Optimizely as a headless CMS

The Optimizely CMS has always been known as a traditional CMS, but is this still the case? Newly added features are pushing it into headless territory, and they come with some competitive advantages.

Ynze Nunnink

By Ynze Nunnink, 17 March 20235 minute read

Are you choosing a CMS and want to know more about headless? Luminary is hosting a Traditional v Headless expert panel on Thursday 30 March 2023. For more information and registration, click the link here.

The Optimizely CMS has been around for many years. In the meantime, the 'headless' strategy for content management has turned into a flavour many businesses cannot seem to resist. What lies at the core of this strategy is a lean approach to omni-channel content delivery – in other words, to keep content in one centralised system for all your platforms, websites, mobile apps... you name it.

Headless challenges the traditional approach by saying that the website or application should not be coupled to the CMS itself, but instead rely on data services like APIs to deliver the content. This approach also comes with certain technical benefits, such as not being tied to a particular technology for your website. 

The Optimizely CMS has always been considered traditional in this sense, because the CMS is closely attached to the website. That said, multi-channel content publishing has been possible for years, thanks to the APIs.

So, does that mean the CMS is actually headless? Optimizely has given it a firm yes. It does beg the question, what makes it possible to achieve the benefits of a headless strategy in what was originally a traditional CMS?

Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects of headless and how Optimizely accommodates them.

Content delivery

When a website is tightly coupled to the CMS, the content can be pulled straight from the database, and this has generally been a favourable approach for development. If you want to use the same content in other applications like a mobile app, then something like an API is required for the app to access the content.

The Optimizely CMS has already had APIs in place for a long time. Its capabilities were somewhat limited, but it would get the job done in terms of sharing content between applications. 

Recently, Optimizely introduced a new GraphQL API service called Content Graph. It simplifies the headless development strategy and provides a modern and powerful access point to retrieve, search and filter content from the CMS – closing the gap to other modern headless CMSs.

Content structuring and editing

The way website content is structured in a traditional CMS is mostly based on the formation of pages – in other words the sitemap. It provides a clear overview of where the content is presented on the site, and the URL of a page also reflects that. 

In a headless setting, the content cannot be tied to the context of where the content is used, because the content can be used in multiple websites and apps at the same time. Therefore, a headless CMS will commonly provide a structureless, or context-free, method of editing content.

Optimizely tackled this problem by adding a new feature to the CMS that enables editors to manage content in a headless fashion. It can be configured as the primary headless-only method to edit content, but it can also be used side-by-side with the traditional editor.

Source: Headless mode: edit multi-channel content in Optimizely 

There are some downsides to context-free editing, such as making content editing on a simple website way more complicated than it needs to be. The side-by-side compatibility solves a lot of these issues by allowing you to choose which pieces of content are headless, because in most cases not all of the content on your website needs to be multi-channel.

Some headless-only CMSs do not have this much flexibility, because they only offer context-free editing. It makes things related to the website more complex. Think of SEO, routing and configurable styling related to one website – how do they fit in a multi-channel content setup?

Take the image above as an example, where the recipes are managed as headless content, but there is also a traditional website. In Optimizely CMS, you can manage the recipes in a headless context-free section, and then simply drag and drop a recipe into a traditional page on your website – best of both worlds!

Hosting and infrastructure

Another benefit of a headless CMS is that the CMS itself can be hosted as a SaaS web application. It’s usually accessible from day one and is automatically kept up to date with the latest version. That basically means you can immediately get started with creating content and never having to worry about upgrading the CMS.

Optimizely currently does not offer the CMS itself as a fully provisioned SaaS, but it does offer a very mature infrastructure package called Cloud Services. Your own developers have to keep the CMS up to date and execute deployments – made easy by the deployment portal and excellent infrastructure setup. It may sound like this is less than ideal, but it does give you a lot more control over the CMS.

The hosting is a clear difference between Optimizely and a headless-only CMS. There is an argument to be made about the realistic need of SaaS over the benefits of the traditional approach. In the end, with a headless-capable CMS, you are not locked into a particular hosting or infrastructure option for your websites and other applications. 

What's next?

There is still more room for improvements regarding headless. One of the exciting upcoming features is multi-channel content previewing. It gives you the ability to preview content that is shared between multiple applications in their respective contexts.

As I already mentioned above, the cloud services are very mature, and it is a boon for developers. Hopefully more options will become available to accommodate different types of applications, and potentially even a fully provisioned CMS SaaS option.

The headless landscape is changing with traditional CMSs taking a piece of the pie. It has created a divide between headless-only platforms and larger DXPs that offer headless capabilities. The benefits of a large DXP like Optimizely that provides headless capabilities will only become more convincing.

Are you ready to use Optimizely as a headless CMS? Send us a message.

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