Headless vs. Traditional CMS: Which is better?

TribalScale Inc.
Jan 2, 2019 · 5 min read

By Kaushal Maganti

A content management system (or CMS) is an application used for web development that allows content creators to produce, edit and publish text, or images, to a website. CMS software is very common on the web since it allows non-technical people to write and manage content without worrying about code. However, there is a trend moving towards headless content management systems, which promise more flexibility at the expense of more development time. The main distinction of a headless CMS is that it doesn’t have a front-end; it can be used to store content but it doesn’t visually display it. Neither system is superior to the other and it depends on the specifics of the website, and the development team, to determine which system is most suitable. So when should you use a headless CMS and when is a traditional CMS good enough? To answer that question, let’s first see what a CMS is supposed to do.

What does a Content Management System do?

What is a Headless Content Management System?

Advantages of Headless CMS

The decoupling of content and the UI also allows for more flexibility during development. Traditional CMS tools typically require the use of specific frameworks and languages, whereas headless CMS tools let developers use whichever framework they are comfortable with. They also allow content creators and developers to work in parallel, which can increase overall productivity. Decoupling also makes it easier to change the design in the future. In traditional CMS, content is deeply tied to the layout, which makes it harder to change aspects of the design; major changes might even require a whole new CMS.

Content managed by a headless CMS can easily be displayed across multiple platforms (such as web and mobile). On the other hand, content and layout are intertwined in a traditional CMS, so it can’t accommodate platforms that they weren’t originally designed for. A headless CMS is flexible and future-proof, allowing it to power other platforms even if they are not in your current product roadmap.

Advantages of Traditional CMS

A traditional CMS should be used by organizations without a developer team, or new content creators without the resources for developers. This is because developers are required to tie together the pieces to create a full website with a headless CMS. Headless CMS tools don’t provide the UI, with the expectation that developers will manage that part.

On the other hand, a traditional CMS has a user-friendly interface that allows content creators to create and modify the UI themselves. Even if a company has a development team, a traditional CMS may be the better option if the content creators want to manage the look of their content themselves, instead of relying on developers to do so.

So, which one should you use?

What we use at TribalScale

Another project I worked on, for a major loyalty rewards brand, required us to create a Google Chrome extension to go along with the website. The content on the Chrome extension is the same as the website. Contentful allowed us to easily use the same CMS for both platforms without making many changes. If we used a traditional CMS, we would’ve had to duplicate the content for the extension. In general, for the types of web projects we work on, we prefer a headless CMS for its flexibility and cross-platform usability.

Kaushal is an Agile Software Engineer at TribalScale. He is a Computer Science student at the University of Waterloo and completed his third co-op term at TribalScale. He loves all things tech and is a science nerd.

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TribalScale

A digital innovation firm with a mission to right the future.

TribalScale

Not a massive development shop, VC firm, or design agency. But a unique group of skilled individuals, all feeding on one another’s talent. Empowering businesses to grow their success.

TribalScale Inc.

Written by

A digital innovation firm with a mission to right the future.

TribalScale

Not a massive development shop, VC firm, or design agency. But a unique group of skilled individuals, all feeding on one another’s talent. Empowering businesses to grow their success.