Is Jamstack something you should get stuck into?

Dominik Angerer, CEO and co-founder of headless CMS Storyblok discusses what Jamstack is and whether your business should adopt it.

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This is a contributed article by Dominik Angerer, CEO and co-founder of Storyblok.

Here’s a question you might have been asking yourself - why is it that technology is getting faster, sleaker, more intuitive but many websites seem to be going in the opposite direction? You’re not imagining it. A lot of recent research has tracked growing consumer dissatisfaction at website loading speeds and functionality. Given that websites are a critical channel for many businesses, this fall in performance represents a threat that needs to be looked at seriously.

Why are websites falling behind?

So what is the cause of this fall in website performance? In most cases, it’s a combination of creeping website functionality leading to bloated designs that have been built on inadequate or inappropriate tech infrastructure. Put another way, websites are expected to do a huge amount more, in terms of functionality, communication and data transfer, but the design and development methods, alongside the infrastructure that powers them, has simply not kept up. As martech continues to advance and consumer expectations rise, this is a problem that will impact more and more companies.

When it comes to tackling this issue, businesses do have a number of options. Seemingly, the most obvious approach is rebuilding their website with an updated tech stack and all the modern functionality designed in from day one. However, this can be an expensive and time-consuming project, which if undertaken solely for the KPI of a better website, can have limited appeal. Similarly, although it’s a more immediate fix, it can end up simply kicking the can down the road. An alternative is to look at rethinking the actual mechanics of how your website is built, updated and maintained, and how this can be incorporated into a wider cloud native play. To this end, it is worth considering the Jamstack.

What is Jamstack?

If you’re familiar with GitOps, DevSecOps and the many other development terms that are being bandied about nowadays - Jamstack is going to be quick to get to grips with. Like these other terms, it describes a process rather than a technology. The JAM stands for the architecture it is based on - JavaScript, APIs and Markup. It’s a term coined by Netlify and its purpose is to bring web development up to speed with modern technology and enable faster, and easier website builds and integrations. The idea is to not generate the pages every single time an end user is accessing it but only once during a build step when content changes and then serve that finished page without the need of processing it again. This finished page can then be enhanced by dynamic content using further APIs and client-side rendering which can be used in combination with pre-rendering. Implemented correctly and the speed, functionality and stability of a website will improve markedly.

Jamstack also opens the door to implementing serverless databases, using headless CMS, reactive search, and multi-platform notifications. Essentially, it supports a lot of modern marketing infrastructure and techniques.

Should I consider Jamstack?

With any new approach to development it’s important not to get carried away with the ‘hype’. Jamstack is not going to be an appropriate solution for every business nor is it something that you can implement tomorrow.

You need to consider your website’s requirements in the broader context of your marketing, sales and general communication needs. Generally, for businesses that use their website for little more than a shop front, Jamstack will be completely unnecessary. Functionality and speed improvements can be secured through basic optimisation and design tweaks. On the other hand, if your website deals with a lot of dynamic and personalised content, it is integrated into your data science or business intelligence function, or, critically, you are undergoing or plan to undergo a transformation towards a severless model, then Jamstack may be the only adequate, futureproofing solution.

Jamstack requires an upskilled team, new protocols, infrastructure and, ideally, close integration of development and marketing teams. This doesn’t exclude SMEs - indeed, realistically it is the largest businesses which will potentially struggle the most with this transition - however, it does mean that a balance has to be struck between relatively heavy upfront costs and potential disruption, versus long term gains. My view would be that Jamstack is most appropriate for SMEs if they fall into the category of startups with ambitious global growth models and those in retail and ecommerce.

Generally speaking, the best approach to qualify Jamstack is to look at your long-term goals. A business model that will increasingly rely on martech solutions to acquire and retain customers is going to be more effective and cheaper to execute using Jamstack.   

What are my first steps?

Although there is no one size fits all approach, you can get a good overview of the costs involved and the tools with some simple research into some of the systems that support Jamstack. I strongly recommend kicking off your investigation into Jamstack by looking into using ‘microservices’. As Jamstack is technology agnostic, you can plug a whole host of different solutions into it. Nevertheless, a strong preference should be made for API-first tools and integrations as this will make life a lot easier and get you up and running faster.

The various solutions you will need to look at include, authentication, static site generators, frontend frameworks and CMS systems.

Next, consider the most appropriate cloud hosters. Nearly every service will work, for example, Vercel, AWS, Azure or Github pages, however, bear in mind that cloud hosting costs are notoriously opaque. Do be careful to consider all the cost implications for your provider, as low up front costs can mask higher charges as you scale. For making the switch to Jamstack itself, there are plenty of sources that cover best practice. However, as a quick checklist look closely at CDN, Atomic Deploys, Cache invalidation and version control.