To mark their online presence, companies have to find solutions to publish their content. One common approach is using a Content Management System (CMS), which may also serve as an integral part of the Jamstack approach to web development. The latest research shows the dynamic growth of this technology, as there are already 50% more Jamstack websites in 2021 than there were in 2020.
However, choosing the right headless CMS might be challenging. Should your business choose the most popular tools, or rather benefit from using niche ones? Let’s take a look at this topic with a deeper perspective to check out which options are best for different business models.
From this article, you will learn:
- what a traditional CMS is and what a headless CMS is
- when it’s beneficial to choose the latter
- why it might be good to choose less popular tools
- what the best headless CMS are: both industry leaders and contenders
- how to pick the one that suits your business needs
What Is a CMS?
Let’s start with the basics. The Content Management System (CMS) is a category of software that allows the design, management and update of website sor mobile applications in a dynamic way.
Additionally, to be considered a CMS, the software should:
- allow for content to be managed separately from the website’s visual form
- offer a content publishing chain
- provide simultaneous use for several individuals
A CMS also allows for the structuring of a website’s content, such as categories, pages, articles, and the hierarchy of the site’s users. The latter is done by assigning them a precise title or particular authorizations, such as administrator, contributor, etc. WordPress is undoubtedly the best-known and most widely used non-headless CMS today: it is free, open-source, and used by over 455 million websites.
If you want to know more about the basics of building a website with Jamstack technologies, be sure to check our article about static site generators.
Now, let’s dive deeper into the understanding of this article’s topic.
What Are Headless CMS?
To put it simply, a headless CMS disassociates content management from the front-end architecture. This typically isn’t possible when building websites with a traditional CMS. Instead, a headless CMS focuses solely on the backend, using RESTful APIs to facilitate display on any device.
Unlike headless CMS, old, traditional CMS are constrained by programming languages. Headless CMS give developers control over the form of the content provided to the user.
To be brief, the main features of the headless CMS are the following:
- Content creation, modeling and authorization
- Organization of content repositories
- Improved workflow and collaboration
- Advanced image management
- Digital Asset Management
- Access Controls
When Should You Choose Headless Architecture?
Now let’s see why it’s good to consider headless CMS and Jamstack technology. To really dive in, we recommend reading our article What is Jamstack. Nevertheless, let’s try to summarize this broad topic now.
Jamstack is a web development architecture that has been popular for some years, which consists of compiling a dynamic website in the form of static pages, in order to speed up its rendering and thus improve the user experience.
What’s crucial to note here, however, is that Jamstack allows all of this without corrupting the back-end logic. This architecture responds well to the newest website development trends, making it one of the most popular choices for developers.
To sum up, Jamstack goes with the following perks:
- SEO friendly as a static site
- fast as a static site
- great digital customer experience as a dynamic site
- no development skills are required to update the site’s content if we use a headless CMS
- very low resource requirements
Jamstack can have yet another benefit, that is not so obvious: improving team cohesion. This is due to the chain reaction in your team: the content creator is happy because they are using their favorite content management platform, the developer is happy because they can use their favorite technology, and the marketer is happy because the site has a good SEO performance.
What’s even more important, Jamstack provides a more advanced solution, especially now when companies are looking for multichannel interactions with their customers. It ensures flexibility, scalability and faster integration with multiple platforms. Although a traditional CMS is easier to use and manage, it can be difficult to scale, develop and improve in the long term.
What Are the Best Headless CMS tools?
Before we begin our overview of the less-known headless CMS, let’s take a quick look at the market and industry leading headless CMS.
Biggest advantage: Strapi works with various frameworks on the market, including Gatsby, Nuxt.js and Next.js.
Biggest disadvantage: Its Drag&Drop feature can quite often result in repeated images.
Contentful is both the oldest and the best known headless CMS. It couldn’t miss our list as it’s the second choice after WordPress with consideration for usage and customer satisfaction. In the same survey, we can read that Contentful also gained 5.58% usage and got a higher satisfaction rate, while WordPress lost 10.08% since last year. It’s just more proof of the growing popularity of Jamstack.
Biggest advantage: Codes to automate the configuration of the environment according to the content model and to manage migrations from one environment to another.
