If your business is committed to growing revenue through digital channels, and wants to be able to continuously iterate and optimize your website’s look and feel to keep up with ever evolving customer expectations, then you know how important it is to have a robust system for your team of marketers and merchandisers to manage your digital properties.
For decades now, teams have leveraged Content Management Systems (CMS) to manage and deliver dynamic content across the web. However, with the increased adoption of headless architectures in the CMS space, and the proliferation of new CMS vendors, it can be a bit overwhelming to choose the best CMS for your business.
In this article you will learn all about Content Management Systems (CMS), the difference between “headless” and traditional CMS offerings, and get a concise overview of all the major vendors that provide Headless CMS offerings so you can select the best CMS for your project.
What is a Content Management Systems (CMS)?
Let’s start off by understanding what a CMS is all about. A Content Management System is a software solution that powers the content on your website and other browser-based digital properties, and allows users to publish and manage website content without needing to build a custom website front-end in code.
CMSs will often provide pre-built templates that make it fast and easy for users to create, publish, and update web pages with new content – such as new copy, images, and more.
As digital channels have become a critical battleground for businesses to interact and transact with their customers, partners, suppliers, etc – the importance of Content Management Systems has increased considerably.
Like most other types of software applications, CMSs used to be primarily sold as on-premise software that you would buy, deploy, and manage on your own – but have increasingly moved to the cloud and are sold as Software as a Service (SaaS), which lowers the total cost of ownership for companies and increases the agility at which they can manage their digital properties.
What does it mean for a CMS to be “Headless”?
“Headless” is a concept that has gained increasing popularity in recent years, across a variety of application types, use-cases, and industries. It refers to the decoupling of the front-end of an application (i.e the user interface) from the back-end.
Using a headless approach is appealing for some projects because it provides more flexibility in how the back-end functionality is able to be configured.
This is because in a headless architecture you are accessing the back-end functionality directly via APIs (application programming interface), vs using a traditional architecture (i.e. non-Headless) where the front-end and back-end are fused together into a single application and you can only access and configure the back-end functionality through that application’s native front-end user interface.
However, a drawback of a headless architecture is that now you have two or more application components to integrate and manage, vs just a single application.
With a headless architecture, you (or a counterpart in your IT department, System Integrator, or Digital Agency) will also have to be comfortable working with APIs in order to get your headless application architecture up-and-running.
Looking to implement a headless approach?
Our comprehensive guide to getting started with headless commerce will teach you more about the architecture, how to work with the front-end of your choice, and how to choose a platform that fits your needs.Read the Guide
Top factors to consider when selecting a CMS vendor:
Selecting the right Content Management System for your business is not unlike selecting any other piece of software. It all comes down to matching your business and technology requirements to the various vendor offerings in the market. That being said, some of the primary factors to consider:
- Headless vs Traditional: as discussed above, deciding whether going with a Headless CMS architecture or a traditional approach is one of the key decisions you will need to make. This will come down to your desired flexibility, uniqueness of your business model, and digital maturity (either in-house or through an SI or digital agency).
- On-premise vs SaaS: this one is fairly self-explanatory. You will need to decide if you want (or need, due to regulatory or other requirements) to host your CMS on your own or use a SaaS-based solution.
- Integrations: you will need to map out what else you will need your CMS to integrate with (e.g. analytics, personalization, ratings and reviews, eCommerce, A/B testing, chat, etc), and determine if those integrations are pre-built and ready to use, or if you will need to build those integrations yourself.
- Digital channels: you should think about your businesses revenue strategy for the 2-3 years and determine if you will only need a browser-based website, or if achieving your revenue goals over the next few years will require you to activate additional digital channels that may not be supported by a CMS (e.g. IoT, Kiosks, etc).
Best Headless CMS vendors you should be considering:
There are a LOT of Content Management System vendors in the market. And as much as analyst firms or peer review sites will try to rank the “best” CMS vendors, the reality is that there is no one best, there’s just the best for you. To that end, we’ve tried to provide an honest overview of the major Headless CMS vendors in the market, so you can pick the one that best addresses your specific needs.
