Hybrid CMS vs. Headless CMS: Which one is better for your eCommerce store?

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    You want to move away from traditional content management and improve how your eCommerce store delivers content. But you keep getting tripped up by terms like ‘hybrid CMS’ and ‘headless CMS.’ What do they mean, and which one should you use? This article covers everything you need to know about a headless content management system and a hybrid content management system.

    What is a headless CMS?

    A headless CMS is frontend-agnostic, which means the backend of the content management system is fully separated from the frontend. This allows the backend to act as an independent content repository — a separate database for an organization’s entire digital content assets. The frontend of a system is the presentation layer that users interact with — like what you see when you visit a website.

    The headless CMS uses APIs like REST or GraphQL to deliver content directly from the backend to different interaction channels, including websites and native mobile applications. Examples of headless content management systems include Storyblok, Contentstack, and Prismic.

    A diagram showing an example of a headless eCommerce setup

    An example of a headless eCommerce setup

    Features of a headless CMS

    The features of a headless content management system include:

    1. Content editor

    A content editor is where you create and edit content pieces — including landing pages and blog posts — for publication. In a content editor, you can:

    • Add meta descriptions like alt tags and slugs to your content entry
    • Format content pieces using fonts and subheadings
    • Change the layout of published content entries

    Most (but not all) headless content management systems only have a form-like content editor, which can be abstract for non-technical users. WYSIWYG stands for What You See Is What You Get. A WYSIWYG editor has a graphical user interface, which allows you to see what a content entry would look like when it goes live, as you create it. Whatever content edits you make will display in the same way when the final output is produced.

    Storyblok is a headless CMS with a true WYSIWYG editor that allows users to edit content visually, and see the changes take place in realtime.

    A WYSIWYG editor allows you to build faster because you can see what the final content output would look like — from start to finish of the project. It also makes the content creation process easier for non-technical team members because they don’t have to write or edit any code.

    2. Collaboration

    A headless CMS uses content workflows to make collaboration seamless. A content workflow defines key content-authoring tasks and assigns roles and permissions to different members of your team.

    Storyblok has four basic content workflow stages: Undefined, Drafting, Reviewing, and Ready to Publish. And you can set permissions for each workflow stage. For example, junior team members might be restricted to “undefined” and “drafting” stages, while senior team members handle “reviewing” and “publishing.” You can also set custom workflows and rules to define your team’s content authoring experience.

    A content workflow makes collaboration more efficient because it spells out what needs to be done, when it should happen, how it should happen, and who’s responsible for it.

    3. API-first

    API-first means that a headless CMS uses an Application Programming Interface to pull content from its backend and display it on any type of device as needed. An application programming interface is a set of protocols that allows two systems or applications to seamlessly transmit data between themselves. For example, when you visit a new country and you don’t speak their language, you’d need a translator who facilitates communication between you and the locals. The translator is the API.

    Being API-first has two major benefits: omnichannel experience and best-of-breed architecture. According to The 2020 Marketing Automation Statistics Report, the purchase rate with omnichannel marketing campaigns is 287% higher than with single-channel campaigns. An API allows a headless CMS to deliver the same content to multiple channels simultaneously, which means customers enjoy consistent content no matter how and where they interact with your eCommerce brand.

    Best-of-breed architecture means your eCommerce store can be powered by the best tools and connected via several APIs. For example, you can connect your Shopify store to Storyblok, which boosts your store’s performance.

    4. Content personalization

    Content personalization is key to driving more sales on your eCommerce store. In fact, 60% of consumers say they will likely become repeat buyers after a personalized shopping experience with a retailer.

    One way to achieve content personalization is to integrate your headless CMS with customer relationship management software (CRM) via an API. CRM software stores valuable customer data insights — like contact information, language preferences, geolocation, and shopping history — that can be used to customize individual purchase experiences across multiple content delivery channels. These insights, for example, can help you deliver content in a customer’s local language or display a custom website welcome page to shoppers.

    You can also integrate third-party personalization software like Barilliance and SiteSpect into your headless CMS toolstack.

    5. Enhanced cybersecurity

    Plugins are responsible for 91% of the cybersecurity vulnerabilities in traditional content management systems like WordPress. Traditional CMSs use plugins to add third-party features and functions to their architecture. Hackers can easily breach the code in these plugins, allowing them to:

    • Install malicious code in your eCommerce store
    • Redirect shoppers from your store to another website
    • Use your server resources to send spam emails to users

    A headless CMS eliminates the need for plugins and rather relies on APIs for third-party integrations. This reduces the number of cybersecurity risks your content database is exposed to. You can also implement several measures for secure data transfers between your headless CMS and external systems, including:

    • Authenticating users before approving data transfer requests
    • Limiting data access to only authorized users
    • Encrypting all requests and responses

    6. Digital asset manager

    A digital asset manager (DAM) is where your content assets — including media files, user data, branding files, and content blocks and entries — live. In a DAM, you can:

    • Create new content assets and upload existing ones
    • Organize content assets by metadata
    • Set permissions for content access and usage

    A digital asset manager helps you develop an efficient content workflow in your headless CMS. For example, your graphic designer can create new promotional banners for a campaign and upload them to your digital asset manager. And an authorized member of your marketing team can go into the DAM to review these assets before the campaign goes live.

