Editor's Note: The article has been updated on Jan. 10, 2023 to include new data and information.

The growth of the World Wide Web was a huge step forward in terms of global, instant and inexpensive information sharing. The smartphone allowed us to consume content on the go, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is making us even more connected, creating the need for new media management systems in the form of the headless CMS.

What does headless CMS mean, why do you need one for managing content and what's the best headless CMS available?

What Is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things refers to smart, internet-connected devices. IoT examples include smart appliances, like the Nest thermostat, digital assistants, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home and wearables, like Fitbit.

A display of Fitbit products, IoT wearable devices.
Wikimedia Commons

IoT in business is also prevalent, with bot-based inventory management, traffic-analyzing sensors, smart weight-reading shelves and much more.

In 2021, there were more than 11 billion IoT devices in use globally, according to Statista. By 2030, experts predict that number will reach more than 29 billion.

Neil Patel, founder of KISSmetrics and former Forbes contributor, wrote that the internet is on a path to becoming “ever-present.” Meaning, for those living in developed cities, the internet will constantly play a role in society and home life via a multitude of devices, screens, speakers and touchpoints.

Brands that want to reach consumers through these smart devices will need to find new ways to deliver content. Enter: the headless content management system (CMS).

Traditional vs. Headless CMS

A traditional CMS allows brands to create and share content on their websites or apps. The traditional CMS manages everything, including the creation, reading, updating and deleting (CRUD) of content, as well as how that content is displayed.

Traditional CMSs typically have a unified architecture — meaning the back end (where content is created and stored) is tightly connected to the front end (or the presentation layer, where the content is displayed).

What Is a Headless CMS? 

An image depicting what is a CMS

A headless CMS is a back end-only content management system where the “body” content is stored separately from the “head,” where it is presented. Content can more easily be reused across web, mobile and other platforms by keeping the content on the backend disconnected from the front end.

To meet the headless CMS definition, the platform must allow developers to customize the presentation layer and use any front-end tool they want to display content, meaning they can deliver that content beyond websites (called a headless website) and apps, reaching any channel from kiosks to smartwatches and even virtual reality headsets.

While headless CMS is nothing new, the demand for this kind of solution is. Businesses are looking beyond the traditional CMS to manage content and deliver it to locations beyond the web browser.

Now that we’ve covered the headless CMS meaning, let’s jump into the top headless content management systems available.

Top Systems for Headless Content Management in 2023

Many brands claim to offer a headless CMS product. Few, however, offer the flexibility and head-on plus head-optional capabilities that brand managers need.

To help startups, small businesses and enterprises adopt a headless content management system, we’ve compiled a list of 25 headless CMS solutions that come recommended by G2Crowd, Gartner and Forrester and are worth considering for your next project.

The Big List of Headless CMS Solutions

The following is a list of recommended free headless CMS systems and premium headless CMS systems.

1. Contentstack

Contentstack is a headless CMS that provides RESTful APIs. Features include content previews, collaboration, asset management, workflow management and versioning. The platform offers integrations for Salesforce, Eloqua and Marketo.

Pricing: Free trial available. Premium and enterprise plans offered.

2. Contentful

Contentful offers an API-driven, content-as-a-service headless CMS. The RESTful API gives developers complete control of content, digital assets and translations. Caching techniques and CDN integrations enable the delivery of API payloads in the sub-100ms range.

This headless CMS offers the ability to display JSON snippets, a rich-text editor and content modeling features. It can also integrate with static site generators for greater website flexibility.

Pricing: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

3. DotCMS

DotCMS is a Java-based platform that features multilingual and multi-tenant capabilities. It also features a WYSIWYG editor, alongside drag-and-drop features that enable marketers to engage in content modeling, workflow building and page layout modification.

DotCMS home screen

This content management system can be hosted on-premise or in the cloud. The platform includes an analytics dashboard, personalization and custom endpoint building. It also supports integration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Docker, Salesforce and other third-party developer and martech tools.

Pricing: Free self-hosted editions and tiered business subscriptions.

4. Cockpit

Cockpit is a free, open-source and self-hosted headless CMS that describes itself as a “content provider” and “not a website builder.” It's a back-end-only solution that stores and distributes content. There are no built-in editing features to manage content presentation — making it a pure headless CMS.

The platform uses APIs and JSON to deliver and present content, and it's both language and database agnostic.

Pricing: Free to download.

5. Core dna

Core dna is a headless CMS featuring over 80 individual applications supporting digital experience management, ecommerce, portals and intranets. This software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform supports personalization, multisite management, localization, integrations, framework agnosticism and detailed inventory management.

