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15 Best Headless CMS Platforms in 2022

Fact checked by Vahe Arabian
Vahe Arabian

Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and… Read more

Edited by Andrew Kemp
Andrew Kemp

Andrew joined the State of Digital Publishing team in 2021, bringing with him more than a decade and a half of editorial experience in B2B publishing. His career has spanned the technology, natural resources, financ…Read more

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Acquia CMS

Headless content management systems (CMS) have exploded in popularity in recent years, as brands and publishers seek greater operational flexibility.

study conducted in 2021 showed that 64% of enterprise organizations had switched to a headless approach — an almost 25% increase from 2019. Moreover, the headless CMS software market is projected to witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.1% through to 2032 resulting in a market value of $3.8 billion.

A headless CMS offers a greater level of speed, security and flexibility across digital channels, compared to more-traditional counterparts. Additionally, the ability to deliver content across multiple channels makes it a powerful option for any publisher looking to scale up.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a headless CMS is, how it works and review 15 of the best headless CMS products for 2022.

What Is a Headless Content Management System (CMS)? 

A headless content management system (CMS) is a platform where content can be stored and edited, but one that also lacks a frontend or presentation layer.

The term “headless” stems from the human body metaphor, where the “head” (the integrated frontend) is separate from the “body” (the backend).

A headless CMS allows for raw content to be stored and edited, before being sent to whichever fronted platform is most suitable — be that a web page or some other digital channel.

How Does a Headless CMS Work?

Headless content management systems (CMSs) are characterized by a three key features:

  1. A content management interface
  2. The use of an application programming interface (API) to deliver content
  3. The absence of a presentation layer, creating frontend rendering flexibility

Once content is added to the headless CMS it is stored in modular content blocks. The API can pull the data when needed to any digital frontend.

The content can be prepared for a number of different frontend applications, simplifying the process of content atomization.

For example, a web developer that creates content for a website may also want to display it on a digital display in an airport — a headless CMS helps them do this.

An API is used to deliver content, leading headless CMS to sometimes be referred to as an “API-driven headless CMS”. APIs use either the representational state transfer (REST) or GraphQL languages.

A REST API allows two computer systems to exchange information securely over the internet. Alternatively, the Facebook-developed GraphQL is a query and manipulation API language that only loads specifically requested data from a server to a client.

The API that’s used to deliver content, uses data from REST or GraphQL languages — this is why a headless CMS is also referred to as an “API-driven headless CMS”.

Headless CMS Vs. Traditional CMS: What’s the Difference?

Headless CMS Vs. Traditional CMS What’s the DifferenceHeadless CMS software users are able to customize the frontend section of their tech stack, while users of traditional content management systems (CMSs) are tied into a singular presentation method.

This is why traditional CMS platforms are also sometimes called “monolithic”, because they offer all the features needed to produce, manage and present content in a single system.

This includes a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) visual editor that a headless CMS typically lacks.

Here are some additional differences between traditional and headless CMSs:

Traditional CMS vs Headless CMS
 Traditional CMSHeadless CMS
Platform independenceBackend and frontend are connected.Backend runs independently. Frontend agnostic.
SecurityTraditional web servers are easier to hack. Plugins can also increase security threats.Backend issues don’t affect the frontend. Potential issues can arise if content is locked to a SaaS headless CMS.
PerformanceAdditional plugins could lower page speed because they run extra code when a user visits a page.Headless architectures offer rendering methods like SSR (Server-Side Rendering) and SSG (Static Site Generation) that help improve page performance and loading times.
CustomizationWeb and application customizations are restricted to the tools and technologies the CMS supports. These technologies (plugins) could cost extra.Developers can communicate with the CMS or integration through APIs and data formats (like JSON), allowing for more customization options without needing to learn new programming languages.
Supported devicesIntegrations are limited to what the CMS platform offers.API structure allows developers to use integrations from multiple headless CMSs. Content can also be remodeled for multiple devices, allowing for more integration options.
Hosting and deliveryUsers can download and host the CMS on their own server (on-premise) or on a company’s in-house server.Hosting can be in the cloud or self-hosted.
CostsFixed price (including hosting). Plugins might cost extra.Expensive due to extra implementation costs (headless infrastructure, developers, separate frontend).
Implementation and maintenanceTech support is optional. Maintenance handled in-house.Requires a tech team. Maintenance done by the vendor’s team on the cloud.
Server downtimeAffects both front and backend.Downtime for maintenance only affects backend, not additional frontend applications.
Usability and setupFriendly to inexperienced users. Setup is simple.Requires some technical experience.
ScalabilityDifficult to scale past websites.Easy to scale to different platforms for better audience reach.
UpdatesUpdates need to be scheduled manually and tested for compatibility with already-installed plugins or themes.Updates are automatically done in the cloud by headless CMS vendors without disrupting user workflow.

