CMS Choices: Traditional WCM + APIs Vs Headless CMS + Apps

Web Content Management (WCM or sometimes just CMS) space has been evolving. There are new content management as well as content delivery requirements to cater to the requirements of a more Omnichannel world. Different vendors are addressing this need differently, depending on how they themselves have evolved. I often see  an interesting argument playing out.

Traditional WCM vendors Vs Modern CMS vendors (also often called Headless vendors)

There are long-time WCM vendors with mature and feature-rich, but complex products. And there are new service players with light-weight and nimble offerings, but with less features. Both these categories of vendors are trying to expand their scope.

Traditional WCM vendors are either building new APIs or offering completely new products to target Omnichannel content/experience use cases. Almost every vendor, including Oracle, Adobe, Sitecore, Oracle, IBM (now Acoustic) have an offering, which is separate from their traditional WCM product. In fact, initially, many traditional vendors wouldn’t acknowledge emergence of these lightweight CMS offerings. They would just shrug them off saying it wasn’t a big deal and that they already have an API. But many of the same vendors have acquired or built completely new offerings thus proving that you can’t convert a legacy, heavyweight product to a modern lightweight service just by adding a wrapper of APIs around it. 

The newer players are lightweight and nimble and all that. But they have a major shortcoming. Most of them appealed to developers (good) but not to marketers or business people (bad). So they have started adding more front-end applications and examples to mitigate this shortcoming and appeal to business people.

Both categories of tools are trying to converge – Traditional WCM tools building or acquiring new headless capabilities and the so called headless tools are building new “heads”. 

What are Your Options?

I see three options really (and not two):

  1. Option1: Traditional WCM products with added/improved APIs. In this case, you get access to your traditional WCM products via service calls. The underlying product is still the same but there are additional capabilities to access it in a headless manner. 
  2. Option 2: Traditional WCM vendors, with a second, adjacent offering. In this case, the second offerings is probably completely different from their original offering. This is most likely a result of acquisition or in some cases, a new in-house product. 
  3. Option 3: Headless CMS vendors, these are the vendors that started as pure headless service, but are now building head-optional services, some even talking of offering experience as a service. 

In spite of what vendors will tell you, I think these all target different use cases. In fact, depending on your use case, you may need more than one type. 

Option 1

Traditional WCM products are feature rich. They can offer capabilities such as in-line or in-context editing, content previews, quick site creation (e.g., for micro-sites), support for multiple logical and physical publishing destinations and other business user friendly features. If you need these, you should certainly consider traditional WCM products. But remember, that the original products were not really architected for this “headless” world. So evaluate carefully if broader capabilities of the product are available via APIs or just content. Because if other capabilities, such as navigation, search or workflows are also available via APIs, that might be handy.

Suitable if you need:
  • Micro-Sites
  • In-line editing
  • In-context editing
  • Experience functionality (e.g., Blog)
  • Previews
  • Coupled architecture options available
  • Personalization

Options 2 and 3

Options 2 and 3 are similar. 

If you are considering newer offering of traditional WCM vendors here, remember that they may or may not be well integrated with the original product. And it is not always clear if a feature you saw in a demo came from old product or new offering.  So consider it on its own merits and not because it comes from a big vendor. 

In general, these headless tools such as Contentstack, Contentful, Sitecore’s ContentHub, Acoustic Content and others, are more suitable for “build your own stack” use cases such as those used in building MarTech Stacks. Unlike traditional CMS tools, you just don’t manage full content items (like articles) in these tools. Instead, smaller content fragments – think marketing assets, such as offers, campaign blurbs, logos, pricing charts,  product images, brochures, case studies, email content – all have the potential to become first class managed assets here. Such tools can provide content for not just your website and mobile devices but also for your newsletters, ecommerce sites, PIM, learning management systems, offers and so on.

Suitable when:
  • You need Light-weight options
  • API-first is preferred
  • You prefer relatively modern toolsets
  • Want to treat Content fragments and not just full content as first-class assets
  • Your requirements are not usually not page-centric

But don’t expect many WCM features that are now considered standard. Headless vendors often claim this to be intentional. In fact, I saw a demo the other day where the (headless) vendor actually claimed form-based content entry as a simpler and superior method of content creation as opposed to more complex mechanisms such as in-line editing offered by more traditional vendors. Some of them will also tell you they can actually offer some of those capabilities (e.g., you can usually get some sort of preview capabilities but even Interwoven Teamsite could do that).  So you decide what’s important for you and test carefully.

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