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Freedom for Developers: Leveraging Sitecore JSS to Create Headless Sitecore Applications

To stay competitive in the digital era, today’s businesses are evolving to drive customer engagement and improve user experience. To achieve these goals and simplify the process of website development, many organizations are taking a decoupled, headless approach to application architecture for their content management systems (CMS).

Developers, who traditionally built a CMS to be managed through a single interface, are now relying on decoupled front and back-end solutions, which provide benefits in architecture, personalization, website and SEO performance and overall business value. However, not all CMS are created equal. While most CMS solutions can be headless, many platforms lack personalization features, such as analytics and reporting, marketing automation and multivariate testing, which are critical components for success in today’s consumer-driven landscape.

Many organizations are choosing Sitecore JSS because the platform allows developers to architect headless applications, significantly simplifying the process of building websites that elevate the user experience and increase customer engagement. 

What is a headless approach and how it is different from a traditional approach?

Traditional websites have a back-end and front-end with the same code base that enables communication between the two. However, in a headless installation, the front-end is a stand-alone piece of software, which through the API, communicates with the back-end. Both parts operate separately from each other and can even be placed on separate servers, creating a minimal version of a multi-server architecture.

Marketers can greatly benefit from a decoupled approach, as they have full control of the front-end application and can update the website or application content without deploying any code or restarting the server. This means new features can be created for your client-facing website without interruption. Marketers can also have control over how and where content appears, including web, mobile or wearable devices, with the ability to deliver it quickly and efficiently.

Now that we’ve identified how to architect the solution, let’s turn our attention to how headless can increase engagement with consumers.

Where does personalization fit in?

According to Econsultancy, the average reported conversion rate increase for websites with applied personalization was 16% over the past 12 months. Companies are now recognizing the need for a personalized marketing approach, offering consumers a better customer experience, ultimately increasing the likelihood of brand adoption and retention.

Let’s explore an example of how personalization features can be leveraged with headless CMS through the introduction of Sitecore JSS on the Sitecore Experience Platform™. Sitecore’s API supports the delivery of dynamic content, meaning you can deliver personalized content to almost any device or browser. Sitecore JSS allows users to keep all of the automated marketing features that Sitecore offers out-of-the-box, including personalization, analytics, reporting and multivariate testing.

With Sitecore JSS, data can be captured from customer interactions on your website, mobile applications, retail kiosks, wearable devices, chatbots, connected home devices and many other channels and leveraged for personalization. Additionally, Sitecore JSS, in conjunction with Sitecore’s Experience Editor, allows content authors to easily modify content on a website through inline editing.

Does a headless approach improve performance?

Personalization alone does not define the success of your website. If your website is slow, the chances of your customer or prospect experiencing your website’s unique features are low. Taking the short attention span of humans into consideration, each millisecond of your website load time counts from a customer’s perspective. Time to first byte (TTFB) is the most important criteria of your website performance. By decoupling your application, your front-end can be hosted from serverless computing services, providing improved response time.

Headless architecture also enables the use of a single-page application (SPA), which interacts with the user by dynamically rewriting the webpage rather than loading new pages from a server. In other words, when all interactions and renderings occur in the browser, there is no need to wait for client-server communication, thus providing the end-user with an optimized experience.

Looking back at our Sitecore example, Sitecore JSS provides the ability to architect your SPA application with a headless approach. With Sitecore JSS, developers now have the freedom to use their preferred tools and frameworks like Angular, React, Vue and React Native for mobile development. Front-end developers no longer need to rely on back-end content and can start with a code-first approach, which means application development and content data is mocked using local files instead of Sitecore instance. Once Sitecore instance is available, developers can consume data via Sitecore Layout Service and connect the application to Sitecore instance, which is referred to as connected mode.

What are the limitations associated with a headless approach?

While a headless approach creates opportunities for utilizing the best practices in the industry for website architecture, we must also consider the disadvantage. Compared to traditional architecture, a headless approach lacks the presentation layer and usually doesn’t come with a live preview, which means there is no WYSIWYG functionality. On the bright side, as we have already mentioned, Sitecore JSS fills this gap by making the presentation layer management available in the Experience Editor.

How does this approach increase business value?

Building a website with quick TTFB, personalization and mobile-first indexing is critical for businesses today to increase engagement and achieve a high conversion rate.

Sitecore JSS offers several benefits for marketers through personalization and consolidated data insights. It helps to extend your reach to consumers in different segments and enables consistent marketing and control over content across multi-channel and multi-device environments. With this approach, business operations no longer interfere with developer workflows, resulting in fewer project dependencies and eliminating the need to maintain multiple bodies, which is a cost-effective, long-term solution.

Despite the many benefits of a headless approach, it’s important to acknowledge that when decoupled, not all CMS allow end-users to manage the presentation layer. However, with Sitecore JSS and Sitecore Experience Editor, marketers can retain visual control and easily make changes to items directly on the web page.

A headless architecture provides freedom for developers and marketers, improving their day-to-day operations, while enhancing website performance and customer experience.

To read additional Sitecore insights by Tony Mamedbekov, visit his blog: