Freeletics: Reaping the benefits of a headless CMS

How the fitness app migrated 6,000 pages of a hard to manage WordPress blog to Contentstack in just three weeks

For more than two decades, the humble blog has been something of an unsung hero in the world of business communications. Most companies have one as a notice board, but there are some, like fitness specialist Freeletics, that use a blog to offer more value for customers. 

Freeletics, a popular fitness app created in 2013 by three students in Germany – Joshua Cornelius, Andrej Matijczak and Mehmet Yilmaz – didn’t actually start as an app at all. In its first incarnation, it consisted of simple exercise tutorials posted to YouTube that were supported with a weekly newsletter. It was also published in PDF format, with all training carried out in the Munich Maßmannpark. Eight years on, however, it’s now a global multimedia app used by more than 32 million people across 160 different countries.

It took two migrations to get to that point, though, with the PDFs quickly evolving into an encyclopedic blog, with over five thousand posts in ten different languages on the WordPress platform. The blog has remained a key element of Freeletics, with articles covering nutrition, wellbeing and exercise. But as its popularity grew around the world it became harder and harder to manage, Szymon Nowak, the company’s engineering manager, tells IT Pro.

From the slow process of translating multiple articles from German, to the limited tools at their disposal, the Freeletics editorial team was crying out for a better CMS. In particular, it needed more consistency for the visual aspects of the blogs, where typography, images and video embeds were becoming increasingly important additions. 

“That’s why we decided to migrate our blog from WordPress to a headless CMS,” Nowak explains. “Initially, we migrated all our content to Contentful and used Gatsby.js for generating the blog website. However, after a while, we realised that we needed more advanced features that Contentful didn’t provide, such as scheduled releases or workflows. Thus, we decided to switch again, this time to Contentstack.

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“Since then, we’ve started using Contentstack for more than just our blog. At the moment, it’s providing content for almost all of our main websites, and also some parts of our mobile apps. Contentstack’s flexibility also allowed us to integrate it with some third-party services, like translation services that we use and our internal systems.”

Unlike a traditional CMS, where the content controls are combined with the presentation layer, a headless CMS is essentially decoupled from the end result and simply comprises the content element. It requires a stateless API to present the content, or in the case of Freeletics, multiple APIs; its content is managed in the headless CMS and from there it is sent to different platforms, such as the mobile app or the website. 

The benefits of a headless CMS can mostly be labelled as ‘flexibility’, because it can be tailored to fit developer needs and offers seemingly limitless scalability. For Freeletics it also provided a faster editorial process and vastly improved operational efficiency. 

The real key for the company, however, was Contentstack’s automated translation services. Translating content from the company’s native German into the nine other languages it offers previously took around four weeks. According to Contentstack’s metrics, this process can be reduced to under one week, enabling an 80% reduction of time to market. The company further claims that developer productivity actually went from around 22.5 days to just four and a half, on average, an 85% increase. 

While website builders like WordPress, with all their innovative plugins and widgets, have helped many businesses build their online presence, they can’t match the flexibility and scalability of a headless CMS. However, this also comes with the burden of more technical responsibility, depending on which service you use. In the case of Freeletics, a little more effort has resulted in multiple gains, and it still hasn’t reached its upper limits.

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