Marketers may appreciate the tool's WYSIWYG editor, which supports rich text and media management. Core dna allows content creators to manage multiple aspects of their online presence in one interface.

Pricing: Premium and enterprise plans available.

6. Craft CMS

Craft CMS is a “content-first” headless CMS that lets users create experiences around their content. It can be used for portals, articles, a blog and ecommerce.

Craft CMS features custom fields, drag-and-drop structured content and layout, multisite management, localization, asset management, live content previews and a built-in image editor. Each user can also have their own customizable dashboard, tailored to the tasks they perform most often.

Pricing: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

7. Zesty.io

Zesty.io is a decoupled CMS that goes miles beyond the traditional CMS. It's powerful and highly customizable, but it's easy to use. Users can also read through the platform's documentation to learn tips and best practices.

For marketers, Zesty.io provides template and page building, workflow management, automated SEO, advanced SEO tools and the ability to launch microsites and landing pages without IT involvement. For developers, Zesty.io serves up content-aware templating, custom endpoint building, built-in staging environments and customizable content models that ship headless JSON APIs.

Pricing: Various enterprise plans available.

8. Directus

Directus is an open-source headless CMS and API. Built using Vue.js., Directus manages custom-schema SQL databases directly.

The system allows developers to create custom databases tailored to the needs of each project, without having to worry about learning proprietary frameworks. Directus calls itself an Open Data Platform where developers can focus on the project rather than the underlying technology.

When the database is ready, Directus’ API or SDKs can be connected. The end result is a customizable interface that businesses can use to manage the content repository for their websites and mobile apps.

Pricing: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

9. DatoCMS

DatoCMS is a headless content-as-a-service (CaaS) platform. It offers multilingual support. It also enables brands to organize digital assets in folders, locate media files quickly using AI-powered tagging or sophisticated search capabilities and publish them wherever they need, including websites and mobile apps.

Pricing: Single and multi-project pricing options, free trial available.

10. Hygraph

Hygraph is an API-first CMS launched in 2017. It's based on the GraphQL data query language, which some developers consider to be the successor to REST.

GraphCMS allows developers to create a hosted GraphQL back end for their applications, which can define the relations, structures and permissions of the application data.

The system also comes with a number of tools to create and manage content, including text editors, content repository management, workflows, user roles and multilingual support.

Pricing: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

11. Cosmic

Cosmic is a cloud-hosted headless CMS platform offering both RESTful and GraphQL APIs. It features content modeling, localization, webhooks and media management and a WYSIWYG editor where users can embed code from third-party services, including GitHub and Typeform.

The CMS has ready-made integrations with Slack, AWS, Stripe, HubSpot and Algolia.

Pricing: Free self-hosted community edition. Premium plans also available.

12. Kontent.ai

Kontent.ai is a SaaS headless CMS that enables developers to integrate existing technologies and build sites using the languages, tools and frameworks of their choice. It comes with several SDKs, secured access to its API and SLA-guaranteed uptime.

Content creation is made easy, thanks to the WYSIWYG editor and its built-in features that enable collaboration, workflow management, structured content, personalization and localization.

Pricing: Free trial available, along with premium and enterprise plans.

13. Prismic

Prismic is a SaaS-based headless CMS that comes with a visual editor, custom type builds, multi-language support and full revision history. It also offers a powerful API for fetching and managing content.

As well as native integrations with ecommerce platforms, such as Shopify and Magento, Prismic comes with a scheduling and project management tool to enable collaboration and workflow management.

Prismic offers SDKs that allow developers to work in their preferred framework or language, increasing productivity and giving developers more control.

Learning Opportunities

Pricing: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

14. Sanity

Sanity is an open-source headless CMS and unified content platform based on JavaScript and React.js. Like most headless CMSs with built-in content editors, it offers a WYSIWIG rich text editor, which allows marketers to embed editable data in running text and defer markup to render time.

Another interesting feature that takes Sanity beyond the traditional CMS is the Sweet Query API, which enables developers to cache multiple queries on a single request. It also offers many useful features for marketers, including tools for real-time collaboration, live previewing and content versioning.

Pricing: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

15. Sitecore

Gartner lists Sitecore as one of its industry leaders in the world of content management. It offers a vast suite of solutions, including the Sitecore Experience Platform, Content Hub, Experience Manager and Experience Commerce. These products work in tandem to help brands separate content from presentation across multiple channels.