What Are the Benefits of a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS offers the following benefits:

  • A high level of flexibility — Content creators and developers can use different frontend systems that they’re comfortable with.
  • Promotes an agile work methodology — Content creation and page management can happen simultaneously between developers and creators, saving time.
  • Maximize content value — Content formats, such as digital assets (photos, videos, audio files, etc.), can be sent across multiple digital marketing channels.
  • Cloud-based — Content is backed up to the cloud, making it more secure and scalable to digital channels. Content is also usually provided through a content delivery network (CDN) for better performance, increased reliability and higher security against DDoS attacks.

15 Best Headless CMS Platforms in 2022

Below we provide a list of the 15 best headless CMS platforms for 2022 — in no particular order:

1

Wordpress VIP

wordpress vipSource: WordPress

WordPress VIP (WP VIP) is an agile decoupled CMS that allows users to opt for a single stack, headless or hybrid approach when creating content and digital experiences.

WP VIP is hosted through Automattic and its codebase is linked to GitHub. It supports Node.js hosting as well as Redis databases and it uses REST, GraphQL, Next.js, Cache, Gatsby and Frontity APIs. 

Popular companies that use WP VIP include, The New York Post, USA TODAY Sports Media, Al Jazeera, Kaiser Family Foundation and iOne Digital.

It also integrates with platforms such as Salesforce, D20 and WooCommerce, as well as WebSocket connections.

WordPress VIP plans can start at around $25,000 per year, however, users will need to fill out a form to receive a price quote.

2

Quintype

QuintypeSource: Quintype

Quintype is a digital publishing solution that offers the Bold headless CMS, the Ahead frontend as well as Metype and Accesstype technologies. These are designed to help users publish, distribute and monetize their content without unnecessary tech issues. 

Quintype’s data repository is available on GitHub and it supports frameworks including Malibu, React, Node.js and Bridgekeeper. It adopts the Swagger UI for users to work with REST APIs.

Quintype integrates with a multitude of platforms, some popular ones including AWeber, Alexa, Drip, Google Analytics, Stripe and Instagram.

Digital publishing companies that use Quintype include the likes of Fortune India, The FreePress Journal, Bloomberg Quint and Afacs.

Quintype’s pricing is based on the products users choose to subscribe to — for example, Bold starts at $75 per month, while Ahead starts at $100 per month.

3

Hygraph

HygraphSource: Hygraph 

Hygraph, formerly known as GraphCMS, is a native GraphQL headless CMS that focuses on Content Federation. It claims it gives editors and developers complete independence as a front and backend agnostic API-first solution.

Hygraph’s codebase is available on GitHub and it supports React, Vue and Next.js, Gatsby, Nuxt, Apollo, Sapper and Gridsome.

It offers a single GraphQL endpoint with full access to Content, Query, Mutation and Asset APIs and SDKs and it integrates with Gatsby, Algolia, Vercel, Netlify, Frontastic, Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Cloudinary.

Users can choose where their content is hosted and Hygraph serves user data from across 190 Edge CDN nodes globally.

Examples of companies that use Hygraph include Samsung, Dr. Oetker, Philips, Shure, Ashley Furniture and Telenor.

Hygraph offers four pricing plans:

  • Community (free)
  • Professional ($399 per month)
  • Scale ($899 per month)
  • Enterprise (custom pricing) with a 25% discount on annual subscriptions

4

Contentful

ContentfulSource: Contentful 

Contentful is an API-first headless CMS that promises a 60% increase in conversions and 400% faster loading times.

Its repository is available on GitHub and it uses REST, GraphQL, Content Management, Delivery and Preview APIs, as well as SCIM APIs to help users build their apps on Contentful.

Contentful is hosted through AWS and it integrates with a library of platforms, such as Bynder, Commerce.js, Cloudinary, Gatsby Cloud and Google Analytics.

It also supports server-side languages like C#, .NET, Python, Ruby and PHP.

Contentful is used by Danone, Atlassain, Shiseido, Equinox, GoodRx and Staples.

