An unusual situation to be in, Emma Phillips, Head of Group Marketing, was one of our very own clients, recently working with our team to launch a brand-new website for connected agency, Wired Plus. Although Emma is familiar with NetConstruct’s processes, team and technology capabilities, knowing about our approach is very different from experiencing it first-hand. That’s why we chose to hear about her first-time experience of using Kentico’s headless offering, Kentico Kontent, to build and launch the new Wired Plus site.
Branding it “an educational process”, Emma covers the main differences between traditional and headless CMS’, content entry, team collaboration, future development, the benefits of having more freedom and how it became her fastest and most seamless web project to date.
How was your experience using a headless CMS?
Overall, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Although very different from using a traditional CMS, the project was seamless and allowed our team to be much more collaborative. Once I got my head around how a headless CMS works, I was surprised at how easy it was to adjust to and use. As this was a technology I hadn’t used before, I expected some challenges along the way purely because it was new to me. But I actually got to grips with it a lot faster than I thought I would, and it ended up being one of the fastest, easiest web projects I've been part of and there has been more than a few.
What were the main differences in working with a headless CMS?
One of the biggest differences was not looking at a static page design. For the site design, I had worked with another of our connected agencies due to capacity and so the approach to design had differed to how I know NetConstruct run an end-to-end headless project. Because of this, there was a whole extra step involved where the NetConstruct team took the approved designs and broke them down to create a content model for each page I needed. The concept of content models was completely new to me, but I quickly understood how this outlined what components needed to be built and the relationship between those components versus the design.
I had to get my head around this so I could understand how the site was going to be built and therefore what I needed to do in terms of the content. If you can embrace this as a core difference between the two CMS types from a content entry perspective, headless becomes much easier to understand.
Another difference was the content entry itself. In my experience working on web projects, I’m used to entering content at the very end of the project once the site has been built. When the project started, we'd already decided to follow a content first approach to ensure the design of the website would be fit for purpose. Content first is the recommendation NetConstruct give their clients and I can see why. There was no painful content entry at the end of the project when it dawns on you that the design just isn’t going to work! In this case, content creation and entry could be done in parallel to the website build as soon as a component was ready. That influenced how I populated the onsite content and also how the overall project was run.
I still went through the project in a linear fashion, populating one page at a time as I would have done on a traditional CMS as this worked for me personally, but instead of creating an entire page at once, I was able to create sections for each page as my content was ready. Being able to work in this way was useful because I could add as much as I had available, save a draft and add comments to specific sections. Using this functionality, I could even allocate tasks to other people within the team, whether that was to support on content entry, imagery and other assets, or whether I needed development support. It created me a task list to come back to and ensured that nothing was missed before go-live.
I found this to be really useful as sometimes I was adding content, but imagery was the next thing on my to-do list and some of those components required a logo or visual. If I wasn't ready to start those yet because I wanted to focus purely on written content at this stage, it didn't hold me back.
Due to how headless works where the content repository is completely separate from the front end, there isn't the same preview step as I have benefitted from on a traditional CMS. But I could still publish each of these components without the imagery to get a feel for how my page was coming together. The good news here though is that Kentico Kontent has since launched a new feature called Web Spotlight that brings preview functionality to their headless offering and by adding this to the site, I will get greater visibility.
How did you prepare for working with a headless CMS?
In terms of preparing myself for this way of working and for using a headless solution, training was key. The team at NetConstruct were great. They gave me a tour of Kentico Kontent and taught me how to navigate the system. At first, it was bizarre as you’re looking at something with no visual but the CMS is almost like a search engine with the added benefit of filters. I could easily search and filter to find what I needed whether it was for a specific component, a menu item or to add a testimonial. I found it intuitive to the point where even though we had further training sessions booked in to support me with content entry, I didn’t need them. We never touched upon creating the navigation for example but because I understood how the components worked, I just gave it a go and found I was self-sufficient. Much to the delight of my colleagues, I’m sure.
To get to this point, I spent time familiarising myself with the components that had been built so I had an idea of how it would come together and could visualise how it would look once complete. One of the key things I did was go through the written content and map it out against the available components making it easy to select the one I needed when it came to building the page. Using this approach, I was able to look at what the original design was, understand the components that NetConstruct had created and then build fresh pages by selecting the components I needed.
I would encourage anybody who’s working in a headless CMS to take those extra few moments to do this. While the different components have helpful descriptive names such as ‘split content’ or ‘logo grid’, reverting back to the site design and mapping the content in this way was the best way for me to identify which component I needed and where.
How do you think a headless CMS will help with future development and maintenance?
Using a headless solution, you’re empowered. The website you’ve built today may be completely different to what your business needs further down the line. If your requirements change and you don’t have much control over what you can do onsite or how your content is going to be used, you're automatically limited.
I’m able to add content and change the page structure myself without always having to rely on the development team. Now, if somebody told me they needed a landing page for a completely different purpose such as PPC, I know what I have available to me to create that page. When I’ve worked on a traditional CMS, there have been a number of times where I’ve wanted to use elements from different pages to create a new page, but that functionality isn’t there to support me - I can only work with what’s available. Headless has been a game-changer in that way. I can easily duplicate existing pages or individual sections and remove the parts I don’t need to create the ideal page or start from scratch – it’s really flexible. I feel like I can get more from the website just by having the know-how to do certain tasks myself.
I'd say I'm fairly tech-savvy and I am interested in technology but more than anything, I’m not shy about giving something a go for myself. That’s what’s so great about headless as a content editor because you don’t need to have knowledge of HTML or anything too technical – you literally can’t break it! If something isn't working, you unpublish that bit and go back to where you were previously happy with it. I've also got the flexibility to keep building on it, so it reflects whatever our business needs it to at that point in time.
By understanding what I can and can’t do, I feel confident in just giving it a go but equally, I can also identify when I need support from the development team. I feel comfortable going to NetConstruct for support because I know I’ve already tried fixing the issue myself which makes the relationship with the agency even better.
For a first-time user, Emma’s experience with headless speaks volumes on how flexible, responsive and easy to use Kentico Kontent is. Providing the freedom and flexibility to build powerful online experiences, headless CMS’ split out the control over content from the front-end user interface. Taking this approach encourages collaboration between different teams, not only improving development processes but also delivery timescales.
Fast becoming the industry standard, headless solutions are designed for future development, streamlining processes and encouraging ongoing maintenance to ensure you always have the highest performing website. As a Kentico Kontent qualified partner, we have experience working with this CMS to deliver modern, fast and impressive online solutions. Contact our team to find out more.