What is a Hybrid CMS?

Learn the benefits of a hybrid CMS compared to traditional content management versus a headless decoupled CMS approach.

In a world where organizations need to create digital experiences for different digital channels and devices, they need to rethink how they repurpose and reuse content. The traditional model of web content management is obsolete. Businesses need to eliminate content, data and organizational silos and find new ways to reshape and repurpose content across every place where customers want to interact with them. The traditional model of web content management has collapsed and a need for an agile, composable approach to content management has risen in its place. Enter: the hybrid CMS. 

Our new model is a hybrid content management system (CMS) that unites both marketing-powered experiences and developer-driven innovation. Before we dive into what capabilities are required for a true hybrid CMS, let’s look at both the benefits and shortcomings of other common CMS categories. 

Traditional CMS: Scalability with Limited Room for Innovation 

Traditional CMS models function as a monolithic architecture that joins the back end (data layers) as well as the front end (presentation layer) of the different content types being created. This approach was best-suited for a world where content was primarily web-based and created for standalone digital applicationsWhat is a Hybrid CMS?

A traditional CMS allows content creators to create, manage and publish content in the back end while providing a content delivery presentation layer, typically as pre-structured web page templates. However, the growth of digital channels and interfaces propelled by the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has made this rigid content architecture difficult to adapt to future circumstances. Digital experiences aren’t just happening on websites; people are interacting with brands everywhere from mobile applications to digital signage to conversational interfaces, and each of these touchpoints requires relevant content suited to its unique context. 

Traditional solutions offer strong scalability and security; however, they can be difficult to integrate with new channels or tools within your tech stack and often lead to frustrating vendor-lock ins that don’t allow business to keep momentum as the market evolves. The need to deliver content on-demand led to the rapid rise of the decoupled or headless CMS model.

Decoupled-Only CMS: Freedom with Added Technical Complexity

A decoupled architecture offers back-end CMS functionality that is not dependent on a particular front-end solution. A decoupled CMS promises total freedom over how and where content is delivered by separating the front and back ends. A decoupled CMS delivers content via an API-first architecture to display content across any device or interface. Yet, while a decoupled  approach may appear to unlock all the freedoms that the traditional model lacked, organizations also face their own unique challenges when implementing a decoupled -only approach.Decoupled vs Hybrid CMS

Decoupled  solutions require significantly more technical expertise to manage multiple API calls, and businesses often struggle to employ the amount of front-end developer resources needed to maintain the presentation layer. With a decoupled  approach, marketers lack the flexibility to manage and customize content on the front end once it’s been built. Marketers cannot make changes to the layout, or add a new button or a new content block without a front-end developer to manage the code.

On the developer side, this means spending more time maintaining and managing content rather than investing in valuable projects that propel an organization’s approach to digital experience forward. This developer-centric model also makes it challenging for marketers to re-use the same content across both decoupled and traditional channels, such as sharing content to a decoupled  mobile app and traditional e-commerce web page. The result? More digital silos. According to experts at Gartner, a hybrid approach to content management offers more advantages than either coupled or headless-only CMS solutions. According to Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management, “While [headless] may seem on the onset that there’s a lot more flexibility in content delivery and front-end management, the due diligence must be performed especially around non-technical user usability and flexibility to manage the actual custom front end once it’s built […] As a result, a hybrid approach is recommended.”  

Hybrid CMS: Best of Both Worlds for Flexibility at Scale

If a solution is difficult to use (traditional CMS and decoupled CMS), marketers and line of business owners will go rogue – finding workaround solutions that introduce site sprawl and issues with security and governance. Marketing teams may even turn to running a traditional CMS alongside their decoupled architecture, leading to increased complexity in managing multiple applications. 

Fortunately, there is a third CMS type that provides the best of both worlds. A hybrid CMS, also referred to as a progressively-decoupled or agile CMS, allows non-technical users to build and update digital experiences and offers all users flexibility, ease of use, connectivity and security and governance at scale. 

As an open source content management framework for content and data, Drupal is the leading CMS choice for organizations who require both agility and resilience in designing digital experience. Drupal supports a hybrid approach by retaining its front-end editorial capabilities while the back end can serve as an API-based repository. Do you need a Hybrid CMS?

To provide users with a fast way to design and launch sites at scale, we recently launched Acquia CMS, an out-of-the-box Drupal distribution that delivers a tested, fully functional and updatable CMS, integrated with the Acquia Digital Experience Platform (DXP). As a hybrid CMS and an agile CMS, Acquia CMS empowers every side of an organization to take control through low-code capabilities and a component-based approach to content. Through a combination of low-code tools, pre-built components and expert-tested, configured Drupal modules, Acquia CMS gives marketers and other content editors the freedom to design and push out content fast without relying on developer assistance

Drupal supports both structured and unstructured content, meaning it can be used to support both pre-built pages as well as decoupled components that users can customize to suit their needs. Drupal accommodates developers however they choose, specifically with its API-first (not API-only) design, and provides marketers with control and autonomy over display and layout. Moreover, Drupal offers businesses unmatched freedom to extend and adapt how they deliver content through an open architecture that can seamlessly integrate with other tools and systems in their total digital experience ecosystem. 

For more on what to consider when evaluating different CMS options, download our e-book: Five Essential Elements of an Agile CMS: The Backbone of Digital Experience.

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