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In today’s digital era, websites are the primary gateway to organizations for customers, partners, and investors. Organizations rely specifically on content to drive access to core web applications, to disseminate important information to prospective customers (e.g white papers, infographics, value statements, and feature overviews), or to even outline key documentation for Developers.
Modern content is required to be intuitive, impactful, and engaging. This content is ever-changing as organizations grow and evolve with their messaging and branding. Content must reach audiences in all locations: via desktop, mobile, and other internet-connected devices.
At a high level, what I have described above sounds similar to a product. However, most organizations fail to treat their content as a product.
Through this new paradigm, Contentful is transforming the way modern product teams operate with respect to their individual roles, transforming the way content is integrated into the development process, and transforming the way organizations think about content.
Transforming Team Roles
In the Agile product development paradigm (and more specifically in Extreme Programming), one of the core practices is one known as the “Whole Team.” The Whole Team can be defined as a cross-functional group of people who contain the necessary skills and expertise to help a product come to fruition. Traditionally, this includes a Product Manager, many Engineers, a Designer, and QA. Outside of the core team includes stakeholders such as the Business Owner, Marketing, Sales, Legal, etc. When these entities come together, the core team contains the skillsets needed to operate independently while allowing for quick iterations and development cycles.
Typically, team members work with their individual tools: Product Managers create requirements on Agile planning tools, Developers write code using integrated development environments (IDEs) and source code management tools, and marketers draft copy on word processing tools. What would happen, if Product Managers, Engineers, and Marketers could work on the same page (or need I say, tool!)?
Contentful takes the idea of “Whole Team” a step further by unifying the “whole” product team with their unique Content as a Service (CaaS) offering, which provides both a programmatic and visual toolset for creating and managing content and content models.
For Product Managers, Contentful provides a point-and-click, drag-and-drop interface through the Contentful Web App that displays an editable visual representation of the content model and contains tools to empower Product Managers to collaborate with Engineers to define new models. For Marketers, Contentful provides the ability to create, revise, and distribute content from preview to published easily on the Content Hub through a powerful markdown editor. Finally, these capabilities are bundled together in an intuitive series of REST APIs for Developers to tap into, via the Content Management API. Collectively, these tools connect to the same content model and content, allowing the product team to iterate even quicker!
Contentful’s strategic series of offerings and CaaS platform enables a “whole” product team to rapidly model, draft, publish, and iterate on content that powers pages that serve users. The beauty of Contentful is that “pages” are no longer created, rather, content is grouped into models that make sense from a user experience perspective versus considering what would make sense displayed on the screen (the UI). These content models can then be utilized when building your user interface (UI). Not only does the content make more sense from an administrative side, but the content also avoids duplication of work as one model can be used across multiple pages. Furthermore, as new requirements arise, teams can operate in an Agile fashion to quickly and iteratively make modifications in response to business needs.
Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (“CI/CD”) are best practices observed by Agile product teams. In CI/CD, when new requirements are worked on by the Engineering team, a new branch is created to write tests and complete the functionality independent from the production code. When the requirement has been reviewed by QA and accepted according to the acceptance criteria, the code is pushed into the production “master” code and run through a pipeline that consists of tests, security checks, and more which should take no more than 10-minutes maximum. Builds can occur a few times a week or even a few times a day, depending on the production velocity of the team, allowing for small iterative releases.
Since content and its associated model are represented as a JSON object inside of code, in accordance to the “headless” CMS paradigm, it can be treated similarly to production-ready code: developed, tested, and deployed through the same CI/CD pipeline as all other code. Contentful provides Developers with their Content Management and Content Delivery APIs to ensure the seamless integration of content with production code. Additionally, Developers can leverage webhooks to automatically trigger a build when new data is published, customized down to the environment.
While a development pipeline is a technical concept, its benefits are massive to businesses. When code is pushed to production, it undergoes a series of processes that must be cleared — code quality, bug check, unit and integration testing, security, and more. By treating content as code instead of text, businesses can ensure that content being produced does not lead to any negative changes to the overall webpage experience.
What should be noted, however, is that Contentful’s integration into your development pipeline is not an out-of-the-box operation. TribalScale, a Contentful Technology and Solutions Partner, is composed of highly skilled Engineers and Product Managers trained on Contentful with a record of successful implementations to deliver projects faster.
When breaking down a product into feature requirements or adding new requirements resulting from iterative feedback from users, Product Managers utilize a best practice of writing small, independent, valuable user stories that can be accomplished within a single iteration. This functional form of writing user stories enables Product Managers to continuously prioritize items in the backlog, and for the Engineering team to freely take those stories and build them (for more: read my blog on Writing Functional User Stories). Similar to a content model, user stories can be modeled in a hierarchy: from epics, to features, to user stories that piece together to “model” the product being built.
Contentful follows a similar modular paradigm within their CaaS tool. Content models allow teams to modularly define content based on its use and application. Imagine playing with building blocks; each block typically has a specific dimension and color. You can construct the building blocks in a multitude of shapes and sizes, however, the block remains defined independently. You can think about a content model as a building block and a website as your structure. This can be visualized in the image below from Contentful:
Now that content is modularized, it can be utilized across distribution channels (websites, mobile, IoT devices, etc.) or repurposed in a multitude of locations on a page and across multiple contexts. As Contentful puts it in their whitepaper:
Your content model is the blueprint for your website, it guides the Contentful APIs to place each block of content where you specify, so that your website delivers a fully realized digital experience at every endpoint.
With content modularized, organizations can more efficiently run A/B tests for marketing, apply advanced technologies such as machine learning to create targeted messaging, and drive traffic intentionally to realize intended outcomes, such as sales conversions.
Contentful’s unique perspective and approach to Content Management is driving change among digital teams in this modern era of development. By decoupling content from sites, Product Managers can work alongside Engineers to granularly define specific models to meet business needs, Engineers can ensure higher quality content production code through environment promotion and CI/CD hooks, and Marketers can repurpose content across a multitude of channels.
TribalScale, a digital innovation firm, believes that treating content as a product and utilizing Contentful’s CaaS and “headless CMS” paradigm is the future. Our team of highly skilled Engineers and Product Managers have experience implementing Contentful inside of top financial services institutions. We suggest following these tips when implementing Contentful:
Train and ensure everyone has a general understanding of what “modular sites” are.
Decide on an initial set of sections that will comprise the majority of your site based on existing content, or that which will be added in the future.
Hold a number of workshops to build out proposed pages using those existing sections.
Virtualize these pages, with each section independent enough to define the content and to easily shift them around.
Once the structure is decided, use the sections as a guide for copy and final changes.
Sections are particularly designed so that content and assets are added as intended.
You never know how the sections will come together until they are actually created in Contentful with actual content.
For those who have not tried Contentful’s Content as a Service tool, I urge you to sign up and give it a try! Getting started with Contentful is extremely easy! Make sure to check out Contentful’s integration of the Content API with GraphQL, a modern, intuitive, data-query language for APIs that minimizes API calls and allows Frontend Developers to aggregate data quickly and efficiently through a queryable model abstracted from the content schema.