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What is a web CMS and why should you still care?

Siavash Moazzami-Vahid
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Storyblok is the first headless CMS that works for developers & marketers alike.

In 2021, the number of eCommerce websites in the world doubled — from 9.7 million to 19.8 million. This shows that despite the rise of eCommerce trends like social media shopping, websites remain an important tool for eCommerce businesses to attract new customers and boost their online credibility.

To manage your eCommerce website effectively and scale content delivery, you need a web content management system (web CMS or WCMS). This article covers all you need to know about web CMSs.

A user trying to choose between different web CMSs.

Web CMS explained

A web content management system is a software application used for creating, delivering, and managing content entries for websites. A content entry is anything that will be published on your eCommerce website — like a product page or blog post.

Web CMSs are made up of two components: a content management application and a content delivery application. The content management application is the repository where you create and modify content entries. The content delivery application pulls ready-to-be published entries from the repository and displays them on your eCommerce site for users.

Core capabilities of a web CMS

A web CMS performs the following functions:

1. No-code content management

A web CMS allows non-technical users to create, publish, and update content without requiring any in-depth coding knowledge. Without a web CMS, you need to have a developer on hand before non-technical team members can create or modify content assets on your website.

No-code content management creates a faster and more efficient content workflow. A content workflow is a step-by-step process for creating, reviewing, and publishing new content on your website. For example, your marketing team can put together a live landing page for a campaign without needing a developer’s help.

2. Content storage

The web CMS allows users to have a central repository of content, which can be accessed at any time. With a central content repository, your team spends less time tracking content assets, and they can update these assets as needed. It also reduces instances of content asset duplication because you can easily check whether an asset already exists in your CMS before creating a new one.

3. Collaboration

A web CMS allows multiple users to contribute to the creation process and publication of data through workflow management. Workflow management means you can assign roles and tasks to different members of your team in the web CMS.

Great collaboration allows you to scale content production effectively. Different stakeholders on your team can weigh into your content process to ensure high-quality content.

What are the main types of web CMS?

Web CMS can be monolithic or headless, depending on how the content management application and content delivery application interact with each other.

Monolithic CMS

In a monolithic or traditional content management system, the frontend and the backend are tied together. The frontend is the presentation layer (like your eCommerce website) that users see and interact with. The backend is where the content database, code, and plugins live.

Monolithic CMSs are great for creating small-scale websites because they allow you to build your website from one place using in-app templates and plugins.

The graphic representation of how a monolithic CMS works.

How a monolithic CMS works

The problem with monolithic CMSs

Monolithic content management doesn't work for large-scale websites for several reasons:

  1. The interdependence of the frontend and the backend limits the programming framework and restricts content types.
  2. Monolithic CMSs are built for websites, which means you cannot create and deliver content to new channels like mobile apps and smartwatches. If you want to deliver content to these new channels, you have to use multiple CMSs, resulting in a complicated content workflow.
  3. The monolithic architecture is not capable of offering complete customization to its user, resulting in generic-looking websites.
  4. The interdependence of the two ends also increases the risk of a total shutdown, as any threat to the frontend also has the potential to affect the backend.
  5. In cases where the content output is relatively high (such as eCommerce businesses), your content operations will be expensive because they need a lot of resources to function normally.

Headless CMS

In a headless CMS, the backend is fully detached from the frontend; that is the presentation layer. You can use the same core “body” (backend) to deliver content to as many “heads” (frontends) as you may need, including websites, phone apps, voice-activated assistants, smartwatches, and VR headsets.

eCommerce trends show that the shopping experience no longer starts and ends on your website. Shoppers now use multiple channels and devices in the buying process — including social media platforms, emails, and mobile applications. And they expect the same buying experience no matter where, when, or how they interact with your eCommerce store. A monolithic web content management system wouldn’t cut it anymore. Modern eCommerce businesses need headless CMSs to manage content delivery across multiple channels seamlessly.

To learn more about Headless CMS, we recommend our article Headless CMS explained in 5 effective minutes.

A graphic representation of how headless systems work, delivering content through APIs.

How headless systems work, delivering content through APIs

What are the benefits of using a headless CMS?

A headless CMS allows you to enjoy best-of-breed architecture and implement omnichannel publishing.

Best-of-breed architecture means you can combine the best backend and frontend technologies to power your online store. For example, you can use Shopify as your backend and Storyblok as your frontend. Headless CMSs are flexible and work with any toolstack. Your developers can choose any technology they are already familiar with and don’t need to learn the technology for any specific CMS.

Omnichannel publishing means you can publish the same content to multiple platforms and devices at the same time. It allows you to deliver the same content experience to your customers no matter where or how they interact with your eCommerce store.

Traditional CMSHeadless CMS
ApproachMonolithicHeadless through APIs
Targeted DevicesWeb-onlyAll devices
SetupBased on specific CMS rulesBased on your existing tech stack
CodingCo-existing content, CMS, and Front-end code creates dependency, making each addition a complex taskContent is independent and works with API calls. Any new "head" can be added with simplicity
Customer's InterfacePre-built templates with minor customization possibleAbsolute control over the presentation of content
Technology ChoiceDictated by the CMSFree Choice
RedesignChanges require modifying the whole systemChanges are isolated to cases
Platform independence - Yes
Cross Platform Support - Yes

5 Web CMS examples

Let’s take a look at some web content management systems you can use for your eCommerce store.

1. WordPress

WordPress powers 43% of the websites in the world. WordPress is an open source monolithic CMS that you can use to build different types of eCommerce websites. It has tons of WordPress themes, templates, and plugins that can help you customize how your website looks and functions.

2. Storyblok

Storyblok is a headless content management system with a Visual Editor. The Visual Editor allows you to see what the content entry will look like when it goes live as you build it. Storyblok provides the flexibility that technical and non-technical members of your team require to manage content effectively.

3. ButterCMS

ButterCMS is a marketer-friendly headless CMS that allows you to create and launch marketing campaigns with little or no developer input. It supports different marketing tech stacks, including search engine optimization (SEO) tools and client relationship management software.

4. Salesforce CMS

Salesforce CMS is a hybrid content management system. A hybrid CMS is a monolithic content management system that supports API content delivery. This means its frontend and backend systems are tied together, but it can also use an application programming interface (API) to pull content from its backend and deliver it to external frontends, like a mobile application.

5. Drupal

Drupal is a monolithic content management system similar to WordPress. It has numerous add-ons and templates that you can use to customize content presentations on your eCommerce store. It also offers a lot of structural flexibility for your website.

How to choose the best web CMS for your eCommerce store

When choosing a web content management system for your eCommerce website, you need to consider three important factors: ease of use, security, and implementation speed.

  1. Ease of use: Choose a CMS platform that allows you to create and edit website content without hassles. For instance, your content management system should have a drag-and-drop feature that allows you to easily add different elements to different pages.
  2. Security: Choose a content management system that can keep your content secure. It should support permissions, access control, data protection, and read-only APIs to prevent unauthorized parties like hackers from accessing and modifying your content.
  3. Implementation speed: Choose a web CMS that allows you to implement your website fast. Implementation is the process of building a new website in line with its design. Slow implementation inflates your website development costs.

Storyblok checks all of these boxes. We are ISO 27001 certified, which confirms that our CMS complies with the highest international security standards. Our user-friendly Visual Editor allows you to implement your website faster because you can see what the web pages would look like live as you build them. And we provide reusable content blocks that allow you to create and edit content easily.

See how Functional Nutrition implemented a headless eCommerce website with Storyblok.