Sometimes it can be challenging to choose a suitable platform for a new web project. It is very easy to get confused due to the variety of available options.
Traditional content management systems (for instance, WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, and others) gradually give way to two types of more advanced competitors: a headless CMS (such as Magento, and Strapi) and no-code website builders (like Squarespace, Webflow, and Bubble).
So how do you choose between a headless CMS and a no-code website builder? When selecting a tool for a future project, it's essential to consider the needs of your team and the features of your product.
In this article, we'll explore what exactly are headless CMS and no-code tools. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each as well as the nuances of choosing between them.
This type of CMS consists of a database and content delivery using an API. The back-end (content creation and storage) and the front-end (presentation layer) in such a system are entirely apart and communicating via API. In other words, unlike traditional monolithic architecture, this kind of CMS has the “body” separated from the “head” (or multiple “heads”), which is why it got its name.
A headless CMS is an excellent option for organizations that want to create an omnichannel digital system. By using them, content can be displayed smoothly on various devices as you may craft front-ends for different endpoints.
The headless commerce approach can be classified as a flexible solution that significantly reduces the time and effort spent on development.
Following the recent market study on “Headless CMS Software Market Forecast to 2027 - COVID-19 Impact and Global Analysis - by Deployment Type and Enterprise Size,” the headless CMS market was valued at US$ 328.5 million in 2019 and is projected to reach US$ 1,628.6 million by 2027. The expected growth at a CAGR is 22.6% from 2020 to 2027.
Which Companies Can Benefit from Using a Headless CMS?
Many businesses use a headless CMS as a core solution that delivers digital experiences across all devices and platforms. As examples, here are some of the industries that often take advantage of headless CMS’s capabilities:
- Financial services;
- Gaming and media companies;
- Manufacturing companies;
- Travel agencies;
- Logistics companies,
- Among others.
Suppose you open an online store, which you plan to develop in the future. You know in advance that you are going to expand and start occupying new niches after some time. This implies that you’ll have to adapt to a broader range of devices, apart from the main personal devices used today (i.e., desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.).
Maybe you will even use Internet of Things capabilities extensively in the future and trade through smartwatches, fridges, and so on. In this case, don't limit yourself to no-code solutions and choose a headless CMS that allows you to adjust your platform to suit your needs.
An example of an online store built on a headless CMS (Magento in this case) is Nike’s official website.
Among the main advantages of this CMS can be mentioned the following:
- Reduced project development time;
- Easy content management;
- Broad customization options;
- High productivity;
- Comfortable omnichannel experience on all channels and devices.
Recently, there has also been a growing demand for so-called no-code tools. But how do they differ from conventional and headless CMSs?
In simplest terms, their software development process or coding is separated from the user interface. With these tools, absolutely any user can build a website, regardless of whether they have any technical skills or not.
You don't have to deal with operating systems, programming languages, libraries, and other complicated issues when using no-code services.
Nonetheless, no-code solutions are usually designed for a particular purpose. They offer a set of templates or individual blocks that users can drag and drop to create a custom layout for their website.
Most of these tools offer software as a service. It doesn't need to be installed locally and integrated into the company's system.
There are a lot of services like this, so you can pick the one that's just right for you. Some of the most popular ones today are Wix (shown in the screenshot below), Bubble (for web applications), Webflow, Carrd, and others.
No-code solutions are great for those who want to create a decent landing page or simple promo website quickly and without much effort. However, this is not the only purpose of such tools.
No-code features can also be used to develop projects in the following areas:
- Local businesses;
- Small retailers;
- Manufacturing companies;
- Among others.
Suppose you own a local clothing brand. Your manufacturing facility is small, everything is handmade, and you don't plan to expand much in the future. Then you can quickly launch a small online store using a no-code solution.
However, you should keep in mind that such platforms will usually charge you a certain amount for transactions in addition to the fee for using the platform.
As an example of a no-code platform-based website is the Freshly blog, transferred from CMS WordPress to no-code Webflow. The migration goal was to provide maximum control to their marketing and design departments.
Selecting a headless CMS or a no-code tool depends on the features of your project and its requirements.
Headless CMSs and website builders cannot be called direct competitors. The first ones have flexible functionality and broad settings, the second ones do not require any special skills and allow you to start working on your project as soon as possible.
If you have a small or medium-sized business and aim to develop a simple project, you can start with a no-code solution and later move on to a more advanced and scalable platform, such as a headless CMS.
