A List of Headless CMS for 2020 (Updated from 2018)

Headless CMS empowers brands to distribute content wherever it needs to go. What makes platforms on the market so different? We dive deep to explain.

A List of Headless CMS for 2020 (Updated from 2018)

Chloe Spilotro 10.10.2018

A lot has changed since we wrote this guide in 2018- with new advances in technology, more accessibility to building content APIs, and more, 2020 is ushering in a new landscape for headless content management. Since we released the prior guide, interest in a headless CMS has nearly doubled according to worldwide Google search trends.

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 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.

What’s new with headless CMS in 2020?

Over the evolution of the headless CMS, we’ve seen a surge in different kinds of headless CMS.

Purely Headless: A purely headless CMS is a CMS that has had its “head” — or front-end delivery layer — completely 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.

Decoupled CMS: Sometimes, it’s not helpful to just have content accessible via APIs. Marketers often feel lost in the experience of managing content in a purely headless CMS. It takes a lot of developer work to generate and maintain different environments with headless content for staging, previewing, and publishing content. As a result, we’ve seen an emergence of decoupled CMS. Decoupled CMS still generate a view (such as a webpage), but also expose the content via APIs or endpoints to allow that content to be handled heedlessly.

Quick Guide of Headless CMS for 2020

We’ve compiled a table of the leading headless CMS for 2020 with specific features and pricing to help you quickly narrow down options that you may be seeking. For more information on each of these platforms, please scroll down to the full list of headless CMS for 2020.

Platform

SaaS or Self Hosted

Headless or Hybrid

Open or Closed Source

Pricing Starts at…

Zesty.io

SaaS

Hybrid

Closed

Free Plan

Contentful

SaaS

Headless

Closed

Free Plan

Agility

SaaS

Headless

Closed

$40/month

Contentstack

SaaS

Headless

Closed

$3,500/month

DatoCMS

SaaS

Headless

Closed

Free Plan

GraphCMS

SaaS

Headless

Closed

Free Plan

Kontent

SaaS

Hybrid

Closed

Free Plan

Prismic

SaaS

Headless

Closed

Free Plan

Strapi

Self Hosted

Headless

Open

Free

Storyblok

SaaS

Headless

Closed

Free Plan

dotCMS

Self Hosted

Headless

Open

Free Plan

Bloomreach

Either

Hybrid

Open

Unknown

ButterCMS

SaaS

Headless

Closed

$40/month

Directus

Either

Headless

Open

Free Plan

Sitecore

Either

Hybrid

Closed

$1,100/month

Core dna

SaaS

Hybrid

Closed

$1,250

Squidex

Either

Headless

Open

Free Plan

Cockpit

Self Hosted

Headless

Open

Free

DNN Evoq 9

Self Hosted

Hybrid

Open

Free Plan

Cloud CMS

SaaS

Headless

Closed

$200/month

A List of Headless CMS (2020)

Now that we’re on the same page with how we’re defining a headless CMS (and are including hybrid CMS in that definition), here’s a list of platforms with headless functionality to consider. Compared to 2018, we’ve added 6 vendors to this list - an increase of 30%!

1. Zesty.io

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Hybrid.

Zesty.io is a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), decoupled CMS. Headquartered in San Diego, CA, the platform is built to be marketer friendly and generate views as needed, but also expose all content via APIs (including custom APIs!). Other features include drag-and-drop content modeling, multi-site support, automatic hosting and scalability, 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. Supporting both website builds and headless applications, Zesty.io provides a wide host of tools for any team.

Zesty.io’s Instant Content API supports the delivery of content to any mobile, app or IoT device via JSON. Some other custom endpoints that can be created include HTML, RSS, XML, .ico, and more. This allows you to create the content once and then deploy it to any device, no matter how it’s consuming data.

With flexible pricing, Zesty.io supports brands of every size from startup to enterprise. Brands like Sony, Rocket League, American Home Shield, large financial organizations, and more choose to use Zesty.io’s platform.

