Headless CMS. To chop or not to chop?

Wali Naderi 27 Jan 2022 6 min read
The headless content management system (CMS) adoption is growing by leaps and bounds. According to a recent study, the global headless CMS software market will expand about 5x over 2020-2027, rising from US$328.5m in 2019 to US$1.6bn by 2027. Other reports confidently foresee the future of content management as headless.
So what lies behind the growing popularity of headless CMS architectures?

Background: When coupled was cool

In the early days of the internet, browser-based website visits through desktops or laptops constituted the vast majority of online consumption. As a result, most CMS solutions were anchored to a coupled architecture, where the back end was tightly linked with the consumer-facing front end (known as the 'presentation layer' or the 'head'). This facilitated seamless content authoring and publishing on websites for the predominant access method.

Rise of the omnichannel challenge

Over time – and particularly over the last decade – dramatic technology shifts have created a multichannel environment, with content now consumed heavily through a host of devices beyond the desktop/laptop, including tablets, smartphones, wearables, gaming consoles and voice assistants. Traditional CMS architectures, which were template-centric and anchored to predefined layouts, no longer fit the bill. Their design restricted their ability to deliver the same content across multiple formats. Consequently, the need of the hour was to reinvent CMS architecture to allow multichannel publishing from a single back-end content system.

Headless CMS

Source: CMS Connected

Enter the headless CMS: the good and the not-so-good

This led to the advent of the headless CMS, where instead of including a predefined front end ('head'), the CMS would use REST APIs (representational state transfer application programming interfaces) or GraphQL (a query language for APIs) to attach the back end to multiple heads, as required. The headless CMS usually offers better scalability, security, and content reusability, as well as enabling publishing to different devices, channels, or formats.

Despite its many pros, a pure headless CMS architecture has some inherent disadvantages. From a marketer’s point of view, one of the biggest drawbacks is its lack of preview functionality, typically supported by traditional CMSs with tools such as WYSIWYG editors and standard templates. Moreover, headless CMS solutions lean heavily on developers with the technical expertise to build the experience. This limits the ability of other business functions (marketing, for instance) to make changes.

Choosing between the merits and demerits of traditional and (pure) headless CMS technology can be tricky for mid and large-scale organizations.

Enter – the hybrid CMS


This is where hybrid CMS solutions, such as Tridion's intelligent content platform, Tridion, enter the fray. A hybrid (or  'head-optional') CMS addresses many of the negatives of a pure headless solution. In particular, it offers the best of both the traditional and headless worlds with integrated front-end functionality that is nevertheless independent of the back end. A hybrid CMS is essentially a regular full stack of content management, delivery, and presentation solution, but allows for content stored within it to be leveraged by other systems.”

Comparison of Pure Headless CMS and Hybrid CMS


Headless CMS

Hybrid CMS


Back-end +

Back end +
Front end

Content management

Content creation, forms-based editing, organization, storage

Content creation, WYSIWYG editing, organization, storage

Content delivery

Only via API to delivery applications and systems

Directly via its own front-end +
Via API to other applications and systems

Content presentation

None (no templates, themes, etc.)

Can present formatted content to various channels

Our CMS solution – the Tridion intelligent content platform – is often cited as a leading example of a hybrid CMS. We've also adopted a decoupled architectural approach, cognizant of the need to keep content management and content publishing strictly separated as independent functions to offer superior security. Here are some key strengths of the RWS solution:

  • BluePrinting®. This foundational technology lets you reuse content for different channels without duplication while benefiting from having a single source of truth and great content governance.
  • GraphQL. While traditional CMSs play catchup, our headless delivery capabilities use GraphQL, giving it an edge over many competing CMS vendors.
  • Translation. Conscious of the needs of global enterprises, RWS is among the few vendors that offer a range of built-in translation management functions, helping to eliminate delays in getting quality content to all of your markets.
  • Tridion accelerators. These let you take advantage of prebuilt connectors, sample code and documentation to embed Tridion into your larger digital ecosystem quickly and efficiently.

As a parting note, I would like to add that RWS has always advocated that your actual use cases should be the primary factor determining whether your choice of CMS should be traditional, headless, or (for the flexibility to pursue either approach) a hybrid solution like Tridion.

Updated: May of 2023

Wali Naderi

Wali Naderi

Senior Product Marketing Manager
Wali Naderi has 20 years' experience in the IT industry with some well-known IT organizations in various positions (Product Management, Product Marketing, and Sr. Alliance Management). He joined RWS in late 2020 as a Senior Product Marketing Manager, focusing on the partner community.
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