Traditional vs Headless vs Hybrid CMS: What’s the Difference and Which One is Best For Your Business

Meryam Lehoufa
Meryam Lehoufa   -   April 12th, 2021

Did you know that the content management system (CMS) market is predicted to reach $123.5 billion by 2026? That’s right, content management is becoming increasingly important and hence so are content management systems. As of the time of writing this blog post, more than half of all websites are built with a CMS.

Consumer demand for omnichannel experiences, the increased demand for digital marketing solutions, and the growing digital retail sector are some of the key factors that are impacting the CMS industry's growth. Content management systems bring a wealth of advantages to any business, regardless of its size. Some of these benefits include:

  • User and rights management
  • Easy and fast creation of feature-rich websites
  • Modularisation
  • Simple adding and editing of web pages
  • SEO-friendly features
  • Maintained consistency
  • Improved collaboration and easy sharing
  • Ease of maintenance and instant content updates
  • User-friendliness
  • Automatic content repurposing
  • A large number of plugins and extensions that offer extendable functionality
  • Time and cost-efficiency
  • And much more.

Another major advantage of using a CMS for businesses is that it ensures that direct control of content is handed to the company’s subject matter experts. This way, the corporate website won’t be driven or limited by technical issues, but rather focused on core business objectives. The term “content” can refer to any business asset that’s in digital format like text, images, or rich media.

Thanks to CMSs, corporate websites have evolved from simple, static information showcases and turned into interactive portals that serve rich and personalized content. No matter what industry you’re in, a CMS is key in unlocking the richness, speed, and accuracy of your content available online.

The history of content management systems goes back to the dawn of the internet itself. It was back in 1990 that Tim Berners-Lee created the first website that was modeled on an internet-based hypertext system HTML, which represented just text and links. Since then, content management systems have come a long way. Today,  Myriad technologies and trends, like voice-activated search, smart devices, AI, and chatbots, are increasingly transforming how businesses manage their content.

Truth be told, the CMS industry can be confusing. With all the complex terminology and players out there, it can be difficult for a business to identify the best solution.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the two common enterprise CMS types, their pros, cons, and how Redakt offers one single CMS that can help you exploit the pros of both types and overcome their cons.

Let’s dive right in.

Traditional or coupled CMS

The first CMS that we’re going to cover is the traditional one which is a monolithic CMS. This type of CMS is what initially dominated the website market. Some very popular examples include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Episerver, and Sitecore. 

Monolithic content management systems like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are open-source CMS alternatives. They emerged in the early 2000s in response to the growing need for a system that can allow both groups and individuals to create, edit, manage, and deliver content to the internet.

Drag-and-drop/WYSIWYG website editors rose in late 2002. Easy-to-use CMS platforms like WordPress and SquareSpace offered premade templates for non-techies and people with no CSS, HTML, or coding knowledge so they can build small, low-cost websites. Followed by Wix and Weebly in 2006. 

Most traditional CMSs are coupled. This means that the CDA (content delivery application) and the CMA (content management application) come in one single application. The backend (content database and code) and the frontend (layout and design) are tightly linked. In other words, the back-end user tools, templates, taxonomy, content editing, and website design are inseparable. 

No one argues that monolithic CMS has served us well for many years given its numerous advantages. However, this type of architecture also has some disadvantages that can’t be ignored.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of traditional content management systems.

Pros:

  • A solid system that requires less operational overhead. It’s easy to deploy, manage, and test since everything is in one place.
  • Low entry threshold for content creators and developers.
  • Boasted performance — since a monolithic CMS doesn’t use an API call across a network but rather local calls.
  • Less cross-cutting concerns.

Cons:

  • Website-only content — without an API, delivery channels and content types are limited. No possibility to use the same content for mobile or IoT devices.
  • Restrictive and inflexible architecture — developers need to adapt to the system and learn a special CMS-specific language. Most developers would prefer to use their favorite language.
  • Limited possibilities and creativity — dependency on the display layer imposes limits on the provided presentation and user experience.
  • Scalability issues — the overly-tight coupling makes independent scaling and code maintenance challenging. Making changes and adding new technologies can be expensive and time-consuming and could disturb the equilibrium of the whole system. Scaling the infrastructure is dependent upon database scalability.
  • Security concerns — traditional CMSs are less secure as hackers can easily enter the back end of the admin portal. In fact, More than 70% of WordPress installations are vulnerable to hacker attacks. 
  • In general, monolithic CMSs can be complex and harder to understand.

Headless CMS

When the iPhone and Android smartphones were introduced (in 2007 and 2008 respectively), mobile phones started to have an impact on delivering web content. This shift from laptops and computers to mobile content delivery was called Web 3.0. In late 2013, mobile internet access exceeded PCs.

As content consumption by mobile devices increased so did the need and demand for a CMS that can keep up with this megatrend. That’s what triggered the invention of headless CMS that is now changing the face of internet publishing.

So how is headless CMS different from traditional CMS and why the term “headless” anyway? 

A headless CMS is an API-first CMS that completely separates content production, management, and storage from display and distribution. The term “headless” signifies that this CMS has no defined front-end or presentation environment (=head). With headless CMS, content management and delivery are channel-agnostic. This means that content that’s stored and structured in the headless CMS database can be displayed on different presentation channels like a mobile app, a wearable app, a website, or any device connected via Internet of Things (IoT).  