2. Contentful

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Contentful is a headless API driven platform. Its content infrastructure provides APIs to manage, integrate, and deliver content to any device or service. The developer tool is headquartered in Berlin with offices in San Francisco.

Contentful does not consider itself a CMS - it is a content infrastructure or CDN that delivers content. It allows you to create your own content models and define your own schemas to be displayed however you’d like in a wide variety of applications. Contentful considers itself platform agnostic (pure headless), which can be advantageous to a developer team as teams can distribute or reuse content across any channel.

3. Agility CMS

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Agility CMS is a purely headless content platform. Like other headless CMS, it exposes content via APIs so developers can build whatever application or website they’d like in the language of their preference, while ingesting content from Agility’s API. Headquartered in Toronto, Agility CMS works with customers primarily in the higher education, media & entertainment, and retail industries.

Agility CMS also touts features such as page management, ecommerce, and e-ticketing.

A sample of the customers using Agility CMS are Visit Orlando, Hockey Canada, and Kansas City University.

4. Contentstack

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Contentstack is an enterprise grade headless content management system. It touts an interface optimized for no-code and low-code users, optimizes images for mobile delivery, and is fully SaaS.

With a focus on enterprise, Contentstack focuses on availability, scalability, security, and uptime that will meet enterprise needs. Contentstack also helps teams with preview, image management, access controls, workflows. The platform also includes automated publishing and custom fields.

Customers that use Contentstack include Express, Riot Games, Berlitz, and more.

5. DatoCMS

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

DatoCMS’ Content Delivery API is written in GraphQL, which is different than some headless CMS platforms. GraphQL defines the operations supported by the API, including input arguments and possible responses, offering an unfailing contract that specifies the capabilities of an API.

If you’re looking to build a website, using DatoCMS means you’ll also need a static site generator to go with it to produce the website. You can learn more about that in our article on Dynamic vs Static Websites.

In addition, DatoCMS includes a visual content schema builder, webhooks, easy image manipulation, multilingual content, and other features.

Some of the brands that use DatoCMS include Dropbox, VMWare,

6. GraphCMS

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

GraphCMS is an API-first GraphQL-native Headless CMS built for cross-platform content delivery needs. The platform enables developers to build content APIs in a matter of minutes, while giving content creators tools to manage their content. The hosted content APIs can be consumed by websites, apps or any other platform.

GraphCMS boasts the JAMstack approach to development, which means a stack of Javascript, API, and Markup. GraphCMS is a client-side and JAMstack compatible CMS. A JAMstack you could implement today might be: Netlify, GraphCMS, React, Webpack, and Gatsby.

Clients that use GraphCMS include Flybondi.com, Ketchum, Discovery, and others.

7. Kontent

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Hybrid.

This has been an interesting few years for Kentico as they’ve evolved from a Traditional CMS, to moving their infrastructure to the cloud with Kentico Cloud, and are now rebranding their content-as-a-service offering to Kentico Kontent.

The new Kentico Kontent promises a Content Delivery API that makes your structured content consumable on any platform and device. Some of the features the platform includes is a content management API which allows for content consumption, webhooks, and custom elements that power integrations to other third party software.

Kentico also offers a host of other tools such as an AI chatbot. Some clients that use Kentico are Luminary, Leo Express, Little Dot Studios, and others.

8. Prismic

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Prismic prides itself as a platform that allows you to choose your technology, framework, and language. The platform first allows users to model their content schema, fill in content, choose frameworks such as Node, React, Next, Gatsby, Vue, Nuxt, etc., query content with either their RESTful API or GraphQL, and deploy with a hosting platform such as Zeit, Netlify, Heroku, etc.

Prismic is purely a headless content management in that it translates human readable content to machine readable feeds that developers then take and send wherever it needs to go (website, apps, etc.) back into human readable content. Because you can use different frameworks with Prismic, planning your project with this tool is key to success. Every framework has its own properties and advantages, fast rendering, SEO, ease of deployment or progressive enhancement.

Some clients of Prismic include Google, New Relic, Ford, and more.