    What is a hybrid CMS?

    A hybrid CMS offers traditional content management — where the frontend and backend are integrated — but it also has a content delivery API.

    You can publish content from a hybrid CMS backend to its attached frontend (usually a website) directly. And you can also deliver content from the backend to other channels, like a mobile app, via the API. Common examples of a hybrid CMS include Salesforce CMS, dotCMS, and Magnolia CMS.

    Features of a hybrid CMS

    A hybrid CMS has several features of a headless content management system, like a digital asset manager, content editor, and a content delivery API. And it also has the features of a traditional content management system, including:

    1. Themes

    A theme is a collection of layouts and styles that define the appearance and structure of your eCommerce website. When you apply a theme to your hybrid CMS, it automatically changes the layout, colors, fonts, and other design elements of your website. And you don’t have to write a single line of code.

    You can install themes from the theme directory in your hybrid content management system or from third-party marketplaces like ThemeForest, CSSIgniter, and StudioPress. Your developers can also customize the themes using CSS.

    Themes are faster, easier, and cheaper to build with, but they have several disadvantages like:

    • Slow page load time due to burden of code
    • Poor content personalization
    • Security risks caused by poor coding practices

    2. Plugins

    A plugin is a software component that adds a specific functionality or extends an existing feature of your content management system, like email integration and extensive file management. Many software applications like Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Adyen have plugins for integrating their functions to your eCommerce site.

    Using plugins can help you expand your store’s features and functions easily, but it also puts your website at risk of security breaches.

    Why you should use a headless CMS for your eCommerce store

    If you’re moving from a traditional content management system, it’s best to go headless. A headless CMS has several benefits like:

    • 100% content delivery flexibility
    • Scalability
    • Best-of-breed architecture
    • Personalized content experience for shoppers

    A hybrid CMS still has some of the limitations of a traditional content management system — like slower page response time caused by the burden of extra code — because its frontend and backend are attached. This original monolithic structure makes a hybrid CMS cumbersome and unscalable for your eCommerce store.

    It helps you create an omnichannel experience for customers

    An omnichannel experience means that your customers get the same content experience no matter how or where they interact with your eCommerce store. According to research by Brightpearl and Multichannel Merchant, creating an omnichannel customer experience is one of the most effective retail growth strategies for eCommerce businesses.

    A headless CMS supports an omnichannel customer experience by allowing you to create once, and distribute numerous times. When you create a content entry in your headless CMS, you can publish it to multiple IoT (internet of things) devices at the same time and from a single platform. A hybrid CMS still has flexibility restrictions due to its monolithic structure. So, it doesn’t allow the same level of content distribution as a headless CMS.

    It improves your store performance

    In one study, close to 70% of consumers admit that “page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer.” And page speed is an important part of a website’s performance.

    A headless CMS improves your store performance because it has a simpler codebase than a hybrid CMS. Unlike a hybrid CMS, a headless CMS has no attached frontend framework. This removes the burden of extra code that can slow down your website and the performance of other channels of interaction. Also, a headless CMS doesn’t use plugins. Plugins add more code that a browser has to load, leading to slower page load time.

    It allows you to launch a multi-language eCommerce store easily

    Consumers are more likely to purchase a product if its details are in their native language. A multi-language store allows you to reach a wider customer base and extend your customer base to international markets.

    All the content entries in your headless CMS — including rich text, URLs, SEO metadata, and responsive images — can be automatically translated into several languages. You can integrate localization apps like Translatable Slugs into your headless CMS without dealing with extra code. While a hybrid CMS supports localization, the process is often cumbersome — involving many plugins.

    Go headless with Storyblok

    While a hybrid content management system offers better flexibility than a traditional CMS, its architecture isn’t flexible enough for eCommerce businesses looking to scale. So, adopting a headless architecture for your eCommerce store is the right decision — it offers flexibility and scalability that will help you deliver tailored content experiences to your audience on any platform.

    Implementing a headless CMS sounds technical and intimidating! But Storyblok can make the transition process seamless. It gives you the freedom to fully customize and personalize your eCommerce experience collaboratively, with content blocks and a visual editor.

    Contact our specialists to learn more about taking your eCommerce store headless with Storyblok.