First, we will start with a list of the native Headless CMS vendors (in alphabetical order):
- Headquarters: London, UK
- Number of employees: 134
- Website: www.amplience.com
- Company overview: Amplience powers digital-first brands and retailers with the freedom to do more. Their low-code Content Management System, Digital Asset Management, and Digital Experience Management platform allows more than 350 of the world's leading brand teams to manage content, not code. The result is a rapid ROI for their clients who are delivering data and insight-driven customer experiences that drive deeper, more valuable customer relationships. Amplience supports the industry's transition to Microservice, API-first, Cloud and Headless (MACH) technologies, is MACH certified and an executive member of the MACH Alliance.
- Headquarters: Berlin, Germany
- Number of employees: 676
- Website: www.contentful.com
- Company overview: Contentful helps digital teams assemble content and deliver experiences, faster. Their open and flexible content platform adapts to how digital builders work to meet business goals through easy customization and deep integration with any tech stack. Digital teams can reuse and automate content across devices and channels, so they can worry less about content maintenance and more about their customers. With offices in hubs including Berlin, San Francisco, and Denver, and a global team distributed across every time zone, they help thousands of businesses across the spectrum of digital maturity to move fast and meet customer demands. Contentful supports IKEA, Vodafone, Electronic Arts, and over 30% of the Fortune 500 to deliver market-leading digital experiences at scale through every stage of the customer journey. As stated in the Forrester Wave™: Agile Content Management Systems (CMSes) Q1 2021 report, Contentful has “a well-articulated vision for helping companies become digital first, plus the capabilities to help them get there.”
- Headquarters: San Franisco, CA, USA
- Number of employees: 229
- Website: www.contentstack.com
- Company overview: Contentstack was the pioneer in API-first, headless CMS technology. They accelerate and simplify content management across today's and tomorrow's digital channels, including web, mobile and IoT. From desktops to smart phones, from kiosks to smart watches, from billboards to jumbotrons, from dashboards to VR headsets – content is delivered with the push of a button and optimized for every screen, device, and channel.
- Headquarters: Denver, CO, USA
- Number of employees: 134
- Website: www.crownpeak.com
- Company Overview: Crownpeak provides the leading, enterprise-grade, cloud-first Digital Experience Management (DXM) platform. The Crownpeak DXM platform empowers Fortune 2000 companies to quickly and easily create, deploy and optimize customer experiences across global digital touchpoints at scale. Besides featuring content management, personalization, search, and hosting, it is the only digital experience platform that includes built-in Digital Quality Management (DQM) to ensure brand integrity, best practices, and web accessibility compliance. Recently, Crownpeak acquired Evidon, the leading provider of simple technical solutions to complex digital Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC) challenges, including a new Universal Consent Platform, designed to help companies comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- Headquarters: San Francisco, CA, USA
- Number of employees: 18
- Website: www.builder.io
- Company overview: Builder.io enables teams to build and optimize digital experiences on any site or app. No coding required, and developer approved.
- Headquarters: Miami, FL, USA
- Number of employees: 28
- Website: www.dotcms.com
- Company overview: dotCMS empowers users to build, deliver, and scale memorable and lasting customer experiences with their cloud-based or on-premise content management system. Used by Fortune 500 companies, SMBs, and digital agencies alike, dotCMS enables organizations to create, reuse, store and manage content with key features, including content authoring, multi-channel deployment, role-based access, REST-APIs, workflows, and analytics. dotCMS allows marketing teams to take control of their content with a NoCode authoring environment, including drag and drop builders for content, templates, layouts and more. Managers can use the system’s search feature to retrieve documents as well as index content and assets of a website. Additionally, the built-in SEO tool helps teams analyze keywords, compare pages, and optimize website visibility across various search engines. Built as an API-first platform, dotCMS offers best-of-breed capabilities that mean users can easily integrate with third-party applications they already use like Marketo, Hubspot, Salesforce, SAP, Magento, Google Analytics, and more.
- Headquarters: Lexington, MA, USA
- Number of employees: 20
- Website: www.e-spirit.com
- Company overview: e-Spirit™—maker of the FirstSpirit Digital Experience Platform and best-in-class hybrid headless CMS—helps businesses engage customers and increase revenue with personalized, content-rich digital experiences anytime, anywhere. Savvy digital marketers across all industry sectors rely on the FirstSpirit platform for individualized and synchronized content delivery across all channels to differentiate their companies and compel their users to action. e-Spirit’s FirstSpirit Digital Experience Platform, offered through a SaaS or on-premises model, helps businesses engage customers and increase revenue with personalized, content-rich digital experiences anytime, anywhere. Savvy digital marketers across all industry sectors rely on the FirstSpirit platform—which includes a hybrid headless CMS, AI-driven personalization and omnichannel marketing capabilities—for individualized and synchronized content delivery across all channels to differentiate their companies and compel their users to action. e-Spirit, a Crownpeak company, has offices in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific. Customers include international brands and corporations such as BASF, Bosch, Belk, GNC, Nintendo, Olympus, Santander Bank, Carter’s, and many others.
