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Guide to decoupled CMS

Find out everything you need to know about decoupled CMS architecture and the questions decision makers need to ask when considering different CMS options—headless, decoupled, hybrid—for their organizations.
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Decoupled CMS explained
In recent years, headless and decoupled CMS architectures have grown in popularity. This is due in part to organizations recognizing the value they bring. A recent report found that the enhanced content experiences enabled by headless and decoupled can increase engagement by over 200%.

There is overlap between decoupled and headless CMS solutions—indeed, headless CMS is a subset of decoupled CMS architecture—causing some confusion between the two and over how they differ from a traditional CMS. Marketing technology is constantly evolving as solutions build on each other, and the terminology and distinctions are not always clear.

Headless and decoupled each have different benefits and drawbacks, depending on organizational needs. Which one you choose affects your entire team, from editors and marketers to developers and designers. To make this decision easier, we’ve laid out the below FAQ to serve as a resource and answer common questions. We focus particularly on decoupled, which often gets less attention than headless yet presents its own compelling argument based on your digital organization's needs.

Decoupled CMS FAQ

Here are some common questions about decoupled CMS—and how Brightspot helps solve them.

What is a decoupled CMS?

Let’s start with defining part of the word—coupled. When the authoring tool and the content delivery of the live channel are united, they are coupled. Amid a greater need for publishing speed and flexibility, in recent years it’s become common to separate coupled solutions, splitting the content side from the presentation side. For example, you could change the look and feel of any site component without touching the back-end code.

The definition of decoupled is where two or more systems are able to transact without being connected. Decoupled CMS architecture separates—or decouples—the back end and front end of a website into two different systems. One is for content creation and storage, and one is for consuming data and presenting it to the user through an interface. Once content is created and edited in the back end, web services and APIs deliver raw content with any look to any device or channel.

Many in the industry consider decoupled to be the best of both worlds. You have templates to work with like you do with a traditional CMS platform, yet you have the flexibility of being able to develop your back-end and front-end systems in parallel. A decoupled CMS is typically easier to update and maintain, including offering improved code reuse and flexibility.

What’s the difference between a decoupled CMS and traditional CMS?

The top differentiator between a decoupled CMS and traditional CMS is that with decoupled you have the ability to publish to any channel or device, and improve efficiency for enterprise applications by separating back-end and front-end concerns.

It is important to note that a decoupled CMS has more architectural layers to work with than a traditional one. Like headless, it requires extra development work, especially when it comes to building the front end. However, with the right development team and structure in place from the outset, organizations can set themselves up for long term flexibility and success with a highly customized and robust system.

What’s the difference between a decoupled CMS and headless CMS?

First thing’s first, a decoupled CMS can perform all the same functions as a headless CMS. The difference is that decoupled offers a presentation layer, which headless does not. A simple way to think about this difference is through the lens of proactivity. A headless CMS plays no role in how content is displayed, whereas a decoupled CMS is proactive. It prepares content to be shown and can share it to a specific presentation environment. A headless CMS is a data source and has no ability to present content to an end user on its own.

Thus, headless offers ultimate flexibility but less support, which can impact efficiency without the right team and systems in place. Generally, companies who benefit from a decoupled CMS want the flexibility of a separate front end and back end, but know that they need a degree of presentation support.

What’s the difference between a decoupled CMS and hybrid CMS?

As we have seen, a decoupled CMS marries a content-management back end to a content-delivery front end by way of API connections. Headless CMS takes this approach a step further by severing the tie between the content-management component and presentation layer. Everything is delivered through APIs to whatever framework you want to consume and display the content.

But there are instances where a hybrid approach is preferred. For example, a business wants to take a decoupled approach for its online website experience but use headless to power its native iOS and Android apps. A hybrid-headless CMS like Brightspot affords exactly this flexibility, whereby content can be delivered to one experience through a decoupled CMS architecture, while engineers can use their frameworks of choice when developing and maintaining a completely separate front-end codebase for an implementation that draws from that same content repository via headless APIs.

What are the pros and cons of a decoupled CMS?

Each type of CMS architecture has its pros and cons, and fits different environments. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and the architecture that will work best for you depends on the needs of your organization.

Decoupled CMS benefits include faster and more flexible content delivery than what a traditional CMS can provide. This system is also able to scale and evolve, supporting your organization through future changes. Additionally, a decoupled CMS offers easier access to third-party integrations.

Downsides to a decoupled CMS include its higher initial complexity in regards to development needs. Small companies with limited tech support who are not ready for an omnichannel marketing approach might not yet need a decoupled CMS. On the flip side, a large organization with a strong omnichannel strategy and deep bench of development support might be able to go all-in with a headless solution.

What is Brightspot? A headless CMS? Decoupled CMS?

Brightspot is committed to front-end freedom of choice and thrives as a hybrid solution. That’s why we’ve designed Brightspot CMS with decoupled and headless CMS flexibility in mind to address each customer’s specific business needs.

Unlike other API-only headless CMS solutions, Brightspot's API-first architecture offers all the omnichannel benefits of an API-only CMS—the API is always available to take data from the back end and present it to applications or other channels that the end users will see—but takes this a step further by giving you the tools, templates and other rendering options that your organization will need to build out a site. This is made possible with our API-first CMS because, despite functioning independently from one another, the back end and the front end are still linked together since the front end is predetermined with a specific delivery environment.

Brightspot’s hybrid-headless CMS philosophy enables total flexibility: with Brightspot, information from one piece of content can be massaged into different forms before being delivered to a user. Further, business logic in the transformation layer can be swapped out as needed while maintaining the data contract. The transformation layer decouples the content data from the presentation system, allowing Brightspot to simultaneously operate as a headless CMS while also performing traditional rendering. This approach truly offers the best of both worlds.

What is meant by hybrid CMS?

Decoupled and headless architectures have paved the way for the hybrid model. With a hybrid CMS architecture, organizations and publishers have the ability to mix presentation or front-end choices. The hybrid approach offers an environment that allows users to deliver different experiences to a browser window or a device, where both decoupled and headless CMS architectures can be combined.

More CMS architecture resources

Watch this on-demand webinar for an in-depth guide to headless CMS considerations and the GraphQL query language, including live examples of Brightspot's GraphQL query language in action.
In this webinar, gain a developer’s perspective on the most essential CMS capabilities and how those capabilities map to your organization's needs.
Download this e-book for a technical buyer’s guide to headless CMS architecture and the GraphQL query language.
Join us for an in-depth look at the the benefits and consideration factors of headless CMS, with the discussion here tailored toward how headless benefits content and editorial teams.
Here are five benefits developers—and, by extension, their projects—get from a headless CMS.

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