Computer on WordPress site.

What Happens When Two Heads Really Aren’t Better Than One?

Why good advice for problem-solving might be terrible advice for your digital architecture.

Headless content management systems (CMS) are creating a lot of excitement among design and development teams who are seeking greater flexibility in planning and building modern apps. The current buzz around headless architectures may seem like a passing trend, but is that really the case?  

Two primary forms of CMS exist today: traditional CMS and headless CMS. What are the key differences between them? And how can you determine which approach is best for your organization? Below, we compare the two and highlight why headless CMS might be the right choice for driving your business forward. 

Traditional CMS vs. Headless CMS: What’s the Difference?

For many years, traditional CMS platforms like WordPress and many others have been the go-to choices for website development. In a traditional CMS setup, the CMS controls both a website’s front-end (the presentation layer or user interface) and back-end (the storage of content, images, and other assets), and they are closely interconnected. So much so, that if one side experiences issues, the other side is likely to suffer as well. Essentially, you can’t have one without the other. 

Given the rapid growth of the digital world, it's important for organizations—whether small startups or Fortune 500 companies—to have a flexible and scalable solution. Traditional CMS solutions often fall short of providing this level of adaptability, which is why an increasing number of companies are opting for headless CMS to achieve their objectives. 

There is a tremendous increase in the variety and volume of tools and systems needed to deliver the robust, personalized, and interactive experiences brands today must deliver to stay relevant – from loyalty programs to e-commerce and inventory management tools, personalization engines, customer data platforms, and omnichannel messaging platforms. Asking customers to navigate between disjointed experiences isn’t an option, and keeping them all in synch and aligned is difficult at best – and sometimes borders the impossible. 

Enter headless CMS – which has more broadly become known as composable architecture. In this model, a single UI application is developed that can access and incorporate not just the necessary content from your CMS, but the relevant data from all your other systems and tools. Storing and managing content becomes the only responsibility your CMS needs to have – the one it was designed for in the first place. Front-end engineers only need to integrate the site or storefront with the CMS using an available Application Programming Interface (API). In this scenario, the front-end and back-end are loosely connected through the API, providing greater flexibility and scalability for website development and management.

Advantages of Traditional CMS

That’s not to say traditional CMS doesn’t have a place. It’s not disappearing anytime soon because it still offers: 

  • Simplicity: Traditional CMS platforms combine content management and design in one system, simplifying the process of developing and publishing content quickly. Some traditional CMS also come with built-in themes and templates that make site development easier and faster. 
  • Affordability: When you first started your business, using pre-built templates from a traditional CMS was likely more cost-effective, quicker, and simpler than creating site templates from scratch. 
  • Customizability (to a limited extent): A Traditional CMS may not require a dedicated team of developers if the default features and templates meet your needs. The administrative interface of the CMS allows you to customize the appearance of content within preset parameters. 
  • Support for highly regulated industries: A traditional CMS contains folder structures, fine-grained access control, and customizable edit/approve workflows that provide strict guidelines for insurance, banks, and government agencies that require high degrees of compliance with regulations.  

Advantages of Headless CMS

Headless CMS is better suited for businesses aiming to keep pace with the rapid growth of today’s digital landscape.  

One major advantage of headless CMS is its ability to build unique and flexible websites. By decoupling the UI templates from the CMS, headless architecture offers endless possibilities for website design. Front-end developers can access back-end data and present it in various ways, often leveraging frameworks like React or Angular. In contrast, traditional CMS platforms limit businesses seeking customized designs due to their rigid templates and functionalities. With a headless CMS, businesses can build websites with greater flexibility and creativity that set them apart from competitors. 

Another advantage of a headless CMS is its compatibility across various applications and devices, unlike traditional CMS platforms that are limited to serving content exclusively for websites built using their templates. This flexibility enables headless CMS to future-proof your site by enabling you to power platforms that may not even be on your current product roadmap. Need to repurpose content, images, or resources from your website in a new mobile app? No problem! A headless CMS simplifies this process by allowing your app to connect through APIs and reuse content, eliminating the need for duplication and storage in multiple locations. 

Furthermore, the separation of the headless CMS from the front-end application adds an extra layer of security for your business. Since the CMS code is not exposed on the public server, your system becomes less vulnerable to attacks, enhancing overall security measures. 

 Should I Go Headless?

It isn’t all roses; if done incorrectly, a headless implementation can leave you without a “functional head” and make it difficult for contributors to manage the user experience. There is added complexity in integrating the different parts and doing it right to realize the value. If your organization is small with limited resources or if you have a simple website that can function well with pre-built templates, a traditional CMS may be the best choice for you. 

However, if your organization operates a complex website and requires greater flexibility and functionality that a traditional CMS cannot offer, a headless CMS in a composable architecture will enable you to scale and grow effectively. 

Whether you need guidance in formulating your organization's CMS strategy or are ready to implement a headless CMS, the Concord team is here to assist you in making the optimal decision and executing a system that aligns with your requirements. 

Learn how to map your digital strategy to outcomes! 

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