Is a Headless CMS better than a Traditional CMS?
It depends. But first, what is a Headless CMS?
Well, from a content editor’s perspective it is just a content management system which, wait for it, allows them to manage content. So it may seem quite familiar in some aspects of day to day usage. The difference is that the content published from a Headless CMS can be delivered to multiple locations. For example the content editor may want to update a piece of information that is on the company website, but also on the company’s Android App, and even on the company’s integration with Alexa.
A Traditional (Monolithic) CMS on the other hand tends to be built specifically for one of those applications, for example the company website. Content and data added to a Traditional CMS would not be suitable to display outside of the intended website.
To explain the difference between the two literally; a Headless CMS spits out a file (JSON) containing all of the data for a specific web address, which can in-turn be read and processed by any application. A Traditional CMS processes the data first and converts it into a suitable structure (HTML) before spitting out the content as the intended Application.
If you already know that you don't need to control similar content across multiple applications and technologies, then you probably don’t need to consider Headless. But if you are unsure which approach is better regardless, then here’s the good and the bad…
- Once set up correctly, we can send data to multiple applications from a single CMS solution.
- There may be some performance gains to be had from reducing the amount of work the server needs to do, but this depends on how the system has been implemented.
- Some popular Headless CMS solutions are “Contentful” and “Strapi”.
- We lose functionality that is expected from a modern CMS, for example the ability to accurately preview a page.
- Small development changes can require much more time because most of the logic is often custom-built on the front end, and exists in multiple places.
- Traditional CMS solutions tend to have a generally greater level of functionality that includes features such as content personalisation and URL management etc.
- Updates or new features tend to be easier because most of the logic exists in a single place.
- Enterprise grade CMS systems such as Sitefinity offer some of the widest range of functionality, whilst open source solutions like Umbraco also offer solid functionality.
- The content that is rendered is only suitable for one specific website or application because it arrives in a pre-defined structure on the front end.
Despite being more complicated overall, Headless solutions are increasingly popular these days due to the increased demand to update a single piece of content content across multiple applications. Whilst at the time of writing, Traditional CMS solutions still have the edge for single applications that require a high level of features and functionality.