FEB 9, 20225 MIN READ

How an API-first CMS Gives You Ultimate Flexibility

APIs are a revolution for the CMS space.

How an API-first CMS Gives You Ultimate Flexibility


This article was submitted by Axel Tarnvik who is a Principal Software Engineer at Brightspot.

It’s no secret that a CMS is one of the most important parts of a brand’s digital ecosystem.

With so many CMS options today, smart buyers are choosing the platforms that have powerful integration features and flexibility built in so users can publish to different channels in any content form they need.

The application programming interface (API), which establishes a connection between different computer programs, plays a major role in providing this flexibility so that today’s CMS systems meet modern content needs.

How APIs became important

Just a decade ago, most CMS systems did not include APIs in their implementations. The back end of the CMS was tightly linked to the front end of the CMS with no need for anything in between. This has been commonly referred to as coupled architecture; alternatively, it’s starting to be described as a “no-API CMS.”

No-API CMS systems work well for smaller-scale projects such as blogs. They provide simplicity and user-friendliness, but you sacrifice flexibility. These systems also typically only support browser-based delivery (i.e. how content is presented on a browser) and don’t scale well to other delivery channels.

However, the best technology is always improving. Some CMS systems began separating out the back end and front end, introducing an API to the system, which connected the two by taking the data from the back end and displaying it on any number of front ends for end users. APIs essentially exist between your CMS of choice and the end consumer. They manage both the organization of all your content and the delivery of this content to whatever channel and device you need. They are like the delivery trucks that bring items from warehouses to homes.

Diversity of approaches

There are various CMS configurations using APIs in different ways, or not at all, and a good CMS provider will work with customers to figure out what will best support their business needs.

  • No-API approach: When a CMS does not provide an API and the back and front ends are tightly linked. This traditional, basic method is no longer widely used for complex projects.
  • API-only approach: The same thing as headless CMS, which has become popular in recent years. API-only platforms have benefits such as flexibility, but organizations don’t get the front-end code they would need to build a complete experience, such as a website or app. They simply get the API and have to build up from there.
  • API-first approach: Also known as a decoupled CMS. It acts like an API-only CMS, in that an API is always available to provide data from the back end and present it to other channels that the end users will see. However, the API-first approach takes API-only a step further by giving you the tools, templates and other options to build out a site. You get the tools and templates provided by a no-API CMS, and the flexibility that comes with an API-only CMS.

In short, the no-API and API-only approaches are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The API-first approach is the middle ground, which often works best for organizations.

API-first advantage

On average, marketers are creating content for three different audience segments, so it needs to be easy to create and distribute content to wherever users are. An API-first approach facilitates multi-channel delivery, so users can publish content seamlessly to any channel or device, which is key in our omnichannel world.

A platform that enables API-first implementations helps automate processes that were once tedious, minimizing time spent on implementing integrations with new tools and curtailing the likelihood of having to rethink existing architectures. This reduces time to market, which is key for business success. APIs also make it easy to have increased collaboration due to plug-and-play integrations with applications that enterprises depend on, including Slack, AWS, Salesforce, and Google Suite.

With an API approach, code is often reusable, and you don’t always have to change the back end each time you add a new channel, which helps organizations stay agile so they can make adjustments quickly as they focus on digital transformation. Additionally, the separation between the front end and the database increases security, helping to avoid costly breaches.

What does an API-first approach look like in action? A genealogy service, for example, was using a no-API approach, but needed to pivot their strategy when they used their site for a large virtual event. The company wanted to do all the front-end work themselves using their existing technology, but they needed a place to publish data and then deliver it to the front end. They used an API-first CMS approach to support this new architecture in their infrastructure without making any changes to how their existing sites worked. This reduced costs for them as they didn't need any new infrastructure or licenses, and they got to continue using a system they were already comfortable with.

APIs advance the future

APIs are a revolution for the CMS space, offering robust flexibility for publishing across channels and allowing for powerful integrations. An API-first approach is often best as it enables freedom of choice for front-end technology, including headless, without giving up the features that come with a more tightly coupled delivery architecture, such as delivering rendered content.

With rich features and the option to pivot and evolve, organizations can rely on their API-first CMS to help move their business forward to what’s next.