Uniform for Headless CMS
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adam conn

Adam Conn

Co-founder, Uniform

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7 min read

Pinning your hopes on a headless content management system (CMS)? If so, you’re not alone. Although there are many benefits to going headless, it’s important to be aware of the limitations and familiar with the tools you can use to address them.

What is a headless CMS?

To better understand the difference between traditional and headless CMSes, you need go no further than your own kitchen.

If you keep your kitchen well stocked, you have the potential to whip up a wide variety of delicious meals. If, on the other hand, your shelves are empty and all you have is a heat-and-serve macaroni-and-cheese dinner in your freezer, then all you can make is – you guessed it – mac and cheese. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially if that’s what you truly feel like having for dinner. But if you suddenly get a craving for linguini and clam sauce instead, you’ll have to head right back to the frozen food section of your grocery store. Or perhaps you like pasta and cheese but prefer rigatoni to macaroni. If so, that package in your freezer isn’t going to meet your needs.

A traditional CMS is a bit like a ready-to-eat meal. It combines a collection of ingredients – such as a headline, some images, and text – into a convenient package and enables you to produce a finished product, typically a Web page, with relative consistency and ease. It’s convenient, but limited. That’s because the ingredients are usually earmarked for a single purpose – producing that page. If you should decide you want to reuse some or all of those same ingredients to produce, say, an app, you’re probably of luck. Chances are you’ll have to start from scratch. And that often means storing a second copy of the same headline, images, and text that you already have in your CMS.

The result can be tedious, redundant, inefficient, and costly.

If the ingredients in your macaroni and cheese dinner could talk, they’d assure you that they know exactly why they’re there: to make mac and cheese. If, on the other hand, you kept your kitchen well stocked with a variety of pastas, cheeses, and sauces, those ingredients wouldn’t have a clue if you asked them where they thought they were going to wind up. This uncertainty isn’t a drawback. It’s a hallmark of flexibility.

That in essence is the difference between a traditional CMS and a headless CMS. A traditional CMS is like a ready-to-eat meal. It stores both the content and its intended presentation together and usually combines them so they can produce one and only one output. The “head” that a headless CMS is missing is that very output. Rather than being locked into a particular presentation layer, a headless CMS stores content without any regard to how it will eventually be presented. It’s a collection of versatile ingredients that are just waiting for the right recipe.

Headless promises

In 2019, the market for headless CMS totaled $328.5 million. It is expected to expand by nearly fivefold by 2027. It’s no wonder that the headless CMS is growing in popularity. It makes content creators happy, it makes developers happy, and it provides the kind of flexibility that meets today’s growing multichannel demand.

It’s easy to use and easy to understand. Separating content from presentation makes life simpler for content creators. They no longer have to worry about things like format, layout, or other aspects of page architecture. Instead, they can focus on what they’re good at: content.

It’s a perfect fit with modern front-end development practices. Developers are free to use the languages and tools they prefer without being constrained by the technology and approach dictated by the CMS.

It’s channel agnostic. With a headless architecture you are no longer locked into a single form of presentation. It’s well suited to the growing demands for multiple forms of display. The same content can be presented in a variety of formats.

Headless problems

Unfortunately, the advantages of headless CMSes come with some major drawbacks. Although separating presentation from content frees you to generate multiple forms of display from the same content, it comes at a cost.

Business users are forced to relinquish control to developers. Because a headless CMS by definition has nothing to do with presentation, this shifts the burden of responsibility to developers and deprives business users of control they’ve grown accustomed to. This loss of control can be a bitter pill for many business users to swallow. Indeed, it’s proven to be a huge adoption blocker for headless systems.

Personalization becomes problematic. In addition to the loss of business user autonomy, another common casualty of headless CMS is personalization. Although it’s a must-have for many sites, because personalization is neither content nor layout, it has no real home in a headless architecture. A common solution is to use a third-party tool that lets you control personalization outside of the headless CMS, but these tools lack access to the content in the CMS. As a result, personalization winds up disconnected from content even though its principal purpose is to deliver the most appropriate content to your visitors.

Headless integration

The choice is yours. You select the headless CMS and front-end technology you want, while Uniform handles the integration between them. It returns control to business users, enables multi-source composition, and restores personalization to the kind of workflow that those users have grown accustomed to.

Business autonomy is restored. Uniform provides a tool that gives business users the power to readily compose and easily customize pages and templates without requiring constant dependence on developers. Business users regain the control and ease-of-use they’ve come to expect from a tightly coupled front and back end.

Multisource composition becomes an option. It has become increasingly common for companies to draw their content from multiple systems. Unfortunately, integrating them can often prove to be a logistical nightmare. With Uniform, you can use a single composition tool to build digital experiences that incorporate content from multiple places without the cost of custom integration or the loss of key features like personalization.

Personalization is restored to a familiar workflow. Although the power of personalization depends on serving up the most appropriate content to your visitors, a headless CMS by definition and design is unconcerned with how its content is used. Adding back personalization programmatically is an option, but doing so shifts control away from business users and over to developers instead. Uniform provides the tools business users need to regain control of personalization.

The best of both worlds

Uniform’s tools return some of the features that were powerful and popular about the traditional CMS, while retaining the flexibility and speed that make headless CMS so appealing.

Developer choice. With Uniform, there are no requirements or restrictions on front-end development. Developers don’t have to be specialists in a proprietary CMS. Instead, they can focus their attention on creating good components that are fast. 

Faster performance. Unlike sluggish traditional origin-based personalization, Uniform’s super-fast edge-side personalization runs on the CDN of your choice. You get the freedom to choose the technology you want while leveraging the power of the CDN to achieve superior performance and scalability that server-side personalization can’t touch.

MACH membership, Jamstack compatibility. Uniform is a member of the MACH alliance, which “advocates for an open and best-of-breed enterprise technology ecosystem, and its product is compatible with Jamstack, whose objective is “to make the Web faster, more secure, and easier to scale. Neither depends on proprietary technologies or non-standard frameworks, and both place a fundamental emphasis on ease of integration. If you buy tools that are built according to these principles, you can be confident that they’ll fit well with Uniform. 

Ultimately, Uniform retains what is best about headless CMS while filling gaps that are left by traditional DXPs, such as page composition and personalization. And it does all this at blazingly fast speeds. You get to choose your ingredients (content) and select your favorite recipes (components) to create a wide array of meals (digital experiences). The CMS stores the ingredients, and your front-end developers provide the recipes. What does Uniform do? It furnishes a well-equipped kitchen – both the place and the tools – to help everything come together smoothly and work together well.

Posted on 10/5/2021 in
Headless CMSJamstack

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