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What is an API-first CMS?

Marketing Kaya Ismail Kaya Ismail
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While some people may view the term API-first CMS as being synonymous with the term headless cms, that’s not quite true. Being API-based or having API-based architecture isn’t just about web content management alone. That’s because APIs play a critical role in the world of software today, enabling applications to access data and interact with third-party services and systems.

An API-first CMS can help organizations leverage these third-party services and deliver content to various channels and customer interfaces, providing the foundation for a best-of-breed digital experience platform.

Storyblok ticks all the boxes of an API-first CMS, but it offers so much more, including a visual editor, content workflows, and more. But before we get into how Storyblok uses APIs, let’s dive more into APIs and then explain how an API-first CMS works.

What is an API?

An application programming interface (API) is a set of protocols that enable two applications to communicate. APIs allow applications to access data from each other without needing to know how they’re implemented.

APIs are the connective tissue that allows customers to book flights online, make reservations at a restaurant using their phones, and for organizations to deliver content to various devices. APIs allow disparate software applications to communicate with each other. They come in four types (public or open, partner, private and composite) and have various architectures, the most common today being REST.

APIs are fundamental to how everything works in our digital-driven world. So much so that they have enabled what is known as the API economy. As Forrester explains, “APIs let customers, partners, and internal stakeholders build products that digitally embody the business, leveraging the organization’s functionality and data.”

With the easy integration and connectivity offered by APIs, organizations can leverage them to enhance user experiences, create new products and services, speed up time to market, and generate revenue. But how do they work exactly?

How does an API work?

To illustrate how APIs work, we’ll start with the most common version nowadays, the REST API. In this instance, developers make a call or request to gain access to an API and send or receive information. Communication with APIs is done using JSON, and there are four methods for sending and receiving data using REST APIs:

  • GET: Retrieves data from a server. For example, pulling content from a database.
  • PUT: Updates information in an existing resource. For example, updating a blog post or web page.
  • POST: Sends data to a server and creates a new resource. For example, creating a new blog post.
  • DELETE: Deletes a specific resource. For example, deleting a blog post or web page.

These methods explain what can be done with an API. But, the simplest way to explain how APIs work is using the example of a customer in a restaurant. The customer places an order by telling the waiter what they want. The waiter relays that information to the kitchen, where they cook the food and create that order before it is then given to the waiter who delivers it to the customer. In this example, the customer is a user placing a request, and the waiter is an API that relays that request to the kitchen or server. The server processes that request, and the API then returns the response to the user.

Now let’s see how all of that applies to an API-first CMS.

How an API-first CMS works

The most common question about an API-first CMS usually sounds a lot like, “Is an API-first CMS a headless CMS?” And the answer is not quite. While an API-first CMS and headless CMS can deliver content in similar ways, a headless CMS provides more options for marketers and developers to actually manage that content across various channels.

An API-first CMS separates the frontend presentation layer from the backend database, and instead, content delivery is handled using APIs. This gives an API-first CMS an advantage over a traditional CMS that tightly couples the frontend and backend together and limits the types of experiences that can be created. With an API-first CMS, content can be published to any channel, whether a website or mobile device, digital sign, smart speaker, or any other internet-connected device.

An illustration showing content being delivered to different frontends through the use of APIs.

However, the key component of an API-first CMS is that it enables organizations to take a best-of-breed approach, and the interoperability they provide can be used to create a best-of-breed DXP. In today’s omnichannel environment, where customers interact with brands across several channels, internal teams rely on several tools to get their day-to-day activities done. This includes using not only a CMS but also analytics and marketing automation tools, CRMs, and more.

With an API-first CMS, marketers don’t need to rely on just the analytics capabilities of their CMS to understand the effectiveness of their content. Instead, developers can connect to a more robust analytics system using an API, and the information and marketers can gain access to the insights they need. The same approach can be used to connect eCommerce systems, marketing automation tools, and more.

An API-first CMS is your first step towards API-driven architecture

An API-first CMS doesn’t place limitations on what your organization can create or do when it comes to content experiences in the way that a traditional CMS does. It also provides your first step towards API-driven architecture, which brings with it some select benefits:


Organizations can integrate with the best tools available for each specific use case. Whereas some CMS systems may only be compatible with a particular CRM or analytics tool, the composability of an API-first CMS enables you to choose the software that makes the most sense for your business, no matter the reason for your choice.

Improve developer flexibility and productivity

Traditional CMSs can restrict the tools and frameworks your developers use. An API-first CMS, on the other hand, enables them to select the tool they need for a particular use case or the framework they are most comfortable using, providing them with flexibility and allowing them to remain productive.

Makes you future-proof

Technology can change on a whim. However, since connections are made using APIs, an API-first CMS makes your business future-proof since you don’t have to rip and replace to react to changes constantly. Instead, integrations with technologies that haven’t even been invented yet can happen just as easily as they do today.

Improves content experience

With the flexibility provided to front-end developers by an API-first CMS, it becomes easier for them to build the experiences that customers will most appreciate and connect to the channels and devices where they want to receive content. Marketers can then create the omnichannel experiences that their customers want and deliver content wherever it is required.

Foundation for your tech stack

But most importantly, it sets the foundation for an API-driven architecture for your entire tech stack. Now you can build a best-of-breed stack using APIs to make it all interoperable. If you outgrow a software or want to switch it, that’s easy with APIs, unlike monolithic architecture or plugin-reliant systems such as WordPress.

Storyblok: More than an API-first CMS

Storyblok offers all of the features of an API-first CMS that allows you to deliver fantastic content experiences on any platform, whether your website, mobile app, eCommerce store or large digital display. Yet it offers so much more since both developers and content editors can find what they need in the CMS, enabling you to take control of your content no matter the channel where you want to publish.

Storyblok also offers several APIs that allow you to create the best user experience, no matter the use case. Our Content Delivery or GraphQL APIs are fast and responsive, enabling you to deliver content to your audience quickly and easily. Also, our Management API allows you to create and edit content with a simple interface.

Learn more about how organizations can use an API-first CMS to create a best-of-breed system by reading our whitepaper: Best-of-Breed or All-in-One: Setting Up Your eCommerce Marketing Technology.

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