In this article, you will learn about 5 modern headless CMS systems that you should consider to power your website in 2021. If you are thinking about building a new website in 2021 then you should consider using a headless CMS to power your website. Headless CMS systems have been around since around 2007 and they are becoming the de facto way to build a website in 2021. In a headless CMS, the “body” is separated from the presentation layer. In technical terms, this means that the CMS outputs the content via an API and the website (the presentation layer) reads the content via these APIs 🤕.
One of the benefits of getting content via APIs is that the same content can be used across different devices. This approach gives better decoupling compared to traditional CMS design. In traditional CMS systems, if you decide that you want to build an additional digital platform, like a mobile app, you either need to duplicate the content or, create a custom API to expose it. This is why headless is becoming so popular, you can future proof your content out-of-the-box 📦.
Just like buying a car, there are lots of different options available when picking a headless CMS system. You can pick self-hosted, SaaS, freemium, paid, GIT based, API driven, open-source, closed source, tomato ketchup sauce 🍅. The point of this tutorial is not to sell you on why to use a headless CMS, it is to help you decide which CMS you should consider using to power your website. Just like picking a bottle of wine from a wine shop, I find that if you get presented with too many options it is impossible to make a decision. This is why in this guide, I will give you 5 recommendations. I have personally used all of these CM systems for clients and I think each CMS is the best option for its category. So without further ado, let us crack on 🔥🔥🔥
ContentFul is current m favourite headless SaaS CMS. As it is a software as a service CMS, you do not need to install anything or that on the responsibility for patching the CMS when it is upgraded. Contentful is also free for certain sized projects. Contentful provides comes with a freemium pricing modal, so it comes with a free pricing model. I have written a guide on this pricing model here and before picking it, I recommend giving it a read.
The contentful pricing tier jumps from free to $500 dollars a month. Before you pick any SaaS product, always make sure you understanding the pricing brackets and what you get in each tier. If you have the budget and like me, you think Contentful is a great CMS then you may be happy with paying for the premium pricing tier, however, after building a website if a client gets hit with an unexpected 6k hosting bill, this could mean unhappy clients and angry phone calls. Understanding the pricing model when picking any CMS is really important, but why use Contentful CMS in the first place?
Contentful has a really nice and modern UI. Design is subjective, however, I think Contentful is currently the best looking CMS on the market. The Contentful WYSWG is very easy to work with. Content modelling is super simple as is identifying pages and content. Contentful has good support for multiple spaces. It is very easy to create production, development and staging environments with a click of a button (although content migration between the environments can be a pain at times.
Who Should Use This?: Contentful is a great all-rounder. Perfect for small to large organisations, and can be used to power any sized CMS. They even have an enterprise-level pricing plan with a custom SLA
Some clients might not like the thought of SaaS. Relying on another company to host their CMS and store their content. Some clients might feel more comfortable hosting the CMS themselves. In 2021, I personally would not recommend self-hosting anymore as it creates more hassles than it solves compared to SaaS, however, for the people who like to self-host I recommend Strapi.
As Strapi is self-hosted you have more control over it. You can install a number of additional plugins that offer additional functionalities, like multi-language. Strapi uses a SQL database that you will need to host yourself. During the development stage, Strapi will set up an SQLite connection so you won’t need to do anything yourself.
Who Should Use This?: Focused on companies that want to self-host and like open-source CMS systems. Good for smaller brochureware sites that do not need a lot of integrations with third-party systems.
Netlify as well as hosting also has its own CMS. The Netlify CMS is more basic than the others listed here, the benefit of using this CMS is that it is GIT based. This means that you will not need to install a SQL database, you will not need to manage that database, or you will not have to pay for a monthly SASS bill. Instead, the content will be updated using pull requests and GIT commits. Every time a content editor logs into the CMS, when they make a content amend, a pull request will be made.
As the CMS is GIT based this means that you are making content amends in a blockchain, rolling back content amends is simple, so versioning works out the box As content is stored in GIT everything is backed up. You do not need a database, or you do not need to worry about it
The benefit of this type of CMS is simplicity. If you run a small brochureware website, and you have a handful of content pages or a blog, why make things more complicated than they need to be?
Who Should Use This?: Good for developers who do not want the hassle of managing a CMS at all. If you are happy managing all content editing via GIT then this is a good CMS.
Storyblok is another SaaS CMS, however, the editor has a difference. When using Contentful, you make content amends and when you want to preview the content amends a content editor fires up a preview environment. Come content editors do not like this workflow of making a content amend, then switching over to a preview site to see what it looks like. Storyblok is different as it comes with a visual editor and it uses a block-based approach to CMS development.
You can see the website and make amends in real-time, you do not need to jump to a preview site to see your content amends in real-time. This is a great different alternative for editors who like a more traditional CMS build. Storyblok comes with all the normal CMS features, roles, multilanguage pages, etc..
Story block does not have the same level of third-party integration support a CMS like contentful has. The marketplace is nowhere near as powerful. This is why I think Storyblok is a great choice for smaller brochureware websites. As Storyblok is SaaS it comes with a freemium pricing plan, however, unlike Contentful whose premium plan is $500 dollars a month, the premium Storyblok model maxes out $27 dollars a month. If you have a smaller website and you have content editors that like a real-time preview, then Storyblok is a great contender. As you can see from the pricing model, Contentful is aimed at slightly larger companies and organisations.
In terms of out-of-the-box, CMS properties Storyblock can be a little limiting if you want to create really dynamic, and editable page layouts. Storyblok allows developers to extend any out of the box functionality with plugins, or creating new field types.
Who Should Use This?: Good for smaller brochureware websites that do not need to work with many third-party systems. Good if you have a smaller budget. At $30 dollars a month, this will not break the bank.
The last CMS in the list is ContentStack. ContentStack has been around since the early naughties. ContentStack can be thought of as a luxury brand in terms of headless. Contentstack is aimed at enterprise-sized organisations. With the hosting starting from many thousands of dollars per month, you would not pick Contentstack to power smaller Boucher-ware websites. Like clients like Ikea, Mcdonalds, and shell. ContentStack is meant to be a headless first CMS that is targeted towards the enterprise-level CMS space. As a CMS its aims to be on par with an Episerver, Sitecore, Adode experience manager.
As you would expect from an enterprise-level CMS, it integrates with different platforms. ContentStack has a marketplace. ContententStack has a team of developers that are constantly building new integration. With integrations with platforms like commerce tools, uniform, Cloudinary, dynamic yield, and Zaiper to name a few.
As you would expect from enterprise, the support team is great. The product is constantly improving. The development team is frequently releasing new useful features and integrations. The documentation is great. It comes with all the usual suspects, role-based access, localization, content delivery, setup of multiple environments is simple meaning all your companies websites can be managed in one central place.
Who Should Use This?: If you work in a very large household name organisation and need a headless CMS. With hosting starting at around 5k to 7k a month, this is for people who make money online and can not afford for their website to be down at all. Good if you have integrations with other systems.
That concludes my 5 best headless CMS systems that I recommend you checkout in 2021. Obviously, these are not the only options but these are the options I have personally used. I have even talked to most of the development teams of most of these systems. If you want to learn more then I recommend this reouserce
As I'm hoping you have now learnt there are lots of options. Depending on what you want your website to do will depend on which one is best suited to your needs. Happy Coding 🤘