Sitecore’s solutions also offer in-context content editors and cross-channel preview capabilities, as well as enterprise-class search, asset management and content targeting to boost personalization efforts.

Pricing: Tailored pricing and demo available upon request via contact form.

16. Strapi

Strapi is a next-gen headless CMS open-source solution built on Node.js. It enables developers to build and manage multiple APIs for distributing content. Unlike many other platforms, Strapi takes a developer-first approach, offering a lightweight, highly customizable system for managing content that can be delivered anywhere, whether a website, app, or elsewhere.

The front-end agnostic platform, which goes traditional content management systems, features an extensible and customizable admin panel, plugins, asset management and several security layers, including CSFR, CORS, P3P and XSS.

Pricing: Free to download.

17. Solodev

Solodev is a content and digital customer experience (DCX) management platform designed to help marketers create new digital experiences.

Powered by Amazon Web Services, Solodev provides enterprise-grade security, scalability and redundancy. The platform can be used for content management, optimizing digital channels and processing customer data.

Pricing: Enterprise plans (tiered) available.

18. Agility CMS

Agility CMS claims to be the fastest and most flexible headless CMS on the market. This multi-tenant SaaS platform is easy for developers to customize, and it offers an accessible user interface for marketers as well. It has built-in components for content management, ticketing, landing page design and ecommerce.

This content management system makes it straightforward to quickly spin up new instances and achieve high performance for customer experience delivery.

Pricing: Free trials and various subscription plans available.

19. Netlify CMS

Netlify CMS is an open-source, extensible content management system built on React. The platform features an editor-friendly interface and intuitive workflows for content authors.

The Netlify CMS platform home screen.

It offers the speed and reliability of static sites combined with the easy workflow of a CMS. Content is stored in Git alongside code for getting content-driven apps to market faster.

Pricing: Free and open source.

20. CoreMedia Content Cloud

CoreMedia started offering its marketing solutions in 1996 and it jumped on the headless CMS trend with CoreMedia Content Cloud.

This digital experience platform enables marketers, merchandisers and development teams to collaboratively create, preview and optimize digital brand experiences. It offers integrations with a number of enterprise commerce platforms, from Commerce Tools to Spryker.

Pricing: Enterprise pricing (demo available upon request).

21. Bloomreach

Bloomreach offers three digital platforms, including Bloomreach Experience Cloud (brX), Bloomreach Search & Merchandising (brSM) and Bloomreach Experience Manager (brXM).

Bloomreach’s commerce-focused platforms run on top of a headless commerce solution. They allow marketers to optimize and personalize commerce and content experiences with headless APIs to enable developer agility.

Pricing: Enterprise pricing (demo available upon request).

22. Crownpeak

Crownpeak’s digital experience platform is cloud-native and built for brands seeking scalability and security. It's a hybrid headless CMS that supports content and ecommerce platforms. The system is designed with national privacy and data protection laws in mind.

Along with omnichannel content delivery and multisite management, Crownpeak offers personalization tools, A/B testing, SEO features and live site tag and performance monitoring.

Pricing: Enterprise pricing (demo available upon request).

23. Magnolia

Magnolia CMS is recognized by Gartner and Forrester. It's an open-source headless CMS that allows users to deliver structured content to multiple platforms and devices. That same content can also be hyper-personalized via built-in features.

This low-code platform empowers citizen developers and IT teams alike, thanks to its built-in CI/CD, hot deployment and slim YAML configuration files.

Pricing: Enterprise pricing (demo available upon request).

24. Ibexa

Ibexa (formerly eZ Platform) is an open-source CMS and digital experience platform built on the Symfony full-stack framework.

Ibexa provides a content repository, multichannel and multi-device content delivery, multilingual and multisite content management and granular user permissions.

Pricing: Open-source version available, enterprise pricing.

25. Optimizely

Formerly known as Episerver, Optimizely offers a CMS, as well as a marketing suite. It enables editors to drag-and-drop digital content to quickly create new digital experiences that are automatically responsive.

There are several products in the Optimizely suite, offering search, AI personalization and data analytics to help brands maximize their content strategies.

Pricing: Enterprise pricing (demo available upon request).

Choosing a Headless CMS? Look Beyond the Software

With headless CMS explained and a list of useful headless content management systems to choose from, brands can begin to make the switch to a headless approach. Though it won't be a simple undertaking.

Be sure to pick a system with good support and ensure the people who will use it are on board with the transition. Test a few different platforms and choose one with all the features your team needs.