How to choose a headless CMS: Your guide and RFP template

Contents

A CMS has become a popular way for brands to manage their content. Not only does it give agencies and developers the ability to create rich experiences, but it gives companies greater control over how they present content on different channels and devices.

But choosing a CMS isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially in an enterprise setting. That is why a request for proposal (RFP) is necessary to understand one’s company’s needs.

A request for proposal is a document that asks vendors to submit their bids and proposals. It contains the requirements, goals, timelines, and metrics of an organization during its procurement process.

It can also be used by organizations to invite outside parties to give feedback on project plans as well as gather suggestions for improvement. A request for proposal provides potential vendors with sufficient information on the client’s needs so they could create tailored responses.

Why do you need an RFP before you choose a CMS?

There are several CMS vendors in the marketplace, and choosing among them can be a daunting task. Plus, given the time and resources you need to choose and implement a CMS, making sure that you’re selecting the right tool for the job becomes a necessity if things are to run smoothly and roadblocks are avoided.

Before you start your RFP process, ask these questions:

  • What are your technology needs? Think beyond your current needs and think of how your organization will be five years from now. Choosing a CMS is a long-term commitment, and you shouldn’t pick a CMS that won’t help you scale.

  • What are your deal breakers? Investigate what makes or breaks your potential implementation. Researching these potential breaking points from the start can save a lot of time and headaches in the long run.

  • What are your business goals? Tell your vendor what you want to achieve within a certain date and the metrics you plan to focus on to ensure that the platform will support you in achieving your goals.

  • Do you understand your operational goals? Companies know that they need a CMS, but a lot of them don’t know why or which operational goals it’ll help you achieve. For instance, better personalization.

  • Do you have a timeline for sending your RFP? State the timeline for response, decision, and implementation and know your deadlines so you can ensure a timely response.

The best RFP describes what you’re looking for from a vendor, what your company does, and your budget and timeline. That way, you can make sure that the headless CMS you’ve chosen is a good fit for your business.

Get your own free RFP template

You can download the template as a spreadsheet and directly put your own answers in it.

RFP template to choose your next CMS

Creating an RFP is an inward-looking process that your company needs to follow if they plan for growth. Start by looking across every level of your company to figure out how your next CMS will help you achieve your goals, and once you’ve done that first piece of introspection, take a look at this template we’ve created for you:

Disclaimer: A good RFP is always accompanied by a detailed project description. Your first questions need to have as much background information about your company and what you do. Remember, if you send an RFP without a good enough description of your project, the vendor to whom you sent the RFP won’t have enough information to act and give you a proper answer.

Vendor Information

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
Is the name of the vendor and/or the CMS included in this RFP It’s important that every stakeholder knows the name of the CMS to avoid confusion.
Description of the vendor’s value proposition You need to know this to see if the vendor’s positioning, vision, expertise and values align with yours.
How will this CMS help you achieve your goals in 3-5 years? This question gives you insights into your vendor’s vision and plans for the future.
What makes this CMS the one for you? Ask this question to see if the CMS’ features will really help your business.
Does the vendor have a clear roadmap for the next few years? Choosing a CMS is a long-term commitment, a roadmap gives you a glimpse of future features and what the vendor will prioritize.

Pricing

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
Describe your vendor’s pricing structure There are many pricing models for SaaS businesses, pick a CMS that offers flexible pricing.
Which features would incur additional costs? You need to know which features come out-of-the-box and which are paid ones.
Are there any maintenance and support fees? Many CMSs include maintenance in their fees, but some don’t. Ask your vendor about this.
How long is the renewal cycle and how much does implementation cost? Implementation is often a hidden cost that vendors don’t talk about. Ask them to give you a ballpark figure.

Content editing and authoring

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
How is content authored? Describe the process for creating content Content authoring workflows enable clear content processes and a better editor experience.
Does the CMS provide a means to browse reusable content in the content repository? A modern CMS enables you to reuse content and modules easily. If this vendor doesn’t offer that, move on.
Does the CMS support structured content editing? Structured content editing saves time both during content creation and content migration. A CMS needs to support this.
Does the CMS provide a full revision history of changes made and who performed them and allows for rollback? Mistakes happen. Without revision history, mistakes can’t be reverted. Ask your vendor about that.
Does the CMS support editing of metadata by content contributors, including structured information? Editing metadata and structured information is fundamental for companies with thousands of assets. Make sure your vendor supports metadata editing.

Design and templating

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
Does the CMS provide page building and layout capabilities for users to select or drag and drop from an array of page elements (or modules) to change the design? Modules provide better page management. They’re easier to create and maintain. A modular structure makes things way easier for content editors.
Can design changes be easily applied to existing pages across the website? A CMS enables users to apply website-wide changes and update your website. This is a fundamental question.
What page elements can be designed/edited throughout the website via the CMS? Each CMS lets you edit things slightly differently. Make sure that the vendor enables you to edit and add the page elements you need.

Workflows and governance

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
Does the CMS provide the ability to define (customizable) workflows through an easy-to-use visual administrative interface? Content workflows reduce content errors to produce more consistent content. A CMS without workflows won’t get you far.
Does the CMS provide a preview function so users can see page content before it is approved? Not every CMS has a preview mode, some need third-party addons. Make sure your CMS gives you that function.
Does it have a staging environment to do so on every device and channel? A staging environment is a copy of your live environment where you can test the new changes made. You need one to test changes or you risk having bugs.

Roles and users

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
How are users and user authentication managed? A modern CMS needs to offer different authentication methods to prevent data breaches.
Are there limits to the number of users that can be added as contributors? Each CMS enables you to add a certain number of users without paying extra. The CMS you choose needs to enable you to add as many as you need.
Can you create a workflow environment with custom roles and associate users to roles? Every company needs a custom workflow and being able to associate different users to different roles. A CMS should enable custom workflows.

