is headless CMS good for? 

Anyone who develops a website, or a content management team for any company will benefit from researching headless CMS. According to DataReportal, 89.9 per cent of Canadians surveyed confirmed they visited a retail site or store online in 2021. The desire for user-friendly, accessible, and streamlined content from brands is at an all-time high. Since the beginning of the pandemic, online mobile phone activity has changed as well; with an increase of 1.1 million (+3.2 per cent) mobile phone connections between January 2020 and January 2021. Reputation and purchasing persuasion are determined in part by a company’s content, and how that content is presented on different digital devices, particularly mobile.  

Many companies, especially e-commerce, are now pursuing a headless CMS approach, as headless opens the door for businesses to consolidate their web and content development teams. Therefore, headless CMS is often called agile CMS because it is a lean approach to developing and publishing digital content.  

What are the challenges of going headless?  

1. The content authoring experience is more restrictive 

With a headless CMS, there is no fancy editor or full-page WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get). Traditionally, content producers and website editors can see the changes they are making in a real time preview, for example, WordPress CMS. With headless CMS, the preview is often an additional step in your publishing journey. This is necessary because with headless you are supporting multiple digital channels through publishing. Therefore, there will be multiple previews to view, including: website display, mobile display, app display, etc.  

Although headless is a pop-and-play solution, the individuals using the platform every day may need time to adjust, as this will be a learning curve for many. Since headless decouples content from the presentation components, the significance of decoupling is two-fold. One, you can implement your presentation using your team’s preferred technology and tooling set. The second benefit regards staffing and vendors. Finding vendors to implement this presentation layer becomes easier because you are not tied to a specific set of technologies that is required for a specific monolithic CMS. More opportunities for new staff and vendors become a reality but also a challenge.  

2. Headless will be a massive shift for employees 

Everyone needs to be prepared for change to their working cycle. Before implementation, a change management plan needs to be in place, especially if you are moving from a traditional to headless CMS. All new processes need to be mapped out to build a strong foundation, which will provide strong future results. 

As exciting or intimidating as headless can be for employees, change requires guidance, attention, and practice!  Setting up a sandbox for clients/employees to explore and learn is a great idea, allowing exploration and practice of the headless program. Companies should transparently discuss training, revised workflows, changes to roles and responsibilities in the preliminary stages of transition before individual habits take over.  

3. The implementation stage takes time 

On top of diversifying and streamlining your digital team, when it comes to creating and managing the actual content, pages within headless CMS can quickly become a cesspool with methodology and coordination falling to the wayside. Structure and organization absolutely must come first to build a strong foundation. This includes creating a well-defined information architecture/content model and adhering to it. Often, companies are hyper-focused on the content aspect of their CMS, but the technology team is integral and must be at the forefront of implementation and maintenance. 

Additionally, scheduling live training time with influential tech leaders in the industry or experts from your chosen CMS provider breaks up the monotony of watching training videos and reading ‘how-to’ articles. 

4. Workflow implementation processes are still immature 

The headless program itself allows you to create many processes, but getting people to follow them is another challenge. Many projects go off the rails because the technology team builds effective workflows, and the content team says, ‘no way!’. Creatives, strategists, and technology builders do not always agree on how programs should be run.  

To rectify this challenge, ensure your content team and technology team have round table discussions to identify what the new workflows will be first. Host a meeting with leads from all departments that will be using the CMS. Teamwork, an actively engaged content team and open lines of communications will reap rewards with your headless implementation. 

5. Headless CMS is not a solution but rather a starting point 

Ultimately the headless CMS you choose will not solve all your problems. To find out which type of headless CMS is best for your company, do your research. The CMS Market is expected to see huge growth by 2026.  The attractive and seemingly effortless appeal of headless CMS does not mean it is the solution to your content management issues. Remember that no matter which program you choosethe foundation built through teamwork and good communication will determine the success of your system. 

The IT team, content team, and even the marketing or communications team can build and run an engaged headless program with the right digital leadership and mindset for change. The best course of action is to establish, understand, and voice headless CMS challenges to your team or client. Make the next best decision by doing your due diligence with headless CMS research, round table discussions, and facing challenges with an open mind. 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Ben Switzer
Ben Switzer
Ben has over 20 years of experience in the IT and Digital industries. Driven by building teams, cultivating strong relationships, and solving client challenges; Ben's experience spans multiple industries and size of engagement, ranging from proof of concepts to multi-national, multi-cloud global solutions.

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