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Headless CMS Options: Headless WordPress vs The Rest

Dominic Kent
By Dominic Kent

With a significant number of headless CMS options on the market now, it’s important to know exactly what you’re signing up for.

In this post, we’ll provide an overview, review the strengths and weaknesses, and introduce the pricing options the following headless CMS options:

  1. Headless WordPress
  2. Contentful
  3. GraphCMS
  4. Sanity
  5. DatoCMS
  6. Prismic
  7. Strapi
  8. Netlify CMS
  9. Storyblok

What Is Meant By Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a content management system thats’ front end and back end are separate, or uncoupled. 

The CMS is primarily a backend repository of data that is called upon for use through APIs. 

In this way the content within the repository can be used for various different front ends like a website, mobile app, or smart device. 

In short, the CMS is designed to allow users to create, store, and deliver content via an API.

Why Would You Use A Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is supposed to make your life easier – not more difficult. If you’re at the point where your CMS is limiting you, and you are switching from service to service, you may want to consider a headless CMS. 

You have the content you want to live on a website or app, but you find yourself manually copying and pasting that content to a new CMS that better suits your needs. This process is a huge headache and unnecessary; thus, the reason for a headless CMS. 

All your content – the data that makes up your website, app, etc. – all live in one place for any different channel you need. 

A new website or a new app for a smartwatch or Alexa? No problem. 

The same content is pulled from your hub rather than having to be manually copied and pasted into each separate CMS.  

You should consider a headless CMS if:

  1. You manage multiple different channels for your digital products (desktop, mobile app, smartwatch, smart speaker)
  2. Your company is reliant on developers to make changes to their different CMS’s
  3. You’re manually copying and pasting the same content across several CMS’s
  4. Your CMS feels rigid, not empowering

Best Headless CMS Options

Headless WordPress

Best headless CMS option is WordPress

Headless WordPress provides a familiar interface for content editors while allowing web developers to use any frontend technology stack. 

Many developers, marketers, and content creators are familiar with WordPress – it does power nearly 40% of the world’s websites after all. 

When making a headless WordPress business case, you should always mention that stat 😉

So, without having to relearn a whole new CMS you can continue to use WordPress to store data, but have the flexibility, scalability, and security of a headless CMS. 

Key features:

  • Content editors can continue to use the familiar WordPress interface to manage and edit content
  • The WordPress REST API serves data in JSON, which makes it compatible with most modern frontend approaches
  • Is less reliant on themes and plugins common to WordPress hosted sites

Strengths

  • Easy and familiar to use for editors who use WordPress frequently
  • Scalable and easy to maintain
  • Compatible with JavaScript frameworks like React, Vue and Angular + powerful front-end tools like Next.js and Gatsby
  • Separating the front-end from the backend makes your website more secure
  • Headless WordPress can be a central store of data that you can integrate with most platforms and business tools
  • Open source just like a regular WordPress site

Weaknesses

  • The ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (‘WYSIWYG’) editor can be disabled in Headless WordPress and some users have reported losing access to the live preview option
  • You may require additional development resources to ensure compatibility with less-common WordPress plugins.
  • Requires additional support to make plugins work; although some plugins have a REST endpoint already baked in, or can be easily extended to serve the correct fields in their JSON output.

Pricing

WordPress itself as a software is free. You will need to subscribe to a hosting provider.

Pricing for headless WordPress varies by provider. WP Engine lists its options for headless WordPress hosting as:

  1. $25/month for Managed Hosting
  2. $28/month for Managed Hosting Plus
  3. $44/month for Secure Hosting

When working with any headless CMS, it’s recommended to scope out your full project before committing to a host — or a particular package within that host.

Contentful

Contentful is a global pioneer in multichannel content solutions designed specifically for businesses.

It allows businesses to deliver multichannel digital experiences at a faster and larger scale than they could with a standard CMS. 

Contentful organises the material in a single hub, arranges it for use across all digital channels, and uses open APIs to link with hundreds of other applications.

Key features:

  • API-first content platform
  • Collaboration tools
  • Video support
  • Scalable and enterprise-ready

Strengths

  • Utilises caching techniques and CDN integrations to enable faster delivery through an API
  • Simple, clean UI
  • Support for a variety of data types and content editors (e.g. WYSIWYGs, form fields, raw text areas)
  • Easy API Integration
  • Can see comments from users

Weaknesses

  • Licensing – there is no way to step up from free gracefully over time. It is either free or enterprise pricing
  • Poor internal search
  • It would be nice to have some documentation for entry-level coders
  • Doesn’t work well with Grammarly
  • Hard to “CTRl Z” or undo if you make mistakes
  • Oversimplified explanations of content types
  • Cross-sale situations where you may feel obliged to purchase a plugin to work with your content

Pricing

Contentful offers free “community” tiers for up to five users where you get all basic access.

