What is Jamstack? – A Guide For Non-technical Leaders
Why even bother with Jamstack?
Before diving straight into what is Jamstack, let’s get some context.
The environment of digital business is technologically complex, and without at least a decent knowledge foundation, it’s super easy to get lost, miss many opportunities, and do things the wrong way, even without knowing it.
This is why we love to think that a website is a kind of a living and evolving creature, that adapts to your clients’ needs, and constantly changing digital environment.
And Jamstack enables you to do just that – adapt fast.
So this guide has been made for two main reasons:
- To explain the core complexities of the web environment, so you can feel more comfortable with your decisions
- show you how to make a digital business more efficient from the technical point of view.
On top of that, as part of an experienced Jamstack development company I am able to show you how understanding the fundamentals of modern web technology can make your business more flexible and become more adaptable to constant changes.
Finally, this guide has been made for business people to feel more comfortable while speaking with technical people – to discuss and negotiate technical work.
So, what is Jamstack, actually?
What is Jamstack?
Before jumping to the benefits, best use cases, and all other things, we would like to explain some technical fundamentals of Jamstack, so geek alert, but not too much.
Netlify (a Jamstack creator) went away from the technical JAM acronym and made it more of a development philosophy instead of a name based on some technical features.
So, to make it simple, Jamstack is a modern web development architecture that enables you to build static pages and websites based on the microservices methodology. It also gives you all static advantages, like great performance, high traffic resistance, fast load speed, safety, great SEO, etc.
Thanks to caching everything in a Content Delivery Network (CDN), Jamstack sites run smoothly every time.
What is the Content Delivery Network?
Normally hosting service serves the site from a single location, in the case of CDN, each unique user is served through a server that is geographically the closest to his location.
If you want to go deeper and get a better understanding from the technical point of view, we ran a great and interesting interview with Colby Fayock – one of the top experts in the Jamstack field.
When to use, and when not to use Jamstack?
So, one of the most frequently asked questions is: Should I use Jamstack?
And although we love to think that you can use Jamstack in every single case there is, we are also humble enough to admit it’s not entirely the truth.
Yet, many business cases prove that using it just makes perfect sense and brings many of its technical advantages to become business advantages as well.
If you got a bit tired of reading, I’ve also made a dedicated video on When to use Jamstack, and when not.
When to use Jamstack?
For example, if you want to build:
- eCommerce websites – your Jamstack website will definitely help you engage your customers (page speed and better UX) and rank higher in Google search results (SEO & UX, and oh yes, Core Web Vitals). Consequently, it may lead to a conversion rate increase.
- Software and SaaS websites – the first impression matters a lot, so making it great by building a site that will load in a blink of an eye – sounds effective!
- Custom Landing Pages – you can use unlimited customization and super speed to enhance UX, and get better organic and advertising results, as well as combine it with a proper Content Management System to make it super easy for the marketing team to build and optimize such pages.
- B2B companies – B2B customers want someone they can trust with their money. Period. They don’t just buy stuff, they buy assets that they hope will pay them back, so building trust around those assets seems to be a reasonable direction. Your trustworthiness and professionalism can be elevated with a clean, and modern look, that will raise your chance to be chosen.
- Online services – Although Jamstack was mainly associated with the concept of static pages, it becomes more and more dynamic over time, so using it for websites like news portals, (crypto)currency, and stock exchange websites that use real-time data became a great idea.
We are going much deeper into the details and pain points of a specific business case in our dedicated article on when to use and when not to use Jamstack.
When not to use Jamstack?
It might not be a good idea to choose the Jamstack approach if:
- Your budget is limited – using Jamstack means hiring skilled developers, which is costly in both, hiring internally, and outsourcing option. On top of that, if you want to rebuild your website to Jamstack, you should be aware of how complex this build process is, and how many fundamental changes have to be done.
- You are not ready for big changes – In most cases, choosing Jamstack means also choosing new CMS, creating a new look, rebranding, etc. As I’ve mentioned, such an endeavor means lots of changes and is costly, so it is also a great idea while doing rebranding, or rebuilding the marketing strategy.
- You are just starting out – Jamstack is not beginner-friendly when compared to such solutions as WordPress. Therefore, if you are a small company that wants to start a business online, something easier like WP might be a better option.
