Development / Contributed

Headless CMS vs. No-Code Website Builders

8 Oct 2021 10:58am, by
Victor Coisne
Victor Coisne is VP Marketing at Strapi, a popular Open Source Headless CMS. As a developer community enthusiast, Victor has been working for Open Source B2B companies for more than a decade including 5+ years as Head of Community at Docker. In his free time, Victor enjoys spending time with friends, wine tasting, playing chess, tennis, or soccer.

The content management market is anything but new. Arguably, it dates back to the 1980s when FileNet, the first piece of software designed specifically to manage content was first released. Fast forward to 2021, the market has matured and is now expected to reach $123 billion according to Zion Market Research with hundreds of vendors. In the last few years, traditional web-based content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Drupal have become less popular and two types of vendors have emerged as strong challengers: No-code website builders such as Squarespace, Webflow and Bubble and pure headless CMS such as Contentful and Strapi. 

In this article, we’ll first define what no-code website builders and headless CMS are, then discuss the pros and cons of each solution and most importantly how to choose one over the other. 

What Are No-Code Website Builders?

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of buzz around the “no-code” tools. But what does that really mean? To put it simply, it means that the software development process or code is abstracted away through a user interface that is accessible to all regardless of their technical skills. In other words, it’s the highest level of abstraction on top of bits, operating systems, programming languages and libraries. 

No-code tools tend to be built for a specific use case and provide a number of templates or building blocks that users can drag and drop to build their websites or apps. As such, most no-code tools are Software-as-a-Service solutions that do not need to be installed locally and later deployed to production. 

What Are Headless CMS?

Headless Content Management Systems consist of a database and content delivery via an API, completely separating the backend (content creation and storage) from the frontend (design and deployment).

As the number of connected devices continues to grow, API-first “headless” CMS have emerged as the solution for companies that need to build omnichannel digital experiences for their customers. Developers tend to consider headless CMS as a “low-code” solution that abstracts away some of the complexity while speeding up their application development. 

Benefits of No-Code Site Builders

The hype does not come out of nowhere. There are several reasons why no-code solutions are becoming mainstream. Here are the top three reasons: 

Time to Market

Thanks to templates and ready-to-use building blocks, it’s often quicker to go from an idea to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or even a production-ready website or application. The speed to market is very important as it allows companies to innovate faster than ever before. 

No Dependency on Developers

As more and more companies invest in their digital transformation (buzzword alert, sorry), hiring software developers is becoming a serious challenge across the board. Therefore, no-code tools enabling non-technical teams to be autonomous are very appealing to companies looking to build a simple web presence. 

Cost

In addition to shorter development time, pre-built components, templates and out-of-the-box hosting means that it’s often cheaper for companies to leverage no-code tools for app prototyping and simple projects. Unlike headless CMS, you don’t have to develop the frontend separately and make sure it’s well integrated with your backend system. 

Limitations of No-Code Site Builders

Despite all the benefits of no-code tools, there are a number of limitations to anticipate before choosing the solution for your project. Let’s take a look at the top three limitations. 

Opinionated

No-code tools are often purpose-built. From website builders to onboarding, project management and automation tools, you’ll find no-code tools for pretty much every use case. Now the minute your project grows beyond a simple, standardized use case that spans across multiple devices or systems, you might have a serious problem. You might have to use several different no-code tools in parallel instead of building a software practice and expertise on top of one framework or platform that can be customized to fit most of your use cases across multiple channels. 

Technical Debt

Technical debt is the result of what happens when development teams choose speed over a scalable, future-proof software architecture. That’s exactly what could happen if you decide to go with a no-code tool. Because no-code tools don’t follow popular or standard development practices, the documentation of how things are built are more likely to be limited or missing entirely. On the other hand, headless CMS not only give developers the flexibility to choose their favorite tools but also the power to customize the entire application as their project scales or if the requirements change. 

Cost/Lock-In 

With new regulations like GDPR becoming more common and ever-growing cybersecurity risks, companies have to be careful about the CMS vendor they choose to work with. While working with SaaS-based no-code tools can be convenient, it can also lead to compliance challenges and data governance risks. As your company or the number of content projects scales, SaaS-based solutions might also become price prohibitive and the migration to another platform almost impossible.

How to Choose Between Headless CMS and No-Code Website Builder?

Finding the right tool for the job is not straightforward and should be based on your project scope and requirements. Headless CMS are not in direct competition with no-code tools, it’s more of a tradeoff between tools that are quick to get started with versus tools that are highly flexible and customizable.

If you are a small or medium-sized business that needs to build an MVP or a simple web project with limited scope, security and data governance risks, then you might want to start with a no-code tool and switch to a more cost-effective/scalable solution such as a headless CMS later. 

On the other hand, if your company is building a more strategic application with a broader, ever-changing scope, across third-party solutions and various stakeholders (developers, designers, brand experts, etc), you might as well start with a headless CMS to avoid migration costs later. 

Here are a few questions to help you make the right decision: 

  1. How confident are you that the project scope is not going to change overtime?
  2. Are there developers involved in the projects? How important is it for them to have the opportunity to use their preferred tools and frameworks? 
  3. Do you plan on targeting multiple channels and devices?
  4. How important is the brand design and overall user experience to you?
  5. How much control do you need over your security and data protection?

Now if you are looking for recommendations on what is the best headless CMS for your use case, here is a blog post covering all the main factors to take into account when selecting a Headless CMS. 

The New Stack is a wholly owned subsidiary of Insight Partners, an investor in the following companies mentioned in this article: Docker, Bubble.

Featured image via Pixabay.

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