Upgrading to the “team” license will cost you $489 per month (roughly £350) and get you access to expanded authoring roles, technical support, and extra users. Enterprise customers are asked to obtain a custom quote.

GraphCMS

GraphCMS is a modern content management platform that helps teams bring content to any channel. 

It is primarily designed for websites with high-traffic blogs that frequently publish content, marketing websites, multi-language e-commerce platforms, interactive mobile apps, and voice apps.

Key features:

  • Built for content creators
  • Centralise workflows for multiple editors 
  • Uses GraphQL query language for the API
  • Comes with text editors, asset management, workflows, user management, and multi-lingual support

Strengths

  • Easy to use for non-engineers
  • GraphCMS uses Graph API, which is easy to write (compared to older API patterns)
  • Easily customisable API
  • Doesn’t need plugins
  • Sleek design, and easy to use
  • Great for multi-language content
  • The support team is also a great professional and excellent friendly team. 

Weaknesses

  • GraphCMS is expensive at the enterprise level
  • Takes a while to ramp up to it and become proficient
  • Lack of customisability and extensibility

Pricing

GraphCMS also provides a free community tier for up to five users. The professional tier costs $299 per month (roughly £215) and opens the door to 25 users, API access, versioning and backups. Enterprise customers are asked to obtain a custom quote.

Sanity

Founded in 2015 in Oslo, Norway, Sanity is an easy-to-use headless CMS that uses a simple query language specifically designed for its use. 

Based on React and Javascript, Sanity is open-source making documentation and advice easy to come by.

Key features:

  • Real-time collaboration and built for teams
  • Built on JavaScript and React.js
  • Open source; part of the JavaScript ecosystem
  • Built for developers
  • A content lake that hosts all your content data in the cloud which is accessed through their Sanity API

Strengths

  • A hosted structured content backend with a real-time API, globally distributed CDN, and a powerful yet simple search language
  • You need 0% understanding of HTML, CSS, or Web Dev in general to modify content
  • Very scalable because it’s hosted in real-time allowing people to make edits simultaneously  

Weaknesses

  • You have to use its query-specific language that’s based on React
  • Migrating to Sanity has a steep learning curve

Pricing

Sanity offers a free tier for up to three users to get access to the open-source editing environment. 

You can either add pay-as-you-go components (like more users for $10 per month) or opt to upgrade to the “team” license at $99 per month (about £75) or a “business” license for $949 per month (about £700). You can add more users and roles as you progress up the tiers.

DatoCMS

DatoCMS dashboard

DatoCMS started in 2015 as an internal tool for the web agency, Lean Panda

They built the CMS for themselves and their clients, but its ease of use lets both marketers and developers work together, leading to its surge in popularity. 

Dato is built for speed and scalability as everything is on CDN. Their modular design offers basic elements (text, image, video) with a plethora of plugins to expand it.

Key features:

  • Modern and comprehensive APIs
  • CDN-backed API making data easily accessible to users worldwide
  • Over 400 different locales to serve your content in their language
  • Leverage GraphQL
  • Structured text
  • 24/7 support

Strengths

  • Simple onboarding process
  • Many plugins and integrations with third-party apps
  • Easy to use interface saves revision history
  • Doesn’t break as the website grows and allows multiple users making it scalable

Weaknesses

  • Difficult to back up and import data without scripts
  • Not built for mobile-first
  • Pricing structure leans towards larger businesses

Pricing

You can try all of the Dato CMS packages for free. Once tested, the “free forever” package allows for up to three projects but only one user. 

For $99 per month, you actually lose two projects but can add up to 10 collaborators. Extra projects can be added but Dato CMS advises moving to the “Scale” package at $199 per month (about £150) if you’re likely to be building more than one project.

Prismic 

Prismic headless CMS

Prismic is a content management system (CMS) backend for your websites and apps optimised for developer efficiency and includes a visual builder for modelling page and post content. 

As it’s API-based for technical flexibility, you can use your preferred programming language and framework. 

Key features:

  • Simple user interface built for both editors and developers
  • Built for collaboration and teams
  • Reusable custom dynamic components
  • Active customer support that responds quickly and has robust documentation

Strengths

  • Built for collaboration and teams
  • Integrates natively with e-commerce platforms like Magento and Shopify
  • Works with GraphQL with Gatsby

Weaknesses

  • Doesn’t offer custom plugins
  • Difficult to back up data
  • Cannot extend rich text editor

Pricing

Prismic’s pricing indicates its target market is small businesses with per month pricing ranging from free to $15 per month for the “small” tier which allows up to seven users. 

