What Is the Difference Between Traditional and Headless CMS?


When considering the entirety of a website, including all the behind-the-scenes efforts and technology necessary for functionality, all the front end components would be considered the "head". Not to be confused with the actual "<head>" element and inclusive content written into the code of the website, this analogy represents the front end, also considered the "face" of the website as it is what the end-users sees. 

When reviewing CMS options, it's important to take into account the end user of the website content and how they will be accessing it, as well as the resources at hand for building the website. On one hand, content creators may want to be setting up templates that deliver their content to the end user via the traditional website setup. Their development resources may not be thoroughly extensive, but they can easily utilize an out-of-the-box model with some light customizations. In this scenario, a Traditional CMS could be the best solution for them. Another scenario may depict a small company with access to an advanced development team. Their customers may access content on a wide variety of digital devices, so an optimal solution for them might be a customized back end with content delivered to a myriad of devices through an API, also known as a Headless CMS.

Traditional CMS

In terms of simplicity, Traditional CMS is the frontrunner with ease of set up and use. Because everything is available in one place, developing content and publishing can move very quickly. Content management, design, and UI are all right there, making it potentially easier and even cheaper to utilize Traditional CMS templates.

The ideal client for Traditional CMS would be any entity without a backend developer team resource looking to create and manage a simple website. They would have no need for any specialized add-ons, apps, or specialized knowledge of technologies and implementations outside the framework of this CMS, because the templates provided by the Traditional CMS are entirely sufficient for achieving the goals for their website. The user-friendly interface enables clients to adjust the website's user interface and content on an as-needed basis, independent of any help from a developer.

The only downside to using a Traditional CMS is the lack of versatility. Because it organizes content into frameworks oriented to mainly webpages, that content will not easily translate onto alternative digital platforms. The lack of complexity in this CMS is both its strength for smaller projects with predictable, webpage-based end solutions, and its lack of appeal for those who wish for more flexibility and control.

Headless CMS

In a scenario where a website is deployed through a Headless CMS, the front end "head" is removed, or no longer part of the equation, creating an agnostic system. As digital marketing and platforms have evolved, a higher quantity of flexible solutions regarding user-interfaces and display have become a necessity. Websites available on desktops, tablets, and mobile, as well as apps, displays, and more have created a demand for more end-user-viewable options.

Headless CMS's are designed and built from the ground up, allowing for this in-demand flexibility to enable content which can be published anywhere. The tools require developers to create the full website by connecting all the pieces manually, delivering content through an API to a myriad of devices in the hands of the users. These end-user devices will own the responsibility of providing the design for the content.


  • Building everything as needed streamlines the development
  • Agility in the lack of necessary templates or software
  • More secure due to a separate back end and no database, removing vulnerabilities and unknown gateways a hacker could exploit
  • Delivers a better UX 


Both Traditional and Headless CMS's are beneficial formats for building a website and delivering content to end-users. The differences between the two is directly relevant to which one best supports the current project, based on how content will be stored, delivered, packaged, maintained, and updated. The Traditional CMS come with functionalities built right in immediately, supportive of a simpler website that can be easily maintained without extensive knowledge of back-end coding, while Headless CMS is the complete opposite, customizable from the very beginning and versatile in its content delivery.

At the end of the day, the CMS used to build a website, whether it be Traditional or Headless, is dependent on the following:

  • functionality
  • degree of complexity for updates and changes
  • how end-users will be accessing it
  • level of control
  • access to a development team


Learn More About Headless CMS

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