Headless vs Serverless vs Traditional CMS

Whats are the differences between a headless, serverless and traditional CMS.

Key features of CMS platforms explained. Find out which CMS is best for your next project by downloading YouDoCMS and compare with Hugo, Jekyll, Eleventy, Joomla or WordPress. Moving from Joomla or WordPress? Find out which is the best JAMstack solution a headless, serverless CMS or static site generator. For example do you require a page builder/HTML editor ? Are you prepared to self host and set up a web server or do you need a hosted system ? How often is the content updated and is editing by multiple users a requirement ?

GUI Editor
Language Markdown HTML HTML HTML HTML
URL Routing
Cloud Deployment
Self Hosted
Build Cost $0 $0 $$ $ $0
CMS Import
Multiple Sites
Node CLI
Site Analytics


What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS is the same as a traditional CMS and still requires a hosted server. However the headless version is only used for administration and content creation and is not used to deliver the completed pages to the user. Headless CMS integrate with content delivery networks (CDN) which serve the pages to the browser. This approach is also known as Jamstack. Static site generators such as Hugo, Jekyll, and Eleventy are not headless CMS. 

Does serverless still need a server?

Serverless is a misnomer in the context of a CMS as this is referring to a dedicated server to host a website. A headless CMS still requires a server as does the CDN delivering the pages. However the cloud provides facilities for computing on demand which is the source of the term serverless. Serverless computing is generally defined as using on-demand cloud functions to achieve computing tasks rather than a web server. Static site generators such as Hugo, Jekyll, Eleventy and YouDoCMS can be considered serverless. 

Do I have to use markdown?

The major static site generators do not include a user interface and rely upon editing text files on your local computer. To keep this simple they use the markdown language which is a subset of HTML. However this complicates the insertion of images, links and styling. This option is best suited to web designers and developers rather than users simply want to create and manage your website for personal or business use. YouDoCMS is a combined static site generator and content management system with a user interface therefore you get the best of both worlds.

How easy is a static site generator?

Static site generators rely on HTML template's which are "merged" with content when the pages built before uploading to the CDN. Each system uses a different template language therefore the user has to learn the system. Traditional static site generators do not use a database and rely upon the template language to determine the structure of the site. Please see this link to the Hugo documentation for an insight into the complexities. YouDoCMS is also a static site generator it incorporates a database just like a traditional CMS.

Automatic URL routing?

Consider the case where a category consists of three subcategories each with five pages per category. In total there are 19 URLs. If you rename the parent category then the other 18 URLs need to be updated. With a static site generator this is a manual process whereas YouDoCMS , headless, serverless and traditional content management systems rebuild the URLs automatically. If your site has been published on Google the search bot will have indexed the old URLs therefore you need to create a 301 redirect from the old to new URL to avoid 404 errors.


YouDoCMS , headless, serverless all support deployment to one or more CDN's. Jekyll is the only static site generator which deploys directly via Github Pages. YouDoCMS Is the only system to support direct deployment from your local machine to the host via the cloud CLI api. YouDoCMS supports building to localhost to preview and test your site before deploying to a CDN.


Static site generators and YouDoCMS do not require a server as the application runs on your local machine or network. All data is stored locally and is therefore totally secure. Headless CMS  and serverless are accessed through the browser and are either hosted or require the setting up of a local node.js web server.

Build Costs

Static site generators and YouDoCMS run on your local machine therefore you are not utilising any server resources when you build pages and deploy the web site. Headless CMS providers pricing plans include charges for build minutes which are the resources used on the server to compile the site.

Server Logs

AWS CloudFront and Azure both offer server logs included in the free plan. Cloudflare also supports logs (paid). YouDoCMS integrates with CloudFront to download and import the logs on demand. Server logs offer a number of benefits compared to JavaScript site analytics because they cannot be blocked by trackers in the browser. Server logs inc 404 errors occurring due to missing content for example when you update or rename a page. YouDoCMS includes automatic deployment of rewrite rules to avoid 404 errors from old non-existent url requests. 

Site Analytics

YouDoCMS includes server log analytics which is linked to your content to provide common metrics such as entry and exit pages, bounce rate, visitor geolocation and search engine crawl monitoring. AWS CloudFront and Azure both offer analysis via the server logs which means you do not need JavaScript tracking. Firebase is reliant upon Google analytics which can be blocked by browser extensions. However if you are an existing Google analytics user then Firebase is the best option. Cloudflare also provides JavaScript analytics (paid). See site analytics.

Search Engine Optimisation

Traditional CMS have a large ecosystem of plug-ins and extensions. One of the most popular WordPress extensions with over 5 million users is the SEO plug-in Yoast. If SEO is important to your site then your choice of headless CMS should include similar functionality. Static site generators do not include SEO tools. YouDoCMS provides the same functionality as Yoast including key phrase analysis, readability score and support for JSON-LD.

Site Search

Traditional CMS utilise a database to store the content. This means pages and posts can be indexed and used for  search as found on most websites. The search typically returns a list of relevant articles or posts. This is possible because the CMS dynamically creates the listing page based upon the search terms used. With a static site the pages already built therefore implementing site search is difficult. Algolia offer a search solution for static sites. Incorporating Algolia into a web page is simple enough however how do you update the index? YouDoCMS is integrated with Algolia instant search to update the search index every time you build pages and deploy the site.


Headless CMS

A full list of headless CMS can be found at www.jamstack.org (owned by Netlify). This list includes a wide variety of different systems with different methodologies. To add further to the confusion many headless systems link to a static site generator to built the pages. Most of the hosted headless content management systems offer a free plan for a single site for personal use. Thereafter monthly per user charges are the normal and these can vary from $10 to $100's per month

  • CMS Import.
  • Hosting and build fees.
  • GUI HTML editor.
  • SEO (Paid)
More Details

Static Site Generators 

Jamstack.org has an extensive list of static site resources.When considering whether to use a static site generator the key question is are you prepared to use markdown and a text editor overdue prefer to use a traditional html page editor similar to Joomla! WordPress. If you need an editor then your options will be limited to using hosted headless CMS, a self hosted system or YouDoCMS. Whichever system you choose make sure you know how to avoid the dreaded 404 error. 

  • Free open source
  • GUI HTML editor
  • CDN integration
  • SEO options
More Details


YouDoCMS combines the flexibility of a traditional content management system combined with the speed and security benefits of a static site generator. In addition the built-in search engine optimisation features, web log import and site analytics together  provide the tools you need to build, manage and deploy a static site to a CDN.

  • Free and paid options.
  • GUI HTML editor.
  • No hosting fees.
  • Cloud CDN integration.
  • Algolia Site Search.
  • SEO key phrase and readability.
Learn More

“If you need multiple users and prefer to use a hosted system then a headless or traditional content management system is the best option.

If you are developer tasked with a new project where speed and security are important than a self hosted "serverless" system or a static site generator for your target platform will meet your requirements.

If you are a current Joomla! or WordPress user converting an existing website to a static site and use WordPress plug-ins such as Yoast to provide search engine optimisation then YouDoCMS can import your site and simplify the transition to JAMstack.”

Paul Dennis