Contentful offers three pricing plans:

  • Community (free)
  • Team ($489-1,995 per month)
  • Enterprise (custom pricing)

5

Arc XP

arcxpSource: Arc XP 

Created by The Washington Post, Arc XP is a cloud-based headless CMS and SaaS platform that offers users the ability to create rich customer experiences, collaborate on content and use B2C tools for additional eCommerce purposes.

It is partnered with Wizeline and hosted through AWS, with its code repository on GitHub and Fusion. Arc XP supports GraphQL and RESTful Content APIs, as well as React.js, Python, Go, Java and Node languages.  

Arc XP has a few integrations, including Subscribe with Google, Salesforce, Splunk APM and Catchpoint.

Top brands that use Arc XP include Graham Media Group, AvalonBay Communities, BP, Infobae and the Golden State Warriors basketball team. 

Users can request a demo and talk to Arc XP’s team about custom pricing.

6

Ghost

GhostSource: Ghost

Ghost is an open-source headless Node.js CMS and non-profit platform built to help independent writers, bloggers and journalists grow their publishing businesses.

Its data repository is available on GitHub and hosting is done through its Ghost(Pro) cloud platform as a service (PaaS) environment. Users can also self-host through platforms such as Digital Ocean, Amazon EC2, Google Cloud, Linode, Vultr or Dreamhost.

Ghost supports RESTful JSON Content API, as well as SQLite and MySQL databases and uses JavaScript as an API client. 

Ghost supports both SQLite in development and MySQLIt also integrates with a multitude of popular platforms, including Zapier, YouTube, Mailchimp, SoundCloud and Twitch. Front-end frameworks can also be built using JAMstack.

Businesses that use Ghost include DuckDuckGo, CodeCademy, Desk Magazine and The Atlantic.

Ghost has four pricing plans based on the number of audience members. The below prices are for 500 members:

  • Starter ($11 per month)
  • Creator ($31 per month)
  • Team ($63 per month)
  • Business ($249 per month)

7

Strapi

strapiSource: Strapi 

Strapi is an open-source industry-leading headless CMS that’s fully JavaScript-backed and aims to put web developers first.

Strapi uses GitHub as its repository and it supports REST, GraphQL, Entity Service and Query Engine APIs, as well as a full-featured CLI.

It also integrates with a whole host of frameworks and programming languages like Vue.js, Angular, React, Next.js, Eleventy and Svelte — and platforms like SendGrid, Algolia, Redis, Sentry and Mailgun.

Strapi is self-hosted and can be hosted on different servers such as 21YunBox, Render, Heroku, AWS, Azure, etc., or users can opt to have it hosted on the cloud.

TOYOTA, Walmart, NASA and IBM are some of the popular companies that use Strapi.

Strapi also has three plans to choose from:

  • Bronze Plan ($9 per month)
  • Silver Plan ($29 per month)
  • Gold Plan (custom pricing)

8

dotCMS

dotcmsSource: dotCMS

dotCMS is an open-source hybrid CMS that uses Java technology to help marketers and developers create and reuse content to build engaging digital experiences.

It uses REST and GraphQL APIs, tested on Postman and run by its command-line interface (CLI), as well as Scripting APIs. dotCMS is hosted through AWS and it uses GitHub as its data repository.

It also supports Apache Velocity as its native coding language and it integrates with platforms such as HubSpot, Google Analytics, Optimizely, Salesforce and Magento.

Examples of companies that use dotCMS include Telecom, Gettysburg College, White Castle and the University of Texas.

dotCMS’s open-source Community Edition is free to use, however, for Enterprise pricing, users would need to contact its sales team.

9

Magnolia

magnoliaSource: Magnolia

Magnolia is an enterprise headless CMS that uses tied-in personalization and a modular architecture to make complicated channel management much simpler.

Magnolia uses both Apache Jackrabbit and Git as its content repositories and users can retrieve light modules through npm, GitHub and Maven. It also supports Java and REST APIs.

Magnolia can be self-hosted or on the cloud and it integrates with Salesforce, Netlify, Commercetools and SAP Commerce. There are plenty of companies that use Magnolia, such as American Express, Hisense, Nissan and The New York Times. 

Magnolia’s pricing is organized via a quote process.

10

Sanity

sanitySource: Sanity

Sanity is a flexible headless CMS that empowers teams of all sizes with real-time collaboration, live multi-user editing and customized editing environments.

