Are you moving to a headless CMS? It's rarely done in isolation, and in Rangle's experience, it impacts the digital ecosystem of an organization – with the potential to unlock new digital experiences when done correctly.

If your business is planning a migration to a headless CMS platform, there are a number of additional questions and considerations to take into account. In this article, we'll outline five of the main points to ponder, with our recommendations from years of experience helping companies make the move to a more flexible, responsive, and customer-friendly stack.

Why moving to a headless CMS is a smart choice

When adopting a headless CMS, you are helping future-proof your organization by adopting an architecture that allows for flexibility in how you design omnichannel customer experiences. Headless promotes ease of scalability, the ability to deliver faster, and the ability to reuse content across different digital platforms.

So, here are five ways to get the most out of your headless migration.

1. Ensure content reusability

Content teams face a common challenge: How to reuse their content across multiple platforms so that their message is able to reach their audience regardless of the platform customers are using. Identifying the right content building blocks is essential to ensuring that content teams create their pages and features once – not over and over again in desktop, mobile, apps and more. This reusability frees up time for strategy and creative work and cuts out the non-value-adding work of executing the content vision.

In order to ensure that the new headless CMS offers the most value internally, you must include the right stakeholders early on to ensure you understand their needs upfront. Marketing and Content groups are of strategic importance and must be brought into the headless CMS selection process early, along with technology and design. They are the internal customers, and the day-to-day work of these teams will be heavily impacted by the shift to a headless CMS. Consider creating a dedicated workstream defining future workflows to capture their input.

There’s an added benefit to this collaboration, which can help knock down company silos of information between the designers and developers, and the marketers and merchandisers. Creating the right relationships between the teams and working together on a mutually-beneficial solution can set up lines of communication that will benefit your company going forward.

In addition to collaboration and capturing input, adopting a taxonomy that is easy to understand will enable the structure needed for great content reusability. Often in speaking to potential clients, we’ve found organizations end up re-creating the structure of their legacy CMS during their headless CMS migration, leaving a ton of value on the table. There’s an opportunity with a migration to do better, not just to do what’s easiest. A key mindset shift is needed: Content reusability across platforms is the goal, and the extent of this reusability is largely impacted by the structure of your content. A taxonomy based on what’s needed, not just what already exists, will ensure maximum reusability.

2. Always put mobile first

With over half of web searches now on mobile, search engines like Google are now mobile first — and your site should be as well.

Mobile-first design is not new, with many companies opting to use Bootstrap, or more recently, publicly published design systems like Material Design to build their new experiences. This can be quite a divergence from an organization’s current brand identity, however, and the decision should be weighed by taking the bespoke route which, while it may take longer, may better serve the needs of the brand and the customer.

Once this decision has been made, look to converge design and content through all channels to create a cohesive, seamless and integrated user experience. Rethinking the way that you create new content to align current content with mobile-first design is important, and it enhances collaboration between design and content creation teams. This is a further push against internal silos, and it will enhance the success of your digital initiatives.

3. Adopt Jamstack

At Rangle, we love the Jamstack (Javascript, API, Markup stack) and with good reason.

Static site generation and server-side rendering enable fast page loads — and that means less user drop-off, better customer experience, and a boost to your SEO. The decoupling of frontend and backend can create significant boosts to your speed of delivery, and unlock a myriad of new options.

These significant benefits don’t come without complexity though, and a technology partner who understands this stack well (ahem, like us), can guide you on how to implement a solution that is the right fit for your company, and provide you with the knowledge to maximize its potential, both from strategic and day-to-day delivery perspectives.

Another substantial benefit that Jamstack offers is the quality and availability of the talent pool. This stack is popular with both developers and enterprises, and a lot of core context is highly transferable between frameworks and tools. While there are differences between a stack of Gatsby & Contentful vs. Next & Contentful or Next & Sanity, for example, the amount of transferable knowledge between these stacks ensures that you can easily hire great talent to enable and maintain this stack. This is no small consideration with the battle for talent hotter than ever in major cities across the globe.

For headless e-commerce platforms, we really like Contentful combined with Shopify Plus, powering an awesome customizable platform with a fantastic headless CMS. While it’s true that Shopify has a headless CMS capability, the possibilities of a tool like Contentful allow you to define and customize user experiences that truly mesh with your customers’ needs. This becomes especially critical when scaling to multiple locales or product lines, which is an important consideration for any scaling retailer.

4. Avoid a like-for-like migration

Like-for-like migrations — AKA: A lift-and-shift where a digital team takes the system they have today and recreates the same processes in the new system — are very tempting, but by going this route, you will be missing out on many of the benefits of adopting a headless CMS.

To avoid this trap, take a design thinking approach: Look at the issues you are trying to solve, or the unfilled needs of your customers, and rethink your approach to solving those issues. Rather than fall back on the tried-and-true, solutions that your company would normally never adopt can create the best innovations.

On performance alone, you might be missing 50% or more of the benefit that you could get from adopting a headless CMS. This is because, for many companies, their current frontend experience has been constrained by their tech stack. Building like-for-like without taking into account the flexibility that a headless environment offers means they miss out on modern navigation, design, content personalization, and user experience capabilities that competitors are taking advantage of.

By reimagining the frontend experience, and working hand-in-hand with technology partners to understand the new capabilities available, brands can offer the best experience for their users, and maximize conversion rates.

5. Embrace composable commerce

The average CMS tries to offer a one-stop-shop for content management, but, in reality, it can’t do everything perfectly. It might, for example, have great content preview and approval systems, but then have weaker search functionality. Companies have been trying to address this key issue for a long time, but the complexity of integrating different systems has made it difficult and costly to launch and maintain new functionalities.

While headless decouples your frontend and backend, composable architecture goes far beyond that. It breaks every piece and every functionality into a component, which is a building block that gives teams immense flexibility in building and customizing your user experiences.

With composable architecture, you can easily choose the pieces that deliver value and replace others with bespoke or best-of-breed components in the market and seamlessly integrate these pieces into a product that maximizes value for your customers.

Easy API integrations enable teams to launch new functionalities quickly, save on build and maintenance costs, and make changes effortlessly to keep up with the ever-changing market.

Gartner estimates that by 2023, companies with composable commerce can adapt 80% faster to changing market expectations. To give your organization the edge, adopt and maximize the benefits of new technologies and easily execute on your business strategy to meet and exceed customers’ expectations.

The last word

Going headless is a great first step, and it can unlock tremendous advantages, but at the end of the day, it remains the first step. Adopting the right mindset and culture is critical to the success of any migration, or any internal product improvement. Adaptability, continuous learning, and resilience are the road to success, and will foster a culture of constant innovation, leading to your platform standing out from the competition.