What is decoupled CMS?

A decoupled CMS is a content management system, most commonly hosting a website's content, that has a separate presentation layer from the administration layer. This means the place where editors and admins manage content is technically a separate application from the website or app users see.

In most cases, the front-end application like a website will request content from the administrative application using Application Programming Interfaces. These are agreements developers make between platforms on how they should communicate. The benefit of such a platform is the separate applications can scale to their own needs independently of each other. 

Decoupled CMS may be decapitated, but it's not headless

CMS architecture has two key components -- a back-end content database (i.e., the body) and a front-end digital publishing capability (i.e., head). Separating the two is what makes decoupled CMS unique from other types of CMS.

How decoupled CMS differs from traditional CMS

Traditional -- also referred to as legacy -- CMS software intertwines both the head and body into a single software package. The body and head are inseparable. You cannot make changes to one without impacting the other. 

Legacy CMS software updates will impact both front-end and back-end processes. Legacy CMS manages your content and can help you deliver it, but it's not flexible or responsive to a company's or marketing channel's evolving needs. For example, when the web went responsive due to mobile web adoption, legacy CMSs took time to update so that its publishing would also be responsive. The changes required updating everything in the system. 

How decoupled differs from headless

A decoupled CMS is not a headless CMS, however, as both architectures remain available. A decoupled CMS has built-in, flexible publishing capabilities that businesses can choose to use -- or not. How the two architectures interact is entirely autonomous. Using the CMS head is optional. 

Headless CMSs are different. They don't offer front-end design or publishing capabilities. They have one job -- to create and manage digital content delivery. A decoupled CMS still has a head, but the head isn't in control of the body -- and vice-versa. 

The difference may seem small, but a decoupled CMS offers more out-of-the-box options than a headless system. From a publishing standpoint, it's pre-emptive. It helps your team prepare content for publication and push it out to the web in a hurry. Additionally, decoupled CMS also allows you to publish to whatever medium or application you specify. It offers total control over how your content will appear on different channels. 

Decoupled CMS components

Every decoupled CMS has four crucial components. These include:

  • Database: Where you store your content
  • Content creation back-end: Where you create your content
  • Content API: The bridge between your back-end and front-end 
  • Front-end: Default and modifiable  

Compartmentalized components make decoupled CMS future-proof

Unlike legacy CMSs, decoupled CMSs don't force you into certain types of content creation. A decoupled CMS allows you to create your content templates, layout options and use a WYSIWYG editor as needed. You can constantly update your content, because the head is autonomous from the rest of the CMS. 

The benefit of decoupled CMS is that you can tailor your permanently available content using new templates and standards designed for new types of channels. You aren't locked into specific templates or layouts, regardless of your intended medium -- or until your vendor updates the entire CMS. The autonomous nature of your content from presentation means your CMS head capabilities can evolve to meet new omnichannel needs.

Is decoupled CMS the right solution for your company?

A decoupled CMS is an excellent option for many companies. There are three reasons you may want to use a decoupled CMS over other options. 

1. Do you have in-house developers? 

If you're using a decoupled CMS, you want to make use of the decoupled head. It's where most of the advantage of the service lies. You will need to have access to a developer or team of developers to maintain and update your decoupled CMS over time. 

Access to developers or a budget to hire developers is necessary so you can use the CMS API to create: 

  • Content layouts
  • Web and app user interfaces and designs
  • Fluid user experiences
  • Designs for new, future channels 

Decoupled CMS does not provide much in the way of guidance for the head side of CMS. It's up to you and your business to develop this on your own.

2. Do you need to design many different landing pages or single-page websites? 

Using a CMS for single-page websites may seem counterintuitive. A decoupled CMS is perfect for pushing content out to all sorts of different channels. However, it's also handy for creating multiple, myriad and varying brand sites. 

If you control many brands, a decoupled CMS will allow you to create multiple designs and layouts for your different brands, pushing the same content out to other products. 

3. Are your company's sales finalized offline? 

Decoupled CMS is great for content management and idiosyncratic publishing needs. It's not so great for ecommerce sites, however. Why? Creating ecommerce capable front-ends often goes beyond the built-in capabilities of a decoupled CMS API. You may need to develop in-house workarounds from scratch, adding cost and limiting the flexibility that decoupled CMS typically provides. 

If your company is an ecommerce site, a headless or legacy CMS solution may be the best alternative. 

The benefits of cloud-based CMS platforms

One thing is certain: if you're producing digital content for marketing and sales, you need to find a CMS or digital experience platform (DXP) solution. 

The goal is to choose the one that's right for your business needs. No matter your solution, your software must provide three capabilities:

  • Centralized Content. Your teams need to know they are working with the latest, most up-to-date content at all times. Changes made to content must be instant and ripple through all channels.
  • Access to Content. Your marketing and sales teams need constant, real-time access to all content to streamline workflows and avoid draft redundancy.
  • Customer Data Acquisition. Your system needs to provide data about how your customers react to and consume your content, so that you can create insights about customer experience. Regardless of type, cloud-based CMS systems offer all three of these capabilities. Consider exploring a cloud-based CMS like Optimizely's CMS.