Sandwiched in the middle is the “starter” tier allowing up to three users for $7 per month.

Strapi

Strapi CMS Headless WordPress alternative

Strapi is an open-source Headless CMS built in Node.js, allowing developers to draw data from PostgreSQL, MongoDB, SQLite, MySQL, and MariaDB. 

Because it’s open-source, it’s customizable and has an abundance of plugins. It has a vibrant community of developers across Github, Slack, Reddit, and Stack Overflow, which is conducive to learning. 

Key features:

  • Fully customisable 
  • open source
  • Intuitive interface

Strengths

  • Full control over your database
  • Easy to get started
  • Lots of plugins to expand capabilities 

Weaknesses

  • DIfficult to migrate data
  • Strapi is still a growing company so there are bugs that still need to be worked out

Pricing

Strapi operates a free “community” license for self-hosted users. 

When you need to scale up, choose from the “bronze” package at $29 per month (about £20) for up to 30 custom roles with basic support. “Silver” extends the number of roles to unlimited and gets you access to a customer success manager. Silver costs $299 per month (about £215).

Strapi is also working on a cloud-hosted version of its CMS but has not provided any pricing as of July 2021.

Netlify CMS

Netlify CMS vs Headless WordPress

Netlify CMS is a free, open-source CMS that pulls data from GitHub, GitLab, or Bitbucket API. If you’re an active user of GitHub and already have data that’s stored there it’s not a steep learning curve adopting Netlify CMS. 

If you want to collaborate with other editors who aren’t active GitHub users they won’t have to make a GitHub account. Netlify’s Git Gateway is an open-source project that allows you to add editors to your site CMS without giving them direct access to your GitHub repository. 

Key features:

  • Web-based UI that is fast and allows for real-time previewing
  • Compatible with all static site generators
  • Custom fields can make unlimited content types

Strengths

  • Global CDN makes load times fast
  • Very cost-effective
  • Easily integrates with GitHub and GitLab

Weaknesses

  • Agencies cite that many people are unfamiliar with it, so it’s hard to pitch to clients
  • Although they state that they have comprehensive documentation and a Slack community many reviews comment on the lack of helpful content 
  • The pricing model can be confusing

Pricing

Netlify offers a free package targeted as practice and hobby sites. 

For business use, the “Pro” plan starts at $19 per member per month with the “Business” plan at £99 per member per month. The higher tier unlocks analytics, self-hosted GitLab access, and unlimited forms, identity, and functions

Storyblok

Storyblok dashboard

For developers, marketers, and content editors, Storyblok is a Headless CMS with a visual editor. 

Storyblok combines a page builder’s user interface with modern headless architecture. This provides the complete developer control and the editor a self-explanatory, user-friendly interface.

Key features:

  • Visual editor
  • Made for both developers and marketers
  • Content blocks that allow reuse of components
  • Serves multiple languages 

Strengths

  • Scalable and flexible
  • Robust plugins
  • Pre-built APIs

Weaknesses

  • “CMS as-a-Service” means that if it crashes or shuts down so will your site
  • Doesn’t play well with Gatsby

Pricing

Storyblok offers a free plan for solo developers and a “basic” plan for personal projects ($7 per month). 

At the business end, there is an “advanced” license for what Storyblok labels for starting a business, at $12 per month. The premium plan is $21 per month and includes scheduling, releases, content staging, and 1TB fair use traffic.

Headless CMS Wrap Up

To conclude, we believe Headless WordPress is the best choice for forward-thinking businesses who want to edit their own content easily and expose themselves to the performance benefits of the JAMStack approach.

Headless WordPress utilises the most modern development tools and familiar editing tools to developers and editors alike. WordPress has been around for the longest time and it isn’t likely to disappear. In addition, only a couple of the headless CMS is built on open-source platforms making them reliant on private companies that may not be around in 10 years. 

Headless CMS have been around for a while and there are many options to consider. New headless CMS providers will find it hard to gain adoption up against WordPress that already has a large user base.

If you have a website with them you’ll have to migrate to another one which can be a cumbersome task. Conversely, WordPress usage continues to grow year on year, and Next.js is being adopted by well-known brands across all industries. The adoption of Next.js has been key to headless WordPress growth; it’s many developer’s choice to pair with WordPress.

Headless WordPress remains considered the best option in terms of page speed, countless SEO benefits, security, development time, and intuitive design.

Headless WordPress isn’t going anywhere. If you want to future-proof your business online, your best bet is headless WordPress.

Dominic Kent

Posted by Dominic Kent

Dom Kent is a freelance content marketer specialising in Unified Comms and Contact Center. He helps clients gain high-quality leads through inbound organic traffic.

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