Headless CMS Hot Takes
We've been in business for coming up to 6 years by the time this article drops. We were one of the first agencies to adopt headless content management systems before they were even commonplace (and mostly just a fringe tool). We've also worked with them almost exclusively on every project since that time.
We'd like to think we know enough about the subject to be able to give some good advice that, quite frankly, might get us into hot water. But we'd much rather you make an informed decision far before you've spent five figures upwards.
So without further ado, here's one long, hot take, for you.
We've gone full circle, we started out on a content management system called Forestry right back in the glory days. This is their latest stab at building an interactive content management system focusing on real-time editing.
Our hot take on Tina CMS
We actually quite like it. It's basically "dumb fun" the CMS. It's a git-backed content management system that's fairly solid. It's not going to win any awards for complexity because when we used it, it broke on a multi-item page.
E.g. multiple blog types on one page. But overall, it was pretty simple to implement, you can't really screw it up.
But we enjoyed using it; you can use it to build a simple page builder. It's literally just dumping markdown files into a directory with a live preview. What's not to like (for the right use case).
I'm fairly certain the team know what they've built, and fun-fact, one of the websites we built nearly five years ago is still running with little maintenance on an old Netlify host.
Good job Tina team. We're happy for you 🎉
WordPress is a blogging tool that's existed since the primordial soup days. It makes up a good chunk of the web and has made a name for itself, being synonymous with slow, bloated websites.
It has recently reinvented itself somewhat by splitting the entire dev community with Gutenberg (oof, look at those reviews) and creating a plugin for using it as a headless CMS.
Our hot take on Wordpress
You're probably expecting me to say lots of mean things with this, but I'm not going to about WordPress.
I think the platform is great for people trying to get themselves a website online using the traditional monolithic method. I'm also not the type of person that hates Gutenberg because it does what it needs to do. It creates an extremely simple experience for being able to edit pages.
However, I personally think WordPress headless is utter garbage and a surefire way of having the worst of both Monolithic and Headless. I also believe that if you are considering using WordPress to do e-commerce, in most cases, you shouldn't. You should opt for Shopify vanilla instead, as it will save you a lot of time and pain maintaining the hosting, backups, stock management etc.
So yes, WordPress is actually great for purely a website that you know you're going to throw away at some point but just use it as an interim to test an idea or sales concept.
We've encountered Contentful a couple of times, and nearly every time hasn't been because a client needs a website building.
Without fail, nearly every case has been when an agency has earned work through their partner system, and they want a developer to build it. We're really not joking...
But to introduce this tool, it's a run-of-the-mill GUI-based schema builder headless CMS. It's self hosted, and it has the ability to add plugins.
Our hot take on Contentful
I'd hazard a guess that many people are shoehorning contentful into projects without doing their research purely because there's such an enticing financial/business hook with their product.
From just one look at their become a partner page or their partner's database, there are tiers, bonuses and probably a whole crypto-currency attached to it (note: there's not a crypto-currency attached to it).
Hell, we even considered going down this road at one point but then had second thoughts that our integrity is nearly as important as a bunch of free stickers.
Either way, I'd be careful with agencies recommending this tool, and would always ask, "why this CMS over others?".
Honestly, we probably deserve to give this tool more of a chance, however, we typically "run for the hills" whenever we start hearing about co-marketing and co-selling... Sounds almost like a ponzi scheme to us.
Strapi is a weird one to recommend for us. It sits in an unusual position as, by default, you should probably be self-hosting this tool. It's also open-source, which we do encourage.
It's also a GUI-based schema builder.
Our hot take on Strapi
We haven't personally used the tool on a project yet. But we have assessed it internally as we were considering this as one of the top 3 competitors for moving the content management system of Roboto.
Take that with a pinch of salt, but the same opinion as with any GUI-based schema builder is that unless your website is extremely simple, at some point, the validation will not cut it.
I'll give you a basic example. If you run a news blog and you only use specific sources, e.g., not Wikipedia, there is no way to validate this using a GUI-based schema builder. It's just too complex without code.
The other issue is self-hosting.
If you're the sort of person that loves spending 20 minutes installing drivers for a printer that for god-knows-what reason stopped working, and now you're trying to debug to get access to your all-important printed documents.
That is self-hosting. Unless you have a couple of grand a year, you don't mind throwing at debugging why your CMS has gone down, we wouldn't recommend having to deal with this.
We are aware there are very specific use cases for this, but I would put a fairly large bet that if you're reading this, you're not going to need military-grade security etc.
However, we highly recommend checking out Strapi Cloud because this seems a great solution for smaller clients who don't want to deal with the headache.
Webflow is a kind of "do it yourself" option. It doesn't require any formal knowledge and isn't actually a headless CMS at all. But I thought I'd include it because a lot of people actually use this tool.
It's also worth mentioning we've worked with a good few sites using this tool.
Our hot take on Webflow
If you have the time to use it, you can make a pretty passable website without any coding experience, but it's always going to be just "alright". It won't be the fastest, it'll always be restricted to their proprietary hosting, and you'll get charged monthly on it for the privilege.
But... It gives people without coding experience the opportunity to be able to actually build something nifty.
I'd say it's the buttered brown toast of the website world: it's pretty average and easy to make, but it's going to make you consider your life choices while you're eating it.
We have had a long and bumpy relationship with Prismic that dates back to near the business's inception. We have spent countless hours trying to support, improve and provide feedback.
However, we wouldn't touch this tool with a barge pole.
Should I use Prismic legacy or Prismic Slice Machine?
We will be reviewing mostly Prismic Legacy, although we spent extensive time using the beta of Slice Machine. If you're looking at building your site today, avoid the legacy system because all the documentation is geared toward the new system.
Our hottest take on Prismic
Well, you've read so far, and you've got to the one that's probably going to land me in hot water...
We are unbelievably salty about this particular platform. Since using Prismic Legacy, not only has the Gatsby plugin been deprecated, mismanaged and essentially outsourced to the community, but they've also deprecated APIs with a day's notice (at first, we thought it was an April fool joke) and completely swapped their main product without providing a migration plan.
If you've read the above and it doesn't give you any red flags, and you do want to use the tool, I will be fair and say their product has improved over time.
They've recently moved away (sort of) from a GUI-based schema builder and more so into a code-based one. It's still nowhere near Sanity good, but it is a step in the right direction.
So if a client tasks you with building a page builder and you absolutely cannot use any other CMS, it's a non-negotiable, and they've taken your cat hostage... That would be the time to use Prismic.
Hot take on the state of headless content management systems
I'll level with you. I don't think the general landscape for headless systems isn't anywhere near where it should be. It doesn't surprise me at all that Sanity started out as an agency because we've thought a good couple of times, "why don't we build our own CMS because so many of these suck".
If you're thinking about building a website with a headless CMS, ask yourself: "Is this going to scale more than ten pages, or is the content going to be interlinked".
- If your answer is yes: pick Sanity,
- If it is no: pick any of the CMS above
Even with that said: I still think you're probably shooting yourself in the foot for scaling if you're not using Sanity... And we know because we've had to migrate so many headless CMS over.