Headless CMS Platforms

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Headless CMS Platforms Overview

What are Headless CMS platforms?

Headless content management systems (CMS) are the next generation of more traditional CMS platforms, built for the needs of the digital age. Specifically, headless CMS platforms have decoupled the backend database/content repository and the content authoring interface from the presentation layer. The content presentation layer can be thought of as the ‘head’ of traditional, or monolithic, content management systems. Thus, headless CMSs have severed the backend body of the CMS platform from the display ‘head’.


Rather than having one ‘head’ attached to the rest of the CMS, headless platforms make content available as data via APIs. Some vendors refer to headless CMSs as ‘API-first’ platforms for this reason. Other common names for headless content management systems include:

  • Content infrastructure software

  • Content hub software

  • Content as a service

Headless CMS Advantages

Headless CMS platforms work well for businesses that need to produce content that can be shared and displayed across digital channels and device types. Typically, traditional CMS platforms are attached to a webpage presentation layer, meaning the content created can’t be pushed to other digital mediums like mobile applications.


Headless CMSs, on the other hand, offer businesses the freedom and flexibility to choose which digital mediums to share their content across. Another key benefit of headless CMS platforms is that the same piece of content can be pushed out across multiple digital channels—there’s no need to create multiple instances of it for each medium.

Limitations of Headless CMS Platforms

While headless CMS platforms work well for a wide variety of digital marketing needs, they are less appropriate for certain types of businesses. One key drawback of headless CMS software is that it doesn’t include the tools needed to build a website like traditional CMS platforms do. Since the content presentation/display has been ‘cut off’ from the rest of the system, users looking to build a website with a headless CMS won’t be able to. So a headless CMS platform may be less well suited for marketers looking to easily preview, upload, and tweak content to their website or blog.


On the one hand, this affords developers more flexibility in terms of designing a website with the tools they like best. But this also makes it harder for users without a technical background to get a new website up and running quickly. Another drawback of headless CMS platforms is that they will require additional development support to do things like preview content in different display formats.

Headless CMS Features

The primary distinctive features of a headless CMS are a decoupled backend (content repository and content authoring interface) from the frontend content display. Besides this hallmark structure, most headless CMS platforms will have the following capabilities:


  • Content modeling

  • Content authoring interface

  • Content repository/database

  • Content types and taxonomy

  • Localization

  • User roles and permissions

  • Omnichannel content publishing via APIs


Some hybrid CMS platforms offer additional content creation features that include:


  • Collaborative editing

  • Content templates

  • WYSIWYG editor

  • Content versioning

  • Collaborative editing

  • Approval & authoring workflows

  • Content personalization

Headless vs. Traditional CMS

The biggest and most identifiable difference between headless CMS and traditional CMS platforms is that headless CMSs lack a dedicated presentation layer, or ‘head’. Rather than push content directly to a website or blog, headless platforms deliver content across digital mediums via APIs.


In many ways, native headless CMS platforms built with a microservices architecture are better suited to meet the needs of digital marketing. This is likely the reason that many platforms that were originally traditional CMSs have started offering APIs and integrations so users can ‘decouple’ the frontend and backend of the platform. Some examples of these type of CMS platforms include:


Both native headless CMS platforms and traditional CMS platforms that now offer integrations to effectively decouple the backend and frontend of the platform are included in this category.

Different Types of CMS Platforms

As mentioned above, there is a key difference between traditional CMS and headless CMS platforms. Even though many traditional, or monolithic, CMS platforms have added content APIs to their platform—they were still originally designed with an attached presentation layer.


In terms of ease of use for end-users, who are typically marketing professionals and content writers, headless CMSs can have a less user-friendly content authoring and editing interface. For marketers that are used to creating and publishing content using a WYSIWYG editor and plug-and-play content templates—getting comfortable using a truly headless platform can be difficult. Traditional CMS are often more user-friendly for marketing and other non-technical end-users.


Along with headless and traditional CMS platforms, there are also hybrid platforms that aim to give users the best of both worlds. These platforms are decoupled CMSs with content APIs that also offer a presentation layer (or front-end). This means they have robust content authoring and editing capabilities. For example, they might offer content templates or a WYSIWYG editor. This makes them more user-friendly than many native headless platforms, while still affording developers the flexibility and freedom to deploy content across various digital channels using the content APIs.


Examples of traditional CMS platforms include:


Examples of true headless platforms include:


Examples of hybrid platforms include:

Pricing Information

Pricing for comprehensive headless CMS platforms that can support upwards of 10 users typically starts between $400-$450 per month. Most vendors charge either monthly or annually. Some platforms like Drupal and Prismic offer a free or open-source version of their CMS.

