view of a duck swimming in water. water makes head look separate
PHOTO: marfis75 on flickr

As the era of IoT devices descends upon us, the demand for headless content management is spiking.

Brands want the freedom to deliver content to any existing channel, and the flexibility of being ready for any channel that’s yet to emerge. Existing CMS vendors are pivoting and brand new platforms are angling to serve these customer's needs.

As 2018 approaches, the likes of Kentico Cloud, BloomReach and Sitecore are some of the names you’ll likely hear being associated with enterprise headless content management. But here are 13 headless (and decoupled) content management systems that might not be on your radar — but should be.

What Is Headless and Decoupled Content Management?

Before we dive in, let’s quickly recap on what headless and decoupled content management is.

A headless CMS is like a traditional CMS, but without any way to present the content being created and stored within it. It simply allows for the creation, reading, updating and deleting (CRUD) of content. 

That might sound counterproductive at first, but the idea is that — thanks to the lack of a front-end delivery layer — brands can use any front-end tool they want to present the content, meaning they can deliver content beyond websites and apps, reaching any channel from kiosks to smartwatches and even inside virtual reality headsets.

A decoupled CMS works in the same way, but it throws in some handy front-end tools like templates and advanced drag-and-drop content modeling features. Hence, it has a head, it’s just decoupled from it, allowing the organization to draft in other front-end tools on an ad hoc basis.

While headless and decoupled architecture are nothing new, the demand for this kind of solution is, as businesses look to deliver content to locations outside of the standard web browser.

And now, back to the list.

1. GraphCMS

Launched in 2017, Giessen, Germany-based GraphCMS is a GraphQL-based (the data query language it refers to as the “successor of REST”) headless CMS. It lets you build a hosted backend for your applications and gives you all the tools you need to manage your content.

2. ButterCMS

Founded in 2014, Chicago-based ButterCMS serves up two products: a full headless CMS and standalone blog engine that can integrate with any framework.

It boasts custom content types, WYSIWYG editing, webhooks and localization features.

3. Built.io (Contentstack)

San Francisco-based Built.io, founded in 2007, offers a small suite of products including Contentstack, its headless CMS.

As a SaaS product, it claims to offer a “cloud service (that) lets you instantly scale to millions of sessions and remain in control of your data and grow traffic without worrying about infrastructure.”

4. Elemeno

Founded in 2016, Elemeno is an API-based headless CMS that makes use of RESTful API.

The cloud-based platform boasts content versioning, content delivery networks (CDN) and a drag-and-drop content modeling interface.

5. Cloud CMS

Founded in 2010, Newton, Mass.-based Cloud CMS is an API-first headless CMS built around JSON.

Features include content modelling, content versioning and automation via rules that trigger on events or fire out to remote web hooks.

6. dotCMS

Founded in 2003, Miami-based dotCMS isn’t new to the content management game, but it has spent the last few years developing its approach to headless content delivery, which can be implemented as a cloud, on-premises or hybrid-cloud solution.

The open source platform's features include customizable workflows and elasticsearch.

7. Contentful

Berlin-based Contentful was founded in 2013. It’s a RESTful API headless CMS with software development kits for the most popular languages.

It benefits from microservice architecture, CDNs, a rich-text editor, content modelling and user permissions.

8. DNN Evoq 9

San Mateo, Calif.-based DNN Software is another veteran of the CMS world that has adopted the headless approach to content management via DNN Evoq 9 and its ‘Liquid content’ feature — which, as the name implies, allows content to flow to any channel in typical headless fashion.

Features include personalization, form building, email marketing integrations, WYSIWYG editing and drag-and-drop content modelling.

9. Directus

Directus is an open source headless CMS written in backbone.js. It describes itself as a “client-friendly interface for your database.”

Features include user permissions, asset management, content versioning and collaboration features like comments and @ messaging.

10. Zesty.io

Zesty.io is a San Diego, Calif.-based decoupled CMS.

It boasts built-in ecommerce functionality, form building, drag-and-drop content modelling and frameworks to couple your headless content with.

11. Prismic

San Francisco-based Prismic is a headless CMS that comes bundled with a visual editor, content blocks and templates.

Prismic’s features include content modelling, multi-language support, revision history, scheduling and previews.

12. Cockpit

Wulmstorf, Germany-based Cockpit is a self-hosted headless and API-driven CMS.

Cockpit is “not a web site builder, it’s a content provider,” meaning there’s no front-end features to tinker with. But it is open source, and it can be used with either SQLite or MongoDB for larger databases.

13. Squidex

Last but not least is Squidex, an open source headless CMS build upon ASP.NET.

It boasts a visual content editor, asset management, content versioning and multi-language support.

A Crowded Headless Market

The headless and decoupled content management systems listed above are indeed ones to watch, but the headless CMS space is much larger than these 13 platforms. 

And with headless content management in such high demand, you can expect to see a whole new batch of headless CMS launches in coming months and years.

So with that in mind, what’s your go-to headless CMS?