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Choosing a content management system is essential when building a website. Traditional CMS solutions, such as WordPress, have long been the favorite architecture for many businesses and agencies. However, modern solutions like headless CMS have carved out their own niche as a highly useful and flexible solution for certain businesses. In fact, an Umbraco survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of agencies regularly use headless CMS when building client websites and other digital content.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that headless CMS is right for all websites. When deciding the outcome of the headless vs traditional CMS debate, the answer will depend. It’s important to pick the right solution for your business. In this post, we’ll be explaining the differences between traditional and headless CMS and which you should use if you’re an online merchant or eCommerce business. Read on to learn more.

What Is Headless?

Many businesses are already familiar with the traditional CMS architecture, so let’s tackle the unfamiliar first. Headless CMS are newer solutions, but they’re rapidly growing in usage and popularity. The main draw of headless CMS is the architecture separates the front-end and the back-end of a website. Meaning these two can be developed separately and aren’t dependent on each other. Some of the advantages of a headless CMS include:

  • Focus on UX and presentation: Headless CMS allows you to separate the front-end from the back-end. You can create whatever user experience you see fit and you don’t have to build the appearance of your website around the back-end of your CMS.
  • Serve content easily: A headless CMS makes it easy to serve content to any device, without breaking your front-end experience.
  • Dev-friendly: Since the front-end is separated from the back-end, developers don’t need to specialize in a CMS. They can use their preferred development language and tools.
  • Keep things running: If you need to make a major change or update to your CMS, or if you have an outage, your front-end won’t be affected.

These are just some of the advantages of headless CMS, we’ll touch more on these benefits later.

Of course, headless CMS don’t come without some disadvantages. Headless CMS require more time and money for the initial integration. This is usually offset by the time and money saved when you need to scale up later, but for smaller merchants, a monolithic architecture may be an easier lift.

Headless vs. Decoupled CMS- As you research headless CMS, you may have noticed the phrase “decoupled CMS” used to describe them. These two terms are essentially interchangeable, so you don’t have to add another option to your comparison. Headless CMS are decoupled from the front-end, which is what gives them speed, flexibility, and scalability.

Traditional CMS

A traditional CMS could be considered a monolithic architecture. It contains essentially every aspect of your website, from the front-end to the back-end. For many applications, this works well, or at least well enough. However, traditional CMS solutions aren’t without their pain points. Here are some of the common obstacles that a traditional CMS might bring:

Pain Point #1 Lack of Flexibility – Traditional CMS act as your front and back-end. With your front-end being intrinsically tied to your back-end, you lose flexibility. Headless CMS solutions are front-end agnostic. You can display content however you want, wherever you want.

Also, a traditional CMS will have its own codebase that your developers will have to work with or have specific knowledge of. Headless CMS allows your developers to choose the language they use. Devs don’t have to be restricted by a certain framework.

Pain Point #2 Speed – Traditional CMS can become bloated with plugins, legacy software, and unnecessary extra features. Headless CMS can be lean, providing peak performance for your website. In today’s modern digital marketing environment, you can’t afford to have a slow, non-performant eCommerce site.

Headless CMS also increases editing and go-to-market speed. A decoupled back-end allows editors to create and edit content without having to worry about the front-end. They don’t have to wait on developers or rely on templates. Also, content can be distributed faster because content doesn’t need to be adjusted for different channels.

Pain Point #3 Scalability –Headless CMS are much more scalable than traditional solutions. With a headless CMS, you aren’t limited by the servers that are hosted on traditional systems. You can easily handle spikes in traffic and other unforeseen events. If something happens where you need to go down, user experience won’t be interrupted since your front-end isn’t coupled with your content management system.

Additionally, if you’re ever looking to replatform or restructure, you don’t have to worry about a complicated and lengthy process. Headless CMS solutions make it easy to make significant changes when it’s necessary for your business.

Pain Point #4 Security – Generally, headless CMS are more secure than traditional CMS. Traditional CMS are susceptible to DDoS and other attacks because of their architecture. Headless CMS have far fewer points of access and the front-end is completely separate, making it impossible for hackers to find an entry point through that section of your website. Furthermore, the various plugins and extensions for traditional CMS can also cause security weaknesses. 

Pain Point #5 Potential for Obsolescence – Traditional CMS are still a viable option for many businesses, but it’s possible that they may eventually get left behind. Headless CMS are future-proof since they allow omnichannel delivery. You’re not limited by the channels you want to reach your customers through. With a traditional CMS, you may have to constantly upgrade to keep up with the latest technologies and content delivery methods.

Should I Use Headless or Traditional CMS?

If you find the above pain points are frequent obstacles, then you may want to consider headless for your next CMS solution. In certain situations, a headless CMS would be the ideal solution. Here are some reasons you may want to use headless over traditional:

  • You need to publish content quickly across multiple platforms or environments
  • If you create websites with a static site generator
  • If you create websites or apps with JavaScript frameworks
  • You’re looking to scale your operation quickly
  • You want to create highly personalized customer experiences
  • You want to streamline your content delivery processes

Traditional CMS solutions can still be good solutions for personal websites and small businesses, but it may be worth taking a second look and finding out if headless is the right choice for you.

Headless eCommerce Agency

Interested in exploring if headless may be the right fit for your eCommerce platform? Schedule time to chat with us here.