Back to Top

Headless CMS: The Decoupled CMS Architecture

As new digital platforms and user needs arise, marketers are looking at choosing Headless CMS over traditional models.

Traditional CMS platforms have design and presentation elements baked in, making it difficult to vary content presentation and delivery. The solution? The headless or decoupled CMS.

Traditional CMS platforms typically have the following elements in common:

  1. A database where content is stored
  2. A web app that allows admins to work with content
  3. A web app that allows creation and design of templates
  4. A front-end that takes content from the database and displays it on pages

With headless or decoupled CMS, the third and fourth elements don’t exist. Whereas half of a traditional CMS is focused on presentation and display, a headless CMS doesn’t care about those things. Simply put, a headless CMS has no page templates or themes. You just get a backend that stores and delivers the content and a web app for editors. That's it.


Why Go Headless?

So why would you choose a headless CMS over a traditional CMS? On the surface, it might seem like a headless CMS gives you less and requires your developers to do more work to get content out to users.

The truth is that many developers have already begun decoupling their CMS, using it for content management, editorial, and administrative tools, and implementing separate front-end components that communicate with the CMS via API.

Benefits of a Headless CMS

  • Value:  Redesign the site without re-implementing the CMS and future-proof your website implementation.

  • Freedom:  Front-end developers are not bound by the conventions and structures of the backend and can gain full control over the user experience using their native tools.

  • Speed:  By shifting display logic to the client side and streamlining the backend, site speeds can be dramatically increased. Applications focused on delivering content are more responsive than ones that assemble formatted responses based on complex rules.

  • Interactivity:  Building true interactive experiences for users is possible with real-time, back-and-forth interaction happening between your backend and website right in the browser.

  • Creativity:  Front-end developers are free to explore and create ways to deliver richer, faster, more responsive user experiences.

When to Use a Headless CMS

Despite the many advantages of a decoupled CMS, there are some cases when it’s simply not needed. In the case of simple business websites with only a handful of static pages, an open source CMS like WordPress or Drupal is perfectly adequate.

A headless CMS is the best choice for rich web apps, highly customized layouts, and JavaScript MVC frameworks, which are limited by a traditional CMS that closely controls the appearance and presentation of content. Because a headless CMS typically deploys content through an API, it can deliver content anywhere, on any device from one back-end. This makes it especially well-suited for app-focused projects, like rich web apps or mobile apps. 

In short, a decoupled CMS is ideal for cross-platform publishing and custom user experiences. Agencies, organizations, and businesses who want to dominate the ever-changing face of digital content distribution should seriously evaluate changing to a decoupled content management system.
[A] Publication
[A] Guide to CMS Platform Selection