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Mar 17, 2022 | 5 minute read

Content Management Systems (CMS) and the Front End

written by Emily Kathi

What your customer sees and how they interact with your content matters. User experience is at the forefront of eCommerce success stories, and a key part of that experience is how you as a business create and manage content.

A Content Management System (CMS) is software that helps you create, manage, and change content with rudimentary knowledge of code, or even no knowledge of code at all.

Here we’ll take a look at different use cases for a CMS and how it relates to front end development. Let’s begin with a few basic comparisons:

Front End – anything the user sees and interacts with, or rather the look and feel of your site and functionality like cart and navigation with no interaction with the code or development. Most often called the public facing portion of your site.

Back End – what goes on in the server side. The analogy is a car engine with all its complexities; the back end consists of API, business logic, data storage, and user authentication; what largely is the developer’s world.

When it comes to CMS, it’s usually managed as back-end functionality and it determines the content shown on the front end for any visitor on the site. A few examples of popular CMS names in the marketplace include Wix, Drupal, or WordPress. These applications allow for admin changes without the responsibility of knowing code. However, the confusing part is there are technically both front and back-end functionalities to a CMS. Let’s look at three CMS types:

Traditional CMS – Like the names we’ve mentioned above, a traditional CMS allows an admin to create, publish and edit content with an easy front-end interface like an HTML editor. The file and codes are stored in a back-end database to run the CMS platform. The issue with a traditional CMS is the front and back ends are tightly coupled which results in a limited pre-built application which results in limited control as to where content goes.

Headless CMS – this term comes from the decoupling of the front and back-end functions of the CMS. A headless CMS is deemed “front end agnostic”; there is no default presentation layer. What this means for eCommerce brands? In a headless CMS world, you are free to distribute content to as many “heads” as you desire driven by APIs. That may be smartphones, dedicated apps, or any channel of your choosing.

Bear in mind when choosing a Headless CMS you’ll need to build out a front end customized for your needs. The great news is there are vendors who specialize in providing these development services.

Watch our CEO Jamus Driscoll talk with Patrick Friday, CEO and co-founder of Vue Storefront about the differences between front end as a service and a CMS in an installment of the web series, “The One Question”.

In essence, a traditional CMS appeals to the marketing side of the house, and the headless side to the developer. While there are benefits to both, a hybrid approach is another option.

Consider this scenario: marketers who may have little knowledge of the tech stack are dependent on IT support to get changes made to reflect the business need. This creates tension, bottlenecks, and stalled responses to change. And there’s more…

  • Phase- driven innovation – You may start with website and rollout to channels gradually. Think of this as an omnichannel strategy eventually evolving into a dedicated app, or a broader business model (B2B, B2C, D2C)
  • Integrate more tooling – once you’ve adopted a hybrid approach, you’ll have better experiences with analytics and CRM tools
  • Empower your team – adopting a hybrid CMS allows for less friction between the business and tech sides 

What does it mean to have a Composable architecture?

Discover more about the latest approach to eCommerce, its three core architectural tenets, and whether or not the approach is right for you.

Take an at-a-glance comparison of each CMS type:

Traditional CMS

Ideal for marketers

Ease-of-use interface

Manage page structure and templates

Little flexibility where content ultimately goes

Headless CMS

Flexibility to push content anywhere driven by APIs

Better user experience

Not as marketer friendly when changes arise

Heavier dependence on IT

Hybrid CMS

The same flexibility for omnichannel content through APIs

Ease-of-use interface for marketers

Easier maintenance

The Choice is Yours

The ultimate decision of which option will work best really depends on your business needs and your team’s makeup. Consider how and who will be managing your resources, and what customer facing experiences you’re looking to create in a commerce platform.

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