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Headless CMS vs. DXP: What Are the Differences and Benefits?

The difference between headless CMS and DXP, as well as show how a headless CMS can be used as a DXP.

Author: Antonello Zanini

A content management system (CMS) and a digital experience platform (DXP) can each offer significant benefits to an organization. You can use either a headless CMS or a DXP for your website or application with little to no knowledge of the code required. However, these popular technologies each take a different approach to the content and how they help you manage it.

This article will help you clarify the differences between these two useful tools. You’ll learn about recommended use cases for headless CMSs and DXPs, as well as how you can use a headless CMS like Strapi as a DXP.

What Is a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a backend content management platform. It’s designed to act as a content repository, providing you with everything you need to manage the content, expose it, and make it available through APIs. The platform (the body) is separated and decoupled from the presentation layer, where the content is displayed and used (the head).

Because a headless CMS doesn’t involve a frontend layer, the frontend developers must retrieve the content from the CMS through its APIs and present it to end-users. This means that the headless CMS represents a single source of truth that different services can tap into in order to retrieve the content they need.

This differs from the traditional approach to CMSes, in which the backend and the frontend are typically tightly tied in a monolithic architecture. Such an approach can be a limitation, though, if you want to use different technologies for your frontend applications.

Pros and Cons of a Headless CMS

A headless CMS offers multiple benefits to your organization, but it can come with some challenges as well.

Pros

Here are the three most notable benefits of using a headless CMS:

  • It’s scalable: A headless CMS centralizes content management in one place, meaning it can serve several frontends at the same time. To add a new website to your pool, you only need to make its frontend call the APIs exposed by your CMS.

  • It’s efficient and gives you control over your content: Adopting a headless CMS means you avoid redundancy in your infrastructure so you don’t deal with extra overhead or inefficiency. Since everything is managed in a single place, you can more easily monitor performance, user interactions, and engagement.

  • It’s secure and up-to-date: A headless CMS is software as a service (SaaS) by nature. The provider who develops it will keep it up-to-date and upgraded for you, making it a more secure solution.

The Con

Switching to a headless CMS takes time and effort:

Chances are that your company already has a traditional CMS. Selecting the right headless CMS for your use case, moving from your traditional CMS to a backend-only platform, and successfully integrating it into your processes could take weeks. You might also need to significantly modify your frontend websites or even redesign and rebuild them from scratch.

When to Adopt a Headless CMS

There are certain use cases in which a headless CMS is a right solution. For instance, it’s ideal if you’re working with a multi-tenant architecture. If you have many websites that are part of the same group or organization, it’s crucial to decouple the frontends from where the content is managed. Using a traditional CMS for each site would make your architecture harder to maintain.

Similarly, you can use a headless CMS to implement an omnichannel communication strategy. Say your marketing team wants to provide your customers with a consistent experience no matter which channel they’re using. A key aspect of an omnichannel strategy is making your content channel-agnostic. This can easily be achieved if each channel retrieves the content from the same source.

A headless CMS has many more uses. It’s a good solution when you want to scale your business quickly and efficiently.

What Is a DXP?

A DXP is an integrated collection of technologies, products, and services that are designed to work together to help companies deliver a high-quality digital experience to customers. In a DXP, several pieces of software communicate with each other as part of a composable architecture.

In other words, the goal of a DXP is to provide you with a central platform where you can create, update, manage, optimize, and deliver content-based experiences to your customers across several digital channels.

To achieve this, a DXP equips you with tools and features to collect heterogeneous, meaningful cross-channel data so that you can better understand your customers. These tools, which communicate with each other through APIs, generally involve a business intelligence platform, a customer data platform (CDP), a digital asset management (DAM) system, and a data analytics application. You incorporate the data that they collect into the creation, management, and delivery of content-driven experiences.

Pros and Cons of a DXP

As with a headless CMS, adding a DXP to your organization’s workflow comes with some benefits and challenges.