- You prefer using plug-ins – coding knowledge and specific skills are required to build Jamstack websites, and except for Gatsby, most of the technologies don’t allow for using ready-to-use plugins to add new features without much coding.
Pros and cons of using Jamstack
Although Jamstack comes with many great advantages, there are also a few features that make it less effective in specific areas.
Let’s list some of the most important pros and cons of using it.
Three main reasons to choose Jamstack
One of the most important benefits of using Jamstack (and reasons to choose it) is the possibility to build a great custom user experience. In a world full of look-alike websites and shops, it’s a great way to differentiate your business from the competition.
Also, it’s not only about building a good-looking site – it should be also user-friendly from a page speed and performance point of view.
Ask yourself – would you come back to the place where you had a terrible experience? Like waiting in a line in the shop with a huge line, 10 checkouts, and only one of them working?
The same rule applies to websites and webshops – the first impression will either encourage you to or discourage you from coming back.
If the overall experience is terrible, it’s less likely you will come back.
User experience is also important for Google and its crawlers. They even gave some suggestions to implement the user experience of our website or online store.
Essential things for Google:
- Easy-to-read, relevant and helpful content
- Responsive design
- Fast page load speed
- Clear and well-organised site architecture
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
There are a few reasons why Jamstack sites are SEO-friendly.
First of all, Jamstack means getting complete control over the website’s content and structure, and consequently, over the SEO possibilities. Adding custom metadata like the titles, meta descriptions, and alt text is easy. It helps Google crawlers with reading and indexing your website’s content.
Another thing that helps with indexing is that Jamstack websites are static – they consist of HTML files. Thus, it solves many typical problems with improving a website’s SEO.
Google loves Jamstack because of one more reason – its high performance and fast page load speed. As a result, such websites are rewarded with higher rankings in search results. Consequently, it leads to more visitors, leads, and sales.
Performance and speed
In general, the page load speed and the performance of a website are:
- Important SEO ranking factors
- Affecting user experience (positively or negatively)
- Impacting conversion rate (positively or negatively)
Let’s retake a look at some stats to highlight the importance of speed and performance.
- Almost 70% of site visitors admit that page load speed has a huge impact on their buying decision (Unbounce).
- 47% of site visitors expect that a website will load in two seconds or less.
- 40% of site visitors will abandon a website if they need to wait more than three seconds till it fully loads.
As Jamstack websites pre-generate specific pages at a build time, it increases the page load speed and performance.
Besides that, all pages are stored on a Content Delivery Network closest to the user that visits a website. It also increases the page load speed.
Other benefits of Jamstack
While the three main benefits include user experience, SEO, performance, and speed, it has so much more to offer for digital business websites.
- Better Google rankings
- Total safety
- High traffic resistance
- Headless integration
- Serverless functions
- Reusable components
- Cheap and portable hosting
- Easier maintenance
- Omnichannel approach (works on any device)
- Developers love it
Cons of Jamstack
While it may seem so, Jamstack is not all rainbows and unicorns. Apart from many benefits, it also has a few cons and limitations.
- Coding may be required – If you want to make any updates on your website or landing page and it’s not connected to the headless CMS, you will need either some coding knowledge or the help of a qualified developer.
- Some technologies are not plugin-friendly – great user experience and total freedom in customisation have their cost – you won’t be able just to use any plugin you want. All the work needs to be coded, except for Gatsby.
- Generating preview takes time – Jamstack sites are static (with dynamic features) so you need to “build” it each time you make a change. If your website is kind of big, it can be a real pain. However, Gatsby and Next.js creators are working on a solution for that.
If you want to go deeper, we made an article with a more comprehensive list of Jamstack pros and cons.
Jamstack – Introduction to digital business
In fact, Jamstack is nothing really new. It’s just a new brand name for the concept of static pages that are lightweight, fast, and thanks to that, they can be also really SEO friendly. And that has been here already for a while.
However, all the modern tools and inventions around Jamstack gave birth to many great improvements in the area of building static pages. And thanks to that, we can now use all the static page blessings (like performance, enhanced user experience, or SEO advantages) easier and more efficiently.
Why Jamstack was needed?
Simply put, efficient digital marketing should bring more visitors to your website, and transform those visitors into clients.
It sounds simple, but if you ever had a business based on a website, you probably know what kind of challenge this is.
