Home Blog 2023 AEM Headless CMS for Efficient Multichannel Content Delivery

AEM Headless CMS for Efficient Multichannel Content Delivery

Adobe Experience Manager as a Headless CMS

Exploring Headless Capabilities of Adobe Experience Manager CMS

Your campaign looks sterling. You’re excited to get it out there. But as your team begins to deploy the content across different websites, mobile apps, and channels, frustration sets in. The hours of tedious re-publishing and updating the same content in multiple CMSs feel endless…

It’s time to permanently fix the process. Consider moving to a headless CMS, where you can create content in one place and have it automatically reused across various digital platforms.

Yet, an idea is only as good as its execution. You need a powerful, reliable, and scalable CMS.

The good news is that the leading CMS on the market, Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), works perfectly as a Headless CMS. Let’s see if that’s the solution you’re looking for.

What a Headless CMS Is

If a content management system separates content creation from content delivery, we can call it Headless. It means that you have a console and a repository built as one part (body). It’s the backend where you create and store content. You can connect this backend to any and many frontends (heads), such as apps or sites, to display the content to users.

Headless content management solutions are also called API-first CMSs. That’s because they connect to the sites and apps via APIs (neck). With every site and app having its own layout and design, the APIs define how your CMS is going to exchange information with them. The goal is to make all pieces of content appear in the right places and form coherent digital experiences.

Think about the content created in the console of a Headless CMS—texts, images, CTAs, and other pieces—as a set of building blocks. These blocks are sourced by developers building apps and sites, who fit them into pages of various shapes and designs.

How Headless Differs From Traditional

A traditional CMS (also called headful CMS) isn’t that flexible. It allows you to create and publish content on a particular property, with a particular design. First, you define the layout for pages on that property. Second, you create content that fits in this layout. If you need the same content on another property, you should go to another headful CMS and repeat the steps.

Most often traditional CMSs work on the backend of websites. They deliver content to browsers as static HTML pages. Headless CMSs are used on the backend of web apps (SPAs), mobile apps, and other JavaScript apps. They deliver content to the apps as JSON files. The following image illustrates the difference between headless and headful CMSs.

Difference between headless and headful CMS
Difference between headless and headful CMS

But let’s dig a little deeper and compare the two types of CMSs in detail.

Traditional CMSHeadless CMS
ArchitectureMonolithic. The backend and frontend are inseparable.Decoupled. The backend has APIs to connect to any frontend.
Development FlexibilityCMS works with the frontend technologies chosen by the vendor of the CMS software.You can choose any technologies and frameworks to build the frontend ( React, Angular, Vue, etc.).
Design and layoutContent is created to fit in a predefined design and layout.Content is agnostic to any particular designs and layouts.
Content structureContent is stored as fully-designed unique pages.Content is stored as independent and reusable blocks.
Content deliveryContent is delivered to one channel or property.Content can be delivered to any channel or property.
WYSIWYG EditingContent in the editor looks similar to the content on the published page.Content in the editor looks different from the pages and screens where it’s used.
Technology ComplexityRequires little technical expertise and meets the needs of small marketing teams working with a limited number of online properties.Requires more technical expertise for frontend development, suites large businesses managing content on multiple properties.

The differences between the architectures and capabilities of headless and headful CMSs are huge. Yet, if necessary you can get the benefits from both and have a Hybrid CMS, where some content will live as static HTML pages for a site and another part will be fed into apps via APIs.

What Makes AEM Headless CMS Special

AEM offers a wide range of advantages for businesses looking to streamline their content creation, management, and publishing workflows:

  • Flexible content delivery. Deliver content to various channels and platforms, including websites, mobile apps, IoT devices, chatbots, and more.
  • Personalized experiences. Deliver consistent experiences tailored to individual users, driving engagement and conversions.
  • Scalability and performance. Handle content at scale ensuring high performance of sites and apps.
  • Developer-friendly. Empower developers with a modern and flexible development environment.
  • Content modeling and management. Offer flexible content modeling capabilities to define custom content structures and relationships.
  • Seamless integration with third-party systems: Support easy integration with third-party systems and services through APIs.
  • Future-proofing. Leverage the freedom to use emerging technologies and innovations.
  • Enhanced content management. Efficient creation, organization, and management of content across channels and devices.
  • Time and cost efficiency. Streamlined content authoring, approval processes, and delivery reducing the time and effort required for content management tasks.
  • Consistency and brand control. Tools for maintaining brand consistency across channels, ensuring alignment with brand guidelines and standards.
  • Faster time-to-market. Fast content updates and deployment, reducing time-to-market and ensuring quick response to market demands.
  • Microservice architecture. Modular development, scalability, and independent deployment of components.
  • Cloud-native. Leveraging the scalability, elasticity, and cost-efficiency of cloud infrastructure.

