If you’re in the business of building stellar websites for your clients, you’ve probably heard the term “headless CMS” buzzing around. 

But what exactly is it? 

What is a “Headless” CMS?

Simply put, a headless CMS is a content management system that decouples the content repository (“body”) from the presentation layer (“head”); hence the term headless. This means you can manage your client’s content in one place and deliver it to many places, including websites, mobile apps, kiosks, digital signage, smart devices, you name it! 

With a headless CMS, we can focus on building engaging and responsive user interfaces without being tied down by the limitations of a traditional CMS. This freedom allows us to innovate and scale our projects more effectively.

Glen Hayes, Tech Lead at Nerder

In a traditional CMS like WordPress, Drupal, or Sitecore, all your content, images, HTML, and CSS are tightly integrated within a single system. This monolithic structure (where everything is in one “bucket”) makes reusing content for different applications challenging. However, with a headless CMS, the content management backend is decoupled from the presentation layer, offering much greater flexibility and reusability. Let’s dive right into the details.

Benefits of Using a Headless CMS

So, why should you care about headless CMS? Here are some of its major perks:

1. Omni-Channel Publishing

With a headless CMS, your content becomes endlessly reusable. We like to call this omni-channel delivery. In today’s digital landscape, content needs to be everywhere—websites, mobile apps, social media, kiosks, or other digital platforms. A headless CMS makes it easy to push your content to multiple platforms from a single source. The structured content eliminates manual tasks like copying and pasting, making editing a breeze. Update your content in one place and it updates everywhere, following the COPE principle: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. 

2. Flexibility

Imagine having the freedom to choose any front-end technology you love. React, Vue, Angular—whatever makes your developers’ hearts sing. It’s also adaptable to future changes, so you can change out your front-end technologies whenever needed without having to touch the back end. A headless CMS lets you do just that, providing ultimate flexibility in how content is presented.

3. Scalability

Got a client looking to grow? Headless CMS can scale with ease. Since the back-end and front-end are separate, you can tweak, expand, and optimize without disrupting the entire system. This scalability ensures your content can adapt to different regions, use cases, and campaigns. In addition, you can integrate tools for personalization and localization, making sure the right content reaches the right audience at the right time, optimizing user experiences across the board.

4. Performance

Speed is everything online. A headless CMS can provide faster load times and better performance because you’re not bogged down by a monolithic structure. You can develop your front end for speed, getting rid of bloated code, and ensuring the best experience. Your clients will thank you.

5. Enhanced Security

Because the presentation layer is separate from the content management backend, the risks associated with a web-based attack go down significantly. First, the CMS backend is separated from the presentation layer (front end), reducing the number of potential entry points for attackers. Only the API endpoints are exposed. Since the CMS backend is not directly exposed to the public, it’s less vulnerable to common web attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and cross-site request forgery. 

The backend database is also not directly exposed to the internet like it is with a traditional CMS. Content is accessed through secure API endpoints, which reduces the risk of SQL injection and other database-related attacks.

The CMS can also be protected from the public behind a firewall and can make use of additional security techniques like modern authentication services (e.g., OAuth, API Keys, or JSON tokens).

6. Enables Collaborative Workflows

Because the frontend (presentation layer) is now separated from the backend, content editors and developers can work independently and in parallel. 

Using a headless CMS like Sanity or Contentful allows your teams to efficiently add multiple features simultaneously, especially in an omnichannel environment. Your content creators manage product details—such as descriptions, images, and pricing—directly within the headless CMS, giving them full control over the data. 

Meanwhile, your frontend developers set up separate staging environments to independently develop and test new features. For example, when building an enhanced product gallery, your developers may fetch product images and descriptions from the CMS via API, testing this feature on a dedicated staging URL like gallery-staging.example.com. This will allow your content creators to update product details in real-time, which are instantly reflected in the staging environment, ensuring accuracy and consistency.

Simultaneously, your other team could work on personalized promotions. Your content creators input promotional content and targeting rules into the CMS. Your developers then test these personalized promotions on a different staging URL, such as promotions-staging.example.com, pulling the necessary data via API. This approach allows both your teams to work independently without conflicts, as content creators can make updates directly in the CMS, ensuring these changes are immediately visible in their respective staging environments.

