15. August 2022

Headless CMS: What Is It and Why Is Contentful One of the Market Leaders?

At Novataris, we are proud to have been Contentful partners since 2020. But what is Contentful and headless CMS? In this article, we will help provide an overview of what headless CMS is, why Contentful is one of the leading headless CMS platforms on the market, as well as the potential business benefits of switching to headless CMS.


Jacob Ringbo


Interest in headless CMS is growing. At the moment, many enterprises are considering switching to a headless CMS, and there is a good reason for that. There can be a number of advantages to be gained by switching to a headless CMS, but it can be difficult to get an overview of how it can help your business and whether it is worth the investment.

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a CMS where the presentation layer has been removed. In other words, it is only responsible for creating, maintaining and delivering content, but it does not decide where or how the content should be displayed. The content is delivered through APIs to the system that needs it. All content is stored as structured data, with no dependencies on how it should be displayed. Since the CMS and the presentation layer are strictly separated in headless CMS, the user must provide the presentation layer himself. In addition, the CMS and the presentation layer are not linked together in terms of technology, which therefore allows and encourages you to be flexible in your development process and when choosing an architecture. Because the presentation layer generally has a shorter lifespan than content, a headless CMS will overall extend the lifespan of your solutions. In addition, it will provide advantages for deployment – it will be easier to put things into production, as there are fewer dependencies. So when you change something in your content, the rest remains unchanged. In this way, you go from a monolithically anchored architecture to a microservice inspired approach.

What does the landscape for CMS look like?

In order to better explain what a headless CMS is, it must be compared with the other types of CMS and their differences. There are three types of CMS that we have chosen to distinguish between: traditional, decoupled and headless.

In a traditional CMS, the backend and frontend are combined in a package solution where there is one code base and where the storage of content in the database and the presentation of content are inextricably linked. These solutions are primarily aimed at displaying content on one channel, in the browser.

Like traditional CMS, a decoupled CMS consists of both frontend and backend, and therefore has a predefined presentation layer. A decoupled CMS is a traditional CMS that has been adapted to be headless. When a decoupled CMS can offer a headless API, it is because they have inserted an API part at backend. However, backend and the API part do not always communicate well with each other, and backend does not always deliver the content required by the API part. Therefore, it does not solve the underlying problem; to structure content in a way where it can be reused across channels and platforms.

Since a headless CMS does not have a presentation layer, it has an "API first" approach to delivering content where it is possible to have applications across systems. It is a natural evolution in CMS with a better API and design since making the CMS headless is a primary function and not an afterthought.

What is Contentful?

Contentful is a cloud-based headless CMS and one of the leading and most referenced headless CMS platforms on the market. Contentful is a young and future-proof CMS with a modern underlying architecture which often adds new features. One of the reasons why Contentful is a strong headless CMS is its great flexibility. Contentful is particularly focused on structuring their content as well as exhibiting strong APIs with a correspondingly large selection of SDKs (software development kits), which are tools they use to facilitate integration with a given service. This results in an easy integration with other technologies and solutions. In addition, there is ample opportunity to expand Contentful with customized functionality. You are not forced to choose other services, and thus other locations to store your content, if the current data model does not suit your needs. Another reason Contentful is a strong headless CMS is its large community. It drives new features and contributes to invaluable knowledge sharing and the development of custom apps for other services that can be easily installed and integrated into your organization.

Business benefits – what can be achieved by switching to a headless CMS?

Easy to deliver content to multiple channels (omnichannel):

A headless CMS is built to deliver content to many channels. It has good and flexible APIs from which it is very easy to retrieve content on all types of channels. Whether it is web, retail, apps, smartwatches or something completely different is of no importance. This also applies to the technology used on the various channels as it can be used for all web technologies. Headless CMS is made to interact with everyone so it is up to you to decide how to use it.

Easy to reuse content:

A headless CMS will usually structure its content so that it is easy to reuse. This means that your content does not contain elements that are specific to a certain channel or platform. This is in contrast to the traditional CMS, where it is often assumed that the channel on which the content should be delivered is the web. Therefore, there may be an HTML code in the content, or it may be structured according to an URL structure. But this does not necessarily work in an app, on a phone, or in a watch. In a headless CMS, the structure will be produced according to the content at backend and not from the presentation layer. That way, the content will last longer and be used on all channels.

A headless CMS will also encourage editors to create content in the smallest possible chunks. This contrasts with many of the traditional CMS where content is often created in very large chunks. When content is made in small chunks, it is much easier to reuse each chunk across pages and put it together in new ways. It also makes it easier to maintain the content as you do not have any duplicate content. Instead, you can update your small chunks of content centrally, and it will automatically be updated wherever it is displayed.

Increased flexibility in your IT architecture:

Since headless CMS does not dictate which frontend you should use, you can decide for yourself which technologies you want to use. You can use this freedom to put together your IT architecture yourself in a way that suits your business and effectively meets the needs of your organisation. It also means that you yourself have a greater responsibility for your IT architecture and for ensuring that it is optimized, which may well require more comprehensive technical knowledge.

Need further guidance?

Do not hesitate to contact us. We will help analyse your company's needs and how a headless CMS and Contentful can optimise your business. Contact us here.