It uses GitHub as its codebase and Sanity supports frameworks including Tailwind CSS, React, Vue, Eleventy and Jungle.js.

Sanity also supports JavaScript, PHP, Rust, .NET, Go and Vue APIs and it integrates with Mux, Vimeo, Bynder, Cloudinary, Google Maps, SUSAM and plenty more.

Sanity is hosted by React, but users can also host it themselves using platforms like Netify or Vercel. Companies that use Sanity include Nike, Brex, Movember and reMarkable.

Sanity offers four pricing plans to choose from:

  • Free Forever
  • Team ($99 per month)
  • Business ($949 per month)
  • Enterprise (custom pricing)

11

Directus

directusSource: Directus 

Directus is the world’s first open data platform for turning SQL databases into a no-code data collaboration app using REST and GraphQL API.

It uses a monorepo design for its repository that is located on GitHub and it supports Îles, Nuxt, Eleventy, Gatsby, React and Remix frameworks.

Directus can be self-hosted through Node.js or cloud-hosted. Popular companies that use Directus include AT&T, TripAdvisor, Comcast and STIHL.

It offers three pricing plans:

  • Free Forever
  • Standard Cloud ($25 per month)
  • Enterprise Cloud (custom pricing)

12

Optimizely

optimizlySource: Optimizely

Optimizely is a digital experience platform (DXP) and cloud hybrid CMS built and hosted on Microsoft Azure that uses .NET frameworks to help users manage, store or distribute content on newly created digital experiences.

Its data repository is available on GitHub and it supports 250 SDKs, including those of Java, JavaScript, React, PHP, C# and Ruby. Optimizely uses REST APIs and it supports multiple apps and integrations, including Magento, Instagram, Adobe Creative Cloud, HubSpot and WooCommerce.

Optimizely is used by media brands, including, Discovery and the Obama 20212 campaign.

For pricing quotes, users need to put in a request on Optimizely.

13

Kontent.ai

kontentSource: Kontent.ai

Kontent.ai is a cloud-based modular SaaS headless CMS that helps marketers with managing content and developers with delivering digital experiences that fit any device.

The platform uses GitHub as its repository, as well as Fastly as its CDN support. REST, GraphQL, Management v2 and Custom Elements JavaScript are the APIs it supports. Users can also try REST APIs in Postman.

It supports JavaScript, .NET, PHP, Java, Ruby and iOS languages and all Kontent.ai services are hosted in Microsoft Azure.

Kontent.ai is supported by a few companies, including VOGUE, Cadbury, Sovereign Housing Association and the University of Oxford.

Kontent.ai has three pricing plans:

  • Developer (free)
  • Scale ($2,499 per month)
  • Enterprise (custom pricing)

14

Adobe Experience Cloud

AECSource: Adobe Experience Cloud

Adobe Experience Cloud (AEC) is a cloud-native AI-driven hybrid CMS that uses REST, Apache Sling 11, Jackrabbit and Java APIs to help developers create personalized and useful customer experiences.

Hosted on Amazon Web Services, AEC uses Adobe as its git code repository and users can also link previous git repositories to Adobe’s Cloud Manager.

AEC offers a full library of apps and integrations, some of which include Slack, Mailchimp, Klaviyo, Botify and Stripe.

BMW, Uber Eats, Lenovo and Signify are also some of the businesses that use AEC. To see how Adobe’s pricing is structured, users need to contact its sales team and request a demo.

15

Acquia CMS

ACQUIASource: Acquia 

Acquia is a hybrid API-first CMS powered and hosted by Drupal that developers can use to create and distribute digital content tailored to each customer.

This CMS uses JSON API and also supports GraphQL, React, Vue, NextJS, Gatsby, Svelte and vanilla JS.

Acquia CMS offers a few integrations, including Shutterstock, Wistia, Hootsuite and Dropbox. It uses GitHub as its code repository and it supports BitBucket and GitLab.

Some of Acquia’s customers include Johnson&Johnson, NBC Sports and Crayola.

Acquia offers multiple pricing structures based on user locations. For American users, pricing is as follows:

  • Personal ($148 per month)
  • Small ($296 per month)
  • Enterprise (custom pricing)

How to Choose the Best Headless CMS

Security

Make sure the CMS has proof of security. This includes GDPR compliance, SSL, SSO, ISO and HTTPS certification.

Roles and Permissions

Author roles and admin permissions should be available to determine how content creation, editing and publications are managed.

