A deep dive into Kontent by Kentico and Headless CMS

Ryan Michael - Head of Front-End Development,

The technologies available to developers to build websites continue to evolve, I myself started a long time ago using a technology called Shockwave, then spent nearly 10 years of my career as a Flash developer, before becoming a Front-End Developer. Throughout my 17 years there’s always been something new to pick up;  - whether that’s a new tool or process, a completely new framework, or an evolvement of a pre-existing product – no developer can stand still for too long!

And something that’s got me very excited at the moment is headless CMS.

But what is a headless CMS and why should you care? Well, read on:

What is headless CMS?

Both a headless and traditional CMS are used to add content, media, and a level of structure to our websites. If you’ve ever used one before you’ll be familiar with the process of editing some copy on a page or selecting an image from an asset location, saving these edits,  then seeing them on a test environment or your live site. The difference between the two is that a headless CMS is de-coupled from the presentation layer (or head) –  this allows us to have greater control over how our content is displayed in our front end code. However, that’s not the only difference between the two. We now live in an omnichannel world and brands are no longer content with just a fantastic website -  they also want a performant and engaging mobile app experience, they may need to have a presence on smartwatches, or in virtual reality. Headless CMS were created to help support this methodology because they are great at structuring, organising, and managing content.

Having a CMS that puts its focus into the content, and doesn’t necessarily care where that content is being used, opens up some great possibilities around technologies, performance, and security.

We can use any number of Front-End technologies and frameworks

With no rules being set around how we should build the front-end architecture being dictated by a traditional CMS’s presentation management layer - it gives us maximum flexibility to pick a programming language, meaning it works with whatever processes and tools we already have in place – or would like to introduce. It also helps to provide our clients with more choices. We recently used a headless CMS for a client who were able to add their input into the technologies used, as they had an internal development team who worked in a particular framework. This framework happened to be React, but it could have easily been Vue.js, or Svelte, or plain old HTML and CSS – we now had that flexibility to build in a way that works for all stakeholders.

It’s Future Proof

No one can predict the future, or what new devices or channels we’ll all be using in the next 5 years and beyond, but what we do know is that we don’t want to have to re-build again to be able to deliver content when things inevitably change. By utilising a headless CMS, we are building for the present and planning for the future. As an example, we may decide that our front-end framework of choice is no longer a viable option due to performance, or any number of reasons - thankfully due to them being two separate entities, we can swap out our front end without having to touch the content inside our CMS. We may also decide that a different headless CMS is required, if this happens then content can be migrated, but the front end of our site doesn’t need to be touched.

By utilising a headless CMS, and connecting to our front-end via the use of APIs, we are able to swap out either side and not re-build everything from scratch, saving time, money, and headaches.

Security and Upgrades

twentysix have always put information and security at the top of our agenda which is why we hold the ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials Plus certifications. As well as making our code as secure as possible, it’s imperative that the tools and frameworks we use put security first - and we get these re-assurances when using a headless CMS. It all comes down to the architecture being used and reducing the amount of infrastructure that is susceptible to being attacked, and leveraging a static approach to the front-end, there are fewer moving parts and systems; providing a smaller surface area for attacks to target.

As well as improved security, we also reduce the amount of downtime for maintenance and upgrades. Many traditional content management systems work towards a roadmap of changes with yearly releases - these releases can offer new functionality and features or a brand refresh, and if a security flaw is found, then a minor upgrade will happen as soon as possible. Depending on the nature of the change it may just be as simple as a developer installing them, but in some scenarios, if you upgrade between major versions, a lot of work then needs to happen to migrate your site – due to the application structures, traditional CMSs are more suited to PAAS (Platform as a Service) rather than SAAS (Software as a Service) delivery, which leaves more work for your team to do to keep pace headless CMS can avoid this issue, the vendor themselves handles the upgrade of the CMS, and new features can be added when ready - and not during a yearly release cycle – so we always have the latest features available to us.

We are benefitting from this currently with a new feature that’s been added to Kontent by Kentico called Web Spotlights, which enables on-page editing of content for websites. This is a fantastic addition as one of the downfalls of the headless CMS approach is that it limits the potential to deliver editor-friendly visual previews, apart from utilising a content staging environment. This new feature allows content editors to see the impact of their changes directly inside Kontent.

With all things, it’s about utilising the best tool for the job. A headless CMS isn’t always going to work for every scenario, but they’re becoming a more viable option for builds of all sizes - including e-commerce websites. The flexibility they allow for tooling means we can service our clients better and give them a solution that is future proof, secure, and built for an omni-channel world.

Want to know more about twentysix, Kontent by Kentico, and how a headless CMS can work for you? Get in touch.

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