- Headquarters: Czech Republic
- Number of employees: 245
- Website: www.kentico.com
- Company overview: Founded in 2004, Kentico Software is a software vendor with 17-year experience in developing the best way to work with content. They are proud of being a Czech company with global impact that, without any external funding, managed to develop two products that help you tell your stories —Kentico Xperience and Kentico Kontent. We are headquartered in the Czech Republic with offices in the US, UK, Netherlands, Singapore, and Australia. They have 1,000 digital solution partners and our products power 30,000 websites across 120 countries. Customers include Gibson, Starbucks, Ingram Micro, Mazda, Kingspan, Hyundai, Vogue, and Allergan. Kentico Xperience is a fully integrated digital experience platform (DXP) combining content management system (CMS), digital commerce and digital marketing including marketing automation and personalization in a single comprehensive platform. Mid-market clients love Xperience because it helps them deliver complex digital experience to their customers. #DXP recognized by analysts Kentico Kontent is a recognized leader in headless CMS that empowers enterprise content teams to manage all their content in a single repository while freeing developers to build engaging digital experience by using the latest technologies of their choice. #NoCompromises with #ComposableDXP
- Headquarters: Basel, Switzerland
- Number of employees: 177
- Website: www.magnolia-cms.com
- Company overview: Magnolia is a leading digital experience software company. They help brands outsmart their competition through better customer experiences and faster DX projects. Get full headless flexibility and seamless workflows across best-of-breed digital experience stacks. Global leaders such as Tesco, Avis, Generali and the New York Times all rely on Magnolia for maximum reliability, high-speed project implementation and exceptional omnichannel experiences.
- CMS Headquarters: San Francisco, CA, USA
- Number of employees: 172
- Website: www.netlify.com
- Company overview: Netlify is a Platform as a Service that integrates and automates all services that go in to making modern web projects. From free personal blogs to huge enterprise solutions, Netlify provides instant global performance.
- Headquarters: San Francisco, CA, USA
- Number of employees: 36
- Website: www.prismic.io
- Company overview: Prismic provides a headless CMS with an API. They aim to simplify editing content on your website and make work enjoyable for developers, marketers, and content teams.
- Headquarters: San Francisco, CA, USA
- Number of employees: 58
- Website: www.sanity.io
- Company overview: Sanity is the platform for structured content that lets teams build exceptional digital experiences. By treating content as data, modern organizations use their APIs to build optimal editing workflows and share content between systems to increase digital velocity. Their mission is to be the most versatile system for creating and distributing digital content to any device, application or channel.
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Next, we look at traditional CMS vendors that can be run in Headless mode (again, in alphabetical order):
- Headquarters: Boston, MA, USA
- Number of employees: 1,173 (note: Acquia provides a portfolio of software solutions, including but not limited to CMS)
- Website: www.acquia.com
- Company overview: Acquia is the open digital experience platform that enables organizations to build, host, analyze, and communicate with their customers at scale through websites and digital applications. As the trusted open source leader, they use adaptive intelligence to produce better business outcomes for CX leaders.
- Headquarters: San Jose, CA, USA
- Number of employees: over 28k (note: Adobe provides a portfolio of software solutions, including but not limited to CMS)
- Website: www.adobe.com
- Company overview: Adobe is the global leader in digital media and digital marketing solutions. Their creative, marketing, and document solutions empower everyone – from emerging artists to global brands – to bring digital creations to life and deliver immersive, compelling experiences to the right person at the right moment for the best results. In their own words: “In short, Adobe is everywhere, and we’re changing the world through digital experiences.”
- Headquarters: Mountain View, CA, USA
- Number of employees: 608 (note: Boomreach provides a portfolio of software solutions, including but not limited to CMS)
- Website: www.bloomreach.com
- Company overview: The Bloomreach Experience Platform (brX) competes in three core categories: Engagement (CDP and marketing automation), Content (headless content and experience management), and Discovery (e-commerce search, merchandising, recommendations, and SEO). They connect both customer data and product data to personalize all customer touch-points, leveraging our patented AI to recommend, predict, and segment. This empowers the marketer to create individual experiences, increase revenue, strengthen customer loyalty, and improve efficiency. With a global footprint, Bloomreach powers over 25% of all e-commerce experiences across the US and UK, and supports 300+ global enterprises including Neiman Marcus, CapitalOne, Staples, NHS Digital, Bosch, Puma, and Marks & Spencer. Their global network of certified partners includes Accenture Interactive, WPP, and market-leading commerce platforms.
