Headless CMS systems - Not tied together anymore

A traditional content management system (CMS) combines the content and the website design as one. However, nowadays we are hearing increasingly about headless CMS – which separates website content from the site structure. 

Headless CMS has come about due to the need for content to be delivered on a variety of platforms nowadays – including mobile devices, tablets and smart watches. While it is considered a new thing, from the outset nearly 20 years ago, Sitecore has always built its platforms this way and is somewhat of a pioneer in this field. 

A headless CMS separates the creation, delivery, and management of content (the back-end tasks) from its presentation on the web page, app, or device (the front-end tasks). It has no role in website design, page themes or templates. By contrast, a traditional CMS is responsible not only for content creation, management, publishing, and delivery - but also for the rendering of the web page.

Headless CMS and its decoupled rendering has freed developers from the conventions and structures of the back end. Now they no longer have to deal with the peculiarities of a CMS’s rendering system and technology— such as .NET or JAVA. Instead, they can access pure-code fragments of content that are not already in the final representation of the page. This means developers can quickly build rich applications and get full control over the user experience.

Headless architecture has also made the audience experience smoother and quicker - by moving all the rendering to the devices and streamlining the back end. Meanwhile, marketers enjoy the ability to write once and have their content distributed across all channels.

Sitecore has always stored content in an item-based repository and its platform never ‘pre-bakes’ pages ahead of delivery. It keeps the creation, delivery and management of content (the back-end tasks) separate from the rendering (the front-end tasks).

Although there are many advantages to headless CMS, in the main, it does makes it difficult to personalise experiences. Personalisation requires collection and analysis of customer interaction data from the front end so you can test and optimise personalised experiences from the back end. 

While most headless systems don’t support a marketer’s need to collect interaction data or personalise the experience, Sitecore does. 

The hybrid headless CMS architecture of Sitecore Experience Manager 9 sees Sitecore’s CMS uniquely designed from the ground up for the modern, multichannel world. Its architecture allows marketers to deliver personalised content and developers to work with familiar tools to seamlessly deliver it on any device. 

Sitecore XP 9 includes two add-ons—Sitecore Experience Accelerator 1.4 and JavaScript Services Tech Preview - that deliver a new REST API on the presentation layer of the Sitecore CMS architecture. This effectively allows any device or browser to interpret the whole composition of the page or screen of Sitecore content - complete with all the personalisation rules implemented by the marketer.

Meanwhile, a new JavaScript SDK called JavaScript Services, allows front-end developers to use modern JavaScript libraries and frameworks to carry out the rendering of Sitecore content on an end device or browser.

These two developments mean the presentation of the content doesn’t have to take place on the Sitecore server anymore; it can be physically decoupled from the creation, delivery, and management of content, yet without any of the downsides normally associated with headless CMSs.

The marketer simply composes the page, sends it off for approval, and then the page is ready for delivery to any type of mobile app, web page, or internet-connected device. The front-end developer can either consume the whole page created by the marketer or cherry-pick parts of it before choosing how it’s rendered.

Sitecore gives front-end developers the freedom to use the tools they want to deliver audiences a great user experience, while marketers stay in control of the content.

Article Details

Ian Jepp
10 October 2018