Once the new features are thoroughly tested, they’re integrated and deployed across multiple platforms. The headless CMS’s API-driven approach ensures that any content updates made by you are instantly available on the web, mobile apps, and digital kiosks. This means that whether your users are accessing the information on a website, through a mobile app, or at an in-store kiosk, they consistently see your latest content.

This method provides several key benefits: your teams can work in parallel without bottlenecks, staging environments ensure isolated and thorough testing, and content updates propagate instantly across all platforms. By streamlining the workflow and maintaining a centralized control over content, you deliver consistent, up-to-date experiences across various digital touchpoints more efficiently.

Choosing the right headless CMS pays off in the long run. It’s not just about managing content—it’s about delivering a seamless, consistent experience across all platforms. A well-suited CMS supports your tech stack, integrates smoothly with your existing tools, and adapts to your evolving needs.

Glen Hayes, Tech Lead at Nerder

Key Features to Look for in a Headless CMS

Before you pick a headless CMS, make sure it ticks the following boxes. 

1. API-First Approach

An API (Application Programming Interface) is a set of rules and tools that allows different software applications to communicate with each other. Choosing a headless CMS with an API-first approach is crucial because it ensures seamless integration with your other tools and platforms, allowing content delivery to multiple channels and devices. This lets your developers use their preferred front-end technologies and keep your CMS adaptable to future technological changes. Overall, it basically enhances flexibility, scalability, and efficiency in managing and delivering content.

2. Content Modeling Capabilities

Look for a CMS that offers flexible content modeling. This means you can define custom content types and structures that match your unique needs and establish relationships between different content types. For example, a blog post might have attributes for both the Post (Title, Description, Author, and Body) and the Author (Name, Bio, and LinkedIn link). These content types are related to provide all the information needed to display the blog post, but each of these can also be reused in other contexts (e.g., Authors linked to Whitepapers, Videos, or Podcasts they’ve participated in).

3. Multichannel Support

Ensure the CMS supports publishing to multiple channels. You should be able to deliver content to websites, mobile apps, and other platforms without additional hassle. Check if the CMS returns HTML or structured data (such as JSON). Structured data allows for greater flexibility, as it can be easily transformed and rendered differently for various channels, ensuring a consistent user experience across all platforms.

4. Intuitive Authoring Interface

The authoring interface is where your content editors will spend most of their time, so it needs to be user-friendly and efficient. We need to look for a CMS with a responsive design that supports streamlined workflows and granular permissions. This will make sure your client’s content authors and editors can easily create, manage, and publish content without unnecessary complications.

5. Tree Structure

Organizing and managing content can be challenging without a clear overview. A tree structure provides a logical and intuitive way to visualize all the structured data, similar to how file systems work on your computer. This feature helps you keep track of content hierarchy and inventory, making it easier to manage large chunks of content.

6. Preview

Preview functionality is important for content accuracy and quality. An in-line preview allows you to see exactly how your content or presentation will look once published. This feature ensures that any necessary adjustments can be made before the content goes live, reducing errors and even improving your experience.

A headless CMS strikes the perfect balance for both your developers and content editors. Your developers get to work with the frameworks they prefer, while your editors get unlimited freedom with content management that doesn’t require technical know-how.

Glen Hayes, Tech Lead at Nerder

7. Permissions and Roles

Typically, your client will have multiple team members, all with varying levels of responsibility and access needs. A headless CMS should offer permissions and roles management, allowing you to designate users as authors, editors, or administrators. Each role should have clearly defined access levels and capabilities, ensuring secure and efficient content management.

8. Version Control

This is a vital feature for tracking changes. It allows you to keep a history of edits and easily revert to previous versions if needed. This capability ensures that accidental changes or errors can be quickly corrected without affecting the live site.

9. Security Features

This is a given. When choosing a headless CMS, make sure it has strong security features like Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), and Single Sign-On (SSO) for authentication. It should protect data with encryption, reliable backups, and content versioning. API security is vital, so look for OAuth, API keys, and HTTPS. The CMS should comply with GDPR and HIPAA standards and hold certifications like ISO 27001. 

