Insights, Web Development

What is Contentful?

Beginner’s Guide to Headless CMS for High-Growth Teams

Any good web application deserves proper content management. But what about having a single CMS that can distribute your content to multiple platforms in one click? In this blog article, we’ll take a look at the headless approach and explain what is Contentful, its benefits and when a business should consider going headless.


What is Contentful?

In its essence, Contentful is a cloud-based headless CMS designed to provide users with a solution that would help developers and content editors organize and distribute content to any platform.

The platform offers powerful APIs for consuming and publishing content, so developers can build apps for every channel. So let’s sum up how it meets the unique demands of digital content:

  • Contentful is an API-first CMS.
  • Far more features than the traditional CMS.
  • Allows users to store and link to content from multiple sources.
  • Developer’s tools for avoiding manual migration, minimizing custom development, and eliminating content change backlogs.
  • Product owners’ tools for replicating content models, reusing content, and syncing common components.
  • Marketing tools for reaching new audiences across regions, channels, and brands with consistent messaging.
  • Compiles your content in a flexible JSON API.
  • Well-documented APIs and CLI migration tools.
  • SDKs for most of the popular programming languages.
  • Integrated service, without a need of 3rd party plugins.
  • CDN to provide high speeds to users.
Visit Contentful’s Website

Contentful is not the typical headless commerce platform. Its headless CMS approach focuses on being a CMS with eCommerce capabilities rather than an eCommerce solution with CMS capabilities.


Why Should You Go Headless?

We already referred to Contentful as a headless CMS platform. But what does this actually mean?

Headless commerce involves using a CMS on the front end of an e-commerce site while using a separate e-commerce platform on the back end to help manage inventory. Companies use this approach because of its flexibility which makes it easy to meet varying needs in different markets. A headless approach divides your business into two parts: a head (front end), and a body (back end).

A headless commerce architecture allows businesses to have more control over their e-commerce sites. They can personalize their shopping experiences and make their websites more enticing and engaging than ever before with the most modern e-commerce features.

So let’s see what are the actual benefits of going headless:

✔️ Frontend Freedom

Headless commerce platforms allow front-end developers to create a completely customized user experience for customers, offering the ability to tailor forms, products, and pricing based on their specific business needs. Unlike other online platforms, front-end developers can use the platform’s API to change the data and the experience, making even the smallest change a simple procedure that doesn’t require modifying the whole database or code.


✔️ Easy Employee Adoption

To make things easier, teams can take advantage of headless commerce, or use a platform that allows access to the front end and back end without having to worry about developing the entire thing from scratch. Every member of the team can have access to their company’s online store with equal ease, regardless of experience level.


✔️ More cost-efficient

Not every company has the money to hire developers or IT experts for their e-commerce site. Since front-end changes can be made quickly with the use of headless templates and partner solutions, developers save time and money on building user interfaces. Additionally, full flexibility in the back end allows for multiple e-commerce applications to be developed and built with a minimal amount of coding so that clients can see changes immediately.


✔️ Reduced time-to-market speed

Headless commerce is an approach to development that enables businesses to launch new front-end experiences quickly. They can be quicker to implement and react to a wider variety of market trends. In headless commerce, the business has a single source of truth: the API. The API gathers data from all available sources on the Internet, combines it into cohesive, structured data sets, and delivers it in specifically-tailored ways to different interfaces, like mobile apps or web content.


✔️ Updates

Updates to the front end of a website are reflected almost instantly. However, traditional e-commerce platforms can sometimes take minutes, if not hours before all users can experience a brand’s latest design.


✔️ Languages

Contentful supports SDKs for JavaScript, Ruby, PHP, and the most popular languages, so developers won’t feel restricted.


✔️ Great User Experiences

With a headless e-commerce site, brands can focus on their content, rather than the details required to mold it into a responsive design. More creativity means more engaging e-commerce sites for customers and visitors.


✔️ True Omnichannel Experience

Headless commerce allows a business to create its own front end and offers an easier way of scaling on new sales channels. A common example involves chatbots: If you want to add a chatbot front end to your e-commerce site, the legacy e-commerce platform won’t offer that integration. Instead, you’ll have to wait for it to be developed. With headless commerce, you can build your own interface in no time. On top of that, users could get the best omnichannel experience on a variety of devices.

