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Headless CMS

Headless CMS vs. Decoupled CMS

Unlike traditional Web CMS, decoupled or headless CMSs use separate infrastructure for authoring and delivery. However, there are a few key differences to consider.

Decoupled CMS, headless CMS, traditional CMS, legacy CMS - all terms used when teams seek a new system to house their growing content needs. However, the differences between them aren't always clear. We covered the difference between a headless CMS and a traditional CMS in the previous chapter. In this post, let’s look into how a decoupled CMS and a headless CMS differ.

Decoupled CMS vs. headless CMS

What is a Decoupled CMS?

A decoupled CMS is a content management system with a separate frontend and backend but usually an included frontend presentation layer.

The presentation layer enables teams to benefit from separate frontend and backend systems while still having a way to get up and running quickly. Decoupled CMS often include templates and pre-configurations, making it easy for teams to get up and running with their digital experiences. In a way, decoupled CMS is similar to traditional CMS or page-builders, where teams may want a preview mode immediately presented to them based on their changes in the CMS.

How does decoupled CMS work

Decoupled CMS Use Cases

Decoupled CMSs extend the flexibility of traditional CMSs by decoupling the content management and presentation layers, making them a suitable choice for specific use cases, including:

  • Content management for legacy systems: A decoupled CMS can integrate with legacy systems, providing a modern platform for managing and delivering content without requiring a complete overhaul of the existing infrastructure.

  • Content delivery to IoT devices: A decoupled CMS enables businesses to leverage the growing popularity of IoT and voice-activated devices by enabling seamless integration with these new-age devices.

  • Digital signage experience: A decoupled CMS helps businesses seamlessly connect and manage their digital signage content, ensuring that audiences always receive relevant and up-to-date information.

Overall, decouple CMSs are well-suited for businesses seeking to modernize their content management while maintaining compatibility with legacy systems.

Disadvantages of a Decoupled CMS

The main drawback of decoupled CMSs is that they make assumptions about your frontend. Instead of flexibly building for any presentation layer, whether a website, IOT device, or application, teams are limited to the preconfigured templates for a specific frontend. While you may choose not to use the frontend templates when building sites, you lose the value of a decoupled CMS giving you a ready-to-go frontend.

While generally more customizable than Web CMS, decoupled CMSs are less flexible than headless CMS and can become cumbersome over time.

Advantages of a Decoupled CMS

The benefits of decoupled CMS are that they make it easier for teams with limited frontend resources to get up and running quickly. They can be a good choice to find a balance between a separated system, and yet gain the benefits of a traditional CMS. Some Headless CMS can give teams a similar experience to a decoupled CMS through integrations with popular hosting services like Gatsby, that offer the possibility to set up Preview URLs.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Decoupled CMSs Pros and Cons

Teams have presentation layer out of the box for simple use casesTeams have to build frontend for custom, more complex use cases where existing templates may become deadweight
Teams with limited resources can get up and running quicklyLess flexible than headless CMS
Teams familiar with the page builder approach will find the experience similarTemplates can become limiting over time

What is a Headless CMS

A headless CMS is a content management system that only focuses on delivering content via API, usually in a structured JSON format. A headless CMS provides no built in presentation layer and it does not offer any themes or templates out of the box. This means that headless CMS are not tied to a specific frontend framework, making it a highly flexible system.

Teams can get started by building a flexible structured content model (schema) that enables them to deliver their content to multiple channels of their choice, without the restrictions of a template-based CMS.

How does headless CMS work

Use cases of Headless CMS

Headless CMSs enable teams to build a flexible, data-rich content repository that can be used for a wide range of use cases, including:

  • Streaming Platform - A headless CMS significantly reduces development time, enabling a streamlined creation of complex streaming platforms while ensuring high performance and efficient content management.

  • Modern eCommerce Solutions - A headless CMS revolutionizes eCommerce management by enabling businesses to deliver personalized and engaging product experiences across multiple channels, powered by structured content models and API-driven integrations.

  • SEO-Optimized Websites - A headless CMS empowers teams to craft SEO-optimized websites powered by structured content, efficient asset management, and localization for ensuring better search engine visibility, customer engagement, and conversions.

Taking the structured content approach helps future-proof their tech stacks and makes it easy to take advantage of UX innovations of evolving frontend frameworks.

Disadvantages of a Headless CMS

Drawbacks of a headless CMS include the necessity of developer resources and the fact that the initial setup can require planning across the tech stack. Quick start guides and resources about what to consider when getting started with a microservice tech stack can be valuable resources to help bridge the information gap in the early days of working with a headless CMS.

Advantages of a Headless CMS

The benefits of a headless CMS include greater flexibility, more agility, and better performance. Teams can work independently of each other while creating a powerful end product. With a headless CMS, the final customized tech stack meets the needs of a team’s use case without being weighed down by unnecessary tooling, vendor lock-in, or overly complicated monolithic suites.

Moreover, headless CMS provides businesses with a solid foundation for building composable architecture supporting federation-enabled projects. Content federation via an API-first headless CMS simplifies data synchronization and team collaboration for teams by orchestrating and unifying content from multiple sources.

This enables your business to deliver consistent and engaging experiences across your entire digital ecosystem. Hence, a composable architecture will future-proof your tech stack by enabling you to focus on innovation rather than infrastructure maintenance.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Headless CMSs Pros and Cons

Ability to build products for multiple channels while drawing from a single data-rich content repositoryBuilding initial infrastructure can take time for teams new to the headless approach
Flexible system that enables greater customizationOnboarding needed for teams to adjust to lack of presentation layer or teams may build presentation layer using integrations
Expedite new project timelines and support agile team workflows for efficient operations
Pathway to creating a composable architecture to support federation-enabled

Examples of Headless CMS in the real world


2U, an education technology business, used a headless CMS to consolidate metadata from over 500 ed-tech offerings and deliver up-to-date information to a global student audience of over 300,000. As a result, 2U improved the cross-platform student experience and increased enrollment rates with higher conversion rates and lower bounce rates.


Lick, a home decor eCommerce store, used a headless CMS’s component-based approach to double its sales in just 6 months and increase its "Add to Bag'' conversion rate by 20%. The headless CMS allowed Lick to manage over 600 web pages with an out-of-box approach to Content Modeling.

Summing It Up

Navigating the ever-evolving landscape of content management systems can be daunting, but understanding the key differences between decoupled and headless CMSs is crucial for making informed decisions.

Decoupled CMS is suitable for teams with limited resources, providing a flexible approach to managing content across disparate systems. On the flip side, headless CMSs enable scalable content delivery across multiple touchpoints, preventing vendor lock-ins and aiding teams in future-proofing their tech stack.

To evaluate which system is more beneficial to your use case, reach out to us to learn more about the applications of a Headless CMS in the real world.