Biggest disadvantage: It doesn’t fully support developers with all its functionalities.
This cloud-based CMS is particularly suitable for flexible editing supporters. With the help of the Content Hub, teams can organize and collaborate more efficiently.
Biggest advantage: Tracking and analysis functions of the customer experience are also included in the free start-up version.
Biggest disadvantage: As an open source headless CMS, Kontent.ai is only suitable for small, simple projects with a few participants, because the upgrade is cost-intensive.
The extensible CMS can be used with any static website generator. NetiflyCMS optimizes all digital assets and serves to cache with cookieless domains. In addition to fast static hosting, web-based command-line services are also available.
Biggest advantage: Content teams enjoy the intuitive workflow and editor-friendly user interface. Your own website can be uploaded to Netifly CMS by simply dragging and dropping.
Biggest disadvantage: With 100 GB bandwidth per month and only 1 team member, only small projects can use it freely but there are also other plans to choose.
The Hygraph native headless CMS with frontend agnostics is based on the aforementioned API query language, which was originally developed by Facebook. Today, it acts as an alternative to REST (Representational State Transfer).
Biggest Advantage: Hygraph allows experienced developers to build and manage content APIs based on GraphQL that are able to distribute content across all channels.
Biggest Disadvantage: There are some issues with customizability and extensibility.
To get a deeper best headless CMS comparison, check our article regarding the topic. We’ve described 15 selected Headless Content Management Systems in detail, so you can get a full perspective!
Why Should You Use a Less Popular Headless CMS?
The answer to this question may vary depending on many factors.
More attractive price
As some tools are getting popular, usually their rates go higher. Moreover, their trial plans are typically less generous than the ones offered by less-known tools.
While it is true that more experienced companies tend to provide better customer care, there’s still the risk of low engagement in their customer queries. The headless architecture industry has been growing very fast and, therefore, the more popular companies didn’t have much time to prepare for the increased number of users.
While this is not a rule, there’s a chance their response to your queries might be unsatisfactory. Not-so-popular headless CMS tend to cherish each cooperation with their users more and therefore might be much more willing to help, not to mention potentially quicker reaction times.
Ideal for non-standard projects
Most popular headless CMS provide a lot of freedom and allow you to achieve a wide variety of results. However, sometimes you will want a much more customized solution when, due to business needs, the necessity to use a niche technology or the desire to provide a really distinctive user experience is critical. This is where less popular headless CMS come to the rescue.
Openness to feedback
Last but not least, the lesser known companies are much more open to any feedback you give them. Their goal is, in the end, reaching the popularity of competition, and the best way to achieve it is the customer satisfaction rate.
Best Headless CMS That Aren’t Always Mentioned on Similar Lists
Now that you know what a headless CMS is and why it might be beneficial to choose less popular ones, let’s take a deeper look at what are the advantages and disadvantages of several options on the following list.
Directus is one of particularly simpler Content Management Systems. Due to the intuitive interface, beginners can work well with this system. This open-source tool scores particularly well with its comment and note function, which prove to be very useful. In addition, files can be uploaded and managed via Directus. Users do not have to worry about data loss either, as the tool tracks all activities, with rollbacks possible at any time. On their official website, we can read that more than 4,600 users are now among their community.
- User-defined SQL databases in connection with a dynamic API (Application Programming Interface)
- Open-source & free self-hosting or, alternatively, its own on-demand cloud service
- Comment & note function (very intuitive, according to developers)
- File upload & management
- Not many other CMS allow uploading and managing files
- Free community cloud service; no artificial limitations or paywalls (e.g. Standard Cloud starts at $25 a month with no quotas, and there’s a completely free Cloud Tier available)
- No risk of losing data, as Directus always track all activities
- Some issues with the pre-uploading of big video files
Butter CMS charms both web developers and content creators with its ease of use. The software developers have taken care not to overload the headless CMS with functions, which is why it acts relatively quickly.
In addition, Butter CMS comes with more useful functions. For example, support for search engine optimization (SEO) is part of the scope of delivery. Butter CMS is only available in a cloud version and thus under an SaaS model. A free version is offered, but this may only be used for non-commercial projects. It’s also an example of API-driven headless CMS.