Content Editing, Previews and Workflows

There should be effective editing features for content without needing to use Google Docs — this includes tagging, media format support, commenting and search features to help editors find content that can be reused, or to view previous content versions.

Editors should also have access to data fields to allow omnichannel modeling of the content and there should be APIs available to view unpublished content in multiple environments. Users should also be able to integrate third-party systems via webhooks or APIs.

APIs

There should be a clear indication of which APIs are used, as well as how they can support one’s business, such as Graph QL APIs that can help developers retrieve content on a deeper level or boost development performance or REST APIs that help with content automation and security.

Pricing and Additional Costs

Consider how the CMS’ pricing and if the features included can meet the needs of the business involved. Look at how much content can be created each month, the number of admin users per subscription and the number of API requests.

External developer costs should also be taken into account.

Make sure the headless CMS offers a preview feature and that the subscription plans scale as the business grows.

Support

Consider how accessible the CMS vendor’s support team is should problems arise. 

This takes into account how responsive they are if they operate in the same timezone as the business and if there are external developer resources available to help solve problems (YouTube videos, community hubs, starter templates, blog posts, etc.).

SDKs

There should be a clear indication of which SDKs are available, either from the vendor or third-party initiatives. Also look at how tailored these SDKs are to the business and developer’s needs in terms of the technology that will be used, language and platform.

CDN and Scalability

The CMS must have a CDN that will reduce load time and improve the performance of the entity’s website. Look at its limitations towards large amounts of traffic, data caching (also for media files), security and network latency.

Documentation

Documentation towards factors such as APIs, integrations and customizations should be comprehensive and easy to understand, up to date and provide examples with code snippets.

Infrastructure

Consider how the CMS operates in terms of hosting capabilities (through AWS or Azure, for example), which technologies (like .NET or Node.js) and programming languages are used and which operating systems the CMS supports.

One should also take into account how reliable the CMS is, if it uses a proprietary model (built and managed by a single company), a SaaS model or if it’s open-source, as well as how high the possibility of downtime is.

When Should a Headless CMS Be Used?

A headless CMS should be used for the following cases:

  • For websites and apps that use JavaScript frameworks like Angular, React or Vue.js
  • To communicate with an audience across more than one platform, or deliver content across multiple platforms
  • When the entity wants to scale it’s business faster by letting the front and backend development team work independently
  • To create personalized digital experiences in an eCommerce setting
  • When the entity wants more detailed control over how content and sites are structured and presented to the public

When Should a Headless CMS not Be Used?

Headless CMS solutions are not necessary for the following cases:

  • When the organization has a smaller budget and cannot afford additional IT staff or developer resources
  • When the current CMS templates are sufficient for the entity’s marketing strategies
  • When the entity only wants to distribute content through a single channel

FAQs

Is a Headless CMS Secure?

Yes. Because a headless CMS is separated from the frontend/publishing platform, there are fewer files and code that can be hacked by a DDoS attack.

Administrators can restrict which IP addresses gain access to the headless CMS through the user interface or APIs and a headless CMS can’t be hacked by SQL injections because it’s not connected to an SQL or it runs on a server without SQL.

Additionally, the API also publishes the headless CMS’s content as read-only which means the data sent cannot be altered or deleted.

Do I Need a Headless CMS?

This depends on a few factors, such as the website or project size.

Digital publishing companies that only produce and distribute content through a single content stream (such as their web and mobile applications) don’t require the backend complexities of a headless CMS.

This is because traditional CMS platforms already offer the necessary capabilities to manage a single content stream with smaller projects faster and more effectively.

Is WordPress a Headless CMS?

Technically, yes. In the past, WordPress was a traditional content management system, but when it added the REST API plugin to its core update (version 4.7) in 2016, it effectively became an open-source headless CMS.

This means users still have the freedom to collaborate on creating, editing and uploading content on WordPress’s intuitive interface, as well as manage content more efficiently and control how it gets presented to viewers.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing between a headless or traditional CMS, it all depends on how far one is willing to scale their business.

A headless CMS offers a broader reach and better-personalized user experience, but at the cost of additional developer expenses (if they’re not already in-house) and potentially more tech experience that’s needed.

If this is doable, then be sure to reassess the 15 options we’ve provided and look at the CMS that caters to the most business needs. Remember to be patient — transitioning to a headless CMS takes time, but the wait and work are worth the reward.

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