A headless statue in an outdoor garden. headless CMS concept
PHOTO: Shutterstock

By 2022, our homes and offices will host over 40 million IoT devices. That includes everything from the smart speakers on our kitchen countertops, to the AI-enabled devices on our wrists, to the screen-touting kiosks at the local mall. Neil Patel, the Founder of KISSmetrics, recently noted that the internet is on a path to becoming “ever-present”, meaning that, for those living in developed cities at least, the internet, and all of its content, will constantly play a role in society and home life via a multitude of devices, screens, speakers, and touchpoints.

For brands looking to gain and retain consumer attention, such an environment poses a challenge, and an opportunity. The primary question brands will be asking themselves is; how can we get our content in front of the right audience, at the right time, and through the right device, when there are so many variables at play? Moreover, how are we going to scale our content marketing and advertising strategy to cover more devices and touchpoints, when we’re barely coping as it stands today?

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.

The Growing Need for Headless Content Management in 2019

In an attempt to answer those two questions, we’ve seen old and new content management systems take on the title of “headless CMS” in recent years.

While many headless CMSs have been purpose-built for the IoT era, some vendors have re-branded and re-aligned their technology to offer headless content management, claiming that their technology always allowed for an API-driven approach to content management and delivery.

This rush to meet the needs of brands who are in turn looking to please consumers has created somewhat of a buzz around how headless CMS work, how they can be leveraged, and which one is best. As you might imagine, this hotly discussed landscape now prominently features a battleground with multiple vendors vying to become the “WordPress” of the headless CMS generation.

To help startups, small businesses and enterprises take the headless plunge with confidence, we’ve compiled a list of 24 headless CMS solutions, as recommended by G2Crowd, that you need to put on your radar.

The Big List of Headless CMS Solutions

Before we delve into each product, here’s a summarized list of headless CMSs. *The list is in no particular order.

  1. Butter CMS
  2. Contentstack
  3. Contentful
  4. dotCMS
  5. Mura
  6. Cloud CMS
  7. Cockpit CMS
  8. Core dna
  9. Craft CMS
  10. Zesty.io
  11. Directus
  12. Storyblok
  13. GraphQL CMS
  14. Gentics Mesh
  15. Cosmic JS
  16. Kentico Cloud
  17. Prismic.io
  18. Quintype
  19. Sanity
  20. Scrivito
  21. Squidex
  22. DNN Evoq Content
  23. Strapi
  24. Superdesk

1. Butter CMS

Butter CMS

Chicago-based Butter CMS is an API-first CMS that was launched in 2014. Features of Butter CMS include custom page types, relational content modeling, webhooks, CDN support, multi-site support, testing environment, and an admin interface that can be easily customized. Butter CMS provides an independent blogging platform that you can integrate into any framework.

For marketers, Butter CMS provides a WYSIWYG interface to support the production of SEO landing pages, customer case studies, company news pages, and more.

Availability: Free trial available, with premium and enterprise plans.

2. Contentstack

Contentstack

Developed by San Francisco-based Built.io, which was founded in 2007, Contentstack is a headless CMS that provides RESTful APIs. Features include content previews, collaboration, asset management, workflow management, and versioning.

Turnkey integrations for tools such as Marketo, Salesforce and Eloqua, also come bundled.

Availability: Free trial available. Premium and enterprise plans are also available.

3. Contentful

Contentful

Founded in 2013, Germany-based Contentful offers an API-driven headless CMS. Contentful’s RESTful API gives developers full programmatic control of content, digital assets, and translations. The platform also takes advantage of caching techniques as well as external CDN integrations to enable the delivery of API payloads in the sub-100ms range.

It has the ability to display JSON snippets, a rich-text editor, and content modelling features the enable marketers to arrange individual fields and content modules such as text, images and calendars.

Availability: Free plan available, with premium and enterprise plans.

4. dotCMS

dotcms

DotCMS is an open source headless CMS based in Miami, Florida. Founded in 2003, dotCMS is no stranger to the world of content management. Their Java CMS features multi-lingual and multi-tenant capabilities, along with a WYSIWYG editor alongside drag-and-drop features that enable marketers to engage in content modelling, workflow building, and page layout modification.

DotCMS can be hosted either on-premise, or in the cloud. The platform also provides an analytics dashboard, personalization, custom endpoint building, along with integrations with AWS, Docker, Salesforce, and other third-party developer and martech tools.