9. Strapi

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Strapi is an open-source Node.js headless content management system, which means that the entire codebase is available on GitHub and thrives on contributors. Strapi generates a working RESTful API or use GraphQL for developers in minutes after installation. Data is made available through a customizable API. It’s important to note that Strapi is a self-hosted, not a SaaS content management system.

Strapi strives to enable developers to focus on writing reusable application logic instead of spending time building infrastructure. The platform was designed for building Node.js applications in a matter of hours instead of weeks, and is built entirely with Javascript, too. There are plugins that allow the platform to be extended.

A sample of some of the companies who use Strapi include Discovery, Walmart, and IBM.

10. Storyblok

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Storyblok is a headless CMS that includes a visual editor for non-technical users. Aside from that, it’s a purely headless CMS that generates APIs of content to be consumed in applications, websites, and more.

Based in Austria, Storyblok has built a headless CMS with the user experience of a page builder. This gives the developer freedom and access to the APIs they will need, while allowing editors an interface more similar to what they’re used to using for content management.

Some brands using Storyblok include Tribal worldwide, Panini, Fanud

11. dotCMS

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Hybrid.

dotCMS prides itself on being a hybrid CMS that provides both traditional CMS functionality and headless content capabilities. Built in Java, dotCMS is a self hosted or cloud CMS that can build both headless content APIs and webpages. dotCMS is headquartered in Miami, Florida.

The hybrid CMS is designed for managing Single Page Apps and content-driven web applications. dotCMS has a structured content modal, extensive content APIs for both retrieving and creating content, as well as native support for GraphQL. dotCMS also provides "Edit Mode Anywhere" and Layout-as-a-Service features which provide contextual editing and drag-n-drop layout design for API-driven web applications.

Some of the clients who use dotCMS include Fitbit, ICANN, Arquiva, and more.

12. Bloomreach

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Hybrid.

Bloomreach has a content management system which is part of the Bloomreach Experience Cloud (brXM), a digital experience manager which is larger than just a CMS. Since acquiring content management system Hippo in 2016, Bloomreach has been focused on building an end-to-end DXP. Based in Mountain View, Bloomreach focuses more on providing a DXP for enterprise that includes headless capabilities.

While it’s built for speed, Bloomreach’s experience manager also provides personalization and channel management capabilities for marketers. The platform provides customizable REST APIs and allows for integration with SPAs, CMS preview, and in-context editing.

Some of the clients who use Bloomreach are Puma, Staples, Albertsons, and more.

13. ButterCMS

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Originally built as an alternative to WordPress, ButterCMS is now a full-fledged CMS that integrates with existing websites and apps to deliver content headlessly, decoupling content from the website itself. Headquartered in San Francisco, Butter is a headless content management system that is built primarily for blogging.

ButterCMS can integrate with any framework and also has SDKs + Framework plugins for Ruby, Rails, NodeJS, PHP, Laravel, .NET, Python, Django, Javascript, React, and more. ButterCMS also boasts features such as custom content types, media library, a CDN for assets, testing environment, webhooks, and more.

Companies that use ButterCMS include Key.me, Scripted, and Lambda, among others.

14. Directus

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Directus is an open-source tool for managing content across omni-channel digital experiences. The product suite suite includes an admin app for editors, a content API for developers, and can be self-hosted for free.

Directus allows for flexibility in choosing libraries, tools, and stack for your project, can be hosted or in the cloud, and can also be white-labeled for agency or reselling use.

With Directus, developers can connect to content via API or SDK, direct to database, or as a standalone application.

Some customers of Directus include the ACLU, Ask.com, Juilliard, and others.

15. Sitecore

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Hybrid.

Sitecore is a full digital experience manager focused on personalization and enterprise applications. With flexibility to host Sitecore or using Sitecore in the Cloud, licensing and use cases vary. Sitecore can generate views or headless content APIs based on the use case.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Sitecore focuses on providing enterprise size companies with end-to-end digital experience management. Some other features in the platform include end to end content management, personalization, and customized commerce experiences at scale.

Sitecore customers include L’Oreal, Nestle, P&G, and more.

