With Amazon’s slew of Alexa devices kick-starting the IoT device movement and transforming consumer expectations, the need for headless content management among enterprise brands is growing.
But with so many headless CMS options out there, it can be hard to pin down a reliable solution that’s equipped to fuel your digital presence for the foreseeable future.
We’ve compiled a list of headless CMS right here, so you can survey your options, compare features, study track records, and narrow down your search. But first…
What is a Headless CMS?
To define what a headless CMS is, we need to understand the difference between a headless CMS and a conventional (or traditional) CMS.
Conventional CMS platforms, like Joomla for instance, come with a front-end delivery layer — otherwise known as the “head” — that dictates how the content is presented to the end-user. The front-end is tightly coupled with the back-end, which stores the content alongside the database, files, and codebase that help to operate the CMS platform.
A headless CMS is a CMS that has had its “head” — or front-end delivery layer — removed, leaving only the back-end. As a result, the content inside the CMS is no longer tied to a particular template or delivery layer. Instead, it’s free to be sent to any channel or device.
There are several advantages to using a headless CMS over a conventional platform that tightly couples the back-end and the front-end. For one, the tightly coupled front-end interface typically restricts the user to distribute their content to a either one, or a small number of channels. For instance, most CMS are designed to help brands publish browser-based websites only. With a headless content management system however, the absence of the front-end works in favor of brands who want to expand their digital presence to apps, digital signage, VR headsets, and IoT devices in general.
What is Headless Architecture?
The term “headless architecture” describes the fact that there is no front-end delivery layer, and no content authoring interface. Instead, a headless CMS is more akin to a content repository equipped with APIs. those APIs can connect with front-end delivery systems to help brands publish content across channels. This architecture enables data to be transferred to any part of the web. In a headless CMS context, the content is retrieved from the central repository through API calls.
This type of architecture prevents the back-end from being tightly coupled to any presentation layer as previously mentioned — and while this has advantages for publishing across channels, it can also create issues for non-technical users, as we will now explain.
Headless and Decoupled Architecture Explained
You might think that the two terms — headless and decoupled — are synonymous. But that’s not quite true. In fact, there is a highly significant difference between a headless CMS and a decoupled CMS.
While both benefit from the headless architecture previously discussed, a decoupled CMS comes with the added benefit of having a front-end delivery layer inside the box. In other words, you can use a decoupled CMS just like a headless CMS, but you can also afford your marketers the comfort of a content authoring experience, too.
This addresses a major problem with headless content management systems. Because a headless platform is essentially an API-driven content repository, marketers and non-technical folk are left to fend for themselves when it comes to actually presenting content. There’s no WYSIWYG editing, no previews, no universally user-friendly interfaces.
With a decoupled architecture, you get those tools, plus all the other features you’d expect to find in a traditional CMS. Yet, the back-end and front-end have been decoupled to allow for headless content delivery, again through API calls.
A List of Headless CMS (2018)
Now that you are familiar with what a headless CMS is, and how a decoupled CMS differs, here’s a list of headless and decoupled systems to consider.
Zesty.io is a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), decoupled CMS provider that hails from San Diego, California. The platform’s features include built-in custom JSON feed functionality, drag-and-drop content modeling, multi-site support, and more.
Zesty.io’s approach to Content as a Service (CaaS) consists of a fully independent presentation layer which enables content creators to provision both text-based and media assets during any point of the development lifecycle. It also features capabilities to deploy effective mobile experiences natively via its built-in responsive design framework.
Zesty.io’s content API supports the delivery of content to any mobile, app or IoT devices. This allows you to create the content once and then deploy it to any device - this prevents content duplication from occurring.
Plus, it also comes with a built-in collaboration tool allowing team members who are working on the platform to communicate with each other - enabling both developers and marketers to quickly exchange ideas and feedback without having to submit a separate request.
Brands like Sony, Rocket League, and Astroglide all make use of Zesty.io’s platform.
Germany-based GraphCMS was launched in 2017. Built with GraphQL (an alternative data query language to REST), this headless CMS solution caters to developers with dedicated infrastructure and a flexible webhook system.
It also comes with an intuitive content model editor that enables you to define the structure, relations, and permissions of your application data. Plus, the editor features a range of different tools to create content, of any shape, without any technical knowledge.
Launched in 2014, Chicago-based ButterCMS serves two distinct products: a headless CMS, and a standalone blog engine which can integrate with any pre-existing framework.
ButterCMS’s headless CMS comes with a wide range of features including custom page types, custom content types, relational content modeling, preview capabilities, media library, testing environment, webhooks, localization, and multi-site support. To cater for marketers, ButterCMS also boasts an admin interface with WYSIWYG editing.
Established in 2003, this Miami-based decoupled CMS provider is no stranger to the world of web content management.
Unlike most other options on this list, dotCMS is an open source platform that brands itself as a hybrid CMS, a term which is synonymous with the term decoupled CMS. As well as headless content management, it provides codeless workflow creation, WYSIWYG editing, SEO tools, templates, drag-and-drop page design, form building, and custom content types.
Directus is a free open source headless CMS that is available from GitHub and is written on backbone.js. It features an admin interface that, as according to Directus’s website, doesn’t require any training to use. The interface helps to manage your database content directly by pulling the information straight from the source.
Directus describes itself as a “client-friendly interface” for your database. It also features an asset management tool, which allows you to upload and manage media files. Plus it also comes with a revision history tool for tracking activities and provide system-wide accountability.
