Using a Headless CMS for Your SaaS Website
When it comes to building a new B2B or SaaS website there are different routes you can choose. Replatforming to a new Content Management System (CMS) is an increasingly popular part of most major website updates. So what do you need to be aware of if you go down this route?
Co-Founder / CTO
January 14, 2023
When it comes to building a new B2B or SaaS website there are different routes you can go down. Replatforming your CMS is an increasingly popular part of most major website updates where migration to a new Content Management System (CMS) is included alongside visual identity uplifts and site refreshes. So what are the things you need to be aware of if you plan to go down this route?
The Classic CMS
Firstly, a common trend for many growing B2B and SaaS companies is to move off classic monolithic CMSs like WordPress as you grow. The issues with WordPress are well documented and include:
Performance issues due to website bloat, and excessive use of plug-ins
Security vulnerabilities, in-part due to plug-ins
Usability issues for junior staff tasked with maintaining the site
Reliance on freelance developers on a retainer to keep the site up
The list goes on.
That all said, many web agencies are fully in the ‘WordPress camp’ given the historic popularity of WordPress for all websites (not just growth-orientated B2B and SaaS ones). Margins are decent for retainer clients, and developers are numerous, driving the price down. Is it any wonder that despite its apparent flaws, many agencies still persist with promoting WordPress?
However, an increasing number of tech and marketing leaders are concluding that platforms like WordPress are simply no longer fit-for-purpose for growing B2B, SaaS and tech companies. Migrating off WordPress is thus becoming increasingly common for growing tech businesses.
The Site Builders
The ‘site builders’ consist of well known brands like Squarespace, Wix or Webflow.
With the ‘site builder’ model, they host the infrastructure that makes your site, but they also help you manage how the pages are designed and built. So Webflow or Wix are very much visual site builders, utilising templates and ‘drag and drop’ components to build a website.
The upside of this approach is that it's a very low barrier to entry for people to come in and build a simple website. I have personally used Squarespace to build numerous entry level websites, and have enjoyed the flexibility.
The drawbacks with site builders kick in as you look to scale and grow. It can be difficult to add custom elements and you are constrained by chosen templates. It is also hard to embrace a structured content lead approach when choosing this route. And it's also quite hard to maintain a cohesive design and structure across the site because everything's visual, and therefore, it's hard to lock down the design of various types of content. Similarly anybody with edit access can go in and mess around with the layout of a page.
In short, site builders are very attractive for many users, however, are not ideal for growing companies looking to scale their businesses.
Recommended Resource: Webflow v Headless CMS
The Content Platforms (Headless CMS)
Content platforms also known as Headless CMSs [What is a Headless CMS?] represent an online CMS that lets you do all of your content management in the platform through your web browser, and then it exposes an API for you to use with your site e.g. Contento.
A note about terminology:
The phrase ‘content platform’, speaks to a wider general bucket of people, and the phrase ‘headless CMS’, is a technical terminology for developers that says this is a CMS platform that will not render the front of your site.
A Headless CMS refers to the separation of the front-end and the back-end so the two are decoupled and rely on API’s to manage a site build.
Contento - The Headless CMS for B2B SaaS
Contento is a Headless CMS that is optimised for running B2B & SaaS Websites. It sits in the Headless Content Management System (CMS) category which is one of the three dominant approaches to website building outlined above and is part of the Jamstack Headless CMS architecture approach to website development.
Headless CMS is an increasingly popular option for those looking to scale and grow.
What are some of the Advantages of Headless CMS?
The reason that headless CMS as a category has been growing so strongly, is that there are a number of compelling benefits including:
1- Division of Labor [Specialism]
A Headless CMS allows you to focus on building the front of your site and not on hosting or maintaining an application. And that means that you can build the front end of your site and the back end of your site in a nice organised fashion and join the two together.
The second major advantage of dividing the two parts of the website, into the front and the back end of the website is the greater flexibility you get.
If you wanted to switch to a different Headless CMS provider, then that wouldn't mean you had to re-engineer the front end of your site - vendor lock-in is limited.
Whereas with the classic model, if you build something on WordPress, and you want to switch your CMS, you have to rebuild everything from scratch. In the Headless CMS world, you can leave the front of my site largely alone, unplug one API and plug in the other one. There's a lot less work required to switch things around.
The same goes with the front end of the site. You may be happy with your Headless CMS, but if you want to redesign the front of the site, you can do that in quite an isolated way. You just swap out the front-end and it's less of a headache than having everything all bundled up into one place.
3- Risk Reduction
A Headless CMS also de-risks things from a development perspective, and from a technical debt perspective - it is a new modern approach to development favoured by a growing number of front-end developers.
