Headless CMS vs. Traditional CMS – Key Features and When to Choose Which

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Headless CMS vs. Traditional CMS – Key Features and When to Choose Which

Choosing between a headless CMS vs. traditional CMS can be a challenging decision. Here are the pros and cons to speed up your decision-making.

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Content management systems have evolved almost beyond recognition in the last 15 years. WordPress, Wix, SiteCore, Drupal, HubSpot CMS Hub, Adobe Experience Manager and many others have become essential tools for digital content creation, editing, publishing, and management.  

However,”headless or decoupled CMS” has become a trending buzzword in the development industry in recent times. This fast, innovative content publishing tool is becoming incredibly popular among companies and developers, prioritizing agility, personalization, and flexibility over ease of use and built-in features found in traditional or monolithic CMSs. 

If you’re on the hunt for a new content management system, you’re at the right place. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between headless CMS vs. traditional CMS along with their key features.  

With this info, you can decide which CMS type works best for your use case, budget, target audiences, and IT infrastructure/capabilities before proceeding to development. 

What Is A Headless CMS Platform, And How Does It Benefits Users?

Over the last decade, the primary focus of websites has been to merge a content management system into their site’s control panel. This monolithic structure made it incredibly easy to create, publish, and update content without IT intervention since it doesn’t involve manually changing pages through HTML or moving content files with FTP.  

Therefore, we can define a traditional CMS as a monolithic content delivery system with the backend and front-end coupled together. Since traditional CMS platforms, like WordPress and Drupal, have been around much longer than their headless counterpart, they’re usually the go-to solution for developers and business owners looking to develop new sites.

Key Features 

Here are some of the key features of a traditional CMS: 

1. Monolithic Platform  

The most important feature of a traditional CMS is its monolithic platform. This single architecture is responsible for feeding content to a website (or other front-end), making it the go-to solution for quick and easy development with little or no development support while sacrificing personalization and flexibility. 

2. Built-In Templates and Plugins 

Most traditional CMSs were created for website content creation. Therefore, they don’t require too much flexibility for displaying content. Thus, they rely on built-in (in the development phase), difficult-to-edit templates for serving content. However, this rigid structure is good for developers and business users who are not looking to scale anytime soon with new features or functionality.  

Moreover, the best traditional CMSs offer thousands of plugins (pre-made applications) that serve as a workaround or band-aid to help users add more functions quickly and easily. 

3. Content Management Tools 

Traditional CMSs, offer a ton of content management features for digital asset management, text formatting, scheduling, version tracking, portability, and managed website security, to name a few. Moreover, they also include WYSIWYG editors that help users see how the content will appear on their site before going live. 

4. Simplicity  

Perhaps, the biggest benefit traditional CMSs offer is their ease of use. In other words, these platforms enable businesses and users with limited development resources, budgets, or capabilities to create a website and kick-start their digital initiatives. As a result, they remain the popular choice worldwide. 

What is a headless CMS? 

A headless CMS is a content management system with the front-end (head) detached from the backend, hence the "headless" in the name. This CMS gives web developers a blank canvas with full control over the design and content. So, they don't have to rely on or limit themselves to themes, templates, frameworks, and languages 

Everything is published from the CMS via an application programming interface or API, enabling unlimited integration possibilities with third-party design elements and software.  

Key Features 

Here are some of the key features of a headless CMS: 

 1. APIs

The most important feature of headless CMSs is their API-first architectures which enable the decoupled omnichannel digital experiences, from content delivery to communication, performance optimization, and personalization.  

2. Integrations 

With a headless architecture, developers have the freedom to scale their sites with unlimited features and functionality with the aid of third-party applications, such as development tools, CRM platforms, PIM software, ERP tools, marketing automation solutions, and site analytics tools.  

3. Content Management Tools 

A powerful headless CMS has rich text-editing features, flexible content creation models, and automated workflows. Newer platforms also offer content previews along with rules and permission settings.   

4. Developer Resources 

Since decoupled website development requires coding, headless CMS software typically includes development resources to make life easier for developers and marketers. These include webhooks, frameworks, API documentation, SDKs, customer support, and DevOps services.  

Headless CMS vs. Traditional CMS – Which One Should You Choose? 

Choosing between a monolithic and decoupled infrastructure mainly depends on your use case, budget, and capabilities. Both approaches offer unique benefits for businesses and developers. To help, we’ve broken it down into a list of use cases for each to guide you in choosing the right option for you: 

Headless CMS

1. Multi-Channel Publishing 

With headless CMS platforms, you don’t need to recreate content for different channels. Using APIs, you can deliver the same content to different websites, mobile apps, digital signage, and even smart devices simultaneously. This functionality will save you time, cost, and sanity.  

2. Development and publishing

One of the main drawbacks of headless CMSs is that they can require tech-savvy marketing personnel or developers to operate them, such as pushing content changes to the front-end. Thus, creative teams, such as writers, editors, and graphic designers might have to wait for tech teams to roll out the updated content. Although this is changing apace, and with our development of riseatseven.com we included functionality that automated the publishing process.  

So, if you’re looking to quickly iterate, traditional CMSs might offer a simpler method for your creative teams to update your website.  

3. Digital Experience 

If your site is also your business’s door front, a headless architecture can help you offer a more interactive digital user experience. Traditional CMSs typically operate with front-end restrictions and one-way content flow. Thus, they cannot offer real-time content personalisation and optimised customer-first experiences.  

4. Security  

With the separation between CMS, or e-commerce solution, security breach opportunities are less common through concealing the information using APIs. In contrast, monolithic CMSs are centralized and employ third-party plugins that make them more vulnerable to attack. Therefore, if your business relies on sensitive data, a headless site is a much safer option.  

Traditional CMS   

1. Usability   

If your main priority is the ease of use and management, a traditional CMS is the right choice. Using it, you can publish content faster with the aid of prebuilt templates and content management tools.   

2. Limited Expertise    

Most start-ups and small businesses don’t have IT experts or developers in house. Therefore, a traditional CMS platform makes more sense for low-tech users since it doesn’t require as much coding or development knowledge, although this is starting to change  

3. Priorities     

Let’s face it. Not every business is looking to create an omnichannel digital experience for its users. Many small businesses need a simple website where they can share their business information and engage users. Therefore, if you don’t need the extra flexibility or integration capabilities, a traditional CMS is a more cost-effective choice.  


No solution offers the best of both worlds in terms of functionality and ease of use. Using the information above and diving deeper into both technologies, you can carefully review your options.  

However, the changing times are gradually shifting the balance toward headless architectures in the post-pandemic digital age. This change has been brought by evolving customer expectations, accelerated digitalization, changing search engine ranking factors and multichannel interactions. These factors require brands to revamp their digital presence, starting with their websites.  

At Lemon Hive, we have a team of highly experienced web developers and software engineers who can develop stunning headless or traditional website according to your requirements, budget, resources, and technical capabilities. Whichever architecture you choose, we’ll ensure that your site is positioned for growth, speed, and productivity. 

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