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Umbraco Heartcore - Headless CMS

  • By 3chillies

How to use Umbraco as a headless CMS 

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on headless publishing, with different CMS providers and Digital Experience Platform (DXP) vendors like Sitecore pushing their headless capabilities. This is partly due to the continued success of headless CMS vendors like Contentful who have received investment, as well as the increasing number of SaaS offerings in the content management and digital experience space that are API-ready. This is opening up more possibilities around headless publishing. 

Despite this focus, we’ve found that many marketing teams are confused about headless and its benefits. In this post, we’re going to explore what a headless CMS is, and its advantages. We’re also going to dive into the opportunities provided by Umbraco Heartcore - a headless solution built on the Umbraco platform. 

What is a headless CMS? 

In most CMSs and Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) like Sitecore, you store your content in the backend of the CMS and then configure it to create the front-end experience. It’s all integrated into one system for convenience.  

With a headless CMS, the back-end CMS and the front-end experience are “decoupled” and established in two different systems. Instead of being integrated into one solution, the front-end experience is defined separately, with the content stored in the headless CMS. The two systems then communicate with each other through APIs. 

What are the advantages of headless? 

A key advantage of using a headless CMS is it provides you with opportunities to publish the same content across a wide range of different experiences. In a complex, omnichannel environment, you may be providing the same content across a corporate website or websites, a mobile app, an e-commerce platform and social media channels. Using a headless CMS means you can deliver and manage all these separate experiences without having to create and manage the content across all of them at the same time, which is inefficient and difficult to keep in sync. Instead, you have one source of truth for your base content in the headless CMS, with changes reflected across all the separate front-end environments. 

Using a headless CMS also gives you more flexibility and agility. It’s easier to create a new front-end experience because there are far fewer dependencies than you might get using a more complex, integrated solution like Sitecore, where manipulating the content for your new experience will impact your existing channels and involve significant levels of testing. Instead, your new experience could be created in a standalone platform, utilising the content in your headless CMS.  

Using a headless CMS in this way can significantly reduce the time to market and allow you to be far more responsive to customer needs and market opportunities when launching new products and services. It also helps with ease of launch, as you don’t need to disturb your existing channels and content which could all be in separate platforms. 

Another advantage of using a headless CMS over a more complex, integrated DXP is that it tends to be significantly easier to use. This is partly a reflection of headless CMSs’ reduced range of features, but is also down to interfaces having been developed with content owners, publishers and authors in mind. We find central marketing teams can be reluctant to provide content owners and admins direct editing access to a CMS if it is too complex to use, because they may inadvertently impact how a page looks. However, with a headless CMS, these problems are eliminated because it is easier to manage a more devolved publishing model which saves time for central teams and drives more local accountability for content. 

Arguably, another advantage of going headless is that it can help you in your journey towards a composable DXP - a best-of-breed ecosystem of digital experience tools with a headless CMS at the centre. 

Is headless right for me? 

Headless is certainly an option worth considering, but it may not add value to every organisation or digital team. Many digital marketers across our client base like having the convenience and control of an integrated platform that stores content in the backend and allows the team to craft and deliver the front-end experience as well; their website and content delivery processes have been honed around this model. If your standard integrated DXP or CMS is working well for you, then adopting headless may not make much sense. Something that isn’t broken might not need fixing.  

However, a headless CMS is worth investigating if you are: 

  • Working in an omnichannel environment and recreating content several times over in different systems 
  • Under pressure to create highly targeted new customer experiences quickly, but have problems with speed and flexibility 
  • Struggling to manage a significant amount of frequently updated evergreen content with multiple content owners  
  • Committed to moving towards a composable DXP. 

What is Umbraco Heartcore? 

The headless CMS space is maturing with increasing choice for marketing teams, both with dedicated platforms like Contentful and offerings from established CMS and DXP providers. Of these, Umbraco Heartcore – a fully headless solution built using the Umbraco platform - provides a robust, competitive and easy-to-use solution. While Umbraco is open-source, Heartcore is a commercial, SaaS offering that comes at a price, but is reasonable for what you get.  

There are a number of different options (Mini, Starter, Professional and Enterprise) that come with different pricing and features, but allow some flexibility based on the needs of specific projects or overall organisation ambitions. These plans also have differing levels of support (starting with none), varying SLA terms, numbers of languages supported and so on. 

Regular readers of this blog will know that at 3Chillies, we’re big fans of Umbraco for its flexibility, active developer community and ease of use; we’ve used it for multiple projects, and clients have been delighted with the results. 

The good news is that Umbraco Heartcare has many of the same advantages as the wider Umbraco CMS; it is very straightforward for publishers and if you’re already using Umbraco, the interfaces will already be familiar. It also comes with the advantage of being thoroughly tested by the wider Umbraco community, so it is robust, secure and scalable. 

As with any headless solution, Heartcore comes equipped with the requisite API endpoints, including a GraphQL and Preview API, in order to deliver content to a range of experiences including websites, mobile apps and even wearable tech like smartwatches.  

There are also some additional features. The Cloudflare Content Delivery Network (CDN) is bundled in with the Heartcore solution, helping ensure content is delivered in a way that supports good performance. Other features include Umbraco Forms and webhooks that can trigger defined changes to platforms based on events in the core CMS. 

New features for 2022 

With the current focus on headless publishing, Umbraco is continuing to invest in Umbraco Heartcore, recently announcing a number of new roadmap items for 2022. Some of these have emerged as part of a general new infrastructure for Umbraco Cloud which incorporates the Heartcore offering, but others cover fixes, enhancements and new features. 

Among the new roadmap offerings are: 

  • Support for Single Sign-On across all Umbraco Cloud projects 
  • New notifications for users based on different actions relating to content, helping with publishing processes across different content owners such as approval and review workflow 
  • A more advanced “colour picker” to define colours for a property 
  • A new data property editor which allows you to more easily manage JSON feeds, XML feeds and CSV files as content 
  • Improvements to the GraphQL API and CDN features that are part of Umbraco Heartcore 
  • A range of different editors, including a Google Maps property editor 
  • The introduction of two-factor authentication into Heartcore 
  • A new, improved REST API 
  • And more. 

Going headless or thinking of using Umbraco Heartcore? 

Going headless is an intriguing option for marketing teams, and Umbraco Heartcore is a robust and relatively cost-effective headless CMS that continues to improve. If you’d like to discuss either, then get in touch! 

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