Availability: A free edition is available for download. Enterprise plans also available.

5. Mura

mura

Developed by Blueriver, Sacramento CA.-based Mura is a decoupled open source CMS that comes with a myriad of features for marketers and IT professionals. For marketers, there is a customizable WYSIWYG editor, custom navigation creator, multi-device content previews, as well as a built-in analytics dashboard.

Developers can benefit from APIs, Docker support, CSS framework support, as well as support for popular JavaScript frameworks like Vue.js, React.js., and Ember.js.

Availability: Free to download.

6. Cloud CMS

Cloud CMS

Founded in 2010, the Newton MA.-based Cloud CMS is an API-first JSON-based CMS. It comes with a host of enterprise features including flexible content models, Git-like versioning, webhooks, an anti-virus scanner, and a search function where you can perform JSON SQL-like queries.  It’s available as a SaaS product, or in the form of a Docker-based microservice which can be hosted on-premise, or on a private cloud.

Cloud CMS runs on top of MongoDB, ElasticSearch and Amazon AWS. Developers can also create their own applications using the language and framework of their choice.

Availability: Free trial available along with premium and enterprise plans.

7. Cockpit CMS

cockpit cms

Cockpit is a free, open source, and self-hosted headless CMS that was founded in Wulmstorf, Germany. Cockpit describes itself as a “content provider” and “not a website builder”, meaning that is a back-end only solution that stores and distributes content. There are no built-in editing features to adjust the presentation of your content — making it a pure headless CMS.

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

Availability: Free to download.

8. Core dna

Core dna

Boston-based Core dna is a proprietary headless CMS made up of over 80 individual applications supporting digital experience management, eCommerce, portals, and intranets.

Boasting a multi-tenant and decoupled architecture, the SaaS platform offers features enabling personalization, multi-site management, localization, integrations, framework agnosticism, and detailed inventory management. The platform also has a WYSIWYG editor which supports rich text and media management.

Availability: Premium and enterprise plans available.

9. Craft CMS

Craft CMS

Founded in 2013, Bend OR.-based Craft CMS is a “content-first” headless CMS that let users create experiences around their content.

Craft CMS features custom fields, drag-and-drop layout management, multi-site management, localization, asset management, live content previews, and a built-in image editor. Each user can also attain their own customizable dashboard.

Availability: Free, premium, and enterprise plans are available.

10. Zesty.io

Zesty.io is a San Diego-based decoupled CMS that has been developed for both marketers and developers.

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.

Availability: Enterprise plans available.

11. Directus

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

The idea is that developers can create custom databases based on specific project needs without learning a proprietary framework or being forced to build using specific technologies. When the database is ready, Directus’ API or SDKs can be connected, resulting in a customizable interface that business users can use to manage database content for their websites and applications.

Availability: Free, premium, and enterprise plans are available.

12. Storyblok

Founded in 2017, Storyblok is an Austria-based open source, API-driven headless CMS and eCommerce platform. It features reusable and nestable content blocks, a marketer-friendly visual composer, asset management, custom fields, and content localization.

Storyblok also provides SDKs, CDN support, content previews, and user roles. It’s a SaaS product, yet its open source nature means that users will find community-built boilerplates, plugins, and apps.

Availability: Free, premium, and enterprise plans available.

13. GraphQL CMS (GraphCMS)

Giessen, Germany-based GraphCMS is an API-first CMS that entered the market in 2017. The product is based on GraphQL, a data query language that some developers consider to be the successor to REST.

GraphCMS allows you to develop a hosted GraphQL back-end for your application where you can define relations, structures, and permissions of your application data. It also comes with a number of tools to create and manage your content, including text editors, asset management, workflows, user roles, and multi-lingual support.

Availability: Free, premium, and enterprise plans available.

14.  Gentics Mesh

Gentics Mesh is an open source headless CMS boasting multi-language support, content versioning as well as user roles and permissions.

The platform provides developers with a RESTful and GraphQL API, Elasticsearch, and clustering. For marketers, Gentics Mesh offers customizable and reusable content components along with automatically-populating navigation menus and automatic link resolving to eliminate the problem of broken links.

Availability: Free to download. Enterprise plans available.

15. Cosmic JS

Cosmic JS is a cloud-hosted headless CMS platform that provides both RESTful and GraphQL APIs. The platform features content modeling, localization, webhooks, media management, as well as a WYSIWYG  editor where you can embed code from third-party services like GitHub and Typeform.