An additional appeal of a Headless CMS led approach is that it allows you to really focus on your content management experience.
With a Headless CMS you can build the back end of the site prioritising the content editing experience with a really high level of focus for the marketing team, and thus can structure things so they make sense for the people who are actually updating the content.
We all need really super fast websites and the new headless CMS approach lends itself to speed. The speed of Headless CMS sites is unrivalled.
If you're rendering web pages on a server and then sending the result to the user, that's invariably going to have some latency in it (Old dynamic-site approach). Whereas if you pre render web pages, and you have flat HTML files that you're delivering straight to the user, then it's a lot quicker (New Headless CMS / static site based approach).
Jamstack is an architectural approach that decouples the web experience layer from data and business logic, improving flexibility, scalability, performance, and maintainability. Jamstack removes the need for business logic to dictate the web experience. It enables a composable architecture for the web where custom logic and 3rd party services are consumed through APIs.
This allows you to deploy a site on to a highly performant Content Delivery Network (CDN) service that will provide websites to users really quickly and securely (a CDN lessens the risk of DDOS attacks). And you can have a really slick, interactive website, that's really fast because it's not relying on constantly trying to fetch data from the back end because it's all pre-rendered before it gets sent to users.
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A distributed network optimized for serving assets to users. By being geographically distributed, a CDN can provide redundancy and also improve delivery performance as a result of servicing requests from the infrastructure closest to the user making the request.
So that modern way of building websites pairs inherently well with Headless CMS because they're built using technologies that work well together. And if you're building a Jam Stack site, and you need to have your content editable, you basically will always reach for a Headless CMS. And these days, people are building more and more Jamstack sites because the advantages of them are widely understood in the development community.
Additional Reading: What are the Key Benefits of a Headless CMS?
Contento: The Headless CMS for B2B & SaaS Websites
B2B SaaS websites need to do a few set things, and they need to do those things well, and effectively. If you take the existing Headless CMS platforms that are out there, they are what we call open platforms. You can do whatever you like and then you can build a content model for displaying data anywhere, be that a train update notification board, or on an Apple Watch.
As a result of them being very open, they don't provide you with common things ‘out of the box’. So for example with many of the leading Headless CMS’s there's no such thing as ‘SEO’. You essentially have to invent what that is yourself within their platform.
At Contento we are focused on a dominant use case - a Headless CMS for powering B2B SaaS marketing websites which share common requirements; be they built in lead generation, conversion optimisation, SEO, links to G2 and Capterra, announcement bars across the site, or gated content accessible via forms.
These are elements that we have pre built into Contento so that you don't have to invent them from scratch. One of the things that we want to do is really focus on the needs of B2B & SaaS websites and make sure we tick off all of the common things that they need to do and make them super speedy and super efficient for users to have rather than having to rebuild them from scratch. Offering a powerful baked-in SEO solution is also a key element of our approach.
Elements for Building Your B2B SaaS Site with a Headless CMS like Contento
So what are the elements you need to build your site?
There are 4 core elements if you utilise the Headless CMS route.
The Content Platform/Headless CMS e.g. Contento
The Front End Stack - Static Site Generators e.g. Vue / NuxtJS or React
The Build Pipeline e.g. Netlify
The Development Process (Content Delivery Network) e.g. Netlify
While these all may seem a lot, they are all “best of breed” low cost frameworks/ components that are designed to work effectively together.
In terms of the resources, what else do you need to get your site up and running?
Front End Developer
Unlike the templated approach of website builders like Webflow or Wix you can’t just log into Contento, open it up and use it to run your website. It fits in between the two categories of building your own application and full service. So Contento sits in the sweet spot in the middle. You need a front end developer for the initial setup and build, but they don’t need to have much experience with the back end because they don't need to understand that.
There are different frameworks and technologies for doing that.
Once you've got your site built and turned into a static site, or a sort of pre rendered site, you can then deploy that pretty much wherever you like. So you could deploy it onto your own server and host it there and it would be really quick or you could deploy it onto an optimised service like Netlify or even a sort of standard CDN like CloudFront.
Finally as I argue in my blog - Using B2B SaaS Copywriters to Improve Conversions, bringing a specialist B2B SaaS copywriter into the project will be money well spent.
Using a Headless CMS, like Contento, is an increasingly popular way to manage growing B2B SaaS websites. The performance is unrivalled and while the initial set up costs are more complicated than with a more basic architecture, once live the ongoing external dependencies are eliminated. The marketing team will be able to manage the content themselves, and should be able to call on a junior developer on an ad hoc basis to create any new pages required.