With this in mind, Contentful allows developers to choose their preferable frameworks and code languages in order to build a custom front end, while the platform handles the back end and APIs.

How Does Headless Compare to Monolithic CMS?

Monolithic CMS refers to all-in-one solutions you get out of the box that helps you store, manage and present content. Usually, these traditional CMS solutions have a single codebase that handles all content management aspects of your website or application.  One of the most common and popular monolithic CMS types is open source, available for the public to use and modify. Think of WordPress or Joomla.

The drawback of traditional CMS systems, however, is that you need to install numerous extensions and plugins to get more advanced functionalities and this in itself may cause issues. For open-source CMS platforms, you will also need to spend lots of time and money on optimizing stability, security, and performance capabilities.

Headless CMS, on the other hand, boils down to a database backend with a web-based user interface, where you access the content through an API. This makes it ideal for websites and apps that use JavaScript frameworks; native mobile apps, or any case in which you need to publish content across multiple platforms all at once.

In the end, the biggest difference between headless CMS and a monolithic one is the following:

Headless CMS is extremely flexible and it can easily power other platforms even if you haven’t planned them for your project. Traditional CMS, on the other hand, has content and layout intertwined so it can’t integrate with platforms that it hasn’t been originally designed to accommodate. 

This brings us to the next question:


How Does Contentful CMS Work?

Contentful gives you the total freedom of building a custom content model so you can decide what content your website needs and quickly manage it, as well as distribute it across various channels.

So let’s see how this works.

Imagine you’re using traditional CMS for your content and you want to manage your content across channels. To do so, you have to create a content system for each channel using a separate CMS: one for your website, one for your mobile app, and one for smart devices such as smartwatches, smart TVs, etc.  This would mean updating your app on each channel separately.

Here’s how Contentful handles things. Since the platform utilizes management and distribution across these channels, you only need to manage your content space and Contentful API will deliver it across platforms in literally one click.

Here’s what the flow for publishing content looks like once you start working with the platform:
Step 1. Creating a Space

In Contentful, you create workspaces or spaces for short. Your space serves to keep all content related to your project represented by specific types of data, called content models. You do this by adding content types for each kind of content you wish to have in our space.

For example, if you’re making a space for your blog posts, you can create a “Blog Post” content type. To create a content model, you need to specify what type of information to store for each blog post in your blogs, by choosing the proper fields. For a blog post, they can be rich text, header images, videos, in-line images, table of content, etc.

Note that the data stays independent from the presentation layer displaying the content.

Step 2.  Adding Content

Once you’ve created a space for your project with the proper content models, your next step is to start adding content.

In Contentful, there are two types of content you can add and easily manage in a user-friendly editor:

  • Entries: This refers to the content itself, arranged according to the previously created content model.
  • Assets: Refers to all files attached to the content model.
Step 2.  Setting Up Your Content for Distribution

Since your content is independent of the presentation layer, you need to delegate content display management to your team of developers, designers, and editors. This means each platform has its individual front end that will display your content. All you need to do is use API keys to determine where your content will go. Hit the Publish button and your content will be distributed to the determined platforms.

In addition, Contentful lets you run the website locally so you can test your content before deploying it.


What Makes Contentful Unique: Special Features

Contentful is oriented towards a headless approach. It makes it easy to connect the dots with different APIs and make your website the way you like. With a single content repository, teams can adapt the same content on other digital platforms.

✔️ A Single Content Hub

Contentful serves as a single hub where you can build custom content models that fit your project needs, store and organize that content, and distribute it to any platform.

✔️ Content Modeling

You can create and customize each content model depending on what you need by using up to fifty data types. There aren’t any pre-made content models, since Contentful let you define your own without unnecessary content elements.

✔️ Omnichannel Content Distribution

You can seamlessly publish and manage content across various channels from a central hub. The Contentful API lets you deliver your content across platforms in literally one click so you won’t have to manage content for each platform and device.

