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As a leading web development agency, we’ve dedicated this page to breaking down decoupled websites so you’re well informed.
There’s an ongoing split in web development today between monolithic platforms and modern decoupled solutions. Each side has its own pros and cons, but picking the right path is a critical decision you’ll need to make when you rebuild your site.

A decoupled website (often used interchangeably with a “headless CMS”) is a website architecture pattern separating content from presentation. Effectively, this means you have a CMS for managing your content, but the CMS is only responsible for managing content — not how it’s displayed. You can use any front-end tech stack you want for the display — because it’s not part of the CMS itself. Instead, content is queried out of the CMS as needed by any number of front-end experiences. 

The more common alternative to a decoupled website is often called a “monolithic website” — or a website architecture in which the same system is used for content and presentation.

In a decoupled website build, you likely leverage a SaaS-based CMS like Storyblok, Contentstack, or DatoCMS in combination with a frontend framework like NextJS or Astro. In a monolithic website build, you would pick a single platform like WordPress that acts as both CMS and front-end template renderer all-in-one.

Should you care if your website is decoupled?

Decoupled website builds are growing in popularity due to corresponding shifts in thought on how sites should be built. These shifts include the desire for:

Portable multi-channel content
The best possible SEO, performance, and security
Newer tech stacks, which today’s developers prefer

More modern CMS platforms are designed to be headless-first, which allows a single CMS to manage content that can then be used by any number of omni-channel experiences like digital signage, external microsites, mobile apps, and more. That means there’s always one source of truth regarding your content, no matter where a user is experiencing it. That means less management and duplication on the back end and more seamless experiences on the front end.

Performance is another area where decoupled excels. With monolithic architectures, performance can be hard to scale and is typically done by vertical scaling — aka adding more resources to a given server. On the other hand, modern decoupled solutions focus instead on horizontal scaling, which is the ability to spin up any number of server instances on demand. 

Good scalability on monolithic platforms typically comes from caching pages that would otherwise be dynamically generated at request time so that they don’t have to be regenerated for subsequent requests. This approach largely works well, but things like unique email tracking URL parameters can cause page requests that can’t be cached and, in some cases, cause sites to experience downtime during high traffic, like during a mass email campaign, for example.

Improved SEO ranking

A decoupled approach is great for SEO since page load time is a key criterion for PageSpeed Insights scores, which factor into SEO page rank. As such, having the fastest page loads possible can help you outrank your competitors. Modern decoupled approaches allow for per-route selection of rendering approaches. This means you can have all the pages of your site be fully static (aka built at build time, not at request time) for the fastest response times possible, or you can choose specific routes that implement server-side rendering (SSR) or incremental static regeneration (ISR) — giving you full control over your rendering strategy so you’re always best optimized for the pages you serve, from fully dynamic to fully static.

Greater flexibility for people & processes

In addition to all the benefits listed thus far, decoupled websites are typically more flexible both in terms of how they’re built and who can support them. These sites are built with front-end languages and frameworks like JavaScript, React, and NextJS, which is how many modern SaaS web applications are also built. Instead of having separate developers that manage CMS-specific modules and templates in PHP, companies can have the same React developers work on websites and web applications (and mobile apps with technologies like React Native). You can even build a component library with tools like Storybook, resulting in components you can leverage across all your digital properties. This is ideal for SaaS-based companies who want to deliver a unified experience across the entire user journey — from the consumer website to the customer portal.

Ultimately, you should care about decoupled website development because this new evolution of websites can not only improve performance, delivery, and experience but also allow your business to embrace the future gracefully.

Is a decoupled approach right for your next website build?

Need help deciding?

At Alloy, we understand that a decoupled solution doesn’t make sense for everyone. There are just as many reasons to go with platforms like WordPress or Webflow as for headless platforms like Storyblok and NextJS. Evaluating your needs and helping you make those decisions is something we can help you with as you search for the right custom web design.