- Complex & professional support for SEO
- Cloud management
- Its interface is administration-targeted
- Drag & drop page layout edition
- User roles and permissions
- Centralized media library
- It is an SaaS headless CMS that comes with advantages specific to this type of product (accessibility, convenient management, scalability, increased security)
- Quick setting up & integration
- Easy to use
- Supports SEO
- Easy localization and particular market’s content management
- The free plan isn’t very generous and might be reduced further in the future
Programmed in Java, this headless Content Management System focuses on scalability. In general, however, Magnolia is aimed at large companies that want to realize an extensive web presence. The headless CMS is therefore only one of the solutions offered. An open-source version is available, but its range of functions is severely limited compared to the paid version. On their official website, we can find that 400+ market leaders have already built their digital experiences with Magnolia.
- Allows you to publish content without being tied to a specific visual template or frontend structure
- Offers backend content management capabilities through advanced visual editing tools, for a simplified content management and editing process, as well as a better creation experience
- Allows scalability & extensibility, which is much appreciated by the users
- It is an SaaS headless CMS that comes with advantages specific to this type of product (accessibility, convenient management, scalability, increased security)
- It’s an advanced tool that can seem complicated to use at times. Therefore, it demands an experienced team of developers
- As a result of its extensity, there are some concerns about how the price might increase in the future
Storyblok is the world’s first interface-free headless CMS that works for developers and business users. On their site, we can find that over 68,000 developers and marketers use Storyblok’s CMS to deliver content experiences on any platform: corporate websites, e-commerce sites, mobile applications and screens.
- Nestable, fully customizable components
- Robust omnichannel & IoT experience options
- Automated content grouping and scheduling
- SEO-focused tool: easy management of structured data & meta data
- It offers a free trial that is relatively generous
- It is an SaaS service that comes with advantages specific to this type of product (accessibility, convenient management, scalability, increased security)
- Very accessible prices for their plans
- Cloud-only solution
- It needs some development when it comes to customization
5. Gather Content
GatherContent CMS is designed for large teams that produce a lot of content for web projects. Thousands of design agencies and large internal development teams use it worldwide. On their website, we can find that over 100,000 websites launched with the use of these services.
- Access Controls and Permissions
- Version management
- Document management
- Workflow Management
- Text formatting
- Customizable templates
- Collaboration tools
- Designed to be an easy & intuitive tool for companies working with a huge amount of content
- As it’s fairly new to the market, its pricing is very accessible
- Not suitable for teams that don’t manage big amount of projects
- Because of the little experience this company has, the customer care might be a little sloppy sometimes
Pimcore is the leading open-source digital experience management platform used more than 80,000 times by leading companies around the world (Pimcore, 2022). It is a consolidated platform of content, community and commerce applications across every customer interaction.
It integrates Product Information Management (PIM)/Master Data Management (MDM), Digital Asset Management (DAM), Web Content Management System (CMS) and e-commerce capabilities into a single open-source suite. It’s not a CMS at its core, however it can be transformed into one with developers’ work.
- Content library with cataloging and categorization
- Data quality control
- Many options for managing content
- Third-party integrations
- Collaboration Tools
- The possibility to choose a free plan
- It has quite a big community of users, which can share useful knowledge and support on some issues
- Pimcore is appreciated for its quick and reliable customer care
- It’s quite pricey for a solution that is not popular yet, however you can modify your plan
Statamic is a flat-file CMS powered by Laravel. Contrary to its most direct competitor, October, Statamic seems to be more accomplished as a full product. What’s most interesting, however, is that even though Statamic is a three-person team, there are nearly 30,000 registered Statamic developers (Statamic 2022).
- Access Controls/Permissions
- Electronic forms
- Text formatting
- Customizable templates
- Content publishing options
- Full-text search
- Very accessible pricing
- Easy installation and integration with other tools
- A sleek, modern interface
- The communication style of this company is sometimes questionable: not every team will like it
- Functionalities could still be developed and improved
8. Dato CMS
This is an open-source web content management for businesses and professionals. This software package is commonly used by small and medium-sized businesses, as well as by companies in the Services and Tertiary sectors.