- Headquarters: Hamburg, Germany
- Number of employees: 143
- Website: www.coremedia.com
- Company overview: CoreMedia is the company behind Content Cloud, the product that empowers marketing professionals to master the rapid rollout of personalized, content-rich global campaigns without the need to code. Content Cloud makes brands more agile and enables them to successfully stage more product drops per year with less resources and higher quality. CoreMedia Content Cloud also provides a powerful platform for frontend and backend developers to innovate. CoreMedia Content Cloud empowers developers to build personalized experiences and integrate their own choice of best-of-breed services with ease. CoreMedia Content Cloud is architected to be the "missing piece" for both headless content and commerce systems, as well as existing eCommerce and Marketing applications which typically lack sophisticated tools for creating and previewing content-rich digital experiences. CoreMedia Content Cloud is an open, best-of breed, API-driven solution that combines a headless content repository with an advanced Web-based UI that allows editors to access content from any source and preview front-end customer experiences in real time. CoreMedia Content Cloud’s omnichannel content delivery engine can expose content in a media-neutral format to be rendered by any target channel – from websites and mobile apps to point-of-sale kiosks and shelf displays. CoreMedia Content Cloud ships with a set of pre-built productized integrations with leading eCommerce and marketing tools including IBM Watson Commerce, SAP Commerce Cloud, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, and Elastic Path.
- Headquarters: San Francisco, CA, USA
- Number of employees: 1,663
- Website: www.sitecore.com
- Company overview: Sitecore delivers a digital experience platform that empowers the world’s smartest brands to build lifelong relationships with their customers. A highly decorated industry leader, Sitecore is the only company bringing together content, commerce, and data into one connected platform that delivers millions of digital experiences every day. Leading companies including American Express, ASOS, Carnival Cruise Lines, Kimberly-Clark, L’Oréal and Volvo Cars rely on Sitecore to provide more engaging, personalized experiences for their customers.
- Headquarters: Munster, Germany
- Number of employees: 35
- Website: https://www.frontastic.cloud/
- Company overview: Frontastic is a Commerce Frontend Platform that enables fast-growing brands to build amazing websites easy and fast on top of headless by removing the complexity for developers and giving business teams autonomy and flexibility.
- Headquarters: NA, Open Source Project
- Number of employees: Unknown
- Website: https://gridsome.org/
- Company overview: Gridsome is a Jamstack framework for Vue.js. Gridsomemakes it easy for developers to build static generated websites & apps that are fast be default.
- Headquarters: San Mateo, CA
- Number of employees: 212
- Website: https://getshogun.com/
- Company overview: Shogun is an ecommerce experience platform empowering brands to drive higher conversions, revenue, and brand loyalty. Theirproducts Shogun Page Builder and Shogun Frontend help teams build and optimize their online stores to deliver exceptional experiences. Theirproducts integrate with ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, and their 18,000 customers include Leesa, MVMT, Timbuk2, and Chubbies.
- Headquarters: Warsaw, Mazowieckie, Poland
- Number of employees: 40
- Website: https://www.vuestorefront.io/
- Company overview: Vue Storefront, an API-focused and Front-End for eCommerce, can be connected withany 3rd party services while taking care that everything runs at peak performance. Vue Storefront is developed in two lines: as the open-source standalone code library based on Vue.js and as the cloud-native frontend as a service (FEaaS) dedicated to enterprises.
In conclusion, a “headless” approach to your Content Management can offer tremendous benefits, in terms of the additional flexibility and agility in how you configure and manage your website content. But going headless is not for everyone, as it can sometimes introduce additional complexity into your application architecture.
Elastic Path provides a Composable, API-first, Headless Commerce Platform, so we are admittedly biased to a “Headless” approach, but we tried our best to provide an honest view of the pros and cons of “going headless” in general, whether for CMS, eCommerce, or any other application use-case. Also, given that our digital commerce platform is CMS-agnostic, we work with almost all of the CMS vendors listed in this article.