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What is an API-first CMS? | Benefits and use cases

Joe MillerProduct manager
less than a minute19 December 2023

Content management systems have undergone major changes in the past decade to keep up with the increasing demand for digital content. Central to this transformation is the shift from traditional content management systems to API-first CMS platforms. But why is this important for modern web development, and how can an organisation make this shift? In this blog post, we'll look at the nuances of API-first CMS platforms, their benefits, and practical use cases.

TL;DR: What is an API-first CMS? ๐Ÿค”

On this page

Benefits of using an API-first CMS

How an API-first CMS Works

Comparison between traditional and API-first CMS platforms

Use cases for an API-first CMS

Examples and case studies

Why is Contensis a best-of-breed CMS?

Final thoughts on API-first CMS platforms

Benefits of using an API-first CMS

Improved flexibility and scalability

An API-first CMS allows developers to build, manage, and deliver content anywhere, on any device. This flexibility is critical in today's multi-platform digital environment, where content needs to be responsive and adaptable.

Streamlined content distribution across multiple platforms

The flexibility provided by an API-first CMS's content APIs gives site owners and developers the ability to push content simultaneously to multiple platforms such as websites, apps, or IoT devices. This streamlines content management and ensures consistency across all platforms.

Enhanced developer experience and productivity

Content APIs are langaueg agnostic, meaning developers can work with their preferred technologies, programming languages, and frameworks rather than being constrained by the CMS's built-in templates and structures. This can significantly boost developer productivity and innovation by letting teams use the best tools for the job at hand.

Simplified integration with third-party services

APIs make it easy to integrate with other systems and services. Whether you want to connect your CMS to an e-commerce platform, CRM, or a personalisation engine, APIs enable seamless interactions between different software components.

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How an API-first CMS works

In an API-first CMS, the content is stored in a raw format, independent of how it will be presented. This means that the content is not tied to any specific design or layout, allowing for greater flexibility in presentation. When a request is made through an API endpoint, the CMS retrieves the requested content and delivers it in a universally understood file format โ€“ usually JSON or XML โ€“ that can be used and styled by any front-end system.

Decoupling the back and front-end in an API-first CMS enables parallel development. This means that back-end developers can work on the content and data structure, while front-end developers can focus on building and styling the user interface. This parallel development approach streamlines the development process. It reduces time to market, as both teams can work concurrently without dependencies. It also allows content editors to work on what matters to the end user rather than spending time building web pages.

An API-first CMS empowers developers to create highly flexible and scalable applications by separating the content management and presentation layers. It allows easy integration with different systems and enables content reuse across multiple platforms and channels. With an API-first CMS, organisations can deliver content-rich experiences and publish content to their users while maintaining agility and adaptability in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

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APIs help you to deliver content in many forms to many places.

Comparison between traditional and API-first CMS platforms

While a traditional CMS combines content management and presentation layers, an API-first CMS decouples these two aspects. This fundamental difference results in several advantages:

  • Content can be reused across multiple platforms and devices.
  • Developers have the flexibility to use their preferred languages and frameworks.
  • APIs allow for seamless integration with other systems and services.

What is an API-first CMS vs a Headless CMS?

While 'API-first CMS' and 'headless CMS' are often used interchangeably, subtle distinctions exist between the two. An API-first CMS is designed to primarily focus on the API, ensuring the content stored in the CMS is accessible for any platform. Its architecture is centred around the API, thereby enabling cross-platform content distribution.

On the other hand, a headless CMS refers more to the lack of a front-end presentation layer. The 'head' (front end) is removed from the 'body' (back end), leaving only the content management back end that allows content to be delivered anywhere through API calls. This means that developers can control how and where the content is displayed.

Every API-only CMS is headless, but not every headless CMS is necessarily API-first. The difference lies in the focus of their design โ€“ an API-based CMS is built around APIs for universal content accessibility, whereas headless CMSs emphasise the freedom in presentation due to the decoupling of the front end.

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Use cases for an API-first CMS

There are many scenarios where an API-first or headless CMS can add value. Here are some examples based on our experiences with the Contensis content management system:

  • Universities and higher education institutions with a complex digital ecosystem can benefit from an API-first CMS to manage and distribute content consistently across all platforms - from learning software like Blackboard to social media apps.
  • Traditional brick-and-mortar businesses transitioning from a traditional CMS can leverage the flexibility and scalability of an API-first CMS to future-proof their digital strategy and engage with new customers.
  • Fast-paced e-commerce companies can use an API first CMS to store their products, customer data and other content in one place to reduce the number of disparate software applications in use and, as a result, reduce costs.
  • Government agencies and organisations can use an API-first platform to manage and share data seamlessly between divisions, provide omnichannel support for end users, and scale resources when demand increases during busy times.
  • Digital teams can streamline content management workflows, fostering collaboration and efficiency in content creation and distribution.

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OMAFRA used Contensis to help famers reduce the amount of pesticides they use on their crops.

People in a field harvesting tomatoes
OMAFRA used Contensis to help famers reduce the amount of pesticides they use on their crops.

Examples and case studies

Numerous businesses and organisations have successfully harnessed the power of an API-first or headless CMS like Contensis:

  • Canterbury Christchurch University: A long term Contensis client moved from on-premise to the cloud and improved lead generation.
  • Suffolk County Council: Contensis gives Suffolk County Council a single platform to align its entire web estate. With Contensis, the SCC team can maintain a digital strategy that sets standards for new and existing websites across the council.
  • West Suffolk NHS: This NHS trust digitally transformed and migrated from three CMS providers to a single CMS system.
  • OMAFRA: The Ontario Ministry of Food, Rural Affairs and Agriculture used Contensis to digitally transform their printed crop protection publications, enabling more sustainable farming practices and saving $1.6 million annually.

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Why is Contensis a best-of-breed CMS?

Contensis is a revolutionary CMS that combines the best aspects of a headless CMS and a traditional system. By combining a content hub, content APIs, and a deployment platform for running headless websites and services, Contensis empowers your teams to create, manage, and publish multilingual content across any platform โ€“ including large enterprise websites. With features and tools designed to work for you, Contensis ensures seamless content creation and a modern development experience.

Key highlights of Contensis include:

  • Content modelling, authoring, and governance features that enable your teams to easily create and maintain well-structured content.
  • The RESTful Delivery API (REST API) allows you to publish content as JSON in your preferred coding language.
  • Site View provides a user-friendly interface for non-developers to manage content hierarchically.
  • Our deployment platform allows site owners and distributed teams to control the release of new features to their site. Developers can focus on writing code, committing any changes, and making them visible on a preview URL.

Having a responsive website is no longer sufficient. Transforming to a headless CMS is crucial to delivering consistent content across all devices and ensuring a flawless customer experience. Schedule a customised demo with one of our experts today to discover how Contensis' extensive features can benefit you and your team.

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Final thoughts on API-first CMS platforms

Embracing an API-first CMS can open up a world of possibilities for content management, distribution, and your overall digital strategy. The flexibility, scalability, and developer freedom offered by API-first content management systems make them a powerful tool in today's multi-platform digital environment.

Ready to experience the power of an API-first CMS? Request a demo today and take the first step towards transforming your digital content strategy.

Joe MillerProduct manager

Joe is a Product Manager at Zengenti working within the Professional Services team.

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