Now, let's explore the possibilities that arise when AEM is transformed into a headless CMS.

How Adobe’s Headless CMS Works

Every Headless CMS has a complex system running under the hood and provides users with a unique content authoring experience. Let’s look at the AEM features that work together to bring to life the headless approach to content creation and delivery.

Content Services and HTTP APIs

One option to deliver content in a headless way is by using AEM Content Services. This feature helps you produce content in a traditional way. You’ll compose a Page out of AEM Components using a Template in a Drag-and-Drop Editor. The only difference is that you’ll get your content saved as an API Page in JSON data format instead of a regular HTML page.

Creating an API Page using AEM Content Services
Creating an API Page using AEM Content Services

Content Services will turn your API pages into REST API endpoints. Every endpoint will have a URL. Your mobile apps, IoT or smart device apps, in-store screens, or other properties, will be able to connect to these endpoints, consume content, and display it in their interfaces.

For example, you want the Contact Us page to be displayed in your mobile app and on your in-store screen. Then, you’ll put together information that should appear on this page, such as headlines, sales team members, CTA’s, etc., and save it as an API page. Each of the apps will consume the data and fit it into its own design and layout.

Content Fragments and GraphQL APIs

For a more granular and tailored content delivery, you can make your CMS and apps exchange smaller chunks of content rather than pages. For this, you can go down to the level of the AEM Content Fragments feature and send fragments of content to apps using GraphQL APIs.

To make it work, you’ll first create the information architecture for future Content Fragments. You’ll set Content Fragment Models using a Form-Based Editor. These models define the structure of data in future Content Fragments, by naming concepts and their attributes.

AEM Content Fragment Model Editor
AEM Content Fragment Model Editor

Using the models, you’ll create various Content Fragments—self-contained items of structured content—and store them organized in folders as AEM Assets.

AEM Content Fragment Editor
AEM Content Fragment Editor

You’ll be able to manage your Content Fragments through a Content Fragments console or AEM Assets console. At the same time, your frontend apps will be able to reach them directly through GraphQL API endpoints.

GraphQL is a query language that helps apps send requests to your CMS that target specific Content Fragments and get particular attributes from them for further processing and display. It allows getting various data in one request, which optimizes API usage and works for any app because it transfers data in JSON format.

For example, your mobile app can send a request to your CMS to source pictures, names, and titles of sales team members that should be displayed on the Contact Us page. GraphQL will reach all Content Fragments containing the sales team profiles, read through the attributes, pick only those that were requested, and send them to the app. The app will process this data and fit it into the page.

GraphQL vs. Content Services

Choosing between AEM GraphQL and AEM Content Services depends on your specific project requirements. Both APIs have pros and cons.

AEM GraphQL and Content Services Pros and Cons
AEM GraphQL and Content Services Pros and Cons

GraphQL may be the right choice if you need precise control over data retrieval, efficient network usage, and minimum API requests.

Steps to Headless Content Delivery

Let’s now describe the exact steps that you should make to prepare content and set up Headless AEM CMS.

  1. Content modeling. Define the structure of your content in AEM by creating Content Fragments Models and Experience Fragments.
  2. API Configuration. Enable and configure the GraphQL APIs in AEM to expose your content for headless consumption.
  3. Templating and styling. Create templates and stylesheets in AEM to provide structure and visual consistency to your content. Customize the templates to generate JSON or XML representations. Use the AEM style system for branding and styling the output.
  4. Frontend development: Build a frontend mobile or web app using JS frameworks (React, Angular, or Vue.js) and connect it to AEM to consume the headless content.
  5. Testing and optimization. Validate content retrieval, rendering, and performance across various devices and channels. Optimize and refine your setup based on user feedback and insights from analytics tools.