16. Core dna

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Hybrid.

Core dna is a hybrid SaaS content management system that is focused on providing a platform for content, marketing, eCommerce, intranet, and community use. The platform focuses on mid-sized businesses who need one platform to manage content across their destinations.

Based in Boston, the Core dna team focuses on a platform to support six main use cases: content, commerce, marketing, teams, intranet, and community.

Core dna clients include Tivoli Audio, Australia Post, Frontier Touring, and more.

17. Squidex

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Squidex is an OpenSource Headless CMS, or a CMS with an API. Squidex aims to be a central location for all content.

Schemas can be customized and defined to fit the structure of content, rather than forcing content into a pre-defined schema. With Squidex, developers can also define validation rules to ensure consistent content feeds.

The management UI helps editors to create and edit content, but the heart of the system is an API, which supports filtering with OData query options and creates swagger definitions for your content.

Companies that use Squidex include Busradar.com, Matmatch, CivicPlus, and more.

18. Cockpit

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

Cockpit is a self-hosted headless and API-driven CMS, which is their main differentiator. It is self-hosted, so you can host locally or in whichever cloud you prefer. They are also open source, so their software allows for contributions. It is a headless CMS that’s built around an API first and JSON content approach.

Cockpit is not a website builder - it is a content provider. Users can choose between SQLite for quick and simple projects or utilize MongoDB for larger ones, and invites to extend with custom code. The CMS was built by Agentjo, an agency based in Hamburg, Germany.

19. DNN Evoq 9

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Hybrid.

When we last wrote this article we featured DNN Evoq 8, but since then they have released Evoq 9. DotNetNuke’s new offering focuses on content as a service powered by their headless content APIs.

DNN is a veteran of the CMS world, having been around since 2003. Headquartered in San Mateo, the company’s focusing on expanding its platform to feature security and extensibility. DNN is built with .NET, so it may require additional development skills to extend the platform. With 1+ million community members and thousands of developers, agencies and ISV’s, DNN boasts the largest .NET CMS ecosystem.

Clients that use Evoq 9 include Gold’s Gym, University of New Orleans, and more.

20. Cloud CMS

Pure Headless or Hybrid? Pure Headless.

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, LendUp, Cricket, and others.

Cloud CMS provides features that are typically only found in Enterprise CMS products, including Git-like versioning, content modeling and forms, workflow management, scheduled and automatic publishing, and deployment to other data centers such as Amazon S3, FTP and custom Deployment Receivers. CloudCMS can also be self-hosted or in the cloud.

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.

Need Help Selecting a Headless CMS?

We understand… the landscape can be overwhelming at first. Schedule a complimentary consultation with a headless CMS expert to explain more about your project to start narrowing down your search for the perfect platform for your project and budget.

Experience a Headless Content Management System, Join Zesty.io.


Start a Sandbox Now

More from Mindshare: Headless

Placeholder image

Hosted Platforms Not Ideal for Multisite Setups

Just because a software is well recognized, does not mean it fits for every solution.

Read Article
Placeholder image

A List of Headless CMS for 2020 (Updated from 2018)

Headless CMS empowers brands to distribute content wherever it needs to go. What makes platforms on the market so different?

Read Article
Placeholder image

What is the Best Mobile App CMS?

When it comes to building mobile apps, you’ll need a CMS that can build and manage apps across iOS, Android,

Read Article
Placeholder image

A Dreamy Scenario for Content

Zesty.io releases customizable JSON API endpoints because websites aren't just for desktop browsers anymore.

Read Article
Chloe Spilotro photo

Chloe Spilotro

Marketing Manager, Zesty.io

Marketing Manager at Zesty.io. Hooked onto the platform since first using it through the Zesty.io Incubator Program at the University of San Diego. Passionate about all things marketing, IoT, and helping businesses leverage technology to grow and become major players in their industries.... Learn More

Speak with an Expert


Chat with Us

To speak with someone in sales and marketing, use the chat popup on this page. To speak with a developer, join https://chat.zesty.io

Exploring content solutions? Looking to replatform?