The Top Three Benefits of a Decoupled Content Management System

By Patrice Meadows — Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 at 11:00am

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A Tale of Two Models

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of content management systems on the market. Selecting the right one depends on the features and functionality your organization requires to exceed its goals.

When comparing CMSs, it is critical to understand how the systems you're considering approach content storage, access, and presentation—and what it means for site performance. A CMS’s technical architecture and approach to content delivery typically falls into one of two categories: coupled or decoupled. Both have unique features that influence site performance, reliability, and flexibility. But before we get into that, let’s explain each one.

Coupled CMS

With the coupled approach, content is drawn from databases, funneled through the CMS, sent to servers, and presented to users. Coupled CMSs link where content is created to where it is published, so new information is available to users as soon as contributors make changes. Instead of publishing new versions of pages or sites independently, users see new content in near real time. This may be an ideal approach for certain situations, like delivering dynamic content.

Decoupled CMS

The decoupled model sends aggregated content to servers as flat files in web-neutral formats. This means content is collected, packaged, and formatted before visitors see it. These pre-packaged pages live on servers and are presented to viewers when they access your site. When content is added, adjusted or removed, new pages are pushed to servers.

Now that we understand the main differences between the coupled and decoupled CMSs, let’s walk through three key benefits of decoupled CMSs.

Performance

Several metrics are used to measure website performance, one of which examines how efficiently pages are rendered. Digital marketers know visitors wait mere seconds for pages to load before abandoning sites. Pre-rendered pages, typical of decoupled systems, are ready and waiting for users to access them, making for quicker load times overall. That said, sites supported by coupled CMSs are not destined to have longer load times. While dynamically served content can take longer to load, caching techniques built into some coupled systems can offset the additional loading time, making the difference between the two negligible.

Reliability

Businesses large and small rely on websites to reach audiences around the world. Any threat to their availability or proper function threatens companies’ potential to connect with new customers.  

Decoupled systems publish full versions of websites to servers that are often protected by firewalls with built in redundancies. Coupled CMSs link databases to web servers, so any CMS or database-related issue or scheduled maintenance will cause your site to go down.

Flexibility

How digital content is stored in your CMS determines whether or not it can be easily transferred to other display outlets. Decoupled CMSs separate content from design, making it easier to export content files in different formats to various locations like apps, kiosks, digital signage, and more.

How it works:

  1. Web content in is stored in databases in small, non-readable files.
  2. Transformation languages like XSLT or Velocity decode the files and display the associated content in the appropriate format.
  3. New content is published to web servers and other connected display outlets quickly and easily. 

While multi-channel publishing is possible in a coupled CMS, doing so in a decoupled environment requires less administrative and maintenance overhead. Depending on the system (proprietary v. open source) and resources available to facilitate the addition, this process can be very simple or quite difficult. A team with robust engineering skills, experience, and time may view it as an easy and welcomed customization, while smaller teams with more pressing projects may deem it an unnecessary workaround. Only you can decide whether or not the ability to easily share content across platforms is a critical function for your CMS.

Now that you know the main differences between the two dominant types of CMSs, it’s time to determine which type is best for you. Start by thinking through each of the following questions.

  1. What is my biggest challenge to keeping my web content up-to-date?
  2. How will my CMS help my organization achieve its goals?
  3. How many departments/users will my CMS support?

Your answers will kickstart your journey to finding the right system. If you’re in the market now, try using this CMS buying guide to keep track of the top features, benefits, and contenders in your search.

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