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Everything marketers and developers need to know about headless, decoupled, and API-first content management systems
So what does that actually mean? Why is headless architecture important to the future of digital experiences?
Headless architecture is partly a response to the way web content has evolved. For a long time, most web content was delivered through a browser, often as a web page. But new connected devices are arriving all the time.
Today, audiences consume content through new interfaces with different form factors—things like smartphones, wearables, AI-enabled voice assistants, and even virtual reality headsets.
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Find out the difference between page-based vs. object based architecture, and why your AI-enabled voice assistant isn't nearly as smart as it sounds.
Discover the differences between headless vs. non-headless architecture, and find out how to avoid the personalization and analytics trade-off headless usually comes with.
Broadly speaking, the back end of a CMS relates to how content is managed, and the front end relates to how it’s presented. Think of it like a storefront window display.
Front-end tasks include everything you’d see as you peered in from the street: the selection and arrangement of products and accompanying signage.
Back-end tasks include logistics—making the signage, storing the inventory, and managing the movement of goods around the store.
So, for a basic website, the back end might include:
The front end would then pull through content, stored assets and designs, and publish them to an HTML page.
For non-technical users publishing simple content—like a blog—this was a great, seamless setup.
But as digital experiences evolve, developers are spending too much time creating custom workarounds to deliver more sophisticated content to a wider variety of devices.
Decoupled CMSs split back-end and front-end tasks. In practice, this means developers can quickly code and design front-end experiences in their preferred language without being bound by restrictive back-end technologies. Instead, they can use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect the back-end functions—like content storage and management—to any front-end delivery environment
API-first CMSs are functionally the same as headless CMSs in that they have no default front end. Developers are free to create as many delivery layers as needed, (in whatever language they prefer) to push content to any new channel imaginable.
API-first CMSs are great if you have a team of skilled developers ready to go—the CMS simply manages content and waits for an API call from a front-end delivery layer built by the development team.
Decoupled CMSs, on the other hand, suit companies who want the flexibility of a separate front end and back end, but who might still need some publishing support.
First, digital content is getting more sophisticated, and users’ expectations are rising. To stand out, you need to build beautiful, responsive, and interactive content—and you need to be able to do it quickly.
Second, new channels and user devices are emerging all the time. It’s not enough to build beautiful stuff—you also need to make sure you can deliver it everywhere, as efficiently as possible. Headless CMSs mean marketers and developers can build amazing content today, and—importantly—future-proof their content operation to deliver consistently great content everywhere.
…they can create content once while enabling their developers to display it anywhere. That means less time spent on administration and more time for building beautiful, cohesive experiences.
…the user experience always feels fast, consistent, and responsive. That’s because the client side doesn’t need to communicate with the back-end system—it just has to render content.
The second one is bigger.
Something drastic happens when you cut the head off a CMS: you sever the ability to send customer interaction data between the front end and the back end in real time.
That means you can’t personalize experiences or run content analytics activities.
Personalization has gone from a “nice-to-have” to a table-stakes requirement. Customers are learning what great personalization feels like from industry leaders like Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, and others.
That’s exactly what Sitecore's headless delivery options provide.
These options also come with an API that connects to Sitecore’s contextual content delivery server. This uses information from Sitecore’s Experience Database™ to support devices and browsers to interpret both content and personalization rules in real time. So users see different content based on profile information, past interactions, and more.
When these companies faced challenges reaching and engaging specific audiences, they used headless implementations to decrease time to market and empower marketers with control over content.
Download the story of Swedish beauty products company Oriflame and their use of a headless approach to extend their reach.How they did it
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