Probably this article should have never been written. If you google "build a website without code", search results will give thousands of fitting articles. So there's already plenty said on this topic on the internet, why spawn more entities?
Well, these posts from the top of search results seem to be written with an assumption that the reader knows how and why the website builder platform is used, offering either high-level abstract concepts or a full-swing tutorial.
So instead, this article is taking care of those in the middle-ground: people who are trying to wrap their heads around website platforms and content management systems. Not every manager has to be web development savvy, so we put professional jargon aside and explained these definitions below in layman's terms as if we were discussing them by a watercooler.
(Oh, before we get there – the captions in the images are jokes, not the real queries we searched. Don't tell anyone!)
The concept of a Content Management System appeared as a no-code option for website building and management. It is a collection of everything you put on the website, a cupboard with texts, articles, images, video files. How is it different from file storage? This cupboard offers you a dashboard with designated shelves for each type of content (pages, articles, media libraries are the most common).
The CMS has to be configured as a part of the website development, so the job is easier for whoever will be maintaining and updating it later: instead of code-digging you just add files and texts to the corresponding shelves following the same pattern.
Back in 2003, the launch of WordPress meant that everyone could create and manage their webpages without actual programming skills. And for years after the alternative solutions kept arriving, addressing a specific business niche or offering a different set of features.
After you are no longer bewildered by the abbreviation, you can notice that on the internet CMS is usually mentioned with an adjective, either "headless" or "monolithic/traditional".
While there are easily about 30 platforms classified as CMS, the biggest architectural difference is this: whether they qualify as headless, a.k.a. backend-only.
And here's a twist: one would think that "backend-only" means building the pages outside the browser, in a black code window, like this:
But in reality, the dashboards look pretty much alike:
It turns out that the "backend-only" part refers to the way a given CMS handles the content you feed it:
How is that helpful?
On the surface, traditional CMS seems like a universal all-included deal: solutions on the modern market allow the user to drag'n'drop interface blocks, fill them with text, configure the URLs all from the same dashboard.
The reason for headless CMSs to exist (and keep growing in numbers of both available platforms and active users) is that they give the creator more control over app integrations, design layout, populating the database with a large volume of items (like e-commerce websites) without doing the whole thing manually.
It should be mentioned that headless CMS is mostly used for static websites – basically, anything, where you don't have digital users leaving the comments and reactions (so no, you can't build a Facebook with headless CMS, or any CMS for that matter). But if your goal is to display content within a customized and flexible design accompanied by basic interactions like subscribing or surveys, headless CMS is definitely a good tool, and we are getting to the design and integrations control right now.
Normally a CMS uses a theme – that being a preconfigured layout, palette, and UI elements like buttons and input fields, developed specifically for that CMS. A user can pick the theme from the given CMS collection when creating a website, and paid tiers offer more themes to choose from.
Even more, you can tell how popular is a particular CMS by the number of externally available themes for it, which are developed by the community or high-profile web designers. For example, WordPress has probably the largest pool with thousands of free and paid themes available, due to staying in the top for 15+ years now, but take headless Ghost.io – it offers 100 themes on the Ghost marketplace, but if you search for "ghost cms free themes", you will get the posts linking to about 120 more – and that's just the first page. That's less than a thousand, but really a lot to choose from.
Again, themes are not interchangeable between CMS, because each theme package has to stick to a technical set of rules and limitations to work correctly with the platform. And the great thing about headless CMS is that themes can be actively edited to get the aesthetics right. Obviously, one needs the front end coding skills to do that, but that's a bulletproof way to get a responsive and unique interface at the speed that used to be unthinkable for web design.
Similar to the theme design, each CMS has an ecosystem of apps, which can consist of live chat bots, interactive maps, customer relationship management services, secure payments, cloud storage, etc. The size of that ecosystem would be proportional to how modern is the tech stack behind it for traditional CMS, and how big is the user community for headless CMS. Here's why.
To integrate an existing service to a specific CMS and make it available for website builders, the programmers of that app have to make it compliant and create endpoints which will "talk" to the CMS in a language it will understand. And that effort better pay off.
That is why WordPress, which stayed in top ranks for longer time, has larger suite of integrations available than Drupal or Joomla, also veterans of CMS, but slightly less popular and with a significantly older codebase.
Headless CMS, in turn, arrived recently, so they employ a fresh technology stack which is by design focused on integrating apps and services together. But to get the power of add-ons you are likely to need a programmer. There are really not many turnkey apps you can integrate from the dashboard of headless CMS, but if it has at least a medium-sized community, you can find a lot of tips on codebase integrations from other users.
It is fair to say that the versatility provided by headless CMS assumes that one needs coding skills at least to set up the website hosting or app program interface in order to connect to the managed content, and therefore might as well apply the same skills to integrating whichever services the business needs.
If we (the writer and the reader) are anything alike, you probably don't leave the website before clicking the pricing tab. So, how much for a CMS?
(You know that's a trick question, right?)
Surely the answer depends on your business model and the experience you want to provide your future audience with. Obviously, it won't fit into a query that a search engine could process and give you a sensible answer.
Here are a few tips:
Let me offer a personal point of view: headless CMS comes cheaper because the user starts with a bare minimum, adding on whatever is needed freely and thus keeping the option to choose whichever hosting, theme, or app fit the technical requirements and budget of the project.
But in the absence of technical experience, selecting and configuring process may end up costing too much time and effort, making the traditional CMS subjectively cheaper and therefore a viable second option.
The menu is huge, and the new items are piling up by each day. What we aimed to do with this article is to put a clear distinction between the sections and cuisine types to give you an understanding of what your next search query might sound like to actually give you the answers.
dops.digital works with different CMS solutions, tailored to solve the customer pain and highlight their business as the industry leader. That said, most frequently we set up a headless CMS which the customer uses effortlessly even after the design project is done, and add a layer of custom code to cover every necessary extension app and create a really unique digital design. We picked this model to build skyrocketing web experiences with very down-to-earth expenses, and so far it works.