That being said, you may notice that people are now more demanding than ever, and they have also become highly impatient. In other words, they want websites to load in a blink of an eye, or they are pretty much ready to leave.
Moreover, customers are not alone in this demand – as of June 2021, Google included site speed as one of the most critical ranking factors through Core Web Vitals metrics.
Website success factors
However, fast page load speed alone isn’t enough to win over customers and Google bots.
There are still a few more things you need to take into account, such as:
- SEO (getting high positions in search results for keywords related to your business)
- User experience (how visitors feel about browsing your pages)
- Security (data security and hacker attacks protection)
- Speed and performance (after June 2021 update, these are even more important ranking factors)
- Scalability (to make sure if something on your website goes viral, you are ready to handle the traffic)
- Future-proof (you may become future-proof for years to come)
As a result, by taking care of those points, you may significantly improve:
- Organic traffic (traffic coming from Google search results that you don’t have to pay for)
- Conversion rate (the percentage of visitors that completed the action, like: filled the contact form, made an order, signed up for a newsletter)
- General number of leads (people who are open to your next sales move)
However, addressing all these things at the same time became a huge challenge.
Who can benefit from using Jamstack?
Almost every single online move and activity can be recorded and measured nowadays, and to take care of each part of the digital marketing optimization becomes just too complex for one person.
And this is why people search for full-pledge solutions that are able to simplify and minimize the need for diversification. In other words, to keep as much control over the optimization as possible, with the least amount of effort and people involved.
Following that, there are many people who can benefit from using Jamstack in the company, like:
- Business owners – as they want to make their business overall more competitive, well-structured, and simplified.
- CTOs – that want to work with reliable and secure tools, as well as keep their developers satisfied by working with fresh technologies.
- Marketers – so they can use modern tools to provide a much better experience and deliver higher-value more efficiently.
- eCommerce managers – to optimize the customer journey, increase engagement, and ultimately increase their conversions easier.
Reason for a change
Not so long ago, building a website often meant having everything in one place without additional integrations and tools, which was highly beneficial for business owners. However, a few problems started to appear.
- As the number of visitors and the size of the database grew, websites started to slow down.
- If even one small thing broke down, the entire website could stop working correctly.
- The visual (frontend) layer was strongly connected to the backend layer, which resulted in limited customization options and poor data security.
Such websites were built using the approach called monolithic, and it can help us understand why Jamstack became so popular and how the need for it evolved so naturally.
A bit of history: Monolithic applications as a standard
Monolithic structure (or architecture) was a standard for building web applications for many years. It consists of three main elements:
- User interface – it’s what users see and interacts with,
- Business logic – it handles the exchange of information between the user interface and database,
- Database – it contains all necessary data for a website or application (like user data).
These elements are deeply interconnected (coupled), so such a structure is called a monolithic application.
Drawbacks of monolithic architecture
Although it sounds great to have everything in one place, many people actually found it to be limiting and sometimes even challenging.
Here are some of the most important limitations and challenges of the monolithic approach:
- Changing any part of your website may be tricky
- Hard to customise the way you like it
- Unnecessary features causing damages
- Limited flexibility
- Performance issues
- Poor scalability
- Security issues
These drawbacks forced developers and other concerned people to look for a better solution. As a result, they created a way to break monolithic apps down into smaller parts called microservices.
Monolithic vs Microservices
The main difference between monolithic applications and microservices is the responsibility for a specific job to be done.
While monolithic logic has many responsibilities simultaneously, microservice is responsible for one specific thing only. By being laser-focused on that, it can become much more efficient in doing this one specific job.
Think of it this way – back in the old days, there was only one doctor in town that knew something about the lungs, the impact of garlic, how to stop bleeding, deliver a baby, and how to remove a tooth. That’s a monolithic approach.
And although he was still able to help many people, he couldn’t help those who required a much deeper understanding of a specific part of the body. In other words, you probably prefer to have a qualified laser-focused neurosurgeon, for serious brain surgery.
And that’s exactly how microservices work. They laser-focus on one particular job to push it and get the results that a monolithic approach couldn’t even dream of.
On top of that, another great benefit of microservices is that they can be easily reused and implemented by different third-party tools, platforms, etc.
And the idea behind Jamstack is exactly to cover one specific part of a website extremely well – the frontend.