Integration

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
Does the CMS provide integration with the third-party tools you’re using or planning to use? CMSs are all about integrability. If you have a particular tech stack, you need to know if the vendor enables integration with those tools.
Does the CMS provide the ability to integrate with digital signs or other types of devices or channels to facilitate the customer journey? Omnichannel delivery is a cornerstone of a headless CMS. A CMS should be capable of pushing content to different devices, if not, you haven’t chosen the right CMS.
Does the system support a Jamstack approach? Jamstack is gaining weight and increasing adoption. A modern CMS should be equipped to adopt the concept.

Implementation

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
What skill is required to make changes to site functionality? If you don’t have the muscle or the resources to hire a development team, your CMS needs to enable non-technical users to make changes to the site with ease.
Describe the upgrade process for the CMS. Upgrades are sometimes clunky, if your vendor doesn’t have a clear-cut upgrade process, you’d better steer clear from that platform.
How frequent releases are? How many releases per year contain new functionality vs. path updates? A modern, buoyant headless CMS should release frequent updates to stay ahead in the game. If that’s not the case, ask your vendor why.
How is content migration handled? Content migration is often cumbersome. A modern platform should make migration easy. Your vendor needs to have a migration path specific to different platforms.

Security

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
What methods or processes do you have to support federated identity management and single sign-on? For enterprise companies, federated identity lets subscribers use the same data to authenticate their login on a single platform.
Which SSO does your vendor support? There are different SSO protocols which vendors may or may not offer. Make sure to find something that fits perfectly with your case.
Does your vendor have implemented policies, procedures, and systems to prevent data loss, mitigate the effects of data loss, and ensure the privacy and integrity of sensitive information? CMS vendors need to implement data loss policies so when something happens, you have the tools to recover your information and assets. If your CMS doesn’t have clear policies, they might not be able to recover your data if something happens.

Technology

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
Which frontend technologies are supported? Modern CMSs are frontend agnostic and enable you to select the frontend libraries and frameworks your developers know and love.
Backend: Please describe your backend solution? Ask your vendor if the CMS is compatible with a specific language, such as PHP, or Ruby, or Python or if they have an existing infrastructure that the buyer needs to be fluent in.
Communication: Standardized APIs available Ask your vendor about their API infrastructure and if the CMS supports event triggers to external APIs as well as synchronous and asynchronous transactions.
Hosting: Cloud operated infrastructure, ideally in [Location] When it comes to licensing, make sure your CMS offers either on-premise or cloud-hosted or both for maximum customization.
Support for different environments (e.g. development, staging, production) For enterprise businesses, it’s important that the development, production, and staging environments are separated and that your CMS has release management capabilities.
How does your CMS handle accessibility and permissions It’s fundamental for a CMS user to know what are the CMS’ capabilities to restrict access to only authorized networks and devices
What are your security certifications and compliance initiatives Understanding which security certifications your vendor has and how compliant it is to laws and data protection initiatives is a must before you choose your platform.
How easy it is for users to find content in your CMS? Search functionalities make CMS users’ lives easier. Ask your vendor which search architecture they follow. Is it Elasticsearch, Algolia, or other?
When it comes to scaling, how does your CMS support growth? You want to grow and your CMS needs to support your growth initiatives. Ask your vendor what their plans are for helping you grow.

Marketing & SEO

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
How is the CMS’ ability for marketers to create and track SEO-friendly URLs? A solid URL management works wonders for SEO, if your vendor doesn’t offer you URL creation and editing tools, steer away.
How does the CMS support the addition SEO-relevant data A modern CMS ensures that all the critical SEO elements can be created even by casual, non-technical contributors.
Does the CMS provide out of the box integration to analytics platforms? CMSs need to connect to analytics platforms to perform correctly. How does that work with this vendor and which platform do they support?
Does the CMS support OpenGraph? OpenGraph enables rich content preview and it’s a great way of enhancing a post’s CTR. Ask your vendor if they support it or face unappealing content previews.
How does the CMS work with social media? Being able to display external social media content, allowing for RSS feeds, and comments is a must for modern CMS. If the CMS doesn’t offer you that it isn’t as modern as you thought it was.

Releases and pipeline

Questions Why ask this? Your answer
Please provide your technology roadmap for the next few years Knowing what each release will bring to the CMS is fundamental before selecting one.
Does scaling match with your expectations? Scaling means something different for each vendor. Make sure the one you choose is scaling in the same direction as you.
How much effort is involved in performing a release upgrade? Sometimes upgrading is a complicated ordeal and users avoid it altogether. Make sure updating is quick and easy.
Describe your implementation services offerings and typical implementation plan. Making sure the possible options are inline with your future plans.
How does pipeline and releases work for the CMS? Some vendors don’t have a release feature, but if the project is big enough, it’s good to have a pipeline that builds and runs unit tests.

Get your own free RFP template

You can download the template as a spreadsheet and directly put your own answers in it.

Storyblok: Meet your next headless CMS

Storyblok is a very particular headless CMS in the sense that it gives you the flexibility and freedom to manage and distribute your content all in one place. Thanks to its visual editor, Storyblok can do more than a regular headless CMS. Storyblok’s capabilities extend towards omnichannel marketing efforts and building a system that allows developers and marketers to create a flexible digital experience that can be used across devices.

Storyblok offers users digital content authoring tools, simplified asset search, SEO and metadata management, visual editing tools, and the ability to transform and optimize images into a CDN that enables blazing-fast content delivery of websites and apps using content-type templates and workflows.

If you’re still not sure about moving to a headless CMS, read “Why should you move to a headless CMS?”