✔️ Multichannel Distribution

Content teams can publish the same content across platforms in one single hub, as well as build an organized content infrastructure for anyone to come in and use.

✔️ Reusability

Since Contentful uses a content modeling structure, you can reuse and recreate different components from the already existing patterns of content management. For example, when you build a fill-in form for your eCommerce website, you can also reuse that same content model for any other landing page that requires users to fill in such a form.

✔️ Content Distribution Network (CDN)

The platform provides a content distribution infrastructure so users can benefit from high-speed delivery and service.

✔️ UI Extensions

UI Extensions serve to help developers extend the functionality of their web applications by adding custom fields in the content type. You can use these custom fields to render third-party data.

✔️ Backup

All your data is backed up on two separate servers. In addition, even if any data gets deleted, there’s a 25-day window for recovery.

It’s also important to mention that all the content you create and implement in contentful is encrypted and secured. Audiences will see your content only when you specifically publish it.


FAQ About Contentful CMS

👉 Is Contentful a CMS?

Yes. Contentful is a CMS with a headless approach. This means it only handles the backend of a website application, eliminating the presentation layer from its duties. You can handle the front end of your platforms with any frameworks you like (like React, jQuery, Vue.js, etc) while APIs in order to fetch the content from Contentful.

Being a CMS, Contentful has all the tools you need to create content models and reuse or recycle content. What makes it different, however, is the luxury of having a single content hub.

👉 What is an API?

API is the core of the headless CMS technology. It stands for Application Programming Interface and it serves as a tool to deliver content by sending a network request to an endpoint. Basically, it lets your application communicate with other applications without having to know how they’re implemented.  Your application sends a remote request structured in a particular way, while the other application responds accordingly.APIs are a simplified way to connect your own infrastructure through cloud-native app development while at the same time also allowing you to share your content with customers and other external users.

In terms of release policies and control, there are three ways to open access to your data:

  • Private: APIs for internal use.
  • Partner: APIs shared with pre-defined business partners.
  • Public: APIs available for everyone.

👉 What is the difference between Contentful and CMS?

Contentful is a headless CMS that helps you create and manage your content, however, you cannot use it to create a website or an application. Unlike traditional CMS solutions that take care of the front end and back end and can be used as actual website builders, Contentful serves as a hub for your content. You will need to build your own website and application with the tools suitable for your business needs. Once you have your platforms ready, you can create your content in Contentful and distribute it to those platforms.

👉 What are the advantages and disadvantages of traditional CMS?

Monolithic CMS platforms are effective systems for storing, managing, and presenting content. Since they are AIO solutions, they help businesses create their own websites without the need to write a single line of code. On the other hand, here are the pros of using traditional CMS:

  • Fewer maintenance charges as everything is formed into a single platform.
  • Low threshold for developers and content creators.
  • The local character of calls results in better performance.
  • The ability to extend functionality with plugins.

When it comes to the cons, here’s what to consider:

  • Difficult to reuse and maintain code without disrupting the website usage.
  • Lower performance, especially the initial loading bootstrap of a large CMS.
  • Plug-in features can weigh down the platform’s performance and increase the risk of security vulnerabilities.

👉 Should I use headless CMS or traditional CMS?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, however, traditional CMS is the better option for smaller businesses that don’t necessarily have the resources to use headless effectively.

If you have neither a development team nor an external partner, traditional CMS is the better option. Also, if you have a simple website or app that utilizes the in-built functionalities of your traditional CMS, you also don’t need to switch to headless.

However, if you want additional tools that your traditional CMS platform can’t provide, a headless CMS might be better.

Use headless CMS when additional flexibility is needed such as integrating content from one platform to another. For example, if your mobile app needs to be developed with the same content as your web app.

Contentful’s headless architecture makes it possible for big businesses to build powerful content engines.

Considering going headless? Schedule a meeting with our tech-savvy managers to discuss if Contentful is right for your business.


To Sum Up

The bottom line is Contentful works with all types of content. Unlike traditional CMS that works with a few dominant types of content, usually websites and blogs; the headless experience of Contentful works with all types of content and their presentation layers. You can distribute your content in an unlimited number of ways.

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