Female hands holding globe.

Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a non-profit organization that is struggling to efficiently manage content on their website. The workshop was a great way to experience a day in the life of a digital marketer. We touched upon a number of challenges that covered several issues, from how they apply their range of content to the UI components in their design system, to the back-end Web CMS (web content management system) content authoring experience.

This experience was a great reminder about knowing what is important when selecting a Web CMS product. Let's use this as an opportunity to dig into some key tenets when selecting a content and experience management solution.

Primary Audience for Web CMS: Marketers, Not Developers

With the proliferation of headless Web CMS products in the last few years, sometimes we can see over-indexing on the benefits of these products for developers. At its core though, a Web CMS exists to make the life of a marketer easier. They are the primary audience in most cases. If you think about it, a Web CMS is really a business user-friendly interface and set of tools that sits on top of a database.

Rather than have a marketer work directly in a database, a Web CMS enables them to work more efficiently, collaborate with others and govern the content generation and publishing process. So with that said, what do marketers need out of their Web CMS?

Related Article: Avoid These 5 Web CMS Selection Mistakes

Consider Content Channels

One key area that needs to be considered is how the Web CMS is going to be used. What channels are of focus? Does a truly omnichannel approach apply? Or, is there a multi-channel use case with a heavy emphasis on web (this is typical). Knowing the future-thinking downstream usage of content and where it may be consumed and/or presented can help when selecting a solution. It’s important to be aspirational but also realistic about your use cases.

As an example, a truly omnichannel approach to content may lean more toward a pureplay headless CMS that doesn’t control how content may be presented, it focuses on the content at its most atomic levels.

However, a web-focused content marketing strategy may be a possible fit for more of a web-based drag and drop page builder or editor interface to compose the layout and design of web pages. As you can see, this has a major influence on how authors experience the Web CMS interface and is critical to understand when selecting a best-of-need product.

Related Article: 14 Rules for Selecting the Right Content Management System (CMS)

Authoring Experience Can Make or Break a Solution

Going back to our example non-profit client, knowing how they intend to use the Web CMS and the authoring experience they expect can really enable or restrict how efficient they are at managing content and experiences. While this specific business uses a pureplay headless CMS and likes the ability to manage content agnostic of how it may be used, they feel they are missing out on the ability to really own the web experience because of the limits of the headless CMS. Their primary use for the Web CMS right now is their content marketing website.

One option for them to consider is a Frontend-as-a-Service (FEaaS) solution such as Builder. FEaaS is a low-code/no-code drag-and-drop style editing interface that communicates with headless APIs to bring a more web page-centric approach to page layout and composition for headless-powered websites. This helps solve some of the challenges with pureplay headless be layering in the page layout editor. However there are other hybrid solutions that are also viable to consider.

Hybrid Headless Is a Nice Balance

In July 2022 Tony Byrne from Real Story Group published that the future of headless is hybrid. The benefit of a hybrid headless solution is that it offers the ability to render a head implementation (typically the web channel) though an in-context editing interface in the Web CMS. This enables authors to drag and drop components and adjust the page layout using the WYSIWYG interface they expect from a traditional coupled Web CMS architecture, but the delivery of the content comes from decoupled headless APIs. It offers the best of both worlds — great authoring experience and decoupled delivery and headless APIs that developers love.

One such example of a hybrid headless solution that strikes a balance is Sitecore's new XM Cloud SaaS Web CMS. The Web CMS is hosted by Sitecore as SaaS and offers the same content tree hierarchy and content modeling interface as the prior coupled platform architecture. The authoring interface can also be decoupled and managed through Sitecore Pages, a new FEaaS editor for Sitecore similar to Builder.

However, all consumers of the content must implement headless solutions powered by Experience Edge, a GraphQL API nicely backed by Vercel's middleware and a CDN for performance.

This balance of headless delivery of content, headless content management APIs used by a FEaaS interface, and the ability the provide in-context editing shows how we can provide marketers the tools they need without compromising on developer experience that is touted by pureplay headless options.

Related Article: Content Teams: Beware the Headless CMS

Complex Martech Stacks Can Benefit From Orchestration

Large and complex tech stacks composed of many related and overlapping tools may benefit from other related and emerging technologies that focus on the theme we've been covering: making the life of the marketer easier to navigate across many tools.

  • Digital Experience Composition (DXC) provides a solution to the complexity. DXC provides a low-code interface for marketers to compose together various content sources across systems (think multiple headless sources) to power specific digital experiences. You can think of DXC as a way to consume multiple sources of content and present them in a unified view for a specific experience for example, a marketing-built campaign that uses multiple headless products to power the content and assets. DXC improves the marketer's experience at the presentation level of building experiences.
  • Experience Orchestration (EO) is similar in being able to aid in taming the complexity. It focuses at the headless API-level to define the business logic used to provide specific content and API responses based on the audience and context. Think of it as the API unification and intelligence system that provides traffic control to multiple APIs that power downstream experiences. Those downstream experiences can include websites, native mobile apps, or even DXC-managed experiences.

Predictions for Martech Space

So what's to come in this space knowing we need to keep marketers top of mind when selecting a platform, but have a solution that can scale to meet omnichannel needs while being developer-friendly? Here are my predictions:

Headless will be the new normal. Most platforms will eventually adopt or re-architect their products with headless decoupled web APIs as the delivery mechanism over platform-native tech (e.g. Java-based stack, .NET-based stack, etc.). Headless as a delivery architecture will become the new norm and standard. That's exactly what the MACH architecture stands to change.

More emphasis will be placed on business user and marketer experiences. Easy-to-use tools and connectivity products will be the new enablers for marketers, especially as they adopt more headless products that by design need to integrate. Integration and connectivity enablement is the new martech battlefield.

More low- and no-code. We will continue to see more low code / no code tools to enable marketers though solutions such as DXC, Experience Orchestration, and iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service).