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

Availability: A free community edition is available to download. Premium plans are also available.

16. Kentico Cloud

Kentico Cloud is a Czech Republic-based cloud-based headless CMS that enables developers to integrate existing technologies and build sites using the languages, tools, and frameworks of their choice. It also comes with several SDKs, secured access to API, and SLA-guaranteed uptime.

When it comes to content creation, Kentico Cloud boasts a WYSIWYG editor and enables collaboration, workflow management, structured content, personalization, and localization.

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

17. Prismic.io

San Francisco-based Prismic is a SaaS headless CMS that comes with a visual editor, custom type builds, multi-language support, and full revision history. As well as native integrations with eCommerce platforms like Shopify and Magento, Prismic comes with a scheduling and project management tool to enable collaboration and workflow management.

Prismic provides developers with a development kit for their preferred programming language or framework.

Availability: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

18. Quintype

India-based Quintype is an API-driven headless CMS geared toward digital media organizations and news media outlets.Founded in 2014, Quintype’s built-in editing interface allows for collaborative content production and features configurable workflow management, automated publishing, card-based organization and support for both multilingual and multi-format content.

Quintype’s personalization engine provides engagement tracking, real-time analytics, automated daily reports, and author performance. Furthermore, Quintype’s “auto-scaling infrastructure” supports Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, content syndication and push notifications.

Availability: Free trial available. Enterprise plans also available.

19. Sanity

Launched in 2015, Sanity is an open source headless CMS that was developed in Oslo, Norway. Built on JavaScript and React.js, Sanity features a WYSIWYG rich text editor which allows you to embed editable data in running text and defer markup to render time. It also comes with a Sweet Query API that enables you to cache multiple queries on a single request.

Sanity also provides real-time collaboration, live previewing, and content versioning.

Availability: Free, premium and enterprise plans available.

20. Scrivito

Scrivito is a Germany-based headless CMS that runs on AWS, JavaScript and ReactJS. It features a WYSIWYG drag-and-drop interface, user permissions, collaboration, as well as widgets that support additional features and functionalities.

Scrivito also comes with a built-in client-side rendering technology, CDN support, and dynamic image resizing.

Availability: Free trial available. Premium and enterprise plans are also available.

21. Squidex

Squidex is an open source headless CMS that’s built upon ASP.NET. It comes with several core features including a rich text editor, content versioning, advanced query language search, multi-language support, content collaboration, and asset management.

The Germany-based platform also lets you create client access keys for their websites or mobile applications.

Availability: Free and premium plans available.

22. DNN Evoq Content

Evoq Content is the open source decoupled headless offering from San Mateo CA.-based DNN software, a veteran of the CMS world. Evoq provides a comprehensive set of features suitable for both marketing and IT. Marketers have access to WYSIWYG editing, inline image editing, a content layout module, and “Liquid Content” which as the name suggests enables content to flow to any channel, in typical headless fashion.

For developers, they have access to a module creator, built-in JavaScript libraries and a .NET API.

Availability: A free trial is available. Premium and enterprise plans also available.

23. Strapi

France-based Strapi is an open source headless CMS built on Node.js. It enables you to build and manage multiple APIs.

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

Availability: Strapi is free to download.

24. Superdesk

Last but not least on the list is Czech Republic-based Superdesk, an open source headless CMS for news corporations and publishers. It features an interface that provides a consistent overview of production and workflow for newsroom managers. Plus, users can create custom workspaces, manage media, and use templates to publish stories faster.

Superdesk also gives copy editors the ability to toggle between custom views, allowing them to change font colors, backgrounds, and sizes to give tired eyes a chance to spot errors or front-end presentational issues.

Availability: Enterprise plans available.

Choosing a Headless CMS? Look Beyond the Software

This 24-strong list of headless CMSs speaks for itself; and it says, “you have options”.

While the technology will differ from vendor to vendor, the biggest difference you’ll feel is the level of service and support the vendor will provide during deployment, and thereafter. Going headless isn’t the easiest transition your brand will make, so be sure to choose a vendor with a history of giving hands-on assistance and supportive expertise.

In other words, kick the tyres and look under the hood of the software as you normally would—but just be sure to ask the driver some questions, too.

Which headless CMS are you keeping tabs on in 2019?