Since it’s API-driven, headless CMS provides businesses with the flexibility to display content on any front-end technology they want and thus reach their audience on whatever device they’re using.

Are you starting to think that headless CMS is your dream CMS? Well, headless CMS can be very advantageous for sure. But let us be objective and take a look at its pros and cons as well.

Pros:

  • Omnichannel approach for content delivery across various platforms from a single backend.
  • Flexibility — without built-in templates, developers can use their preferred tools and frameworks to create different front-ends. This enables businesses to create unique user experiences.
  • Content-first approach that separates content and its presentation.
  • Scalability and easy redesign — Since the backend and frontend are decoupled, there’s no need to redesign the whole system to make changes and upgrades.
  • Secure third-party integrations.
  • Fast content delivery.
  • Future-proof — APIs makes it easy for headless CMS to integrate with existing technologies, like apps, kiosks, or virtual reality, as well as emerging technologies.

Cons:

  • Costly to implement and maintain — Isolated costs that are related to the developer’s work, CMS itself, infrastructure, etc.
  • No content previews — without third-party tools, it can be very difficult to preview content before it goes live.
  • Dependency on additional technologies for the front-end.

How Redakt helps you exploit the pros of both types and overcome their cons

Before we dive into that, let’s first define what a hybrid CMS is.

Hybrid CMS has a unique architecture. It combines the headless CMS architecture and the presentation layer of coupled CMS. Think of it as a headless CMS with a front-end. This combination offers the flexibility to view and manipulate the presentation layer while allowing web editors to run digital experiences with WYSIWYG tools as needed.

At Redakt, we totally understand that every business and organization has unique needs, goals, and challenges and that choosing to work with one particular CMS might not always be the optimum solution. Thus it makes total sense to go for a powerful hybrid CMS that offers the best of both worlds in one single solution. It’s a CMS that makes everyone happy; both marketers and developers.

So how does Redakt help you explore the advantages of both headless and traditional CMS?

As it’s a hybrid CMS, Redakt offers both traditional server-side page rendering and a headless content delivery API. It merges the headless technology with the traditional CMS experience. Both methods use the same source of data.

With its server-side rendering that's based on ASP.NET Core and Razor views,  Redakt allows you to exploit the powerful benefits of server-side rendering like:

  • Faster initial page load time with minimized network latency, which leads to better user experience
  • Less speed-related crawl budget issues
  • Predictable server-side processing performance
  • Fewer browser compatibility issues
  • Better SEO – search engine bots crawl and index pages much better with a fast initial page load time.
  • Improved data security 
  • Preventing bugs with strongly-typed content models.
  • Improved productivity and code readability thanks to Razor Tag Helpers. 
  • Better user experience even for users with slow internet connections as they can see rendered HTML while the JS is processing.
  • Excellent social media optimization

In addition, with its industry-standard REST-based API, Redakt’s multichannel content delivery API enables you to reuse the same content on different front-ends like websites, apps, e-commerce systems, etc. You can also include content snippets in social media channels and deliver content to your target audience wherever it might be. At the same time, Redakt’s hybrid architecture allows you to have previews with the server-side pages. 

It’s no secret that pure headless CMS has its own limitations, and so does pure traditional CMS. Thanks to its flexibility, Redakt allows you to overcome those cons from both types that limit your creativity and present a hindrance to achieving your business goals. Here’s how:

Compared to a traditional CMS:

Unlike coupled CMS’s restrictive and inflexible architecture, Redakt only uses common languages and technologies and employs architecture design patterns that are convenient and industry-standard.  Customization and expansion are also made easy with Redakt’s open and flexible modular architecture. Moreover, Cross-platform compatibility gives you the freedom to choose different operating systems to develop on.

While coupled CMS limits your creativity and possibilities, Redakt server-side (Razor) templates are fully customizable and there is no dependency on any styling or presentation. When creating content, your content managers will have plenty of visual styling to choose from.

Coupled CMS scalability issue is also another limit that Redakt addresses. To help you overcome that, Redakt sticks to using modern and advanced technologies that are designed for performance and scaling. One of which is the database, where developers can choose from a number of highly scalable cloud databases.

Another major problem with coupled CMS is security. Since your security is paramount to us, Redakt gives you the possibility to set up your platform on separate services, so you can put your CMS back end behind a firewall, separate from the publication front-end. This way, the back-end is never reachable via the public internet. And that’s not all, Redakt also employs the latest best practices concerning application security to ensure that your business is safe.

Last but not least, in order to mitigate the complexity of traditional CMS, Redakt was designed with developers in mind. It offers a clean and structured codebase that is easily maintainable.

Compared to a headless CMS:

When you use Redakt as a hybrid CMS, there’s no need to use third parties in order to preview content. Redakt allows you to have previews with the server-side pages. 

We’ve also mentioned that headless CMS depends on additional technologies for its front-end. Redakt aims to mitigate this dependency with an industry-standard OpenAPI specification for the Content Delivery API (CDA), for which most technologies have a way of auto-generating an API client.

Interested in learning more about what Redakt hybrid CMS has to offer for your business? Book a demo here.

Wrapping up

Choosing the right CMS solution can make all the difference in your content management journey. A great CMS must enable you to share your content in all sorts of devices and channels, as well as creating an unforgettable user experience for your target audience.

With Redakt hybrid CMS, you can take your content management to the next level and effectively unlock the power of content marketing to stand out in a world where content is king.

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