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.

But the demands for content management have moved beyond pure headless in 2020. Many brands these days want — and even need — head-on and head-optional capabilities from their CMS to empower marketers and business users across channels. As a result, the headless CMS landscape is changing, and hybrid is becoming the new headless. 

To help startups, small businesses and enterprises take the headless plunge with confidence, we’ve compiled a list of 34 headless CMS solutions — as recommended by G2Crowd, Gartner, and Forrester — 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. Cockpit CMS
  7. Core dna
  8. Craft CMS
  9. Zesty.io
  10. Directus
  11. Dato CMS
  12. GraphCMS
  13. Cosmic JS
  14. Kontent.ai (Kentico)
  15. Prismic.io
  16. Bold (Quintype)
  17. Sanity
  18. Scrivito
  19. Sitecore
  20. DNN Evoq Content
  21. Strapi
  22. Solodev
  23. Agility CMS
  24. Ingeniux CMS
  25. FirstSpirit (e-Spirit)
  26. Netlify CMS
  27. Liferay
  28. CoreMedia Content Cloud
  29. Bloomreach
  30. Crownpeak
  31. Magnolia CMS
  32. Sitefinity
  33. eZ Platform
  34. Episerver

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. 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. 

7. 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.

8. 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. 

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. DatoCMS

Italy-based DatoCMS is a headless content as a service (CaaS) platform. Supporting multiple languages, DatoCMS 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 it.

Availability: Free trial available

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. Kontent.ai (Kentico)

Kentico Cloud, rebranded to Kontent.ai, is a Czech Republic-based SaaS 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.

15. 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.

16. Bold (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 contentproduction 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, Googe AMP, content syndication and push notifications. 

Availability: Free trial available. Enterprise plans are also available.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. Sitecore 

San Francisco, Calf.-based Sitecore is considered a WCM industry leader by Gartner. The enterprise suite of solutions—including Sitecore Experience Platform, Content Hub, Experience Manager, and Experience Commerce—work in tandem to help brands separate content from presentation in any environment. 

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

Availability: Demo available upon request.

20. 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 are also available.

21. 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.

22. Solodev

Orlando, FL.-based Solodev is a content management and digital customer experience (DCX) platform that lets individuals and organizations work together on their digital transformation in the cloud. 

Powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Solodev provides enterprise-grade security, scalability and redundancy. Users can choose from a pre-built theme like our inspiring LunarXP design template,or go custom and start from scratch. 

Availability: Demo available upon request.

23. Agility CMS

Toronto, Canada based Agility CMS aims to be the fastest headless CMS on the market. The platform is open to all developers and focuses on making integrations as easy as possible. There are also built in components for marketers such as eCommerce, website search, content & page management, and ticketing.

Agility CMS makes it straightforward to quickly spin up new instances and achieve high-performance for customer experience delivery.

Availability: Free trials and various subscription plans available.

24. Ingeniux CMS

Ingeniux CMS — a product of Seattle, W.A.-based Ingeniux Corporation — is a long-standing agile and mobile-first CMS solution. The platform provides headless and Content as a Service capabilities out of the box. It also features in-context editing, a page builder, personalization tools, digital asset management, and more.

Ingeniux offers a SaaS solution with cloud-based hosting, managed services, 24x7 support, and other convenient services.

Availability: Demo available upon request.

25. FirstSpirit (e-Spirit)

FirstSpirit is a SaaS-based digital experience platform from Lexington, M.A.-based e-Spirit. The platform features hybrid tooling, AI-driven personalization, omnichannel marketing capabilities. 

Recognized by Gartner as a Visionary in the WCM market, FirstSpirit is also highly interoperable with adjacent systems with its API-driven, microservices-based architecture, 

Availability: Demo available upon request.

26. Netlify CMS

Netlify CMS — built by a community of open source contributors — is an extensible CMS built atop React. The platform features an editor-friendly interface and intuitive workflows for content authors.

The platform also brings the speed and reliability of a static site. Content is stored in Git alongside code for getting content-driven apps to market faster. 

Availability: open source and free to download.

27. Liferay

Diamond Bar, Calif.-based Liferay Digital Experience Platform enables users to go completely headless, or use Liferay in a hybrid or decoupled environment. Enterprise organizations can use Liferay to create and connect personalized digital experiences across web, mobile, social, in-store and other touchpoints. 

Availability: Demo available upon request.

28. CoreMedia Content Cloud

In the business since 1996, Germany-based CoreMedia Content Cloud enables marketers, merchandisers and developers to collaboratively create, preview, and optimize digital brand experiences. The platform has integrations with a number of enterprise commerce platforms, from commercetools to Spryker. 

Availability: Demo available upon request.

29. Bloomreach

Mountain View, Calif.-based Bloomreach offers three solutions; 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—with or without a commerce re-platform—to optimize and personalize commerce and content experiences, with headless APIs to enable developer agility.

Availability: Demo available upon request.

30. Crownpeak

LA, Calif.-based Crownpeak’s digital experience platform is cloud-native, built for brands seeking scalability and security.  

Along with omnichannel content delivery and multi-site management, Crownpeak offers Personalization, A/B Testing, SEO features, and live site tag and performance monitoring. 

Availability: Demo available upon request.

31. Magnolia CMS

Recognized by Gartner and Forrester, Basel, Switzerland-based Magnolia CMS offers an open-source headless CMS with content hyper-personalization features, digital asset management, campaign management, and marketer-friendly interfaces. 

The low-code platform also aids developers with built-in CI/CD, hot deployment, and slim YAML configuration files.

Availability: Demo available upon request.

32. Sitefinity

Bedford MA.-based Progress Sitefinity is a web content management system built to engage customers across the entire customer lifecycle. 

Sitefinity Web Content Management and Sitefinity Digital Experience Cloud empower brands to deliver personalized experiences, including commerce experiences, across channels. 

Availability: Demo available upon request.

33. eZ Platform

Norway-based eZ Platform is an open-source CMS built on the Symfony full-stack framework. 

eZ Platform provides a content repository, multichannel and multidevice content delivery, multilingual and multisite content management, and granular user permissions.

Availability: Demo available upon request.

34. Episerver

Named as a leader in the WCM space by Gartner, Episerver offers a CMS as well as a marketing suite.  It enables editors to drag-and-drop content to quickly create new digital experiences that are automatically responsive. 

Episerver Find is the enterprise search platform that can dynamically build landing pages, while Episerver Advance brings AI-personalization to the table. Finally, Episerver Insight captures data and analytics.

Availability: Demo available upon request.

Choosing a Headless CMS? Look Beyond the Software

This 34-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?