Pros

There are multiple ways in which a DXP supports the growth of your business. Following are the three most important benefits of a DXP:

  • It helps you retain your customers: Delivering richer experiences to your customers through an omnichannel strategy is crucial to retaining them. According to one study, this helps you achieve 91 percent greater year-over-year customer retention rates than businesses that don’t follow this approach.
  • It allows you to deliver personalized experiences: The data gathered by a DXP can be used by AI and machine learning–based algorithms to produce richer, more personalized experiences for your customers; for example, by adapting search results to first show the most relevant products predicted by these algorithms.
  • It gives you control: The massive amount of data that a DXP gathers can help you understand the current state of your business and the effectiveness of your communication strategy and marketing campaigns. This way, you can correct them accordingly.

Cons

A DXP comes with some unavoidable challenges. Following are the two most important:

  • Selecting the right elements takes time: There are so many services and SaaS platforms available on the market to build a powerful DXP that evaluating them all to choose the best option can be a gruelling task.
  • Integrating all the services in a DXP may be difficult: When you have to integrate different services through their APIs, that integration might not go smoothly, depending on the quality of the service. Customer service and documentation quality play a key role.

When to Adopt a DXP

A DXP can be used successfully in a variety of scenarios, but there are a few cases where adopting a DXP becomes a game-changer. For instance, it’s a good choice if your company is planning to launch a long-term, multiyear omnichannel strategy, which would be helpful in instilling brand awareness and building customer loyalty by engaging them regardless of channel. Implementing such a strategy without the right tools not only would be challenging but would likely cost extra time and money.

A DXP would also make a difference if your company were planning several complex, personalized marketing campaigns. Timely data, like customer feedback and A/B testing results, could help you analyze the performance of these campaigns, then update them as needed based on the results.

There are many other situations in which a DXP is useful; this is just the beginning.

Headless CMS vs. DXP: Main Differences

As you’ve learned, headless CMSs and DXPs are different concepts. For instance, a headless CMS is a single application, while a DXP involves several products, services, and solutions.

While they both are focused on content management and allow you to implement an omnichannel strategy, they have two different goals. A headless CMS is a general-purpose solution that gives you what you need to manage your content, while a DXP helps you find ways to produce the content your customers want to receive based on their preferences.

Those differences, though, mean they can work together quite well. They might even be sold by a provider as a single solution. Generally, the headless CMS represents the core of a DXP, meaning that one of the most important services of a DXP solution is a headless CMS. This also means that a headless CMS can be used to achieve the goals of a DXP.

How could this work in practice? As an example, the following section shows you how you could leverage a headless CMS like Strapi as a DXP.

How to Use Strapi as a DXP

Strapi , the leading open source headless CMS, is fully JavaScript compatible and is built for developers. Its goal is to help you easily build fast, self-hosted, and customizable content APIs. Developers can use these APIs while building user experiences and interfaces.

Strapi takes care of managing, storing, and delivering the content and data required by your services to provide digital experiences to your customers and users. This means that you can use the content provided by Strapi to build your DXP. In fact, any service that’s part of your DXP can retrieve and analyze the data coming from Strapi APIs, and then deliver results to your customers based on their preferences.

There are several benefits to this approach. By using a single tool, you already have nearly everything you require to create the right digital experiences for your customers. This reduces the complexity of your DXP as well as development time and costs. Since all your content would go through Strapi, you wouldn’t need to spend time and energy in building a complex architecture that might be more difficult to evolve and maintain.

Conclusion

A headless CMS and a DXP can each bring different but equally important benefits to your business. And they also work equally well together, providing you with smooth content management as well as detailed data analysis that you can use to improve your business strategy and goals.

If you’re looking for a headless CMS that can also serve your DXP purposes, consider Strapi. The open-source, developer-first tool is customizable and self-hosted, and it works with REST or GraphQL APIs. It offers a number of integrations, and it supports multiple database types. To learn more, check the documentation.

Thanks for reading! We hope that you found this article helpful. Feel free to reach out to us below with any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Discussion (1)

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Max F. Findel

It's the first time I'm hearing about DXP and I think this guide is a good introduction.
It sounds like a great model to test out ideas and iterate based on results. I would love to see a part 2 of this article with a concrete, real life example so I can wrap my head around it and maybe implement it for a project in the future 😊