With these steps, you can configure AEM as a powerful headless CMS, separating content management from delivery.

Challenges of using AEM as Headless CMS

Using AEM as a headless CMS offers numerous benefits, however, there are challenges to consider:

  • Initial setup and configuration complexity. Setting up AEM as a headless CMS may require technical expertise and effort that’s currently missing from your team.
  • Learning curve. Users may need time to familiarize themselves with AEM's headless CMS features and workflows.
  • Additional front-end development requirements. You should have custom frontend apps that would consume and display headless content.
  • Managing multiple APIs and content delivery. Proper management and synchronization of multiple APIs and content delivery systems is required.
  • Performance considerations for high traffic. Optimizing the performance and scalability of the headless CMS to handle high-traffic loads.
  • Microservices complexity. Coordinating and managing multiple microservices in the headless CMS architecture might cause additional load on developers.
  • Integration with existing systems. Integration challenges may come your way when connecting AEM as a headless CMS with existing systems and workflows.
  • Migration of existing content to headless setup. Migrating and restructuring existing content to fit the headless CMS architecture might take significant time.
  • Alignment with overall technology strategy. Ensuring the use of AEM as a headless CMS aligns with the organization's overall technology goals.
  • Resource and infrastructure considerations. Supporting a headless CMS requires adequate resources and infrastructure.

By carefully evaluating these factors, you can make informed decisions about implementing AEM as a headless CMS and harness its capabilities to deliver exceptional digital experiences.

Best Practices for Headless CMS

When utilizing AEM as a Headless CMS, implementing best practices ensures optimal performance and maximizes the benefits of this solution.

  • Utilize content modeling. Invest time in designing a solid content model that reflects your business needs. Define content types, relationships, and metadata to ensure consistent content organization and flexibility.
  • Leverage API-first approach. Embrace the API-first mentality by designing APIs that cater to the specific requirements of your apps. This will ensure seamless integration with various applications and devices, empowering you to deliver content efficiently.
  • Optimize content delivery. Implement caching mechanisms, content delivery networks (CDNs), and content distribution strategies to ensure fast and reliable content delivery to end-users across different channels and geographical locations.
  • Implement personalization strategies. Leverage AEM's personalization capabilities to deliver tailored content experiences to different user segments. Utilize customer data, behavior patterns, and user profiles to provide personalized recommendations, promotions, and targeted messaging.
  • Focus on user experience. Design intuitive and user-friendly interfaces for content creators and editors. Simplify workflows, provide clear documentation, and offer training to ensure efficient content management and collaboration.
  • Test and monitor performance. Regularly monitor the performance of your AEM instance and APIs. Conduct load testing, identify bottlenecks, and optimize configurations to maintain optimal performance and responsiveness.
  • Adopt agile development practices. Embrace agile methodologies for iterative development, enabling quick iterations, continuous improvement, and faster time-to-market for new features and enhancements.

From optimizing content delivery and implementing personalization strategies to prioritizing user experience and adopting agile development practices, these practices will help you make the most of AEM's capabilities.


Whether you're looking to improve content delivery or achieve greater agility in managing your content, AEM as a Headless CMS offers the tools and capabilities to help you succeed.

So, if you're looking for a CMS that provides flexibility, scalability, and the ability to deliver exceptional user experiences across channels, AEM is certainly worth considering.

Embrace best practices, experiment with new ideas, and keep your audience at the heart of your strategy. The possibilities are endless and our team is here to help you use them.


What is headless content in AEM?

Headless content in AEM refers to a content management approach where content is created and managed separately from the presentation layer, allowing for greater flexibility and agility in delivering content across different channels and devices.

What are the disadvantages of headless CMS?

The disadvantages of headless CMS include the need for technical expertise to manage the system and the lack of built-in front-end tools for content editing.

Why is headless CMS the future?

Headless CMS is considered the future of content management due to its ability to provide more flexibility, scalability, and agility in delivering content across multiple channels and devices. It also allows for easier integration with other systems and technologies.

Is headless bad for SEO?

Headless CMS can actually be beneficial for SEO as it allows for greater control over the HTML and metadata of a website. However, it does require additional setup to ensure that search engines can crawl and index the content correctly.