Traditional vs Headless CMS: Here's What You Need to Know


Marketing Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Marketing pros

Monday, May 1, 2023

A content management system is where you manage all your website's content. But sometimes it can be difficult to choose between a traditional and a headless CMS. So what's the difference? And which one should you choose?

Article 8 Minutes
Traditional vs Headless CMS: Here's What You Need to Know

A content management system (CMS) can be the ideal way for your business to create, manage and publish content online. In a nutshell, this software allows you to build a website and share content even if you don’t know how to code. This is why approximately 43.6% of websites were custom-built using a CMS.

In many cases, this is also the quicker, easier and cheaper option too, which can be great for businesses that are sticking to a budget.

So if you’re considering a CMS for your company but you’re not sure where to start, this article is for you. Below, we’ll take a look at CMSs in more detail, as well as explore the differences between traditional and headless CMS, including their advantages and disadvantages. We’ll also help you to decide which one to choose.

What is a CMS?

Content management systems (CMS) are a type of software that allows multiple users to create, format, edit and share content without the need to write code. This content is stored in a database and presented in a form, like a website or a blog post.

It acts as a single location to store content and will provide automated processes for collaborative digital content management using built-in workflows.

There are plenty of different CMS systems out there, which makes choosing the right one even trickier. But content management systems (CMS) are essential for businesses that want to create and manage their digital content effectively.

There are two main types of content management systems: traditional and headless. We’ll now look at each of these in more detail to develop our understanding of the content management systems that are available.

Traditional CMS

A traditional content management system is a monolithic system that combines content creation, storage and delivery in one place. What this means is that the front end and back end are tightly connected in a single technical area.

It has a user interface and a presentation layer that allows content creators to create, edit and publish content quickly. The presentation layer is connected to the content storage, and the content is displayed on the website or digital channel. Here are some of the pros and cons of using this style of CMS:


  • Easy to use: A traditional architecture has a user interface that is intuitive and easy to use, even for non-technical users
  • All-in-one solution: This type of CMS offers a complete solution for content creation, storage and delivery, making it easier to manage all aspects of the digital experience
  • Less reliance on developers: Content creators can write and publish content without relying on developers, which leads to faster time-to-market


  • Limited flexibility: Because traditional CMS has a fixed presentation layer, this limits the flexibility of content creators and developers to create unique digital experiences
  • High maintenance: This software requires regular updates, which can be time consuming and costly
  • Limited scalability: As traditional CMS has limitations in handling large volumes of content and traffic, it’s less scalable than headless CMS in some cases

Headless CMS

On the other hand, a headless content management system separates the content creation from the presentation layer, providing more flexibility for content editors, creators and developers.

Basically, it disconnects the back end where the content is created from the front end where it’s formatted and distributed. However, application programming interface (API) technology allows both sides to communicate and work together when required.

As a result, content creators can create and manage content in a separate application, while developers use APIs to access and display content on different digital channels, such as websites, mobile apps, smartwatches and more.

Headless architecture allows businesses to deliver better digital experiences, here are some of the other advantages and disadvantages of this style:


  • More flexibility: Headless CMS separates the content creation from the presentation layer, allowing content creators and developers to create unique digital experiences without any limitations
  • Better performance: These systems are more scalable and can handle large volumes of content and traffic, making them suitable for businesses with high-traffic websites or mobile apps
  • Reduced maintenance: This type of CMS also requires less maintenance, as it isn’t tied to a specific presentation layer


  • More technical: Headless CMS requires more technical knowledge and skills to manage and create digital experiences than a traditional one
  • More complex: This also requires more setup and configuration, making it more complex to implement than traditional CMS
  • More reliance on developers: Headless CMS requires developers to create APIs and integrate the content with the presentation layer, which can lead to slower time-to-market for content creators

Why did headless CMS emerge (and are they better than traditional systems)?

Headless CMS emerged to address the limitations of traditional CMS in delivering digital experiences and have since become hugely popular, with 66% of marketers saying they love the Headless systems. In fact, it’s expected that the industry will generate around $123.5 Bbillion by 2026.

Traditional CMS was designed for a specific presentation layer, which limited the flexibility of content creators and developers. In contrast, headless CMS separates the content creation from the presentation layer, allowing more flexibility in creating unique digital experiences.

Headless CMS also provides better scalability, performance and maintenance. So in many ways, Headless CMS is better than traditional. However, it depends on the specific needs of the business and the digital experiences you want to create.

Headless CMS might be a better choice if you want to provide custom digital experiences that are not possible with traditional systems. They’re also better suited to businesses that want to deliver content on multiple digital channels, such as websites or mobile apps, as well as those with high-traffic websites.

However, traditional CMS might be a better choice if you have less technical knowledge as it is easier to use. What's more, it allows content creators to create and publish content quickly, without relying on developers.

Finally, a traditional CMS is more suitable for businesses that don’t require custom digital experiences or multiple digital channels.

How do you decide which one you should choose?

If you're investing in a CMS, you want to choose the system that is going to be most beneficial for your team, as well as offer the best ROI. You also want to choose the CMS that will meet your specific needs and the digital experiences you want to create. With this in mind, here are some factors you need to consider:

1. Flexibility

Think about whether you need more flexibility in creating custom digital experiences for your customers or website visitors. To be able to offer more unique, customized experiences, headless CMS might be a better choice for your business.

2. Scalability

If you get a lot of traffic to your website or mobile app, you want an efficient CMS that’s scalable and can support future growth. Headless CMS is designed to handle larger volumes of content and traffic than traditional, so could be the better option if you anticipate a quick increase in traffic and app users.

3. Technical know-how

If you or your marketing teams have limited technical knowledge, but still need to create impressive and engaging content, then traditional CMS might be a better choice. This is because these are modular and have simpler features, making them much easier to understand and use.

4. Security

If you collect customer data to create personalized experiences, you need stronger security measures to ensure you stay compliant and protect this sensitive information.

Because of the monolithic structure and plugins used in traditional CMS, they are actually more secure than Headless systems. Essentially, the separated front and back end decreases the risk of a security breach.

5. Time-to-market

Because traditional CMSs are easier to use and don’t require any input from developers, you can create and publish content much quicker. So if you need to share lots of content quickly, or you perhaps don’t have a development team, then traditional CMS may be the better choice.

6. Multiple channels

If you need to deliver content across multiple channels, even sub-brands and foreign-language websites, Headless CMS allows teams to do this without having to recreate the content each time. So think about where your content will be going, and whether your team is managing several platforms and types of content at any one time.

7. Budget and maintenance

Headless CMS might be more expensive to implement than traditional CMS. It also requires more maintenance which can be costly over time. Therefore, you need to think carefully about your budget.

That being said, you need to weigh this up against the factors we’ve discussed above to determine which of the two systems will better meet your needs as well. Sometimes spending more money is vital if you hope to get the most from your CMS and offer the best digital experience to customers.

Final thoughts

Choosing the right CMS for your business requires careful consideration of your specific needs and the digital experiences you want to create. Traditional CMS and headless CMS both have advantages and disadvantages, and it’s up to you to decide which one is right for you.

By understanding the differences between the two systems, you can make an informed decision that’ll help you create and manage your digital content effectively.

Marketing Insights for Professionals

The latest thought leadership for Marketing pros

Insights for Professionals provide free access to the latest thought leadership from global brands. We deliver subscriber value by creating and gathering specialist content for senior professionals



Join the conversation...