Start of Main Content

In October 2023, Optimizely joined other content management system (CMS) vendors by announcing its own headless CMS offering. As an Optimizely partner, we're going to dig into the Optimizely suite to help you understand how their future products fit within a composable architecture. Those products include CMS, Content Recommendations, Experimentation, Optimizely Data Platform, and Optimizely’s Content Marketing Platform.

Headless CMS

Optimizely has long been a DXP leader, previously as Episerver and now as Optimizely. For many years, the CMS was central to the DXP offering. Now, innovative companies like Optimizely have positioned their products for consumption as a bundle or as individual services. The essential value of a software bundle is that its products are integrated, meaning less cost to implement. They also typically provide a cost break in licensing. For the composable enthusiast, it means that Optimizely’s DXP can be configured so it's not a monolith. For example, the headless CMS has its own runtime environment, database, and APIs that run in Azure.

Another example is Optimizely’s announcement in late 2023 that part of their experimentation product now runs in the Google Cloud. Software architects have used best practices for years to separate concerns within solutions. Separating the CMS and turning it into a software as a service (SaaS) offering versus the previous platform as a service (PaaS) offering is an example of Optimizely’s engineering team using those same best practices. At the time of this article, I was unaware that Optimizely plans to release its Commerce offerings as a SaaS standalone. However, they've announced that it's in their product roadmap.

For a headless CMS to be successful, it's vital that the website's codebase can query the CMS, which is done via an API. Optimizely chose GraphQL as the technology because it can return relational data based on what's indicated in the schema. In REST, the previous query language, it would require the code base to query the API multiple times to retrieve the same result. A CMS webpage comprises aggregates of content and content changes. Simply put, it's data with many relationships and, therefore, assembling a webpage requires retrieving all that data. GraphQL is the perfect tool for the job because it provides a query language that can retrieve relational data and do it quickly.

Delivery Layer

A headless CMS is no longer responsible for the delivery layer meaning companies have the freedom to host their website via any vendor they want. However, over the past ten years, businesses have moved away from keeping a more extensive IT staff and replaced it with software in the cloud. Astute CMS companies recognize that hosting is part of the business and will create partnerships with their cloud vendors to keep the hosting revenue. Hosting companies that provide managed services will specialize in the hosting environment and the type of software enabled to keep quality up and costs down. It's crucial to pick vendors whose service level agreements (SLAs) and support staff meet your needs and are willing to collaborate with other vendors to solve problems.

Visual Builder

Optimizely is known for its intuitive and user-friendly author interface, making it easy for content creators and marketers to manage digital content without extensive technical know-how. But the authoring interface must be separated from the CMS in a composable architecture. In the previous non-headless version, the UI was in the delivery layer. However, as noted, they may not be responsible for that layer. The separation of UI from the delivery layer simplifies the CMS, enabling easier upgrades at the expense of functionality that the software community manages itself. This means that the authoring UI must be replaced by a separate UI that provides a visual experience, allowing authors to see what a website visitor will see before content is published.

A screenshot of Optimizely Visual Builder.

Optimizely has created what they're calling the Visual Builder. It combines your site UI with content to provide an authoring experience. The Visual Builder fits nicely within composable architecture by enabling the separation of the UI code base and the CMS runtime but delivers the combined experience necessary for content management.

Content Recommendations (a.k.a. Personalization)

Optimizely Content Recommendations is a machine-learning recommendation engine. It consumes your site's content and processes it using a Natural Language Process. Via an API, a developer can create experiences to retrieve content recommendations. Those recommendations are based on a real-time profile of a website visitor. The engine marries the site visitor's interests with content that's likely to be most engaging. Content Recommendations is implemented via JavaScript and API and fits well within the composable architecture.


Optimizely Web Experimentation lets you test experiences on your site with visitors, learn from them, and take action based on results. The platform allows connections to other systems, including Optimizely’s Data Platform (ODP). Testing is done via a UI in a modular fashion. Optimizely Web Experimentation is implemented via a JavaScript file that's embedded into your website's HTML code. This JavaScript file allows you to target areas of the site you want to run experiments on. This style again fits well within the composable architecture.

Optimizely Data Platform (ODP)

ODP is Optimizely’s customer data platform for its ecosystem. It harmonizes customer data, leading to a real-time understanding of your customer's behaviors. ODP lets you scale highly personalized, multichannel campaigns leveraging AI-powered predictive analysis and shares insights across other Optimizely products. It captures the data via a JavaScript or API. In a composable architecture, ODP is similar to a database. It stores data and is accessed via an API for data retrieval, data import, and integrations.

Content Marketing Platform (CMP)

Optimizely Content Marketing Platform (CMP) centralizes content planning, creation, optimization, and delivery workflows. CMP allows organizations to collaborate around types of content, distribute digital assets to customers, and streamline the entire content creation and delivery lifecycle for improved engagement. It has an editing interface but is not directly in the website runtime environment. Instead, it pushes content to various channels like your website. A developer can access its API to create integrations with other platforms. Given this is not in the headless CMS environment or the delivery layer, CMP, from a composable architecture perspective, is an outside system.

When Optimizely announced its SaaS or headless CMS and visual builder in 2023, it further solidified its placement as a leader in the digital experience space. It also reinforced its commitment to customers by providing them multiple choices for how to engage and leverage the tools in their portfolio. With this announcement and the availability of the SaaS product suite, Optimizely has created an offering that satisfies companies looking for an option for their composable architecture. At Velir, we're excited to provide composable architecture services for Optimizely customers and companies looking to move to Optimizely so they can deliver engaging experiences that drive business outcomes while allowing innovation and flexibility.

Want to learn more about why Optimizely's composable products might be a good fit for your organization? Contact us. We're excited to talk more with you.


Latest Ideas

Take advantage of our expertise with your next project.