Headless CMS Products

(1-18 of 18) Sorted by Most Reviews

Drupal

Drupal is a free, open-source content management system written in PHP that competes primarily with Joomla and Plone. The standard release of Drupal, known as Drupal core, contains basic features such as account and menu management, RSS feeds, page layout customization, and system…

Sitecore Experience Manager

Sitecore Experience Manager is an enterprise-grade CMS competing with Oracle WebCenter, IBM Web Content Manager and Adobe. It presents a fairly wide and comprehensive swath of inbuilt features. In Sitecore WCM editing takes place from within the page with its inline editor, allowing…

Episerver Content Cloud

The Episerver Content Cloud CMS is a web content management system and digital marketing suite. It enables editors to drag-and-drop content to quickly create new digital experiences that are automatically responsive. The vendor's value proposition is that Episerver Content Cloud…

Crownpeak DXM

Crownpeak DXM

Customer Verified
Top Rated

CrownPeak is one of the best-known providers of an Enterprise-level CMS delivered via the cloud. It is used by many large agencies as well as companies in the financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and non-profit sectors.

SDL Tridion

SDL Tridion aims to connect people, processes, and information through a complete portfolio of collaborative Content Management, Knowledge Management and Headless delivery technologies. Combine with Accelerators for fast time-to-value and SDL Translation Management solutions for…

Magnolia

Today’s DX productions have become big operations involving many, independent teams collaborating over decoupled technology. So Magnolia's DXP aims to enable users so that they can achieve digital excellence at speed and scale. With Magnolia, the vendor states users get a robust…

Contentful

Contentful is a cloud based CMS solution that provides the ability to manage content across multiple platforms.The editing interface allows for managing content interactively and provides developers the ability to deliver the content with the programming language and template framework…

Kentico Kontent

Kentico Kontent is a headless CMS that enables users to build modern applications. On top of its headless foundation, Kontent includes an authoring experience that lets marketers focus on content creation and business workflows without requiring developer involvement. This is to…

Agility CMS

Agility CMS

Starting Price $250

Agility CMS is a cloud-based content management system from the company of the same name in Toronto, Ontario.

Contentstack

Contentstack headquartered in San Francisco offers an API-first headless CMS.

BOLD

Bold is described by Quintype as the CMS that understands content. Bold separates the presentation of the content from the content itself. This makes it easier to create, curate and distribute content for modern consumption across different screens and screen-less voice devices. With…

Prismic

Prismic (prismic.io) is a headless API-driven content management system (CMS), from the company of the same name headquartered in San Francisco.

Strapi

Strapi enables content-rich experiences to be created, managed and exposed to any digital product, channel or device. The vendor provides that it is self-hosted, 100% Javascript, headless, and state that they're committed to keeping it community first and open-source.Strapi is vendor-…

Sanity

Sanity from the company of the same name in San Francisco is a platform for structured content that comes with an open-source editing environment called Sanity Studio that users can customize with JavaScript and a real-time hosted data store.

Storyblok

Storyblok helps teams to tell their stories and manage their content for every use-case: corporate websites, e-commerce, helpdesks, mobile apps, and screen displays. Storyblok features: Visual Editor: Live preview changes made on a websiteComponent approach: Nestable content bloks…

ButterCMS

ButterCMS is a headless content management system and blog engine from the company of the same name in San Francisco. The vendor boasts users can integrate it easily into any new or existing web project in minutes.

Mura CMS+

Mura, from Mura Software in Sacramento, is a headless CMS designed to enable users to publish and pivot messaging at a moment’s notice, presented by the vendor as an agile platform that helps users to create meaningful connections by delivering personalized experiences to any audience.…

GraphCMS

GraphCMS, from the German company of the same name, is a headless CMS designed to enable developers to build content APIs, while giving content editors the tools they need to manage their content. The hosted content APIs can then be consumed by websites, apps or any other platform…

Frequently Asked Questions

What is headless CMS?

A headless CMS platform is one where the frontend content display is detached from the backend content repository and authoring interface. This allows the content to be displayed in multiple different formats across channels, mediums, and device types via APIs. In this sense, the backend ‘body’ of the CMS does not have a dedicated frontend ‘head’ and is thus ‘headless’.

What are coupled vs. decoupled CMS platforms?

Coupled CMS platforms, also called traditional or monolithic CMSs, have the frontend content display attached to the backend database and content authoring and editing interface. On the other hand, ‘decoupled’ CMS platforms have severed the connection between the two. Native headless CMS platforms that were built with content data APIs are decoupled by nature.

More recently, CMS platforms that were originally built to be coupled have started offering integrations that allow businesses to use the CMS platforms as a decoupled system.

How much do CMS platforms cost?

The starting cost for lightweight CMS platforms can start between $50-$100 per month, with more comprehensive platforms starting around $400 per month. This price can increase to $1,000 per month or more, depending on the range of features included and the number of users required. Most headless CMS vendors charge on a monthly or annual basis.