Traditional Versus Headless CMS

This article outlines the two main types of CMS and helps marketing leaders assess the differences so they can make more informed decisions as to which route to go down.

Alan Gleeson - CMO Contento

Alan Gleeson

Co-Founder / CEO

January 28, 2023

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5min read

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When it comes to managing websites the choice of Content Management System (CMS) is an important element. In most instances, the marketing team leader inherits a CMS when they join a new company. A key early decision will entail an analysis as to whether the CMS is fit-for-purpose and whether it is aiding or hindering growth ambitions. In many instances, it is common for a new Head of Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to uncover significant legacy issues, and a platform upgrade becomes a key initial delivery.

This article outlines the two main types of CMS and helps marketing leaders assess the differences so they can make more informed decisions as to which route to go down.

What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A CMS is the software used to create a website and manage its content. It handles the layout of the site as well as for producing, managing, editing, storing, and publishing content (images and text). Popular CMSs include WordPress, Webflow, Wix, and Squarespace to name but a few. 

Before we start it is worth noting a couple of points at this juncture:

  1. The context I am assuming here is a marketing leader of a B2B SaaS or technology company looking to grow their business. 

  2. Discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches is a very contentious subject. There are inherent biases in most content from authors working in the different camps, and thus there are few honest brokers as each camp wants to enhance the appeal of their own solution for obvious reasons. (Disclosure: My company Contento is in the Headless CMS camp). 

  3. For simplicity, I am including the likes of Webflow in the traditional (non-Headless CMS camp). 

Hence, which CMS to use will largely depend on the context. 

Are you a freelancer who needs a simple brochure website or a technology company with lots of pages and significant ambitions? 

Depending on what you are looking to achieve the optimal route will vary.

There are two main buckets that CMSs fall into. 

  • Traditional or Monolithic CMSs like WordPress

  • Headless CMSs like Contento.

What is a Traditional CMS?

The most popular CMS by some margin is WordPress which was first released in 2003. It represents a Traditional CMS where the front end and back end are closely coupled and the front end (or presentation layer) relies on themes and templates to display content to end users. The advantages are numerous and primarily relate to the ability of non-developers to manage the website all-in-one place. 

A traditional CMS is perfect for smaller sites and the modest cost and resultant benefits account for its mass-market appeal. Over time, website builders emerged and players like Squarespace, Wix, and Webflow have gained popularity in recent years. 

For commercial websites, there are growing concerns about the appropriateness of relying on WordPress as the primary CMS for your business, given the sheer range of WordPress Issues and thus the percentage of businesses on WordPress is significantly lower than its penetration globally. 

Drawbacks of a Traditional CMS

So what are some of the drawbacks associated with traditional CMSs? 

Firstly, as mentioned earlier WordPress is now 20 years old. In “Internet years” that is old. While it has evolved over the years (like all software does) its origins are very much rooted in a different era when requirements were much more straightforward. 

One of the big trends in the early years was the creation of a Plugin ecosystem to help users get more out of WordPress. As of December 2021, WordPress had over 50,000 plugins available (Source Wikipedia). However, what was once perceived as an advantage and evidence of a booming ecosystem, is now considered a major concern for some given the security issues associated with plugins. 

Similarly, as tech companies grow they typically churn through Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) every few years which can also lead to problems such as website bloat, as each CMO will likely bring their own suite of 3rd party offerings with them, many of which will be added to the code base degrading the overall performance of the site over time. Slow sites negatively impact Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and thus are often at odds with the goals of a marketing function to generate traffic (and conversions) via a content marketing strategy.

In short, in many circumstances, traditional CMSs are no longer fit for purpose for scaling technology / B2B SaaS companies, and thus increasing numbers of tech companies are moving to Headless. 

What is a Headless CMS?

A Headless CMS [What is a Headless CMS?] represents a next-generation CMS grounded in an API-driven approach to website development. The main differences with the traditional method are that the front-end and back-end are decoupled and loosely connected via API (rather than the tighter alignment in traditional systems). The Headless CMS is essentially a content repository accessible via API  and represents a clean separation of the presentation (visual) layer and backend the back end. In short, this means that there is no presentation layer with a Headless CMS which means your front-end developer will be responsible for the design of the site. 

What does this mean in practice?

You won’t get everything rolled up nicely in one place, however, you should get a better outcome in terms of a better-designed site, which is fast and easier for the marketing function to manage and maintain. 

Why are Headless CMSs growing in popularity?

  • They work well with a structured content approach and for teams generating a lot of content (which suits many tech companies adopting an inbound marketing strategy)

  • They offer greater design flexibility as there is no reliance on templates to constrain the design

  • They are very popular for those looking to deliver an omnichannel strategy (create content once and send it to different channels)

  • It is ideal for scaling companies - no downtime is needed for maintenance

  • It enables a developer to choose their own preferred frameworks 

  • It helps create really fast websites which are highly desirable for most companies, especially technology ones

  • It helps future-proof the website with a modern platform that is easy to change in the future (front-end replacement while leaving the content in situ

  • It is also a more secure platform than traditional CMS’s leading to reduced risk

In short, a Headless CMS is strong on performance and given its origins has been strongly embraced by the technology community (it is a Jamstack-based platform).

Recommended Resource: For a more detailed overview of the main benefits of Headless CMS this article is instructive: What are the Key Benefits of a Headless CMS?

Contento - A Headless CMS

So where does Contento fit in all of this?

Contento is a new entrant into the Headless CMS space and is designed specifically for tech companies (incl B2B and SaaS). It has all the features you’d expect from a Headless CMS, in terms of drafting and publishing content, management of media files, and user management features.

Where we differ is that:

  1. Unlike most other Headless CMSs that focus on Omnichannel we are very focused on marketing websites as the primary use case.

  2. We have put a significant amount of effort into a polished UI/UX that marketing teams find easy to use (again this is not the case with most Headless CMSs despite claims to the contrary)

  3. We are also focused on tech companies (especially B2B & SaaS companies) and our feature set and road map aligns with this. Features like SEO are core to Contento rather than an afterthought which is the case with a number of the leading competitors.

Which Approach to Choose?

So now you’ve got a flavor as to the two primary routes, it is a case of deciding which one to choose. 

The decision will depend on the following factors:

  1. Use case / context - a tech company with growth ambitions looking for a website that can scale as content production is ramped up will be better suited to a Headless CMS. A smaller website with limited content requirements will benefit more from Squarespace or Wix.

  2. Team / in-house capabilities - Choosing Headless reduces the reliance on external 3rd party developers. However, you will need access to a front-end developer to set up and add pages as required on an ad hoc basis. The marketing team should be happy with the ability to manage content in a user-friendly way for a change. 

  3. Growth ambitions (goals) - If you are looking to drive growth through more content, a larger team, and more pages, then the site performance will be crucial. The speed of well-built Headless CMSs is hard to beat and married to a strong SEO focus and beautiful design lends itself well to a high-converting website. 


There are advantages and disadvantages to the two main routes you can choose to build your website. The context is important when evaluating your decision. Headless CMS is synonymous with leading brands and sites designed to grow and scale. If you fit into these camps then considering the change to Headless becomes more attractive.

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Alternative to Squarespace

Alan Gleeson - CMO Contento
Alan Gleeson

Co-Founder / CEO

Alan Gleeson has 15+ years extensive B2B SaaS experience working with several VC backed Startups & Scaleups in the UK, US & Ireland.

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