How SUMO Heavy Helped Implement a Headless CMS Using Contentful

John Suder
Nov 2, 2022

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This post extracts a conversation with Bob Brodie, SUMO Heavy Co-founder, and CTO. We spoke about a recent engagement with a client that, due to confidentially, will remain unnamed in this post.

Let's Define Headless CMS

A headless CMS is when you have a front-end application separate from your back-end CMS and uses APIs to get the content right. 

It is any content management system where the content repository “body” is separated or decoupled from the presentation layer “head.” 

When you use a headless connection with the CMS, you create the content and then direct where it goes. The front end pulls from it. So you have a front-end application like React or View or Angular, and it uses APIs to get the content from the back end.

WordPress can be a headless CMS. You can use the back end of WordPress to write all your content. And then, you can build a separate front end that's not a WordPress theme, A separate front-end application that uses the WordPress APIs.

Can you give us an overview of the client and what they do?

The client already had a headless implementation. They had a tech team. They didn't need us; they wanted us there for our expertise. In a world of cosmetic companies generally being an absolute nightmare, they had a knowledgeable tech team and were pretty awesome. They were also heavily focused on inclusivity and accessibility, which resonated with us. 

In more general terms, they make "a hair-healthy, semi-permanent alternative to dye that could both achieve and maintain head-turning hair colors — sans damage and cold showers."

What Pain Points Did SUMO Heavy Solve for the Client?

Marketing had no autonomy to create content. The site was a headless React website; anytime Marketing needed updates, they had to go to the tech team. 

The Marketing team would design something, and then the tech team would have to waste their cycles building those pages. Every single page had to be first built by the tech team. 

They had already chosen Contentful after evaluating it against Netlify. The Client knew that it was the product they wanted to use, but needed our experience in helping them understand the nuances, do some R&D on implementing, and to create and help with a plan for migrating one part of the site at a time to be manageable via Contentful.

How does Contentful help other organizations/teams?

Contentful is great for larger tech companies needing a headless CMS. While Contentful pitches itself as something easy to implement, there are many caveats to consider:

  • The CMS taxonomy needs to be carefully planned and designed
  • CMS taxonomy needs to be converted into usable frontend components
  • The marketing team needs to understand that it's not a WYSIWYG system; it is a structured content platform
  • Some functionality is prohibitively expensive
  • The admin is cumbersome, limited, and not user-friendly. Building / maintaining your own custom admin is a more ideal scenario
  • API call costs rack up quickly, so it's more cost-effective to have a comprehensive build process that builds the site to be served statically, which has its own set of pros/cons
  • The tech team should be familiar with schema automation because while you can build your taxonomy in the admin, one small change could take down your site, so it's better to lock down that functionality and version the schema through code
  • Your site needs to be hosted somewhere; Contentful is only a backend

Contentful is a wonderful product when a company is well-positioned to use it. In my mind, a fitting team looks something like this:

  • Content taxonomy/schema designers
  • Content managers
  • Frontend architects
  • Frontend engineers
  • DevOps engineers

Closing Thoughts

  • Technology doesn't always correlate directly to sales
  • Companies need to think if headless solutions are for them
  • Organizations need to properly evaluate before implementing -- evaluation + planning + documentation does not mean you aren't agile


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