If you are creating any kind of online assets like an app, catalogue, forum, blog or website; you will need a content management system (CMS). That is where you’ll manage all the images, designs, text and video associated with your project. We’ll explore the top 7 headless CMS platforms in 2021 during this 10-minute read, but first, a refresher:
What is a CMS?
A content management system provides the interface for creating and publishing your content. This could be the design, images, text, videos and more for your website, app, catalogue or other online property. There are two main types: traditional and headless. A monolithic or traditional CMS is a self-contained publishing platform that directly hosts and renders your content onto a single presentation layer. It is hosted either online or on-premises. And a headless CMS is an API-first or API-enabled platform for content authoring, hosting and distribution that’s hosted on the cloud. It can publish your content anywhere online.
What does a headless CMS do?
Our picks for the top 7 headless CMS platforms in 2021
Your search for the best headless CMS platforms in 2021 could start and end with WordPress. Ironically, WordPress started off as a monolithic or traditional content management platform. And as the market leader, it currently powers over 37% of all websites from e-commerce to blogs. It’s incredibly stable, robust and easy to use. Thankfully, WordPress now provides a decoupled CMS option. That means you can use WordPress in a headless way to get all the functionality of this gold-standard product without any of the security or functionality dis-benefits. Since you’ll need to use the WordPress Rest API to do this, you’ll likely want an expert web design agency to help you fully harness its many top-shelf features.
Agility CMS is a headless content management system known for its ease of deployment and streamlined UI. It lets you push and pull your content from anywhere and bills itself as an Omni channel content platform. It’s the most popular option on G2, but users do mention that it’s geared more towards developers instead of non-technical users. And it’s a bit pricey with monthly plans starting at $610. So, unless you have a robust in-house IT or design team already, you may want to choose a more basic option for managing your content.
Contentful markets itself almost exclusively to big brands and enterprise clients. And, from the user reviews, it’s clear to see why. Their flexible content modelling helps brands future-proof and move their legacy content around. Non-technical team members like marketing and brand managers say the CMS is easy to use and fast to learn. If you are running a large company, the cost is probably nominal for what you get. Although dev users do say that there are some bells and whistles missing like robust multilevel user management; it’s still the highest-rated headless CMS by the G2 algorithm.
Bold CMS is the top pick of mid-sized organizations who want a powerful CMS that’s nearly a 1/5th of the cost of other options. Users love its fast publishing, intuitive multi-language support, payment integrations and built-in content categorizations. The only real drawbacks appear to be some connectivity issues when using the CMS over slow internet connections or mobile. As a G2 High Performer for summer 2021, it’s a popular option with content managers and developers alike.
Small organizations choose Butter over Bold for its ease of use, product roadmap and support. Starting at $83/month, it’s the cheapest option for a WordPress migration with up to 3 users for 5 pages. That covers up to 50 blog posts and 50 collection items. So, if you’re running a very small business, Butter could give you the low entry costs you need to repurpose content now while giving room to scale in the future. And with great support, if you do run into issues, you’ve got easy access to answers.
GraphCMS is the native headless CMS for GraphQL. (GraphQL is an open-source query API language developed by Facebook in 2012.) So, if you’re using the GraphQL language, adding its purpose-built CMS makes sense. Developers rave about the great interface and robust support with useful features like their interactive API playground. But the experience on mobile devices is lacking and there’s a big jump in pricing tiers as you need to scale. Still, it is probably worth it for relevant legacy integrations.
Contentstack is an investor darling that raised $57.5 million in its Series B round in 2021, bringing its total investment capital to $89 million. As such, they’ve seen customer interest grow by 150%. A popular integration with Gatsby has the UI firm noting that Contentstack is great for custom content models, dynamic content that changes often or for complex pages and app structures. But they say it’s not so good for non-technical teams or design resources unfamiliar with APIs. And users report there are not many pre-built templates.
Making your choice
With so many great headless CMS platforms out there, it can be difficult to choose. But the key considerations here are the level of technical expertise within your team, your existing deployments and your budget for monthly SaaS costs. If you’re already using a legacy platform like WordPress or an established language like GraphQL; you may want to retain optimal functionality by using their native CMS environments. But, if you are totally agnostic, some of the providers listed above are better geared towards your specific user requirements and usage levels.