Sitecore’s headless offering is known as Sitecore Experience Platform. It has been described as a platform that provides marketers with the tools they need to understand their customer through data and analytics so that they can deliver a “more relevant, personalized experience” from initial contact to post-purchase engagement.
Plus, it also comes with Sitecore Cortex, a machine learning tools that help to optimize business outcomes.
Founded in 2013, the Berlin-based Contentful is a RESTful API headless CMS that comes equipped with a software development kit for the most popular programming languages.
Contentful boasts a developer-friendly API that helps to speed up the development cycle so developers can build working demos for prototyping and create sophisticated apps more quickly. The built-in markdown editor also allows developers to write and deploy code more promptly and efficiently.
The editor interface is suitable for authoring all types of content, including text, locations, collections, dates, and even JSON snippets. Users can also take advantage of the default user permission roles to help keep content safe and secure. Plus, the content modeling tool enables you to create different custom content types and arrange the entries in flexible hierarchies.
Coredna was spun out of the digital service agency, bwired, founded back in 2002. Fast forward to the present day, and Coredna is now a fully-fledged decoupled CMS.
The platform features eCommerce capabilities which include featured-rich catalogs and carts, advanced inventory management, and multi-site management. With over 80 pre-built applications in the box, Coredna touts itself as a one-stop-shop for brands seeking to expand their digital presence.
Established in 2007, San Francisco-based Built.io provides users with a small suite of products, including Contentstack, their decoupled headless CMS offering.
The San Francisco-based Prismic is a headless CMS solution that comes with a marketer-friendly authoring and publishing interface. The interface also features a number of scheduling and project management tools to help create a more productive workflow.
The platform is highly scalable and is able to cope with predetermined high traffic peaks, ensuring the performance of your site remains consistent. In addition, Prismic also comes with multi-language support, content modeling, revision history, scheduling, and content previews.
Squidex is an open-source headless CMS that is built upon ASP.NET. It comes with a visual editor, content versioning, asset management, filters, and multi-language support.
There are three main steps when it comes to using Squidex. Firstly, users are required to define the structure their content type through a schema, which normally consists of custom fields. For example, a blog post will have a title, a description, and the text. Secondly, you then need to create and manage your content through the editing portal. Thirdly, on creating your content, you then push your content to various devices and channels through API.
Cockpit is a self-hosted, open source headless and API-driven CMS that originated from Wulmstorf, Germany. Equipped with an intuitive user interface, Cockpit can help you support engagement activities through multiple devices or manage static sites.
The platform can be used with either SQLite or MongoDB for larger databases. And as a self-hosted solution, you have complete control and ownership.
13. DNN Evoq 8
DNN is another veteran of the CMS world adopting a headless approach to web content management. Based San Mateo, California, their DNN Evoq 8 offering features ‘Liquid Content’.
As the name implies, the Liquid Content feature is delivered as a microservice that allows users to seamlessly create and publish their content to various channels and devices. It also provides a drag-and-drop interface, social media publishing, and detailed analytics. It also comes with asset management, mobile responsiveness, and content workflows.
14. Cloud CMS
The final headless CMS on this list has its roots in Newton, Massachusetts. Cloud CMS is an API-first headless CMS that is built upon JSON. The platform is used by a range of different companies including Under Armour, AON, and ChilliSauce.
Why Zesty.io is a Leader in Headless CMS
The headless and decoupled CMS market is getting crowded — the 14 products above are merely the tip of the iceberg.
With that being said, it’s understandable that one would feel overwhelmed when trying to decide on a headless CMS. After all, pretty much every provider listed above provides you with the ability to distribute personalized content across channels and devices through APIs.
But we built Zesty.io to be different — here’s how.
1. Not Just a Developer Tool
Unlike many other headless platforms, Zesty.io doesn’t leave marketers out in the cold. While developers leverage APIs and enjoy a front-end agnostic CMS, marketers can get busy with WYSIWYG editing, pre-built page layouts, landing pages, microsites, SEO features, web forms, and drag-and-drop interfaces.
2. Safety First
Protecting your data and your customer’s data is paramount. Unlike open source technologies, Zesty.io’s code base is kept proprietary and in line with international security standards (SOC 2 Type II, SOC 3, and ISO 27001) in order to better fend off cyber attacks.
Plus, Zesty.io is a certified Google Cloud partner, and we benefit from DDoS mitigation delivered through Fastly’s content delivery network. Moreover, Zesty.io boasts SSL encryption levels supported up to 2048.
3. SaaS — Not On-Premise
Last but not least, is Zesty.io’s status as a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service. That means the entire platform is accessible natively through your web browser, and it’s not hosted in the back room of your office, either.
Instead, Zesty.io is hosted by Google Cloud Platform (GCP) with 99.99% uptime. Using Google’s infrastructure means our clients benefit from their scalability and security features out of the box.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, a SaaS model helps lower your total cost of ownership by eliminating the need to update and maintain your software. We handle all the technical stuff, so you don’t have to. That means no unexpected tasks, and no unexpected bills — just one, consolidated, monthly subscription fee.
Don’t Just Take Our Word For It...
Zesty.io stands out from the crowd — but not because we said so. With a 4.6 rating on Gartner Peer Insights, our reputation precedes us. As you can see, users regularly remark at how Zesty.io io is “user-friendly” and “fun to build” with. One senior web developer even commented on our helpful and responsive support team:
“Recently, I reported a possible security issue on a site I manage at close to 11pm on a Saturday night, and to my surprise, the team at Zesty.io responded before midnight and were [already] working on a fix,” he said.
Now that’s a reliable technology partner.
To find out how Zesty.io can help your business develop your headless CMS, get in contact today.