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What are the Pros and Cons of a Headless CMS Versus a Traditional CMS?
December 16 2020

What type of Content Management System (CMS) do you need for your organization’s website? Determining what kind of website you want to create and who will manage and use it are key factors in determining the answer to this question. Other factors will include your development budget, the skill sets and availability of your technical team, your timeline for delivery, how much control and flexibility you want to have over your website features and functionality, and how your business plans to scale for future products and services.

Let’s start with the first factor: What kind of website do you want to create? If your site exists primarily as a digital brochure for your business’s services, a traditional or “monolithic” CMS is probably all you’ll need to manage things like “about us” content, a client directory, email signups, and the like. Even if you offer products that can be purchased through a shopping cart, in all likelihood your business would benefit from utilizing a traditional CMS to manage your customer profiles, mailing lists, product inventory and written content, such as for a blog. If, however, your company is intending to create or upgrade to a dynamic website serving lots of people simultaneously with a variety of features and capabilities that engage your clients and customers through business and communications applications, such as Salesforce, SAP, Eventbrite or Vimeo, your company’s website may be a good candidate for a Headless Content Management System (HCMS). One key indicator: If a lot of attention will be paid to logged-in customer experience (beyond standard “update your profile” functionality), a HCMS is likely something that should at least be considered.

Who will manage and maintain your website? If you or your team take a DIY approach to website management and, for example, you utilize lots of off-the-shelf WordPress plugins that handle all of your website’s business services, site SEO, video and blog posts – and that’s the way you prefer to manage your site – your business may not transition well to a Headless CMS. HCMS integration requires a highly skilled software development team to build and modify your HCMS as your company’s needs change and scale. 

That brings us to another key factor to consider: Price. A website paired with a Headless CMS is more expensive to develop initially, although it could save you money in the long run as you scale up by adding more services, products and features to your site. Unlike a traditional CMS that is integrated front to back, a Headless CMS is decoupled from your website’s front end, allowing engineers to tweak, add and subtract backend apps without having to rebuild the site when your company adds new offerings or desires a visual refresh. Conversely, with a traditional CMS, the upfront cost is normally less and the “time to market” from concept to completed site is typically faster. Your tech team can more easily add, remove and update site themes and plugins without needing distinct HCMS skills. It’s a good option for a do-it-yourself approach to website management and maintenance on a smaller budget. Just keep in mind that plugins and site themes require timely updating. Failing to do so could expose your company’s site to security breaches. HCMS is far more secure than a traditional CMS, largely because people simply forget to keep website plugins and themes updated, which unethical hackers seek to exploit. HCMS also allows you to establish unique backend app access for partners and vendors that you can monitor and track. Learn more about that advantage and other HCMS features from my post, Is a Headless Content Management System Right for My Company?

Another downside of a website running a traditional CMS is bloating, which results in slow page loads and crashes – which will negatively affect your Google page ranking if they go on long enough. That problem can be overcome by removing unused plugins, keeping plugins updated and only adding those plugins you really need. Sites operating with a traditional, monolithic CMS simply require more routine maintenance. If you skip the maintenance, you could end up needing a complete site rebuild – and that can cost you more than you anticipated when you set out to “finally catch up on updates.” Nevertheless, a traditional CMS offers a lot of benefits for small to mid-sized businesses seeking to offer their services and products through a compelling website. We all know that in this digital world if you run a business you need a business website. Sure, you may be able to build it yourself using simple WordPress themes or a site builder program like Squarespace or Wix – but you get what you pay for. Those services work well for people who really only need a brochure site, are willing to do it themselves and have a small website development budget. But if you’re really serious about launching or advancing your business with an advanced digital experience that builds relationships with your community of customers, you need a professional site built by professional engineers who can answer your questions and make your ideas a reality.

Your limited time is better spent on growing your business, not figuring out how to add a featured image to your home page or creating a customer mailing list using a plugin – not to mention deciding which of the many plugins are right for your website. Think of it like your business accounting; maybe you can handle it, but should you? A qualified accountant could save you loads of money, making their service fee entirely worthwhile. Web development is like that. There are products out there that make it easier for people to create and launch their own websites, but are they getting it right? Do their sites generate good SEO? How are their page load times? Do those DIY sites encourage repeat visitors or result in high bounce rates? Afterall, this is your business. Why take unnecessary risks with something as crucial to its success as your brand’s website? That’s why Culture Foundry encourages our clients to take advantage of our Discovery Sessions (read Strategy from Simplicity to learn more). In these sessions you will uncover what type of website and what kind of CMS will best meet your needs, from every standpoint – budget to technical depth. We strategize it all out with you and your team. You can even take the information gained from these informative sessions to create an RFP for website development, if you choose. Of course, we’d like it to be us – but, more importantly, we’d like your business to obtain the website that will help you be successful. I encourage you to think beyond borrowing from templates used over and over again for millions of websites and instead develop a website that is uniquely yours, with a CMS that delivers exactly what you need right now.

You may also be interested in reading What Is a Headless Content Management System (HCMS)?

Culture Foundry is a next-level digital agency that helps you thrive in digital. We build, evolve and support websites and applications for clients who are graduating to the next level of complexity in their digital ventures. Our uncommon strengths are headless CMS architectures, design systems and 24/7 support. If you're not thriving in digital, you can be: Contact us to learn more.

(Psst! We also happen to be a great place to work.)

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