Go to content

Headless CMS, what’s that all about?



Date  24 May 2022
4 min read
by Robert Revet

Almost everyone is familiar with content management systems, of which WordPress is probably the best-known example. However, at Harborn our customers are increasingly opting for a “headless” CMS. A content management system that is separate from the (for visitors) visible interface of a website, app or other solution. Even for our own website, we chose the advantages of headless, which allows flexible and future-proof programming. In addition, a continuously growing amount of data is no problem. With a headless environment, you prepare your organisation for integrations with various systems that can support the customer journey. How does that work? That’s what we’re going to tell you in this blog.


While some people immediately think of Marie Antoinette when they hear the word “headless” rather than a digital solution, we at Harborn have been using it for quite some time. Certainly, no negative connotations for us: a headless CMS is simply the backend of a platform, without the presentation layer. In short, the underlying system in which your content can be stored and managed. The head from headless is the frontend. This is linked with an API, or an interface ensuring that the two parts can communicate with each other. A headless CMS is therefore always part of an “API-first” environment. This means that the frontend and backend can be adapted as desired: the functionality of the API remains the same.

Technical: API-first over monolithic

Content is the basis of digital experiences. And users want that experience to be fast, available on all their devices and interactive. Therefore, any brand, company or organisation wanting to optimise their customer journey should choose an environment that can support all of this. Almost all older CMS systems have a monolithic structure, or one coherent code base. That seems handy, but seriously limits flexibility. After all, everything has to work within that one structure. An API-first environment (where you find headless CMS) consists of separate applications that work independently of each other. This makes it more efficient to set up, better to manage and offers more possibilities. For example, you can easily set up customisation alongside existing applications and you can replace parts without affecting the rest of the system. In this system, the APIs literally come first: they ensure that all the different data are communicated to all the different interfaces in the correct form.

Practical: flexible, creative and multichannel

With a headless CMS you can use your content just as easily for a website as for an app or any other interface. You’re not limited when displaying your content on different devices either. After all, the limitation arises from “designing” the content to make it suitable for a specific purpose. As a developer you can make optimal use of the various frontend frameworks, because you don’t have to take the design of the backend into account. This leads to more creative solutions and ensures that you can easily connect other channels in the future. An enormous advantage, because the amount of available and usable data is only increasing. By linking different data sources, customer insights or payment systems, you can, for example, fine-tune your customer journey. And you can also enter new markets more easily.

A case in point

Blauwhoed is a property developer in Rotterdam, dealing with various target groups. As a company, they want to present themselves in different ways to, for example, partners and investors. For the first target audience, we developed a website with a focus on sharing knowledge through a large amount of content. For investors, there was a demand for an investment platform, including 2FA (two-factor authentication) and an interactive timeline. Moreover, both solutions had to perform optimally on different devices. A headless environment turned out to be perfect for this. It made it possible to realise two totally different user environments. Whether it’s an investor who wants to check the status of his project on his smartwatch, or a resident who is looking for information via the site: both the portal and the website are linked to one and the same CMS.

The best of both worlds

In short, with headless CMS all the information is centrally stored and can easily be distributed to the various channels. Content is easier to manage, you have a grip on your data, and it works faster for both users and developers. For example, you can load data before a user sees it, so that it is immediately available when they request it. Or you can arrange to send less data back and forth, by not loading an entire page, but just the part your visitor is looking at. If you link your data with a fast API, you can significantly increase the performance of your website. And if an even faster API is available in the future? Then you can replace it, without it being completely interwoven into the data or presentation layer. That enables you to choose the best possible solution for both the front and backend, whether it’s subscription-based or open source.

Is headless for you?

At Harborn, we always look for the best solution to your problem (or challenge). Whether headless is right for you or your organisation depends entirely on your wishes, requirements and budget. Headless CMS always requires a little more customisation in the beginning, so with a short lead time it can be tricky. Or maybe the solution you need is basically ready to go, and you don’t need to integrate other systems? Then choosing less customisation is probably cheaper. On the other hand, do you want something that fits seamlessly into your digital ecosystem? Or expand to multiple channels? Then headless might just be the perfect answer. Ultimately, at Harborn, we always take a critical look at your issue, in order to come up with a unique solution that delivers long-term added value. Although headless projects make our teams very happy, we’re never in over our heads! ;-)


Curious about examples, where our approach led to a headless environment? Take a look at our case for Kinfill’s e-commerce platform or read about the development of the customer portal for Lamb Weston Meijer. We also developed a headless solution for Ten Holter Noordam Advocaten (law firm). Any questions? Wondering if headless CMS could work for you? You can always contact Robert!

+316 8146 4299robert.revet@harborn.com