Jamstack and microservices
Using Jamstack to build web applications means decoupling the frontend from the backend.
It allows for more modular architecture as Jamstack replaces monolithic applications with the possibility to use the approach of mixing different APIs and microservices. In fact, you can call Jamstack a microservice-based architecture.
Let’s think of an example.
If you have a webshop, any single API connection can be treated as a microservice. For example, one API connection could be responsible for invoicing, the other one for importing products, and another one for managing customers’ data. So instead of creating one extensive database, you can now create multiple smaller services responsible for one specific job.
Traditional approach vs headless approach
To keep things simple, it should be enough to have a look at what the development process looks like in both cases.
Creating monolithic applications or websites means using the traditional approach. Creating Jamstack applications or websites means using a headless approach. It’s called headless because the front end (head) is decoupled from the back end (body).
Here’s how it works:
|Development||A developer writes the website code (both frontend and backend) and then ships it to the server.||A developer writes the code separately for the backend and frontend, so making and applying changes in the frontend layer, doesn’t affect the backend.|
Best Jamstack technologies
Using Jamstack requires choosing technologies that will be responsible for the front-end and back-end layers. We gathered some of our favourites below.
Our recommended Front-end technologies
- Gatsby JS – open-source React framework with a massive ecosystem of Plugins, Themes, and Starters that boost the development process
- Next.js – open-source React framework that supports both static site generation and server-side rendering
Pagepro favourite Headless eCommerce platforms
- BigCommerce – SaaS eCommerce platform following the latest digital trends which can be used for headless eCommerce
- Magento (Adobe Commerce) – an eCommerce platform dedicated to bigger players, which offers many rich features, headless architecture and various third-party integrations
- Saleor – an open-source headless eCommerce platform that puts GraphQL first
- Shopify – SaaS eCommerce platform which allows vendors to sell anywhere in the world with many features like Point of Sale (POS) system
Our recommended Headless CMSes
- Contentful – API-first content management platform to build digital experiences with features like localisation and personalisation
- Sanity – flexible content platform built for developers by developers. It allows for collaboration and customisation in real-time to build data-driven content applications
- WordPress – the most popular CMS globally, which powers more than 40% of websites in the world. Thanks to Jamstack, WordPress websites get a new life by becoming headless
- Prismic – it’s a Content Management System and a tool for editing online content. It lets you choose your technology, framework, and language and then easily manage your content.
If you hesitate which CMS you should use to your Jamstack project, read our comprehensive article on the comparison of different Jamstack CMSes.
Examples of Jamstack Static Site Generators (SSG)
- Gatsby – one of the first and most popular new-age static site generator, yet Gatsby lately provides also dynamic, optimized websites and a cloud platform.
- Next.js – at the moment, probably the most interesting tool for building both static, and dynamic pages. Definitely the one loved the most by developers that brings a lot of great possibilities to Jamstack and website optimization.
- Hugo – fast framework written in Go (aka Golang) for building sites with content-supporting features like unlimited content types and taxonomies or customisable URLs
- Jekyll – simple Ruby framework for building personal blogs or organisation sites
- VuePress – static site generator based on Vue written by Evan You for keeping (technical) documentation in order
Best Jamstack Static Site Generators: Next.js vs Gatsby JS
Next.js and Gatsby JS are absolutely the most popular static site generators used to build Jamstack websites.
However, it’s important to know the similarities and differences between these two, as they both do a great job, but in different use cases. Let’s make the final decision easier.
First of all, both are for building performant and SEO-friendly websites.
Next.js and Gatsby are also:
- Using React.js
- Following the Jamstack architecture
- Simplifying web development (as they provide a boilerplate – a fixed structure to follow during the development process)
- Selected by big players like hulu, TikTok, InVision (Next.js) or Impossible Foods, Figma, SendGrid (Gatsby)
These are the similarities. Now, let’s jump to the differences.
The main difference is that Gatsby JS is just a static site generator, while Next.js offers both server-side rendering and static site generation.
Static site generation (SSG) means that the HTML is generated at build time and reused on each request.
