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Don’t choose headless when building a website

Why a headless CMS is not the best option for your next web project.

You’re on the lookout for a new digital platform, and you have heard that headless CMS is a smart way of handling content and staying future-proof. Who doesn’t want a CMS where you can feed your precious content onto practically any channel and device, without worrying about the presentation?

This sounds like a done deal, but not so fast. Headless CMS is great for a lot of scenarios, but it is no silver bullet, it is no “one size fits all” solution. You see, if you primarily want to build a website, a pure headless CMS is a poor choice.

Let’s find out why.

This is how you pitch your next digital project:

The Digital Project Business Case Checklist

What headless doesn’t offer

A headless CMS is essentially a database and an API that can distribute content from the database to different sources—like a website, an IoT device, or a smart watch. In a pure headless solution editors can focus on the content, which sounds great. But, and this is a major caveat, editors usually cannot do the following:

The lack of these fairly standard content management features in a pure and lightweight headless CMS might come as a surprise to some digital managers and editors. Be sure to assess your actual requirements for managing digital experiences before opting in to any given solution.

See also: 5 reasons to go headless with Enonic »

It’s safe to say that complex or large websites are not in the target group for pure headless solutions. However, not every website is alike. Whether or not you should go for headless depends on your use case, as we shall see.

But headless can still work when …

A website is a fairly broad concept, ranging from a single HTML file, a simple blog, or a single-page application, to large online newspapers, complex e-commerce portals, and corporate colosses.

If you sport a small site with few changes, a static site generator in combination with a headless CMS can work perfectly well. Simple needs and distributing structured data to different channels are well covered in such as CMS. But, as we have seen, headless might not be the most fitting solution to more complex needs.

The choice of headless or not also depends on the number of maintainers involved in your project, as well as the technical level of the contributors. So be sure to check these issues thoroughly before tying your organisation to any deal.

The hybrid alternative

The lack of many expected content management features has led several pure headless CMS vendors to add these features on top of their core offering. But instead of choosing a solution with add-ons, wouldn’t it be better to choose a solution that is built from scratch with both headless and classic CMS functionality in mind?

Enter the hybrid CMS.

A hybrid CMS is a classic CMS—complete with page editing, URL handling, user rights management, and all the other functionality you have come to expect. But a hybrid CMS also comes equipped with an optional headless functionality—allowing you to distribute structured content via an API to any channel.

The last point is essential when considering a hybrid CMS. Any vendor can add headless capabilities to a classic CMS or vice versa, but the one preeminent factor in identifying a true hybrid CMS is if the content is structured or not—if the CMS is content-oriented as opposed to being page-oriented.

Learn more: 6 reasons to choose Enonic as your hybrid CMS »

In a true hybrid CMS it is always possible to use the solution as a pure headless CMS if you want to. The upside from pure headless vendors is that you also have the possibility to utilise classic CMS functionality should the need arise. No bridges will be burned, and you can always backtrack if you change your mind.


As a final nudge in the hybrid direction, we can mention that your developers will have more capacity to build solutions out of the box with a hybrid CMS, due to the fact that so much functionality is already in place.


The bottom line is that it’s probably not wise to choose headless when you want to build a website, due to limitations within expected functionality. But this isn’t always the case—if you have simple needs, a pure headless CMS can do the job. In most cases however, we recommend a hybrid CMS instead.

The Digital Project Business Case Checklist

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