In some cases, a company needs to develop a complex project designed for a broad audience, using third-party solutions and involving a lot of specialists (developers, designers, and so on). In this scenario, it is advisable to initially build a site on a headless CMS to avoid the migration expenses in the future.
Both headless CMS and no-code methods have their benefits and flaws. Below we will compare these two types of solutions according to 5 parameters.
Ready-to-use templates and blocks of no-code builders significantly boost the process of bringing a website or app project to life. This is why many companies concerned about instant innovation often take the easiest route, choosing no-code tools. They allow you to make, say, a simple landing page literally in a few days.
Developing a complex, extensive project using a headless solution will certainly take much longer (from several months and more). But you can't avoid it if you need a high-functioning, efficient, and ambitious project, which you plan to develop further intensely.
It is also worth mentioning the following. If you already have a large website (let's say, a massive online store, functioning on a monolithic CMS) and you want to transfer it to a headless CMS, it will surely help you develop your project and take it to the next level. However, you should be prepared to invest time and a decent amount of money.
Comparing headless CMSs and no-code tools is probably quite incorrect because they are used for different needs and project scopes. Accordingly, the effort spent on developing these projects will also vary.
Many companies, bloggers, and entrepreneurs do not want to (or cannot) spend time and money on searching and hiring developers. In addition, they often don't need the flexibility and advantages of a modern headless CMS. That's why many prefer user-friendly and simple no-code solutions, which can be used even by employees without any technical skills.
On the contrary, if you plan a complex and ambitious project using a headless CMS, which will be further developed and expanded, you certainly will need help from professional developers. Of course, it is more expensive than using no-code tools, but you can be sure that the numerous headless CMS benefits will compensate for your investment.
When comparing the cost of these two different types of tools, you should consider the following advantages of choosing no-code solutions for creating uncomplicated projects:
- Shortened production time and, therefore, reduced expenses for production;
- Availability of preinstalled components and templates;
- No need to hire expensive outsourced specialists;
- Provision of ready-made hosting.
In addition, if you use a no-code solution, you do not have to develop the front-end separately and ensure its quality merging with the back-end of your site.
However, keep in mind that as your company expands and increases the number of projects, the use of no-code platforms will become quite expensive. And migrating to another platform, for example, to one of the headless CMSs, is also not cheap nor quick.
The cost of usage and maintenance of a headless CMS depends on the chosen provider and the difficulty of the project. The expenses, in any case, will be higher compared to using no-code tools. However, due to the flexibility and scalability of headless CMSs, you will not have to spend a lot of money to adjust the system according to your needs.
Therefore, you should not worry when starting a small project (and, accordingly, pay less for it): as your business grows, you will be able to modify it quickly and at a relatively low cost.
No-code tools are usually offered for specific purposes. Therefore, whatever project you have in mind, you will find the right solution for it. The problem, however, is that when your project begins to grow and exceed the built-in standards, you may experience serious trouble.
For example, you may be forced to use several different no-code methods at once instead of customizing your project within a single platform, as in the case of the headless CMS.
Also, when using no-code solutions, you may confront the challenge of missing or limited documentation on exactly how they are structured. After all, such platforms’ structure might differ from the general software development standards.
On the other hand, a headless CMS provides development professionals with flexibility in tool selection and advanced customization options as the project grows or the requirements change.
With the adoption and expansion of new regulatory requirements, such as GDPR, along with the constantly growing cybersecurity risks, you should choose your CMS provider carefully.
Although working with no-code solutions makes life a lot easier, you may face such troubles as non-compliance with legal regulations and high data management risks. When you choose a headless CMS, you won't have to face this problem.
Before you make your final decision, it's worth answering the following questions.
- Are you sure that the features and scope of the project will not change over time?
- Are developers involved in your project? If so, how important is it for them to access the tools they are used to working with?
- Are you targeting multiple channels and devices?
- How much do you care about design branding and user-friendliness?
- What level of control over project security and data protection do you want to have?
Finding the best tool for your new project is not an easy task. But remember that you are not alone with this problem. The key is to consider the requirements for your future project and the needs of your company and team. That's how you find the perfect balance between all the available options.
If you don't decide on your own, I'd recommend seeking help from someone on your team or third-party professionals. They can help weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the solutions you're choosing between. Hopefully, this article will assist you in making the best choice!