Next.js Development: why a headless CMS is essential for success

ProductBy Juliana Amorim and Mariana Bonanomi

If you are struggling to balance great content with great performance without being bogged down by all the work on the backend for Next.js applications, then a headless CMS will solve many of your problems. You need a CMS platform that empowers your content marketing while giving your team's developer freedom to work on more important tasks than updating the website for basic AB content testing every week.

Over time, content marketing and frontend development needs have evolved, but tech solutions have not always kept up with the demand. Marketers are looking for a solution that will be easy and encourage them to be as creative as they want or need. At the end of the day, a CMS that simply allows them to place static content on their website isn't helpful. It makes AB testing difficult, so they can't know what works best for their intended clients. They want to test every possibility. They need to be able to tailor their content for each user segment.

On the other hand, developers and designers want to know that no one will break their code or their design each and every time someone else makes a change. They need something that allows the marketers to test content without causing errors on the website. Developers crave constraints on the content marketers while still giving them the flexibility to create and test as needed.

If this is also your reality, what you need is a headless CMS that allows all of these different practices and tasks without breaking anything unnecessarily.

Croct's implementation using Next.js
Croct's implementation using Next.js

What is a headless CMS?

A CMS is a content management system. It is software that allows users to create and maintain content on websites without the need for any coding work on a daily basis.

Title, description, image and component display of a banner inside a CMS
Example of banner structure inside a CMS

A CMS where the content repository is detached from the presentation layer (the HTML structure and the CSS styles) is known as a headless CMS. Content stored in a headless CMS is delivered via APIs to ensure that it is shown consistently across devices. We call it "headless" because the "body" is disconnected from the presentation layer. Some CMS tools are headless, while others act as a central holding the whole block for content, structure and styles distribution.

A "headless" option for a CMS can often circumvent some of the annoyances caused by "non-headless" CMS platforms that hold content in one location or distribute it to only one specific marketing channel: it gives you the choice of providing content across your digital platforms, displaying them in different layouts since the structure and style of components stay in the source code.

However, different approaches to a headless CMS tool bring us advantages and disadvantages, depending on precisely what you are looking for.

What is the difference between API-first and Git-based CMS?

Git-based content management systems are based on the Git version control system (VCS). It keeps track of your files and their modifications in a repository, while enabling you to branch out, merge, clone, respond to changes, and handle your content with ease. There are all great parts of a functional CMS.

However, when you manage your components in a Git-based CMS, it processes (in technical terms, build) the new or updated content to create and refresh your frontend based on your specific changes. Usually, tech teams manage these applications with Git providers such as GitHub and GitLab.

On the other hand, an API-first CMS functions as a single piece of software that serves content via an API. Developers can use the API to create the appropriate frontend, integrate other tools (like AB testing softwares), or directly manage reactions to make individual updates. The CMS is in charge of content storage, editing, and overall management, giving you complete control over your content marketing and management process.

In most cases, businesses will benefit more from an API-based headless CMS since it gives you everything you need in a more centralized location along with ease-of-use features to match.

How can it affect the marketers' productivity and the developers' maintenance work?

Using an API-first headless CMS gives you access to features Git doesn't provide. It's considerably more scalable, capable of powering various frontends, and even integrating with unique consumer products like smart speakers. You can achieve almost anything using APIs if you have the time and the correct tools for that.

An API-based headless CMS saves time and decreases friction to get content created, optimized, and pushed out without messing with any code. For marketers, it means getting the right content in the right place at the right time, taking less time, and far less work, while for developers it means not spending time on not-challenging adjustments that some changes may imply.

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CMS for Next.js applications

Next.js is a React framework that prides itself on flexibility and gives you the building blocks you need to create fast web applications.

Next.js takes care of the React tools and settings and content structure, functionality, and optimizations to your website. You can start with React to create your user interface and use Next.js functionalities to handle typical application needs like routing, data fetching, and integrations, while enhancing the SEO performance and end-user experience.

Why is the combination of headless CMS and Next.js perfect for the marketing context?

Next.js enables you to create and use functionalities such as generating static websites and server-side rendering for React-based web applications. This makes it a perfect pairing for a headless CMS.

Traditional React applications are Single Page, which means that just a single HTML file exists. Each different page is rendered in the browser, simulating page navigation client-side at exploring time. In other words, the website pages are dynamically rendered by the client while the user is browsing. Consequently, web crawlers cannot index them easily because they technically do not exist. This is a huge problem in terms of SEO.

A magnifying glass representing SEO analysis
A headless CMS can optimize your SEO efforts

Unlike client-side rendered applications, server-side rendered applications have one file per page, which means that each page exists before being rendered on the client-side. Therefore, web crawlers can index them effortlessly by considering their original content. So, Next.js is naturally an excellent tool to achieve great SEO performance.

You can find an entire guide about SEO on their official website.

What are the main headless CMS platforms for Next.js?

There are several API-first headless CMS platforms and tools on the market, but each one has its pros and cons.

ButterCMS

ButterCMS is a popular headless CMS. It has a simple user interface and thrives when it comes to content marketing with blog posts. However, it lacks data and analytics features to help you know what is working and what isn't in terms of content performance.

Contentful

Contentful is one of the most well-known API-first CMS platforms. It boasts a large number of features and benefits. However, it is also the most expensive headless CMS platform on the market, and others have more meaningful features.

Agility CMS

Agility CMS has some of the most complete features while still being at a reasonable price range. One major drawback, though, is that it has several limitations in the realm of personalization and the ability to perform any sort of AB testing.

Next.js and headless CMS pain points

Even with all the advantages of a headless CMS, there's still a missing gap in these platforms: neither provides an easy way to personalize or AB testing content for different segments simultaneously. At the end of the day, you have one unique content and a static website that serves all your different users.

When the content can speak specifically to certain user segments, you are far more likely to drive up engagement and increase sales. That is the power of personalizing your content. The ability to AB test your hypothesis means you will always be able to generate and show only the highest performing content on your website, which will significantly boost your positioning.

This is where Croct can come in and fill in the missing gaps in some of these other platforms. We offer many of these same features while still focusing on both personalization for various user segments and AB testing to push the best content for your marketing. We call it PMS.

What is a PMS?

PMS stands for personalization management system. It is an integrated software solution that enables marketers to manage and deliver personalized messages, campaigns, and interactive experiences to consumers across different communications channels and devices.

The term PMS is derived from CMS and is the key component in personalized marketing, offering an empowering way for digital marketers to tailor customer preferences and behaviors in the digital age. Advanced personalization involves highly intelligent, real-time systems that automatically use customer data to provide interactions consistent with the person’s previous actions. These intelligent real-time systems make it possible to dynamically tailor communications content to meet an individual’s particular needs.

If you want to see an example of the PMS in action, then we recommend checking out this library to understand how it can be a powerful tool for your marketing.

Wrapping up

There are plenty of great CMS platforms on the market. It can be challenging to decide which one will work for your marketing and developing needs. We hope this guide has given you some more information on what to look for and understand a bit about what Croct does to help you with your challenges.

If you are looking for a complete and easy-to-use platform, create your free account and explore Croct by yourself.

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