Benefits of using an API-first CMS: the case of Contentful

Written by Léa Crestot
Last updated 14 April 2021
Benefits of using an API-first CMS:  the case of Contentful
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Should you try the new generation of headless content management system or stick with the more traditional approach?

What is an API-first or headless CMS?

Headless CMS - and generally speaking, headless Web - is becoming increasingly relevant to online businesses and enterprises but for what reason? In recent years, the amount of content published and channels where it is shared exploded. From phones to connected devices, to wearable tech to VR headsets, the shape and size of our screens and devices has greatly evolved, creating a challenge for content management systems to keep up as they were originally designed to serve content to web pages only. 

Headless CMS was created to answer the need of displaying content across a variety of ever changing channels. How?

By chopping off the “head” (referring here to the front-end layers, i.e. the website) of CMS to create a back-end only content management system. Headless CMS are mainly made of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces - the technology which enables two softwares to communicate) and the back-office technology necessary to stock and distribute content. 

What does it mean concretely? Headless CMS allows developers to provide content as a service, since the stocking and delivery of content are handled by a separate software. 

Typical properties of headless CMS: 

  • Content as a service (CaaS): the content is separate from the output

  • API driven: almost always cloud based 

  • Service as a software (SaaS): you pay a fee as opposed to paying an install 

Examples of headless CMS include Sanity, Prismic, Strapi and Contentful. We, at YYT, developed an expertise using the later one so we will address below what are the benefits of using Contentful.

Contentful logo on white cloud with navy background

API-first CMS vs. traditional CMS 

How does headless CMS differ from legacy CMS? 

Traditional CMS refer to any system that is tightly coupled to a single website such as Wordpress, Wix, Squarespace. Those CMS are often described as monolithic because of their one-way architecture where website, CMS, database and API are all interconnected in the same box. 

Their architecture forces businesses to publish content through templates that are built specifically for web browsers. And this is exactly where they fall short: traditional CMS were built to serve content to web pages, and as much as they developed over time, they never escaped their page centric construction. If legacy CMS initially dominated the website market, they seem less fit to fulfill the needs of brands today as they turn to multichannel marketing. 

Today, content is now delivered to screens and devices of all shapes and sizes and that requires a new approach to CMS. Thanks to their headless architecture, this new generation of CMS doesn't impose a template onto the content created within it. Instead, it sends content directly to your website or your app, on whatever devices you fancy, directly from the cloud.

What headless CMS offers is the possibility for content to be organized into modular flexible pieces so it can be rearranged in endless different ways to fit different screens and devices.

Benefits of API-first CMS such as Contentful

Thanks to this new architecture, API-first or headless CMS provide many benefits. The most obvious one: it makes content flexible, adaptable and reusable.

At YYT, we started working with API-first CMS as early as 2016 to provide better, more flexible content solutions when building eCommerce platforms. Among the many headless CMSs available on the market, we turned to Contentful for the benefits it presents both from the developer and the client standpoint. Here is why using a headless CMS such as Contentful can be beneficial:

Contentful benefit #1: It’s future-proof 

Because content is stored in a place that's central, it can be reused on all the systems or applications you haven’t thought of yet! Whatever innovation disrupts the digital space next, your content is ready.

Contentful benefit #2 : Mobilize your content anywhere

Headless CMS send content directly from the cloud making it accessible to any application, any device. Your content can be reused anywhere, everywhere.

Contentful benefit #3 : Freedom of design

How you process and display data is entirely up to you. By freeing content from traditional CMS’ templates, Contentful gives back total control when it comes to design. 

Contentful benefit #4 : Workflow improvement 

By decoupling the presentation layer from content, Contentful separates developer and editor workflows. Because content now lives on the back-end, marketing teams and content creators no longer have to rely on developers to implement content change.

Contentful benefit #5 : It’s fast, really fastThis CMS uses advanced cache techniques, delivering API-payloads in the sub 100 millisecond range.

Contentful benefit #6 : Restful APIs What does it mean? Simply put, restful APIs give full programmatic control to developers, allowing them to manage assets, translations and other versions of your content.

Contentful benefit #7 : Easier, faster development

One of the big assets of Contentful is that it is language and framework agnostic, allowing developers to pick the programming language and develop the way they are used to without conforming to any proprietary development constraints, making for easier, faster development.

Contentful benefit #8 : Cost effective and scalable

Because Contentful is easy to use, it’s a lot faster for your marketing or sales team to create new functionalities. For instance if they wanted to create mini-sites for new products or a special promotion, they could get started right away in the CMS without having to rely on developers to build templates. By starting with smaller solutions and scaling up as needed, it reduces up-front costs. 

Interested to know if a headless CMS could be right for you? Contentful is our platform of choice for content. Let’s chat about it!

How we can help

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    Ongoing maintenance and support

YYT built our new Shopify website from scratch in only 2 months. We were impressed by their level of expertise and flexibility.
Jessica Warch
Jessica Warch
Co-Founder & CEO at Kimaï