Jamstack

4 min read

How to choose the right headless CMS for you

With so many choices, how do you pick the right headless CMS to suit your team’s needs and scale with your business as it grows.

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Written by

Dan Spratling sitting in a bar window with a drink, smiling

Dan Spratling

Published on

14 December, 2022

Updated on

23 January, 2023

There are too many headless CMS

The market for headless CMS has exploded in the last decade, and there’s an abundance of options to choose from:

  • Contentful

  • Sanity

  • Strapi

  • Storyblok

  • Prismic

  • Dato

  • Forestry

  • Agility

  • Butter

  • Ghost

  • Tina

  • Plasmic

And that’s just a few of your choices.

Competition in a marketplace is a great thing, it means that your needs are likely to be met and without having to pay extortionate fees.

But making a decision can be overwhelming…

So how do you decide which one is the right one?

There’s one easy thing to look for when researching headless CMS that can narrow down your selection quickly.

And that’s to ask yourself:

Does it serve one specific purpose exceptionally well?

Let’s use Ghost as an example. Ghost is a headless CMS that is dedicated exclusively for subscription style blogs and newsletters.

If you’re looking for a CMS that can handle paid blog posts, your decision suddenly becomes a lot easier. And because they’re hyper-focused on that niche, you know you’ll be getting an excellent product.

Other headless CMS have specialisms too:

  • Storyblok is the headless CMS with a visual editor

  • Forestry and Tina are great at editing content directly in your repo

  • Strapi is totally open source and 100% customisable

But you won’t always need a CMS that has specialist functionality.

What if you need a general purpose solution

Then your decision becomes a lot harder. You’ll need to start comparing feature-by-feature and deciding what’s most important to you. Below, I’ll break down what I look for when deciding on a CMS for our clients.

Differentiating features

One of the easiest way of figuring out what CMS will work best for your team is to understand what makes them different, and how beneficial that might be for you.

Visual Editor

Seeing your content previewed inside the CMS helps ensure consistency by removing guesswork and simplifying QA. It provides a lot of benefits and is highly requested because of how simple it makes editing.

Multiplayer

If you have a large team, working with a CMS that allows users to edit documents at the same time could help reduce errors or improve collaboration, leading to better results.

Workflows

Ensuring content is created, reviewed, and published on time is a difficult process to get right so some CMS have brought this workflow directly into the editor, reducing steps and making publishing completed content significantly easier.

Editor Experience

If you’re going to have people who spend a significant portion of their day inside your CMS, it needs to be great for them to use. Poor user experience could mean tasks take longer, with more chance of mistakes, while great experience can solve problems you might not even be aware of.

For Editors

Your editors are in the project every day, so making it easier for them to draft changes, review, publish and rollback (when the worst happens) can save time, and money. A CMS that’s better suited for the job will always be more effective.

For Developers

When the time comes to update your website, having a CMS that’s easy to maintain and build upon is going to make those changes significantly faster, and less likely to contain issues.

  • Tip: Code evaluation is always harder as it’s not visual. Start by looking for great docs and, once you’ve narrowed it down, try building a small project to see how well it works

For PMs

Ensuring content updates are delivered on time is difficult. If your chosen CMS provides tools like workflows and clear content schedules to make this easy, then it’s going to simplify changes and help make sure everyone’s on the same page without creating dreaded (and unnecessary) catch-up meetings.

Pricing

In order to evaluate a CMS effectively, you’re going to have to know how much you can spend on it. Having a small budget might restrict your choices, while a larger budget will give you more freedom to ensure you’re getting all the features you need.

Fortunately, most CMS’ follow very similar pricing structures so it’s very unlikely you’ll be boxed in with one you don’t like.

Headless CMS’ also come with the benefit of cheaper hosting, less maintenance and better security so the cost to keep your website live will be significantly lower than some alternatives.

Upgrade path

As your business grows everything around your business will grow too. You’ll likely want to update your content more regularly, which might mean adding more team members to the CMS.

You’ll want to know whether the CMS allows you to add more content and users easily. And, if you reach the next bracket, can you easily add more editors or pay-as-you-go to keep working?

Checking how easy it is to expand in the future is just as important as seeing how well it works for you now.

Global & Enterprise Features

The bigger your company is, the harder it is to find a CMS that suits your needs — there’s more decisions to make and risks to take into account. You can’t just pick a CMS you like.

Security & Uptime

From making sure accounts can’t be easily hacked (2FA & Roles), to guaranteeing website uptime (SLA & Support). Headless CMS’ provide more security by being decoupled from the rest of the site, but it’s essential to make sure the CMS matches your needs.

Internationalisation (i18n)

Global businesses have complex needs. Communicating with translators or bringing every location on board with a new platform is hard. One key area for global businesses is making sure that translating content and then keeping it up-to-date is easy.

Compliance

While it’s important for every business to be conscious about where their data is going, the larger you are the more this might matter to you. Especially if you’re large enough to have dedicated legal advisors.

Making sure you’re conforming to the laws of different countries and regions with GDPR, CCPA and other standards ensures that your team’s data is being stored correctly and securely.

Or make it simple and hire an expert (bonus points if it’s us)

We know making these decisions is hard and time consuming. If you’re stuck for time or struggling to make the right decision, working with an external team (like us) could make your life significantly easier.

We’re experienced in choosing the right tech for a variety of teams and, because we’re already experienced at making these decisions for others, we have a deeper understanding of each tool. We know our craft, and evaluating and selecting the right CMS is our bread and butter, so to speak.

And we don’t just choose the right CMS for you. We can design and build your next solution, and then train your team in how it works to make sure you hit the ground running.

TL;DR

But where do I start? Above I gave you a list of headless CMS. Have a browse, get a feel for a few that stand out to you. Then put together your checklist of essential features (using this article as a starting point) and nice-to-have features.

Then start comparing features. Make sure they pass your checklist of essential needs, and check off as many “nice-to-haves” as you can.

  • Differentiating features (Visual Editor, Multiplayer, Workflows)

  • Experience (Developers, Editors, PMs)

  • Pricing

  • Upgrade path

  • Security & Compliance (Security & uptime, i18n, compliance)

Or make it easy and let us help you.

We’re experts in evaluating different CMS for our customers. No matter what you need, we can find the best option for you. Get in touch, and we’ll handle the rest.

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