What's the Difference Between Headless, Decoupled and Traditional Content Management Systems?

Learn about Headless, Traditional, or Decoupled CMS platforms.

In choosing a Content Management System (CMS), there is much to consider. Several options exist today, all with technological innovations targeting different functionalities – making choosing the right system no easy task. Knowing the basics of each type can make choosing the right system more straightforward.

The three types of CMS are determined by their structure: Traditional, Decoupled, and Headless. Of these systems, Headless CMS is currently in the spotlight for both the simplicity of its design and the heightened security it provides.

In a Traditional (also known as a Coupled) CMS, all the pieces are packaged together. The code, customization, and content database are stored in the backend while tightly interlaced with the frontend, where the dashboard and layout options are manipulated to finalize what viewers see on the live site. In this CMS, content is built only for use in predetermined layouts designated for web pages and native mobile applications; it is generally easy to use and set up, but lacks flexibility.

Features of a Traditional/Coupled CMS:

  • Stores content in a database
  • Provides a dashboard to edit content
  • Displays published content on frontend HTML pages

In a Decoupled CMS, there are two separate systems used to manage the backend and frontend of the website. The idea behind this type of CMS is that it combines the flexibility of a Headless CMS and retains the frontend delivery component of a Traditional CMS, including the templates, layouts, and WYSIWYG editors that marketers are accustomed to using. Content is created and edited in the CMS, then pushed through an Application Programming Interface (API) to be published to the designated frontend system.

Features of a Decoupled CMS:

  • Stores content in a database
  • Provides an administrative interface, including applications, for creating and managing content
  • Includes a predetermined content-publishing frontend, connected to the backend through an API

Headless CMS uses a two part design that separates the layers between the CMS and API. The significant advantage of this is in the unlimited number of content presentation options, where content is written only once and then delivered or repurposed across applications, pages, mobile devices, and more. It also provides additional security by separating the CMS entirely from the APIs.

Benefits of a Headless CMS:

  • Provides consistent brand messaging and ability to reuse content easily – one voice for an entire organization
  • Allows content to be the primary focus
  • Increases flexibility by separating content creation and storage from its use
  • Shortens time to market, as content can be created simultaneously with all technical systems
  • Provides a centralized content repository model, enabling the CMS to handle both receiving and distributing data

For more information on Headless CMS, our whitepaper, Headless CMS: Putting Your Content First, is available for free download.

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Steve Hamilton

Chief Technology Officer

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