Server-side rendering (SSR) means that the HTML is generated on each request.
|Data handling||Developers can choose how to approach data fetching||You need to use GraphQL|
|Community||A quite small showcase of websites built with Next.js (around 100 websites)||Agency program supporting agencies using Jamstack|
A quite big showcase (more than 1000 websites)
|Plugins, themes, extensions, integrations||Encourages developers to build everything from scratch||Many ready-to-use plugins|
Best use cases of Next.js and Gatsby JS
It’s best to choose Gatsby JS if you want to build:
- Corporate website
- B2B or SaaS product website
- Personal blog
- Digital agency website
- Small eCommerce website
You can also find some more great Gatsby JS websites examples here, or read more in our Gatsby JS FAQ.
It’s best to choose Next.js if you want to build:
- Large multi-user website
- Client-side rendered application (SPA/MPA)
- Big eCommerce website
- Web portal
And, more great examples of Next.js websites here.
Also, you can read more about Next.js here.
If you want to learn more, you can read our article in which we compared Next js vs Gatsby JS. Or, if you don’t feel like reading, you can watch our video on the same topic.
Of course, Jamstack isn’t the only choice out there. Below you will find short comparisons versus its alternatives such as WordPress, SPA and MERN.
Jamstack vs WordPress
WordPress is an example of monolithic architecture, while Jamstack is an example of headless architecture, and that’s the main difference between these two. The good news is that businesses that enjoy using WordPress don’t have to give up using it, as it pairs well with Jamstack.
- Jamstack websites are more secure as there is no direct connection to the database or other sensitive data (because the front-end layer is separated from the back-end layer)
- Sites built with Jamstack don’t rely on a server as they are pre-built and serverless
- Static sites (aka Jamstack sites) are faster than dynamic sites by default
- WordPress handles everything needed for a website to work, so you don’t need additional technologies or solutions
- WordPress is less demanding than Jamstack when it comes to managing content or required technical knowledge
Speaking of WordPress, you can use it as a great headless CMS!
To learn more about it, you can read out article about the pros and cons of using Gatsby in WordPress projects or, you can also read our guide on how to migrate from WordPress to Jamstack.
You can also watch my video about Jamstack vs WordPress and other low-code alternatives.
Jamstack vs SPA
A Single Page Application (SPA) is a web app or website that rewrites the current page with new data instead of loading it from scratch. Thus, it feels like browsing a native application.
To put it simply, SPAs are Jamstack sites, while not all Jamstack sites are SPAs.
The main difference between these two is that Jamstack sites consist of pre-rendering static HTML files while SPAs load content when users request it first.
Jamstack vs MERN
If you’re interested in Jamstack alternatives, check out this article: 10 Best Jamstack Alternatives to choose in 2021
Jamstack for eCommerce
As you already know, Jamstack can be used not only for corporate websites or landing pages but also for building online webshops. Such a way of eCommerce development is getting more and more popular as it takes advantage of the headless architecture a lot.
If you want to read more about what Headless eCommerce is, check out this article.
Pros of Jamstack for eCommerce
Building a webshop is way more complicated and demanding than setting up even the most advanced website. Some Jamstack benefits are common for every industry, but let’s look at them specifically from an eCommerce perspective.
- Ability to sell products everywhere – which results in higher revenue. With Jamstack, you can display and sell your products on multiple platforms like Amazon or Facebook. Also, you can manage all digital sales channels in one place instead of managing them separately.
- Improved time to market – which results in time and money savings. Jamstack offers reusable and premade components that boost the development process. Consequently, it leads to faster time to market, which means savings in both time and money.
- Developer experience – which results in faster development. This benefit is strictly connected to the previous one as thanks to the developer experience, time to market is improved. Also, Jamstack gives developers the possibility and resources to use APIs so webshops owners can stay with their favourite platforms like Shopify. Thanks to that, developers can focus solely on frontend development. It cuts not only the development time but also the amount of money spent.
- Unlimited customisation – which results in a greater user experience. A digital world is full of lookalike webshops offering the same shopping experience. With Jamstack, you can build a truly custom storefront to adapt your webshop to customers’ needs and expectations. Thanks to that, you will undoubtedly stand out from the competition.
Best eCommerce Jamstack platforms
Check out the comparison of 6 Top Jamstack Headless eCommerce platforms here.
We’ve answered the most popular questions about Jamstack, check it out.
If you are a knowledge seeker, and you still search for more information to make sure you make a better decision, we could definitely recommend tons of readings, but it’s good to start from the following articles: