Monolithic structures (the past):
Until recently, the general concept around web development meant that providers host websites on a traditional LAMP (Lynx, Apache, MySQL & PHP) stack server. This monolithic structure is:
(1) responsible for delivering the website to the audience and;
(2) hosting the administration layer (CMS).
This widely used approach (think platforms like WordPress and Drupal) has been in operation almost since the inception of the internet. However, it has many drawbacks that were once just accepted as part and parcel of web development. The rise of frontend technologies is now illustrating these inefficiencies more and more.
Headless CMS (the future):
A headless CMS is independent of the visual frontend layer (the bit your customer uses). Instead, this structure exposes information from an API endpoint accessible to as many digital products as required, from websites to apps and more.
The beauty of this approach is that the frontend is delivered in a preferred technology like React, Angular, or Vue (we like React and the React framework, NextJS). There are many benefits to moving to frontend technologies like these (we will shortly publish an article devoted to this topic), but the most important factors are speed and security.
So why DatoCMS as opposed to other (perhaps) better-known services of this kind?
It all came down to 6 key points:
- An intuitive UI for both the end user and the development team
- A single place to keep images and media associated with each page or post
- Great core features including the ability to allow for a modular "page builder" approach to content construction
- A reliable product that minimises or removes the need to maintain the CMS and the need to worry about security
- Fairly price hosting with generous data allowances
- A flexible, responsive, friendly team to complement our own
Let's explore these key points in more detail:
From a developer's point of view, working with intuitive systems that enable us to produce powerful solutions rapidly is essential.
We were impressed with Dato's approach to the UI's structure and aesthetic appearance, which can even be tailored to your brand's colours. From the beginning, the UI invites you to start creating, and that functionality is lovely for a UI/UX specialist.
Images and media
Storing images and media can be a little hit-and-miss with some headless CMSs, as they often have to be stored elsewhere like in AWS, Firebase or even services like Cloudinary. Aside from the added cost, it adds another layer of complexity we'd rather not deal with. Dato allows for a media library inside your dashboard.
Dato also has powerful image manipulation tools and provides components for e.g. React/NextJS that make the best use of the CMS. An impressive example is the 'Image' component. This automatically not just creates the standard image formats in responsive sizes, but also provides next generation image formats like WebP for modern browsers that support them, and adds the alternative text needed for SEO and accessibility.
A robust set of core features are key to our ability to deliver a comprehensive, powerful solution for our clients.
Dato's approach allows us to create data structures that fit our client's needs. For example:
The Block Library - where we can define the block of information we need and combine blocks to form Modular Content Fields that allow the freedom to compose layouts as required.
Models - where we define the blocks that can appear on each kind of page, whether a homepage, post, or subpage.
There are also a lot of other more technical features like webhooks and permission. We really like the Project Usages section of the dashboard, where we can monitor the project in detail.
Maintenance and security
As developers, we have seen the traditional PHP based solutions we use become evermore monolithic, presenting challenges where increasing amounts of time are given to maintenance and security. While an open source headless CSM solution setup as JamStack removes some of these challenges, it isn't a comprehensive solution.
With DatoCMS we can stop worrying about this burden, safe in the knowledge that their team is constantly working on this in the background. It allows us to concentrate all our efforts on feature delivery, maximising our client’s budget.
A fair price
Cost is, of course, another factor that we considered. While we are eager to use new and exciting technologies, we are also mindful of our client's budgets. DatoCMS seem to understand that and has devised plans to suit various budgets.
Whether your website is small or large, there is a suitable plan with generous resource allowances.
A flexible, responsive and friendly team
As a small agency, it was important that we partner with a headless CMS provider that really understands us. The DatoCMS team is also small and proudly so. They started as a small development agency that turned their attention to delivering DatoCMS instead.
As DatoCMS is so intuitive, we don't often need to consult with their support team. Still, in our experience, they are accommodating and quickly resolve queries.
A recent success story
A client recently approached us, requesting a review and update of their website. Their principal needs were SEO, accessibility, and flexibility when creating page content.
Though their current solution was technically already a headless CMS, it was constrained as it was hosted internally. This meant that it lacked not only the power of content delivery over CDN, but also other features that a CMS like Dato offers. The original build used WordPress for the backend and VueJS for the frontend, both served from a more traditional server setup. This wasn't easy to maintain, and developing new features was challenging.
After reviewing the client's needs, we proposed a "lift and shift" to a new platform. We felt this was the best way to future-proof their content and reduce the maintenance burden associated with security on their traditional server and application setups.
For this reason, and due to the extensive functional and structural changes required by the client, we decided to re-platform with DatoCMS and NextJs hosted by Vercel, taking full advantage of the JamStack approach to web development.
By working with DatoCMS we could rapidly create a new CMS, tailored to the client's needs, from scratch and not simply adapted from a monolithic off-the-shelf (one size fits all) solution.
By utilising the DatoCMS features, we could efficiently create an extremely versatile, fast, secure, and powerful CMS. Moreover, brand new features were quick to construct without worrying about the security and maintenance aspects, as these were taken care of by Dato.
This helped us achieve perfect scores in our initial Lighthouse tests and, more importantly, resulted in a happy customer who can rest assured that their investment is future-proofed and versatile enough to engage with further developments in the new web frontier.