What digital marketers, writers and editors need to know when going headless

BLOG What to know when going headless-01
January 9, 2020


More and more enterprises are updating their content management technology from traditional full-stack CMSes to headless CMSes. While IT architects and developers praise this transition, it could leave people with less technical knowledge out in the cold.

From the point of view of digital marketers and content creators, headless CMSes appear to lack some features that they are accustomed to. At the same time, these CMSes expand their ability to manage experiences from a single website to multi-channel digital products. It’s no wonder that some people are a bit overwhelmed.

I made this transition myself, and I’m here to help you become friends with your new headless CMS. I’ll walk you through the opportunities that headless offers and give you a gentle nudge toward new ways of working with content and user-experience design.

In this post, you’ll learn how to maximize the value of your content with a new approach to management and content modeling. In the second post of this two-part series, I’ll help you expand your opportunities to curate content experiences across channels and optimize omnichannel user experience using the best tools on the market.

New approach to management

To maximize the value of your content, you’ll need to rethink your approach to content and work in cross-functional teams.

Monolithic CMSes and headless CMSes require different approaches to content management because they’re designed for very different end products. Monolithic CMSes—those traditional systems with front- and backends, such as WordPress—are designed for managing web pages and websites. Headless CMSes manage content across many digital channels, everything from websites to mobile applications to voice-control applications. Thanks to the decoupled nature of headless CMSes, you can ensure a coherent content experience across multiple channels.

Cross-functional teams help you take advantage of your headless CMS. By gathering everyone involved in creating digital experiences — from UX designers to editors to product owners — a system that works for everyone can be designed from the start.

How to get started with omnichannel content strategy

  1. Take inventory of your channels. What channels do you currently have and who are the people managing them?

  2. Work on an omnichannel customer journey with your UX team. Identify what roles the different channels play in the customer journey and if there are any gaps in the channel ecosystem.

  3. Align content-related activities by organizing people around the omnichannel customer journey.

Content modeling

Now that you are designing content for multiple channels, it’s important to structure that content into a content model that can be used repetitively across all channels. Creating a content model is an instrumental but often neglected UX design phase. It’s often left for developers to do because it resembles database design and is technically easy for them. But databases are used by an application, and computers don’t mind abstraction the way humans might. Therefore, structuring content is a bit more challenging than database design.

A successful content model is:

  • Clear and understandable from the content creator’s point of view

  • Configured for use in new types of digital products

  • As abstract as possible

One approach to the content modeling process is to take an existing piece of content and divide it into smaller, reusable pieces. You can then abstract these pieces for reuse. Once the content pieces are divided and abstracted, they’re referred to as structured content. This can be done by developers or, with Contentful, by non-technical team members.

Contentful enables anyone to structure content in the web app. An example might clarify things: Think about structuring a recipe. Recipes have a familiar structure; they require a title, introductory text, list of ingredients with amounts, and instructions.

You could design a simple structure — what Contentful calls a content type — by using:

  • one heading field for the title

  • one short-text field for the introduction

  • one long-text field for the ingredients list and instructions

Quick and simple. But there’s a better way to think about this content that will improve the digital experience, search engine visibility, increase business opportunities, and maximize the possibilities to utilize automation and AI.

Instead of entering the recipe content into one text field, create a content type for ingredients that splits the amount, unit and name of ingredient into three separate short-text fields. Step-by-step instructions should also have their own content type. Now, your recipe content type includes:

  • A heading for the title

  • A short-text field for your introduction

  • A series of ingredients content types connected to a series of instruction-step content types so that readers see each ingredient with the associated instruction.

Why is this better? Have you ever tried cooking by looking at recipes on your smart watch or mobile phone? Normally you’ll spend more time scrolling up and down between ingredients and instructions than actually cooking.

But with this structure, readers can advance without scrolling backwards. This structure would also enable voice control and reduce the need to touch the phone altogether. It’s a much more hygienic approach to cooking, don’t you think?

How to get started with content modeling

  1. Identify the key forms in your content strategy, such as recipes or blog articles.

  2. Work with writers, editors and UX designers to design your presentation layers.

  3. Think about how to divide your content for maximum reusability.


Designing user experience and content for multiple channels might feel very overwhelming. If you have worked with websites for a long time, it might be challenging to let go of the thought that content equals a webpage. I have a helpful tip for you: as a potential end user of your content, try thinking about the channels that use your content as voice, not text. I have found this to be a useful way to rewire my very website-oriented brain to embrace the world of omnichannel content.

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