- Online assistance, e.g. forum, tutorials
- Technical support via phone, mail and chat
- Custom field validations of any type of content to be published
- The DatoCMS software comes with a private cloud and custom SLAs
- Easy and efficient access to support and customer care
- Ready-made integrations with main static site generators, JS frameworks & hosting platforms
- The interface could be more user-friendly
Amplience is an API driven headless CMS for B2C and B2B businesses. It allows creating dynamic content and experience at scale without developer intervention. Amplience serves over 350 of the world’s leading brands including Crate & Barrel, Tumi, Traeger Grills, Argos, OTTO Group, Primark and Very Group (Amplience 2022).
- Convenient access Controls/Permissions
- Electronic forms & customizable templates
- Version, workflow & document management
- Many accessible content publishing options
- Allows the planning, creation and delivery of content from one place with previews across multiple contexts and channels.
- No need to have experienced developers in the team to manage content
- Compatible with any tech stack (headless, monolith, MACH, composable)
- Allows for creating dynamic content at scale without developers’ intervention
- It’s mostly suited for bigger projects, and the plan rates indicate that as well
- Not suitable for projects that are not primarily focused on B2C or B2B cooperation
Being a slightly different product on this list, Plasmic allows developers to build websites with easy to grasp, visual tools and methods.
- Visual toolset
- Has an optimization section that helps with the growth of the website
- No need to work with experienced developers, as Plasmic is very intuitive and allows for projects to be created via an easy & visual toolset
- Greatly helps with improving optimization and page visibility
- It’s unique and therefore not every team will like it, as it’s a very visual tool that is less focused on the extensive functionality of a website
Enonic is a modern content platform and headless CMS navigating the high wire between developer freedom and editorial power usage. With Enonic, there are many ways to reach Rome. Use it as a digital experience platform with templates and landing pages, use it as a purely headless CMS to create, curate, and distribute structured content to any channel, or use it as a mixture wholly dependent on your requirements.
Due to its decoupled nature, developers can use Enonic with their favorite front-end frameworks and tools – like the Next.js integration that showcases server-side rendering with React. On the other side, content editors can work in a familiar and efficient environment, complete with tree structure, visual page editing, and in-context previews.
- Open source
- Can be hosted by Enonic, in any cloud or on premise
- Flexible schema system
- GraphQL API
- User friendly editorial environment
- SEO support
- Use any front-end
- SDK and CLI get developers started quickly
- The Enonic platform does not offer any out-of-the-box functionality for eCommerce, AB testing, or personalization – instead encouraging integration with “best of breed” vendors
- There is no free alternative in the Enonic Cloud (beside a trial)
Sanity is an open-source headless CMS used by over 100,000 of people around the world. It’s a common, frequent choice of companies that want to benefit especially from data driven content solutions and, thus, creation of dynamic, interactive and highly customizable websites, platforms and apps.
Sanity is used by Nike, Figma, Remarkable, Cloudflare or Sonos.
- A tool designed to be highly flexible and extensible
- Highly customizable either by using plugins or by writing your own React components
- Content treated structurally, as data
- WYSIWYG rich text editor
- Real-time collaboration for content teams
- Group posting
- The Sanity Studio is an open source React app
- Ultra-friendly for users
- The workflow is nice and steady
- Great documentation and data model
- Easy to integrate with
- Gives great freedom for developers
- Schemas are easy to write and they’re included in the code
- Not very great for developers working simultaneously (independent work on code isn’t time-efficient)
- Requires advanced skillset to organize the CMS
- The priority to use GROQ, a Sanity-specific language, instead of industry standard GraphQL (can be seen as an advantage, though)
Choosing a Content Management System: the Summary
As proven in this article, choosing right headless CMS solutions is not obvious and depends on many factors. The popularity of the solution should never determine the choice - there are a number of available excellent options that may turn out to be the perfect match for your business needs.
If you want to be sure that you’ve selected perfectly for your needs, feel free to contact us. With experience in many completed projects, Naturaily specialists will be happy to provide you with advice, clearly outlining the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. With the support of an experienced partner, you will be able to explore the potential Jamstack technology to the maximum and benefit from its promising features.