It wasn’t that long ago that everyone was talking about headless CMS. You know, a CMS that provides backend content management capabilities and an open API that developers use to pull content into custom-built front-end websites and applications.
While headless is still a favored option for companies with a strong development team, the new talk of the town is the hybrid CMS, giving you the best of both worlds – an open content API and the ability to create loosely coupled web experiences with the CMS platform.
And now, every Web CMS is calling itself a hybrid CMS.
When you look at your business requirements for a website, content-based web applications, and your customer support portal, you know you need a hybrid model, but how do you pick the right one? Here are a few things to look for.
Can You Preview Content in the Selected Channel or Application?
It’s not enough to create content and hope it looks good on the application where you publish it. You want to see what it looks like. You want to be sure the content is correct and meets branding, layout, and formatting standards. And you want to do that in the environment where you create the content.
You can do that easily when your website is integrated or loosely coupled with your CMS. But what if the channel you publish that content on is not connected to your CMS in any way, other than the content API? Can you preview what your content looks like then? The disconnect that often happens between content publishing and content creation with a hybrid CMS results in inefficiencies in content creation, quality assurance, and dev ops processes.
With the right hybrid CMS, you have content preview capabilities regardless of where you publish your content. Not every CMS does that.
Can you Model Your Content for Reuse?
Creating content that you can use in many places, often formatted differently requires an intelligent content model. Not every hybrid CMS makes it easy to create and manage that type of content model.
When you’ve spent a lot of time defining the right content model that enables you to create content that you can use in different channels and situations, you want to be sure you can replicate that content model in your CMS.
Look for a built-in schema designer to help create and manage the content model across all your content items. Ask the CMS provider how you propagate schema changes to the existing content, and if you can choose to update those changes selectively. You’ll also want to know how taxonomy and metadata are managed for all your content, including web content, documents, images, and multi-media assets. Understand how easy it is to pull that content into your external websites and applications.
Can You Manage Your Digital Assets?
Traditional CMS solutions don’t manage digital assets internally. But then again, newer CMS solutions don’t always do it either. But text-based content is only one type of content that you need in your digital experiences, and in some cases, it’s not the primary content format.
Think about your mobile experience. It’s likely that you will have a lot of images and video content over text content. How do you get that from your CMS if it doesn’t manage digital assets internally? Will you need to pull that content from a separate API? How is it connected with the text content you are displaying as well?
The right hybrid CMS will treat your digital assets in the manner it treats text content, including mapping those assets to your taxonomy and providing metadata, localization if required, and usage rights.
Can You Manage Complex Review and Approval Workflows?
Regardless of where your content is published, it needs to move through a review and approval workflow process. Sometimes that process is simple; other times, it is complex with multiple reviewers and workflow stages.
This can be especially true when you publish content to customer applications or support portals where it’s critical the right information is available.
Ask how workflow is created and managed, and if the processes you need your people to follow can be implemented within the workflow tool.
Can You Manage Navigation and Content Routing?
Typically, in a headless CMS model, the front-end is completely separate, built, and managed by developers. Every time you want to change your site structure, you need a developer to make changes. This approach often results in a lot of back and forth until you get the structure you want.
With a hybrid CMS, you may be able to relieve the stress involved in this process. Look for a CMS that can provide a way to create your information architecture for each channel and then share that architecture with developers through your content API.
Content creators can then use the CMS to create and manage content and indicate where in the IA that content should exist. Developers can then focus on new templates and page structures.
Can You Personalize Across Channels?
One of the biggest challenges with a headless CMS that supports custom applications, or a support portal separate from a web experience solution that supports a website or mobile experience is personalization. For personalization to work, you need to ensure you are serving a consistent experience across all your channels.
A hybrid CMS can help you ensure that consistent, personalized experience if it enables you to track the activities of a customer across each channel in a single location. With this information centralized, you can be sure to offer the same content and other information regardless of where that customer reaches you.
And Then There’s...
Not all hybrid CMS are the same (I think I said that). Along with looking at the capabilities mentioned above, you’ll want to understand how open and flexible the content API is to ensure it can meet your “headless” requirements alongside your other experiences, like your marketing website.
You’ll also want to know how quickly you can implement the CMS and get your digital experiences in place. It may be that you want to start with the content API to feed content into your customer support portal or business application, or you may need to get your marketing website up and running quickly in the new CMS while ensuring the content you create is usable in other experiences.
The point is, not all content management systems are the same, including hybrid content management systems. So when you are looking for the right one, ask yourself the above questions to make sure you know what you are getting and that it meets your needs.
In our ever-changing digital landscape, a decoupled CMS makes a world of difference.