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Never Rebuild Your Site Again

By Douglas Riches

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard and expensive to make changes to your site - whether you are doing a redesign or swapping out a service or application? Does it feel like you’re always starting from scratch every time you want to evolve your site? If you’re on a traditional Content Management System (CMS), you might want to consider making the switch to a Headless CMS.

If done right, a headless CMS means that you will never need to rebuild your entire website again. You heard (read) that right: NEVER rebuild your site again.

A Headless CMS solves an increasingly severe problem that traditional web CMS platforms have created. Most traditional CMS implementations are so tightly tied to the website interface that it's nearly impossible to have any reuse in the multiple channels that are table stakes today. Additionally, these systems become so inflexible that evolution becomes impossible and companies become locked in a cycle of constant redesigns and rebuilds on a fragile ecosystem.

What does that mean to your business?

You need to get it EXACTLY right the first time with a traditional CMS.

Evolving experiences are complicated and costly using traditional methods that were initially designed and mostly unchanged since the early 2000s. Redesigning on a conventional platform requires foresight on needs 3-5 years into the future that are impossible to predict. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be flexible and reactive to our constantly changing environment.

An effective build of an enterprise-level site on a traditional CMS will often take more than 6-12 months. A substantial portion of that time is spent customizing the CMS to your organization's specific business needs and your customers' user experience. This development customization of the software you are paying to use is almost always proprietary to the CMS and often means you become tightly locked into a solution and a new way of working before your site ever goes live.

The result of all this means that you gain some benefits of a system specifically tailored to exact requirements at the expense of future (affordable) flexibility. Down the road ━ be that a few months or a few years ━ when the world inevitably changes, the rollercoaster begins again on the same system or a new one that promises to solve all the things it fails to deliver by design.

You will be rebuilding a new experience from scratch, likely throwing away a significant portion of work that is now outdated and spending hundreds of thousands if not millions to start again from scratch.

Headless to the rescue

Headless CMSs exist to reduce the problems outlined above by taking a different approach to content and authoring. When we talk about a modern headless CMS, we are merely referring to keeping the user experience design and the content separated. Overall, a headless CMS allows for an API-based content management versus a monolithic system that tightly couples your content to the user interface.

This idea of “decoupling” the user interface from the content is a powerful one that has far-reaching positive effects when implemented and used correctly. Headless means that instead of managing one-off pages on an implementation specific only to your website, your content becomes a modular, reusable asset that can be repurposed anywhere.
When you create an omni-channel digital experience using a headless CMS, you can design and build a genuinely agile product that increases in value over time.

Four key areas enable this:

1. Channel optimization - Websites, mobile apps, Kiosks, emails, digital signage can all take advantage of a shared set of content. Designers, no longer constrained by proprietary CMS technology, can create new and exciting experiences not possible before.

2. Marketing speed and consistency - Content updates across channels are simultaneous and consistent. The content becomes a matter of creating once and deploying everywhere.

3. Greatly reduced development support - Instead of relying on IT to make changes to content structures and waiting for developers to release new code to see updates, a headless CMS allows authors and marketers to control the content directly.

4. Nimble and adaptable solution - If it takes you a year to build a website, it's about nine months out of date at launch. Today, more than any other time in our digital past, consumers' expectations are fuelling a rapid change in the technology required to deliver extraordinary experiences. Headless CMSs are API-driven, giving businesses a choice to change the user experience without rebuilding from the ground up every time.

What it's not...

What you see is what you get: (WYSIWYG). CMS solutions and solutions that couple content to a digital channel can allow non-technical authors to edit a site directly in place generally using a WYSIWYG editor. Though this is convenient, it creates some significant problems that did not exist 20 years ago when this idea was born.

A magical solution that doesn't require work: Achieving digital excellence requires an iterative mindset and a set of agile products. Creating a digital experience on any platform and 'setting and forgetting’ outside of a few tweaks over the years won't lead to digital success. Even if your strategy is 'set it and forget it,' you will eventually want to make a change or add a new channel. Picking a solution that allows you to do that efficiently is paramount.

What to look for in a headless CMS solution

An optimal headless architecture provides modular content types that are reusable in multiple contexts. Each content type additionally allows for rapid changes with minimal ripple effects to other content. A good headless CMS solution supplies several vital features:

  • Strong level of content control
  • Ease of use for non-technical users
  • Security and control over change
  • A strong feature pipeline for continuous improvement
  • Separation of content infrastructure from channel infrastructure

The result is that marketing and business users can focus on what they need to do without the need for developers who can instead focus on implementing world-class digital experiences.

Here is what we recommend:

After years of working with multiple CMS types, we highly recommend a solution that directly puts control of content architecture into business experts' (not developers) hands.

The modular and decoupled nature of a properly implemented CMS is highly flexible for both marketers and developers and is cost-effective, scalable and mobile-friendly. The APIs are well developed and flexible, an essential consideration for long term flexibility.

A headless cloud-based solution is ideal for companies that want to focus more on providing value to end-users and ease of use to content managers without worrying about security, upgrades, costly setup and CMS customization. When used correctly, cloud-based solutions' cost is significantly lower than that of traditional self-hosted CMS solutions.

Probably not much of a surprise, but of all the CMS solutions available today, we are of the firm opinion adopting a headless solution meets and exceeds most forward-looking organizations' requirements. Additionally, when employing a cloud-based solution, agnostic of channel technology, it will allow your business to accelerate and dramatically transform your digital practice.

Adopting the right solution

Headless CMS solutions like Agility, Contentful, Prismic and Sanity are all highly effective for modern-day digital ecosystems. The CMS solution you choose should allow your teams to work in a way that is most effective for them. Each of the companies above follow the same headless philosophy that each CMS is excellent; just the execution details differ. The details of which solution is the best fit for you comes down to you and your team's preferences.

Though selecting which is right for your needs is an important one, it's not binding for your digital channels' lifetime like more traditional CMSs. If you decide to move to a different solution or the technology shifts, allowing for new innovative ideas, content migration is relatively trivial compared to traditional CMS systems. A sustainable, iterative evolution of your brand's digital channels from strategic, creative and technology points-of-view has never been easier to achieve.

When you adopt headless and embrace the idea of agile digital products, you are well on the path to a future where digital brand evolution and user-centric experiences evolve and improve day-to-day, and most significantly, you will never have to rebuild again.

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