Monitoring features for access tracking and intrusion detection are important, as are secure third-party integrations and regular audits. If you’re using a Content Delivery Network (CDN), it should offer DDoS protection and Web Application Firewalls (WAF). Finally, ensure detailed user permissions and strong password policies to keep your content and data secure.

10. Scheduled Publishing

This feature is particularly useful for marketing managers and content strategists. With scheduled publishing, you can ensure that your content goes live at any time, even if they’re not available to publish it manually.

Our Developers Round Out The Top Headless CMS

Now, let’s check out some of the top players in the headless CMS arena:


Contentful is one of the most established headless CMS platforms, known for its API-first approach, total compostability, customizable content workspaces, and scalability. It enables developers to create, manage, and distribute content across multiple platforms, making it ideal for complex digital environments. Here’s an interesting fact: Nearly 30% of the Fortune 500 businesses around the world use Contentful one way or the other. 

Key features
  • Powerful content modeling tools
  • Robust API integration
  • Extensive integrations
  • High scalability
Best for
  • Large businesses and organizations with complex content needs.
  • Starts with a free tier, then scales up with enterprise-level pricing.


Sanity is a headless CMS that provides real-time collaborative editing and structured content APIs with total composability. It offers a highly flexible and customizable environment for developers and content creators to work seamlessly together. 78% of Sanity users are small businesses.

Key features
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Highly customizable with the ability to define custom schemas
  • Strong developer tools
  • Handles large volumes of content and high traffic efficiently
Best for
  • Enterprises, content-heavy websites, and organizations that need real-time collaboration and a scalable content platform.
  • A free tier with limited features. Paid plans start at $99 per project/month, with custom enterprise pricing available.


Strapi is the leading open-source headless CMS designed for creating powerful and flexible APIs. It allows developers to build APIs tailored to their needs using a fully customizable setup. Strapi is known for its developer-friendly approach and seamless integration with popular front-end frameworks. Why developer-friendly, you ask? It’s supported by over 150,000+ community members, 700+ contributors, and partners from around the globe. 

Key features
  • Open-source and customizable
  • Intuitive and easy-to-use interface for developers.
  • Self-hosted or cloud options
  • User-friendly interface
Best for
  • Ideal for startups, tech-savvy enterprises, and agencies that need a highly customizable and developer-friendly CMS.
  • A free community edition. Enterprise plans start at $9 per user/month.

Craft CMS

Craft CMS is a content management system known for its flexibility and user-friendly interface. It’s tailored for developers who need a customizable and powerful platform to build complex websites with bespoke content models. 51% of Craft CMS users are small businesses, and 38% are medium-sized.

Key features
  • User-friendly and well-organized for content editors
  • High degree of flexibility for creating custom content models
  • Efficient and scalable, ideal for high-traffic websites
Best for
  • Suitable for medium to large enterprises, creative agencies, and developers looking for a robust and flexible CMS.
  • Starts at $299 per project with additional costs for plugins and features

A headless CMS is not just a tool; it’s a strategic asset. The right choice aligns with your business objectives, supports agile development practices, and ensures that your content can evolve with changing technologies and user expectations.

Glen Hayes, CMS Web Development Expert

How to Choose the Best CMS Platform for Your Website

Okay, so chances are, your client doesn’t know too much about the technicalities of their CMS. They have an idea—a vision—about how their website should look and perform. So it’s up to us to take that vision and turn it into something substantial. 

There are plenty of options out there. We’ve worked with them and know their benefits and shortcomings. So which CMS works best for your client? 

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that simple as it really depends on your client’s goals and needs. You need a team that will evaluate all of the requirements and recommend the best solution for your use case. 

And that’s where we come in…

The Web Dev Agency Hundreds of Businesses Trust

Feeling overwhelmed? No worries; our team of headless CMS development experts is ready to report for duty. We can guide you through the process, from choosing the right platform to seamless implementation, and then support afterward. Let’s make your next project a smashing success! Let’s talk.